Today I read the perfect response to all of it. One can talk the talk about Diversity in Yoga but ya gotta walk the walk:
“Most sanghas I visit are entirely white, and they ask me, ‘Pannavatti, how do we get more people of color in our sanghas?’ I say, ‘How many black people do you know? How many do you hang out with? How many do you invite over to your house? You can’t just put a shingle outside your center that says Black People Wanted.’” – Pannavati Bhikkhuni
Ven. Pannavati is known for her wit and humor and has received awards for her humanitarian work with “Untouchables” (Dalits) in India and ordaining nuns in Thailand & Cambodia.
I heart Ven. Pannavati. Her work with dalits in my second home in India, Tamil Nadu, inspires me.
She comes from another mileu that is mostly populated by the white middle class: Western Buddhism.
The other night I was one of the speakers on this panel discussion in Chicago. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and I was invited to be on this panel by The Breathe Network. The Breathe Network is an excellent online resource for trauma survivors looking for practitioners of holistic modalities and I am proud to be a member.
It was a great event with a big turnout. The other three presenters spoke about their modalities, Biofeedback, Holistic Psychotherapy, and Reiki. I learned from all three presenters and what was interesting was that we all had a single thing in common, as noted by the moderator: the BREATH and HOW WE BREATHE can change things for us mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Many of you know that I am a long time student (10+ years) in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition and that the Yoga I teach is all about the breath, a breath centered practice. I have seen how conscious breathwork can change lives. Yes, literally, such as with trauma survivors and people with anxiety attacks and major stress. They learn to self-regulate just as the ancient yogis, the sramanas, discovered that asana and breath can regulate their internal systems.
“Trauma sensitive” and “trauma informed” Yoga are buzzwords in modern Yoga but when I did my four day Trauma Sensitive Yoga training at The Trauma Institute, I realized how the training was a retooling of what I learned at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram insofar as therapeutic yoga. It was nothing new to me. The only thing new was the information about the physiology of trauma, the parts of the brain that are affected, and some languaging, the “technical” stuff.
Before I did that training in 2011 I had already been teaching for 6 years to survivors at a domestic violence shelter starting in 2005. I intuitively knew that what I had learned in India and from my own insight meditation practice would help them. And it did, tremendously — because it was a breath centered Yoga practice. The survivors learned how to be in charge of their own physiological systems.
After our 90 minute discussion we had breakout groups where attendees could ask us questions. I had handouts of articles (one that I wrote) about how Yoga helps with PTSD. More than a few young people (“young” meaning college age students) took my handouts and then it got interesting — they started telling me about their experiences in Yoga studios. Note that this was in Chicago so they were talking to me about studios there.
I preface what comes next by saying that I no longer attend public Yoga classes so I don’t know what people are teaching nowadays. If I do go to a studio it will be to my teacher’s class at the studio where I certified as a teacher 15 years ago (one of the first studios to open in Chicago.)
I take that back — I DID go to a class just last week. It was a gong meditation plus Yoga class and one of my students came with me. I know that every teacher is trained differently, has his/her own style, and I am 200% sure there are many who would hate my classes and probably with a vengeance. But I was stunned at the practice. Shocked even.
The teacher was also a “woman of a certain age” and whom I know has been teaching longer than me. There was absolutely no attention paid to the breath. In fact, I could not even catch my breath because the sun salutation was so fast. I decided (of course!) to move at my pace with my own breath ratio.
My long time student was incredulous and instead of a calming, grounding practice to go into an hour long gong session (by the way, I was NOT expecting a gentle or restorative practice, just a more mindful one) I felt completely agitated. This is the reason why I no longer attend public classes taught by teachers whose teaching styles I don’t know.
Each person at my table at DePaul asked me “where do I find a class as you describe?” Because EACH student told me “I take Yoga but …” It’s “competitive.” A “work out.” “No one talks about the breath.” “I feel intimidated.” “How should I breathe?” “They don’t teach meditation.” If I lived in Chicago instead of 40 miles away I’d probably have a dozen new students now.
Finally, what made me sad was a trauma survivor who told me she went through a teacher training program at a corporate Yoga studio chain. I won’t say which one but they are all over Chicago and other big cities. Many times they open down the street from independent studios.
She told me that she went there looking for a more meditative, what she called “spiritual,” YTT. Instead, she told me the training triggered her PTSD, so much so that she completely stopped her own Yoga practice. What was worse, she told me, that when she tried to tell her trainers what was happening with her, no one knew how to help her.
She finished the training but no longer practices. She told me that in order to teach she knows she has to work on herself. She asked me how to get back on the Yoga horse. I said slowly and recommended Sarah Powers’ book, Insight Yoga, and her DVDs. I gave her my card, it was all I could do, and told her to contact me if she got stuck.
After listening to the questions and comments, I was re-inspired to create a teacher training so I had better get my ASSana in gear before I go to India in November. But I am SO STUCK, I don’t know where to start. Mainly because I don’t know where to begin in writing a manual. You can’t charge $3,000 for a training and not have a manual, people expect one after dishing out the dough. But I only know how to teach OLD SCHOOL, the way I am taught in India. You sit down, listen, and take notes. In all my years at KYM the only handouts I have are from asana and meditation classes. Ten plus years of notes will make a kick ass YTT. I’ve already decided that this book will be the class text.
But when the day comes when I have a Metta Yoga: Mind-Body Education training you can bet your ASSana that I will have sliding scale payment for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and vets with PTSD.
The new translation of Hathayogapradipika by Doctor Kausthub Desikachar is a modern classic. His personal footnotes make this classic text “User friendly” for Yoga teachers and serious students. Highly Recommended!
I have to agree. This is an excellent and valuable book to be added to the Yoga book library of the serious practitioner or Yoga teacher. A beautifully designed hard cover (with two beautiful drawings of Kali Ma inside) where the wisdom therein is as rich (if not richer) as the outside.
Five forwards in the book are written by Sonia Nelson (Santa Fe, New Mexico), Geeta S. Iyengar (Pune, India), Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani (Pondicherry, India), Frans Moors (Belgium), and Sharath Jois (Mysore, India.)
Sharath Jois writes that “the Hathayogapradipika is especially important because it is a tool that helps to understand the entire system of Yoga practice.” He writes that Kausthub has revealed a new level of understanding of the HYP.
Sonia Nelson writes that “the quality and use of the English language makes the translations and footnotes fully accessible to serious students willing to give the time and attention needed to digest the content. …the inclusion of both the Devanagari script and transliteration in the word by word translation provides a useful tool for extensive study.” Indeed, for a student of Sanskrit alone the book is invaluable.
Kausthub’s aunt, Geeta Iyengar, writes that her nephew has done a “wonderful job of transcribing and translating the whole Samskrta text along with the Jyotsna commentary. The Hathayogapradipika is such a text that no student of Yoga can bypass it.” She believes that Kausthub’s footnotes can be seen as his own “modern commentary, making it easier, more relatable and comprehensible to today’s readers.”
In his Introduction Kausthub gives a brief history of the HYP and of the ancient yogis at that time. I particularly enjoyed this history telling because it echos what Stephen Cope taught in my Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation training at Spirit Rock in California: that the ancient yogis (the “Skull Men”) were considered rebels, cast out by conventional Brahmin society of the time. Kausthub writes that the Skull Men had a significant influence on Hathayoga, which evidence can be found through texts such as Sivasamhita and the HYP.
Among other things in the 22 page Introduction Kausthub also writes about whether the HYP is the only Hathayoga text; about the commentator of the HYP, Brahmananda; the special view of Isvara; what is Hathayoga (see photo above) — my students liked my reading this in class.
One key trend that occurs recurrently throughout the text is the health benefits of the specific tools presented. Whether in the chapter on Asana, Pranayama or Mudra, the Hathayogapradipika makes claims regarding which illnesses may be warded off through such practices.
This clearly confirms without a doubt that Yoga is indeed a therapeutic tool used by its practitioners over a long period of time. So to say that Yoga and Yoga Therapy are two different things is against what the tradition of Yoga represents.
Then comes the business of organized professional governance.
You’ll have to get the book to find out the rest of the story, i.e., the two problems that governance creates in Kausthub’s opinion.
A sample page:
My long time readers know that I have studied in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition for 10+ years. I am grateful and blessed to have been introduced to this lineage by one of Krishnamacharya’s longest standing students, Srivatsa Ramaswami, on his first visit to Chicago. In fact, he is teaching about the HYP in Chicago in September. Join me!
If the HYP is mentioned at all in Yoga teacher trainings, the usual text that I’ve seen used in my area (Chicago) is by Swami Muktibodhananda published by the Bihar School of Yoga. Kausthub’s translation is an excellent addition to your study of the HYP for a side by side comparison. His is the type of book to be savored, not read quickly (as if the HYP would be a candidate for speed reading!) It’s always good to have a few different translations of a Yoga text just to see how and who says what. You can purchase this book directly from his school in Chennai, India.
The Hathayoga journey is not meant for superficial results like having a nice and slim body structure. Rather it is meant for meaningful psychological and spiritual exploration of oneself and a profound transformation at all levels, that takes us closer to our own potentials and helps manifest them into reality. (Introduction, p.50.)
That’s authentic Yoga. The real deal, the good, the bad, and the ugly, wherever the journey takes us.
I did my first yoga retreat in India in 2013 and it was a learning experience, let me tell you! But this time another India lover and yoga blogger, my good friend and yoga teacher, Oreste Prada, from San Diego, California will co-teach and play Bad Cop to my Good Cop (kidding!)
So here we go —
$1,800 USD Double Occupancy Only
$450 USD Single Supplement
$1200 USD Yoga Only
(Early Bird discount does not apply)
$300 USD EARLY BIRD DISCOUNT UNTIL JULY 1, 2016 ON FULL PACKAGE ONLY
YOGA TEACHERS RECEIVE 5% DISCOUNT; BRING STUDENTS AND RECEIVE 10%!
(applies to full package only)
With our Yoga Only+Welcome Dinner price you must find your own lodging — you can book a room at Akhil or I can recommend other guesthouses.
Join us for a 10 night retreat that includes guided asana practice of yang (MOVEMENT), yin (STILLNESS), and free form movement (INTUITION), philosophy, meditation, Yoga Nidra, and relaxation.
Freedom Yoga is an intuitive approach to Yoga inspired by Erich Schiffmann, cultivating the felt awareness and embodiment of one’s instinctual and mystical natures. It is not a strenuous practice but it is a practice that requires you to follow your intuition about what feels right and what doesn’t, listening to your breath and body, but quieting the mind. As Erich says, “put a comma in it…pause, breathe, relax.”
Enjoy 16 yoga classes with two teachers with different styles from Vinyasa Krama to Astanga to Yin Yoga, but both seasoned students in in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition. Our classes are accessible to all whether you a beginner or someone who has practiced for 20 years!
Yoga teachers will receive 24 hours of Yoga Alliance CEUs — we are Yoga Alliance registered E-RYT 500 and RYT 500 teachers.
Also included: Transport from Trivandrum airport to Varkala resort; a delicious Welcome to Varkala dinner on the first night; daily continental breakfast; one Ayurvedic massage; an all day backwaters cruise to Kollam. Options at extra cost are private yoga sessions with either of us, Shamanic Energy Work and Reflexology available from Linda, Kerala cooking class, and Thai Yoga Massage.
India’s ancient Ayurvedic treatments are practiced in their original form in Kerala such as body massage, oil treatments, and herbal cleansing techniques. Additional Ayurvedic treatment is available at Akhil Beach Resort or at other nearby centers at additional cost. Please read about Akhil here.
Free time activities can include a boat trip to the famous Golden Island, sun bathing, surfing, volleyball, paragliding, a cooking class — or nothing at all!
The retreat is 10 nights with November 17 being your travel day back home. We want to keep your expenses reasonable but your stay extremely comfortable. Daily continental breakfast is included but lunch and dinner are on your own.
My work is akin to that of a Medicine Woman. I dose intuitively as any good Medicine Woman does.
What one student has to say, reprinted with permission.
“If talking did shit, we’d all be cured by now.”
“That is a line from one of my favorite movies, Girl Interrupted. It’s a movie about a girl’s struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder, one of the many diagnoses I was branded with throughout my journey of mental illness, in addition to anxiety, psychosis, ADHD, severe depression, suicidal ideation, self-harm tendencies, and bipolar disorder. By age 30 I was hospitalized 7 times on a psych ward, had undergone psychotherapy for nearly 20 years, and was prescribed just about every medication for which they could write a prescription. None worked other than on a temporary basis and a lot of which made matters worse. My life becane a series of crises and interventions with very brief bursts of sanity.
Luckily, through the course of all that madness, I met Linda. When I was 19 I walked into a yoga class at my college to fulfill a PE credit. I took her class every semester after that, every single semester. Over the next 10 years I would periodically look Linda up and drop into a class here and there or just chat with her. I had tried other yoga classes, most of them I would leave before the class was even over. I was blessed that the first yoga I practiced was with Linda, because only real yoga was going to help me. Around my 30th birthday I found myself again inside a chaotic darkness that I had created, so I looked Linda up again to see if she had some wisdom to quiet the demons that were haunting my soul. She was doing private yoga sessions and I scheduled one as soon as I could.
I will never forget that first session with her. Just being in her presence calmed me like it always had. We talked a good long time and the things she said changed the way my brain worked as if she had rewired it.
One of her first bits of wisdom was that “the pain is the cure.” This brought me back to something a counselor had said to me, a lovely woman who taught a spirituality class on the psych ward. She had always said, “depression is ungrieved loss.” Those words hit me every time she said them but when put into the context with what Linda said, it finally clicked.
I had been running from pain for as long as I could remember, pushing it away with drugs, alcohol, boys, shopping sprees, anything so I wouldn’t have to feel the hole that was ripping through my soul. I was conditioned to think by many psychiatrists that I could not trust my emotions because they were so dangerous and so extreme and my brain chemistry was working against me, so they had to be controlled with medication for the rest of my life. But all that did was put a band-aid over a bullet hole, when what I needed to do was dig into it and clear out all the dead tissue that was not serving me anymore. I came to the conclusion that I had to feel in order to deal and Linda explained that I needed to think less and feel more which completely contradicted everything I had ever been told.
She was absolutely right. I needed to radically accept the fear, the hurt, and the anger that were choking my soul.
But it did not stop at words with Linda. She showed me through yoga and breathing techniques how to allow these emotions to surface in a safe place where they would not be judged or labeled or manipulated. They were allowed to run their course no matter what that course was, and I learned what fear and anger felt like in my body, and grieve. I have many memories of being in a state of psychotic breakdown, crying, struggling to breath, and screaming out, “I want to go home,” and I was in my bedroom in my house, but I was not home. I never felt home anywhere until this day with Linda. I found that home I did not know existed. I left that first session in a bit of a daze. I drove home and I sat in my room and all I could think was, “it is so quiet.” All of my life my mind never stopped, I was constantly thinking, analyzing, scheming, or rambling, and now it was quiet. There was nothing, sweet, sweet nothing. For the first time I knew I was going to be okay.
People ask me why I don’t just go to see a “regular” therapist, and the answer is simple and goes back to the first thing I said. If talking did shit, I would have been cured a long time ago. The way I see it, a psychotherapist’s goal is to help you make peace with your past to make you functional in society; a religious therapist’s goal is to get you right with your Creator so that you are happy in the afterlife; but yoga therapy is about finding peace within yourself for yourself right now. Plus, yoga is so much more then talking. It is connecting your mind, body, and breath so that you are empowered and know that you are in control of yourself, the only thing you really can control. It is being able to be Home no matter where you are because home is inside you. You cannot put a price on that.
I no longer write as prolifically as I once did. I started this blog in 2005 and the Yoga Blogosphere as changed tremendously in 10 years. Modern Yoga Bloggers have forgotten whom their elders are.
What some bloggers write about now I wrote about 3, 5, even 7 years ago: ageism, diversity, “slow yoga.” “Slow Yoga” is a thing now (Google it) and I’ve been teaching slow since 2005 when I first came back from the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in India. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
But sometimes things scream to be called out and discussed.
A long time, old school yoga teacher told me that where she’s from a yoga studio requires newbie teachers to “brand” themselves before finishing a one month yoga teacher training, i.e., make a website, a Facebook page, social media presence, etc., etc. etc.
Do the math. If a large city has 1000+ YTTs, old school teachers like her and I are doomed.
BRANDING before teaching.
BRANDING before experiencing.
BRANDING before Living Your Yoga.
When I did my first website it took me 6 months to write my yoga bio. Even after I studied in India the first time I thought that if I wrote too much about myself it would look like I was bragging.
Some people say that social media is the new normal. But I believe in what Buckminster Fuller said:
“In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.”
Believe me, I try. But I’m tired. Damn tired. I believe in old school yoga teacher training, mentoring. But my mentoring page is the loneliest page on my website. I am not concerned with offering a standard 200 or 300 hour training because I believe in quality, not quantity. Unfortunately, that’s not good for business because people chase the piece of paper that proclaims them a certified yoga teacher. I can easily put together a 200 or 300 hour training based on 10 years of notes from the Mandiram alone. But frankly, no one is interested. Here. I believe it takes 10 years of yoga teaching to learn how to teach besides having a dedicated personal yoga and meditation practice. No one wants to hear that.
Like in real estate, it’s about location, location, location. All I know is that in my area yoga teachers are a dime a dozen. With yoga studios cranking out new teachers every week, there is no place for Yoga Elders. I’m not whining, I’m just being realistic.
So I’m leaving. Done, baby. I’m going somewhere where what I teach is valued and appreciated. One of my students gave me a testimonial:
“Linda is Yoga. Living, breathing, in every aspect. Caring, supportive, knowledgeable, fun-loving, she walks the talk.”
That’s why I’m leaving. Because I have too much passion for what I do if that makes any sense.
Goddess willing, I’ll live in Kerala, India by the end of next year and into 2017. I’ve already started to look at houses to rent with space to teach. I’ve been asked to do teacher trainings in India. When I’m in India and I am asked what I do and I say “I’m a yoga teacher” people actually have respect for that. They ask me who my guru is instead of telling me, “I do Pilates.” No one asks me what style of yoga do I teach. I’m asked not to leave, to stay and teach, to help people. No one pillories me for using the phrase “real yoga.”
Yeah, I said it. REAL YOGA. I’ve always said the real yoga kicks in during a health crisis or dealing with your own mortality. My yoga sadhana helped me through an ovarian cancer scare years ago. It made me realize that “I am not this body” and it brought me peace. When my time comes I’ll be chanting and doing pranayama, Goddess willing. Thanks to my friend Cora Wen for making this beautiful video.
But what Cora talks about in her video, you can’t brand it. You can’t Instagram it, You can’t trademark it.
“When we cling to an identity, we create rigidity within ourselves that limits our ability to engage spontaneously with the world. We become bonded to images of ourselves that have grown out of this rigidity, and anything that threatens these images has the potential to collapse our sense of self. We fear a loss of face, a loss of self, a loss of identity. Clinging to a set identity keeps us trapped in old patterns and causes needless pain and suffering.” (Life Essentials Institute)
I’ve been dealing with a shit load of pain and suffering since June 1.
I have a mid-shaft spiral fracture of the 5th metatarsal of my left foot. I broke my foot dancing, barefoot, something that I love more than Yoga. For two weeks I was in a cast and was told to absolutely not put any weight on my foot and therefore was given crutches. Practicing trying to go up and down the bottom step of a staircase, the tip of my crutch stayed in one place and I kept going. Putting my hand out to save my foot I broke my left radius two weeks after breaking my foot. After x rays I was told if you’re going to break a wrist, mine was the “perfect fracture” to have — nothing displaced, my metacarpals still sitting perfectly atop my radius and ulna at 12 degrees.
A few days after the wrist I received a second opinion from an orthopedic surgeon on my foot. The second opinion was on foot surgery that supposedly was the “only thing” that would fix my broken bone according to the first doctor, a podiatrist. Take it from me, NEVER go to a podiatrist for anything other than cutting your toenails and even then I would think about it. At the time I had no other choice but to go to this foot doctor.
After laughing at my cast the ortho surgeon told me he NEVER casts or does surgery on a break like mine. He told his assistant to remove my cast. Like yesterday. I now wear an air boot and can walk, besides having the brace on my wrist.
The thing is, had I not had the cast I would not have had the crutches and therefore would not have fallen off my step and broke my wrist. Unfortunately, according to an attorney, my broken wrist is not large enough money- and aggravation-wise to warrant a lawsuit against the podiatrist for professional negligence.
Life changes in a second.
I have no income this summer because I can not teach. But I have lots of time to think and what I began thinking about — after the first 10 days of anxiety attacks which I never experienced before in my life coupled with deep depression — was identity.
So much came up during the first two weeks of basically being bed ridden with a cast because I was warned off walking (although I used a knee walker to get around): teaching yoga, cancelling my classes for the summer, having to cancel a weekend teacher training I was going to give, possibly cancelling my trip to India at the end of August (which is more than a personal trip, it is a tour I am being paid to do), how my body has changed, how soon can I get back to MY NORMAL LIFE.
Of course I know that a broken foot and wrist are nothing in the grand scheme of things because I…
did not lose a limb
did not suffer traumatic brain injury
did not become paralyzed
was not diagnosed with cancer or another catastrophic disease
am not going blind
and no one died.
But it still changed my life.
For moi, a very active woman of a certain age, to come to such a screeching halt, is a mind-fuck.
I thought: WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING AND WHO THE HELL AM I?
It dawned on me: I am not a yoga teacher, it is only what I do.
Even with all my training in India, the thousands of hours I’ve put in, If I stopped completely, never taught again, how important is all that, really? As Grace Slick used to sing, it doesn’t mean shit to a tree. Life goes on and people move on.
No standing asana but sitting and supine and lots of pranayama and meditation. And that got me thinking as it didhere 7 years ago:
If you are in your 40s or 50s or 60s, why are you still doing a yoga practice as if you were in your 20s? get real. be authentic.
“I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.”
I thought about all the yoga selfies out there — handstands, sick arm balances, crazy back bends, acro yoga, poses on top of a cliff during a sunrise or sunset, always looking for the newest Yoga Thing.
I don’t give a rat’s ass if I ever do another headstand or chatarunga again.
Yeah, I said that.
How does modern American yoga become someone’s identity?
Because one day you won’t be able to accomplish a handstand, an arm balance, a pretzel back bend, or maybe might not be able to walk outside to pose on a clifftop. You might not be able to even see a sunset or sunrise. Old eyes get glaucoma.
Writer and long time yoga teacher Charlotte Bell commented on this blog’s Facebook page: “Yoga was never intended to keep you from aging, getting sick or injured, or dying. Aging is not a mistake. It is written into our DNA. Anyone who thinks yoga will keep them from aging is in for a big disappointment. What yoga can do is to help us navigate reality with love and grace.”
Love and Grace. I learned long ago that I can only get that from me not from any outside source. So why am I freaking out about my so-called NORMAL LIFE being ripped away from me? That’s why the words in the first quote hit me in the gut (to paraphrase):
I became bonded to the image of myself as a dancer/yoga teacher/yoga student. My broken bones threatened those images and collapsed my sense of self. I feared a loss of face, a loss of self, a loss of identity. Clinging to a set identity kept me trapped in an old pattern and caused needless pain and suffering.
WHO ARE YOU? REALLY?
Whether you are a teacher, massage therapist, healer, paralegal, lawyer, business owner, whatever it is that you DO…
if you could not do THAT anymore, WHO ARE YOU, REALLY? You can always change that identity of what you do like you can change one blanket for another. But when you are laid bare, WHO ARE YOU?
The best thing I can do for myself right now is to take care of ME. To NOT worry about my classes or about whether my students will return after such a long hiatus or about teaching ever again. All that is not worth it because I AM WORTH SO MUCH MORE THAN ANY OF THAT.
Earlier this year a wise woman told me that 2015 will be the YEAR OF ME, that my word for 2015 is DONE, that I have put myself out there for so long for other people via learning and teaching, that now it’s my turn. I finally get it.
And whatever you do, PLEASE don’t tell me ALL THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON, that I broke my bones because it’s a “training.” Bullshit.