Being a hippie chick of the 1960s and 1970s I grew up with a “fuck the rules” attitude.
I ran from Chicago’s Finest during the Sly Stone riot in Grant Park when the band didn’t show up to play. I also ran away at 16.
Seeing Martin Luther King get hit in the head with a brick when he marched for open housing in my neighborhood and watching on TV the war zone that was the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention pretty much radicalized me at a young age.
So me and most rules? Yeah, not so much. They make me very itchy. And it’s the same way with Yoga. Although I spent 10 years going back and forth to India to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, a Yoga school one can consider traditional, I still march to the beat of my own drummer. That’s why Erich Schiffmann’s Freedom Style Yoga and Paulie Zink’s Yin Yoga feel so right to me.
An anarchist is someone who rebels against authority, the established order, or ruling power. I’ve been called a Maverick, a Yoga Subversive, and a Fierce Voice in the Yoga Blogosphere so I dig the idea of Yoga Anarchy. But you have to know the rules before you can break them. Like the way a jazz musician studies the traditional way of making music for years then one day starts playing free form jazz and blows peoples’ minds.
Are you a Yoga Maverick? Do you color outside the lines? Do you hate being put in a typical Yoga box? Do you explore your own personal Yoga? Join the Yoga Anarchist Movement and fly your Yoga Freak flag high.
When I sell 5 then they are printed and shipped. The font is simple as befitting a no frills anarchist but on the back of both the men’s and women’s shirts there’s a fuchsia lotus design that represents my business logo.
The ancient Yogis, the sramanas, broke away to do their own thing, rejecting Vedic Hindu ritualism and the authority of the Hindu priests.
So do your own thing and tell the world you’re a Yoga Anarchist.
Last year I became a certified Reflexologist. I love doing the work. For most of last year I worked with a friend who went through chemo, surgery, and finally radiation for breast cancer. She said…“I could not have made it through my ordeal this year without you. Your mojo is what balanced out all the scary medical stuff. I knew I could get through, but relaxing as you did your thing was one of the only times my mind was clear enough to truly embody that message.”
I became a Reflexologist #1, because I was inspired by some awesome reflexology I received in India and #2, I wanted to learn something new and different.
But the bottom line is…
I also do what I call “Shamanic Energy Work” (I use the word Shamanic because I’m Native) but there’s a ton of energy healing modalities out there. Reiki, Quantum Touch, Reconnective Healing. Same same but different as we say in India. Aint’ nothing new. Energy is energy.
It’s so true that there is nothing new under the sun. I’ve been teaching Yoga since 2002. Today I looked at the Omega and Kripalu offerings just to see what’s what. My first thought was, “I’ve been teaching these same things for 15 years.”
“Trauma sensitive yoga? I was teaching Yoga in a domestic violence shelter long before anyone even heard of Dave Emerson or “trauma sensitive yoga.” Other than learning about the physiological aspects of trauma in the body, the training was a rehash of what I had already learned in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition.
“Introduction to Yin Yoga”? I was one of the first Yin Yoga teachers in the Chicago area and taught classes and workshops at least 12 years ago. I brought Yin Yoga to the Yoga community in Arusha, Tanzania in 2010.
Sorry J. Brown, but I was teaching “slow yoga” before it became a thing. Breath-centered Yoga? Starting teaching that way in 2005 and ever since.
“Mindful Yoga”? I was in the first Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation Training at Spirit Rock in California 2007-2009. Combining the Buddhadharma and Yoga in my classes felt right to me before I took that training.
“Therapeutic Yoga”? I offered a workshop on Yoga in the Krishnamacharya Tradition for Yoga teachers after my first time at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in 2005. No one signed up. Not one teacher at the studio where I taught at the time was interested.
Ain’t nothin’ new, kids. The only thing is that those teaching at places like Kripalu and Omega can market themselves a hell of a lot better than I can.
As a long ago private student told me, it’s hard being a pioneer because pioneers get the arrows shot up their asses. Much easier to follow the leader.
Like anything else, I see a lot of people running after that new, best thing. It’s always been there, right in front of you.
Look for the Yoga Elder in your neighborhood. You might be surprised at what you find in the deep hole you dig once you stop digging the shallow ones.
New York yoga teacher J. Brown raised an interesting question today in his blog post regarding the “Incredible Shrinking Yoga Class.”
He writes, “In the last twenty years, yoga in the west has gone from a guru-driven model to a market-driven model. Decisions still often come from atop a pyramid. But now, the directives are based more on aggregated data than on the presumed authority of an ancient wisdom. One small manifestation of this turn can be found in the way that yoga classes have gotten progressively shorter. As yoga teachers are newly questioning old models for what and how they teach, industry mores also deserve examination.”
When I got back into yoga in the mid-1990s the class I attended at my local park district was 60 minutes. I practiced at the park district for about 7 years (never moving into an “advanced” class whatever that meant back then) before I did my first teacher training and started attending yoga classes in Chicago studios where the classes were 90 minutes.
Those 7 years of 60 minute classes were never “just asana” classes. Not that we talked much about philosophy or even did formal pranayama, but the teacher was a mindful yoga type before being”mindful” was a thing in Modern Yoga.
J. Brown writes, “Perhaps there needs to be a better way to distinguish between classes that are more directly concerned with the broader aspects of yoga, and those more geared towards an exercise regimen which potentially hints at something found elsewhere.” [emphasis supplied]
I have a simple answer for that: don’t call the asana only/exercise regimen classes “yoga.” Truth in Advertising, what a concept.
I wrote about that in 2010 (sigh) when I said it was a question of semantics.
Or if it’s an asana-only class, why call it yoga at all? Physical therapists use movements derived from yoga all the time but they don’t call it “yoga.” It’s physical therapy and everybody knows that is what it is. Nothing else.
Getting back to the length of time of a typical modern yoga class, at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram where I trained the morning asana classes are 60 minutes. The asana classes also include pranayama and meditation (which is how I teach) and the classes do not feel rushed, in fact, they are perfectly sequenced. Long savasana is not needed (like a 10 minute one at the end of typical American classes) because we do one or two minute savasanas after certain sequences.
So who decreed that a yoga class needs to be 90 minutes? But I guess that depends on what calls “yoga” (getting back to semantics.)
At the KYM pranayama classes contain some asana and the meditation class — a whole hour of meditative focus, how shocking! – contains some asana and of course, pranayama. In other words, the yoga is not compartmentalized like it is here, the yoga is a seamless process.
A shorter, powerful practice is absolutely possible, it depends on the skill and training of the teacher. But who can teach that way coming out of a modern 200 hour teacher training?
If what is referred to as “yoga” nowadays is shrunk to 60 minutes of posing and a 5 minute nap at the end, how then is that Yoga? A 60 minute class of 20 minutes each of functional asana, pranayama, and meditation, skillfully taught, can be more potent than 90 minutes of something where “the teacher kicked my ass” that I used to hear all the time in studios. How many 90 minute classes are nothing more than rushing through as many sun salutations as possible with no attention paid to the breath and doing a typical vinyasa flow once on each side and moving on?
Thank the Goddess I no longer teach in yoga studios. J. Brown writes, “The days of regular attendance in group classes allowing for a comprehensive yoga education have perhaps passed. People are not generally looking for a yoga education when they are coming to a yoga class anymore.”
Maybe so, I haven’t taught in studios for years. I teach out of my house and I’ve been told my classes ARE like going to Yoga School. Maybe that’s why some of my students (few that they are nowadays) have been with me since Day One of my teaching in 2002. They keep telling me every class has been different in all those years. I still can’t figure that out.
As a wise and pithy friend commented in my semantics post linked above:
“It’s [Yoga] a path of liberation we are talking about here – and not from “bra fat!” Patanjali’s first Yoga Sutra (Hartranft translaton) says it all:
Now, the teachings of yoga.
Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness.
Then pure awareness can abide in its very nature.
Otherwise awareness takes itself to be
the patterns of consciousness.”
That can still be done in a 60 minute class. You just have to know how.
Overheard a long time ago:
“People can learn to bend over and touch their toes (or rather, re-learn since they could do that as a child), and yet that isn’t necessarily yoga.”
I read a story about a yoga student who thinks he is an “advanced” student because he can put his leg behind his neck and other pretzel poses. You know, an Instagram Yogi with thousands of followers.
Thinking he has accomplished everything, he goes to India to find a “yoga master” to teach him more. He finds a yoga master in a cave (of course) and begs to become his student.
The master tells him to show him his most advanced pose so the “advanced yogi” guy does some crazy leg behind the neck arm balance.
“Hmmmmm….,” says the master. “Children can do that, too.”
The guy is shocked and dismayed and disillusioned.
The master says, “Now you can start learning Yoga.”
Since 2005 this blog has been available to guest bloggers. If you have something you want to get out into the Yoga Blogosphere but don’t have your own blog, contact me about your subject and we’ll chat.
Today’s post is by long time Yoga teacher and Life Coach, DeAnna Shires, whose practice is in the Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas area.
She writes about a topic on which I am in full agreement with her. In 15 years of Yoga teaching I’ve heard every one of these platitudes. Some of them grate on my nerves more than others. I’ve heard them from “yoga people” who have no hesitation whatsoever telling you how awful/angry/negative you are and then ending it with a smile and a passive-aggressive “namaste.”
Or, if you don’t agree with these platitudes, you are called a “hater” or “unyogic.” Believe me, after writing this blog for 11 years, been there, in spades. As much as people want to believe or portray, the Yoga World isn’t all about peace and love and unicorns that fart rainbows.
One of the best books I’ve ever read on the topic of the SHADOW is Shadows on the Path by Abdi Assadi. If I ever had my own teacher training, the book would be required reading.
As I always say here, talk amongst yourselves. And see my own interjections below.
In 1984 psychologist John Welwood coined the term “Spiritual Bypassing” as the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs.
I’m no expert or “Master Teacher” (eyes roll out my face) on this subject, however, I have been running my own personal self study as far back as high school when I first found myself in the self-help section at the book store trying to figure out why life hurt so much.
I’ve wanted to write about this subject for a few years, however, I’ve been waiting for the day I was completely healed and “all better” so I would not come off as jaded or angry. But the truth is, time keeps passing and I keep processing and I’ve accepted the fact I may never make total peace with the damage caused by spiritual bypassing in my life. The best I can do is accept that this experience changed me and use it for the most good I can, which is to help others. This is my intention now.
For years I tried to read auras, astral-project myself off the planet, meditate over incense, spew positivity, and people please myself out of my true emotions. Guess what happened? I missed vital warning signs along the way and didn’t see the damage until age 41 when the “Spiritual Yoga Community” I had built and served for years, dropped me like I was hot during my divorce, “borrowed” my livelihood, and left me in a heap on my living room floor. I was used up and spit out wondering how I would support my children. This was the first time in my life I felt it would be easier to drive myself head on into a tree and turn out my “light.” After all, I had been led to believe if I did kind by others, led a life of service, came from my heart, that’s what would come back to me. That’s not even remotely close to what happened. At this point, there was no denying my true emotions. I could no longer lace all my experiences with positivity. I could no longer see the Divine in everyone. I no longer felt “love and light” held any validity. So, I began questioning everything I had ever believed. Even more upsetting, I had to come to terms with the fact I had passed on these beliefs to others content on living in the Spiritual Bypass non-reality as well.
Let’s be honest: all of us want to make sense of the world because it feels extremely unsafe when things happen that make no sense. We create skills in order to cope with the feelings of discomfort and to try to make sense of them. One of these coping skills comes in the form of Spiritual Platitudes. Additionally, we all make mistakes and it’s also uncomfortable to admit those mistakes so we use platitudes to remove ourselves from accountability.
While using these platitudes as a crutch, we stunt our growth, and sometimes re-victimize someone who is truly suffering. Often we make these trite statements without any understanding of what the person is going through. Communication is a skill and an art, and in my opinion, resorting to these statements is lazy and irresponsible. Unless we have personally been in their shoes, sitting with them in silence is more compassionate.
I’m going to share 15 Platitudes I often hear in the modern yoga world and offer an additional perspective to what I feel are half-truths.
“Your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe” — Except all those times you are totally vibing pure intentions which attracted those predators with ill intentions who came in for the kill.
“Everything Happens for a Reason” — That reason is whatever you choose it to be and those choices often depend on life coping tools you have in your tool box and some have more than others.
[No, it doesn’t. Because sometimes SHIT JUST HAPPENS.]
“It Is What It Is” — So let’s just give up, we are all powerless. Exploring why it actually came to this might reveal an answer we don’t like.
“Meditate It Away — Betrayal, poverty, illness, belly fat, everything, MAGIC. That will be half your paycheck, thanks.
“It Was Meant to Be” — I guess there is a clip board somewhere with a spreadsheet on it deciding who gets to lose a child, become homeless, and/or face genocide.
“Let It Go” — Poof, all better now.
“See The Divine in Everyone” — But don’t forget to see the warning signs also. It’s called discernment, not judgment, and it’s necessary for protection. I also want to add that if we choose to use this one we should monitor our social media posts about making fun of and/or disparaging others, even if they are political figures we don’t like.
“Everything In Your Life, You Have Attracted” — Does this apply to the child who is bullied, the person with genetic mental illness, or the woman who was gang raped walking home from work? (oh wait…that might be another article).
[This bullshit, like The Secret, grates on me the most. It’s Victim Blaming 101. I am a survivor of parental abuse by my mother aka the woman who raised me, sexual assault, and domestic violence. I was also lied to my entire life about my racial heritage. I am Native. Tell me again how my ancestors “attracted” their own genocide. Go ahead, I dare you.]
“What You See In Someone Else Is A Reflection of Something Within You/Everyone is a Mirror” — While this can occasionally be true, it often is not. What an awesome excuse for projecting one’s own issues onto another.
[No. Sometimes you meet assholes who treat you like shit. That’s not a “lesson” and you don’t “deserve it” to “learn something.” The only thing to learn is to
not allow people to treat you like shit. And that can take time.]
“If You Do Good Things Expecting Something In Return, You Are Not A Good Person” — There are certain expectations we should have as decent humans, for example, when someone does something kind for you, that person probably is not expecting to be taken advantage of and then turned into the bad guy for pointing it out.
“Perception is Reality” — Except when one has horrible perception due to years of abuse/trauma and lies. The only way to face reality is to communicate and ask questions, but that takes effort and who has time for that? We have headstands to do.
“Leave Your Ego at The Door” — You can leave your shoes at the door cuz they nasty, but you need to keep some of your Ego because that’s how you function on this planet and get your needs and goals met, as well as refrain from being the proverbial door mat.
[Don’t mistake my confidence for arrogance. Ever.
I was recently told that I don’t have a lot of students because I “intimidate people”
because I talk about who all I’ve trained with.
THE HELL WITH THAT NOISE.
I have worked damn hard in 15 years and if my trainings and experience
intimidate you, that’s on YOU, not me.
I am not responsible for your comfort and
you are not responsible for mine.]
“Think Positive” — It seems we have exactly 5.2 minutes to processes our divorce issues, death of a loved one, addiction, mental illness, etc. Or we are accused of
being negative and/or toxic, only deserving of love if we are happy 24/7.
“Be Your Authentic Self” — Unless you are an asshole or have beliefs that don’t jive with us, then we will judge you because we don’t really want you to be yourself, we want you to be just like us.
“Detox Your Life!” — I think this is where we start drinking juice, build a tiny house, and move to a cave with zero interaction with actual humans….which is actually escapism, but we call it Enlightenment because that sounds way cooler.
There are more to add to this list but by offering these few my hope is to bring this issue to the surface before others are harmed as deeply as I was, thinking I had to be a certain way in order to be “Spiritual” and worthy of love and acceptance. Stuffing our undesirable human feelings is not going to help us process and move forward. Carl Jung said, “What you resist, persists.” We cannot find the comfort we are looking for until we face the discomfort we insist on hiding from.
Sometimes the best answer we will get is that some things just don’t make sense. Sometimes life really isn’t just or fair. Go ahead, let your inner two year old throw a tantrum and let that shit out. Sometimes what goes around does not come around, certainly not in the way we think it should. Sometimes a person who is suffering simply needs a body to sit with them in silence, allowing grief to process through, no matter how ugly it is.
These platitudes, though often well intentioned, stop healthy processing and lead to spiritual bypassing. Not everyone is comfortable sitting with others in their pain and that’s fine, but instead of throwing around platitudes to ease our own discomfort around their discomfort, tell the truth. The truth is, we may be able to empathize, but we cross the line when we offer advice or words of comfort for something we do not understand. It’s better to say, ”I don’t know what to say/do, what do you need from me?”
I guarantee the best thing you can do is to love them through all of it rather than discounting where their feelings want to be. We can’t pick and choose which emotions are OK and call it living spiritually. Let’s stop that.
“Teach people, not poses.” — Gary Kraftsow (paraphrased)
“Yoga contains asana, pranayama, meditation.
Anything else is acrobatics.”
(TKV Desikachar, from a long ago intensive in India)
Many of you know Brenda Feuerstein. She was married to eminent Yoga scholar, Georg Feuerstein (1947-2012) and they collaborated on a wealth of books and trainings in traditional Yoga. Brenda carries on their work in Traditional Yoga Studies where she does distance learning courses and has a Philosophy/History Training Manual for teaching that segment of 200- to 500-hour Yoga teacher training programs. It can be purchased here.
Recently on her Facebook page she posted this note that generated many comments. I believe her words should reach a larger audience beyond Facebook so Brenda gave me permission to post it here.
Of course I agree wholeheartedly. One of my students who has studied with me for 7+ years is moving out of state and she said: “This is a great post, I love it and it is so true. I am sure this is exactly what I will be facing once I move and attempt to find a studio/teacher that provide real yoga as it was intended.”
Talk amongst yourselves.
Stripping the Sacred
*Warning – you might not want to hear this*
I started learning Yoga when I was very small from a book my Mom had purchased. Richard Hittleman was the author and I suspect there was no other book on Yoga at the pharmacy where my Mom would have been shopping at the time. She was probably intrigued having read something in Reader’s Digest or possibly heard the word on one of the two TV channels that were available to us.
A little later a TV show started featuring German born Yoga teacher Kareen H. Zebroff. My Mom and I would “do” Yoga with her once a week. We had no sticky Yoga mat, no meditation cushion, no clothing that set us apart from anyone else, and no studio to support our practice after the show. We sat on the cold farmhouse floor and didn’t wonder if we should look into stickier mats and travel mats. My Mom and I just practiced and I felt a “specialness” that I wouldn’t fully understand until years later.
In my teens, I ended up in a small town where I saw a hand written poster of a Yoga class being held at the school gym. Nothing was said about getting my cakras cleared, my core muscles being strengthened, and no mention of the Yoga Alliance. It was straightforward just like her class. There was no music, no props, nothing to sit on but the floor, and most people didn’t even have an exercise mat. People wore sweat pants and t-shirts and a sweatshirt if it was a cold evening. She introduced herself as having studied at the Sivananada ashram and most people had no idea what that meant but most recognized the feeling of “specialness” in her heart. It was quiet and no one was showing how they could do a headstand before class. The class was straight forward. When she spoke it wasn’t in hard-to-understand anatomical terms, but she did use Sanskrit throughout the class. I suspect that is the way she was taught. She spoke gently and sweetly about her teacher and I’d often see her in tears which I knew meant something very “special”. Her class was challenging but not necessarily in a physical way. She taught us Yoga philosophy saying we needed to learn it well otherwise we were just doing calisthenics and we should go elsewhere if that’s what we wanted. She was strong and courageous and filled with love for her teacher and the path of Yoga.
Jump forward to 2015. I was invited to live in a city after living in a rural area for several years and I decided that experience would be helpful in better understanding the current state of Yoga (generally speaking). I was taken to studios daily until I suffered a severe injury. The injury was the result of two Yoga teachers believing they could fix my life-long physical condition from a C3,4,5 fracture that had healed well enough for me to lead a strong and very active life. Even though I told both teachers prior to the class that it was best to not adjust me under any circumstance because I’d worked one-on-one with therapists for years and knew my body very well, my adho mukha śvānāsana, utthita trikonasana, and śavāsana didn’t look “right” to them so I got surprise adjustments and was unable to function normally for months and even today I’m still suffering from the well-meaning teachers who thought they could cure me with their 200-500 hour YA training. Now I understand that modern postural Yoga has helped many people with physical injuries, but the fact remains these teachers felt they could “heal” me with Yoga when in fact I ended up being severally injured. I don’t know of a Yoga anatomy module in any teacher training that would address “fixing” or “healing” neck fractures.
What I learned through all of it was that the “specialness” – the sacred – appears to have been stripped away from Yoga. How is it that we went from a class or two a week offering to a gym/studio setting with 20-30 or more classes a week? How can anything feel sacred when there is so much of it and students become numbers on ledger for the accountant? True, for a tantric it could be, but really? I suspect that many people who say they’re tantrics have no idea what they mean and when asked come up with something they’ve memorized from the internet or some book written by someone who heard tantra sells.
My own opinion is that as long as we have large studios pumping out teachers and building their client base we will never fully regain the sacredness in Yoga. It will continue to be a marketplace where one teacher is trying to outdo the next one and where the words disrespect, lack of teacher and lineage recognition, and plagiarism means getting ahead in business.
We’ve used and abused a tradition with a sacred foundation and the outcome has been devastating on so many levels. People email me asking about book recommendations stating they’re confused with everything that’s out there. People email me and say they have to take a break from their Yoga practice because they’re injured, and I respond with, “what an incredible opportunity you have to go into the foundation of traditional Yoga by studying philosophy!” People email and say, “I feel bullied…do I have to certify with YA?” People email and say, “I don’t want to learn Sanskrit in a Yoga training.” I respond, “Please go talk to your Grade 1 teacher and ask them if learning the English language (that being their first language) was important for your Reading class.” and the list goes on and on…
There are people trying their best to keep the sacred in this beautiful tradition of Yoga, and possibly like me, they feel exhausted and frustrated at times. How many Yoga magazines do we need to buy? How many books on asanas do we really need? How many ways do we need to explain the yamas which were so clearly stated? How many ways do we need to do things before we finally see that the sacredness of Yoga is hanging on by a thread? How many times does this need to happen before we wake up?