children’s yoga

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.”

“Spiritual Bypassing and the Dangers of Well Meaning Platitudes” – DeAnna Shires

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.

 

scream  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.

“Stripping the Sacred” – Brenda Feuerstein

patanjali2
Patanjali

“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?

do I need to be anointed to be credible?

 

So much goes on in the Modern Yoga World (TM) now that it’s hard to keep up without it sounding like a constant rant.  Maybe I should just write about what actor or rock star does yoga, post a photo of them drinking a latte with a mat under their arm, and comment on what brand yoga pants they wear.  That would really be so much easier and would probably get me more readers.  But I digress.

I’m sure by now many of you have heard about the Yoga Alliance stance on using terms such as “yoga therapy” or “therapeutic yoga” or anything that sounds like a teacher has anything to do with “healing” or “medicine” or even “alleviating.”  You can can go on their site and see the restricted words.  As someone who worked for litigation lawyers for 20 years I know it was a CYA (“cover your ass”) move.

The policy does not only apply to your YA profile but also to your personal website IF you are YA registered.  Don’t register with the YA and you can say whatever you want about what you do or how you teach.

I am now an E-RYT 500 teacher with the YA and also an official “Continuing Education Provider.”  Yes, yes, yes, I know — I ranted for years about the Yoga Alliance, I totally own that.  You can read what I wrote in 2011 here when I was a mere E-RYT 200.

But the fact remains that there are those WHO WILL NOT STUDY OR TRAIN WITH A TEACHER UNLESS THEY ARE ANOINTED BY THE YOGA ALLIANCE.  I resisted reinstating my YA registration for years and finally broke down.  Of the teachers I know who also consider the YA useless and a waste of money, 100% say that the reason they pay up is because of the above reason.  The teacher training I took at the old school Chicago studio where I originally certified in 2002 was never YA registered until people starting asking the owner whether his training was YA registered.

The fact is that I re-joined the YA purely for marketing reasons, not because I think it means anything.  The fact is that after teaching for 15 years, training for 10 years in India, and being featured in a book, I am a yoga nobody where I live so if the YA seals give me “credibility” and “presence”, so be it.

I do not have the luxury of owning a studio that can attract students.  And yes, if you are surviving and making money with a yoga studio that IS a luxury in today’s yoga business market, consider yourself lucky.  I live in a town of 25,000 and there are three studios besides a park district that offers yoga.  Fifteen years ago when I started teaching and basically knew nothing, I had 40 students in another park district’s class.  Now I am lucky if I have five students who show up consistently.  Those students don’t care about the YA but if I can get teachers who want more training by using the YA seal, I am going to use it to my advantage.  It ain’t personal, it’s business, baby.

Cora Wen told me that back in 2001 Judith Lasater told her: “Every profession has an organisation and YA looks like they are winning in the registry.  Get the certificate now.  Or you will one day have to pay someone less qualified than you are to get a certificate.”

There ya go.  Like I said….

YACEP

Now the International Association of Yoga Therapists has rolled out their “certification” for yoga therapists.  I’ve been an IAYT member for years and even wrote an article for their journal on teaching trauma sensitive yoga.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think there should be some type of measure of a yoga teacher’s ability just as there is a measure for massage therapists, for example.  And yes, I know MTs are licensed which I absolutely do not agree with for yoga teachers.  But for these paid for labels to be the be-all and end-all and the only thing that makes a teacher worthy in the public eye makes me very itchy.

I looked into the IAYT certification process but I don’t have the proof that in all the intensives I took at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram that there was any “yoga therapy” involved.  But there was because there always is something about yoga therapeutics beyond asana practice.

What got me thinking about all of this was the article “Are We Entering a Golden Age of Yoga Therapy??” by Eden Goldman.  According to Goldman’s quote…

“Yoga Therapy is the philosophy, art, and science of adapting classical Yoga techniques to contemporary situations to support people with physical, mental, and emotional ailments. According to the definition of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), “Yoga therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well-being through the application of the teachings and practices of Yoga.”

Practically speaking, Yoga Therapy is the reinvention of a personalized Yoga experience where the practice is modified to meet the individual’s ever-changing needs. Since ancient times, adaptability in one’s teaching, practice, and approach has rested at the heart of Yoga’s most fundamental influence: the relationship, insights, and trust created through the practice by one teacher working with one student.”

…I’ve been a “yoga therapist” for 10+ years.  Do I still need to be anointed by the IAYT to be credible?

I’ve done 10 years of many intensives at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, multiple yoga therapy trainings including two levels of Phoenix Rising, 300 hours of Svastha Yoga Therapy with Dr. Ganesh Mohan, a Therapeutic Yoga for Seniors training at Duke University, and trauma sensitive yoga.  Besides teaching in India and Africa.

Can I call myself a “master teacher”?  You tell me.

Do I still need the YA and IAYT seals on my website to prove my worth to the rest of the world?

It’s become crystal clear to me that the name of the game in the Modern Yoga World is MARKETING because no one gives a damn about all of the above.  I don’t have the $6,000 that I need to upgrade my website to grab SEO and make it the latest and greatest Yoga Business site.  It’s much cheaper for me to lose myself in South India and hang a shingle that says “YOGA TEACHER TRAINING.”

In my 15 years of teaching I’ve never put myself out there as a “yoga therapist” because I believe all yoga can be therapeutic if applied in a beneficial manner.  Even Bikram Yoga was beneficial to the Vietnam War vet who spoke to us about his PTSD when I did the trauma sensitive yoga training.

I’ve always said that no one called Krishnamacharya a yoga therapist, he taught YOGA.

Krishnamacharya’s principle was “Teach what is inside you, not as it applies to you, to yourself, but as it applies to the other.“  He taught that Yoga should always be adapted to the unique needs of each individual.

Does one who jumps through the hoops and pays for the IAYT “certification” automatically know more or is more capable of supporting or empowering someone than I am?  The buying of labels has been problematic for me for years. It’s the same old story: people will study with a Yoga Alliance or IAYT labeled teacher before they will with someone who has the years of experience.

In the end, I don’t need validation.
I know what I offer.

But then in this Modern Yoga day and age there is this passing itself off as “Yoga Medicine.”  Yes, you CAN think yourself thin AND sexy!

It’s Tara Stiles’ Slim Calm Sexy Yoga all over again.  Just use the word “meditate” and it makes it all credible and so deliciously New Age.

THAT POST IS EVERYTHING THAT IS WRONG WITH MODERN YOGA.

Women with eating disorders feel bad enough about themselves already, how much worse will they feel if they can’t “think themselves thin”?  At least she didn’t mention bra fat.

How is this in any way empowering?  I’m all about mindful eating and eating healthy foods, but the buzzwords used by this “master yoga teacher and specialist in sports and Chinese medicine” are what is typically found on a magazine cover at your grocery store check out line, the same bullshit that sounds like “LOSE YOUR BELLY FAT IN 5 EASY YOGA MOVES!”

No wonder us old school teachers throw in the towel

Funny.  I did not see the Yoga Alliance or IAYT seals on her website.  Anywhere.

Without them you can say whatever you want to say about yoga.

diversity in Yoga — again

Back in 2007 when people used to read me, I wrote a post about the Color of Yoga asking why American Yoga is such a white thang.

Seven years later my friend and yoga teacher Oreste Prada said it was time to change the question about the whiteness of Yoga.

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.

Talk amongst yourselves.

 

 

 

what are they teaching out there?

depaul panel

 

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.

What the hell are they teaching out there?

 

 

 

 

let’s give ’em something to talk about

Fasten your seatbelts, kids!  I’ve seen a flurry of articles about yoga on Facebook that SCREAM for pithy comments!

Here goes:

Tony Perkins Upset That ‘Goofy’ Yoga Classes ‘Driving Religion Out’ Of Military

Christian conservative leader Tony Perkins is upset — this time, about yoga classes being offered to military members.

Why? Because the “goofy” style of exercise has been used as a “wacky” substitute for a “personal relationship with God,” effectively driving religion out of the military.

My first thought on that was hmmmmm……maybe if yoga was not taught as strictly a fitness regimen in many places (“power” yoga, “yoga boot camp”, etc.) and the therapeutic (healing for both body and mind) aspects were emphasized, maybe this guy wouldn’t think it was a “goofy style of exercise.”  Maybe if he knew that real yoga is all about healing and transformation……  but I know I ask for too much.

I am  not talking about yoga therapy.  I am talking about therapeutic aspects of yoga in general.  I don’t separate the therapeutic aspects in my classes.  I occasionally do private yoga therapy sessions (such as trauma sensitive yoga), but I consider ALL my classes therapeutic in one way or another.  In western yoga culture, there is yoga and then there is yoga therapy.  Separation.  Duality.  No one called Krishnamacharya a “yoga therapist.”   Krishnamacharya’s principle was “Teach what is inside you, not as it applies to you, to yourself, but as it applies to the other.“   He taught that yoga should always be adapted to the unique needs of each individual.   When people lined up down the street outside his door he prescribed practices for them based on their individual needs, asana+pranayama+meditation.  It was just yoga.  It saddens me that I still have to explain to people that yoga heals, it’s not all about getting your ass kicked in a yoga class.

Actor, columnist, cook: Meet Yoga’s glamour girl Kathryn Budig

Damn, and I thought I was yoga’s glamour girl!  Ripped off again!  A comment from my Facebook page:  “‘she realized she was meant to be a yoga teacher.’  I never had that realization.  Rather, my teachers told me.  And I resisted.”

My teacher also told me to become a teacher and I resisted, too, but I became a teacher at 48, an age that some people think you’re all washed up.  I read something the other day:  in this culture when a woman hits her 50s she becomes invisible to men.  When a woman hits her 60s she becomes invisible to other women.   Good thing Ms. Budig is already a sensation at the ripe age of 29.

A New Year’s Resolution for Queer and Trans People of Color: Forget the Gym, Occupy Yoga Studios

This piece rocks!  I absolutely love it.  Although I am not black/brown/L/B or T, I feel the same way:

I’m tired of Googling “yoga” only to have images spat back at me that scream entitlement–the kind of entitlement that comes with being able to pay $18 for a class that takes place in some bourgie studio with the words “om” and “namaste” printed on everything and giant pictures of the Hindu God Ganesha everywhere.

I’ll tell you what I’m tired of:  yoga bleaching. 

yoga bleaching: 1. a form of marketing in which yoga or an image of yogic lifestyle is used to make an otherwise unrelated product appear to be in line with yogic principles. 2. the act of using yoga or an image of yogic lifestyle to sell an unrelated product. 3. a form of spin or marketing intended to deceive consumers into believing that a product is related to yogic practice or theory when in fact it is not.

The local studio is selling a natural deodorant with the name of DeOm.  Yes, you read it correctly:  DE OM with a conspicuous AUM symbol on the bottle.  It was created by a teacher at the studio using minerals and organic herbs.  You can sweat like a horse in your hot vinyasa class but not stink like a street in India:

pondicherry sign

Now I am all for women entrepreneurs and I know the teacher; she’s very nice, I like her, and I hope she makes a lot of money, I really do.   HOWEVER…..using a sacred symbol to push your product a la yoga bleaching makes me all types of itchy.  A different name and image perhaps such as LOTUS, even AKASHA?  I would probably buy a natural deodorant named Lotus or Akasha but wiping something with the AUM symbol under my arms?  But hey, that’s me.

Would it be any different if I invented some new fangled toilet paper and named it “Jesus Wipes” and put His image on it?

Just askin’.

Not Your Parents’ Yoga

Jason Brown once again knocks it out of the park:

Among serious-minded practitioners, there is palpable discontent with the course the yoga industry seems to be on. Teachers, who in the past were voices defining what yoga is in the 21st century, are now understandably more concerned with enjoying their latter years than attempting to push back against entrenched forces that care little for the soul of yoga. The newer generation has often been thrown out into the wilderness without the tools or knowledge to fulfill their impulse to carry the torch. In the absence of teachers framing the conversation and defining yoga in authentic ways, the market will always fill the gap with whatever sells….

One of my readers here wrote to me and said how refreshing it was to see someone doing “old school” with no apologies. There is much to be said about staying true to yourself and not caving to mainstream.  I may not have lots of students because I no longer teach in studios but as a friend told me, I and my students have created a true sangha, old school yoga way.

Folks are not buying just anything as yoga anymore. And they are telling their friends. The rampant commercialization and co-opting of yoga has become so overblown that even the unfamiliar are skeptical. Times remain too tough to effectively continue hocking candy-coated platitudes. From out of the daunting malaise of pressures and seeming demise, conditions are becoming more ripe to slough off obsolete thinking. No more will we be led around by false gurus or complacent with hypocrisies. No longer will success be defined by status or achieved at the expense of others.  We can and will do better. Let us have the courage to imagine it so.

I’m certainly not a yoga sensation like Ms. Budig but when a woman younger than her tells this Crone, “You are a life saver.  Without you I would be a stressed out 20 year old bitching about everything.  Now I live my life and I’m writing my own story and I have never felt better.  I tell everyone about you and how you guide people to find not only  happiness but themselves.  I thank you for opening my eyes to that.”….

….. THAT is success.  Priceless.

The New Mantra: Replacing ‘Om’ With ‘Glam’

The athletic-wear company Lululemon, known for its yoga togs, introduced a meditation-specific capsule collection in fall 2012, with pieces retailing at relatively affordable prices, including a Devotion Long-Sleeve Tee ($68) and an Intuition Sweater Wrap ($178) that doubles as a meditation blanket. With its extra-deep hood, the Please Me Pullover ($118) is perfect to wear during Zen Buddhist meditation practice, said Amanda Casgar, a spokeswoman for the company, since during the process “you keep your eyes open but focus on a point on the floor in front of you. Pulling the hood right down over your eyes automatically creates that line of sight,” she said.
For the more affluent enthusiast, Donna Karan’s Urban Zen line, affiliated with her charitable wellness foundation of the same name, has become a popular choice (sweat pants, $995).

Oh.  My.  Goddess.  How the hell did anyone meditate before the Please Me Pullover?!?  I mean, really?  Apparently these guys don’t know a damn thing about yoga and meditation ’cause they’re all nekkid!  How did they survive all these years?

IMG_1373
Real Yogis, Kumbh Mela, Haridwar, 2010

“When meditating, the author Gabrielle Bernstein avoids belts or drawstring pants. “Tying anything to your body blocks the energy flow,” she said.”  Please show me the palm leaf in India where that is written.   Is that in the secret palm leaf library in Tamil Nadu?

Note the traditional red string tied around the waists of these babas.

Just sayin’.

Lastly, while this is not a post on yoga per se, I believe it is relevant considering the NYT piece.

Creativist Manifesto:  Consumer v. Creator

I think it absolutely ties in with modern yoga.

Being a consumer means accepting an essentially passive role in our life, one in which we seek fulfillment through the accumulation of stuff, whether it be material goods, a high status job, or even in terms of our relationships.

And yet, increasingly, we know that living our life as consumers is damaging us—damaging us as individuals and as a society, and damaging the earth that supports us. As consumers, we are left searching for that which will give meaning to our lives, as we fail to find lasting satisfaction in consumption….

Instead of seeing ourselves as consumers, I believe we need to see ourselves as Creativists.

A Creativist is a person who creates and connects and acts. Creativists are connected with who they are and are driven from the inside out, rather than being defined by a position as a consumer in society. Creativists fulfill their need to create which is part of all of us. Creativists use their gifts, and in doing so connect with others and in turn society benefits.

The distinction is clear. Consume versus Create. And the forces of consume versus create contain within them a series of choices that we make everyday in our lives—in our relationships, at work and in our communities.

And that’s why Yoga — REAL Yoga — is a radical act.  As Krishnamacharya said, “Yoga is a process of replacing old patterns with new and more appropriate patterns.”  Real Yoga enables us to make appropriate choices for our relationships, work, and communities.

The renouncers of the Vedic rituals, the ancient yogis, the sramanas,  were radicals who made the choice to break free of mainstream 8th Century BC.

No special clothes required.