Tag Archives: yoga teaching

Yoga in the time of covid

Surprise, kids!
So where have I been?

I have been missing in action since August 1, 2018 when I called out a well-known yoga writer and he blocked me on Facebook. No, that’s not the reason I stopped writing, I mention it because it’s funny.

I often think about deleting this blog because #1, I am not sure if anyone still reads it. But then I occasionally check out the stats and people are still reading me so my writing must benefit someone somewhere. #2, who reads blogs anymore? The few I still see the writers are writing about things I wrote about 10, 12 years ago. Namely, nowadays, diversity in Yoga. Ain’t no new thing, youngins. Respect your Yoga Elders and give them the credit they deserve. I guess when I was writing about it, no one was listening because no one is asking me to do a podcast or a diversity training for their teachers. The squeaky wheel gets the grease as the old saying goes.

I hope you all have been well and relatively peaceful during the pandemic. I know it’s been damn hard on some. In all these months of shut down I’ve taken solace in my Yoga and the Buddhadharma, knowing that things are not permanent even tho they may seem that way. All things are forever changing even tho it seems we are stuck in a loop.

For most of the time during this now 7 months of isolation and shutdown I have felt PLACID. SERENE. NOT BOTHERED. I have occasionally felt guilty (although really not very much) for my feeling of santosa when others have been freaking out. It is in times like this where the REAL YOGA KICKS IN.

A writer of another yoga blog asked me, “Which practices or philosophy in particular have you found helpful during this time?”

I told her: “It’s all contained in the Sutra-s and the Buddhadharma.  The underlying premise of the Sutra-s are Sat and Parinama.  It’s not about any practices per se but about knowing in your bones the truth of reality which is impermanence and knowing the Sutra-s and the Buddhadharma that speak to non-attachment.  Buddhadharma teaches that our suffering is caused by wanting things to be different from the way things are in each present moment.  I don’t know if that can be taught, it has to be experienced. Sure you can read about it, but there’s a difference in “knowing” and “knowing that you know.”

Of course every single experience is real at the moment of experiencing it – the Sat – whether pain, fear, anxiety, worry, joy, pleasure, loss, gain.  However, and most importantly, this reality is inevitably subject to change – Parinama – it will change in accordance with the interplay of the three Guṇa-s that we all have, namely, Tamas (inactivity), Rajas (activity), and Sattva (harmony.)  There are many factors, both internal and external, that lead to a fluctuation of the Guṇa-s.  Given that all objects in the material world are made up of some combination of the five elements (ether, air, fire, water, earth, according to Yoga philosophy) and given that the three Guṇa-s are always in a state of flux, everything that has a material existence is subject to change. What differs is the rate of change and also how we perceive that change as a unit of time depending on our own experience.

SO WHAT CAN WE DO?
The only thing that we can do that helps us in a beneficial way is to accept the reality of every moment as it unfolds – not denying, not rejecting, not suppressing, not fighting — just watching closely, observing objectively and accepting what is as it is at that moment, neither looking back at was with regret nor looking ahead at what will be with worry. Both regret and worry are natural mental processes that lead us nowhere.  Acceptance is not apathy or indifference, both of which come from a place of Tamas.  Acceptance comes from an ability to stay in the present moment and every moment as it unfolds.  Knowing this IN MY BONES is what has kept me on an even keel all these months, for which I am extraordinarily grateful.

WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO?
You can attend my ZOOM YOGA CLASSES where I start each class with a reading that is pertinent to these times and end with Alternate Nostril Breathing that helps with anxiety.  What one long time student has to say:

“Linda has been my yoga teacher and mentor for 18 years.

When the pandemic occurred we could no longer have class in person so Linda quickly presented us with the Zoom option. After a few classes I found that it was so helpful to me that I asked her to provide a second class each week, which we did and have continued for months. I have suffered from anxiety for 20 years and feel that Zoom yoga classes with Linda have been a true lifeline for me. Anxiety is a very prevalent problem these days and I find I always feel better after class. Linda’s classes are customized to the students’ needs and after 18 years, she is still presenting new asanas and giving us options according to our personal body structure. She is constantly educating herself by attending high level trainings. As her students, we greatly benefit from her training as she shares what she has learned. I highly recommend Linda’s Zoom classes as an excellent social distancing option during these trying times.”


Yes, this is shameless self-promotion. I don’t want to go the way of my root teacher who closed his Chicago studio this summer after being open since 1984. Frankly, I don’t blame him because I do not believe the yoga studio concept is sustainable especially during Covid times. Suddha said that Yoga is supposed to be simple, not complicated by social distancing, the constant disinfecting, and the hope that someone will show up. As a micro-business I do not have the luxury of a marketing or advertising budget and I depend on word of mouth. Asking people to promote me is like pulling teeth.

In 19 years of teaching I wish I had a dollar for every time someone told me that they wished they could study with me. That they wished they take one of my classes IF ONLY…..

Now is your chance during the Time of Covid. If Tuesdays or Thursdays at 11:30 AM (Chicago time) do not work for you, pick a day or evening and time that is convenient for YOU.  60 minute classes are $17, two classes a week are $15 each.  I take payment via PayPal and Venmo and Square Cash and Zoom links are sent to you the day before class.

Real Yoga is breath based…
Meet your mind through the avenues of your body.


WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

teacher trainings: then and now

desikachar kripalu
L TO R: Leslie Kaminoff, Navtej Johar, Mirka Scalco Kraftsow, Gary Kraftsow, R. Sriram, Mark Whitwell, Richard Miller, Larry Payne  ©2018 Metta Yoga: Mind-Body Education

I’ve returned from Kripalu from the Desikachar tribute weekend put together by Leslie Kaminoff and Lydia Mann that I wrote about here.  Leslie entitled it “Celebrating T.K.V. Desikachar: We Are the Lineage” and in the photo above are the presenters who took part.

There were three yoga sessions daily by each presenter, each one presenting an aspect of what they learned in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition.  Each night the presenters talked about how they came to the Krishnamarcharya Yoga tradition, what inspired them about it, and how they interacted with Desikachar.

Each one learned different things from Desikachar but the consistent thread was learning one-on-one with him and relationship.  Desikachar always taught that Yoga IS relationship.  Each of them went to India with different agendas, each one wanted to learn something different from the other so Desikachar taught to the individual according to their interests.

None of them went through a typical yoga teacher training with him as one does now, like a 200 or 500 hour training.  Listening to their stories it reminded me how differently they were taught then by Desikachar as opposed to now where people chase the pieces of paper that declares them a “yoga teacher.”

Does studying a mere 200 or 500 hours make you a yoga teacher?  In the 1970s and 1980s you would study with a teacher like Desikachar who would one day tell you “OK, now you’re ready, go out and bring what you learned into the world.”  Nowadays, who would be willing to study with a master teacher until they were told, in the master teacher’s opinion, that they were ready to teach?  What if that took two or three years instead of less than one year?  Be honest.

Each of the above presenters wanted to learn different things — Kraftsow was into religious studies while Kaminoff was not.  Johar went to Chennai to learn dance at the famous Kalakshetra dance school and met a man on a bus who said “you should go see my yoga teacher” and told him to go to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram.  Kraftsow learned something that Payne did not learn that was different from Miller’s training and so it went with each one.  Same same but different as we say in India.

Which brings us back to yoga teacher trainings as they are currently taught and what makes a good teacher.

I’ve never studied with Rod Stryker but he said this:

“Above all else: never, never stop being a student; study with the best, most notably, those who truly embody what they teach. Only then can you become a teacher of distinction. Only when you grow to understand and feel a legitimate link to the vision of yoga as seen by the tradition of yoga, and relate to it as something that breathes with sublime life and wisdom––and has long before you took your first breath––will you truly thrive as student and only then can you become a great teacher.”

My first teacher training in 2002 was not even 200 hours and my teacher did not belong to Yoga Alliance, he grandfathered into it.  He also did not go through a typical teacher training.  He was living with his Indian guru who told him, “You’re ready, go to Chicago and teach,” so he came and opened one of the first yoga studios in Chicago, if not THE first one in 1984.

I went back in 2003 to do Suddha’s course again where he taught it a bit differently.  I ended up meeting Srivatsa Ramaswami shortly thereafter who introduced me to the Krishnamacharya tradition and the rest is history.  None of the intensives or private one-on-one classes I took at KYM from 2005-2015 were “teacher trainings.”  I do not have one piece of paper from KYM that says I am a “certified yoga teacher” in the lineage, yet I’ve been told that with all my trainings since 2002 I have a PhD in Yoga.  I once received an email from KYM referring to me as a “senior teacher” in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition.  Cough, cough.  Yeah, that and $3 will buy me a Starbucks.

So where are the students who want to study with a lineage holder in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition AKA me?  Crickets.

After teaching for 17 years I finally have a mentee whom I adore because she said she wanted to study with a teacher from a lineage.  Lineage was important to her.  She drives from Indianapolis (about 4 hours) once a month for a weekend and I teach in the old school way as Desikachar taught each of the presenters mentioned above:  she comes with what she wants to learn, asks questions, and I answer them.  Simple.

She leaves and then until we see each other again, she allows what I’ve taught to resonate with her.  She recently told me:

“I have been processing a lot about being a modern yoga teacher — what is authentic and truthful to the practice and what resonates as authentic and truthful to me (in my understanding of that truth)?
What I am finding is that the Krishnamacharya lineage, as I am learning through you, has strong resonance.  I am looking forward to continuing under your mentorship.  I am also rediscovering and reengaging my practice on a very basic level.  I’m getting to my mat and simply making shapes and witnessing my body respond. …
I am feeling more relaxed about my learning journey.  It’s a lifetime.  … I am letting what I learned settle and integrate.  There is no need to hurry the process.  I was seeking to obtain some definition of who I am/what I do.  It does not matter.  The label is the suffering and has often been my suffering.  I do not fit the mold.  It’s okay.  I am enough.”
That’s REAL YOGA.

Who wants some?

Sí se puede y viva la huelga!

medusa

In case you can’t read Spanish or are too young to know what the title means, I wrote “Yes, you can” and basically, “long live the strike!”  A strike is one of the most powerful tools workers can use to fight business owners.  “Viva la huelga” was the rallying cry of Chicano farm workers in California and Texas when they fought for decent living wages, decent housing, and for the right to be represented by a union.

I am certainly NOT comparing the working conditions of yoga teachers to farm workers who perform back breaking labor in the hot sun but…

what if yoga teachers stopped working for shit pay?

I mean, all over the country, in every yoga studio.

After yesterday’s post I was told that in Salt Lake City, Utah the rate for yoga teachers is more like $1-$3 per student instead of the Chicago rate of $6 per student.  Maybe someone who is fresh out of their 200-hour is fine with that, but for those who have been teaching for 10+ years, it’s damn insulting.  Add to that basic 200 hour training, years of study in India (if that was the teacher’s path), any type of specialized training like in trauma or addictions or Yoga Nidra, etc., or becoming a Certified Yoga Therapist via a 300/800/1000 hour training.

Obviously the current yoga studio model is broken and abysmal.

It also doesn’t help that yoga teachers are (and have been for years) a dime a dozen in America thanks to too many yoga teacher trainings.

BLOW UP THE MODEL AND INVENT A NEW ONE.

But people always get what they put up.  Always.

What if yoga teachers banded together and refused to teach for shit pay at studios?  What if they demanded a living wage where they could support themselves and pay bills?

How many teachers do you know — maybe you are one yourself — who are completely burned out and injured from teaching too many classes a week in order to support yourself?  You don’t even have time for your practice, right?

I know that some studio owners ask their established teachers to teach for free in order to introduce or attract people to the studio.  JUST.  STOP.

There IS power in numbers.  What could yoga studio owners do?  NOTHING.  If it meant yoga studios going out of business, so what?  Aren’t there too many studios in some places, a studio on every block in large cities like Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles?

Or would this scenario mean that only the corporate studios stay like CorePower and their ilk?

Think about it and talk amongst yourselves.

Spread the word, forward this post.  Maybe we can start a labor movement.  Dare I say it, a union for yoga teachers?  Oh wait, I just woke up from that dream.

What has the Yoga Alliance done for ya lately? 😉

 

 

ask me again why I don’t teach in yoga studios

all aboard, Madurai
Yoga teacher getting ready to throw herself down the shitter

Chicago area yoga studios still pay their teachers SHIT.

$6 a student?  I was paid $5 a student at a Geneva IL studio 10 YEARS AGO.  The owner also gave out “first class free” passes all over the Fox Valley and guess whose yin class she’d send them to because she thought yin yoga was a “beginner” yoga class for people who’ve never done yoga.  If you had never done any yoga whatsoever and knew nothing about it, imagine coming to a yin yoga class for your first time.   They never came back AND SHE WOULDN’T PAY TEACHERS FOR ALL THOSE FREE STUDENTS.  Some months I’d lose $100+.  Ask me why I don’t teach in studios anymore.

Shared from a teacher friend (who’s been teaching a very long time):

“I know that for many independent yoga center owners keeping the doors open is an ongoing financial struggle. The business model needs reworking, but what to replace it with?  I don’t think that paying instructors $6 per student is part of the answer. I was approached by 2 local studios in the past 3 months, & that’s what they were offering. “It’s an incentive to build your classes. If you get a big enough group you can make some pretty good money.”

She made that comment when she posted this article:

Yoga Center of Minneapolis abruptly closes, withholds teachers’ paychecks

From the article:

“It was no secret that the center was struggling, he says, even though people weren’t aware of just how bad things had gotten. He didn’t know how to tell staff in advance that there was no money left to pay them, and he didn’t want them to work another minute without compensation.”  [emphasis supplied]

WHAT?!  HE DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO TELL THE STAFF IN ADVANCE HE COULDN’T PAY THEM?!  HOW ABOUT THE TRUTH?

Do you think this would have given him a clue?

“He says he lost $1 million on the business, borrowed money from family and friends, declined a salary for years, and worked up to the last minute to try and make payroll…”

A yoga studio doesn’t lose a million bucks overnight so I think over the years he had a bit of a clue as to how his business was doing.

A friend and I taught at a now defunct yoga studio in Sycamore IL and when my friend’s paycheck bounced, the owner became insulted when my friend told her “I need that check to pay my bills” — as if my friend had no right to get upset about a bounced check.

In 17 years of teaching I have found yoga studio owners to be of two types — one (the most prevalent) is the airy fairy type who has no idea how to run a real business.  The ones who are all peace love dove and about manifesting abundance but never returning the phone calls of people asking for information about a workshop.  Guess who was giving the workshop and had to cancel because “no one was interested.”  Uh huh.

The other is cut throat who doesn’t give a damn about yoga or the teachers who show up every day.  The less you need to ask about anything, the better, because you’re on your own.  For that type of studio owner it could be a Pilates studio or a dance studio or a butcher shop for all they care.  Just make sure you clean the toilets.

99% of the owners I’ve dealt with have no business whatsoever running a shoe shine stand let alone a yoga studio.

Now before anyone tells me what a big meany I am or how judgmental I am or wants to tell me how hard it is to run a business, check yourself.  I run TWO businesses, my yoga biz and my India travel biz.  The latter requires me to deal with people 8000 miles away, most of whom I’ve never met, setting up hotels, drivers, guides, etc., a year in advance of the trip and then hoping and sweating and fingers crossed that everything I’ve set up is OK when I get there.  If you don’t think that causes many sleepless nights, try it.

Plus, I grew up watching my father run his business, a neighborhood grocery store and meat market, that he owned for about 40 years.  I learned about running a biz via osmosis.

So if you’re a studio owner reading this and you are not one of those two types and who knows the difference between a spreadsheet and a mandala drawing, your teachers are very lucky and blessed.  I commend you wholeheartedly and I wish I was teaching at YOUR studio, being valued and compensated appropriately for all my experience and knowledge and emotional labor.

You are a very rare bird indeed.

 

 

 

 

morning rants

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Artist unknown – sorry! If you know, tell me, I will give credit where credit is due.

Good morning, yoga peeps!  No, I’m not going to say NAMASTE.

Because OH MY GODDESS, GIVE ME STRENGTH TO DEAL WITH THIS MODERN YOGA WORLD.

I just came back from one of my favorite places on Earth and I’m not talking about India.  The only reason I returned home was my cat Maggie, NOT because I have to teach yoga.  So I am feeling extra ranty this morning.

Two articles came up in my Facebook news feed and of  course there’s lots of back and forth and blah blah blah about it.

Y’all might have seen the original article about ethics for yoga teachers, the one that appeared in the New York Times.

This is the one being discussed in my FB feed today:  A Code of Ethics for Yoga Teachers – a draft.  

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

As a Buddhist, I’ve also taken the Five Precepts.  But those AND Patanjali’s Yamas and Niyamas don’t stop anyone from doing anything if they really want to commit something or take advantage of someone.

We’re talking about INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY, PEOPLE.

Fuck rules or suggesting that LICENSING yoga teachers will help.  There are scummy yoga teachers who know the Yamas and Niyamas and still went off the rails. There are Buddhist lamas who slept with their students.  There are yoga teachers who don’t know yoga philosophy from a hole in the ground yet they are ethical and smart teachers.

Maybe I’m a total simpleton but I don’t need a set a rules to enforce me to be kind, to have empathy, to not take advantage of someone, to not cheat someone, etc. etc. etc.  Too much talk, not enough discernment.

The other article is Yoga can be painful and can lead to injury, study says.

Well, no shit, Sherlock.

“Doctor, my shoulders hurt so much from doing 108 chaturungas in my Power Yoga class every day.  What should I do?”

“Don’t do them.  Take a rest.”

DUH.

I’m pretty much over these reductionist articles about yoga including the recent one that Consumer Reports published about how yoga is great for back pain.  YAY, everyone jump on the yoga bandwagon because IT’S ALL GOOD!

Yoga IS good for back pain. But depending on the yoga AND the yoga teacher it can also aggravate back pain.

How is “yoga” defined?  If a doctor tells someone to “do yoga” where are they going to go? To a local studio where a class is taught by someone just out of a 200 hr training the previous week?

To a local gym or park district fitness center where classes are an hour and there are 30 people in a class?

Or are they going to seek out private one on one yoga with someone with a ton of training and experience who has studied in a therapeutic yoga tradition for 10+ years and knows how to modify asanas/meditation/breathwork for their body and condition?

This is why there must be differentiation between asana only classes and yoga as a vehicle for transformation mind/body/spirit (whatever spirit means to you.)  Those categories require different levels of training and have different outcomes.

I’ve always said YOGA is a question of semantics because asana only is not YOGA.  Yeah, I said that, deal with it.  As I’ve said before, I heard Desikachar say in class, “Yoga contains asana, pranayama, and meditation.  Anything else is acrobatics.”

Talk amongst yourselves.

 

 

are you faking it ’til you make it?

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ONLY IN INDIA ©2017 Metta Yoga & Bodywork Company

Below is a question that was asked in a Facebook yoga group I belong to.  As a teacher who is persona non grata in my local “yoga community”, it was an important question.  My answer to the teacher’s question is below it.

“I’m wondering how people experience and process professional jealousy. It seems to be a part of our normal human experience, but it feels particularly horrible – sticky, viscous and taboo. Sometimes it’s ridiculous – resenting that a new teacher, who I’ve mentored and supported – has ten people in their first class, even though most of them are friends there to offer support. Other times it’s more peer-related: why has that person received that opportunity (even if it’s one I didn’t want) or that recognition or that amount of money? For me, it seems to be rooted partly in anxiety about my capacity to make a living (which is compromised because of my disabilities), and partly in a voracious need to be seen – which I can laugh about, but there it is.”

MY ANSWER:
“I think it’s all about finding your niche and to stop trying to be all things for every yoga student. I’m not a “love and light” type of teacher so for those people looking for that, I’m not their teacher. There are plenty of others out there who will be. I always remember what I heard Seanne Corn say in a workshop, that she’d rather teach to the two who get it (i.e., what she teaches) than the 10 who don’t.  I’ve reconciled myself with that.  That might not mean a lot of money in my yoga bank account, but it’s all about choices. I’d rather be me than try to be something I’m not.  I’m not going to fake it to make it.”

What say you, yoga peeps?  Are you faking it by pushing down your emotions as if they are something dirty?

From my Buddhist perspective, less than beneficial emotions are not to be transcended, they are merely to be recognized and let go.  Yes, I know, SIMPLE BUT NOT EASY.

In this Facebook yoga group some said negative emotions should be transcended so we can evolve into an enlightened state.  Good luck with that Humans!

It fascinates me to see how many yoga people believe we are supposed to be immune to jealousy, hate, anger, bitterness, etc. merely because we practice yoga.  A 200 hour training, 1000 hours, or even 10,000 hours of training does not mean we become enlightened.  I mean seriously?!  Ramana Maharshi spent days in such deep samadhi that he was unaware of ant bites.  THAT’S trancendance, people!

After about six weeks, “he was carried out and cleaned up. For the next two months he stayed in the Subramanya Shrine, so unaware of his body and surroundings that food had to be placed in his mouth or he would have starved.”  And we expect to become enlightened or transcend painful emotions just because we do a little yoga?  WHAT?!  One woman commented in the Facebook group that she felt “immature” and so “unevolved” for having an emotion like jealousy.  I’ve heard the Dalai Lama say that sometimes he still gets annoyed at reporters’ dumb questions.  Hey, if HHDL can get miffed about dumb questions, so can I.

I have found these things to be extremely helpful to me over the years.

The first thing is the wonderful book Shadows on the Path by Abdi Assadi.  It is not a recent book but I think it’s the best I’ve read about our shadows on the spiritual path.  It will definitely be required reading if I ever get around to creating a teacher training.  My copy is heavily underlined and dog-eared.

The second thing is Jack Kornfield’s technique of RAIN:  “RAIN stands for Recognition, Acceptance, Investigation, and Non-Indentification. This acronym echoes the Zen poets who tell us “the rain falls equally on all things.” Like the nourishment of outer rain, the inner principles of RAIN can transform our difficulties.”

I also recommend Phillip Moffitt’s book, Emotional Chaos to Clarity: How to Live More Skillfully, Make Better Decisions, and Find Purpose in Life.   The Amazon blurb: “Despite our best-laid plans, life is difficult, and we sometimes experience anger, anxiety, frustration, and doubt. This emotional chaos can negatively affect the way we live our lives. Yet, Phillip Moffitt shows us that by cultivating a responsive mind rather than a reactive one, we can achieve a state of emotional clarity that allows us to act with a calm mind and a loving heart.”

Stop beating yourself up for being human.  You’re only a yoga teacher. 😉

who says yoga classes should be 90 minutes?

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?

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my “freedom style” yoga class in India

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.

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’ve been told that I don’t have lots of students because I “intimidate people,”
because I talk about who I’ve trained with.
FUCK THAT NOISE.
I have worked damn hard in 15 years and if
I intimidate you, that’s on YOU, baby, 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?