Upon seeing a yoga class from a view at the door, my eyes wide, my mouth gaping, a foreign world of thought tumbled forward:
Look at all those people! How do all those people fit in one room arms in the air, front knee bent? What is that teacher offering them that they want to crowd into a room like that? How does this happen? What is the teacher thinking when he sees all of this…does he feel inspired by the turnout? Can he see everyone who he’s talking to? Is it just a business for him? How did all these people find out about the class? What made ALL of them feel it was a good idea to go to THIS class? Do they know why they went and what they’re there for? Is the teacher part of the industry…or is the teacher really that authentic? And teaching to that many students, who’ve all come crowding in, wouldn’t our world be a little better than it is? Or maybe it’s not the teacher, but what these students are willing and ready to receive from the teacher? Are they ready to receive authentic teaching, or did they crowd into this room because everyone else did? Do they know this answer? Are they connected to their heart, or are they only going through the motions? Are they aware of their capacity to grow? Are they aware of this concept, or are they just taking in the instruction from the teacher (physically, philosophically)…so that they have more to say…more yoga to talk about?
So many questions, and are they valid? I rarely have a positive experience in these rooms full of people. I usually feel like running out of them, I can’t roll up my mat soon enough. But I do know when I’m in a space which is welcoming and inclusive, even if we’re still practicing and growing our comfort zones. I do know this. Inclusive spaces can be crowded too, but somehow, in a different way. I don’t know about these other crowded spaces, they feel foreign to me. What do these people do with themselves when they’re not crowded into this space? Do they consider their practice further, or was it an hour they got done in their day, and have now moved on to something else? Like, what are they doing now that they’re not in that crowded room listening to the teacher’s instructions? What are they interested in when they’re not in this room? With so many millions of people “practicing yoga”, wouldn’t our world be heading in a better direction than it seems to be?
The truthfulness of our practice is Satya…and I wonder about this a lot, especially when we do things because of popularity. Truthfulness is not only about not lying, it is the ability to self-reflect. We define our perceptions by what we say and do, so understanding why and how we do what we do, is critical to Satya. Following through with being accountable for what we say and do is a marked sign of our development. Are we willing to mature in our practice of Satya? To become more knowledgeable about truthfulness, and wise with it, creates an intimacy with our practice. Being intimate with our practice is both uncomfortable and liberating, because it’s honest. This is why Satya is so scary for many people…we don’t want its discomfort, we don’t want its inconvenience, and we don’t know how to do it. When we do, we become removed from the crowd. But can we just do it anyway? Being accountable means we’ve thought through what we’ll say before we say it, or take action after having thought about the possible consequences, and whether these consequences stand up to what we talk about. Are we willing to clear up misunderstandings and consider others? Our society today fosters no accountability, nor do most crowded yoga studios, so we’re not required to develop this skill nor our practice. I’m not saying this about all crowded classes…I just wonder about the chronically crowded classes.--with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
“I just want to be ok”…we can often think this about ourselves when we practice Yoga. It’s a harsh thought, no matter how quietly we might hear it. Yoga is about greater self awareness and the acceptance that comes from that; but sadly, we naturally apply our culturally developed thinking as a framework around it. Almost like we try to catch it in a net that is already familiar to us. Unfortunately, Yoga is advertised in the same way as everything else, as a commodity. It has become a product to sell. The glory of the perpetual industry drives us to believe that there is something to “Get”, to “Attain”, to “Have” from Yoga. The marketing of Yoga tells us that what we’re getting is the promise of “Happiness”. Wanting to “be Ok” is a harsh and aggressive self attitude because it usually comes from a desperation for happiness, and industry is financially fueled by a desperate society. We deceive ourselves by believing that this cultural framework will support the unformed newness of a deepening and authentic Yoga practice. So there can be a tendency to fall into the shadow and use Yoga to fuel our belief that there is something fundamentally wrong with us.
Sometimes, I think an aspect of ourselves which pops up in our practice, is an unanticipated relentlessness. The gift of increasing self insight can instead be turned into a drive for continual “betterment” of ourselves…suddenly it can seem that there is so much to look at and address personally. As if we’re realizing we’ve been doing something wrong all this time and now how are we going to fix it. Firstly, know you weren’t doing anything wrong…hopefully what you were doing was the best with what you knew about yourself. Have this compassion for self, ultimately it will help you recognize a connection with others. This feeling that “If we’re not careful…” can create a critical eye which stems from the competitive internal space which needs to get to an “other” than where we are. Take care with this, don’t lose the supportive purpose of Yoga through a thick blanket of market based perceptions.
But what if there is nothing to “Wrong”, nothing to “Attain” from Yoga? Humans generally aren’t ok with that. What if Yoga is just our pedestrian walk through Life? Daily life for the most part, is pretty uneventful and again, we’re trained to perceive that as boring or uninteresting. We usually rely on this passive perception when we’re not really getting the message. The message of Life is usually embedded within layers of understanding and perception. For example, we’ve all had those moments that come on like a light and we say, “Oh yeaaah”, smiling brightly, finger in the air, like pointing out layer upon layer of things that are suddenly understood, and were all embedded in that one moment. The gloriousness and magic of life is in this simplicity, but we’re trained to omit this experience for the obnoxious sounds and visuals that constantly override it. Egoic stimulation is exaggerated for the purpose of driving up our level of anxiety. The neediness that this anxiety creates forces us to run after and desperately chase whatever is being dangled in front of us. This leaves residing in the quiet simplicity of life as a big challenge. It grows to feel like simplicity is not enough, and so it doesn’t capture our attention. It usually captures our attention though, but in that underground gnawing kind of way. We really personally have to be the one to call our own self to attention on this. It has to be a personal choice to really discipline our own self, and to stand firm because no one else is going to do it for us. Culturally it’s not accepted or fostered. It has to be your choice.
Yoga is the last thing of a human developed ideal. It is the most natural independent flow of spontaneity. This can’t be controlled in itself, it can only arise. We tune our personality toward it through our practices, but Yoga isn’t necessary as a practice in itself, because it just arises. It’s that same spark that creates the heartbeat. It’s our attention to Yoga that is the practice. The practice is our refinement of what we’ve grown to perceive. By refining our own self, we give the freedom for the Yoga to arise; we’ve given it the space to move in and as our daily life. So you see, the cultural framework around Yoga won’t work, it won’t support the mystery of the Soul; if anything, the framework will suffocate our personal Yoga as it’s done all along. The real reality is, you’ll sort it out as you go.--with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
Cocktail Umbrellas are more important than we realize. Usually accompanied by a maraschino cherry and a slim slice of orange, those bright little, paper decorations are always found in a cheery coloured cocktail drink in yellow or pink. Innocently, and unbeknownst to them, these umbrellas hold a lot of power. And they are so important in fact, that there are countless images of them set in front of a sun bleached seascape, gliding us off into the Lala Land of our scintillating, romantic dreams of far-off sunsets and clear blue skies. These umbrellas are important because of their symbolic power; their ability to take us to our sense of imagining, which is our creative center.
Given practical access to a tropical getaway or not, this time to daydreaming that a Cocktail Umbrella provides, is so significant, that it is essential to our wellbeing. This meandering space of aimless mental wandering is our most precious resource, because it’s where we begin to sense what makes us tick in a very deep and personal way. Everything begins from the space of emptiness whether we realize it or not. Our imagination is the beginning of tapping in to what that vast silent space is telling us. Paying attention to what it reveals is productive, which is unlike finger-painting colours around in a fantasy. To take those hard earned hours of focused mind and allow it the free reign of creativity is the only way to produce our purpose, what we’re here on this Earth to do. It’s a beautiful, enriching, soul nourishing time, to be in this state of imagination.
While in the thick of it, when the seemingly ridiculous pops forward as some unexpected thought, instead of kicking it out, ask yourself some questions around it, with a practical purpose in mind. This will begin to harness the dream and bring it into logical form. Once the mind accepts it as manageable, you’ll see ways to act on this new idea within your own creativity. To immediately slough it off as ridiculous is a misunderstanding of the dream as a whole, it’s to be blind to all of what it is…once you start questioning it into form (not with doubt but with inquiry) then you will begin to see its practicality and its possibility. To immediately poo-poo this new insight and deny it, is a misfortune not only to your own life but to anyone else it might serve in the long run. Should you bring this daydream into form you have no idea how many people might benefit from its goodness. There is as much of a ripple effect of not doing something as there is in doing something. Think about this. What you withhold could be hindering another by the very withholding, but sharing it could be benefitting that someone. Many don’t understand what it means to give of yourself, of your love in this way.
So, the next inspiring dream you have, try what’s next:
First, Be at Peace with your Dream: Anxiety arises with anything new and unrecognized. It arises in many different forms (anger, jangled nerves, overwhelm, etc.) and it arises for many different reasons…but keep going because anxiety simmers down. Many of us deny and rail against our imagination because we judge it as unrealistic. So, we jump on it, trying to put it out in the same way we would throw a blanket to suffocate an unexpected fire. Of course a dream is unrealistic and impractical at this stage of the game, it’s never been done before! Nothing has yet been learned from it or by it, or how to do it. You need to focus now, hone in on it and refine your skill around it. The dream will show you how as you walk along with it. But be prepared because it will require you to be more of yourself…this leads to step two.
Step Two is, Bring It Back to Focus: Now that we’ve let go and given enough free rein for the imagination to kick in, we bring it back to focus (remember those focused hours you’re used to?). Focus and listen, listen deeply and with your whole heart. This is a refined listening, through the space of the heart, not the mental searching and grasping of the mind. Listening can come through sound definitely: through a snippet of what someone says to you at a seemingly odd time, or something unusually relevant in a song you’ve heard many times, or a confirming sound of a pindrop as you blink at the moment of a bright idea. But if our other senses are more dominant, then listening can also come visually, or as a deep knowing at the deepest heart sense, it can come as a symbol that simply uplifts you…you will recognize your own language because you experience it as set apart from other experiences. Give credence to all, in all senses it comes to you.
Now Step Three is, Take action: But this isn’t willy-nilly action of desperately doing SOMEthing, it’s the taking action according to how opportunity is presented. Now this takes a continued refinement of our senses. To continue to be watchful for opportunities is a new muscle being developed. There are indeed those moments when opportunity appears to come and you sit and question “is this the one?”. Usually the need to question shows that this is the one showing you that THE ONE is on its way…so continue as you are. When it IS the ONE there will be no doubt. Taking action will require habit adjustments, and you may need to give something up (most likely you will) and that can be uncomfortable…but you will do it when the IT you’ve been aiming toward arrives. And it all arose from your daydream on the beach or in the bookstore, your time dallying in the canoe on the lake or sewing a new quilt. It arrived in that time when you were meandering, wandering idly and free in your mind of creativity…that is when it arrived. By the time you’re at step three you’re seeing it but it was alive long before then.
You can do this. It might not be perfect, and it most likely won’t be, but maybe it will be, and maybe it will be beautiful in a way you never expected. In any case, it will be better than where you are now because you will be connected to your purpose, and this brings contentment and fulfillment like nothing else can. We can often rail against what we’re meant to do, thinking it’s not what we want to do…but what we’re meant to do is really what we want to do, Ego or no Ego. I think many don’t understand the luxury and necessity of healthy, dynamic dreaming.--with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
Racism, sexism, sexual orientation, and world religions are the most heated topics globally as fuel for disagreement; all of them relating to something “different” from our own self. This difference seems to be about a lack of understanding of “the other”, and not so much about anything based on truth. We’re uncomfortable when we don’t understand, so we try to deal with it by dominating rather than learning. We see it all the time through denial of rights, or by fighting it out without any aim toward reconciliation. These tactics make us think we’re dealing with getting rid of it, obliterating it. The way we respond from our own ignorance to the outer world quite literally mirrors our response to what we don’t understand about our personal inner world. When we don’t understand a part of our own self we usually try to shut it down or pretend it’s not there. We reject it.
We’re masters at holding on to what we don’t understand, which is most often our sadness and fear…countless ways we find to psychoanalyse it. In this way we can have a bit of a love affair with it…we can while away hours, days even, mulling through our fears, feeding them and adding on with any morsel of a match we can use from the external world; but ultimately doing nothing about it, this is as far as we go. We’ll choose to rip out our own heart before we’ll choose to understand our pain and sadness. When we don’t understand what we consider “wrong” with us, it becomes “the other” which then gets pushed into a heap of the unknown…not knowing what it is or what to do with it. Until one day we give ourselves no option but to understand it.
When we reach this point in our lives, when we’re most sad and have no choice but to face it head on, expressing the love we have is the happiest thing we can do. Somehow our genuine happiness resides in what we have to offer, what we have to give to this world. We can’t recognize this once we’ve become critical of our own essence (or an aspect of it); instead we attempt to pinch off that which gives us life…but our essence is all we’ve got, and trying to deny its presence or existence is damaging at a critical level. And if we’re not giving we’re receding, we stop, we don’t seem to exist anymore…not really. And it’s this that seems to make us sad. We come to live in a closet of self containment, self control…of our actual being.
To instead develop the ability to encompass that part of our humanity provides healing, because that’s the place in us that really cares. When we have the capacity to connect with what we’re ashamed of within, we can teach ourselves about our own emotional lives. This is something we’re never really taught, we just know if we feel good or bad, and if it feels bad we want to get rid of it…and that’s it, that’s about the extent of our emotional development. But the more we can sit with ourselves as we are, the more accepting we become of ourselves; and from here, it’s our love, care, and compassion which become the deeper motivation to heal…it’s from here that we transform. From here we care about the reality of this part of ourselves, not about escaping its illusion…if we try to escape we just end up spinning our wheels. If our only aim is to get rid of our suffering then you won’t heal because we haven’t touched into the part of us that loves.
A genuine Yoga practice will guide us through this unsteady terrain until we’ve found our feet on the solid ground of self-acceptance. At such a turning point, it’s common to dive more deeply into our practice. When we have a genuine relationship with the fullness of Yoga, we begin to discover the lifeline of its teachings. An authentic Yoga practice is an integral part of integrating with our self. We become whole; we’re no longer trying to cut off undesirable parts of ourselves like a wonky limb. Instead we become integrated. We assist and become assisted by, all aspects of ourselves like one working unit. This in itself provides contentment. The teachings of Yoga can provide a place to become comfortable with, accepting of, at peace with, all aspects of ourselves…even our ugly bits (which will always be there). We learn that our fear has its place and we learn how unhappy (even depressed) we become when that fear stops our flow of love. Why were we originally fearful of this aspect anyway? Often because it doesn’t match what we’re taught to funnel ourselves into as “normal”, which is a very narrow scope of life. When we understand, our sad and unaccepted parts become teachers. These parts often provide that which we have to offer others, and with which we can be of genuine service.
To be of genuine service is a very personal expression because of its evolution from the depths of a previously painful aspect. This is healing; this is where we discover the Grace of its purpose, and how it leads us to serve those around us. It’s an opportunity to realize our grief and sadness over losing connection with our own humanity; but that grief indicates that we do indeed care. Returning to that conscious connection with our essence brings us such a feeling of self honour. This isn’t easy in the beginning, there is a development of stamina necessary. An inner listening is developed which will be what guides us through the quagmire of this dark story we’ve made around what we’re not accepting. In process, we develop the power of understanding that this feeling we carried about ourselves isn’t who we are, it is temporary. From here we move on to greater, requiring more from ourselves and understanding others. Our universality is revealed.
Above all, it gives us an Intimate connection with our humanity, our humanity is our God self, where resides an intimacy with our sorrows and our joys. We don’t need to be protective of our love when we’re in the flow of who we are. The love that stems from who we are isn’t twisted and gnarled up in manipulation, expectation, neediness and control which are all based an agenda and fear. No, when we’re just simply being our loving self we can be it no matter what others think of it, no matter the trials we face. We become freed up in our love because we no longer feel threatened by whether it’s approved of or not…because we don’t carry expectation with it. What comes to matter then, is that WE know the place from which is dwells.--with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
Out of the mouths of babes, there it was: “YOGA WORKOUT”…words spoken innocently by one of my Yoga students but which, hit me like a roll of thunder. Everything about me felt like it morphed into Van Gogh’s “The Scream”. How had I failed her as her teacher? I blubbered within myself, “But whaa…everything I talk about is so NOT yoga as workout. Oh, my classes, oh whoa-is-me…”, then, the mental silence of being struck dumb. I had always thought I was imparting the idea of becoming more fully who we are through Yoga, by mindfully infusing the practice in all that we do. But here it was, the reality in this moment: one of my students was still relating to “yoga workouts”. How did this haaaaappen?? These two words somersaulted me into my competence as a teacher, my silent incomprehension was rolling fast and furious within me. The comment’s impact put me into a focused questioning within myself. Most of the forthcoming revelations actually ended up being inspiring; as I shifted around with ideas of what was perception, what was ego, what could be sorted and changed…for myself, for her as my student, and between us as student and teacher; both of us practicing the path of Yoga as individuals…but together. I was acutely attuned to the relationship between student and teacher, which is both a swimming interaction of learning and teaching between two people, yet a clearly defined development within a single individual, at the same time.
I, personally, have great respect for the word “teacher”, and it is an honour to be one. I feel the word “teacher” signifies the values, wisdom, and the knowledge from a lineage as old as time. And it is not to be taken for granted, that teachings will be brought forward in their true essence and with the authority of a master. The teacher needs to have lived it, walked it, experienced it, applied it, and gone deeply into it…without these lessons a person isn’t capable of imparting any of the resulting richness and truth into their teachings, because it just isn’t there in them. I feel Dr. David Frawley said it beautifully in one of his articles about Lord Shiva: “Those who practice yoga should always remember Shiva, the great lord of yoga. If one can surrender to Lord Shiva inwardly, all the powers and insights of yoga will naturally be revealed at the appropriate time and manner. Shiva is the inner guru of yoga and all true gurus function with his grace and insight”. It is by Grace that as a teacher, we are given any kind of competency and privilege to share sacred teachings to another. Without this Grace, we’re not capable. What makes us qualified to receive the Grace is only a guess, but it seems to be related to a genuine wish and devotion to that which is good and aligned with what is Life giving.
And so, like Murphy’s Law, there she was in her glaring overconfidence, having performed a number of yoga stretches, finalizing her display by lying on the floor with bare feet in the air, skirt having tumbled down her legs (or up them, whatever it is from that angle). A new recipient of her 200Hour YTT was “sitting” beside me in a workshop of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. I think you can guess that this was pushing some of my buttons, and though she didn’t handle the class with the grace of a respectful student, the teacher handled it with the grace of a wonderful teacher. I so respected his response to her, which was to not have one. Sadly, we’ve created a closed minded attitude in modern times, toward authority, toward respect of the student teacher dynamic. This is demonstrated not only through unwillingness to be a student but as a flimsy respect as teacher. Clearly, being a student is a learning curve in itself these days. Students need to know the art of surrender, the giving over of the ego. We seem particularly challenged by this in the West, as if we’re somehow afraid that being a student is equated with being inferior…and so what if it does mean that? What if it means simply, that you don’t know as much as your teacher and that a level of humility is actually quite healthy at such times? Have we in the west ever considered that? Having humility is an awareness of respect, of honoring the wisdom of what has come before you, it’s not about an inferiority complex. Having awe and wonder for the passing down of timeless traditions and age-old wisdom is a gift to be grateful for…to be so inspired by, and in awe and wonder of. The discipline of letting yourself be guided, in a way which might rub your control issues the wrong way, is something to be thankful for. Because being teachable means we’re capable of gaining greater self-awareness which creates a more refined version of who we are. It is this quality that defines a teacher. If we feel we’re too good, too full of ourselves, to be teachable, we’ll never be qualified to lead. Can we have the humility to honour another who imparts something of value on us?
Needless to say, Guru Purnima is a day that I consider to be very special. The outpouring of genuine gratitude and honour shown toward true teachers on Guru Purnima recently, was a heart touching celebration. These devoted expressions of gratitude from student toward teacher gave me renewed hope in a world which has come to toss the word “teacher” off the tongue, in a manner that is without thought. Because it seems, for the most part, we have lost the understanding of the word “teacher” itself. Not only does this loss reflect our relationship toward the teacher, but what we think being the teacher is. This loss means that we lose the understanding of what qualifies us as a teacher, what to expect from our students, as well as what to expect from ourselves as a teacher. This all comes in to question. Guru Purnima allowed me to witness and offer, the respect for those who have gone before; honouring them for what they have come to know (perhaps through great challenges). This praise, not just for teachers who help us learn to memorize and recite our mathematics and facts, but for teachers who give of wisdom, knowledge, and insight toward an enlightened mind, was refreshing and as it ought to be.
Because teachers don’t have to teach, they teach because they care to do so. Sharing knowledge is an offering of great care and love. To be devoted, seeking, committed, accountable and disciplined are all traits to cherish as a student, because they develop us into someone worthy of being taught. Teaching is the way through which humanity brings timeless values forward into the present, without which we would be completely lost as a species.--with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
There is so much real freedom, personal power, and confidence that isdeveloped in the practice of Tapas.Generally speaking, most of us have an aversion to self-discipline…in the West in particular. We see this continually demonstrated in coffee shops everywhere as two year olds run directionless, screaming madly, in a flushed-cheek sweat, parents bending down to face level, asking “hey buddy, where do you want to sit?”….at two years of age, being called “buddy” by a parent who wants to show everyone around how fair and friendly they are as they force their toddler to make a family decision on the best place to sit. No wonder we have such an aversion to discipline …we’re afraid to implement it as an appropriate use of guidance, and don’t want to take it on when it feels too big a challenge…hence, we’re set in a habitual pattern of denial around its necessity. Setting this denial as the foundation, we’re losing touch with self-discipline in the West, an increasingly distanced respect for it, to the point we are losing even knowing what it means, and its tremendous benefit to character development.
The practice of Tapas in reality, gives us the gift of choice because we’re not so easily found in a state of overwhelm. It allows us the ability to decipher what we really want from the random grasping of in-the- moment satisfaction. The flip side of self-discipline that most of us don’t venture to consider is that it is beautiful, grace filled, and palpable. I know this because I’ve experienced it. My first awareness of this was during a Hatha yoga class. We were in a plain, four walled room with two windows and a door, located within a simple small hotel, which was situated on the banks of the Ganges in Northern India. The class was being taught by an amazing teacher who requires no show, only practice….and his students are of like-mind. Every day, every inch of this room’s floor is occupied by a student’s yoga mat. The teacher moves through the room using silent guided adjustments (no hands-on), the rest of the student body in the stillness of the current yoga pose. Here the meditation begins. I will always remember that moment with the deepest of respect….that THIS (this moment of unwavering focus) was what all the sweat and tears of Tapas can be about. Discipline within discipline, and it was beautiful!
Self-discipline is perceived in redundant magazine articles suggesting the withdrawal of all food for a thirty day quick diet of nuts and seeds…I mean who wants to do that? And to what benefit or outcome? Perseverance of true Tapas, the daily habit of implementing the little things, makes for a big, strong, beautiful framework to work within….it gives structure to the unknown and the unknowable, which actually means that within the structure of self-discipline we have a lot of freedom. This is because of the skill we acquire from such a practice….it makes us intelligent, meeting appropriate situations with appropriate skills. To know the other side of Tapas, the beautiful aspect of it, we can then sense the nourishment it provides. It’s not a withdrawal or deprivation at all. In fact it’s the opposite. Making Tapas a daily expectation of ourselves means that we have the skill required when life says it’s Go Time…when it hits hard and in a way we didn’t expect. Because we never know when life is going to decide for us, butif we’ve been practicing, then the skill that is required to move through that challenge, or with it, is available to us. We can’t do this if we wait until there is a situation of overwhelm before trying to apply something we’ve never used. So practice when it seems not to matter at all.
This is referring to discipline of whatever, don’t discount anything…whatever it might be for you personally that brings focus, and the refinement of character. Discipline in smaller measure accomplishes greater success over the long haul as it accumulates momentum and power, rather than acting on self-discipline as a castration of self and all good things in life.---with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
I have often felt betrayed by the Yoga “community”. What I had thought would be a true Sangha, a community of wise souls, has often turned out to be a group of popular “yogis” who hang out with each other and socialize. I’ve learned that it is rare to find a loyal community of supportive people, who are willing to connect deeply and in a mature way…a Sangha that is non-competitive and non-exclusive. Because really, how are either of those words a backbone to how I imagine “community” to be? They are anything but, and in fact, reminiscent of high school.
I don’t want to sound bitter about this, because I’m not, it’s that I’ve been disappointed and have become disheartened. And, as said, have felt betrayed in the past when I discovered this through personal experience. I was most betrayed by an American woman, who claimed to be on the Bhakti path….her façade of the soft appearance, and the compassionate heart was well developed…she even “lived in India” and was always surrounded by people who just loved her. But what I’ve found is, that commonly, the façade of yoga teachers being “caring” and “supportive” within a Sangha, is easy when insecurities aren’t threatened; but the cracks in the teacher’s practice widen when an inferiority complex is touched. And this is where it turns sad, when that lack of self-awareness still requires the old fall-back of impressing it on someone else…even as “a beloved yoga teacher”.
This often turns into power tripping from the person doing it, somehow trying to grasp back whatever they perceive as having been taken from them or lost. What bothers me is learning that yoga teachers who profess Oneness, are still competitive. Don’t claim to be the “yogi” if you can’t Be the Yogi….because most of us aren’t…we’re still on the path.
I’m not one to easily fall for the fake smiles and bouncing around like Life is all light and fluffy, now that we’re all happily practicing yoga…but when I connect with even the senior teachers, who continue a façade of loving kindness, yet are self serving in their ultimate aims, to the disrespect of another…this is where I’ve been had many a time. The number of times I have supported teachers in their work only to receive none in return when the time calls for it, disturbs me. I feel sadness for the fact that they are not only blind to this self centeredness but have a resistance to looking at it. And there is no one to hold them accountable to it, because they gravitate toward the “yogis” who foster all they like about themselves….so there is no challenge in their growth within this Sangha. In fact, they often misread the authentic Yoga of another, simply because of this uplifted view they have of themselves; thinking they’re somehow superior because of the length of time they’ve been “practicing”…no, sometimes the longer we “practice” the more apt we are at practicing the right words, the right body language, the right presence. All of this is easily created.
Any teacher who claims to have removed the self and yet walks a path of destruction over another, is not in Yoga. None of us bring the same qualities into Yoga, so we don’t need to have an insecure fear of someone being “better than” or “taking away from” us in some way. Having like mind around asana and living out our fantasies of a “yogic life” are not necessarily enough to be qualified as Sangha. What are the qualities of a healthy Sangha?...because a popularity contest it is not.
I feel the qualities we bring toward our students are those same ones we ought to bring to our Sangha, our fellow teachers….in support of one another’s growth, development and practice. I have a view of honouring what each teacher brings and being of support to them in their growth as a teacher, as we would in creating a healthy community of any kind. Loyalty, trust and accountability, are all aspects necessary for good healthy relationships, including the healthy body of Yoga, so why not support one another? All of us know the challenge of being an authentic Yoga teacher in the mountain of the yoga industry, so why not help each other grow, make it easier on ourselves and each other. I see community as engaging, responsive, supportive, sharing of knowledge, wisdom and experience…how else do we expect to pass on a healthy lineage? This then becomes a sharing amongst humans rather than holding up a desired image; it fosters being what you are rather than misusing yogic terms and phrases to paint an image that you don’t live behind. As adults we should be able to live up to these standards, if we’re living the practice that we claim to be…these aren’t qualities of perfection they’re qualities of maturity. This issue is just so common in the “yoga scene” that I can’t not address it.--with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
My plane was to be in Bangalore, but I was standing at the baggage carousel in the partially constructed airport in Chennai. Three days to go and an email had landed in my Inbox from Air India, notifying me that I would be flying from Bali to Chennai instead of my expected Bali-Bangalore (and yes, this was the time of the famous book, but no, I did not intend to be on the Eat, Pray, Love trail). And so, my send off from Bali was in a VW van, as I whispered prayers for my wellbeing through whatever lay ahead. Rod Stewart’s song, “Forever Young” was blasting from the tinny speakers of this old caravan, ”May good fortune be with you, may your guiding light be strong” became my Mantra.
Getting my bearings in Chennai’s airport, I walked over to the taxi stand and hired a taxi to Pondicherry. I decided this might be a nice place to relax for a few days before my train ride across continent to Goa. I came to the stand and a wordless portly man, Danny DeVito’s Indian twin from his days in “Taxi” (hairstyle and everything), used his pen to scratch down my information. Honestly, he couldn’t have looked more bored with me. My taxi driver appeared, a wiry old man, about my height, stood there in his bare feet, pant legs of his chocolate brown uniform rolled just above the ankles. We went outside and loaded myself and my luggage into the back seat of his wee taxi and spun through the parking lot. I was looking around at how beautifully this man had decorated the interior of his taxi, when, at the lot’s exit we were already making our first stop…his boss, that short portly man who had registered me with the taxi, opened one of the back doors and crammed a life sized, pink stuffed teddy bear in the back seat with me…then he, himself, hopped in the front to ride shotgun. You just never know if you’re going to get where you’re going in some places.
Anyway, a short ways away we did drop him off, along with the bear, and the driver and I faced the road ahead…multiple unexplained stops still within the city limits included. Once we reached the highway though, we began to travel at a good clip, the Indian rain started to come down thick and heavy, could barely see anything. At one point, a flatbed truck started backing onto the freeway from a side road which the rain made impossible to see. My driver was not slowing down and was showing no signs of doing so…his bare foot rested heavy on that gas peddle as he pressed forward through the driving rain. I truly thought I was about to die, I called out to him about the truck, he turned directly around to look at me with a toothless smile and that Indian head bobble, but with the language barrier he didn’t know what I was trying to tell him. My urgent cry grew louder, pointing, he looked forward, swerved the taxi, and we carried on down the freeway unphased…like all was just a part of a normal day.
Getting into Pondicherry required a permit, and so my driver did all the legwork, letting me sit in the taxi for the twenty minutes wait. Once inside city limits, we could NOT find the hotel I had looked up, but he persisted, stopping to ask so many pedestrians if they knew, but no one did. Then out of the mist (the rain was stopping by that time), like an angel, there was a man on a bicycle who happened to be scouting town for prospects to rent his boss’s suite…that was the ticket, I nabbed it. This sweet, gentle soul of a taxi driver took me to the door, carried my bags, and placed them on a chair in my room. He was aiming to leave without any expectation of a tip, but I crammed 1000Rp in his hand, because after all I had been through traveling from Bali to this room we were standing in, his kindness and his generous efforts meant so much to me.
Turns out, I loved Pondicherry…I recommend it to anyone, it is gorgeous. It draws the French traveller, as it was once in the hands of the French; gorgeous remnants of the French influence in the architecture draw you back into a different era (the Indians themselves will speak to you in French before they will attempt English here). I ended up staying about five days or so, which would have been longer if I hadn’t had a due date in Goa. I would walk to the seawall for my morning coffee on the beach, watching the sun climb its heights in the sky over the Bay of Bengal…being a westcoaster I’m used to watching the sun dip into the ocean, so this was new for me. Then I would make my way to the Sri Aurobindo ashram for a while, they allow the public to sit in silence in their stunning courtyard. Somewhere through the day I would end up having tea with my “landlady” who didn’t speak any English, so we relied on my polite French anecdotes (which don’t amount to much). She was born and raised in India, but of Vietnamese descent, she spoke French and wore a Sari…so I spent quite a bit of time looking at her (as she did me).
I left Pondicherry, too soon, but right on time. Took the train to Mysore which is where I had planned to be but cut it a few days short. I was due in Goa, and as it was December, there was zero possibility of hopping a train, so I bussed to Mangalore and taxied to Goa….that my friends, was an adventure in itself. And so, by plane, train and automobile I made it to Goa from Bali. And I honestly don’t know the point of sharing this story other than that man’s toothless smile from all those years ago, came to my heart the other day. Maybe that’s the point, that kindness lasts. May he be well.---with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
One of my great teachers once said “If you want to reach for the stars, it is essential that the Soul learns through experience”. The richness that is brought to our experiences through Yoga, is so deep and so true and so vast, it is a universe unto itself. Sounds a bit dramatic, even as I write it. But how can it be anything other? Life, itself, is magical. To put the first Limb of yoga into practice will change things about your Life because the Yoga system changes Your system. You won’t be the same. The Yamas and Niyamas can’t do anything but change you by changing how you choose to see things and experience them. It shakes everything up, it stirs it all up, it loosens it all, it shifts what was reality and a habitual way of treading through life, whether any of it or all of it was learned or self-taught. Practicing the First Limb of Yoga will have you reassessing what is useful to you now, what is really relevant, and what hinders. It’s like a juice detox cleaning out the system of the mind. This is why it is essential to begin at the beginning, to establish a foundation in the practice like having our feet on the mat.
The Yamas and Niyamas being the First Limb of the Eightfold path, are therefore, as our feet are to asana practice….this is our rooted foundation from which everything else unfolds. Every asana engages some muscles actively while others are at ease and passive; likewise, with the Yamas and Niyamas, some are more active in a given situation while others ease back…until it’s time to activate the passive and release those which have been active. This means learning to observe whatever serves as the appropriate stabilizer in any given moment, but always from the foundation. We trust this type of grounding because it is our bedrock…this serves our commitment through fear, while we shake and shimmy through what can be a turbulent practice. Then, at last, sensing the inner calm. Putting the commitment into our practice of the Yamas and Niyamas as we do our asana practice, eventually guides us into the meditation, the peace and freedom that follows any emotional turbulence that moves through as we establish a new norm. So often we feel happier after asana practice because we feel physically lighter and move with more agility…same with the affect of the Yamas and Niyamas on the mind…we feel happier and more at ease mentally, and in the heart.
Like picking them up off the dusty shelves, practicing the Yamas and Niyamas activates them, they begin showing their life, they begin to resonate within you they become living, breathing qualities. They infuse your life with their essence and this is the embodied practice of them. From this point we’ll resonate with their message in layers of understanding and wisdom because they are alive now. We’ve elevated our experience by a notch or two (or more), where the magical connection with Life begins. We’re more in tune, more aligned, the division between the man-made world and Life thins.
It’s so important to walk Ahimsa alongside our practice, so practice it and practice it well. Ahimsa reveals itself in layers and will never force you to practice more than you’re ready for. The only surprise might be that you’re ready for more than you realized. This is where the discomfort is, and this is where your relationship with the Yamas and Niyamas is essential, so you can lean into them with all your trust to get you through. The truth is, you will consider backing out when you hit those edges, as we do when we want to slightly ease out of an asana posture when it starts to challenge us. We’re tempted to cheat here, but the Yamas and Niyamas will hold us in line, because through them, we’ve become more of who we are. So we stay the course. We stay the course because innately that’s what we do, innately we’re reliable, and accountable, and trustworthy, and courageous enough to see things through. These principles are just helping us to rediscover this.
Always be guided by Ahimsa we’ll remember our purpose when the shaking and quivering begins. This shaking is the awe and reverence for the practice; staying the course through this demonstrates our deep respect, not only for ourselves but the practice of Yoga. Practicing the First Limb will make us tremble as we hold true, as anything that is sacred and loving will do. This is where we feel our awe for the practice and what it gives back to us when we commit to the path and all it holds. This is how it gives back, by holding our hand whispering, “I’m here with you”. So lean on them into greater awareness of self, into greater enlightenment of how you fit into all that is; and revealing that you do indeed have a purpose in being here, and that it is your duty to honour that purpose and fulfill it the best you can while you’re here. The Yamas and Niyamas won’t leave you once you are in the habit of remembering them, and how they serve you in the way that you serve them. The First Limb is a system worked progressively; yet as you work them, you begin to see how they fold into one another as though separate but one at the same time.
One caveat, be wary of “Oh I got that”, never lose respect for step one; guaranteed there will be a slip, because the Yamas and Niyamas are bigger than we are, and if we lose that respect for them we lose the practice. They guide us toward our Being, if not into our Being…it’s what got you where you are now…there is always more to learn from returning to the basics. There is such great value within step one, as it reveals more each time we return with the new wisdom and knowledge gained from the steps which follow…which all emerged from step one. Never be too arrogant or too good for step one because it is reflected all around us on a daily basis. Each moment is a new opportunity to step onto that platform and be supported to grow into greater wisdom, compassion, and understanding…a connection to the unity. We have the willingness then to do good…which we often forget when we’re so stressed that we drop the steps. We become self-absorbed in stress, and often do harm in those times. But if we’ve practiced the steps during easier times, the practice will unfold more naturally during times of stress.
We have to know that we are resourceful and the Yamas and Niyamas bring to light that we are…but we have to practice. Life will become lighter, but we need to commit to the practice. Never lose respect for step one because you never know when you’re going to need it.
From the First Limb you will live your life differently because you will approach Life differently. You won’t be able to go back…because you won’t want to.--with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
The wonderfulness of the First Limb of Yoga, comes from its capacity to be life changing as it unfolds through us. Its very structure (known as the Yamas and Niyamas) offers us freedom. The anchor that this structure provides means we have the space to be Ourselves, through gaining the trust in knowing our frame of reference. And this is one of integrity. Adhering to this practice engages us in an awareness, and this awareness brings freedom.
The First Limb of Yoga provides a boundary to respect and requires our discipline. Which, in itself means, the freedom from being consistently distracted by our mental and emotional whims. It’s beautiful really, because the Yamas and Niyamas allow us to come into right alignment with our lives, which is what’s necessary to fulfill our dreams. They shield us from the persistent wandering into directions we wouldn’t decide upon, had they been given proper consideration. The longer we carry the awareness of the Yamas and Niyamas within our minds, we will eventually surrender to practice, unable to deny their presence and call any longer. As interaction begins, introductions are politely made…you to them, them to you. You feel each other out, working out the hesitancies and suspicions. You might start by saying “Ok Ahimsa, let’s see what you can do”…and so the relationship begins.
Gradually, growing in responsibility of working the practice, we shift to what it’s really about: “Ok, what can I do? Who am I in this new way?” It becomes a reflection on what we can do for the practice. Unwittingly, we’ve gained a great respect and honour. Over time, this practice comes alive with its own momentum, and there is no going back. Suddenly, you’re on a new road and it’s the Yamas and Niyamas which led you there. The growing gratitude and compassion is merely a fortunate result.
So, let’s start at the beginning, with Ahimsa, the yogic practice of non-harming, the practice which walks along side all other practices. Whether a first timer or an old hand, it’s always a great idea to (re)visit “step one”…of any practice. Ahimsa is the first of Yoga’s ethical practice of the Yamas, and is really the most beautiful practice, the more we interact with it. We come to feel better about ourselves, better about what we feel we have to offer, and better about how we’re treating others. There are the more obvious forms of violence in our world, and as most of us don’t take those kinds of actions, we perceive ourselves a non-violent. But violence is many fold and is often woven into our day without our even realizing it. If we can tune in to these subtler acts of violence, we will begin to notice the daily impact on ourselves and on others. The realization will come more by freeing ourselves up of the violence than by thinking how bad we are for our violent actions, to self and to others. The more we free ourselves from the violence the more options our true nature will provide, to come forward.
People often ask about anger, and how it relates to Ahimsa. Many people in our world unfortunately resort to violence as their only means of expressing anger (mentally, verbally, physically). But anger is not necessarily synonymous with violence. And it is our role to work the violence out of the anger, so anger can be expressed justifiably. It is true and hopefully the aim of most, to be able to express anger in an emotionally mature manner. To experience and express anger in a way that we can sit with the emotion and bring reason to it, then communicating the emotion toward understanding in some way. Giving anger and its relation to Ahimsa such little space in this post is not meant to simplify this issue, but it is an entire topic on its own. Righteous anger expressed respectfully and appropriately is not necessarily a contributor toward Himsa (violence). From this practice, the quality of judgement softens, and/or we don’t rely on it with such haste. We naturally grow in our compassion and empathy because of the empowerment that the choice of Ahimsa provides. Because, practicing Ahimsa is a choice…which we realize when we slow down to consider the consequence of what we’re about to do. These are characteristics of being in right alignment with ourselves, as mentioned earlier. We begin to become aware of how like our fellow man we actually are and we recognize the absurdity of aggression; we soon see aggression’s dominance in society. From where do humans feel it’s necessary for that kind of dominance really? And so, we grow in our self-confidence through Ahimsa. It provides a choice, and it increases our experience of the interconnectedness of all of Life. We begin to experience that Life itself is actually gentle. Life doesn’t require the force of aggression that humans seem to feel is appropriate. The gentleness of Life is fluid and opens our perceptions, which folds into increased Ahimsa. At this point, the layers of violent behaviour start to become more perceptible, and our tolerance of the subtle forms lessens to that of the more extreme…because we see how they feed each other.
Through Ahimsa, we require more from ourselves. Stopping violent or harmful behaviour creates a space to be filled by something intelligent…because violence is not founded on intelligence. Compassion is a critical aspect of Ahimsa; not only investing it in to the practice, but the way it expands as a result of the practice. Ahimsa is internally disruptive, no doubt…because it shifts the old ways. But we can’t let ourselves be distracted by that. We can’t fall into the churning waves of the Self’s pity party of how awful we’ve been. Instead, we continue with the practice, through the discomfort into what unfolds out from that. It’s here that we find the freedom of compassion and of forgiveness…taking right action from there.--with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com