Yes, I always practice yoga on a steep hillside, wearing a velour sweater and side pony tail.
When I first started practicing yoga, back in 1994, it blew my mind every single day. I LOVED the physical practice, the crazy things I could do with my body, the exhilaration I felt after a fast, 90 minute vinyasa practice. I loved the stillness afterwards in Savasana. Living in New York CIty, this was sometimes the only time I experienced stillness. I loved mantra, I felt like I would burst into tears every time we sang kirtan or vedic chants.
Yoga still blows my mind, but often in different and unexpected ways. Though I still enjoy a physical practice, it's different now. As long as there's a side bend, twist and back bend in there somewhere, it feels more about moving energy than accomplishing something or pushing myself. My poses are less flashy and more subtle. The stuff that blows my mind would look REALLY boring on Facebook or Instagram, as it's basically me sitting still, feeling less harried, incredibly calm with a feeling of great joy inside. I still love mantra, but it is more a personal practice and I rarely attend public kirtans anymore, though I still love to chant with others and especially to teach voice and harmonium to those just beginning the practice.
How this affects my teaching is tricky. I understand most people still LOVE to move fast, to practice the flashy poses, and I'm excited for them. I still try and offer up challenging shapes in my classes, but when one doesn't practice Eka Pada Galavasana very often, it becomes harder to explain it in a coherent way, or demo it at all. Though I feel myself moving more towards teaching pranayama, mantra, and meditation techniques, I feel the resistance from my vinyasa students. I also feel the resistance from my former self, who once thought that would ALWAYS be the way I practiced and taught yoga. Change is difficult - on both sides of the aisle. But we must listen to our inner teachers and move with grace towards the evolution of our yoga, no matter the challenges, which as I've learned, are definitely NOT always physical. In fact, they are often mental, psychological and spiritual challenges.
I'm still navigating the waters. I hope to see you out there, in your boat and maybe we can help each other through the waves, as they ebb and flow. Maybe one day, we'll do Scorpion together and the next, we'll sit quietly, breathing in and out slowly. All paths are important, necessary and incredibly humbling.
Sometimes it takes a little sacrifice and discipline to get to love.
"Freedom is not worth having if it doesn't include the freedom to make mistakes." - Mahatma Ghandi
Attachments. I've had a few. And not even too few to mention. Haven't we all? In yogic philosophy, this is where the suffering (dukha, such a perfect word) comes from. Attaching to what we think is supposed to happen. Attaching to things, people, desires, goals, to what/who we think we are, etc. In acting, it is what keeps us in our heads and not completely involved in the feeling of the scene. It is, quite literally, what keeps us "acting," as opposed to reacting and feeling real emotions.
These last few weeks especially, I have heard these words come up, both verbally while in acting and yoga classes, and mentally while meditating and practicing. "Let go more. More. No, even more..." I don't think there will ever be a point when I've let go enough. Because even though there are instances, in meditation and in performance or acting study, where I have felt I let go for a hot second, I immediately reattach once I've realized it. It's like being in a balancing pose, realizing that you're balancing perfectly and because you realize it is happening, you wobble. Such a paradox! Though I enjoy even the tiniest glimpses into what it is like, because it makes me realize it IS possible.
Why is it so hard to let go? In my opinion, it's because letting go is fucking scary. Holding on to our attachments, our definitions of things, as they relate to ourselves and to each other, is much more safe, as we feel like we have a sense of control. And we all like feeling in control, don't we? The crazy thing is, we don't have any control whatsoever. Of anything, really. And magical things tend to happen when we let go of that idea of control. Truly magical, beautiful things.
So, how will you let go today? How can you bring more ease and magic into your life by freeing yourself of the attachments that bind you? I don't mean quit your job and go travel (though, that's fun and exciting, you still have to return, unless you have unlimited time and funds). And I don't mean don't have social filters and go spilling your guts to strangers (that's what good friends and therapist are for!). I mean let go in the day to day. I mean let go of the anxieties, the mental shit that tells you can't do something, that you're not enough of this or that. I mean let go of that which defines you, puts you in a box that's sometimes difficult to break out of once you're in there.
Join me in this quest? To feel freedom? To FEEL fully. To fret a little less, so we can love just a little more; to be fully present as often as possible, to listen instead of waiting to talk again. To let go of the bullshit (see previous post for more on that!). To be and live in the world in this way could be quite spectacular, don't you think? So, why not try it...
Please share the ways in which you let go. In performing, in being a parent, in practicing yoga, in eating with full attention to your food, in your job. Whatever it is, I want to know.
"Why are we still in prison, when the doors are wide open?" - Rumi
Let me start by saying, I love my life, I love my body and I love how both yoga and acting make us aware of the ways in which we can change, accept, and love more. And then there is this...
Returning to the entertainment biz has come along with a level of self-acceptance (along with self-judgment), as well as all the other challenges and joys. It really does bring to the forefront things that I previously was LESS aware of. So, I've made a list. A list of things I will stop judging about myself (eventually). Because self-acceptance is a beautiful (and necessary) thing!
1) My dancer feet. Pedicures are pointless. These 30 year old calluses are NEVER going away. And you know what? I don't really want them to. Oh, and sometimes I get corns.
2) My large hips and thighs. These thighs are strong. They've been getting stronger since I entered my 30's. I no longer feel like I'm walking on stilts. Fuck the pants that make them feel "thick." I prefer stretch jeans and yoga pants anyway.
3) The fact it takes a lot longer to work off the muffin top and a lot LESS time to bring it back. This one is a happy medium. I like feeling healthy, but obsessing is not healthy.
4) My "lioness" nose. My nose is a very non-European, non-pointy nose. It is broad and flat shaped. This comes from my Native American roots, which also gives me olive colored skin, the ability to tan quickly, and a low tolerance to alcohol. I was once told (by a very mean casting director in L.A.) that this caused me to "look weird on film." The 19 year old me remembers that still, but I choose to accept my "weird nose." Onward!
5) The fact that I do not care about fashion, don't wear make-up unless I'm auditioning or on stage/camera and have absolutely no idea how to style my hair. This is a tough one, but it's really okay not to be "made up" 100% of the time., especially if I'm just walking my dog or teaching a yoga class. And besides, there are experts for hair and make-up and wardrobe, right? :-)
6) The fact that I love raw truth, dirt, grime, sarcasm, curse words, and making fun of absolutely everything (including myself). Despite (or because of?) my Disney and commercial upbringing, I have a skewed view of the world. And I'm getting less ashamed to admit that. Because I admire others "telling it like it is." I want to start doing the same, while not losing my seemingly paradoxical eternal optimism.
I hope this inspires you to make your own list! Tell your truth! Live your life, in all it's raw beauty and grime. You are fucking fantastic, just the way you are. Which doesn't mean you can't change, just that you are human! And THAT is pretty fucking special.
Yours in truth,
I immediately start to question these, especially after reading "Spiritual Bypassing," but I am going to share them anyway, as they came to me in meditation and they are pretty harmless, anyway...
"May your attachments loosen, while your bonds to LOVE deepen. May you learn to LET GO into the Highest version of yourself. May these tools of yoga work not to tighten restrictions, but to encourage lightness, freedom, understanding and acceptance. May your judgments become less or at least infused with compassion. May that which you cling and which tenses your physical self, begin to soften and release. Expand my heart, unbind and upraise my mind, enlarge my nature."
"May that which I do not understand continue to become illuminated. May that which impedes my path teach me patience and fortitude. May I continue to bask in both darkness and light, find balance, accept all parts of myself, while working to change that which gets in the way or which does nothing to serve the path of light."
To be continued...
Yoga is hard. Physically, mentally, emotionally. Compassion is hard. Let's do this!
Hi! I have started about 4 blog posts, but have been too busy to finish them, unfortunately. Do, this is just a quick update.
I taught a yoga retreat at Breitenbush last weekend and found out that people are actually watching my SIng, Move, breathe videos! I have not made any in about a year and this inspired me to create more of these soon. You can visit the old ones HERE.
So, stay tuned for new videos of 10-15 minutes where you can sing mantra, practice some yoga and breathing practices to integrate into your life. Everyone can create space for 10-15 minutes, right? Especially if it makes your day go smoother?
I also look forward to creating 15-30 minute 'Get Up, Get Down" sequences, with standing work to get you moving, and seated work to slow you down, to use in any sequence you like.
Stay tuned for these videos in the next month or so. I'm excited to get back to these and I hope you enjoy them as well!
Love and light,
"We are here in this life to realize one thing - unconditional love, the source of our own being." -Sharon Gannon
When I was traveling, I took Jivamukti's travel yoga CD's with me in 1999. I did the exact same practice over and over again for months, with Sharon Gannon's familiar voice as my guide. This line, spoken while I was in 75 breaths of Paschimottanasana (a deep seated forward bend), always made me cry. I was never sure if it was the discomfort of the forward bend (along with the previous intense 60 minutes of asana) or her words. Maybe it was a little of both. They have resonated with me ever since and I will never forget them. That, along with Ram Dass' declaration that deep, unconditional, compassionate love for all beings is possible, have shaped my journey of yoga and life. That's not to say it is ever easy.
It is my belief that all beings crave unconditional love and deep acceptance, and that it is what drives us, even if this is unconscious. I believe it is this craving (and the fear of NOT having it) that draws people to gurus, religions, drugs, dogs, and relationships of all types. This is just my opinion, of course, and I am not a psychologist or an expert, but in my experience, this is my internal truth. Imagine being fully accepted for who you are - with all of your flaws, weaknesses and deepest, darkest, secrets. Ram Dass speaks of this awakening to compassion for all beings and this acceptance. He speaks of seeing people past the layers of ego and personality. It is what drew him to his teacher, Neem Karoli Baba and what draws many people to Jesus and his teachings (again, this is my opinion).
The issue that I see in our day to day life, is that we all go around pretending a lot. We pretend that the weaknesses and flaws do not exist and that we are NOT perfectly perfect in our imperfection (Purnamidah, Purnamidam, for you yogis out there). This is true especially in the age of social media and advertising. We see only what a person projects and often not past the layers of ego everyone has built up. I understand this to some degree, as it IS more appealing to see the best sides of people, and I myself enjoy wearing make-up and having my dancer's feet look a little less callused sometimes. I enjoy pretending that I always look and feel great. But I also really enjoy getting to know real people, the stories of people behind their masks. And the humans I love the most are the ones who know my crappy side and my mistakes and still love me wholeheartedly.
I am not saying we should all go around spilling our secrets or flaws (god knows, we all have those friends on Facebook and that's no fun either), but instead, we can and should cultivate the space for each other to really see one another. To look another in the eyes and heart and have empathy and compassion, even if we don't understand or agree with another's actions or lifestyle or religion or career choice or whatever. As many great teachers have said, it is even more important to do this with people we may not like so much, as with those we are friends with or already love. In Metta (or LovingKindness) meditation, we are asked to start with ourselves, then send out the love to those close to us, then to someone we are indifferent towards, then finally to our enemies.
Unconditional love, acceptance and compassion are the keystones to this practice. This is my quest and again, I know it is not easy. It's so much easier to judge and to hate and to be annoyed. It's so much easier to feel separate and to condemn and to pull back. Letting go of fear is a huge factor in this, as it has been in so much of my life this past year. As I told a friend recently, I am sometimes worse at this practice than I was 10 years ago. I never claim perfection or that I am any where far along this path. But it is my sincere hope that I will keep getting back on, keep practicing, keep moving along. I hope you'll join me.
I've been meaning to blog more. I have a lot of thoughts and a lot of say. But for now, life is blissfully busy, with performing, yoga, my dream project (www.ffynnonoregon.com) and working to pay the bills to fund all these dreams!
So, stay tuned for more, but the blogging might become less frequent as life ramps up! Hope to see you at one of my shows, in one of my classes or out and about.
Remember that I do Skype and FaceTime sessions for both yoga and voice lessons. Treat yourself right in 2014 and give yourself this gift!
Happy New Year to all!
"In order to succeed as an actor, you have to lose consciousness of your own self in order to transform yourself into the character." - Sanford Meisner
"You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. Perform work in this world without selfish attachment." - Krishna, The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2
The more I teach yoga and explore the depths of acting and performance, the more similarities I experience between the two disciplines. There is an art to losing oneself in the craft of yoga and teaching, as well as the crafts of acting, singing, dancing, etc. There is an art to "getting out of your own way" and letting the work do its magic, on students, on an audience, on the world. And I continually ask of myself - why am I doing this? Should I just go back to the easier thing of avoidance instead? The paradox is that I love these things so incredibly much, in that both yoga and acting continually put me into uncomfortable positions (physical, mental and emotional) and I am determined to not run away from these areas of discomfort any longer, but to come right up against them instead. In coming face to face with these obstacles, I often find myself coming up against my own ego, of course. My recent re-entry into the entertainment and performance world has particularly brought me up close and personal with this overly sensitive, seemingly immature ego of mine. The ideas of who I think I am (my "image," you could say) are tested every second I teach or practice yoga and every second I get up on stage and open my mouth.
My first instinct was to do what I did at age 22 - run, fast!! Travel around the world, meet new people, abandon the past and to create a new image, a new persona, one not linked to that which came before. But I've thankfully since embraced the path of the Fool -encouraging one to fall flat on one's face, to discourage stagnation. And anyway, human ego patterns are a funny thing. They'll show up again and again, until you deal with them. In the Yoga Sutras, they're called samskaras - the grooves we create on our karmic selves, that we must work out, else they will keep showing up through triggers, called vasanas.
It's so easy to be "less egoic" when in the woods, when reading yogic and philosophical texts (I suppose that could also be debated), or when otherwise sheltering oneself from the world. So, it is forever tempting to run into the woods and never come out - to once again give up the difficult thing that brings up the deepest insecurities and fears. But I have chosen the path of karma yoga - the path of action. And my action lately has been to re-immerse myself into a world I left, purely to try and remove the small ego and all it's many pitfalls. One must come to terms with the strong possibility of discomfort and failure - when auditioning, in yoga class, and especially when performing. And if we are stuck on doing these things for small, selfish reasons, we are bound to bruise our egos with each perceived failure.
An actor/performer must look in the mirror a lot when performing or preparing to do so (and I mean this literally and figuratively, of course). Social media, creating websites, head shots, resumes and even blogging can tip the scales of the ego towards self-absorption and its subsequent recklessness. Even the modern yoga teacher is finding this to be true-marketing, promoting one's classes, embracing yoga fashion trends. We can give into this, or we can work on what the Bhagavad Gita calls "skill in action." The path of action where we dedicate ALL of our efforts to the Highest (call it whatever you want), to something beyond our smaller selves. In doing this, we are not "burned by fire or pierced by weapons.'' The great acting coach, Sanford Meisner himself states that we must let go of the consciousness of our (small) self in order to embody a character, which in turn, makes us better actors. If we stay stuck in our self-conscious "what are they thinking of us?" personas, we cheat ourselves of the fuller, rich experience. The same is true in yoga - whether it be asana or meditation. We must get out of our heads and into our hearts.
I'm still working on that. But in the meantime, I continue to be grateful for my yoga practice, which led me back to my performance roots. Bring me discomfort, bring me failure, bring me all the fullness that the practices of yoga and acting can offer. I'll do my best not to run this time!
"I love the performance. I hate the after party." - Katie B., Improv instructor
“It is better to strive in one’s own dharma than to succeed in the dharma of another. Nothing is ever lost in following one’s own dharma. But competition in another’s dharma breeds fear and insecurity. - Bhagavad Gita
Previous to this post, I have blogged about being a somewhat introvert, which can run contrary to my chosen careers, which involve interaction with and being in front of people on a regular basis. I then wrote about the perils and joys of judgment and embarrassment. I spoke of immersing myself in situations and circumstances to invite discomfort into my life, in order to be less judgmental and fearful.
Well, after seven weeks of improv classes(thank you, Curious Comedy Theater!), I not only conquered fears and enjoyed myself immensely, I have decided to re-enter the theater world with a vengeance! I am auditioning for several theater productions this summer and fall. Whether I get into those productions remains to be seen, of course, but the mere act of preparing for the auditions is changing my whole feeling around who I am and how I can merge these two worlds. In fact, I feel one of the first places I started asking the philosophical "who am I?" question, was not yoga, but in my early years of performing and theater. It was yoga, though, that helped me start peering more deeply into this question and to become more of myself OUTSIDE of performing or teaching or being in the public eye. The mistake I believe I made, initially, was that the two could not co-exist. That to be a performer (which does, in fact, require a sense of embracing the ego to a certain degree), I could not be a yogi, a "sadhaka", a person seeking "non-attachment and discernment." One directly opposed the other.
Often in the "yoga world", and this is entirely me putting my own projections out there, I have felt overly theatrical and loud. The very nature of yoga and its tendency towards silence, asceticism, and "being zen" can directly conflict with my tendencies to sing, be expressive, find comedy in strange things, and enjoy some cursing now and then. On the other hand, I also don't feel incredibly comfortable with the "theater crowd." You know the ones - they can't seem to turn it off once off the stage/away from the cameras -who always feel the need to be the center of attention? Yeah, them. Around them, I feel shy, meek and incredibly self-conscious. So, often, like an immigrant who has been in their adopted country for a long time, I often feel caught in between the two worlds: too loud for the yogis and not loud enough for the thespians (look that word up, if you're unsure!).
I think that is why I enjoyed finding Bhakti yoga, and in particular, Jivamukti in New York City and Laughing Lotus in NYC and San Francisco (and of course my beloved Bhaktishop here in Portland!!). Here was a place where artists, dancers, and theater people were delving deep into self-inquiry, but also playing fun music, creating sequences with their bodies, moving and having a really fun time doing it!! This wasn't sitting in a cave in a mountain (though that is still appealing at times), this was fun, theatrical yoga. It was a place to be creative, but without judgment. It was a place to feel expressive, but not obsessive. And I absolutely fell in love with it and love it to this day. I still prefer to teach this way, though some days call for a quieter practice, or less theatrics than others. And I still get the odd look from someone not used to my classes. I am not performing in my classes, by any stretch (nor do I wish to), but I AM encouraging students to take themselves less seriously, enjoy the process and be themselves. And I am enjoying all the colors that yoga can bring into our lives. I am being more myself. I enjoy the stark, disciplined yoga classes as much as the colorful, expressive vinyasa play houses, and my teaching seems to lie somewhere in between the two.
All of this has made me start to think there IS such a thing as "mostly introvert with theatrical and expressive tendencies." As the quote above suggests, there is a difference between someone who enjoys theater and performance and one who loves being the center of attention in all situations. In theater, there is a separation (the "4th wall, as it's been called) when performing AND you are not you, you are embodying someone else. Some actors are ALWAYS someone else -even when being themselves, if that makes sense. That doesn't work for me. I have to be myself when not performing. And that self often prefers alone time to after parties (or even to eating lunch with co-workers). That self often prefers retreating back stage to take a few deep breaths and reflect, rather then expend more energy on "schmoozing." Even still, I believe even an introvert like me can love/be good at performing. So, I choose to accept and cultivate my theater and performing roots, wherever that might lead.
I know there are challenges ahead (damn, I'm really embracing those these days!). I know I'll continue to feel conflicts between my yoga practice and path and my performing endeavors. The important thing is, I am embracing my theatricality. Being theatrical and a performer does not make me less of a yogi. In fact, in embracing myself fully in this realm, I feel I am more in line with the Union of my small and big selves. Yay to that. On with the show...
"Judge not, lest ye be judged." - Matthew 7.1, The Bible
"When there is no enemy within you, the enemies outside cannot hurt you." - African Proverb
"Wherever you go, there you are." - Jon Kabat-Zinn
The perils and lessons of judgment have been coming up a lot for me lately. Oh the joys of self-analysis! And the joys of blogging about such self-analysis.
In the realm of yoga (and psychology), judgment is something we are supposed to avoid or at least notice, in order to shed light and work through. There is a reason why (most) yoga studios do not have mirrors- in order to feel the postures and embody them, rather than focus on the physical shape's appearance. There is, of course, a certain blueprint for shapes, but it is not helpful in the practice to solely focus on what the shape looks like. This is directly juxtaposed in yoga publications such as Yoga Journal as well as the popularity of yoga videos, which focus on the beauty and look of the asanas, rather than the transformational and alchemical properties of the shapes when embodied. I am not saying asana cannot be beautiful-it often is! But when this beauty is the sole focus, ideas (and egos!) can become skewed. Especially when mixed with our perceptions of ourselves, our body image issues, and our self-confidence levels. While we are on that subject...
I have recently been engaged in some projects that require my yoga practice and teaching to be filmed. I've decided to embark on yoga videos, due to the request of long distance students, as well as students who live in rural areas and are unable to get to classes as often as they like. I also recently participated in a documentary about movement, in which yoga was a featured discipline. I noticed while fiming these pieces that I was often more worried (and yes, worried is the correct word!) on what the postures would look like (and more vainly, what I looked like doing the postures), rather than how I felt while practicing them or my breath, or transitions, or any of the other important things I emphasize in my teaching. In fact, often I wasn't breathing at all and more than once, I injured myself in an effort to make the asana look better on video. I was head to head with judgment of every single aspect of myself during this process. In class and even in teaching, I rarely worry about what I am wearing, what skin is or is not showing, how my hair looks, or the blisters on the bottoms of my feet. These things suddenly became important in filming. Should I wear more make-up? Is that grey strand of hair off-putting? Are those pants too tight? My sense of self was tested and I'm still not quite sure who won!
Other than just self judgement, this has also made me look closer at my judgment of others. Again, in yoga (as in many spiritual traditions), we are taught to refrain from judging others, as it reflects the judgment we have of ourselves. Exactly right! And really hard! See above statement about self judgment. This past month has been a realization of how much I judge other people, as a direct reflection of how much judgment I carry for myself. This often manifests as embarrassment and of making light of all things I find weird, cheesy, or just plain don't understand.
I remember as a kid involved in theatre and television, this was a big deal. I was continually embarrassed at the silly sketches we had to perform, and later, at the overly dramatic monologues my classmates and I did during acting class. My response was always (and maybe still is) nervous laughter. I distinctly remember my best friend hating me for a week, as I giggled during a very serious monologue she was practicing before an important audition. I was incredibly embarrassed by her full embodiment of the role and her complete lack of awareness of “the audience” -which at the time, was only me. I feel guilty for that discretion to this day, though said friend is now a very successful theatre director and probably does not even remember it the way I do.
Similar episodes have come up during my recent foray back into Improv comedy, which is 50% fun and 50% judgment (though I am certain that's not the intent)! And I am continually embarrassed at kirtan and those yoga festivals (yes, I'm admitting it!). Even though I also happily sway and dance and wear the flowing, white clothing at times, I am the first to make fun of it and laugh at the absurdity of “the hippie crowd” or the “yoga scene.” My laughter is a form of judgment and removal from embracing the identity of that group. Other things that embarrass me to a point of panicky laughter: fashion, people who are continually fasting, people who change their name to 'Rainbow Goddess," awkward silences on radio shows, confrontation, talent agents from NYC, David Brent on The Office (British version).
This may prove to be a very rambling post, as I obviously have a lot to say on the subject. The point of it is this: in my understanding of yoga, we work on ourselves to change how we react and interact with others. As above, so below. We must first extinguish judgment within ourselves to lessen judgment of others and of external situations. This is daunting, difficult work. And we will butt heads with all of our flaws, our attachments, desires, and criticisms. I, for one, am so looking forward to it. My strategies of avoidance/escape have not worked thus far in the game, so now I will try facing it head on, through all of the discomfort. So, from this day forward, I choose to purposely put myself into situations where the potential for embarrassment and failure is moderate to high (bring it on Modern dance and drawing lessons!). I'm also re-embracing my theatrical roots, in hopes for a better relationship this time around. I hope I still laugh and I hope I still stay true to who I really am. But I also hope I can let go of the judgment around whatever it is, both of myself and of the others involved.
As always, I welcome your thoughts. Where do you notice judgment in your life? What are you doing about it? Do you avoid certain situations to avoid awkward or embarrassing moments? If nothing else, I like to know I am in good company. Thank you.
Most of these thoughts come while "running the stairs" at Mt. Tabor, by the way. Something about bringing blood flow to the body helps boost curiosity, thought, and inquiry, I suppose. From Merriam-Webster: Definition of authentic:
1 obsolete: authoritative
2 a: worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact; authentic picture of our society?
b: conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features; authentic reproduction of a colonial farmhouse>
c: made or done the same way as an original; authentic Mexican fare>
4 a :of a church mode:
ranging upward from the
of a cadence
progressing from the dominant chord to the
true to one's own personality, spirit, or character
Of these, I like number 5 best. And number 1 (and part of 2) the least. There's something about the word "conform" that sets my teeth on edge. That is my preface to the following:
A student recently asked what "Classical Hatha" means. While I could have given him the text book answer - it is the system of yoga set out in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, consisting of specific asanas and pranayama, blah blah blah- it made me stop and think. Why do we call things classical? Classical music. Classical dance. What was yoga BEFORE "classical yoga" called? Weren't all what we now call "ancient practices" once modern? Will what we now practice one day be called "ancient practices?" Must we stick things in stone at a certain period of time and refuse to allow music, yoga, religion, etc. to evolve as the world evolves? These are the kinds of questions that got me kicked out of Sunday school as a kid!
But seriously. In the yoga world, the words "classical", "tradition" or "lineage" are often used as a means to differentiate those practitioners that have a grasp on the ancient texts of yoga, those who study under a guru, or maybe just those that understand how far back these practices go. It can be construed as positive, but can also be taken to the extreme. It is undeniable to anyone who practices or teaches the "modern yoga" of today's yoga studios that what we teach/practice is a mixture of ancient traditions and new, Westernized gymnastics. And I don't think that is anything to be ashamed of. Just because we honor the traditions and lineages that yoga comes from does not mean we cannot enjoy the fun of trying to stick our feet over our heads or stand on one arm (though some of my students often question my definition of the word "fun" and think maybe I mean "difficult.").
In my very humble, but vocal opinion, change is absolutely necessary and nothing we should fight against. The world is constantly evolving. And there will always be those people who reject or deny this evolution, for the sake of tradition (cue the Fiddler on the Roof music). Just watch an episode of Downton Abbey and see this theme played out brilliantly. There's the faction of people that are appalled at the changes happening around them and those that champion just that change (and I suppose a third who might be confused or stuck somewhere in the middle). Although I champion change, I DO believe that it is important to understand and know the roots of a tradition or lineage, as much as that is possible. However, in that knowing, I DON"T believe we should get stuck on definitions, right versus wrong, or hard and fast rules; which is probably why I never felt comfortable branding myself with one religion or teacher.
Thus, when we in the West search for what is "authentic" about our lives (and more specifically, our yoga or spiritual practices), I am convinced that authenticity must come from within (see definition number five again, above), and not what someone else has branded as the "real yoga," or "real music," no matter how convincing their argument might seem. What seems real and authentic to one person may not be anywhere near what another person connects with. There is a reason why there are so many religions, styles of yoga, styles of music, to name just a few. We all connect to things differently and even within our small life span, we may change our minds a few times, due to experience, meeting certain people, being exposed to a new way of thinking.
When I was younger, I was often branded as impressionable. And perhaps I still am to a certain degree, though I definitely more firm in my beliefs, even if those beliefs are to be malleable and open to change. What I am sure of is that authenticity must come from within and not be forced upon you by an outside person, doctrine, or ancient sacred text, though those things can certainly guide us on upon a path. And since yoga is transforming us with every breath, with every syllable we chant and with each seat we take, shouldn't we allow definitions to transform as well? I'll let you decide...
Thank you to Uma Nanda Saraswati from New York City for this quote that has stuck forever in my mind: "All that I know is that I do not know. And for that knowledge, I thank my gurus."
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” - Marianne Williamson
Thanks to my friend, Jeannie, for a reminder of the above quote. It reminds me of the Rumi poem about "why are we still in prison when the doors are so wide open?" Why, when we are limitless, do we so often limit ourselves? Fear? Money? Guilt?
We often create myths about ourselves: who we think we are, how we present ourselves to others, to the world, to our parents, co-workers, spouses, friends. We put boundaries around what we can or cannot do ("I don't cook. I'm not a morning person. I don't work well with certain people."). We create a character of ourselves that others can be proud of, show off, live with, etc. Sometimes, this self gets so blurred into the "real Self", we often start to feel lost. Which is when many turn to spiritual or inward practices, such as yoga, meditation, self-inquiry, and/or therapy. When we begin to, once again, ask "Who am I really?" "What the hell is the point of all this pretending, acting, and myth making?" "Why am I limiting myself to these constructs of myself?"
In some way, these myths make us feel secure-enclosed in our own self-made box. As a wonderful, recent teacher of mine said, "Boundaries can be freeing," both in the context of asana practice and life itself, and I believe this to be true, as well. But I also believe we can go overboard with those boundaries and start to suffocate under the rules and restrictions we might impose upon ourselves, if we are not careful. I feel that boundaries should be malleable to a certain degree and we should always discern when they can expand or contract, as needed. We are constantly changing; the world is constantly changing. Shouldn't our boundaries go with that flow? Or are the boundaries necessary to stay on a certain path, to maintain a practice and a routine?
I notice that this post has more questions in it than answers. As always, I am happy about that. God forbid the questions ever cease. And I am also pleased that I hardly ever know the answers to these questions. This continues to make life very interesting. The inquiry, the exploration, and the curiosity ARE the essence of my practice. May it always be so...
Happy to be teaching, learning, and loving life, observing the myths I create about myself and noticing when and how they change.
Love and a happy Full Moon,
"There are two sides to this tale. On the one hand, the many unite to become the Oneness, and on the other hand the Oneness divides to become the many. Things continually shift between being united by love and divided by strife." - Empedocles
I am so small. What do I say? Everyone is so vocal right now. Everyone is blogging. Everyone has something to say, an opinion, a solution, a judgment, a sorrowful feeling, an outrage. I am left speechless.
Part of me wants to run to the woods and never watch the news again. But that part is always there. The thing that has come up for me again and again is: are recent events appropriate to bring up when teaching yoga? Do I ignore current events and continue teaching triangle pose and Warrior I as usual or do I bring moral and ethical and social issues to the forefront during class?
I learned yoga mostly at Jivamukti Yoga Center in New York City for the first 4 years of my "more serious" practice. They are very political there. They do not shy away from topics such as social change, vegetarianism, political action, etc. As a self professed "radical" living in New York at age 20, I very much enjoyed this. But now, being a teacher myself, in more passive Portland, I wonder what place this has in the yoga classroom, especially the drop in class where people who may never have met me before show up? I have wrestled with how much to explore my own feelings on topics ranging from such simple things as the weather to the recent terrifying and sad school and mall shootings. Do my own feelings belong where I am trying to open up the door for others to explore and notice their bodies, their breath, their attachments and patterns/habits? Do people come to yoga to escape the outside world or to hold space for their reactions to the outside world? I'm still wrestling...
I know some people love the "earth shattering" class that blows their minds and opens wide their hearts, in between each downward facing dog and Ujjayi breath. I've been there. I've loved those classes. Then there are those that just want to turn off the media and the discourse and be told where to put their foot and how many times to inhale and exhale. I've been there too. I've loved those classes. I know I will not change anyone's world with one class, nor would I want that responsibility. I don't put that much stock in my words or teachings. To ignore the outside world seems non-authentic. To dwell on the events seems unproductive. So, going back to my previous post, I will endeavor to "walk the razor's edge" of the middle path, again. I will give my efforts towards striking a balance between offering a space to feel, move and process, but also a space to simply open your hips and hamstrings while breathing in and breathing out. The rest is up to the student...
As always, sending love, light and balance to a world that often feels tipped towards darkness...
"Although we cannot choose what happens to us, we can choose how we respond." - Epictetus
I sit here, sick once more (this makes at least 3 times this year-a record, and perhaps a consequence of working in health care?), contemplating everything. And then there is this Mary Oliver quote that shows up, thanks to a friend: “Pay attention. Be astonished. And tell about it. We’re soaked in distractions. The world didn’t have to be beautiful. We can and should think about that beauty and be grateful." This reminded me of the myriad of "distractions" that pull us away from practice-illness definitely being one of them! Work seems to be a distraction, at times, but other times, seems to be a part of the practice. It all depends on the mindset or perception. Or as Krishna reminds us in the Bhagavad Gita, our work can become a part of our service, if done without attachment to the results of that work.
But when our distractions pull us AWAY from the beauty of the world instead of magnetically pulling us TOWARDS it, that is when maybe we've drifted. There seems to be a lot of distractions lately-the election, the weather, the everyday dramas. But aren't they always there? Isn't there always a distraction just waiting around the corner to pull us away from our mats, our cushions, and our connection to the Divine and the world around us? As I've stated in previous posts, we always have a choice on how we spend our 24 hours each day. When I choose to watch more coverage of the storm that devastated the East Coast recently over 15 minutes of pranayama or meditation, is that distraction or just being aware of the activities in the world? What if that 15 minutes starts to turn into an hour?
Again, I draw my mind back to balance, to moderation, to the "middle path." I have no background in Buddhist teachings, so this is not the the definition of that capitalized version, with quotes from Buddhist text to support my views. This is my version of staying balanced on a path that is lacking in extremes: the extreme of hiding in a cave, immersed in meditation, not knowing what is happening beyond that which is immediately surrounding oneself; or the opposite extreme of spending 10 hours a day watching the news about all the dramas surrounding the external material world and its politics. As always, I choose somewhere in between, leaning more towards the center. I choose moderation. I choose to live in the world (as tempting as that cave sometimes feels), yet not get too attached to the unfolding drama. I often fall off the middle path towards the extremes. But my aim is to keep coming back to that path. And along the way, I hope to "pay attention and be astonished." I hope to continue noticing the Light within the Darkness and to see the beauty in both a calm, clear, sunny day or a devastating hurricane.
The more I write, the more questions I have. And the more I realize I do not know. Which I am so grateful for.... to be continued.
Wow, what a title for a post. I admit, these are completely unenlightened thoughts, mundane thoughts, thoughts from a complete amateur... Nothing profound. Ram Dass said, after his stroke, "there is still so much work to do. I feel so far away from God." Amen. It has been a tough couple of weeks. Household (myself included) ill. Family member deaths, death of childhood friends, no sleep, physical body not co-operating, among the continuous, constant ever changing "regular" world of shifting friendships, relationships, family, work, cosmic planetary cycles, expectations from Self and others, etc.
Yet there is still so much that is incredible. Music, sun, love, yoga, wonderful people, friendships, joy, healthy grieving, and a new appreciation for life and love of family and friends.
It is SO easy to be calm and collected when our world is working; when things are simple and easy and physical and mental health are good. It is not so easy when the world starts to spin in such ways as above, when emotional and mental chaos seem to be at the forefront. How does the yoga practice, the thing I spend many hours of my week engaging in to relieve suffering, show up in these times? The simplest word I can think of is AWARENESS. I am the witness, I am aware of the happenings, instead of being caught in the whirlwind. Letting go of control seems to be necessary. As it always is. But it is more so during the tougher times; letting go is MORE essential than ever, as attaching and holding on just makes everything feel worse and creates more suffering.
It is interesting how difficult the smallest things seem when one is grieving- eating, dishes, showering, taxes, getting coffee, walking the dog, yoga practice... none of it seems relevant when loss of a loved one or physical illness are the main focus. But again, these things are actually MORE important to engage in, to keep life moving forward, while embracing the emotions, so as not to squash them down to make way for future suffering. As Patanjali says, in the Yoga Sutras chapter 2, aptly titled "Practice", "Suffering that is yet to be manifested is to be avoided." If we don't allow what is happening NOW to occur and bear fruit, we are already attaching to future suffering.
I am so thankful this is called a practice. We are not expected to achieve perfection in being calm. We are not asked to be 100% on all of the time. We are only asked to accept, receive, witness, be conscious and take tiny steps forward on this path carved out for us by many other seekers past. I learn from those seekers every single day. I learn from watching others grieve, from noticing how I react to suffering and chaos, and from taking step and a million breaths forward on each new day.
As a yoga teacher and Physical Therapist Assistant, I'm supposed to love people. And for the most part, I do. I love connecting with people on a personal level, helping people discover yoga and learning what makes people passionate, happy, and excited about life. I love meeting new people, sharing ideas, talking about yoga and anatomy and philosophy, etc. and discovering what we have in common and what connects us to one another. That being said, sometimes I don't want to talk to people, especially in the context of larger groups. Which is odd, as talking to people is a part of of both my "job descriptions." I remembered this recently when I went into a yoga class, craving a structured class from this specific teacher, yet also knowing I was in one of those moments where I felt the need to be more internal than external. I knew the teacher and probably at least 4-5 people in the class. The minute I walked in to the studio, thoughts began to spin, "I should have stayed home and practiced on my own, I should have just meditated instead, people are going to think I'm rude and mean", etc. While I didn't quite ignore anyone, I said hello, I also didn't engage any further in conversation or ask any probing questions. I sat on my mat, closed my eyes, and shut myself off from any more inquiry or interaction.
I believe this is one of the reasons I stopped being in the entertainment industry. I love to sing, to act, to dance, to express myself through performance. I love music, theater and creative collaboration. It's the interactions in between all of those that is more difficult for me, for whatever reasons. After the show, I wanted to retreat and be able to process what had just happened vs. continue to give energy out being social.
I also think this is why I love connecting through writing and "social media." There is not as much face to face time, no immediate reactions required, no body language to interpret (which also has its pitfalls, as anyone who has had an email or letter misunderstood by the recipient knows). Writing is more internal, more reflective, and admittedly, more one sided. There is time to process the interaction, space to reflect on the communication.
How does this relate to yoga? Well, as a yoga student and teacher, we learn that "All is One," that we are all connected, to continuously reach out to others and to find our similarities and let go of our differences. Yet yoga is also a very internal process, an awakening to who we really are. How do we find that balance between staying connected and honoring our need for space, privacy and internal exploration? This is something I do not have an answer to, or have come even close to finding one. So, I continue to honor the times when I feel open to "being social" and also to honor my need for space, contemplation and "going inward." I can only hope that in those times when I feel like a hermit, I am still cultivating a sense of connection somehow and not putting up walls. It is like walking the razor's edge. As the Katha Upanishad says (repeated many times throughout history), "The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over, thus the wise know the path of yoga is hard to go by."
But we will keep walking it, gratefully...