SO- many months ago I got a very interesting letter from an Anusara- Inspired Teacher who lives in a foreign land. It was so interesting that I thought I would respond to it here. I have changed a few details to "protect the innocent" but it is such a common scenario I thought many people might relate and find the consideration useful. Again, my disclaimer about personal email questions that relate to practice is that I may answer them in a public forum. That was we really all learn together which is the whole idea of the kula really.
I am an anusara-inspired teacher living in South America and I read your blog religiously. You give me lots of inspiration to keep going even though I am a one woman kula down here! I am so tired today from teaching 5 straight privates beginning at 6am that I am neglecting my personal practice - for the 5th day in a row! I normally do practice (always at home alone due to scheduling and the lack of local teachers I am motivated to practice with) but I am really in a slump! I teach between 22-26 classes a week - all privates except for 4 group classes (it is harder to make a buck down here!) and I am having a hard time keeping up my personal practice. It often gets shortened, softened, neglected in some way... I am not proud of this and I more than understand the importance of keeping up my practice! I am just not sure how to do this in a practical way. I go to study with John two weeks a year, but other than that I am really on my own here in and I am working A LOT! DO you have any advice for me on how to keep motivated and inspired? How to find energy for a decent practice after giving energy to teach 5 or 6 classes a day? I would love your thoughts on this. Thank you!
My public answer to a private question:
"First and foremost it sounds like you are being quite hard on yourself and no matter what practical approach you take to solving your personal practice dilemma, being nice to yourself about the realities of your situation is going to help you tremendously. Really, with that kind of teaching schedule, it is admirable that you want to practice at all. Many people who have jobs other than teaching yoga sometimes look longingly at the full-time yoga teacher and fantasize that somehow their practice, training, etc. would be easier if they didn't have to work at a job that required them to apply for time off, show up at an office, etc. But the thing is, there is no easy way to manage it all. Sure, those of us who work for ourselves can take time off any time we want but we do not get paid for time off! In the land of the self-employed, there is no such thing as paid vacation. Most people I know who do this for a living work very hard. And work a lot. It sounds to me like you are doing just that.
"Years ago, when I first started teaching yoga, my husband and I owned a coffee shop. We worked 75-100 hours a week each and I taught four yoga classes at a small studio next door to our cafe. It actually cost me money to teach those classes. By the time I paid someone to work for me at the cafe and taught the classes for like $20, I pretty much lost money the whole first year of my teaching. (And by the time you figure in the cost of training, I certainly lost money for the first five years! But I digress.) On top of that, I had very little time or energy to practice myself. After so much time on my feet and working in the cafe and so forth, my practice at that time pretty much looked like viparita karana (legs up the wall), supta baddha konasana (reclined bound angle) and on a really good day, some inversions. I really ran a number on myself about what "a loser yoga teacher I was because I didn't practice a lot or very hard and what kind of integrity did I really think I have to be teaching and not practicing more" and so on. (Sound familiar anyone?)
"So, I was lamenting my very sad story to my sister one day and I had pretty much decided that I would stop teaching yoga because of all of these factors and she said, "You know, your situation is not going to be like this forever. Sure, it's not ideal, but when your schedule clears a bit, and it will, if you have quit now you will have nothing to return to when your time finally gets freed up a bit." She was right. It did not last forever and when things settled and I surfaced a bit, I still had a practice and I still had the classes. So, at no point did I just say, "this is ideal" but I did make my peace with "this is what I can actually do" and I could let go of the self-criticism that was generated by a long list of "should's" relative to practice.
"A practical suggestion is make a list of the should's you have regarding your practice and see how many of them are actually realistic for your situation and then let as many go as you can. And when "the should's" rear their head and try to undermine your peace of mind, tell them "Thanks for sharing, but I have more important things to do right now than listen to you..."
"My personal belief is that we must know- in a very clear and precise way- the patterns of our thinking and how they will attempt to sabotage us and our self-worth and our joy. And when we know this, we gain some mastery over the patterns rather than they simply being the master of us. This is how we avoid the third and very dangerous spiral of Anusara Yoga that I like to refer to as "The Downward Spiral." I personally do not ever expect the patterns' voices to go away. I really don't. Although sometimes they do. Nor do I find it that helpful to fight them as they are wily, smart and long-enduring. I think of them like a muscle. When the pattern is strong it is like a muscle in spasm. It has all of our attention. But when it is not activated, not fed, put in its place, so to speak, it is just a muscle like any other muscle. I mean really, do you think much about your triceps muscle when it is not sore?
"So that is one part of the equation as I see it from sunny Texas this lovely spring morning. The other part of the equation is intention. I do believe that when we hold a very strong intention about something- like, for instance- "I really want to practice more and find ways to inspire my practice beyond where it is now"- then the universe moves in sometimes radical ways to help us align with such an intention. Sometimes, it moves to reveals to us the obstacles that we have in our way regarding time management, money and energy in all forms. As this becomes more clear, it can be shocking to realize that we might be in our own way more than we thought.
"For instance, in the yoga traditions, Ganesh is said to be the deity we ask for help to remove our obstacles. He is the force that does just that. Truly. But it is often in ways we do not think of as easy or gentle. Like the whole "pray for patience and you will get caught in a traffic jam" scenario. He puts us in the very circumstances that will demand that we learn directly the thing that we asked him to help us with. He doesn't just wave a magic wand and give us patience, is my point. If we hold an intention about something and ask for help that the obstacles to realizing that intention be removed, we are going to go through some purification relative to that intention. Be sure of it. And be nice to yourself as its happening because it is a High Opportunity.
"And, I could certainly give the lecture about "why we must practice as yoga teachers" because I really do think that. But I will just avoid that all together. Most any yoga teacher who is not practicing is not lacking the knowledge of why it is important. So the fact that a yoga teacher is not practicing is something else, not a lack of education about practice's merits and its profound source of inspiration for teaching. There is some other mechanism at work that is compromising the teacher from realizing that ideal. Each one of us must find out what that is for us and find a way through it that works for us. And we are all different- personality, body types, schedules, families, jobs, etc. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa.
"But the cool thing is that THERE IS NO ONE WAY TO PRACTICE YOGA EFFECTIVELY so the differences are not a problem at all. They are just opportunities to express oneself creatively and in response to one's needs. And what works today might not work next month and so we are asked to be fluid with it. To live in a flow of uncertainty yet remain committed and steadfast. If we truly attend to the ebb and flow of our lives and stop holding this week's practice to last year's list of expectations we might not feel as burdened and that alone is a more inspired state.
"I hope this helps. I could go on and on but this is long enough. "