I had such an amazing weekend here at Willow Street Yoga. The thing that is so wonderful about the studio and community here is the depth and diversity among the students and teachers. At Willow Street Yoga there are 16 certified teachers teaching public classes on the schedule, not to mention the Anusara-Insired teachers there and the throngs of Anusara teachers in the surrounding area. Seriously, this region is a mecca of Anusara Yoga talent, expertise and experience.
Suzie Hurley- the owner and director- is one of the first certified Anusara Yoga teachers and one of the first people John Friend designated to train other people to teach Anusara Yoga. In her 60's she has been practicing yoga over 30 years and teaching for well over 20 and she is, to me, one shining example of what a life of meditation, asana and conscious living does for someone. I have always admired her and thought to myself on many occasions, "When I grow up, I want to be like Suzie." She is funny, smart, sassy and wise and at the risk of sounding a bit corny, she also sparkles a bit. (Seriously, check out her eyes some time. Very shiny.)
I spoke about this a bit in the workshop but I might as well spin a small yarn about it here. I think that as yoga becomes more popular and more mainstream, it seems quite obvious to me that it is being (has been) infiltrated by images of the mainstream culture. All in all, I am fine with that and I am not interested in grinding an axe about that phenomenon exactly- it is what it is. I am not trying to change the machinations of Madison Avenue or the industry of yoga. Beautiful women in lovely clothes with supple bodies grace the covers of magazines, pose for products from cars to visa cards to jewelry and use images of yoga to sell us things. Okay, that is fine. I love beauty in all its forms and have no basic problem with that. Seriously.
I am just concerned that the larger yoga conversation is so lopsided to towards equating yogic aims with our often-times dysfunctional cultural ideals that we forget to educate ourselves and each other about what the point of the practice actually is. To me the point of the practice is the Light I was describing sparkles in Suzie's eyes. Its the potency of a community of mature and seasoned practitioners who are exploring their inner life together and serving others together. The point of the practice is not that the community has no shortcomings but that people, when faced with their own and each others, are endeavoring to be accountable, honest and responsible about moving forward in increasingly conscious ways. The asana practice, while it appears to be an exercise for the physical body, is actually an exercise in consciousness that ideally increases our awareness, our insight into Reality and our ability to be compassionate with ourselves and others. I could go on but the highest aims of the practice are not and have never been, physical beauty, cute clothes, popularity, fame or fortune.
Let's be clear-I am all for those things so long as they can exist without compromising the deeper aims. I am not saying any of that is, in essence, at odds with the practice either. I am no purist renunciate. I am just saying that it can be easy to unconsciously equate yogic success with worldly success and make all kinds of assumptions about yogic value based on cultural ideals rather than yogic standards. It is totally understandable that this happens- we are trained to see success a certain way and those patterns can run deep and function well below the surface of awareness for many of us. It can take time to root out these misconceptions, to re-order our thinking and to allow our perceptions to be referenced in something greater than cultural samskaras.
And that is why I so frequently say that yoga practice rewards age. To culture our consciousness, to develop awareness, and to be stable in our values is something that does not happen overnight or even in a few years. And while I am very interested in what newer practitioners and teachers have to say about the practice I am supremely interested in what my elders have to say because, regardless of whether they can put their leg behind their head or not, I want to know, after 30 years of practice, how they stayed in place. I want to know how life's challenges deepened their practice, and did not kicked them off the path. I want to know how yoga helped them raise kids, manage the stresses of making a living, how it helped them nurture a community, mentor others and above all, I am keenly interested in that sparkle I mentioned earlier.
Dr. Phillips, our Sanskrit teacher in Austin, once told me that the best mathematicians are young and the best linguists are old. He said that mathematicians "peak" early because the kind of mind power they need to function is at its peak early in life. He said linguists and translators and such get better with age because the kind of skill they need has to do with associative knowledge, with nuance and depends on the ability to make fine distinctions between concepts. He said that the greater one's life experience the more layered and multi-dminesional one's understanding becomes so the ability to find the exact word to translate effectively increases over time and a linguist will be peaking later in life.
So I think its the same with yoga. In fact the whole point of longevity in yoga was not so we could look cuter longer. It was intended to give the practitioner more time to develop themselves, to deepen their awareness to hone their discrimination. The longer the yogi lived well the more time they had to say the mantras, more time they had to meditate, to practice and to serve. Longevity was cultivated not because youth was prized but because time was required to mature on the path.
Of course, it doesn't happen naturally. Old age, without practice, effort and a life aligned with Grace is just old age. Old does not necessarily mean wise. I am just saying, I am always inspired to be around people who have been on the path longer than me because they show me what is possible and how I might gain strength as I walk the path.
All rigt then. Keep the faith.