Sunday, January 15, 2012

As It Is and the Messy Glory of It

I am on my way from Athens, GA to Tucson, AZ for a few days before we begin the very first School of Yoga Intensive. I am pretty excited about this program because it is the first program that did not begin as an Anusara yoga program and get converted to a School of Yoga program. I have had no problem with that either and I have been immensely touched and moved by so many people's unwavering support of my shift out of Anusara Yoga but this program is the first full program we have scheduled that will begin under the School of Yoga banner with its own unique curriculum. AND- it is is SOLD OUT.  So that is very cool.

The first part of the program is obviously modeled after the Immersion but will not follow the Immersion curriculum. the emphasis will be on direct, personal relationship to practice with an emphasis on asana but with an introduction to mantra, pranayama and puja. As time goes by we will be incorporating teachings from the Vaisnava bhakti traditions of India as well as relevant teachings from tantra with an emphasis on tenets of Baul sadhana and what Lee called Enlightened Duality. I have been consulting with my mentors and teachers and we have some cool things in store. I am excited about it and so excited to reunite with so many students who have already been in our trainings as well as meet the students who felt called to begin the journey of this new iteration of my teaching work and our journey together.

I had an amazing week in Athens, Georgia with the teacher trainees. This training, like I mentioned in a previous entry began as an Anusara Teacher Training and had the unique distinction of being my last training as an Anusara Yoga  teacher.  It was great to continue the work and to take it directions that connected more to my own teaching methods and ideas- all of which can be applied to Anusara- but not all of which I learned directly in Anusara. In general, I am enjoying the creative freedom and the Possibility it all holds.

Of course, its not all unicorns and rainbows. I have found this transition to be a mixed bag of emotions, with clarity coming at a cost and gain sitting right beside loss. It's also a bit of uncharted territory to examine for myself my own thoughts, feelings, observations, criticisms and ideas and to know when, what and how best to communicate them, if at all. I find the current yoga climate at times a bit daunting to interface with at times. Continually I am struck by the irony of how "identified" we become with our various methods and non-methods of yoga, all of which is ostensibly about dissolving the hold that such identifications have on us.  For instance I have experience a kind of identitity-death now that I am no longer defining my work by the same name, culture, group, etc. that I did for the last 12 years. I have started almost every class I have taught for over 12 years saying the same thing- "My name is Christina Sell. I practice, study and teach a method of yoga called Anusara Yoga..." Somewhere along the way, that became part of my identity.

When I realized that I was going to resign my formal affiliation with the Anusara system and surrender my legal right to use the trademark to describe my teaching, I felt as though I went through a very real tunnel or portal or threshold where I could feel those identifications tugging on me like psychic but actual tentacles. Some even had voices that sounded a lot like "You are nobody without that", etc. It was one of those most powerful initiatory experience I think I have ever had because while I was feeling the pull of the identifications in full effect,  I was also aware of them acting on me and I could see them for what they were and I was able to offer a response from a Higher Perspective of knowing. I knew that in my truth, I am much more than those labels and associations and so is my yoga. And weirdly, something inside me was born,  or perhaps honed, in the fire of that portal, that interestingly enough, is absolutey required for life on the other side of the portal, for life free of those identifying labels. A great reminder that, once again, the process makes us ready for what it has in store for us.

When I was writing Yoga From the Inside Out, I interviewed Lee. My first question was about what role a positive body image played in spiritual work or in sadhana. Lee was remarkably astute about psychology and in general wanted all of us to be well-adjusted with healthy functioning egos. So I expected him to launch into something about how important it was to have a positive self- image and he surprised me. He said, "Nothing. Positive body image has nothing to do with spiritual life whatsoever. Spiritual practice is aimed at Reality and not images. Now, if you want to ask me what a healthy body has to do with sadhana, that I could talk a bit more about."

And he did. He went on to say that having a healthy body was advantageous because sadhana is rigorous, demanding and when the kundalini shakti is activated, it is helpful to have a strong vessel to contain and channel  its force. (Be clear, he said, helpful and advantageous. He did not say required.  It is not required, nor did he teach that we should be body and health-obsessed or anything remotely like that. And he was always railing against the folks in the community who thought another cleanse would help their sadhana when generally greater self-honesty, deeper compassion for self and others and/or unrelenting service was what would actually be of the most assistance to one's awakening.  He encouraged us to care for our bodies mostly so they were strong, bright and non-problematic. But I digress.)

So, in the same way that  a healthy body image and a healthy body are different things, so too yoga, while it may improve our self-image, is not actually aimed there. Or it is not aimed there only.  It  is, I believe, most traditionally aimed at what lives beyond those kinds definitions and images of who we are, even definitions such as  "I am a ______ yogi, not a __________ yogi" and "I am a _______ yoga teacher not a __________ yoga teacher." I suppose, we are even aiming beyond being identified with being "yogi's" at all, although these labels, like everything have their uses and benefits.

For instance, sometimes claiming a certain label for a period of time can help shift us considerably. For instance, when we are stuck in an addictive process, claiming the reality of being in addictive cycle by identifying ourselves as addicts and saying "I am an addict" actually helps us engage the recovery process. Until that point, there is no hope of recovery for most. So, in that way, the label is very useful. The identification serves. However, if 10 years down the road being an addict is all we feel like we are, what was initally helpful may actually have become problematic.

Also, I believe that  clarity around one's clan is very helpful. I believe many of us have spiritual families and have certain karma to fulfill with one another and a certain dharma that exists relative to a lineage and to a Teaching and to the community that is constellated around certain ideals. No problem there. We are all going to have preferences and likes and dislikes and places where we feel at home more than others. All that is as it should be.

I even have no problem with insular communities. Lee always said our community was  an insular community. And he offered absolutely no apology about it. It was by design. He never wanted the community so big that he didn't know everyone's name. Plenty of new people would visit the ashram and be like, "What is wrong with these people? They are so rude and unwelcoming." The truth is, its just that most folks weren't friendly according to conventional rules of social interaction. Spiritual community is a spiritual contract and not a social contract,  after all. And because we all understand the connection to one another as eternal, we are fairly conservative about who joins the club! My point is, none of that is a problem in and of itself. Its more problematic, I think, to say you are friendly and open when you are not because all kinds of issues arise based on the  expectations such a claim implies.

And I do think that we have self-esteem issue galore in our country and many of us come to yoga to get some help with that and I am all for that. Like sadhana needs a strong body, it also requires a strong and stable sense of self in order to sustain the necessary efforts over time. I am not anti-ego or anything like that. Honestly, it takes a strong ego to admit fault, to examine our shortcomings, to claim our weaknesses and to compromise, to sacrifice, to serve others and to claim our place in a lineage, within a community and the more we feel we deserve the dignity the path offers, the more naturally we will align ourselves in those ways.

Anyway, I had a point when I started writing, but mostly, this is more like a plea for us to  lighten up a bit and check in to see if our yoga- no matter what we call it even if we are actually actively NOT calling it anything- is building walls or breaking them down. True practice does not isolate us. True practice will make us more tolerant, more forbearing and more accepting of ourselves and each other. And that does not mean we have to agree or to not ever criticize or see everything the same way or even think everything is good. Looking for the good (in my world at least) is an affirmation of non-duality and can exist in the midst of scrutiny, discernment and the realities of what is as it is, here and now in all the complicated and many-times messy glory that that implies.

Jai guru!


Yael Reinhardt-Matsliah said...

so many layers in this blog post, so much profound and yet directly practical wisdom. I especially like your closing remarks:

Does our practice "build walls or break them down. True practice does not isolate us. True practice will make us more tolerant, more forbearing and more accepting of ourselves and each other. And that does not mean we have to agree or to not ever criticize or see everything the same way or even think everything is good...."

Just real gut level honesty. I love your blog posts, Christina. Keep writing!

Christina Sell said...

Thanks so much. I appreciate that you took the time to check in. stay in touch.

Ariela Kay Summit said...

Christina: Thanks for being real. I don't know you very well, but have taken your yogaglo classes - and I love the bit about the authentic and the professional bio (it made me laugh).

There's a beauty in being completely real and messy, in that it allows a lot more space for people to connect (both in the teacher/student paradigm, and just as beings in the world). You make me feel more comfortable with my own imperfections. Love it!