Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Athens, Georgia

I have had a lovely few days of down time here in Athens, Georgia. I decided to come here straight from St. Louis mostly to save money since the round trip tickets for one weekend was more than half of what it cost to put 5 legs on one ticket. However, once I thought about it, I realized by doing a month-long trip instead of individual round trips, I would be able to have some time off before each teaching engagement. So I took a few days to rest, catch up on some writing and  indulge my new found obsession with Grey's Anatomy. Seriously, I had no idea about how good that show is until I stayed a Brigette's house in St. Louis and watch a few episodes. Highly addictive. 

So, I found out today that the 200-hour and the 500-hour program curriculums I submitted to Yoga Alliance were approved. So that is exciting news. Look for some program listings in 2012 and 2013. I am very excited about the programs and about moving forward into this next phase of creative expression and sharing. We are a registered school that teaches Hatha  Yoga. On the application I defined School of Yoga Hatha Yoga as a "precise approach to asana with a heart-centered approach to spirituality that incorporates pranayama, mantra, meditation and contemplation." So there you have it. 

Graduates  would be certified by School of Yoga to teach Hatha Yoga, which is a fairly wide-open designation to work within. I am sure as time goes by there will be all kinds of details to sort out regarding how to manage the whole thing but for now, we are maintaining our stance that we do not want to create a method that needs to be trademarked, managed or defined. We want our graduates to be well-trained and empowered to offer classes, workshops, trainings of their own-informed by their studies with us but not limited to the curriculum we design. 

I have lots on my mind these days and it's a bit tough to really know where, how and if to dive into it. I have been feeling a bit exasperated by certain streams of conversation around and about yoga these days and I am not so sure that ranting about any or all of it would be al, that useful.  And I have this sneaking and suspicious feeling that my views are not necessarily going to be loved by all. Ah well, that seems to be my dharma these days.

One current thread that several people have asked me to chime in on has been the recent New York Times article on yoga being injurious. I actually find it shocking that it got so much press. But then I remember that we are talking about a mass media piece, not a piece that goes out to an audience that is educated about yoga. So in the name of education, I do have a few comments.

The first piece of education I have is for the new yoga teachers who feel  worried about what people are thinking as a result of an article. Typically, as a result of their worry, these folks are rushing in to defend, explain and justify and reassure people- not just about yoga and how safe it is, but about their own involvement with yoga and their own credibility- lest people doubt them personally because New York Times induced general doubt about yoga. 

Let's be clear- we do what we do as teachers because we believe in yoga's efficacy and it's  transformational power. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NBC, CBS, Oprah, Sting or any other mainstream endorsement won't make it more powerful nor will their  criticism make it less so. Yoga, as a path, has stood the test of time and that is what we are representing, in my opinion- the tradition. Yoga is riding a bit of a popularity high right now and it's is easy to get a bit addicted to that. It's all the rage and everyone loves it and therefore loves us as teachers. Chances are, this popularity high will fade, maybe in part, because of injuries like NY Times described and because there  are consequences to taking an esoteric, specialized set of skills into mainstream applications. That is not about yoga, that is about the modern culture of mainstream yoga. 

I am about to say a few things that may sound cavalier and that is not how I mean them. I am not cavalier about injury and I take safety seriously. I am into it. Big time. And having said that,  before we talk much more about injury though yoga we have to remember that inactivity is probably the greatest source of chronic pain we have as a culture. Lay around all day for years and you better believe that your body is going to break down and  be in pain. Also, not one physical activity we do is risk free. Runners have joint pain, tennis players have elbow problems, cyclists get back pain, gymnasts have bone fractures, swimmers have shoulder issues, and so on. 

And the more extreme we get in the pursuit the riskier the activity. For instance, many fitness runners have no problems with their knees until they decide to train for a marathon. And the same goes for yoga. The further we travel down the syllabus into the advanced postures, the riskier the postures can become. So if you are going to go for advanced poses, make peace with the fact they have risk. Major risks. They are not inherently safe and just because we can do some things, does not always mean that we should. And while alignment is essential for mitigating the dangers inherent in the risky forms- and risky depends on who is doing what pose since for some touching the floor is a danger zone and for others nothing started to get challenging until much later-- we have to remember that  alignment has several aspects to it.

In  Anusara John talks about the 3 As- attitude, alignment and action which were the 3 A's of Anusara and also referred metaphorically to the three domains of  the being as well as the three domains of practice: heart and will,  mind, knowledge and understanding, and body which includes ones actual capacity to perform the posture and the required actions of alignment. We may want to do the alignment (attitude) and we may know the "right" way to do the pose (alignment) and lack the strength and ability to execute it (action). Or we can do it physically, we have the will and desire, but we haven't actually learned how to turn the key in the lock of the pose. And so on. The variations are endless and while alignment is the answer in a sense, knowing how to apply alignment is not easy, takes a long time, requires a lot of study, practice, trial and error.

And so to really learn how to do a lot of the yoga safely requires a kind of learning environment conducive to the challenge an investment of time and money is required. And it's going to be boring to many. I mean seriously, I've  watch a lot of boring demos to learn a lot of what I know. So, it's not that compassionate sounding, I know, but to expect to learn, to be safe, to never be injured and to also expect an entertaining  workout that gives you your personal space to express yourself, is kind of unrealistic in my opinion. 

I mean, really,  As much as I love a good, crowded and sweaty flow class with the music going and all that, not for one minute do I think that particular  environment provides the optimal situation to really understand the postures, the alignment, the nuances. (not grinding an axe about flow, not at all. After all, alignment-oriented, demo-based classes do not always provide the same conditioning effect or the same kind of mythic, ritualistic means for  self-expression. Not better than or worse than just examining different learning environments.) To  have a keen understanding requires keen study and to expect and "doing" environment to provide a "knowing" relationship to the art and science of asana practice. 

All right I could say more,  but my two cents is spent for now.


marywillmeng said...

Thank you for your thoughts on the NY Times article. It is scary to think about doing serious damage to yourself in the efforts of self improvement. But, leading a sedintary lifestyle can be just as, if not more, damaging and so many physical activities can cause strain, wear, and tear that an article like that needs to be kept in perspective. It is better to practice safer and smarter than to stop altogether.

Marcia Rose said...

Hi Christina. First time responding to your blog although I am a faithful reader. Our paths crossed back in the Inner Harmony days. On a light note, when you mentioned Greys Anatomy, I assumed you were pouring over the text book!

Christina Sell said...

yes, right- the book! Funny. more like obsessively watching it on my computer!

Christina Sell said...

And thanks for commenting Mary and Marcia. I do know that there is A LOT of unsafe yoga being taught but the Iyengar method is not one of them at all. I think some well placed caution is definitely needed at this stage of yoga's popularity high because it is so potent. It can heal and it can harm just as it is the ego that pushes us competitively into unsafe position but also tells us to respect ourselves and our limits. Never the yoga or the ego only as we are there also!

It created a lot of controversy, article. In the end I hope it does raise awareness and bring some caution and maturity into the current climate of yoga.

Jason Lobo said...

My god you're brilliant. ♥

Christina Sell said...

And you, my dear friend, are obviously a genius!

Julie Hartline said...

Congrats on the curriculum!!!

Christina Sell said...


Unknown said...

HI Christina! I never comment either, but since my dear friend, Marcia did and shared the exact thought I had when I read the Grey's Anatomy- I was like, wow, that's serious...!
I liked the rest of the blog and plan to share it with some other yoga teacher friends. I read often. You are doing great things and I hope to see you sometime soon.

Unknown said...

HI Christina! I never comment either, but since my dear friend, Marcia did and shared the exact thought I had when I read the Grey's Anatomy- I was like, wow, that's serious...!
I liked the rest of the blog and plan to share it with some other yoga teacher friends. I read often. You are doing great things and I hope to see you sometime soon.

Kristina said...

I've also been reading for a while and this is my first comment. You are totally right that with any type of physical activity comes the inherent risk of injury - especially if you're doing it incorrectly...or maybe uninformed would be a better word. It bugs me when people make sweeping generalizations about anything based on a few negative examples.

In college I was training to be an opera singer - I sang a LOT. At least 14 or so hours a week. It's easy to hurt your voice this way (a lot of singers develop vocal nodes), but with proper instruction and technique, and LOTS of practice (much of which is...boring... :)) you could theoretically sing all day and not hurt yourself. But, people still get injured from pushing themselves too hard. Does that mean opera singing is horrible and inherently destructive to your vocal cords? Of course not.

I think that when anything becomes popular or trendy there's bound to be a backlash at some point. We see it in nutrition all the time, like how one minute it's "chocolate will save your life!" and then a second later "nope just kidding, chocolate will totally kill you!"

Anyway, long rambling comment to say I completely agree with you - yoga is not inherently safe and should be practiced with care and deep study. Thanks for your blog, it's always a pleasure to read what you have to say!

Kimberly Achelis Hoggan said...

wonderfully put!!

Christina Sell said...

Thanks for chiming in everyone! Maybe the article was great if for no other reason than it got us all talking.

We all seem to be clear that yoga in and of itself is not injurious nor is it, in and of itself, healing. It, once again, is a reminder that in yoga, we are never absent from the conversation.