Saturday, February 4, 2012

Shadow and Light

Well, we have been in the throes of Teacher Training for three full days now with 8-hour days so its been pretty consuming. We spent a lot of time this weekend on sequencing strategies- like I mentioned last post- and the work seems to be paying off. Today, I had the students work together to make sequences building toward a peak pose, integration repetition of shape, linking of a key action and utilizing progressive teaching methods. I gave them a worksheet to guide their preparation and to help them organize their thoughts and plan their sequences. Then they practiced the sequence they planned with each other and did some fine-tuning work on it. This was an experiential exercise to model how important it is to teach from our own experience. Authenticity is such a big topic these days as it relates to teaching yoga and there is no better way to be authentic relative to a sequence than to have worked with it firsthand to see where it is strong, weak and give ourselves a chance to sort out the kinks.

After that, the students taught the sequence to another group who then taught their sequence to the first group. It was a wonderful  process and the trainees did really great with it. It was also fun to see how their individual teaching styles are really emerging. And because we have a small group I am able to really give a lot of personal attention to the trainees which is fun for me also. All in all I am enjoying the intimacy, comradery and maturity of this group.

It is so amazing to me how every training group has a unique flavor and personality and how much I enjoy being with every group I get a chance to be with. Its such an amazing thing to start a week not knowing anyone and end a week feeling like we have shared a very meaningful and sometimes multi-dimensional journey together. (of course this group is not brand new to me by any means.) Like I so often say, teaching these trainings is rich, rewarding and challenging work. I enjoy it immensely and I also suffer it a fair amount, truth be told. I am passionate about the subject of yoga, about my practice, about the craft of teaching, the challenges of learning, the psychology of both the teacher and the students and the dynamic process involved in engaging the study of consciousness in and through the body together. In fact,  I live with a kind of divine discontent relative to this particular dharma as the task at hand is very difficult and multi-dimensional.

I was talking about it this morning to  Kelly as we drove down to San Marcos for Day 3 of the training. As I have been reading through various blogs about current "yoga news and controversy" of which I am evidently a part, based on more than a few comments that I read, I have been thinking a lot about the distinctions between public and private lives, between personal and professional ethics, between non-harming and truth-telling, between need-to-know, right-to-know and want-to-know and how difficult it is to surf those tides in an elegant and dignified way now that social media dominates our lives and blogs and Facebook are considered "news sources." And since, as a yoga teacher, the majority of what I am teaching rests on my own experience, my own interaction with, assimilation of and reflection on my life  as a yoga student and practitioner, there is no doubt about it-- the line between personal, professional, private and public gets more than a bit blurry most days.

My therapist recently talked to me a bit about archetypes and how, if we function under an archetype like teacher, doctor/healer,  or artist, then we run the risk of being consumed by the archetype. (Think of Marilyn Monroe, Janis Joplin and you get an clear picture of artists who were consumed by an archetype.) We were, of course, talking about me, who lives many hours each week operating under the teacher archetype. So, like the good therapist she is,  she was interviewing me about how often I relax that role, drop that mantle and allow myself to not have the answers, to be called on my bullshit, to own up to my frailties, to allow others to counsel me, etc. She asked me pointed questions like:

  • When is the last non-yoga related vacation you took?
  • Do you have friends who do not do yoga?
  • What do you do- really do- for fun?
  • Do you write things that you do not share with anyone else?
  • etc. 
I am sure you get the point.To make matters worse she used a haunting phrase about a very prominent celebrity who she felt "cannibalized her own life for her fame" and while was met with great success, seemed to have  become a somewhat empty shell of a person. My dad often says that a good minsters job is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable and it seems that is the role of a good therapist as well. We are knee deep, she and I, in a discussion about how persona and public image can be in service to Self  or it can be a detriment. Persona can be so false that it is misleading and downright inaccurate. However, when used skillfully, persona can  create a buffer-- a necessary and intelligent boundary so that we  are not consumed by the archetypes that so strongly influence our passions and proclivities.

I have long talked about how easy it is to believe our own PR as teachers. I thought about how fun it might be to actually write a bio for a workshop that told the truth. For instance my bio might read: "Christina Sell, known for her sharp, sarcastic and sometimes-hurtful wit, is often fiery to the point of too-intense and opinionated to the point of arrogance. Clear, precise and passionate, she suffers from deep insecurities  that often cause her to worry obsessively about what other people think and over-compensate through extreme competence and overwork. She also talks too much."

But no,  the bio actually reads something like: "Christina Sell has been practicing yoga since 1991. She is the author of Yoga From the Inside Out: Making Peace with Your Body Through Yoga and My Body is a Temple: Yoga as a Path to Wholeness. Christina is the 2012 Art of Asana columnist for Yoga International Magazine and a regular contributor to Origin Magazine. She is a faculty member on Yogaglo, which provides online global access to yogic wisdom. Known for her passion, clarity and creativity, Christina's classes are challenging, inspiring and dedicated to helping people of all ages experience the joys of yoga practice and conscious living." Blah, blah, blah.

So, the thing is that both bios are true. Its not an either-or proposition and that is exactly my point. Truth is each one of us, in our humanity, in our condensed divinity, is both shadow and light. I am certainly not suggesting that we go around making ridiculous self-disclosures and airing our dirty laundry and personal issues publicly in the name of transparency and truth-in-advertising, but I am saying that we have to, as teachers, keep one eye on that shadowy material lest it consume us while we are busy believing our public image and basking in the love that our seat so often affords us.

enough on that tonight. keep the faith.


Anne-Marie Schultz said...

Become who you are. Nietzsche

when I was in NYC a while back, they were advertising free yoga day for and intro class and James Murphy said, "if you have any friends left who don't do Iyengar yoga, please tell them about this event."

I thought it was funny on many levels.

Christina Sell said...

Very funny. I tried to explain that to her, actually. Like, "well, its not like I have any time for a hobby and I hate sports..."

Henry Pursner said...

I think both bios are accurate and also, don't tell the whole story.
We all have many archetypes, new clothes to try on, new patterns to try on, some are useful and some are worn out and all tattered but we cling to them,
The truth is we keep doing our best over and over again, the old patterns yield to new, and they might not fit right initially.
It is a constant adjustment and we must play the game of being dynamic and steady all the time.
A fascinating play where you are all the characters and some of the characters you just can't stand. and you have to.

Sam Rice said...

This is a great post. takin filling out my questionnaire right now. This post could not be more perfect at this time. I love the concept of knowing both the shadow and the light. The hard part for me is knowing which one I am actually seeing clearly...both, one, or none. Tricky.

JamesM said...

"extreme competence"...amen! Bless you my friend. Would love to hang out and not talk about yoga.

erica Bleznak said...

amazing I have been pondering these same ideas lately and in your amazing way you communicated them succinctly and clearly--thank you thank you thank you

Mary S said...

The first bio is why I like you so much!

Shannon said...

Darling . . . should be in the bio too.

Shannon said...

Darling . . . should be in the bio too.

Christina Sell said...

@Henry- I think my favorite line ever might be "A fascinating play where you are all the characters and some of the characters you just can't stand. and you have to." Because you are right- we have to.

@Sam- tricky, indeed.

@james- I miss you.

@Erica- thanks.

@Mary- that's awesome.

@Shannon- funny. love you.

@Sam- I need to do my questions. I wrote instead. I wonder what type of person does that?

Brigette Niedringhaus said...

a non-yoga vacation - that's a tough one! in order to do that, you likely miss out on something else I would rather be doing. for example, my family just took a non-yoga vacation. as great as it was to be away together, I was equally challenged to leave for a week and miss some important yoga events happening back home. if it were a yoga event I was away for, I probably wouldn't have been bothered. the tricky part is that we love our jobs, so personal passions and work aren't really separate. most of the time, I would rather be doing or teaching yoga...

beth said...

Great post. I appreciate the brutal honesty that comes with it. Self reflection and examination are good – but comes with a price and yoga and teaching are constant places for examination just by being what they are. I think it’s important to do the non yoga vacation thing in little bits (like certain times of the day or days of the week) so as not to get too consumed by only one thing and somehow have other parts of life be rejuvenating so that yoga and teaching doesn't become a drain. Easier to say than do though. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

Meg said...

I love this post. I think that it is the complexity of our character(s) and the realms that we navigate that makes it so relevant, especially right now. We need to be aware of, and then discerning of what aspects of ourselves are necessary for a given circumstance. But the trick seems to be in somehow acknowledging all of ourselves while only embodying one aspect or archetype. We give a lot of lip service to authenticity without really getting into the actual complexity of it.
Love you.
And I love that we all have multiple bios. And they are all true. And then some.

susanwiens said...

We are all both sides of the coin, it just takes a honest person to admit this. I am really looking at what to do these days that take me more toward everyday fun. Thank you for reminding us. My life is more than yoga. xo

LisaE said...

Your first bio is also why I LOVE you so much. You always leave me wanting more...more of living life this deep...not many people want to go there. I am so blessed to have you as my teacher....the shadow and the light. Thank you Thank you.

Kim said...

As an Artist I love the comparison of shadow and light...the shadows tell us where the light is coming from and ultimately that there is light...It's the shadows that anchor and ground the tree in the landscape...
The contrast of shadow and light show us the depth of the contour...and so on in life.... we can't have one without the other.

Timothy McCall said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Timothy McCall said...

Bio #3: Perfectly imperfect divine being on the path to realizing (it).

xo from India

PS When you're a sadhaka, they're all yoga vacations.

Christina Sell said...

@Brigette- I told her that too. I was like- well, what I want to do it yoga. If I was a Christian, let's say- would I want a vacation where I didn't pray or where I left my values at home? of course not. I think she was making a larger point- more about letting the mantle drop and so forth.

@Beth- Great point. Reminds me how one time Manorama told me that distraction is god-given and is there for us to use in small doses. That, however, is different than living a life of distraction.

@Meg- yes, complexity is a great word for the the real rigor or living authentically. we each have layers of truth to live in relationship with.

@Susan- thanks. I definitely think life has to be more than yoga class, yoga drama, and all the different classroom dynamics and yet- the more we walk the path and we reach into the teachings and bring them into our lives, the more our lives are infused with yoga. Again, its all about making distinctions, I think and that rigorous self-examination.

@LisaE- you rock. I am so proud to be your teacher as you endlessly inspire me to be my best self and to live up to the teachings. Thanks so much for sharing the path.

@Kim- oooh-- that is a nice take on it from the visual artist perspective. Gonna take that one.

@Timothy- HI! Love bio #3. thanks. I think that's true about the vacations. Lee always said, "How are you going to take time off from sadhana? What would that really look like? What makes one activity better than another for self-observation? Just keep paying attention- no time off." Hope India is fun. When you are back, we should finish that phone call.

Thanks, everyone, for joining the conversation. I appreciate it.

Jeremiah Wallace said...

Personally, the first bio was my favorite :-) You should come to San Francisco and we can go SHOPPING! Trust me, San Francisco is the PERFECT place to deny the realities of yoga for a bit.

Christina Sell said...

J-MAN! Me and you have been through the ringer on both the bios, huh? Would love to come to SF and forget about life for a while... sending you so much love and gratitude.

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