Monday, May 14, 2012

The Power of Choice

Well, we had a great week with Noah and Tracy here for the Intensive. They arrived on Tuesday, we went to yoga and began our webinar that night. The webinar lasted four days and was an overview of some of the ideas and objectives we have formed Shravana School of Yoga around. It is still possible to register for the webinar and listen to the recordings. If you want information about that contact Kelly at Once our Shravana School of Yoga website is up, running and fully functional the links will be available in our store as well. I was really pleased with the webinar- both with the content that we offered and the attendance and the feedback we received. In general, I think being with each other in person is probably best, but it is pretty great the ways that technology can bridge the gap of physical distance.

Also, I think there is something very healthy about being able to stay immersed in one's own life and then tune into the teachings for an hour and consider them without creating so much disruption to the normal flow and routine of life. There is a time for retreat, for coming together outside of the normal rhythm of our lives and I am a believer in that also. For me, its never one thing or the other but about seeing the cost-benefit relationship to our choices and understanding what gains come with what costs. So one thing about the webinar format that is great is that it  models how householder yogi's actually do the yoga. We have full lives with obligations and activities and all kinds of things in which we are participating and within the scope of that we carve out time for our formal practices as well as  call ourselves to the interior work of what my teacher called Remembrance in the midst of our very mundane endeavors. Manorama calls it "energizing on the teachings" which I think really says it. She told us when she was here that there is no problem with doing the things we like in the world and yet she said clearly and repeatedly that we must "energize on the teachings" and spend some time cultivating our inner lives consciously.

Like I said, I think that this work of yoga happens both formally and informally and  practice, for me, embodies both aspects. I think of formal practices like sitting or meditation, or adhering to a certain dietary plan or practicing asana or repeating mantras. these are the things that we can check off a list and know that we have "done" them. Also, there is an informal domain and by this I do not mean casual or cavalier or less important. Informal practice is where we are working with yogic principles interiorly, without a sticky mat, a meditation cushion or an assigned time. This might be holding an attitude of compassion for others, this might be taking breath before speaking to be clear in our use of speech, this might be practicing giving others the benefit of the doubt, remembering to dedicate our work to the Highest, and so on.

So one thing about the "yoga event" that becomes a downside (and believe me I think there are tons of upsides that are well worth the cost and so again, I am not making a case against one or for the other) is that I think people forget about how important the daily life of formal and informal yoga practice  is to the full spectrum of our sadhana. I saw it happened a lot over the years where people would think "life on the road with the merry band" was their yoga and get a bit addicted/dependent on the Big Experience of that. To me, the Big Experience is meant to bolster, inspired and infuse our lives with inspiration and be more of a punctuation mark, not the full sentence of our yoga practice.  So I think the webinar format is great because it folds these studies into our daily lives in a way that is realistic, sustainable and potent without taking us away from our families, meaningful obligations and so on.

Wednesday, Noah and I went to the advanced practice at the Bikram Studio here which was a lot of fun. We both enjoyed the hard work, the insight offered and the foray into their world of advanced practice. At one point I was on my sweat-soaked towel and looked over at him on his and thought, "yep, this is really our idea of fun. What a friend!" Anyway, after that and a trip to Lululemon so Tracy could get some yoga clothes, we headed down to San Marcos for the Intensive.

We had a 4-day Intermediate/Advanced Intensive which was great. We began every morning with a period of quiet - with puja, mantra, pranayama and meditation. Then we took a short break and did a strong back bending practice. Then we had a 2-hour lunch break and joined back for  a quieter practice of forward bends and inversions. It was a great intensive with some very wonderful moments and definitely my kind of fun.

One of the things I am really hoping to provide in these workshops is a shift away from social, chatty yoga and toward a more focused, practice environment. Don't get me wrong, I love fun and laughter and I am not into a rigid thing when we practice. I really am not. What I want is for the practice environment to have some rigor and for  us as practitioners to have the discipline to not talk and to not express everything the moment that we think it AND I want us to have the lack of rigidity and the freedom to laugh together and to be light when that is what is appropriate. For me,  the culture that "yoga has to be fun" is a bit problematic and even in writing that down I start to worry that people will read it and think  that I think "yoga should not be fun" which is not the case at all.

To me, its about energy management and we talked a lot about that this week. Noah and I asked people to not record the sessions, to leave the cell phones and cameras out of the room and to even keep water bottles and notebooks out of the room so as to be able to be fully present for the experience. It's not that any of that is wrong or I am making a moral issue out of it but the point we were exploring is- Can we have our own experience first, let it feed us, nourish us and fuel us and then decide consciously how to share it? We kept Facebook updates to a minimum and encouraged people to simply be with what was offered before making it public knowledge as an exercise in building energy for ourselves.

Also in the room, we discouraged a lot of chatting, laughing and exterior expressions- not because those are wrong but as an experiment/experience in harnessing one's energy for the purposes of practice and fulfilling one's aim.  One thing I am exploring a lot these days is the idea that if we focus intensely for a period of time in practice what that focused period of time can do for us is provide us with a kind power and potency with which to step out of the classroom and into our lives with greater force and accuracy, relative to our aim and intention.  There is one theory about practice that says "how you do anything is how you do everything" and according to that theory if you want a fun, happy life, you should have a fun, happy mat-based practice. But I am considering a different theory these days based on my own experience- "If you want a fun, happy life in alignment with your spiritual aims then you must cultivate, not just the energy necessary to manifest and live that vision but you must also have the requisite focus, determination and discipline to direct your energy consciously toward what you really want not just what your patterns and conditioning wants."

Again, its not a rigid thing. It is not "do not talk" as much as it is "be able to talk and be able to not talk and then chose which is the most appropriate to the circumstance." To me, its always about making conscious choices rather than living in unconscious patterns of reactivity. And for our aim this week- intermediate/advanced postures in a rigorous environment over 4 days we needed a lot of focus, energy and determination. And then what was cool was we had great community space to share on the breaks and we could chat it up all we wanted outside of the practice space.

I know for me if a teacher never held the boundaries of discipline for me I would never have found the gifts of the yoga. I never, for instance EVER would have done timed forward bends left to my own devices. But because  a teacher put me through them, created a space for introspection and a boundary of time, quiet, etc. I found the nectar that comes from that kind of work. I had to have help passing though the door of what was unfamiliar, uncomfortable and new to the chamber that those particular poses hold the keys to. Obviously more could be said about that but its time to get on with the day.

All in all we had a great week together- lots of hard work, lots of good company, great sharing, deep silences and the kind of slowing down that happens when we get out of the busy pace of our lives and use the "time out" for infusing our practice with focus, work and inspiration. And while this was a bit of a "time out" experience as opposed to the "energize on the teachings in the midst of life" kind of thing, it was certainly not designed to be a Big Event, but a grounded expression of forward movement though practice. I think it went well.


Jessica said...

Wonderful thoughts, Christina. I did notice the atmosphere you and Noah were cultivating, and I must say I appreciated it (and I'm not exactly un-chatty!). But the quiet, distraction-free zone allows a space for great upwelling of emotion and insight, which is a great part of why I do yoga in the first place! The energy created within from a strong and challenging pose dissipates quickly with a wise-crack or bout of laughter. The energy changes form and releases, rather than taking us deeper.

I remember you explaining to us how this happens if we "shake it off," literally shaking our limbs and releasing the tension created. Noah brought this back to life after standing poses, when he invited us into stillness in Tadasana, rather than rolling our neck or fixing our shirt.

Now I get to decide how to incorporate this into my own teaching. I am a bit of a clown, and so the sound of laughter in my class helps me know I am connecting with my students. Silence could be deafening. I thank you for bringing this to my attention, and as always challenging us to understand our norms, question them, and then go with or against them from an informed and well-thought-out position, rather than habit.

Thank you and Noah for a wonderful experience. I am excited about your new school, and I will continue to watch what you are doing with great curiosity and admiration.

Jennifer Stark said...

From my experience as an attendee at the workshop it went very well. It takes a lot of teacher heaviness to place parameters around the energy in asana practice. By teacher heaviness I mean authority and courage and discipline to set a standard so that the students can expand into that standard. Like Douglas Brooks says, "clear boundaries, no limits". A home practice with the intent to improve doesn't just happen by laying around on your mat in the living room...(Believe me I've had a home practice like this for nearly 15 years...not much happens)When my children were babies I fell into a certain type of home practice. A sweet sort of accommodating and loose style of practice that allowed all manner of interruption and distraction. At that time it was necessary. That time is over and now it is time to bring the discipline and intensity back. This intensive reminded me and motivated me to look for more on my mat. I choose to strive.

kwajnman said...

I absolutely love that you experiment with other things than asana or sequence in classes. I think it is so valuable, but it demands after-thought and reflection. I remember when I started yoga, I also started private classes and I wanted to experiment with all sorts of things, length of classes frequency and focus, but of course nobody could see the point. I will make sure this blog appears on my teachers' desks.

Alegria said...

I too am seeing myself shift towards quieter, more focused and internal practices, both as a student and as a teacher. Chatting, joking, even groaning and sighing are ways that we not only dissipate our energy but also subtly try to pull attention (and therefore energy) from others to ourselves.
For many people, silence is not easy; for a long time I equated silence with a lack of love, and have therefore been a rather chatty teacher. But in my own practice and as a student I am grateful for teachers who open space for us to simply be with ourselves in a posture, for a length of time, and to face whatever is coming up (this is one of the things that attracted me to Kundalini yoga, which is full of "hold your arms in the air for 11 minutes"-type exercises). My fear as a teacher is that if I'm not talking, "entertaining" the students, then they will feel that I am not connecting with them, that I don't care about them. But the truth is, letting them be with themselves in a posture is much more caring than me chatting because of my own insecurities. And not letting them be on their own is denying them an opportunity to know themselves and what they're capable of.

You mention in your post being afraid that people will think you are against "fun yoga" but you also recount your idea of fun-- an advanced Bikram class with Noah, teaching a quiet class during the Intensive. If this is your idea of fun, then it will be other people's idea of fun too. Fun doesn't always have to look like a party. Fun is what we enjoy, what gives us pleasure.