Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Yoga Blah Blah

Well, it is early here in Sydney, Australia and Kelly and I are up having some tea and breakfast. We left Chicago on Sunday evening and arrived here on Tuesday morning and now it is Thursday morning. Somewhere in there we lost a day, I think, due to the international date line, or something. At any rate, the transition, travel and adjustment has been relatively easy so far.  I generally like the early morning wake-ups on these international trips as the early rising gives me a gracious amount of time for meditation and pranayama in the morning. And once my breakfast settles a bit I will do some asana- all before most people in the city are awake! Of course, we are going to bed at like 7pm so I suppose it all evens out.
I had a great time in Chicago. The folks were welcoming, accepting, down-to-earth and funny. My sarcastic wit seemed to fall right in line with the general attitude of the students there. I was in a bit of a cynical mood in the beginning of the weekend and actually gave my opening remarks as such, commenting that I am a ‘bit tired of yoga blah-blah these days’. And just so we are clear, its not just the commentary on the Anusara scandal that I have hit a certain limit with it is actually just the endless commentary of so much of modern yoga.
Look, as we know, I love yoga and its teachings and I am certainly adding my two cents to the huge amount of blah-blah that is out there to be digested through various media. And as cynical as I am about everyone’ supposed yogic expertise and the vast array of articles out there on how juicing is a mandatory part of a yogic lifestyle and so is touching one’s vagina skillfully (I am not making that up, that article was posted recently) and so is taking political action and so is recycling and how green vegetables will save the world and goddess body painting (whatever that is- not making that one up either) will set you free and on and on, I am actually not tired at all of practicing asana, pranayama and meditation.  
So that was my weekend opening rant- “Hello, thanks for coming, my name is Christina Sell, I live in Austin, TX and I can’t stand yoga blah-blah but I actually love asana so let’s do some of that...”
As the weekend went on I definitely broadened my message as one might predict but the thing is that there is a lot of yoga commentary out there that has very little to do with what I experience as yoga and what draws me to the practice. I was recently interviewed about how yoga has changed my life and the question, for some reason, struck me as really odd. I have been doing yoga with various degrees of commitment and rigor since 1991. So, its just been in my life. It has been there in good times and it has been there in terrible times and it has been there in those long drama-free stretches of “just living.”  How could I say it was “the thing” that changed me or my life? I mean, maybe it was also the therapy, my marriage, my friendships, the various heartbreaks, the surprising lucky breaks, the travel, the books I have read and so on. I mean, everything creates an imprint and shapes us- from our daily activities to the company we keep to the thoughts we think. 
And I am not actually sure how much I have “changed”. I like to think I have, in some important ways, matured and grown up and with that process,  I have let go of certain beliefs and behaviors along the way. But so we are clear, I am,  in a very real way, still me, Christina, the same self I have always been. So,  when I think about it these days, what I really think is that what yoga has given me is yoga. 
Yoga has given me great tools, that, when I use them in the spirit in which they are intended to be used, have given me access to my inner wisdom, my deeper truths and a freedom that lives beyond my conditioned responses. Now, paradoxically, having a practice like that and having access to those teachings through all the ups and downs of life is somewhat life-changing, I suppose. (Always a paradox, this yoga stuff, but that is another post.)  But my point is that there is no part of my story that goes like: “And then I found yoga and all of a sudden I was this new person and I always _____________________________  from that point forward and I never _________________________________ ever again.”
Nope, not me. Every single dysfunctional behavior I ever had I have done as a “yogi” and every great trait or “yogic virtue” I live by, I had before. There was evidence of compassion, honesty and insight before I ever knew about down dog and down dog in and of itself never did save me from addictive behaviors, dishonesty and so on.  So yoga is more about determining which side of myself I am going to cultivate, attend to and pour my energy into than it is about creating something out of nothing or eradicating some aspect of myself once and for all. For me, growing up through yoga is a big process of unfolding where there are moments where my conditioned armor cracks and insight arises and those moments are often times linked to a workshop, a retreat, a scripture, or a practice and yet, honestly, I believe that such insight has to be grounded over a long period of time, rooted in practice and sustained through necessary challenges for me to really think “oh yes, I am changed” in a fundamental way.
Patanjali even talks about that with samskaras, telling us that many times the seeds of the patterns are not gone, they are just latent and will arise at a future time given the right circumstance. We may have worked something out in one domain and think we have really overcome the issue only to see it come up in a different aspect of our life or in a new life circumstance. I see it all the time with relationships and also with people who, with the zeal of the newly converted, testify about their new gluten-free-ness or vegan-ness or their new love of this, that. or the other diet approach. And, to be fair,  they honestly are, in that moment of testifying,  free of craving, etc.  but three to nine months down the line, two food plans later and so on, we find out the shift actually wasn’t something that stood the test of time.
Manorama once said that we can’t actually change ourselves. All we can do is put ourselves in a stream of practice and change occurs naturally, in its own time, as a result of the right circumstances  being present, not as something we can actually orchestrate from the vantage point of ego. This does not mean that we don’t try, or bring disciplined efforts to bear on our life and choices as sadhana certainly involves just that. I think it just means that we practice to practice, not to change. We do yoga because yoga is a good thing to do, not because it is promising us change. To me, these basic practices hold a certain kind of dignity within them and to me, engaging them is worthwhile as time spent in a dynamic relationship with our dignity is a worthwhile endeavor in and of itself. Perhaps, over the long haul that dignity takes root and grows within us and we learn to prefer its influence over and above other distractions.
Well, enough of all that for now. More later.
We have had some great fun touristy stuff here- a visit to the art museum, the aquarium, the zoo and  the maritime museum as well as some great walks through the city.  Pictures to come.


Anne-Marie Schultz said...

I remember Manouso talking about this. He would talk about plane conversation. When he said, "I teach yoga," people would often say, "you don't seem very relaxed."

Relevant quote from philosophy works,

"The hardest battle you're ever going to fight is the battle to be just you."

Leo Buscaglia

(1924 - 1998)

Author and motivational speaker

Love, Anzy. I'm jealous of the photo backdrop. Definitely want to go there.

Dina said...

Love, love, love this post and also Anne-Marie's comment. Thank you both.

Yael Reinhardt-Matsliah said...

I love you, Christina. Thank you for the frank no frills, real stuff, real life, direct, to the point, conversation.

Dan said...

Medieval Jewish sage Maimonides: "The reward of religious observance is religious observance."

alohajerseygirl said...

Love the paragraph about yoga blah blah; I laughed out loud at the "touching your vagina skillfully" part. Ha!

Just wanted to let you know that I started reading your first book on Amazon to see what it was like, and it grabbed me and wouldn't let go. So I ordered it; it is on the way!

I hope you have a wonderful time in Sydney.