Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Morning Musings

Well, it's sunday morning and I have some time with a cup of tea before my final session of the weekend here in Friendswood, TX begins. It's been a wonderful weekend so far, all in all. I offered a somewhat unique weekend workshop this time based on some of the curriculum that Darren and I taught this year in our Live the Light of Yoga Intensives. In addition to some asana classes I incorporated time practicing mantra and puja as well as an afternoon session dedicated to some introspective work and some practical tools for self-inquiry and self-understanding.  It has been fun to break from the usual format of the weekend workshop and take the time to have a little more personal discussion.

One thing that inspired this addition to the programs Darren and I taught was our observation that, after teaching many cycles of Immersions and Teacher Trainings that were full of grand philosophical teachings, our students were struggling, not at the intellectual level of understanding the teachings, but at the more practical level of living the teachings in the face of their emotional patterns and scripts. So, while we are very clear that we are not therapists, we have been attempting- to varying agrees of success and efficacy- to provide some educational experiences and concepts that might be useful for our students to forge an immediate and authentic relationship with themselves and then to apply the yoga teachings to that.

These days  I am more interested in teaching people  the practices and in helping them mine their own experience than I am in laying out a lot of philosophy or intellectual constructs. Don't get me wrong, I think philosophical and  intellectual constructs are super-important, mostly because they function much like  a map. And when we have a really good map of the terrain we are traveling, then we can take our bearings and be, as my guru Lee often said, "forewarned and therefore, forearmed." Having a good map is great because when we come face to face  with the inevitable difficulties of our growth on the path, placing ourselves on a map is like having  a contextual "you are here" marker, which can help a lot.

And still there is the terrain to cover. If philosophy  tells us anything, it tells us that the map is not the terrain. Once I place the marker, I still have to do the work. And so that is where the practices come in, which is what I am interested in. As a teacher, I know that I can tell students that they have a great Light inside and that my positive regard, reflection and faith in them  can mirror something very important and can be profoundly healing for the student. I know that I have benefitted tremendously over the years from having my teachers and mentors provide me with a positive reflection and a loving mirror. I needed people to see the beauty and goodness inside me when I couldn't see it for myself. So I think that is key, I really do. It is a very real part of the process in my experience.

And, it is also important that the educational environment direct students to the experiential knowledge of their goodness from within. The outside positive reflection that our teachers and friends provide is only one part of the formula and, if we are not clear, that dynamic can  keep the student and teacher in a potentially dysfunctional power differential. This is my issue with teachers who say they teach "to empower others" because honestly, I do not believe that  such power is not mine to grant. I believe each of us can empower ourselves through education, knowledge, experience and so forth,  but I do not believe that people can truly empower or disempower us and I am leery of teachers who think they can. (Okay, small digression there.)

My point is that once we get positive regard from the outside, it can be so wonderful and so alluring that it can actually be a hard habit to break. From what I have seen in myself and in countless others, outside praise can be a bit addictive, if we are not careful. It is easy to forget that outside reflection is a means to an end, not the end itself. Ideally, I believe the yoga is about helping us find that kind of loving regard for ourselves, to find our own positive mirror and our own compassionate gaze for ourselves. If we lose sight of that as the end, we get in a trap of trying to get people to continually "meet our needs" and  "live up to our expectations" which is fine, human and understandable and yet, only part of the program, as I see it.

And, if we have learned anything over the years about humanity, it is that each one of us, in our humanity- no matter how lofty and sincere our Aims and Intentions are-- is flawed, fallible, and able to fall. So, don't get me wrong, I think we should have our needs met, I think we should have role models that inspire us and I think there are plenty of people to look up to and admire and I think as teachers we should do our best to provide positive regard and reflections  for our students.  I just think we can't live in a state of asking the world to meet our needs on our terms only and I think we can not put our self-love eggs in someone else's basket and expect them to be cared for according to our standards. I think that is a trap.

Again, we get to see how important practice is because it is the experiential means of bringing the teachings to life. So, while I can talk all day about Light and Love, I am more interested in having people chant mantra, practice pranayama, move through their asana and and sit in meditation so that they can actually feel their Light and Love rather than preaching a lot or having people, on some level, simply take my word for it. If their Light rests on my shoulders, sooner or later, I am going to fail them. Plain and simple. It's guaranteed. It's a slam dunk.

Due to the human element at play in the teacher-student relationship,  I will walk along the road of being me and make a comment, cast a glance, misspeak, misstep and act in perfect integrity with me but out of alignment with what someone wants or expects from me. I guarantee it. I promise it. And as I see it, it  has to be that way because (a) I am human (b)  it is not right relationship for me to be in charge of someone's Light so my mistakes will be the mechanisms for that person to wake up and reclaim their Light for themselves. It is genius, really.

I have seen this dynamic  in my relationships with my teachers over the years and as a teacher with students of my own. I have been on each side of this scenario more than once and while it is not easy, it is so necessary. If I gave my Light or my self-worth to my teacher, I need to get it back. Some times I can just recognize I have projected my Light outward and simply reclaim it. But other times, I need a bigger jolt to see what I have done and that often comes in a more painful package.

(So we are clear, I do not think this "genius" plan excuses my unethical behavior or excludes me from consequences my unconscious behavior might naturally draw to me, legally, professionally, etc.)

At any rate, these days, I am happy to teach and educate people about ways to access their Light through practice and yet, as I see it, the work involved  is the student's scared task and responsibility, not mine. Self-love, compassion, forgiveness, awareness, etc is an inside job. And again, its paradoxical because no one can do it for us, we have to remember we can't do it alone either. We are linked in our humanity, in our high aims and in our human shortcomings.

So, that's been the theme and a bit of the backstory of the weekend here in Friendswood.  We spent a lot of time in discussion, practice and contemplation so that perhaps, we could catch  a glimpse of our Light, validate it in ourselves,  praise it in others and bow humbly in recognition of its Source. That's the game of yoga as I see it today.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Boundaries, Mistakes and Insights

Back home in Texas and enjoying the early morning hours due to the jet lag of being across the globe for over a month. In general, my approach to jet lag is to get myself as close as possible to the new schedule as soon as I can and then I do not worry about the very real fact that a big transition like this takes time. For instance, I stayed up as long as I could last night- which was about 7pm and then slept as long as I could this morning which was about 3am. Then I got up, made some tea, meditated and got some work done.  If I am still awake at noon I hope to get to the Advanced Practice at the Bikram Yoga studio.

So, the month overseas was really good for me. I had a chance to rest and re-evaluate my life and goals and get a fresh perspective. One thing that is on my mind  a lot these days is that teaching yoga is simply not easy. I love teaching yoga and  I am grateful for the work I do and the more I go about this task of teaching yoga the more amazed I am by all that is involved. Anyone who makes the leap from yoga student and practitioner to teacher gets the wake-up call right away that there is more than meets the eye going on in any yoga class. In both teacher trainings I taught last month, we spoke about that a lot and so many new teachers were a bit blown away at what their teachers are doing to make the class seamless and effective.

I remember when I was in college studying counseling. I was also in therapy with a great counselor at the time and I would be in a session or in a group session and watch her work and think to myself, "I can totally do that. I mean how hard can it be to get people in touch with their feelings and to help them make connections between their current situations and their history and conditioned responses."

And then I got my first group to run.

And I began the painful process of realizing that the easier someone makes something look, the better they are, not the easier the thing is. The reason why my therapist was able to help people so much was not because therapy was easy to do but because she was very skilled and this very obvious distinction was not so obvious to me at the time.

Teaching yoga is a lot like that. I have watched more than one "yoga connoisseur" (meaning someone who is well-practiced and very clear about their likes, dislikes and ideas about what makes a good yoga class) suddenly realize that providing that great  yoga class experience is not as easy as it looks. It's actually a very fun process to be part of, truth be told. A yoga teacher is managing so many things throughout a 90-minute class- the knowledge of the postures, their contraindications, the sequence, the modifications, the special physical needs, the knowledge of people's temperaments and abilities both physically and emotionally, a theme, verbal cues, adjustments, breath cues, and which side is right and left and so on. It's just not as easy as it looks and anyone who makes it look easy is generally very well seasoned and well-practiced.

And that is just on the semi-technical front of executing a decent public class. As we go deeper in the task of teaching yoga we encounter a whole layer where we interface with some pretty challenging material that is full of opportunities for self-examination. I recently read a blog entry about the "mean girl" phenomenon in yoga teachers and in yoga communities. Also, there is the mass upwelling of feelings and outlooks in the wake of the Anusara debacle. And the commentary on this recent blog entry was fairly unforgiving about said yoga teacher. And, as we know, the commentary on the Anusara situation ran the gamut from very forgiving to not-so-forgiving-at-all. (And those situations are not the point of my blog entry this morning but are simply a springboard for my musings. I am not advocating "forgiveness" etc. in either case. That is another entry for another time.)

So like I said, this gave me a chance to reflect on my own sordid history of teaching yoga and all the mistakes I have made and all the people over the years who I have helped and who I have also hurt. It has not been easy for me or for some of the people I have taught. I have definitely made a lot of mistakes and had a lot of work to do on my personality manifestations over the years. And I still work on it.  I do my best, but as we all know, our best is not always good enough. We fall very short sometimes. One weekend I teach and I know I had an edge. Too much edge. Another weekend I teach and I was spacious, compassionate and wise. Depending on the weekend, very different assumptions might get made about me, my teaching, my efficacy, etc.

So one thing I know for sure from talking to my colleagues is that every single one of us has had difficulty with students over the years. Every single person I know who has taught yoga professionally for a long period of time has behaved in a way that unconsciously hurt someone else and we have had varying degrees of effective processing relative to these upsets. In some cases, I have been able to "talk things through" in a way that was healing and led to greater intimacy between me and the student. In other cases, permanent harm seems to have been done and hard feelings and negative impressions still linger. It's painful for both parties involved. I know that for sure.

I have thought about it a lot over the years and I think it is a complex issue. Certainly I think that whatever  unexamined hurts, angers, violences and axes-to-grind a teacher has come out over time, no matter how hard we try to keep them out of the classroom. (And sometime we don't seem to be trying very hard, we seem to use the teaching role as our own personal platform and soapbox. Oy vey. ) And while we, as teachers,  may be practicing asana, meditation, pranayama, going to therapy, writing in our journals and taking retreats, still we have our issues, blind spots and shortcomings that are never "done" but are simply "what we are working with in this incarnation as people." So there is that. And we have to work with that. It is our responsibility to ourselves and to our students to keep chipping away at that conscious and unconscious material, even knowing that we will never work through all of it.

Then there is the domain of expectations of the student which vary a lot. Some are very realistic expectations and some are not so realistic. It really runs the gamut. I think its realistic to expect things like being on time, politeness, respect and so forth. I want those things as a student. But how those look differ a lot from teacher-to-teacher and how a student perceives those things varies a lot student-to-student. For instance, some students feel cared for with lots of adjustments and some students feel picked on. The other thing that further complicates the student's expectations is that our expectations as students are not always conscious. We may not think we want to be "special" in the teacher's eyes until we see someone else get a "special" kind of attention and then we feel disregarded.

I think about inner circles a lot because I have been in them and I have been out of them as a student and member of various organizations over the years. And as a teacher I have students I am very close with, who we might say are in an "inner circle"  and  some who I am not very intimate with and students who are everywhere in between. I have very personal connections with some students I have worked with for 15 years where we are best friends and in other relationships the intimacy we share is more squarely in the teacher-student domain and where the topic is much more on the shared love of practice not on our marriages and our personal struggles. So, it varies. A lot.

And I think it can hurt to be on the outside of an inner circle, depending on what we make of that and what our histories were like with belonging, cliques, etc. (Nothing triggers high school baggage like a yoga retreat where this is a cool kids table.)  And I know it is impossible for any teacher to manage large numbers of intimate connections. Each teacher has a bandwidth. So feelings of inclusion and exclusion are really hard to avoid, especially when this job gets scaled beyond an intimate studio setting.

Then there is another phenomenon that I have been talking to my therapist about lately and that is that we are not clear as a profession about boundaries. In fact, we deal in a somewhat boundary-less world at times-- (we are all One, serve others, etc.) and the lines of teacher-student boundaries often get blurred. I am not talking about the sex dynamic here although that would be an extreme variation on the theme. I am actually just talking about the "friends with the yoga teacher" idea or the fact that how close a student feels with the teacher and how vulnerable a student feels is often different than the intimacy a teacher feels for that student. Not better, not worse, but when I am doing the asana, I am in a certain energetically open place that I am not in when I teach due to the way the asana is affecting my energetic channels. I know this one from both sides of the dynamic, believe me.

So when a therapist sees their client at the store, the professional protocol is that the therapist does not say hello unless the client says something first. The client is entitled to confidentiality and so if the therapist ignores the client, it is out of respect.  By contrast, I seriously hurt a student's feelings in the grocery store one day because I didn't spend some time talking with her. I mean, I really hurt her feelings and she felt disregarded and ignored. It was bad. So that is a huge contrast in terms of professional expectations and protocols.

Also, it would be a breach of ethics for that therapist to ask the client, "How are you?" since, given the nature of the relationship they share, that kind of question would be  inappropriate to ask in the vegetable aisle.

Furthermore, if, in the course of therapy, a client gets mad at the therapist, the therapist is trained to work with that reaction as transference or projection and to guide the client  back to their own work. (Now if the therapist is angry at the client, they go to their own therapist for that or to their supervisor.)

Both the client and the therapist are clear that therapy is "client and therapist getting together to talk about client." They are not going to be friends, the therapist is paid by the hour and they do not follow each other on Facebook. Obviously, teaching yoga is not therapy but my point is that their professional boundaries are clear and there are mechanisms system-wide, profession-wide and governed by the state to help them behave professionally and to help their clients know what to expect from their relationship.

So in yoga, I do not think that we are really clear about that stuff. Sometimes I wonder, what are we actually doing in yoga? Are we teaching the asana? Are we teaching philosophy? Are we creating community? Are we exploring deeper themes of relationship? Are we practicing intimacy? Are we sorting out parent-child wounds? As a student, if my feelings get hurt, do I look at myself or do I look at the teacher? And to what degree? And where do I process that? In what way do I communicate my insights? When do I speak up? When do I just find another class or studio or program to go to? What if I am enrolled in a long-term professional training and I am worried that conflict will mar may chances of success within the program? What if I am certified in a system and there is no established mechanism for feedback? And so on.

As a teacher, these same kinds of questions come up. What if I am frustrated because the students are not listening to me? To what degree do I express my frustration? To what degree do I sort out my feelings of "not being listened to" that date back to childhood? To what degree do I get to be myself and to what degree do I put my own feelings and personality quirks aside in the classroom? Do what degree can I? If I unconsciously hurt someone's feelings, do I apologize? If my perspective is different that someone else's do I share it? If I  correct an idea or a posture and it hurts the person's feelings, was I rude or too strict or too fierce? Were they too sensitive? To what degree and in what way do I ask the student to reflect on themselves and to what degree and in what way  do  I look at my part?

See, it's complex. For the students who come to yoga looking for a good workout it is simple and straight-forward. The teacher is more like a gym coach in that scenario. And while that is a big part of the yoga-doing population these days, there is another part of the yoga-doing population  coming for something in addition to the physical workout. And so, the expectations- conscious and unconscious- get layered and become multi-faceted. I mean it, I know those issues from both sides of the dynamic and I have made mistakes in judgement in both seats. So I am clear that I am raising these issues both as a student and as  a teacher.

 I would love for us to be in dialogue about this as a profession. (Therapists, chime in, we need your help!) See, I read the mean girls blog and I know in my own heart of hearts that I have been both people in that scenario. I have been "embarrassed by a teacher" and I have embarrassed and hurt students as the teacher.  I have sat at the cool kids table and I have sat alone and I have sat with people I adore who are my best friends but not the "in" crowd. I have felt included. I have felt left out. And so on.

And this is what I mean but the territory being full of opportunities for self-reflection and how managing a heart-based theme tied to en energetic action is really the least of it when we are talking about the challenges of teaching yoga!

More soon. Let me know your thoughts.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Singapore Reflections

Noah and I finished our 6-day program here in Singapore yesterday. We had 3 days of asana intensive and 3 days of Teacher Training. I feel very good about the week and the program content we offered and it was a rich and varied learning experience for me as a teaching. The students are from various countries with various religious backgrounds and also with very differing yoga back grounds. We had experienced teachers from different methods and some students in the room who have never taught yoga. Talk about a mixed-level group! They were so fun and so sincere and funny. We had a good time and I learned so much about myself and teaching from sharing with them and being together. It was a great experience for me.

One interesting thread that kept emerging during the training was "What is School of Yoga" yoga? It is a hard thing to explain that right now there actually is not a defined method or style that is School of Yoga yoga, nor are we planning on doing that any time soon, if ever. School of Yoga Teacher Training is more about exploring effective teaching strategies than it is about asserting that the outcome of those strategies look a certain way. There is not a School of Yoga trikonasana. There is no School of Yoga Sun Salutation. There are some stylist presences that I have, that Noah has and that Darren has and some of those are the same and some of those are different but none of that is The School nor are we advocating A School of Yoga Way.

Let me be more specific for the sake of clarity:

All week we worked a lot with using Light On Yoga  to create a baseline of pose knowledge for the teachers-in-training to work from. Think about teaching yoga- there is so much involved-- from verbal cues to heart themes to hands-on adjustments to creating rapport to self-care to therapeutic applications, remedial postures, modifications and sequencing strategies. The spectrum of skills needed is wide and varied. But what we actually do as a yoga teacher, in a very fundamental way, is offer asana classes. That is right- we teach asana for 60-minutes or 75-minutes or 90-minutes at a time.  People come, dressed for gym class, expecting to do some postures and expecting to varying degrees to get a little help with the endeavor of asana. And sure, within the scope of an asana class we hope to be inspiring, kind, compassionate, interesting, and so on but, as I see it, the scaffolding that all of that stuff is built on is asana.

So-- we are using the images in Light on Yoga (LOY) as a baseline to create pose knowledge so that the students have a clear and objective understanding on the shape, the basics of how to get into and out to the pose, what the posture looks like, etc.  Without knowing that information, without having pose knowledge, the other teaching skills are hard to practice.

Take observation skills, for instance. If, as a trainer,  I say "talk someone into Virabhadrasana 1 and observe their posture and then offer a verbal adjustment to improve their pose" but the trainee doesn't have an image in mind of "Ideal Virabhadrasana 1" then how are they going to give improvements? What are they improving towards? When will they know if enough is enough?  And even if none of the students can do the full form, still the modifications will be based on what the student can do are relative to Ideal Virabhdrasana 1.

So sure, you can look energetically at poses and assess them that way,  but even still, one would need to know the ideal shape of a posture to know how much of which energetic principle would bring balance to the student's body and to the posture they were performing. For instance, how much inner spiral does the back leg need in any standing posture and how much of which of the 3 aspects is needed to bring balance to the form depends on the finished shape one is aiming at. For instance different amounts of Inner Spiral are needed in Vira 1 than in Vira 2 and that will vary person to person, depending on their unique posture.

At any rate, right now in our approach, we are preferencing pose shape as the organizing principle in our training.  And then the teaching methods--demo, verbal cues, observations skills, adjustments are all applied relative to the defined shape in LOY and aimed at directing the students toward that shape.  Here is the thing that is hard for the trainee  to realize right away, particularly if they have been trained a bit differently - School of Yoga is not about the shapes so much as it is about the clarity of knowing where you are aimed and about creating a disciplined, systematic approach toward the clarity of the shape you are aimed at but it is not only about the shape .

While we use the shapes and teach them as clearly as we can and we decide for 90-minutes in class or for 3-hours in a workshop that the shape really matters, the shape is somewhat arbitrary, in my way of thinking.  As I see it, the shape of the posture is important for two primary reasons- a) the shape has a power to shift one's state of being through harmonizing the flow of energy in the body and b) the shape is a tool to use to cultivate clarity, focus, discipline and appropriate self-expression. It  is my belief and experience that those qualities are necessary for a sane life that is in harmony with one's own deeper purposes.

And whether those deeper  purposes  are primarily physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual --or some combination of those four domains or something else entirely--doesn't really matter so much to me, to tell the truth. I leave that in the hands of the student/practitioner to decide for themselves.  They also get to decide for themselves if what I am offering serves their purposes or not. Anyway, the main point is know what the aim is and work on actualizing it.

Fo instance, my asana practice is largely the physical arm of my spiritual practices. I do it as my primary form of exercise. I meditate and I practice mantra and puja and do spiritual study and seva also but when I do asana I actually want a conditioning effect for my body. See, I do not jog or bike, lift weights or otherwise train my body physically. So I have a very physical aim in asana. It is not my only aim with asana and it is not the only benefit I receive from my asana practice, but asana is the exercise arm of my overall sadhana. (ultimately i do not think the physical is separate from the spiritual and all that but I am speaking on a practical level, not a metaphysical level right now.)

So I have no issue with people who do asana for physical reasons. I mean maybe they go to church on Sunday and Bible Study on Wednesday night and have a prayer circle they are part of already and the physical part is actually what is missing in their lives. Who am I to say, in such  case, that physical reasons are lesser or that that person does not have a spiritual approach? So it is not so interesting to me to police the reasons why someone practices or to ask them to conform to my reasons or outlook.

Having said that, I figure that I also have the things I want to talk about as a teacher and so the student either has to like that or be willing to make what they do not like "white noise" or be willing to find another class to go to that is a better fit for them. No problem with that either. The thing I learned long ago is that my class and my approach  is not for everyone, I cannot change what I do so that it works for everyone and I am a happier teacher preaching to the choir than I am trying to convert the masses to my way of thinking. I like teaching the people who  want to learn what I am offering. That is just me. You might be different.

So anyway, we were working so much with the shapes in LOY that the students thought School of Yoga yoga = hands in upward prayer, not upward hands with fingers spread wide, for instance. That is kind of funny because I could care less about that and I think good yoga is done in a variety of "finished" forms. What I think "teaching yoga" involves is having a clear picture in mind as a teacher about the shape and helping the students come as close as they can given their bodies to the shape I have in my mind. What I think being a good student is is doing my best to do the form my teacher has in mind that day. For instance,  in an Ansuara yoga class I am happy to spread my fingers wide. In a Bikram  yoga class I am happy to make my fingers "like a pack of pencils".   Honestly,  I think they are both effective shapes for different reasons.

So if, as a teacher, my picture of the posture I am teaching has "shoulder width arms overhead with spread fingers" then I want to look out and see that in the room. If my picture for today has "arms overhead with palms touching" then I am going to be working to get everyone to do that. Where School of Yoga training comes in is to give teachers lots of effective teaching strategies to help teachers do that work in their classes,  not in defining, once and for all,  what the teacher is supposed to look out and see.  School of Yoga trained teachers, however, will be encourage to be clear about what they are teaching and why and will be given an education to help them develop that clarity.

But we also have to keep in mind that in a training, we need a baseline of form to use to practice all the teaching skills since they are all relative to that simple task of executing postures. Remember from earlier in this post--How can I tell someone to practice observation skills if they are not observing their students posture relative to some ideal? How can I tell them to modify something if there is not a point of comparison? etc.

So, anyway- We are hoping to provide a yoga education, which obviously has its influences and biases but we are not attempting to advocate one particular position as "the position"- be that position an asana or a philosophy. These techniques we present in teacher training can be applied to any shape and and any system to increase the efficacy of one's teaching.  And lest all this sound dry and "pose-oriented" keep in mind that this is for asana class, not a commentary on how everyone should live their lives and obviously we spent a lot of time asking people about the Why of teaching yoga and their larger aims as a teacher. That is another full post but as I see it, there is the Why we do it, the What we are going to do and the How we are going to do it. Those three domains of any endeavor are always present.  We worked with that in training like this:

Why- deeper reasons for teacher, mission statement, aim, context for teaching, for yoga, personal philosophy of teaching, resins why you practice yoga, etc. THE DESIRE TO HELP OTHERS

What- the knowledge of the subject itself, knowing the posture, the pranayamas, the CONTENT of class.

How- how you are going to teach a class, teaching methods, modifications, sequencing, rapport, themes, and every teaching skill imaginable.

And if you still have a few moments- check out the scenes from the asana intensive:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Faith and the Guru

We had a great time all weekend in Singapore and to One thing that has been interesting for me on the trip is talking to people of different faiths who are practicing yoga. In America we deal a lot with how the Christians feel about yoga but over here there is the Christian influence as well as Buddhism, Muslim, Hindus, and Taoist to name a few. The topic of religion, spirituality and yoga starts to take on new proportion in a place like Singapore which is a city with so many cultures and traditions represented.

On the third day of the intensive I introduced the opening mantra I have been using this year and gave a little talk about faith as a way to set it up and hopefully bridge the gap between the different folks in the room. The talk was well received and the students asked us to share it so Kelly put it up on YouTube last night.

here is is. The only thing that is unclear is what I meant to communicate about study. It sounds a bit like I have a negative relationship to study which I do not. I just do not toss the word around lightly like so many people do these days. I know people who take one class with a teacher at a Yoga Journal conference and say they have "studied" with that person. I don't think of it that way. For me to say I "study" something means that I am invested, committed and that I am in a long-term relationship with that person or subject. Being in a class, reading a book or thinking about something is not the same.  But that is another rant for another day.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Singapore and September

We have been very busy since we got to Singapore and thus, no updating the blog. I have enjoyed my time here so far. After a few days exploring the city- which mostly consisted of taking some yoga classes and eating and going to Chinatown, Noah and I started our intensive on Friday. Just like the program in Sydney, we have a 3-day asana intensive followed by a 3-day Teacher Training. So far everything is going well. The students are sweet, hard working, very funny and a pleasure to teach.

All in all, this has been a very clarifying trip for me, both personally and professionally. In a lot of ways, I have to say that this last year has been one of the most stressful years I have had in a long time. A lot of the primary dramas that led to me resigning from Anusara were really heating up almost exactly a year ago and since then everything has felt a bit on overdrive. I had panned to do a big tour through Asia this July and cancelled it with the hopes of regrouping. then as circumstances changed again I added Singapore back in as well as Australia. I did however, add some time in the schedule to actually unwind and vacation a bit in Australia which gave me some much needed time for personal reflection. At time over this last year I have felt a bit more like the tail was wagging the dog and I am more clear than ever that is not the way I want to go about working and living.

I have cleared away some commitments and engagements I have in August which will give me some time after this month-long trip to regroup and ground myself and work on the building and property down in San Marcos, which will be great. Speaking of San Marcos and The School of Yoga there, I am really excited about growing the workshop offerings there. I have written about the School before but what I love about it is that we have a 800-sq.foot space for yoga  a nice large yard and a house next to the yoga building where we can all  gather between asana sessions for tea, coffee and meals. To me it is such an ideal venue for workshops and trainings and all the the programs we have had there have been so great.

As I have continued to grow my work and my business as a guest teacher I have felt more and more strongly that the outreach/visiting work I do needs a home base and that I as a person am happier when I have both roots and wings. I also want to create a way to teach in an intimate setting that is a bit out-of-the way without being remote and that has amenities and comforts without being urban. San Marcos, TX is  a small university town south of Austin, TX and is definitely a slow-paced mellow town which makes it ideal for the programs I envision, which have more to do with accessing the power or practice in community than they are about a big yoga scene with lots of bells and whistles and so forth. When Manorama came to teach in March, she looked around and said, "How very old-school of you. I totally get it. This is like an classic yoga shala."

And she did get it. And so have the people who have come. I could spin a yarn for sure about how important I think these kinds of times are for us- not only now in the wake of certain reason upheavals in the yoga community but also in light of the fast-paced lives we all seem to be living. To me, I want to make yoga the counter-point to all that madness not funnel my yoga and my teaching work into that paradigm.  Yes, yoga happens in the midst of life and all that. I get that. AND time out, contemplation, slowing down and getting a bit quieter is key in order to actually be able to practice in the midst of our daily circumstances.

Our next program is pretty unique. I am teaching with two amazing people who mean a lot to me, Darren Rhodes and Mary Young.  Its not often that Darren leaves Tucson to teach so this is a great chance to learn from an awesome teacher and practitioner. Mary Young is a long-time senior student of my spiritual teacher, Lee Lozowick and has written extensively on topics of spiritual growth, philosophy and conscious living. She, too, rarely leaves home so this a very unique chance to learn from one of my closest mentors and advisors.

Here is the information, in case you are interested. Asana will be all-levels and nothing crazy or advanced. Philosophy will be personally-aimed and ecumenical, with practitioners of all faiths and traditions welcome to come and join the discussion.

Space is limited and registration is open.

Living A Larger Story:
Myth, Metaphor, and Transformational Tales of Truth
with Christina Sell, Darren Rhodes and Mary Young September 19-23, 2012
in San Marcos, TX 

“The way we tell our stories is the way we imagine our lives.
The way we imagine our lives is the way we will live our lives.”
-James Hillman
Pleae join Christina SellDarren Rhodes and Mary Young for a 5-day transformational journey through asana, storytelling, personal inquiry, mantra, pranayama and meditation. We will examine the various scripts and stories that govern our lives and explore how to use symbol, archetype and mythological themes to consciously transform our relationship to ourselves, our histories and our spiritual unfolding.

This is a perfect intensive for you if you want to:

-experience the power of intentional community
-deepen your asana practice in an intimate setting under the skilled guidance of Darren Rhodes and Christina Sell,
-identify self-limiting stories that have governed your life while harvesting the seeds of new possibilities,
-release shame and regret about your past,
-develop insight, understanding and compassion for yourself and others,
-learn how Eastern and Western mythology can help you see yourself and your life through universal transformational themes,
-live into your future with greater clarity, self-acceptance and passion.

Daily Schedule:

8:30-9:30 Morning Contemplation: puja, pranayama, meditation, journaling
9:30-9:45 break
9:45-12:00 Asana Class with Darren/Christina
12:00-1:30 lunch
1:30-3:30 Lecture & Small Group Work with Mary
3:30-3:45 break
3:45-5:45 Asana Class with Darren/Christina

Tuition: $575.00 

For more information, please visit

If you have questions, please contact us or call 512.534.5153

Please register for this program here.
There is limited space, so please sign up early to ensure your space.

***Please note that these program hours can be used as make-up hours for School of Yoga Teacher Training programs and for Continuing Education hours with Yoga Alliance.

Darren Rhodes and Christina Sell are the co-founders of School of Yoga. They met in 2000, began teaching seminars and trainings together in 2007 and in 2012, in collaboration with their friend and colleague, Noah Maze founded School of Yoga as way to share traditional yoga teachings with a new generation of teachers and students through creative, down-to-earth programming and presentation. Both known for their passion and commitment to honesty, authenticity and personal growth, Darren and Christina’s trainings offer students safe and challenging circumstances in which to learn and grow.

Mary Young is a senior student of Western Baul master, Lee Lozowick. Trained as a Jungian psychotherapist, she has over 30 years of experience working directly in the field of consciousness studies, personal transformation, and psycho-spiritual integration. Mary has dedicated her life and work to spiritual awakening through her unwavering commitment to the demands of bhakti yoga under Lee Lozowick’s guidance.  She is the author of several books including, As it Is: A Year on the Road with a Tantric Teacher, Under the Punnai Tree: A Biography of Yogi Ramsuratkumar, Enlightened Duality: Essays on Art, Beauty, Life and Reality As It Is  and Spiritual Slavery: A Biography of Lee Lozowick. She lives in Northern Arizona on Triveni Ashram.

It's going to be great!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Scandalous Topics

Well, I am a few days post-Teacher Training here in Sydney and I have taken a few days to unwind and relax and to continue to enjoy the city. The training was a great success on so many levels. I tried some new techniques and strategies  and implements some tried and true exercises and in general, had a great time being with the students and staff at Preshana Yoga to dive into the basics of teaching yoga.
One of the things Noah Naze and I have been talking about a lot as teacher trainers these days is that there are several different types of skills we need for effective yoga teaching. Both Noah and I were trained in Outdoor Education at Prescott College(several years apart, however) and in the training programs for being a wilderness instructor, they categorized the skills into soft skills and hard skills. Hard skills were things like tying knots, navigating with a map and compass, pitching tents, starting stoves, setting up climbing routes, etc. Think techniques for helping others navigate  the outer experience. Soft skills were things like interpersonal communication, the conscious use of metaphor, facilitating group process, etc. Think: techniques for helping others navigating the inner experience. 
Noah and I  got to talking in a recent training about how yoga teaching is similar to outdoor leadership in terms of a hard skill set and a soft skill set. There are the hard skills of yoga and the soft skills of yoga. Make no mistake, both domains involve skill. Hard skills include but are not limited to knowledge of the postures, sequencing strategies, modifications, contraindications, pacing, verbal articulation skills, observation, demonstration, etc. Soft skills involve conveying compassion, empathy, the conscious use of metaphor, being inspiring, the use of humor, etc. And in teaching yoga there is also a “business bucket” where we have to be able to market ourselves, charge accordingly, etc. which is an often overlooked aspect of doing this for a living, but that is a different post.
So, in our trainings we are doing our best to speak to the different skills sets and to make sure we are consciously in one or the other at any time. I think a lot of yoga argument could be avoided if we were simply more clear about which skill set we were prioritizing at any given time.  Method to method, and teacher to teacher, if we look  we can see that there is a variable degree of emphasis on one domain or the other. Some use themes, for instance to sell the alignment. Some will use alignment to sell the theme. Some will say “the posture itself will shift you” while others will say that a posture in and of itself has no meaning and so we have to infuse it with meaning or it will become stale or dry.  Some folks will say as long as the heart is touched it is good yoga while others will say that the practice itself is what is the transformational agent.
I think its about perspective and preference more than it is about anything so absolute. We talked a bit about this over the training relative to themes. I kept saying that I do not really find them necessary. I think I am usually misunderstood when I say such a thing-in fact, one woman asked why I taught Anusara for so long if I didn’t like themes. It’s not that I do not like themes, nor is it that  I minded teaching with them. A good theme is great. I am great at teaching with a theme and I honed that skill quite nicely if I do say so myself. I also excel at helping other people learn to weave a theme into a class. All I was saying is that I, myself, do not personally do not require them to be inspired in a yoga class. 
For instance, when I first met Desiree Rumbaugh and learned about Anusara Yoga in 1999, I thought she was inspiring. Her knowledge, her passion, her practice, her ability to connect to students, her unwavering dedication to her growth were inspiring to me. All of that hooked me- not that she linked an adjective up with a key action and threaded it through a class. (And yes, I know themes can be much more than that.) My point is simply that she was inspiring and so all that personal work she did for herself showed up in her teaching. She embodied the inspirational message and it worked for me.
Same when I first met John Friend. The teachings he shared at the time were inspiring and he was still very juiced up from his leap of faith out of Iyengar Yoga and into the founding years of Anusara and he was inspiring. He was knowledgeable, his practice was intense, he was funny, he helped me do postures I never dreamed possible and in those days themes looked nothing like “linking a key action with a feeling word” but were simply more about pouring your heart into the postures as a means of devotional offering.
Even now I have the opportunity to practice with some of the Bikram Yoga champions and to learn from them and I find them very inspiring. They are dedicated, passionate, committed, crazy-knowledgable about their method and they have helped me a ton with their insight and precision. But not a theme in sight. Occasionally during one of the 20-second savasana interludes they mention some nugget about a larger lesson from practice. Done. Great. Love it. 
So- I see themes as a skill or as a tool for bringing inspiration to life in a yoga class but not as a requirement for a good class. And a poorly executed theme is worse than a straight alignment class or a straight breath-based class, in my opinion, but that might be a bit of a scandalous line of inquiry to continue with.  And while I am on the topic,  I do not  think themes equal “bringing philosophy into a class” as a lot of times a theme is more geared to the emotional center, not the intellect and its not really The Teaching as much as it is a pep talk or an emotional appeal that is being offered. Again, nothing wrong with that either, just saying that we have lots of tools in this domain. So we are clear,  I love hearing some good philosophy in a yoga class but one or two tidbits, relative to the actual challenge at hand is great with me and I do not think it weakens the teaching if it is not carried through the whole 90 minutes. Just my opinion.
So its not like I felt “out of integrity” to teach with a theme. I think it is a great skill to have and many a day I talked myself into a good mood by weaving a theme into class so I appreciate it a lot. I am pondering these things a lot these days and while I just outlined my own feelings about themes I have no problem recognizing that some students love them and find them an invaluable source of inspiration and insight during their class experience. I have no problem at all with other people liking them, using them and so on. I am even happy to help teachers with the skill set involved, like I said.
Also, while I am on the topic of scandalous topics, I am also thinking that there is a shadow side to trying so hard to make yoga so freaking inspiring all the time. Okay, do not get me wrong, I know we all need to plug into a source of inspiration and I know we need time and occasions to recharge so we can keep going. And yet, I think about my own asana practice. It's not mind-blowing every day. Many days, I roll out a mat,  I breathe, I move and at the end I feel better. I do not always feel great at the end but I generally feel better for simply moving in a way that gets my stuck prana unstuck. To me, practice is very ordinary. It is boring a lot of days. (Yes, I can work up a big thing about how the body is amazing and every day exploring its intricacies is a thrill and all that but honestly, for me, a lot of it is simple, boring, repetitive and not entertaining whatsoever and therein lies its value as we live in a society that has always seeking what is new, what is shiny, what is bright and entertaining, as opposed to what is stable, enduring and so on.) If every class has to be so inspiring, I actually am wondering if I am doing a kind of false advertising. Like maybe part of the reason so few people can’t get a personal practice going is because all of these inspiring classes gives them the impression that practice is going to be thrilling when, in a lot of cases, practice is going to be pretty dull. Maybe we actually need to be training people to deal with boredom instead of always inspiring them. Just a thought.
(On a personal note, the thing is I do love to practice asana but its the familiarity of the shapes, the predictability of the openings and the way it feels normalizing that I value, not the way it is entertaining and far out, although I appreciate those days also.)
At any rate, I find this time of reflection to be quite intense, rapid and productive. As far as the whole “theme issue”  I feel a shift of interest away from the theme as such and into what we called in outdoor education “the conscious use of metaphor”. The thing is that asana is embodied philosophy so the lessons we need are living inside the practice itself and the more we can simply make what is implicit explicit, the more seamless our teaching becomes and the more inspiring and ordinary it is. Like so many things, one lives in the other right? As soon as I paint a context for dealing with boredom, all of a sudden that task seems less plain and more inspiring. Ironic.
The teacher training was great. I am so happy to know the group will be in Noah’s capable hands the next two sessions and I will get to return in April 2013 to finish the program. We talked yesterday about scheduling some future trips to Sydney and if all goes well, I will be coming back in 2014 as well. I am excited to have Sydney be a bit of a “home away from home” where I can visit but also be part of helping Preshana Yoga establsh itself here and to contribute to its vision.
All in all, good times.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Assimilation and Elimination

Well, I had a great three days teaching at Preshana Yoga here in Sydney. I am teaching a total of six days here. The first three days were an asana intensive and the next three days are a teacher training program. So far, I am enjoying the format a lot. Having three full days of asana with almost everyone doing the whole program is a great way to teach as a visiting teacher. It gives me the ability to lay a groundwork, to repeat postures and refine them and also to expand intelligently from the foundation we establish together.  Also, by the end of three days, most folks were pretty well at capacity- in body, mind and emotion, for sure. I am not really sure if you can hit  a “spiritual limit” as such but I do know that the other aspects of the being can get quite saturated which makes accessing the spiritual domain a bit more difficult.
At any rate, I think it was a wonderful and rich few days AND it will be great to switch gears to teacher training where the pace and the conversation are very different. I am also hoping that with three days of teacher training rather than six, I can present a manageable and digestible  amount of information for the trainees. 
The intensive format of learning is so great in a lot of ways but it is, for sure, an “overfeeding” of sorts. The students receive a huge amount of information and experience-- kind of like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet. And like anyone knows at an all-you can-eat buffet, it is quite common that you have combined foods that do not go together and eat all-you-can which is often more-than-you-should. So its normal after such a meal to be a little full, to have some indigestion and to need to allow some time before eating again.  Same with an intensive yoga training, you have to allow time for digestion and assimilation. Also, you need to take digestive enzymes sometimes- like more personal practice, going to class, reviewing your notes, conversations with your classmates, researching the ideas presented, writing in your journal, visiting your therapist, getting some bodywork, taking a nap, soaking in epsom salts and so on.
One part of digestion that is also dear to my heart is the process of elimination. And before that line of discussion goes into the direction of gross, I am talking here metaphorically, in terms of studying the teachings. The thing is that in any training we go to we are going to be fed all kinds of information and experiences. We have to eat them, chew on them, swallow them, digest and assimilate them for the outside teachings to, in a very real way,  “become us”. (I do not think we should be eating indiscriminately here, but assuming that we have a decent amount of trust in the presenter, we actually have to “buy in” in a sense in order to benefit most. This kind of learning is experiential, not spectator-based. this kind of learning requires our participation. This idea could be an entire blog entry in and of itself, so I  will just leave it at that.) 
So, assuming that we have eaten the meal,  one part of the process that I do not hear talked about enough is elimination. We also have to give ourselves and each other sincere permission to let go of what we have taken in that does not serve our personal aims and ideals. Just because something was in the curriculum and just because our teacher said something and believes it, etc. does not mean that we are obligated to take the teaching or principle on as our truth. Hopefully we participate in learning communities that allow for the digestive process to include this aspect of conscious participation and individual discernment.
The thing is that fifty people come to a training and hear the teacher say the same words but have fifty different experiences of what was said. If you interview people at the end of a course and ask them what the “take away” for them was, it is remarkable how varied the individual responses can be. It is such an interesting point to consider for me as both a teacher and a student in community. We are moving through both as a group and as a individual and both domains have their truths, their lessons and their challenges.  
More could be said about this for sure, but I must get ready to teach. It was a great three days and I am excited about the next three. I am enjoying Australia even more than I thought I would- the people are nice, the weather is beautiful, the scenery is fantastic and the food is amazing. And who knew the coffee here would be so good? Oh my god.
Have a great day. more soon.