Friday, August 24, 2012

in medias res

Well, This was Day 3 in Tucson. After 2 days of Teacher Training we began a weekend asana intensive. The intensive will go through Sunday and then we finish the six days with a day of TT on Monday. This is a new format that we are experimenting with and so far I  like it. We used the part asana intensive, part TT format in both Sydney and Singapore this summer and it worked well for me there also. I found that the students didn't get bogged down in the analysis mode of TT so much and the asana was more focused and deliberate because the presence of "teacher training mindset" was there. And for me, I was less tired that I usually am after six days of teaching which makes me think that mixing the presentation a bit might suit me well.

Darren started off with some preliminary comments and when he passed the baton to me for the opening puja I talked a little about something I remembered from High School English class called in medias res. In medias res literally means "into the middle of things" or "into the midst of things" and is also a literary device that begins a story at the midpoint of a story, not at the beginning. I shared that I believe as yogi's we are always in medias res in some way. As both students and teachers we have to make our peace with the fact that there is no first lesson that paves the way perfectly. Wherever we start is going to mean that we are missing other information that we are going to need eventually. And really, the practice was there before us and it is going to be around after us and so we are, quite literally, in the middle of things. It's a 5000 year old tradition being parceled out 60-90 minutes at a time and so really, how can it be any else but in medias res?

I talked about how some of the people in the room are meeting us for the first time and we are in the middle of a week of teacher training. And some people in the room are joining us for TT this week which is placed in the middle of a 200-hour course, 100-hours of which has been completed. And some people started the 200-hours with us in January but that course is in the middle of a 5-year conversation of team teaching that Darren and I have been having. And he and I started teaching together 5 years ago, in the middle of our time as Anusara yoga teachers. And so on.

As students we enter the stream of the teaching at the point in which we enter, which is our beginning but certainly in the "middle of the story" of our teacher, a system, a school, a studio, our lives, and the tradition itself.  Since we enter mid-stream, we have to find a way to stay afloat until we learn to navigate the currents skillfully. Much of staying afloat mid-stream involves developing a certain measure of comfort with what is quite often an uncomfortable process. Manorama once said that "learning is a humbling, excrutiating and ego-bashing process" and I loved that teaching. (Of course that is the kind of thing I find inspiring, but I digress...)  Learning is not only humbling, excrutiating and ego-bashing, of course. Learning is also empowering, enlivening and inspiring. But I thought there was an honest forewarning there which I appreciated since I think "forewarned is forearmed." For instance, if I expect the process of learning to be easy-going, empowering, and uplifting at every turn, I am quite unprepared for the ways it is inevitably and necessarily  going to kick my ass along the way.

Since this is a weekend titled The Alchemy of Flow and Form Darren shared that he started with Flow and later learned about Form. I shared that I started with Form and learned Flow later. I made a joke about how I have observed the following conversations regarding flow and form from people over the years:

From the people who started with Flow: "I can not imagine starting with all those details. I mean, it's just so advanced and tedious to work that way. As a beginner I needed to move and breathe and just feel myself in my body and if I had had to listen to all that information I would have stayed in my head and never even "got" what yoga is all about. I mean, I am so glad I learned alignment later because it really helped me advance my practice and heal up some injuries but no way could I have endured all of those lessons in the beginning. I mean they hardly even breathe, those people! Alignment is for the advanced student."

From the people who started with Form:  "I do not even understand how people can do flow when they do not even know what they are doing or how to keep themselves safe! I mean how do you even know what to do without the explanations and the demonstrations and how can you learn by simply moving and breathing? I mean, I am so happy I learned vinyasa later in my practice because it really helped me feel fluid inside my body and showed me how to experience asana in a dynamic, lyrical way that made me so strong but how in the world people expect to stay safe and get knowledgeable from that practice is beside me. Vinyasa is for the  advanced student."

As I have great students and good friends in both camps and because I talk to A LOT of people in a year about yoga, I have come to see that each side is true. Wherever we enter the stream is great and whatever jumping off point we have  will have an up and a down side, a problem to be solved as well as a solution or a salve to share.

So, we just jumped into the middle of things and made our way through some basic postures, some strong work and some detailed alignment to pave the way for deeper postures and stronger vinyasas to come. We have an amazingly curious, open and intelligent group of people here this weekend and for the week of teacher training. It is a very interesting conversation so far this week and way too much to cover here but I am brimming with thoughts about topics such as: School v. System, the responsibility of the teacher v. the responsibility of the student, growing up and the art of learning discernment on the path, universal principles v. specific applications, teaching principles v. teaching postures, teaching the subject v. teaching the person, tradition v. synthesis, magical thinking in yoga and how it has to stop and so many other things. I have like a year of blog entries brewing at this point. I even wonder if there is a blog entry or even a book in there about taking the "versus" out of each of those apparent dichotomies so that we can, as a community,  explore where the third option is.

This, in fact is a huge inquiry I am in right now. I feel that we are in a big paradigm shift -- I see it in yoga but my friends who do not have anything to do with yoga are experiencing it in their respective spheres. Carl Jung talked about enantiodromia, a swinging between extremes that can occur in the psyche and also in the culture. I think he got it from Heraclitus and the Greeks. (Dr. Anne Schultz might know....that is my sister, BTW, the Greek Philosophy Professor.) As I understand the idea, a certain tendency or pattern would eventually build up its opposite psychic force within us and demand a swing away from tendency to the opposite and we would act out that side of the pendulum  until some reconciliation happened where we found the place of the integrated middle. (There it is again, the middle of things!)

 This is the Third Option I am talking about, the shifted paradigm where not just the opposite is being compulsively acted out, but where, in fact, a new solution has arisen. Of course the fine print of the new paradigm is that while it resolves the old problems it begins to pave the way for the new  problems of the new paradigm which eventually will create an opposite and a reconciliation and a new paradigm and new problems and new opposites and so on and so on and so on.  These cycles exist within us psychically as well as in the outer life of names and forms. So we are in some process, I believe, as a community of yogi's of birthing this new paradigm where tradition may not need to fight with innovation, where poses and principles can live in harmony, where yoga can be offered and not owned, etc. I think we are currently in a process of finding a meaningful third option as a way to go forward authentically and intelligently.

Okay, well, see there's a lot on my mind.

Kelly comes tomorrow to join us for the rest of the time and I am excited to see him. He has been i Oregon visiting his family  and in Prescott visiting friends and treating his patients there. He will be offering some treatments on the breaks here in Tucson also, which is great.


Anne-Marie Schultz said...

Will write something on the Greeks and extremes and yoga soon.

Even the yoga sutra starts in the middle of things, atha yoga anusasanum.

before we were doing something else, grammar and aruyveda, preparatory work, now yoga.

Shannon McKenzie said...

Pitirim Sorokin, one of my favorite Sociologists, and perhaps one of the most controversial, speaks of this pendulum. However, he refers to it as the social cycle theory where history repeats itself in a way, where the repetitive nature does not necessarily prevent progress. He classified society as "reality is spiritual", "reality is material", or "idealistic" which is a synthesis of the two (the middle if you will). He also spoke that in the future, our society of technological progress would come to fall into decadence, where a new idealistic era would emerge. Sound familiar? I too, sense a shift within the greater yoga community and my local one as well. So it would make sense, to me anyway, why psychically we are shifting as individuals because the shift is also taking place in our greater society. Now, where that shift goes, we'll just have to wait and see :)

Mike Frosolono said...

Great post with implications beyond yoga.