In an effort to streamline my online life I have combined my website, The San Marcos School of Yoga website and this blog onto a new site called Live The Light of Yoga. I will post links to my new blog entries here for a while so that people can make the leap over to the new site.
However, if you follow this blog please visit the new blog site and enter your email address so that you can follow it over there. I don't want to lose you in the transition!
"Education is the attempt to “lead out” from within the self a core of wisdom that has the power to resist falsehood and live in the light of truth, not by external norms but by reasoned and reflective self-determination."
-Parker J. Palmer,The Courage to Teach
Well, I am spending a lot of time writing online but no so much on my blog. most of my attention these days is on answering questions in our Asana Junkies forum and preparing course materials for the upcoming Online Teacher Training and Mentoring Group. I am enjoying the work online A LOT. Particularly fun is to see how the online forum can provide both intellectual information about the practice and the "how to" of practice but also can provide a function of group connection and support. Certainly, online forums are not the same as the nitty-gritty up close and personal work that we do when we are in proximity to one another however it does highlight and offer a meaningful sense of being together as a community of practitioners.
One of my current favorite writers is a Christian psychologist named Scott Peck. I read his book A Road Less Travelled years ago- I mean like in 1987 or something-- and so its fun all these years later to revisit his work and teachings from a more adult perspective. I have recently been reading his book on community called A Different Drum. He talks a lot about how community is different than being part of a group and his definition of community centers around an idea of leadership being a shared experience in true community. He makes a distinction between a "group" that has a great leader and good followers and having a true community where everyone in the group gives their talents, etc. and assumes responsibility for leadership in some way and the power differential shifts away from a centralized figure to a shared experience.
He has some very cool things to say about how groups form and grow and how chaos is a very real stage of community development and that for the evolved kind of community he is describing to occur, a period of breakdown and chaos has to happen. He even defines healthy community has a community that can "fight gracefully together."
Obviously there is a lot of food for thought here and a lot to consider about how such notions might interface with yoga practice, study and community. One thing I am very clear on these days is that having an inspiring vision and/or an intellectually appealing idea does NOT mean that I actually know how to bring those visions and ideas to life in a functional way. I do believe it takes some training and some practice and a lot of trial and error.
At any rate, I do know that I am a creature of community and I see myself as a weird combination of idealistic realism. Or realistic idealism. I am not sure which, actually. However, I live in a pretty dynamic tension between what I find as inspiring visionary impulses and the stark reality of how dicey those propositions are and how difficult it can be to be human and in loving, healthy and honest relationships with ourselves and one another. Breaking through our patterns and moving beyond our conventional coping strategies is not easy, although I do think it is worthwhile.
So being online as a learning community is a certain kind of practice and a certain kind of experiment. Being up close and personal is both similar and different. I am interested these days in calling the group work we are doing "learning communities" as opposed to yoga community or spiritual community because I think what we are really up to is an educational process. The more I ponder yoga these days and even my own relationship to spirituality, I keep coming back to education as my primary passion in all of it.
How is it that yoga can teach me? How is that yoga can help me learn from my own experience? How is that yoga can help me learn from my mistakes? How is it that we, as fellow community members, can support, challenge, soothe, disturb and otherwise "draw out from within" the deeper wisdom that lives inside each of us individually and collectively? How might we truly learn to learn what matters most. I think yoga has good tools for that. So I am more into yoga as a tool for learning than I am as a system to "believe in" or to "convert others to" etc.
So as some of you know, I have been exploring the joys of web-based teaching for a few years. Several years ago, I offered an Online Teacher Mentoring Group for Anusara Yoga certification candidates that was a great success. Since that time, online yoga offerings have grown exponentially and I have continued to offer classes on yogaglo and to offer webinars on topics ranging from sequencing to body image to The Inner Life of Practice. My latest offering is the Asana Junkies Practice Club which started yesterday.
We had a call that was filmed where I gave the course outline and offered a 2-hour intermediate-level sequence that I reviewed. I also provided options for 90-minutes, 60-minutes, 30-minutes and a few 15-minute practice. I answered questions and provided some theory behind the sequence and then we carried the conversation over to our Facebook Group, where folks in the group can log in and share their insights, victories, exchanges ideas, information and so on. I also post teaching clips from YogaTips, from the previously recorded content as well as from our onsite group practice here in Austin.
I have really missed having a regular group practice here in Austin and I wanted this webinar to be as grounded in real life as possible so I am really happy that we are working on the sequences locally as well. I have been encouraging participants to start practice groups where they are and we have local groups all across the world, which is really an exciting thing.
This program incorporates three things I love a lot: 1.) Asana Studies and Practice. 2.)Being Part of an ongoing and committed practice group. 3.) Being consciously connected to a larger, world-wide community of yoga practitioners.
Anyway, I am very inspired and on fire about this program. Here is a clip (one of many) from our practice here at Bfree Yoga.
I spent the weekend with the good folks of New York City (and surrounding area) at Abhaya Yoga in Brooklyn, New York. I had a great time meeting some new people and seeing some long-time students and friends. One thing that keeps filling my heart these days is the recognition of the bonds I have formed with my students and colleagues over the last decade of teaching and practice. For instance, on Friday night in New York I was enjoying a laugh with Michael and I asked him, "How many hours have we been together in the classroom? Hundreds by now, right?" He nodded and I thought- yes, an immersion, a teacher training and countless classes and workshops along with many life changes for each of us and in all of that, a bond was formed and an ease established that is truly delightful. And then multiply that by many people in many places over many years and it is a pretty amazing thing.
Sometimes all of the different connections feel like too much to manage well and to serve effectively and I worry I am sucking at it all. And of course, sometimes the boundaries blur between friendship, work, teacher, student, professional and personal and the water gets murky and connections are lost and the price for what I love so much feels quite high. And yet, well, there are just those moments where I sit back a realize my great, good fortune to be walking a path with sincere and highly principled people who generously give me a seat from which to teach and who, in turn, teach me and train me. Blows me away, really.
So- before I went to New York I spent the holidays re-ordering and re-decorating my house. I threw out files of over six years of trainings and notes and cleaned out my closets and drawers. Kelly built shelves and cabinets and we created new areas to sit and study. We moved the art around and changed the color schemes in a few rooms. We not only purged what had accumulated but also rearranged furniture and created some things that were new. It was a great ending to a year and highly symbolic as well as I wanted to leave some things behind and I very much wanted to carry some things forward into new endeavors and for shifted purposes. I really enjoyed the opportunity to physicalize those intentions on the home front in such a practical way.
The other thing I did was to go see a few shows. Kelly and I saw Willie Nelson play on New Year's Eve. Iron and Wine opened for him which was also wonderful. And a few days after that we saw John Hiatt play who opened for Gregg Allman, both of whom were wonderful. I loved seeing the performances and the way these seasoned musicians and performers offered what they had to give. One thing I liked most about all four of these shows was the utter and complete lack of "blah blah" and the consistent focus on the music without any extra showmanship or fanfare. They simply played one great song after the other. And while each musician had an amazing stage presence, they had very little personality showing, which was very interesting to reflect upon.
Although charisma and personality has been a hot topic in yoga circles these days and has come under great fire from all directions, I have no problem with charisma at all. Of course, I see the dangers and pitfalls of confusing charisma with character and thinking a highly charismatic person is somehow also moral but when charisma is used in service to the right thing it can be a great and wonderful agent of transmission. (And just because someone is charismatic does not mean they are unethical either. And so on.) At any rate, each of these performers was a great example of "charisma in service" as well as a great teaching of what it means to develop one's craft. It is an interesting time in music right now as so many music icons are returning to the stage, writing memoirs and reflecting on a lifetime of making music and so on.
When John Hiatt played "Riding with the King" he introduced the song saying that he had a personal high moment when this song was performed by BB King and Eric Clapton. He said, "So for all you song writers out there, keep the faith... you just never know what might happen with one of your songs one day..."
Of course, I never just go see music without thinking about how it relates to yoga and teaching. I am a bit obsessed with all that, as you may have realized by now. So the big reflection for me was all about developing the craft of practice, the craft of good teaching and the craft of meaningful, ethical relationships. I am very interested in our conversations this year being about the yoga practice as we are engaging it, the craft of teaching, the task of creating learning situations where students glimpse their inner wisdom and the opportunity we have in community to support each other in living honestly from those glimpses with courage and tenacity. I see that as the craft of the yogi and the craft of the yoga teacher and role of community. These tasks of our craft live way beyond charisma, popular acclaim, criticism and trends in the marketplace.
Someone asked me how I planned to stay relevant in the marketplace as I age. I was like "Well, uh, I, uh, just plan to get really good at what I do." Anyhow- whether excellence stays relevant or not, I still think its a better way to go and a more interesting line of questioning to pursue.
This year Darren and I taught the third annual New Year's Intensive at Yoga Oasis. We had 60 people from around the world in one room to close 2012 and set intentions for 2013 through grounded, intelligent practice. We worked a lot with Light on Yoga, exploring the postures as outlined by BKS Iyengar as a baseline for understanding and exploring the postures. We also spent some time "riffing" and synthesizing information from sources and experiences well outside the pages of that book.
Truth be told I have always been a synthesizer. I started learning yoga in Iyengar Yoga, spent a lot of time in Bikram Yoga and some time in Ashtanga Vinyasa, before I got involved in Anusara Yoga in 1999. And anyone who knows me knows that even as a licensed Anusara Yoga teacher I still studied other systems and even took a trip in 2007 to Pune, India to study at the Iyengar Yoga Institute.
The weird thing is that I also love and admire purists and when I am in their world, I play by their rules. For instance, you will never see me in a Bikram class, "doing my own thing" or in an Ashtanga Vinyasa class, "being creative" or in an Iyengar Yoga class "expressing my individuality." Nope, not me. I get the value of pure, undiluted teachings from their source. I really do. Totally into it.
It's just that I didn't do it that way. My path hasn't been a purist path. My path has had twist, turns, circuitous wanderings and repeat visits back to previously charted territory only to see the same teachings again with new eyes. I am so pitta that the purist path seriously appeals to me on one level and many-a-day I wish that was the way it had gone for me. I certainly think it would make marketing myself and my teaching a whole lot easier since I cringe every time I am forced to describe my style as "eclectic." But well, it is the truth and if 2011 and 2012 taught me anything it was the value of admitting the truth to myself. And in the next breath, I have to say, I am pretty happy to have had a diverse yoga education. So, it depends on the day.
Anyhow, we had a great intensive. My personal intention for the weekend had to do with community and establishing my momentum for a new cycle that would allow me to bring forward key pieces from the past and leave behind what no longer serves me. To me, that is an important theme that emerged toward the end of my year. I feel it as a coming full circle at the end of the year and a lovely quality to invoke at the beginning of a new cycle.
The funny thing is that I even with all the challenge and heartbreak of the last year, I found myself reflecting on 2012 as a really great year. I can go back into a lot of the daily moments and remember certain difficulties and yet the sum total of all of that difficulty served me so that I am sitting here now, feeling stronger, clearer, more courageous and more aware. Adversity is a great training ground and if I were to sum it all up, I'd have to say that Rumi said it best in his poem, Lovers:
Stretch your arms and take hold the cloth of your clothes
with both hands. The cure for pain is in the pain.