31 December 2008

a New Year's wish

May the New Year
bring you happiness and peace,
and the strength and courage
to follow your dreams.

May you forget the weight of yesterday
and focus on the path ahead,
guided by your heart
and the light of hope.

May you find beauty in everything
and goodness in every heart.
And may you always remember
that you are blessed.

Happy New Year!

May you all be well, happy and peaceful!

With metta.

a-salaam aleikum
so shall it be

29 December 2008

inner wisdom

I've written previously about MysticSaint's blog, a blog where you can spend hours reading about spirituality. I thought his post today, The Work of Becoming Human, was not only excellent but timely.

What is this work of becoming "human"? I know that the longer I walk this path the more I "change." well, maybe not "change" in the usual definition as a transitive verb (yes, I was an English major!):

"To cause to be different; to give a completely different form or appearance to; to give and receive reciprocally; to exchange for or replace with another, usually of the same kind or category; to lay aside, abandon, or leave for another."

But maybe more so as an intransitive verb:

"To become different or undergo alteration; to undergo transformation or transition; To go from one phase to another, as the moon or the seasons."

I especially like the last line: "to go from one phase to another, as the moon or the seasons."

When I began my teacher training about 7 years ago and especially when I wanted to go to India for the first time three years ago, the man in my life was not supportive of me whatsoever. In fact, he was negative about my plans to become a teacher and then especially later about my plans to study in India. Finally one day after years of negativity I calmly asked him, "what is it about my spirituality that scares you so much?" He said, "you've changed." I told him that no, I had not changed, I've always been like this, only now I am deeper, and it's just that he had never noticed it in all these years of being together. He had stopped growing and I had not. Or put another way, maybe his growth was at a snail's pace and mine was exponential.

I got back into yoga in the mid-1990s after dabbling in it over 30 years ago. Only this time, now, I was in the right phase of my life to be able to immerse myself in it. It is said that one discovers or re-discovers one's essential Self on this path and I know that I re-discovered that which I had put on a shelf many years ago. So just as fine wine becomes more deeply embodied in richness or the sound of a violin becomes sweeter with age, so I have become more conscious through this practice. As I move into this final season of my life, I know that my phases will continue to change as do the faces of the moon, because if they did not, I will have learned nothing from yoga. If I did not transform, I will have stopped becoming more human.

Carl Rogers, the founder of humanistic psychology, wrote On Becoming a Person. Rogers emphasized the concept of "self-actualization" and he believed that self-actualization implies that there is an internal force that calls to develop one's capacities and talents to the fullest, that it is the individual's central motivation to learn and to grow. Growth occurs when the individual develops new aspects of their skills, capacities, and views about life. Life is an endless process of creatively moving forward even if only in small ways. Life, therefore, is a verb and not a noun.

What is your idea of becoming more human? I always ask my students to bring yoga off the mat and into their lives. As a yoga practitioner how do you incorporate into your consciousness all the levels of being on which a human can be called "conscious"? and if you are conscious, do you believe yourself to be truly awake?

Complete Human Being: Spiritual Qualities

Self-Knowledge - The degree to which we know ourselves - our weakness, limitations, characteristics, motivations.

Self-Control - The ability to guide and transcend the promptings of the self.

Objective Knowledge - A knowledge that is in accord both with the practical needs of life and an objective Reality that can be known through an awakened and purified heart.

Inner Wisdom - The ability to access guidance and meaning from within oneself.

Being - The capacity to remain in a state of presence, to consciously witness experience.

Selfless love - A love for God and His creations without selfish motives.

Sustaining the Divine Perspective - The ability to always see events and people from the highest perspective of Love and Unity and not to slip into egoistic judgment and opinion.

Divine Intimacy - Awareness of one's connection of the Divine Source.

(thanks for the inspiration today, MysticSaint!)

27 December 2008

detaching from the outcome

Karmani ave adhikars te
you have the power to act only

ma phalesu kadachana
you do not have the power to influence the result

ma karmaphal hetur bhoo
therefore you must act without the anticipation of the result

ma sangostu akramani
without succumbing to inaction

The end of any year always leaves me in a pensive mood, plus I always like to throw stuff out and clear things away, like all the papers in my office for one thing. I also like to do some internal cleansing. I don't make New Year's resolutions, I send whatever intentions I have out into the Universe -- if things happen, they happen. I learned a long time ago to detach from the outcome.

That's why these words from the Bhagavad Gita resonated with me today. all things change, the nature of reality is impermanence. the older I get the more I realize this is true and the less I try to cling and hold onto things that are by their very nature impermanent. I've watched people who can't control their own minds try to control their lives and it's a never ending ride on that samsaric wheel. they run faster and faster and get nowhere just like hamsters in their cages.

However, that being said, I've made plans to live in India starting the end of 2009 and into 2010. it's an intention that I've thrown into the Universe. I plan to study yoga therapy for two months under the personal guidance of a swami-ji at his ashram in South India and then travel north to the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar in 2010. I received word from the ashram today to come earlier and stay with them on New Years Eve 2009 before the study starts. I could not think of a better place to be on New Years Eve than in India -- that's where I was on December 31, 2007.

So 365 days from today I will be in Ma India again, but as with all things, if it happens, it happens, I am not clinging. a year is a long time in the physical realm but only a blip on the radar screen in the astral realm. and I must always remember that anything can happen.

If I die tomorrow I would still be happy and I regret nothing. I have lived with rasa and passion and followed my dreams. I have walked to the end of an Indian beach where Hanuman lept across the ocean to save Sita and I have also been all alone in India sicker than an Indian street dog. I still regret nothing.

I give everything up to the Universe, but not without inaction. I merely detach from the outcome and live in the Sacred Now.


23 December 2008

interview: yin yoga -- part 2

What do people need to know about their connective tissue? What is the relationship between connective tissue and yin yoga?

Usually the only time people think about their connective tissue -- which includes our tendons, ligaments, and fascia that surrounds and intermingles with our muscles -- is when we injure it, like a sprained ankle. However, what people do not realize is that the connective tissue of our bodies is all about our flexibility; our muscles are all about strength. The health of our joints is related to the health of our connective tissue. What will give us a sense of ease and comfort in our old age is not how much weight we can lift, but our flexibility and the health of our joints, like our hips, pelvis, and spine. People do not realize that if our connective tissue is not therapeutically stressed on a daily basis, that is, stretched in slow, long-held floor poses such as what is done in yin yoga, our connective tissue will literally shrink wrap our joints. This should be of great concern to women because the spine is surrounded by about seven layers of connective tissue and when, not if, the connective tissue begins to stiffen due to lack of movement, it can literally crush already thinning vertebra and thereby contribute to that "old lady's hump". It is not so much osteoporosis that causes the rounding of the back, it is the connective tissue of the spine shrink wrapping the vertebra. That is why forward folds with a rounded back and back bends are so important for the health of the spine. Doing paschimottanasana with a more rounded back helps to stretch the spine more, rather than doing it with a flat back.

In yin yoga the connective tissue of the hips, pelvis, and spine is worked slowly in a "yin" way. Other forms of yoga are more muscular and therefore more "yang", that is, moving and rhythmic. The only way connective tissue is stretched is by relaxing the muscles and holding the floor yin poses for three to five minutes minimum. Again, flexibility has nothing to do with our muscles, it has everything to do with our connective tissue.

I believe that the ability to stay still for five minutes at a time has a lot more to do with our minds than our bodies. This is why yin yoga is also mind training, we train ourselves to be still in a world that is rushing out of control, and not that we can control it anyway. If someone values the quality of how they are living each moment, giving themselves time to turn off the movie that constantly plays in their mind and do some yin yoga, then they will begin to find more space in their life.

22 December 2008

interview: yin yoga

I've been interviewed for an article for the health and fitness magazine supplement to my local newspaper that will come out in January. I thought I would post some of the questions and my answers.

How does yin yoga balance the mind, body, and spirit?

Yoga was never meant to be a purely physical practice -- the ancient yogis (the sramanas) knew this when they went into the forests thousands of years ago to use their own bodies and minds and nervous systems as laboratories for experiments in personal transformation. We are not just our physical bodies so whatever type of yoga is practiced will balance the mind-body-spirit.

All yoga styles work the energy body, however, I feel that yin yoga is in a sense a deeper practice because the emphasis is solely on the connective tissues, not the muscles. Both the ancient Indian yogis and the Chinese yogis (the Taoists) believed that the connective tissue houses energy pathways, called nadis by the Indians and meridians by the Chinese. These energy pathways contain our life force, prana as the Indian yogis called it, chi as the Chinese yogis called it. Our energy body (the total of all these energy pathways) tends to become dense or stagnate when we do not move our bodies outside of our habitual ranges of motion. This is why we do yoga. But by coming into a pose in a slow yin way and staying for many minutes at a time helps us get deeper within our natural ranges of motion in the joints of the hips, pelvis, and lower back.

Chi stagnation is what acupuncturists deal with so that is why yin yoga is also called "needleless acupuncture" because you can move and balance your chi via yin yoga postures by stretching and pressuring the connective tissues that house the meridians. Modern life is very yang, lots of movement, rushing around, no stillness -- this causes stress and burn out. Yin yoga is a way of slowing down and going inward. Life is always about balance, the yin and the yang. Too much yang and you burn out; too much yin and you become a couch potato. Think of all the physical ailments that people have from too much stress and burn-out.

Because of my own personal yoga and meditation practice, I truly believe that combining a yin practice with a yang practice (such as a strong vinyasa or astanga practice) offers a complete yoga practice not only on the physical level but more importantly on the psychic level. I believe that working on these deeper levels is what what leads or our own personal transformation and that the changes we make to our soft tissue have a profound influence on the emotional, mental, and energetic levels. My own yoga practice deepened in a very potent way when I began to move away from an alignment-based, precision-obsessed practice.

There is also a whole psychosomatic level to balancing the energy body. Strong and flowing prana (or chi) is important because it affects the way we feel and the way we think. Blending the physical with the emotional levels expands our possibilities within a complete yoga practice.

17 December 2008

a note from the Universe

"The real sky is (knowing) that samsara and nirvana are merely an illusory display.”
—Mipham Rinpoche, Quintessential Instructions of Mind

I have written more than a few times about the emails from the Universe....yes, the Universe sends me an email everyday and sometimes they are so right-on that it makes the hair on my arms stand up. the words below are what I received today and they really struck a chord.

I've been through a lot of emotional turmoil this year -- not as much as other people I'm sure, but more than some people experience. I made a life-changing decision and someone who I thought wanted to be with me, did not. I learned this year that my mother (from whom I was estranged for over 20 years) died three years ago. that knowledge alone brought back painful childhood memories. and of course all the ridiculous drama at the yoga studios. I've also decided to finally disengage myself from someone I've known for more than half my life. it will not be pleasant, but 2009 for me must be clean and fresh. a new beginning. like each new moment.

I no longer believe that I have a depressive personality but for the last month I have come to know what depression feels like again, so much so that I wondered whether I had PTSD symptoms. repressed memories screw with your mind when they rear their ugly heads.

So the note from the Universe hit me in the face like the pungent humid air in Chennai does when I step outside the airport at 3 AM. I read it this morning and sat back and said "yes." but that "yes" was more an affirmation for myself, that yes, I create my own suffering, and yes, there is a way out of suffering, and that way out is not the way I was thinking of when I was at my lowest.

Life is maya.

"I can imagine that from your perspective, it must seem like some truly awful things happen in time and space. So if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to weigh in.

Sama, you live in a world of illusions. A world that springs from a much deeper and far greater reality. And while at times the illusions are indeed ugly, with your physical senses you only see the tip of the iceberg. If you could see the whole, you'd discover that the unpleasantness was only the tiniest piece of a most spectacular puzzle that was created with order, intelligence, and absolute love. You'd see that contrary to appearances, in the grandest scheme of things, nothing is ever lost, no one becomes less, and setbacks are always temporary. And you'd understand that no matter what has happened, everyone lives again, everyone laughs again, and everyone loves again, even more richly than before."

16 December 2008

I do not drink at meditation retreats. really.

OK, I know I look like I had a few drinks or smoked a doobie, but I didn't, I swear on Buddha's teeth. I am with Sujatha, my teacher who named me Sama, and Jayson, another yoga teacher.

that really is NOT an Irish coffee!

photographic evidence that I really AM a yoga teacher! leading a gentle yoga class before the Thanksgiving meditation retreat

the woman in red really does NOT have pink arms growing out of her neck.

when my sweater fell off my shoulder this dude was checking out my tattoos when he should have been meditating. here he was caught telling me how nice they were. no, seriously, he was a nice guy, he just loved my shoulder...uh...tattoos. also photographic evidence that the lady in red does not have pink arms growing out of her neck. and I'm STILL not drinking Irish coffee from that cup! really.

just a day hanging out with those wild and crazy Buddhists!

Anne Cushman and Enlightenment for Idiots

I received an email from Anne Cushman that her book Enlightenment for Idiots was named by Booklist as one of the "Top 10 First Novels" of 2008. congratulations, Anne!

Booklist said that these ten first-time novelists "will undoubtedly become second novelists. In other words, these novels show talent above and beyond the usual first time out."

Anne is one of the teachers at Spirit Rock's Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation Training which I love love love. I can't wait to go back for the last 10 day retreat in April, but I'm sad it will be the end of the training. Anne emailed me back in March saying how she loved this blog and then realized that this writer and the Spirit Rock student were one and the same. besides me, she also sent her book to her other favorite yoga bloggers. I was more stunned that a professional writer liked my blog (you can read Anne's comments in the sidebar) than I was about getting a free book!

I loved Anne's book and having traveled to India I certainly resonated with the Indian scenes she created. get Anne's book for every yogi on your gift list this season, I know they'll love it.

And who knows? maybe I'll write a yoga book one day....but I think it would be more along the lines of Hunter Thompson style, a roman a clef about my little piece of the yoga world.

Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was made into a movie with Johnny Depp. hmmmmm....let's who could play moi? Susan Sarandon? Sandra Bernhard? Kathy Griffin?

Nope, none of the above. it has to be Susie Essman. Susie played Susie Greene, the wife of Larry David's manager on Curb Your Enthusiasm:

"Mrs. Greene will not suffer a fool or overlook the slightest slight; she invariably sees through every one of Larry and Jeff's lies and mischievous ploys and rips into them. These hilarious bouts of withering sarcasm and uninhibited insults have become her character's trademark...."

Yup. Susie Essman it is.

15 December 2008

yoga in the west: the new aerobics?

Amanda left a very juicy comment to this post. I thought she left such delicious yoga food for thought that it was worthy of its own post.

so what say you, readers? has westernized yoga for the last dozen years or so merely been the "new aerobics"?

Yoga has been in the west for a long time. I have a book I bought at an antique store called The Dayspring of Youth: Yoga Practice Adapted for Western Bodies written by "M" and published in 1933 -- not one word about asana is in the book. Indra Devi taught Hollywood stars such as Gloria Swanson and Olivia de Havilland after World War II and in the 1950s. I dabbled in yoga and meditation back in the my college hippie days in the early 1970s and my claim to fame is OMing with Buddhist and Beat Poet Allen Ginsberg. but for yoga to have become so popular and trendy, I believe what Paul Grilley has said about it: that the spirituality had to be totally stripped out of it in order for most westerners to come to it.

So here is what Amanda thinks...the only edits have been for spelling, punctuation, and flow (no yoga pun intended.)

"I am sure there are some lessons for the Western (not the Eastern) yoga community that could be learned from studying the aerobics/groups fitness craze of the 1980s.

At its peak, the aerobics craze dictated (somewhere around 1986-1989) that you 'needed' to have all the right brands, the matching leotards, headbands, etc. And preferably be able to teach or do mindnumbingly complex choreography. Aerobics was everywhere - and it was of a variable and questionable quality. Some instructors had 'it' and others were simply amateurish, and at worse, downright dangerous. Ironically, the average lifespan of an aerobics instructor was 2 1/2 years.

In the early 1990s, the bubble burst. Be it the matching headbands, the complex choreography, or the whole 'Barbie Doll/airhead' image that had built up around the fitness industry, or the economic recession we had back then, people began staying away from classes in droves. It began with men, and continued until it was only the hardcore addicts who were left. Centres that were once highly profitable closed overnight. I know -- I owned and operated a centre at this time. I was able to close it and sell the plant equipment and barely avoid losing my house.

By the mid-1990s, this situation began to change. The industry, in Australia at least, had totally professionalised (you need a Diploma level qualification to teach at gyms in Australia -- you don't need this to teach yoga, I notice) and an amazing New Zealand franchise called Body Pump hit the scene. People began to come back. Especially men.

What did Body Pump do? It totally did away with the complexity and the 'trendy' clothes. You did Pump in daggy shorts. Instructors taught participants that technique was everything and image was nothing. You focused on the foundations, getting the basics right - with incredible results. As instructors, we were taught how to communicate as experts, were were taught that safety was paramount. Our music and moves were choreographed for us by experts.

Nowadays, if you don't have Pump on your timetable, you're losing money. The same New Zealand company has followed with other programs, including one based on yoga. Worldwide, 10 million people every week do either Pump and Body Balance (Flow) alone!

So yoga is 3500 years old and there is a complete way of life, rather than just physical exercise. But when I look at the yoga world in the cities and in the US, all I see is uber-flexible Barbie Dolls in brand name clothes, and a frenzied mega-popularity that will surely burst in this economic climate. I see the aerobics craze all over again. [emphasis supplied.]

Underneath, however, are some dedicated souls who have depth, who are professional and authentic. If I was going to say what can we learn from the aerobics craze, it is this:

the yoga world in the West is yet to really mature - at the moment, it's an incorrigible teenager. The bubble will burst.

Yet it will mature in order to survive. It will do this and thrive because it will find the right cultural "mix" and niche.

Yoga teachers, studios and schools will disappear whilst this is happening. Those that remain will do so because they have the basics - the heart and soul - of teaching yoga to the community and sharing those basics with others. This is a long, hard journey but one that has to be had."

Thanks for writing this post, Amanda! check out Amanda's blog -- she is now a "friend of the family"!

And comments are solicited and appreciated!

12 December 2008

sharing the AUM

Let the different faiths exist; let them flourish; and let the glory of God be sung in all the languages and in a variety of tunes. That should be the ideal. Respect the differences between the faiths and recognize them as valid as long as they do not extinguish the flame of unity.” – Sri Satya Sai Baba

I love Alice Coltrane. Alice Coltrane was John Coltrane's wife and both were music revolutionaries. Alice was a pioneer in true yoga music that the current yoga crowd does not know about. I'm so over listening to shmaltzy sweet peace-love-dove new age music in yoga classes. listen to what sister alice has to say about Indian music in this video.

I also want to share with you a new blog I discovered recently...Inspirations and Creative Thoughts: "In sacred remembrance of Divine | Reflection on Life and Spirituality | An evolution of Spirituality | Knowing thyself | Yours and my thoughts | Appreciation for all faiths | Mysticism and Integral Comparative Spirituality .. Hal jazaa ul ihsani illal ihsani? Is the reward of goodness other than goodness? (Quran 55:60)"

There is so much on this blog about spirituality you can literally sit and read for hours.

a-salaam aleikum
so shall it be

metta to you all

10 December 2008


"We hardly ever listen to the sound of a dog's bark, or to the cry of a child or the laughter of a man as he passes by. We separate ourselves from everything, and then from this isolation look and listen to all things. It is this separation that is so destructive, for in that lies all conflict and confusion. If you listened to the sound of those bells with complete silence, you would be riding on it--or, rather, the sound would carry you across the valley and over the hill. The beauty of it is felt only when you and the sound are not separate, when you are part of it. Meditation is the ending of the separation not by any action of will or desire.

Meditation is not a separate thing from life; it is the very essence of life, the very essence of daily living. To listen to those bells, to hear [that] listen to the sound of the bell on the bicycle of the little girl as she passes by: it is the whole of life, and not just fragment of it, that meditation opens."

(pp. 20-1, Meditations, Chennai, Krishnamurti Foundation India, 2000)

My recent experiences with yoga studios have caused me to draw inward and reflect on human nature. as my teacher told me, I should accept that sometimes there are no answers.

The lines "We separate ourselves from everything, and then from this isolation look and listen to all things. It is this separation that is so destructive, for in that lies all conflict and confusion..." are the operative words for me in this quote. even in the so-called yoga community we separate ourselves from each other and become dogmatic. that is NOT what yoga practice is about in my humble opinion, yoga is about opening up to greater things. and what are those greater things? more students? money? I have a website but I've never been good at marketing myself, it's just not my thing. frankly, the chase for more money and more students gives me pause and leaves me cold. is that what yoga in America has become, the constant chase for "more"? more classes, more students, more yoga jewelery, more $80 yoga pants? and when you get more classes and more students, are you then happy? or does the chase begin all over again for more? even meditators chase after more meditation experiences. Chogyam Trungpa called it spiritual materialism.

A friend told me "I think you belong in India where it's real. There's too much of nothing around these parts." I've been to India three times and I can tell you it's really real, life and death on the streets, in your face 24/7. I've been invited to live there. but India has it's own set of problems just like anywhere else and people certainly claw and scratch for "more" just like we do here. but somehow it's bit different, at least to me it is.

So these experiences with the studios have caused me to step back and evaluate my life. I know it's my dharma to teach, I'm just not sure if it's here because I do long for something more "real" and for something "deeper." I think it is also my karma to walk this path alone. another friend told me that Kali is testing me, that I must hang in there because the ride has just begun. she said that now my karmic playing field has been emptied from the trash and that I'll see what comes to fill the void.

I have two trips to India planned. one is a year from now, two months at a south Indian ashram studying yoga therapy with a swami. the second is 2010, the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, the largest spiritual gathering in the world. I really don't like to plan that far in advance, but I just offer those plans to the Universe and see what comes up, if it happens, it happens. I know in my bones that something will happen to me at the Kumbh.

Maybe my void will be filled. and if I die there, at least I will be next to the Ganges, my body can be burned and returned to Mother Ganga.

But for right now, I will rest and meditate and not look outward for more. my answers are within.

09 December 2008

is the yoga studio model dead and how 'bout those "yoga communities"?

(photo credit: bindifry)

[Buddha's teachings that we should surround ourselves with like-minded friends]

“the community was blighted with some unfortunate cattiness, competitiveness and general high-school girl behaviour.”

Hallelujah! I'm not the only one who feels this way!

The above quote was taken from Nadine's blog. Nadine moved from South Africa to Australia and I'm happy that she is so happy in the Australian yoga scene.

My experiences in yoga studios have not been the most positive, but I take everything as a lesson. sometimes the negatives are greater teachers than the positives. I also believe in karma so maybe the Universe is telling me something about teaching in yoga studios. hey, maybe I was a total bee-atch yoga studio owner in a past life so now I'm getting what's coming to me. all I know is that I am going to think long and hard before I teach in a studio again.

One of my loyal readers told me that his teacher said "the studio model is dead" and that comment intrigued me. he said that it's not that she doesn't still teach some group classes, but rather that those are basically seva and a way to attract students to do the workshops, teacher trainings, and especially private lessons where mature practice can happen.

"Private lessons where mature practice can happen" is also an interesting statement, "mature" being the operative word for me. my teachers in India taught that personal transformation can only begin in a group class but is accomplished by working one-on-one with a teacher in the classical way and I truly believe this.

As for those "yoga communities" I'm the first to admit that because of my recent experiences the phrase leaves me colder than sitting on top of an iceberg. Brenda had a blog post about it where readers weighed in.

So what say you? is the "studio model dead" especially in this economy? and what about those "yoga communities" that everyone talks about and wants to develop? is it about talking the talk and walking the walk? or are "yoga communities" no different from your neighborhood coffee klatch where we just get to wear that cool yoga jewelery?

More on this later as thought develop, so talk amongst yourselves. I'd really like some comments especially from newbie yoga teachers and studio owners. I'd also like to know if teacher trainings nowadays are incorporating more yoga business aspects to the trainings, i.e., "yoga in the real world."

with metta always....

08 December 2008

fear and loathing in the yoga world, part 2

Fear and Loathing in the Yoga World, Part 1

I will say from the start that the studio owner who fired me in an email last week later realized that her actions were not the most professional or reasonable. she admitted that she should have called me and she regretted what she did. however, the damage had already been done. you can't unring a bell. you can't undo the damage that you did.

She sent her screaming email late at night accusing me of things I did not do, so it was too late for me to call her. I wrote back to her immediately explaining how I could not have done the things she accused me of, which were:

1. sending "consistent" emails to students with "negative connotations" about her and the studio. more about that later.

2. calling a woman who was scheduled to do thai yoga massage after my Sunday morning class and asking her to cancel her appointments so that I could use the space. the story about that is even more bizarre than #1.

The situation is that she is closing the studio at the end of the year, not because of the economy, but because it was a hobby that turned into a real business. a successful yoga studio with committed students. I should be so lucky. she admits that she never realized how much work a "real business" takes and it all got to be too much so she decided to close up shop and sell the building. that's fine, it's her decision, and I have to say that when I first heard this news I had little reaction to it because all things are impermanent, so be it. but I did tell her that I would look for my own space, maybe even buy a building, I was upfront about that from the get go. and I have found my own space starting in January. so when she told me I was "going behind her back", that accusation floored me.

I'll try to make this convoluted story short. I had given up my night class and the owner gave it to another teacher. I emailed a few of my night students saying that I regret I am no longer teaching this class, so-and-so will be teaching it, and I hope to see them in January in my new night class. that's it. I had also sent an earlier email announcing my new space and my new classes to all students who had voluntarily given me their emails. by the way, all the students know the studio is closing.

As it turned out, the owner taught the night class after which she sent the scathing email to me. she said that three students (who were my students obviously) came up to her after class with the accusations about the "consistent" (two) emails with the "negative connotations." I did not understand how they could have interpreted anything negative from my emails.

As for asking the thai massage practitioner to "cancel" her appointments, I did call the woman to ask if she was using the space after my Sunday morning class. I wanted to know because a friend who is a semi-pro photographer was coming to the studio after my class to take some shots of me. she told me yes, she's using the space after my class, and I said fine, I'll just reschedule. that was it. for whatever reason, the thai massage practitioner called the owner and told her I called. when the owner accused me of wanting to "cancel" this woman's appointments behind the owner's back, I called the practitioner and asked her why she told the owner the lie about me. let's just say I was not my most yogic self. she claimed she did not. when the owner later admitted she acted hastily, she told me that the practitioner did not use the word "cancel", but that it was hard for her to imagine that she would have heard anything different. so as for who was telling the truth, I had no idea and I did not care. the damage had already been done.

As for the students telling tales about me, human nature is what it is. and I'm sorry to say this, but yoga students love to stir things up. admit it, because y'all know it's true -- in fact, maybe some of you reading this have done it yourself. in our subsequent discussion about it, the owner told me about how students would tell her that so-and-so teacher doesn't do this, or doesn't do that, or teaches shoulderstand like this, he doesn't teach it the way you do, blah blah blah blah blah. I've heard students speak horribly about sub yoga teachers, I've seen students walk out of classes because "their" teacher wasn't there that day. I have to ask: what the hell are you doing? and why? I'm here to tell you, if any of you reading this has ever done that, you should be ashamed. yoga is about cultivating an attitude of gratitude and if you don't have one, yoga has taught you nothing.

After my experience with the alcoholic studio owner, this screaming email brought back bad memories. there was no way I was going to allow another studio owner to treat me like garbage. there was no way I was going to let those lies about me stand. in her original email she wrote that I should send back my key and when she got it she would send my last check and my mat. no way, I thought, I'm getting my things in person, so I called the next day. as it turned out, we talked for an hour. reasonably. I explained my side of the situation. and she became contrite and humble. she never once said "I'm sorry" but she admitted she acted unreasonably. so we agreed to meet the next day so I could get my mat and money.

We met the following morning (the email was Monday night, this was Wednesday morning) and I must say that I was not at all upset. I had let it go. in Buddhism there are three sensations: attachment, aversion, and neutrality. at that moment I was neutral. I walked in, gave her my key, and said I'm getting my mat. she stopped me and said "I must tell you these things..." and she began to tell me how wrong she was. I sat and listened. but the damage had already been done, you can't unring the bell.

She admitted that the whole situation was a learning experience for her, about how she is ruled by her emotions, about how reactive she is, about how she is very attached to the studio even though she is giving it up. I let her talk and said, "well, I have much more life experience than you," (she is only about 30), "and I would advise you that next time someone tells you something, to investigate it." I asked her what she thought the purpose was of those students saying those things about me. I also told her to ask herself why she believed them so readily.

I told her that after this whole experience I am re-thinking whether I should continue to teach in that community. she told me that I would have to do what is right for me but she thought it would be a disservice if I did not. she said that I should not let the actions of the three students ruin it for the others. I told her I appreciated that.

So this entire situation was a learning experience for her but also for me. it was a lesson on letting our emotions rule us, a lesson on reactivity, a lesson on investigation. these are all things that Buddha taught about.

The owner's first email compared to her contrite second email was absolutely Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde. since this incident I've heard more than a few stories from teachers about the Jekyll and Hyde personalities of yoga studio owners. and all I have to say for right now is "never again." and for any yoga studio owners reading this, think long and hard about how you treat your teachers and about how much support you give them.

I'm tired of the drama of yoga studios. the alcoholic studio owner (about whom I am finally neutral), the immaturity of the second owner....I think the Universe is giving me another kick in the yoga butt that the studio model is dead for me. time for me to move on to bigger and better things. time for me to examine my own yoga teaching paradigm. my gal pal who lives in India told me that I need to find a "goddess in residence" yoga gig somewhere. I think she's right. if you have one, let me know, I'll be on the next Lufthansa flight out.

After my meditation class last night I talked about this with my teacher, the Theravadan Buddhist monk. his dharma talk was about attachment and the Ego, whether there is an "I" and if so, what is it. after our sit I told him that working with attachment and craving is easy for me, but my Ego troubles arise from my aversion (the flip side of attachment) and I told him briefly what happened. he is a relatively young monk but very wise and I always feel at peace after our talks. he said, "why are letting this bother you? you know your truth, you know the type of person you are. no one can change that by their words. let it go." I said, "but what about the lies about me? my mind continually asks 'why why why', that is what makes me crazy." he said, "accept that sometimes there is no answer. those people have their own problems, don't create your own problems because you are upset. you will never know their motivations. let it go." finally he said, "this is a lesson for you, too, a lesson to teach you loving-kindness. send them loving-kindness."

I send metta to you all.

06 December 2008

fear and loathing in the yoga world

I'm just a problem girl.

It's been said that one should never say never, but as for my teaching in any more yoga studios, for right now, in this present moment (and I actually said it all this week) I can say, never again.

In my humble opinion, when you're a starry-eyed newbie yoga teacher there is a little part of you that longs for that perfect yoga community of like-minded holistic souls who will unconditionally love and support one other; where it does not make any difference what style one teaches, how much our yoga clothes cost, who one trained with, or whether one does adjustments or not, because in the end, it's all good and perfect and lovely in the peace-love-dove yoga world. yoga teachers are all one big happy family when we travel to Mecca -- I mean the yoga conferences -- and happily chant AUM and SHANTI and celebrate the Goddess in each of us as we yoga trance dance and cry together in those ubiquitous group hugs...."farewell, Tiffani Shanti Lakshmi, see you next year at the Tantric Goddess workshop in Omaha!"

And then reality hits you in the face like a wet, stinky yoga mat rug that 100 Bikram yogis just sweated on.

I understand that people are people and human nature is what it is whether you're a plumber or a Fortune 500 CEO. we all have our foibles and the little things that make us and the people in our lives insane. call me stupid, but somehow, somewhere deep inside one's heart, you just don't expect to be screwed (figuratively) by a another yoga teacher. that just ain't supposed to happen. is it? somehow I just don't expect to be treated like one of the huge piles of excrement that I walk around in an Indian street. I must have missed that day in my first teacher training: "What To Do When a Yoga Studio Owner Treats You Like Shit."

Oh...I'm that too real and honest for you? because I've been told that I'm too real and honest. well, fasten your seat belts, children, because you're in for a bumpy ride.

Those of you who are regular readers might remember that I left a studio last year because the alcoholic studio owner walked in stumbling drunk to one of my workshops and into one of my classes (during savasana no less.) I wrote about it here and here. The irony is that the studio I refer to in those posts, the one where I moved to, the one I was so grateful to teach at, is the studio where I was FIRED from this week. yes, dear readers, yours truly was FIRED from a yoga studio. I was told that I was no longer welcome there.

The most surreal thing about it was that I was accused of things I did not do and instead of reasonably picking up the phone and asking whether these things were true, the studio owner fired off a screaming email -- I WILL LET THAT SINK IN: I WAS FIRED IN AN EMAIL -- telling me to mail my key because I was no longer welcome at the studio. but I digress. back to the alcoholic owner.

I understand addiction. believe me, I do. been there, done that, momma don't ride dat hoss no mo', y'all. and any of you out there who know or live with addicts know it's hell. but when you try to help someone and you're abused for it and you're lied to, I walk. the thing is, I could handle the alcoholic owner, but what I could not handle was the total lack of support from every other teacher at the studio (except for one who also walked.) not one teacher called to show their support or to ask how I was. not one. ever. it was like I had died.

I was so upset about the situation that I talked to my teacher, a Theravadan Buddhist monk, who felt that those teachers talked the talk but didn't walk the walk. he thanked me for coming to him because he said if she ever walked in liked that to his dharma class "I would just...." and he moved his fingers like he was walking, "and I would not even say goodbye." he told me that I did the right thing in confronting the owner about her addiction. and if a Buddhist monk tells me that, then that's OK by me.

So much for the "yoga community", a phrase that makes me regurgitate faster than eating salmonella infested potato salad. and the rage over what I felt was a betrayal stuck in my body as chronic, sometimes excrutiating, back pain for a year. talk about my aversion creating my suffering.

to be continued.....

04 December 2008

killing yoga's sacred cows: Paul Grilley training, part 2


How indeed?

I have been a student of Paul Grilley's for about five years now and I've been teaching yin yoga for three years. I first did a workshop with him at the Midwest Yoga Conference and as soon as he said "yoga is all in the bones" I was hooked. Paul is an anatomy genius and as I listened to him explain why there will always be poses that some of us will never be able to do a lightbulb went off over my head. I thought, "why isn't every yoga teacher learning from this man?"

Five years ago Paul brought real bones to his workshops. not plastic bones, real bones, in a suitcase, so imagine him getting through airport security. he doesn't do that anymore because they began to deteriorate, but you can see the pictures of those bones on his website.

every yoga teacher who reads this blog should click on each picture and learn how everyone's bones are different. our bones are different on each side of our bodies. we are not symetrical. let that sink in and think about how your students look in asanas.

Why is shoulderstand exceedingly easy for one person and the next one hates it?

Why does one person's foot come out farther in front in pigeon and the next person can't get their foot very much past their pubic bone? and how many yoga teachers walk over and immediately pull that foot out in front because that's the way it's "supposed" to be? yeah, that must be written on a palm leaf in India somewhere.

Why can the person who's never done yoga do lotus in their sleep and the next person will never be able to do lotus no matter how much they try even though they've been doing yoga for 20 years?

And how many students reading this post feel inadequate because you can't get into that Yoga Journal cover version of pigeon or shoulderstand no matter how many daily hours of yoga you do?

Get over it because it's all in the bones. it has nothing to do with flexibility. nothing. zilch. not one iota. so forget about it. and that attitude should be extremely liberating and open up your yoga practice to something that is much deeper.

Of course we become more flexible with yoga, but only to the extent to which we are genetically programmed to become. and flexibility has to do with the connective tissue, the fascia of the body, it has nothing to do with muscles. it has nothing to do with doing 50 chatarungas and jump-backs in a session. that's muscular. that's not yin, that's yang movement.

The asanas in yin yoga are done on the floor and are held for a minimum of 3 to 5 minutes because that's the way the fascia of the body must be worked. it is totally different from a yang, moving, vinyasa practice. that is strength building muscular movement -- the power of your muscles does not translate to flexibility. yin movement is about the health of your joints. both are need for a healthy body. yoga is about balance, the yin AND the yang of all things.

For poses such as pigeon, double pigeon (square pose), and cowface pose, the ability to do them comfortably has to do with how your femur connects to your pelvis. are your femurs internally or externally rotated? look at the femur pictures on Paul's site and see how each one is different. combine that with the location of our hip sockets in our pelvis. the sockets might be shallow or deep or more toward the front or back or toward the sides. or higher up on the pelvis or farther down below. combine that socket position with the length and angle of the neck of the femur. I think you get the idea. and now ask yourself: how can there be universal principles of alignment when everyone's bones are different? knowing that, how is that going to change your attitude about adjusting your students?

I am an example of extreme internal rotation. Paul uses me in his workshops in Chicago as an example of uber-Gumbyness. every year he asks me to lie on my abdomen and I bend one knee so that my leg forms a 90 degree angle. he then takes my foot and slowly moves my lower leg down out sideways so that my foot almost touches the floor -- my opposite hip does not or barely comes up off the floor. and every year the entire studio of yoga teachers takes a huge collective gasp as they watch him do that. and then he does the other leg. and then he does both legs at the same time. with sound effects. by that time I'm usually asleep if I'm not laughing so hard at everyone's reactions.

After my hip demo at this last workshop someone yelled out, "wouldn't you like to x-ray her hips?" he said yes so I told him that I'm going to will my pelvis and femurs to him so if I die before him he can still continue to use me in his workshops. I found out later that Paul calls me "Linda Crazy Hips."

In my years of study with Paul, I can line people up, examine how their arms hang, and know who will have an easy or difficult time with chatarunga by looking at the rotation of the insides of their elbows. that rotation will determine hand placement. hand placement will determine whether someone can comfortably hover off the floor or whether they are going to rip a rotator cuff next time they come down. I can tell how comfortably someone will be able to do shoulderstand if I ask them to drop their chin to their chest or clasp their hands behind them and lift the arms. it's all in the bones, baby.

What I love about Paul is how he kills yoga's sacred cows. iconoclasts are close to my heart since I'm an iconoclast yoga facilitator who loves to tweak cultural myths. he challenges you to think outside the yoga box. he throws out questions to make you think beyond the standard yoga paradigms like: in old traditional yoga books, why is there no mention of the "correct" alignment? one photo above is Paul showing us slides of old yoga books where everyone is doing the same asana differently, usually in the "wrong" way. how many of us teach that the knee should never go past the toes in a lunge? look at old pictures of Krishnamacharya. I've studied at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram three times and I can tell you that I've never heard Sir (i.e., Sri Desikachar, Krishnamacharya's son) use the word "alignment" once.

Paul acknowledges that his teaching is not everyone's cup of chai. we become angry when anyone challenges our long-held beliefs that we thought were so solid. Paul told a story about how during one of his workshops a woman walked out and he could see her outside the room angrily pacing back and forth. he said when she came back at the end of the workshop she told him how much he challenged her beliefs about how yoga "should be." let's just say that Iyengar yoga purists and Paul usually don't see eye to eye. killing sacred cows can be a hard thing to do but someone has to do it.

I'll leave you with a question that Paul asked us. it has to do with the physicality of yoga, with the ability to "advance" in the asanas:

How would it affect your practice if you would never get "better" in yoga? how would that affect you emotionally? once you hit that wall of never getting "better", would you shift your emphasis away from the physical to the energetics of yoga?

He used me as an example again. he said, "Linda has been doing yoga a long time. you've seen how flexible she is. do you really think she does yoga to become more flexible? there has to be something more."

(p.s. if you'd like a yin or yin/yang workshop for your studio, leave a comment with your contact information -- I'd be happy to present!)