DHARMA MONDAYS: Shy Sayar’s weekly blog on Elephant Journal.
This weekend my old friend and teacher Martin Hunke taught a Shadow Yoga workshop at my studio, 7th Heaven in Berkeley, California.
I was exposed to shadow yoga—long before I became a teacher myself—through Joey Huynh, my teacher for eight years, who became a student of Shadow Yoga creator Shandor Remete for the last three or so of those years. I have always credited Shadow Yoga at the top of the list of influences on my Upeksha Yoga—along with the Tibetan Kum Nye Yoga I had studied at Thatang Tulku Rinpoche’s Nyingma Institute in Berkeley. One of the things that these three practices (Shadow Yoga, Kum Nye and Upeksha Yoga) have in common is an emphasis on a subtler level of experience—the mind, senses and the emotions—as well as an attitude that yoga is an unspectacular event, an internal affair designed less to showcase our strengths and more to expose our weaknesses, that we may grow where we need to grow most.
Following Joey, I too ended up teaching at Martin’s studio, Inner Heat Yoga in Berkeley, until it closed when Martin got married and moved to Berlin. I have since grown to teach workshops, retreats and even teacher trainings, offering my own humble insights as “Upeksha Yoga” and crediting all the many styles that I had tasted for all that I had learned and proceeded to teach. While I never called my classes Shadow Yoga (and did not, by any means, have the mastery of that practice to justify doing so), I was very excited about the Shadow Yoga elements in my teaching and made a point to include “Shadow Yoga” in my bio. This last Saturday morning, when I met Martin at 7th Heaven, he asked if I were free after the workshop, expressing his wish to take a little time to speak with me. I was very pleased, as by the end of his time in the U.S., Martin and I had become very fond of each other, and hindrance of our friendship by the sudden appearance of the Atlantic Ocean (not to mention the width of North America) between us was a genuinely sad development for me.
After the workshop, Martin and I sat down and talked about our lives, our relationships, and Shadow Yoga. He said that another teacher in the area asked him what the deal was with this guy, Shy, who claims to teach Shadow Yoga. So, I am taking this opportunity to announce: I am not a Shadow Yoga teacher and never claimed to be one. In fact, I don’t think I was really ready for to face my shadow when I first received some instruction from Joey and Martin a few years ago. Today I feel that Shadow Yoga is like graduate school in yoga – deeply internal, mentally demanding and purposefully designed to nitpick on our greatest weaknesses, as westerners who grow up sitting in chairs and thinking far, far too much. Preying on joint stiffness and weak, underused leg muscles, it is as though the practice wants to teach you how not to run out of the room screaming when you want to do so the most. I am humbled in the face of its insight.
So now I started a count: today is day ___ of my daily Shadow Yoga practice. I think I am finally ready to face the shadow. I am probably wrong.