January 11, 2011

Are You Patanjali’s Puppet? Find Your Voice!

I was just up teaching a weekend at Kripalu. Other than the lack of a good wine bar, I was in heaven. Together with 40 students I offered some real-world ideas for moving into transformation,  according to yoga philosophy, some other teachers’ opinions I value, and of course, to my own take on what yoga is trying to communicate.

Often, I see teachers reading from the Gita, or Patanjali, for example, reading what it says to the class, then stopping there. I’ve been fortunate to run across some uber-talented translators/yoga scholars in my day like Douglas Brooks and Leslie Kaminoff, Sally Kemp and others.

I call them translators because they’re each steeped in yoga culture, the canon of yogic thought and of course, yoga practice. Yet they can talk to you about what to do to put it into your everyday world as easily as they can teach posture.  You only have to read Sally’s articles on everything from surviving heartbreak to letting go of your own dramatic stories to know this.

I’m in the mood to blog more about bringing yoga philosophies–big ones, like the Yamas and Niyamas and other things I hear repeated over and over again in yoga classrooms without further insight, into our day-to-day issues and experiences. Some of it may rub you the wrong, or the right way, because if you don’t know this by now, I have my own opinions on things, and I tend to say ‘em straight.

However, I hope that I’ll widen some space around the box we can all easily fall into. If I hear one more teacher introduce class with the reading of Sutra 1.2:

yogash citta-vrtti-nirodah

Then proceed to tell us that it means “Yoga calms the monkey mind” and if we practice yoga, we will calm the monkey mind, then keep saying periodically “now, in this pose… calm your monkey mind.”,

I just might have to go into Child’s Pose a little early to restrain myself from crying out loud in exasperation, “But…what do YOU think about the frickin’ monkey mind?”  I don’t want to be merely read someone else’s words, unless they are accompanied by my teacher’s ideas on what they mean, to her, to him, to all of us who are striving to walk a path of least resistance and the most core connection to our inner truth.

Otherwise, you’re less a teacher than a pleaser…keeping your voice down to a whisper and letting someone else’s views cover for your own. You tell your class what’s already been said…so what’s new? You’re in danger of becoming the yogic equivalent of the girlfriend who does whatever her boyfriend wants, and never chooses the restaurant:  “Patanjali…whatever YOU say, that’s good enough for me.”

Patanjali, by the way, would seemingly not be a fan of this behavior.

Now, lest some of you guzzle a big glass of haterade and comment at this juncture, please read on: I have compassion for every yoga instructor beginning to bust out of the mold of speaking in someone profound background in yoga philosophy. I was petrified to claim the seat of the teacher as myself. It’s often hard to understand the Sutras, or anything else yoga teaches and still seen as slightly blasphemous to dare to put your own fingerprint on those sacred pages. I totally get why playing it safe is a common practice amongst my beloved community. Safe, however, isn’t good enough if you truly wish to help change the world.

I’m here to tell those who read us things in class but don’t expound on it: Grow a pair. Please. You’re so much more dynamic and interesting that way. You will feel so much more empowered when you stand up and show us who you are.

I encourage you to access your spiritual cojones with the utmost respect, to encourage you–whether you’re teaching yoga or a student–to trust your take on something like:  how we can calm our restless monkey mind. Well? How do you do it? What are the tools you know about? How do you face insomnia or edit your destructive stories or disconnect from the looping anxiety that builds when facing the unknown? What are the struggles you’ve faced when trying to do this? Offer me some of yourself along with the masters’ words. Then I won’t feel so alone in my humanity.

I seek out those teachers who can not only tell me what yoga says, but what to do, practically, to accomplish the action steps to get me there, even if it’s just a suggestion of something that works for them. I’ll take it into consideration, and appreciate that they had the courage to believe their offering might be valuable.

This is in fact, Core Strength 101: Can you dig deep, take heart, speak your mind, and as Patanjali said, release all the books and teachings in favor of the ultimate authority: you. Give us what you already know deep inside to be true for you. Share that, and in that moment, you become a master too.  Besides, you know far more than you might think. Even the act of being you frees me to be me.

Beyond other people’s inspirations, just…talk to me like a friend.

I used to be a shrinking violet, head dipped low behind this or that translation of the Gita, or notes taken from a lifelong teacher at some conference or another. But it was when I began believing that I actually could parallel my own life’s challenges to the teachings, and started adding in my voice, tentatively at first, that my students really started to resonate with the material.  They felt seen, heard, and like we are in this together. I went from preaching to teaching, which inherently assumes you’re giving something of your own perspective, adding to what we already know.

These days, you won’t catch me reading anything in Sanskrit or otherwise that I can’t offer you, clearly, in my own words, how I think it could manifest into reality. It’s a practice of seeing the universal parallels in all things. And it gets stronger (as you will) the more you do it. Am I perfect? I hope not!  Am I me? You bet.

Walking down the stairs yesterday on my way to lunch, I saw this sign:

“Yoga is the practice of tolerating the consequences of being yourself.”

That’s from the Bhagavad Gita. And it struck me deeply: Part of what we’re doing here is to become bold, to step forward into our own skin, and allow ourselves to be seen. Those horrid long holds in Warrior Two or Chair Pose are able to strengthen us, to help us know we can endure great intensity.

And, teachers, tell me–isn’t sharing of yourself in front of a whole bunch of people one of the most intense experiences? Things don’t have to be bad to be hard to endure. If we want the immense goodness of being, we have to have a soft belly and a strong core.

Whether it’s opening to the near-unbearably sweet fire of intimacy, love, saying yes to the raw, stinging vulnerability of being yourself, or inviting your students into your innermost chamber of spiritual secrets, we can practice remaining solidly rooted in our Satya, the real truth of ourselves. How? Open your mouth, speak your truth, let some people be disappointed in you and others resonate. Just say what you think, respectfully…and your tribe will surround you.

Can you do this a little more? How will you? Because I’m interested in knowing your take on all that we call yoga–and I bet a lot of other people are, too.

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