January 17, 2012

10 Things I Learned at the San Francisco Yoga Journal Conference: Day 3

In which I finally go to Seane Corn’s class, and then Dharma Mittra makes me laugh, and I get confused. 

1. Do not go to a Seane Corn workshop entitled “Yoga for a Broken Heart” and actually expect not to cry.

2. Forward folds are great for releasing the legs and the back, and for crying. No one is looking at you, and those tears go straight down into your own mat.

3. If there’s one thing we all have in common, it’s grief. Or loss, or heartbreak, or feeling broken, however you want to put it. Every human knows this feeling. Most humans don’t talk about it. Grief, loss, struggle, sadness etc. is a complex thing. It’s got a lot of anger in it, and a lot of shame. It is okay to feel that stuff. It is a good idea to honour it through your practice and give it what you can give. Including racking sobs, if that’s what’s needed. Yoga asana helps to move these energies through your body so the loss can shift and change. Not become better or go away, necessarily, at least not right away: just to become different.

4. If you reject and hate and refuse to deal with your own fear and shame and anger and all the other stuff that comes with experiences of trauma and loss, when you see that stuff in another human, you will be unable to feel compassion for them. What you hate or feel uncomfortable about in other people is actually a mirror for what you don’t want to face in yourself. Forgiveness starts with yourself, and then can reach out to every other human in the world.

5. The kindest, most compassionate thing you can do for someone is to hold space. Listen without reacting or interjecting. The woman beside me heard me crying, looked at me after class, and just put her hand on my shoulder. It was enough. [poem break:]

I was sad one day and went for a walk;
I sat in a field.

A rabbit noticed my condition and
came near.

It often does not take more than that to help at times –

to just be close to creatures who
are so full of knowing,
so full of love
that they don’t
– chat,

they just gaze with
marvelous understanding.

~St John of the Cross

6. If you want to know who in the world does wheel pose on his head, you have your answer, it’s Dharma Mittra.

7. It’s important to remember that while all your yoga teacher safety triggers are pulling and your hands want to fly up and support the woman standing on her head with her hands shifting around and her entire body, from neck to jelly legs, is wobbling, that it’s not about the asana.

8. It’s that we are all 100 watt bulbs. But our bulbs get a little dirty, and our light is a little dimmer underneath the dirt. It’s that we are all the same, all equally good, equally light, equally connected to God, part of God. Dharma Mittra is an adorable little old man who is massively strong and flexible, and extraordinarily funny. Here’s a man who does not take himself too seriously. He says, Meditate, have compassion for all things large and small, and take responsibility for your own actions: this is how you clean your bulb. Also, watch what you eat: Dharma says, “If you eat a little piggy….you become a little piggy.” He also said, in teaching alternate nostril breathing: “If you do it wrong….you become a little kooky! ….If you use your left hand…you’ll go retarded!” Good to know.

9. Taking 5 workshops with 5 very different teachers can be overwhelming, and beautiful, and confusing. Yoga as a philosophical system can be a little paradoxical (Especially when you pair Ana Forrest with Judith Hanson Lasater, and then Seane Corn with Dharma Mittra): Examples:

Work at your edges to challenge your patterns and heal your body and mind, but your deepest healing can come from 20 minutes of deep relaxation. Be in the present moment, but always set intentions for the future. The body and the mind are not separate, except that yoga is a process of trying to control or get out of the body. Deep breaths change your cellular structure for the better, but we practice pranayama so we don’t have to breathe anymore.

Brahmacharya, the least popular of the yamas (chastity), can come in handy here when you think about it as directing or channeling energy: decide which teachers you are going to choose to trust, and which relationships you choose to cultivate. Your energy is a precious thing, and there are times where you have to decide where you want to go with it and where you don’t. Direct it towards the light, and your own light will get stronger. Even if you are wrong about where to beam, making a decision can take a lot of the pressure off, especially when you have to take this abundance of information, whittle it down to 10 points at a time, and then go teach it.

10. When you are immersed in this intense paradoxical yoga world, it is a good idea to spend time with good people who do tech work or make furniture or go to school. They will make you laugh you’ll remember, again, that the best and more important yoga doesn’t happen on the mat, it happens with other humans, on long walks through Chinatown, at airports, over bourbon or coffee or late night tea. And that’s all you really need to take with you.


Read Day One and Day Two!

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