March 7, 2012

Against Irreverence: Unleashing the Wrecking Ball. ~ Lisa Hiton

Photo: Back Bay Yoga










I was barely three months in to my own yoga practice when I entered my first day of teacher training.

Further, I had never set foot in Back Bay Yoga Studio (though my yoga home-base was its sister studio, Sweat and Soul Yoga) where teacher training was taking place, nor had I met Ame Wren, one of the two leaders of our program. That first week was intense:

I felt young, green, inexperienced, embarrassed of my practice, and simultaneously completely thrilled.

Teacher training, unlike my regular yoga practice, was academic. I mean this in many ways. In a strict sense of the word, we were reading articles and books about different limbs of the practice, speaking with Sanskrit translators and historians about the legacy of yoga, and learning ways of teaching asanas to different kinds of students.

As the training went on, even in that first week, yoga became, like all of my other obsessions, politically and socially inclined: I had the tools to articulate my understanding and gripes with Western and Eastern medicine, I began thinking of yoga outreach projects that could make yoga accessible for various demographics, and I felt overwhelmed by my hyperawareness of my own practice and how that might lend itself to these other, larger causes.

It seemed timely that right at the last third of my teacher training The New York Times would publish an article to challenge everything I was learning about and planning to teach to others. I am a writer by trade. I went to school for film and got my master’s in poetry. I have been teaching creative writing and literature in my young adulthood. Voracious reader and old soul are the two ways I’ve been described since preschool.

Photo: Back Bay Yoga

When I woke up in the morning with multiple emails from friends and family asking what I thought, it was hard not to lose my yogi.

The title alone was so transparently problematic and manipulative. I could tell from the emails I was getting from my very educated colleagues and friends that many of them hadn’t even read past the title. In my teacher-training group, we talked extensively about the article.

I tried to stay positive and suggested that raising any kind of dialogue can be a good thing, especially as a collective in the thick of learning about how to make a practice sustainable body by body. But my peers had other more aggressive points about the article: the average reader was likely someone already skeptical of yoga, unaware that all the mentioned injuries were from very advanced postures by rather advanced practitioners, and so on.

Days later, New York Magazine released a blasphemous article about David Regelin. And then the rest came together for me.

Weeks before, David was a guest for our teacher training. We studied multi-intenso and vesica practices with him (both David’s inventions). Most importantly, though, we had hours dedicated to alignment with David. He discussed the transformation from the more aggressive multi-intenso practice to his newest form, the vesica practice.

In his own evolution as a practitioner and teacher, the way he presents sustainability has new nuance and focus. David is (whether he knows it or not) a profound linguist. During our practices as well as our lessons on alignment he would use metaphors, mythology, physics and geometry effortlessly to describe the sensation of poses and the ways to see a need for adjustment. Our time with David illuminated a spatiality about the practice and the body in a way so singular to David’s voice—the cathedral of time and space.

It might seem abstract, this esoteric way of considering the body. The vesica piscis is a shape first found in German Gothic cathedrals. As we practiced with David, I suddenly saw vesica piscis all over my body—between my fingers and toes, the subtle spaces where the legs don’t touch together, even in crescent lunge, I took the form of half the vesica. Spheres, physical and metaphysical, all intersecting. It dawned on me in crescent lunge that even as my practice gets deeper over the years, the tension in each pose would always exist.

In fact, it needed to exist in order for the pose to work. The larger importance of the vesica practice, then, is not simply to create space in the postures, but to remember that yoga is organic: vesicas between the bones, across the lungs, and so on. The light within—a phrase I had heard at the end of most yoga classes took on spatial, imagistic resonance.

The light within beaming in expansiveness, just like that of a cathedral.

So when I read the article in New York Magazine I was not only crushed, but everything about taking a wrecking ball to yoga came together: there are few sacred spaces left in the Western world—an English classroom, a studio theater, and the yoga studio—these are the only three I’ve found.

The problem is that culturally, we value irreverence—the timely takedown by the critic has its capital cache. We don’t like to slow down, we don’t like to be self-reflective and we don’t like to challenge what we know or consider evolving from our innermost core—all the things that a true yoga practice begs you to do.

Photo: Back Bay Yoga

How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body? It’s easy. It’s mathematical. And the most complicated part is to write about it from the other place: from a serious place, from a self-reflective place, from a place of deep understanding. After all, isn’t this the very thing that continually saves me from my own physical imbalances and emotional cycles?

Where is the article about people who enter teacher training not to teach, but because a time of transition is calling them? Or about those of us who found the mat during a breakup, or to battle a diagnosis, or the loss of a family member? I have been on the mat through all of these in the ten short months that I’ve been practicing yoga. Not to mention the 24 years of history I never faced before I found the mat, which finds its way out of the body now and then.

I know at least 31 people who shared a very sacred space with me for six months who believe that yoga can not only save your body and heal it physically, but also, that it can help you find and express the Self.

Until we go through that process, and allow that process to happen as a collective, how can we build a place of peace together? It’s hard to find the medium to talk about peace and deep beliefs in a culture so fundamentally bent on compartmentalization. An article praising yoga in The New York Times would be considered hippy-dippy, wishy-washy, sentimental or some other effeminate way of saying weak. Everything about the article they did write was performative and flippant—neither of which I would use to describe any part of my yoga practice.

I am a yoga instructor now, in a time where training programs are rampant and churning out more teachers than necessary, and where everyone is afraid to do yoga because they think they will dislocate a shoulder.

It seems most important that I teach in this trying time.

I believe in the teachers who I studied with and the knowledge they’ve given me to provide a safe space for my students to practice yoga, challenge the mind, and evolve in more ways than one. Further, to remind myself in my own practice that the body is a kind of cathedral—not because it is a place of worship, but because it can transform and expand to let light in, and that I’m not beyond believing in something that profound and real to my experience allows me to stay flexible and evolve.

And for the irreverents cleaved together by all their pretense, when the wrecking ball comes swinging back toward you, and you’re forced to let go of your resistance, the yoga mat will be there, waiting to meet you where you are, like a cathedral, light beaming through stained glass.


Editor: Kelly Brichta


Lisa Hiton lives in Boston where she is a professor of literature, yoga instructor, writer, and filmmaker (translation: voracious reader, old soul, relatively homeless, lives on lentils). She completed her MFA in Poetry at Boston University. Lisa has poems and essays published or forthcoming in the Indiana Review, 491 Magazine, The Poetry Dress, among others. This green tea enthusiast/Madonna fanatic can be found on Facebook and Twitter and lhitonphotography.com

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