March 18, 2013

Can You Yoga When the Going Gets Tough? ~ Cori Martinez

I believe in unconditional love for the world and the unfolding of life.

I believe there is divinity in everything, and trusting in this inspires me to be present for my life and embrace the human experience, and above all, to let go of resistance and look for the the gift of each moment.

I didn’t just pull these beliefs out of a hat (or from my Facebook feed). Historical and modern visionaries throughout time have taught this message and I discovered it deep in my own heart during 14 years of studying, practicing and teaching yoga. These are beliefs that bring freedom and peace to the believer in times of joy and turmoil. We are hungry to make these beliefs ours, yet we are equally quick to abandon such beliefs when the going gets tough (or when they begin to seem socially inappropriate).

On the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings I had just come from leading an advanced yoga study and teacher training retreat where we explored the yogic concept of Bramacharya (seeing divinity in everything or seeing the light in everything). As I watched the images and read the stories of the shooting I had a moment of doubt.

Could I do that here? Could anyone?

My first reaction was to throw the fluff of divinity in everything out the window and choose anger.

That seemed so much more appropriate. So I sat with my humanity—with the anger, the sadness and the repulsion that came. But as I heard people express again and again how they were hugging their children tighter, vowing not to take life for-granted, praying and sending love to strangers, I felt the sweetness of my own heart opening up, and I saw this as a gift these children gave to millions.

For clarity, I am not saying that the death and shooting was the gift. The opportunity to increase our love and compassion is what I am calling the gift.

Talk of unconditional love and divinity in all things is generally received fairly well within the yoga community. However, in in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, in the context of something “unacceptable,” my voice was surprisingly unique.

One woman called me vile and said that until I was willing to see the gift in the loss of my own child I should be ashamed of myself. I shared with her that for the past four years I have never looked at another baby and not thought about the loss of my own and still most days it doesn’t torture me to have that thought because I am so grateful for the gifts that came from my experience—mainly an increase in my own capacity for trusting and loving life unconditionally and my capacity for helping others do the same.

I find that if we hate anything, our words, actions and new beliefs come from a place of separation, self-righteousness, guilt, pain and the like.

From here it’s easy for us to interpose passive forms of violence in the world.

Many of us may believe that passive violence such as gossip, religious or political intolerance, harsh words, name-calling, insults, dishonest communication, angry looks, eye rolling, manipulation, interrupting, putting down, ostracizing or humiliating another person is far less destructive than physical brutality or murder. But Gandhi taught that passive violence is even more insidious than physical violence. He taught that passive violence generates anger and defensiveness in the victim, which is the fuel for all physical violence in the world.

As yoga teachers, we theme classes about connection, about opening our hearts, about loving what is. We say Namaste at the end of every yoga class—meaning the divine light within me recognizes the divine light in you and we acknowledge we are one. We post about it on Facebook, write blogs and books about it. But all of it is meaningless if we aren’t willing to apply it when it’s hard—when it seems like it can’t possibly hold up. Those are the moments that make all the difference in the world.

Can we look into the face of violence and make space in our heart for love?

Can we sit with pain and discomfort without calling it bad and pushing it away?

Can we climb down from our tower of knowing what’s right and how things should definitely be and not be, and make space for a force that is bigger than our individual story?

Can we be open to receive a gift in unrecognizable form?

Is any of this easy? Absolutely not. But in my experience, it is even harder to see darkness, to blame others, to be powerless, and to be separate.

For me, seeing beyond the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary and everything else large and small in our daily lives, toward the possibility for greater connection, personal responsibility and compassion, inspires me to act from love. For me, this is not about looking on the bright side. This is about seeing the light in the dark—about seeing the light in all things (or trusting that it’s there when I can’t see it) so that I may change the world by living in peace. It’s about living what I know in my heart to be true, even when the going gets tough.

If you believe that having unconditional love and seeing divinity in all things will bring you freedom and the world peace, you may want to consider tattooing it on your forehead—because it’s tempting to jump ship and it takes courage not to!

With or without the tattoo though, I want to say that I’m practicing with you and rooting for you.

May our efforts lead to peace, love and deep connection.



Cori Martinez: Teaching Yoga for 14 years, Cori is known for her attention to detail and her ability to create an environment ripe for opening and expanding physically, mentally and spiritually. She leads the Asha Yoga Advanced Study and Teacher Training Programs in Sacramento and Santa Cruz California and Sayulita Mexico. In her training she invites you to pay attention, to be vulnerable, to give life your all, to love unconditionally, to take responsibility and to go easy on yourself while trusting you are capable of anything. And she asks the same of herself everyday.

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Ed: Brianna Bemel
Asst Ed: Terri Tremblett

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