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From Perfectionist To Perfect

“Yoga is about progress, not perfection”.

I see this phrase – and others that say essentially the same thing – a lot on social media, and at first glance, I like it. I like it a lot. Finally, someone is telling me that I don’t have to be perfect! I can screw up, and no one will mind! I can fall out of Headstand rather than elegantly lowering myself back down into Child’s pose, and it’s ok. I can wobble in Tree pose, and fart in Happy Baby, and puff rather than glide my way through Surya Namaskar (and, by the way, I don’t even have to use Sanskrit names that I can’t pronounce, let alone remember), and it’s all fine. And as a relatively new yoga teacher, the initial idea of progress not perfection is doubly appealing. It means that next time I lose track of which leg goes forward first, I shouldn’t worry about it. If I forget where we are in that sequence I so carefully prepared, and a class of 40-odd students are sweating in Downward Dog while they wait for me to tell them what to do next, it’s ok. I can laugh it off. I can demonstrate firsthand to my students that even yoga teachers don’t get it right all the time. Everyone messes up occasionally, and it’s all ok.

It felt great, until I realised something…that implicit in that phrase, there was an assumption that it wouldn’t always be this way. I would progress. I would get better. Not only that, but that I would want desperately to get better, and that I would work hard to do so. I would put in the hours on my mat until I became more flexible, stronger, and able to come down out of headstand like the textbooks say you should. I wouldn’t fart in Happy Baby, and my Sun Salutations (or Surya Namaskar, now) would be effortless. And I definitely, definitely wouldn’t forget what comes next in the sequence I teach.

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I realised that, in today’s western (yoga) world, being imperfect is acceptable up to a point. After that – if your progress isn’t fast enough or good enough – yoga becomes just one more thing that you can’t do. Time to give up and try something else that you might have better luck with.

Yet this is almost the exact opposite of what yoga teaches us (or is supposed to teach us), and that is that everything is already perfect. Not perfect for now, or good enough for now, but perfect in the present moment.

We are all already under so much pressure in our lives to be perfect….or at least, if we can’t be perfect, to at least want to be. We are always striving to be better in some way. To have more money, to have a better house, to get a better job that’s higher up the ladder, to be better parents, better siblings, better children, better teachers. To be better people. And in a way, that’s natural and good. Ambition is what gets us out of bed in the mornings. The desire to grow is what keeps us learning and exploring. The desire to nail that headstand is, perhaps, what keeps us coming back to our mats, at least to start with. Without progress in some form or another, millions more of us would still be dying of the flu, and I wouldn’t be typing this now.

But our desire for progress has become all-consuming, and the word “progress” itself cannot be criticized. If something is labelled as “progressive”, then the overriding feeling is that it must be good whether we like it or not. Sometimes, it feels like the worst thing we can do is to “not progress”. We must always be moving on to the next even better thing, and we become very attached to doing so. Then if, for some reason, that progress doesn’t happen, we suffer. We suffer even if it does happen, because it’s never long before a new desire for something even bigger and better and “more progressive” kicks in, and the whole cycle starts over again. We very rarely stop and take a moment to appreciate what we already have, and to appreciate where we already are….and even rarer is the feeling of being satisfied with that.

If we let it, yoga gives us that feeling. It doesn’t mean that we don’t want to improve our asanas, or that we don’t want to grow and learn in our practice. But those precious hours on the mat are our time – perhaps the only time some of us get – to be ourselves, warts and all. Yoga gives us the space and time to be who we are, not who we pretend to be. It gives us the opportunity to discover who that person is. It isn’t the time to push, or to berate ourselves for, yet again, not being good enough or not making fast enough progress. Maybe we will eventually be able to do headstand without crashing down out of it….in fact, if we keep practicing, the likelihood is that we will. Yoga, though, can also show us that it is futile to become attached that hope. Instead of constantly chasing after a new goal, yoga shows us that we have a choice, and we could choose to believe that wherever we are in our practice is perfect. It’s where we are now, in the present moment – and being aware of the present moment and acknowledging it, candidly and truthfully and authentically, is part of what yoga is really about.

Progress? Or perfection? I’m going with perfection…..just not the type of perfection we are so used to thinking about and aiming for. Not a perfectionist style of perfection, but a perfect-in-the-present-moment type of perfection. It’s hard. I haven’t managed it yet, and I don’t know if I ever will. I suspect there will always be a part of me that worries about making mistakes as a teacher, that pushes to be better, stronger, more flexible, and that berates the other part of me for not doing well enough. But I am starting to accept that all I can do is show up, in the moment, as I am. Perfect.

Or, at least, good enough.

 

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Ali is a certified yoga teacher, crystal healer, writer, editor and dreamer at http://kriyashakti.net. When not on the yoga mat, she can usually be found reading, drinking tea, or on a beach (ideally all three). She is currently based in the U.K.

So, You Want To Make A DIFFERENCE??

So, You Want To Make A DIFFERNENCE??

First of all, you are alive; accept it.

The absolute most important thing is to know is yourself.

Love yourself as a creation of supreme existence. Cherish and Love yourself and YOUR LIFE. It is a gift that you chose and are choosing to accept.

Live it.

Let change move you into higher grounds, and allow others to change.

Number two, some suggestions:

Quit smoking FOR THE AIR, let your body benefit.

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Never buy paper towels again FOR THE TREES. Use a towel. Or save and use your napkins that are otherwise getting tossed.

FOR THE OCEAN: Everything you touch that is plastic, THINK about whether you need that thing. Can you live with out it? If so, then you don’t need it!
that includes:
-Your daily starbucks coffee drink (bring your own cup)
-To go salads (make your own)
-The straw from lunch (just let your server know that you don’t use straws when you sit down)
-Plastic containers of detergent (you can buy powdered detergent in a cardboard box), etc, etc.

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Take a shower every other day, or at least take short showers — your body cleans itself naturally. Use essential oils like a victorian princess.

Make your own cleaning and beauty supplies: https://www.diynatural.com

Walk or ride a bike whenever you can — your transit might be the best part of your day and a beautiful way to spend time with yourself.

Eat wisely, you are what you eat. Consider and respect the animal on your plate. Consider and respect the extra box of organic spinach grown hydroponically and transported across three states. Consider and respect the tomatoes from your neighbor, from the hand of an immigrant farm worker, from a can. Consider your organic, processed health bar you bought on sale. Consider eating whole foods and growing your own.

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And how about new clothes? It is not unlikely that you never need to buy another article of clothing ever again, considering you can live naked from the moment you were conceived until your last breath.

The truth is we are not far removed from anything; not from the Great Depression Era that only a few generations ago forced every single individual in the U.S. to conserve and save everything, food, water, clothes, paper, and everything was a commodity, nothing was wasted. Ask your Grandma.

Nor are we removed from the indigenous peoples world wide that live traditionally to this day.

We are not far removed from the hunger, the happiness, the hate, the humanity.

Wether you choose to see it or not, we live with thousands of individuals and families who live on the streets, scraping their lives together;
and maybe in the past that was even you —
maybe it will be you in the future…

You are not separate from the animals.
You are not separate from the grasses, cactus, fruit trees.
You are not separate from the war, from the tsunami.

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Know this and grow with it. Feel it.

Sulking gets us no where. LOVE MOVES.

Let the shadow push you to the light.

Connect with others in GENUINE experiences. You are your greatest judge. Release from your culture and live through your heart.

Your heart is the culture of all beings. Open it. Relax and breathe into it.

I like to imagine the powerful energy field around my heart and visualize it connecting with people, even when I’m in a conversation with someone that I don’t agree with, even when I see or hear politicians that I don’t agree with, with my family members, with hate, with pain, because love is more powerful.

Open your heart to spread the connective energy. The planet needs it now.

The first, the last, the only step to make the REAL difference in the world today, in your friend group, in your family is to OPEN YOUR HEART TO YOURSELF.

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You don’t need to read a book, or take a class, or fight, or even think about a thing; you must look within. This is the absolute most important thing that has ever existed in yours or anybody’s life.

Make a difference and:

“Know Thyself”
–Socrates

 

 

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Abigail Tirabassi: writer, dreamer, believer, artist, ocean lover, finding joy daily.

IG: @scrambby

11 Things You Didn’t Know About the History of Yoga

I’ve spent the last year fine-tuning and teaching a History of Yoga workshop curriculum. It’s meant listening to endless history podcasts, combing through interviews with senior teachers like Judith Hanson Lasater and Richard Rosen, reading arresting new scholarship from academics like Mark Singleton and James Mallinson, and thumbing through primary texts like Light on Yoga and the Bhagavad Gita.

You know that old cliché about how if you really want to learn something, you should teach it? It’s true. I’ll never look at my yoga practice the same way again. And after reading this, you may not, either.

Here are a few unexpected revelations:

1. Yoga history is a total mash-up.

It’s quintessentially postmodern. (That’s a big word that basically means questioning long-standing truth narratives and lifting up identity politics and personal narrative as sources of insight and wisdom. Whew, right?) Postmodernism reminds us to think critically and take every perceived notion of “truth” with a grain of salt. It’s personified by creative artists like animator Sanjay Patel and hip-hop musician MC Yogi, both of whom blend ancient and contemporary Hindu traditions in electric cultural mash-ups of their own.

Postmodernism reminds us that our job as yoga historians is to ask: who preserved yoga history in this particular way? What purpose or agenda did that preservation serve? And whose voices are missing here?

2. Patanjali probably wasn’t just one dude.

That guy most of us know as the granddaddy of yoga philosophy, the scholar-priest who codified the Yoga Sutra for the first time? The one who likely lived sometime in the 2nd or 3rd century? Yeah, no. He very possibly didn’t exist. The compilation of the Yoga Sutra that historians have long attributed to him was likely the work of many priestly men. (But, then again, who really knows for sure?)

3. Yogis weren’t always mainstream.

In fact, as recently as the early 20th century, yogis were often perceived as wild renegades, dangerous rogues, and unruly highwaymen rife with black magic. No reasonable, respectable person wanted to be around them.

Those sadhus who stood on one leg in the middle of a river for two years straight? The same ones who practiced expelling their semen and then recalling it (yes, really)? They’re a world apart from the pastel-clad soccer moms and the lithe former ballet dancers you see now splashed on yoga magazine covers.

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When Swami Vivekananda came to speak at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago — the moment that’s often recognized as the birthplace of yoga in America — he hesitated to speak of any postural (or hatha) yoga, focusing mainly on meditation and pranayama, for fear of alienating Westerners. That’s how unpopular and renegade most yogis were.

Even 40 years ago, many yogis were often still perceived as countercultural hippies. It’s only been within the last two decades or so that they’ve really found their place in bourgeois mainstream America. And now, of course, they’re at the center of a mass cultural phenomenon.

 

4. Asana itself is quite new.

Most of the poses you know so well from class — like Downward Dog or Triangle — are relatively contemporary creations. (As in, maybe a hundred or so years old.) Truth be told, the body didn’t even really get involved in yoga until maybe the 13th or 14th centuries. Prior to that, any asanas were probably seated poses like Ardha Padmasana (Half Lotus) or Virasana (Hero), the kind designed for ease of pranayama and meditation.

Hatha yoga poses developed sometime in the Middle Ages, right around the writing of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, when an explosion of Tantric philosophy finally brought the body into the picture. (And yes, Tantra is about so much more than sex, in spite of notorious stereotypes that’ve arisen over the years.) Even those poses were still fairly simple, though they did much to challenge the sacred/profane binary that had previously denigrated the body as less holy than the spirit. Once Tantra emerged, the body finally became a locus for the sacred; literally, a temple for the divine.

Most of the standing poses we practice now, though? They’ve only been around a few hundred years at most. And many of them are much newer than that.

5. The practice as we know it is a total hybrid.

British military exercises. Scandinavian gymnastics. European curative medicine. Indian nationalist bodybuilding techniques. Freudian and Jungian somaticization of the emotions. Toss in New Age spirituality and a pop cultural emphasis on positive thinking, and you’ve got a diverse practice that spans the globe.

If you’ve ever heard your teacher wax poetic about how early yogis were doing sun salutations on the banks of the Ganges River 5000 years ago, now you know: they’re full of crap. Nobody was doing Surya Namaskara A 5000 years ago.

Whenever I teach sun salutations now, I point out that Mark Singleton and his fellow academics have doggedly uncovered the reality that Surya Namaskara A and B are maybe a hundred years old at best. (Check out Singleton’s book, “Yoga Body: The Origins Of Modern Posture Practice,” for the ultimate in recent scholarship on the history of contemporary asana.)

Mind. Blown.

6. Women are often invisible in yoga history.

And it’s the job of contemporary historians to bring them back into the picture.

Michelle Goldberg’s 2015 biography of Indra Devi, “The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West,” was a crucial first step into reclaiming the feminine side of yoga history. Goldberg is more often known as a writer of politics and religion, so she brings a particularly sharp cultural lens to excavating the “woman factor” here.

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Turns out Devi, née Eugenie Peterson, the Russian-aristocrat-turned-world-traveller, fought to study with Krishnamacharya, only to be turned away because she was a woman. The reason she was finally allowed to stay was that the Maharaj of Mysore stood up for her. Devi was one of Krishnamacharya’s key disciples, right up there with BKS Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, and TKV Desikachar, though she isn’t often included in that nexus of primary teachers responsible for spreading yoga across the West.

Dive into Goldberg’s book for more dishy history, like how Devi opened the first yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947, taught starlets like Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson, and later ended up moving to Mexico and Buenos Aires.

7. Context is everything.

Your understanding of yoga history depends so much on your cultural context, your moment in time, and your teacher’s perspective. When you learn yoga history from me (as a white, cisgendered, upper-middle-class woman in the world), you’ll get a mish-mash of self-consciously postmodern, progressive, queer, countercultural, intersectional perspectives. If you’d studied with premier German yoga historian Georg Feuerstein 30 years ago, you’d have gotten a whole different (incredible) vault of knowledge. Neither is right or wrong. Both are useful. That’s why we need to continue seeking out new teachers and new sources. Always. Don’t get complacent. Curiosity is key.

8. “Yoga is about half-Indian and half-Californian.”

I overheard this tongue-in-cheek quip some time ago on a podcast by Lucas Rockwell, listening to an interview while I did my home practice, and laughed out loud. No truer words have been spoken. One thing we know for sure is that yoga originated in India. That’s undeniable. But, as for the spread of yoga in the West? California has been hugely influential: a fertile soil for New Age thinking, body insecurity (hello, Hollywood), and health fads, all of which exploded across the country thanks to the power of celebrity. You can think of the evolution of yoga in America less as a movement from East to West and more as an ongoing dialogue, a cultural conversation between the two.

9. There is no “one true yoga.”

There are only variations on a theme, ever-evolving.

If old-school yogis from the 4th century walked into your Monday happy hour Power Vinyasa class, they’d have zero idea what the heck you were doing jumping around doing push-ups. They certainly wouldn’t recognize it as yoga. Just as, for most contemporary gym rats, sitting around meditating for hours at a time and living the ascetic, celibate life of a wandering yogi doesn’t sound much like the $16 drop-in class we’d willingly toss on our credit cards.

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So if somebody says their yoga is “right” and yours is “wrong,” or that that Vino & Vinyasa event or your Dog Yoga class or the brewery-hosted Yin workshop isn’t legit, have no fear. Yoga is in constant co-creation. It will continue to evolve. There is no one right way.

10. The history of yoga is a history of scandal.

I know, I know; it seems incongruent, given the fact that yoga, at its heart, is an ethical system for being clear-mindedly in the world, for lending ease and peace to all sentient beings, and for causing as little suffering as possible. But, as with all institutions and systems like the church or the government, when there are patriarchal guru relationships ensconced in sometimes-unhealthy power dynamics, shit happens.

The deeper you dig, the more you realize the history of yoga is rampant with sexual assault, abuse, harassment, and impropriety. A quick rundown of even the last 75 years reveals sordid sexual scandals, substance abuse, frozen pensions, adultery, exploitation, an epidemic of narcissistic gurus, and more.

I hesitated to include those scandals the first few times I taught new teacher trainees. I didn’t want to cast a shadow on the history of a beloved practice. This last time around, though, in light of the current events unfolding in the Presidential election, I realized it was essential to include the shadow side along with the light. The burgeoning teachers and I had a fascinating, sobering conversation about sex, power, ethics, and what it means to be a teacher of integrity. It was immensely rewarding.

You can’t leave this ugly stuff out because it feels uncomfortable. It’s just as much a part of the practice — and its legacy — as any of the good.

 

11. There are so many reasons to be hopeful.

Look at all the incredible spin-offs coming out of the yoga tradition right now. Yoga for veterans! Trauma-informed yoga! Yoga Trade! Political activist organizations like CTZNWELL and Off The Mat, Into The World. Yoga in prisons and senior centers and elementary schools. Decolonizing Yoga. The Yoga and Body Image Coalition. Transgender and queer-informed yoga philosophy. Weekly yoga classes at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco that attract some 700 people of all faiths, living, breathing, stretching together in sacred stillness.

There are great things happening in the name of yoga everywhere you turn. Keep learning. You’re as much a part of it as Patanjali and his priestly cohort. Maybe even moreso.

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Rachel Meyer is a Portland, Oregon-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, On Being, Yoga Journal, Yoga International, Tricycle, HuffPost, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com or @rachelmeyeryoga

A Consolation to the Future

Many moons ago when I was about 14 years old, I was creating a collage in my room out of a (unbeknownst to me) relatively common Japanese print from a series that I had acquired from a garage sale. I had barely finished when my dad came to me and asked if I wanted to go to the Museum of Fine Art (in downtown St. Pete, Florida). It was Sunday funday, and of course I wouldn’t miss a chance to ride downtown and hang with pops. Well, upon entering the museum I noticed a girl wearing the same shorts as me (unusual and dorky pastel plaid hand-me-downs) and then being drawn to the nearest gallery room I immediately noticed on the wall, framed, and maybe even a part of the permanent collection there, a collage made from the exact same Japanese print that I had been cutting up in my room.

And I thought to myself, “Huh…huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh…”

Coincidences. We can only stop to wonder the complexities and intricacies of telepathic and psychic connections. From knowing who’s on the other end of the line before you answer a phone call, to encountering an object or picture during the the day that you recall encountering in your dream the night before. Even if you don’t believe in it, coincidences happen to everyone at one point or another. It’s as if we are surrounded by the invisible coincidences but only sometimes notice. Like how sometimes we know when and where we’ll see our loved ones. Or even when one has passed.

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The “concept” of interconnectivity has recently been a major topic of discussion in technology and yet has been a reality since the beginning of time. One could argue (me being one, among countless Indigenous peoples, groups and beliefs; Tibetan monks; even the Bible talks about it) that in ancient times, and those who contemporarily practice the age old techniques have, can, and do psychically connect to people, places, animals, and things. Just like the internet.

With the advent of the internet we take for granted that this “concrete” and “real” mechanism is actually the manifestation of the desire that humans have had throughout the millennia; which is to be connected.

And now it is taking us to bewildering places. Take for example artificial intelligence (A.I.): We only thought about these ideas of robots preforming surgeries as kids and now those thoughts are becoming a reality.

And we don’t even know how it works!

It is so perplexing that even the scientist and engineers who created the actual robots have absolutely no idea how in a split second A.I. can pull information from areas of the internet that no one even knew existed before. Or from up to date articles published in the exact same moment on the other side of the planet. Facial recognition, diagnosing disease, building other robots. The concerns and excitements stretch for miles across one’s imagination.

And to add to the overflowing mixed bag of emotionally loaded technological frontiers in our increasingly smaller and more intelligent world, is another childhood fantasy: traveling to Mars. Except now it’s not just for fun. It’s for survival.

We might never know the capabilities and extent of our own technology. It might expand just as our universe is doing constantly and into infinitum.

If you are like me and are felling overwhelmed and overloaded with all the happenings of the world and all the hate filled headlines in the news, there’s the catch to it all. The end of strife and worry for the concerned individual:

Aliens. That’s right; ALIENS. You don’t think there are aliens among us? You are correct in the literal sense; they don’t walk, they float. All around us, reproducing and communicating right before our very eyes. In fact, I ate them for lunch yesterday and love them on my pizza. They are invisible and are known on every continent, in every ecological zone on this planet, and most likely on other planets too since they are known to be able to survive in outer space. You know what i’m talking about!

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Mushrooms.

Mycology is the study of mushrooms, considered “the hidden kingdom” for not only their mysterious ways, but also the fact that what we see as little mushrooms, fun to eat and pick and look at, are actually apart of a huge network of underground mycelia (vegetative web-like branching hyphae). Like veins, mycelia connect across large areas underground (a few square miles and larger in a lot of instances), and surface as the many varieties we encounter. From portobellos to the psychotropic psilocybe cubensis (magic mushrooms) to aminita muscara (Super Mario brothers-looking poisonous red with white spots) to mold. They are everywhere. At one point we thought they couldn’t grow in Antarctica only to be stumped by the few species that appeared practically overnight in a research outpost. There are even species that eat plastic!

Mushrooms and mycelia are the connectors of life. They help things decay and most likely help everything to live! They are the actual telephone lines between trees and forests. Not a plant, and not quite an animal; they are alive, they are magic, they can survive in outer space, they are the bridge between plant and animal, life and death. They will be here long after we’re gone, cleaning up our mess that we didn’t have time to before we leave to Mars…

As exemplified by our co-inhabiters on this planet, life is complicated in this increasingly speedy world. Directing our attention inward is almost the last thing we want to do. In fact to some of the younger generations, we practically can’t. In lieu of peaceful meditative expanses of time spent in a park and in nature, we must hurry to the next event. In place of restful sleep, we’re barraged with stressors throughout the day that inhibit our relaxation. So much so that a solution among many, has been going away to “grounding camp” — actually attending an organized group where you and other humans who need the space to tune in do so by unplugging and doing things in real time, with your hands and feet and your mind, away from the screen. And these thing are helpful! In creating a beautiful world we must be that beautiful world. We must emit positivity, and the way to do so is by creating positivity inside of each and every single one of us.

Scary, exciting, daunting, confusing. Take a moment to understand the connectivity. Though this lifetime, if you are reading this, although you might not be lucky enough to be a mushroom, we can all turn to mushrooms as prime examples of connectivity, showing us the ropes of peacefully and joyfully existing among our neighbors as different as they may seem. Popping up when we’re needed and receding when our job is done. Appearing as an individual and yet sharing life and energy in an invisible network. With everything. All together. As one.

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I encourage everyone to read and learn more about the intensely interesting and connective hope that mushrooms bring to this planet, and also to consider this: Every single thought you have is connected to every single thing that we know of and more; micro or macro; visible or not. Your thoughts become your reality, hence A.I. and traveling to mars. So in your world, what would you like to see happen? Senseless killing, zombies, aggression? Or restoring harmony with all the visitors on this planet? Protecting environments, diversity of plants and animals, providing nourishment to the creatures that nourish us? Clean water, clear mind, creative future? Visualizing peace means actually visualizing (and making collages!), because we’re secretly and invisibly connected to everything.

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YOUR TURN…

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
-Alan W. Watts (1915-1973)

 

 

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Abigail Tirabassi: writer, dreamer, believer, artist, ocean lover, finding joy daily.

IG: @scrambby

What To Do When You’re Teaching In 15 Minutes & You’ve Got Nothing To Give

Teachers, does this sound familiar?

You’re drained, running on empty, burning the candle at both ends. You’ve taught 12 classes already this week, and with four to go, you wonder what you have left to give anyone.

You haven’t gotten much sleep. You’ve not eaten all day and you’re super low-blood-sugar. Or maybe you’re just feeling kind of quiet and blue; your dog just went in for surgery to remove a lump, or your grandmother is ailing, or you just found out you didn’t get that job (or that date) you really, really wanted.

Whatever the case — your gas tank is empty, and you’re feeling decidedly short on the kind of chutzpah required to power through being an inspiring yoga-guru for the next 90 minutes. How are you supposed to emcee a dance party when you’d rather curl up under the covers and hibernate?

I’ve been mentoring a few [awesome] teachers lately as they study for their 500hr certifications, and this is one of the topics that has repeatedly come up. Most of us wellness professionals can relate to this, yeah? If you teach long enough, you’ll surely experience burnout at some point. It’s the nature of the biz. (And the nature of being human, to be honest.)

For newer teachers especially, who are often hustling from location to location teaching 10-15 classes a week, it’s not an option to cut back to a more reasonable number. Add in urbanity, commuting, and a high cost of living, and you need to keep teaching a robust regular schedule to afford to pay your rent and eat a decent meal now and then, too. The luxury of cutting back to just a few inspired classes a week is one that’s often only available to established teachers with large followings, or folks with another full-time job that takes the financial pressure off yoga teaching.

Wellness professionals — whether yoga teachers, Pilates teachers, massage therapists, acupuncturists, you name it — well, we give a lot. The very nature of our craft is that you put yourself out there, physically AND emotionally. You can’t just hide in a cubicle with your headphones on and fritter the workday away online waiting for the clock to hit 5pm so you can escape to your sofa. You need to show up, in every way — whether you’re feeling en fuego or exhausted.

The upside for those of us who really love teaching is that so much comes back to us, too. How lucky are we to do the kind of work that makes us feel MORE alive when we finish? Many times over the years I’ve walked into a class feeling kind of neutral (shall we say sattvic, or quietly balanced, to keep it Ayurvedic?), and walked out feeling buzzingly-alive, connected, inspired. How cool is it that we get to do that kind of work? It really is a blessing.

Here are a few things to remember on the days when you might struggle for inspiration:

1. Take a deep breath.

Are you breathing? Chances are, probably not. Take a few good deep ones. You’re gonna be fine.

2. Eat a little snack.

Seems silly, I know. But check in. Have you eaten enough today? Grab an apple or a Lara Bar or a handful of almonds or, yes, even a Snickers. (And enjoy the hell outta that Snickers.) It might just give you the oomph you need.

3. Grab a chai or a cup of coffee.

Sure, there’s caffeine in there, which can provide a little motivational kick in the pants when you need it. But it’s more than that. It’s the concomitant ritual of self-care that goes a little deeper. Sit down quietly with the chai and notice, “Oh hey, I feel quiet and/or flat today,” and give yourself the space to be just that. (This is meditation, yo. Witnessing the feelings you’re feeling without thinking they’re YOU. Realizing they will always pass.) Taking just those few minutes of focusing, of slowing down, can make all the difference. Sometimes just pushing pause on the constant multi-tasking hustle can re-energize you.

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4. Realize that it’s not YOU doing the work.

It’s easy to get caught up in the illusion that you’re putting on a show, that you’ve gotta come up with some brilliant original material and hold people’s attention for a good 90 minutes. False. Let that shiz go. This is not your rodeo. You’re just being a vessel for spirit. You’re offering your hands, your body as a vehicle for the divine. And your job is to show up, get out of the way, and let the yoga move through you.

 

5. “Knees down, Hips back, Child’s Pose.”

Keep it simple, sweetheart. Stick to the basics. No need to blast ‘em with some ninja-complicated sequence. No need to reinvent the wheel. The simplest yoga poses can go so far. When I was first starting to teach and feeling the pressure to impress, an early mentor of mine told me, “Rachel, it’s easy. Knees down, hips back, Child’s Pose.” Done. I think of that sometimes even still.

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6. Remember: you don’t have to be a charismatic preacher.

That’s not your job. And teaching yoga is not a performance. Nobody’s paying $15 to jump around and entertain them for an hour. The students you are blessed to serve just want someone to help them get out of their heads and into their bodies. They want to stop thinking about their lives for an hour. They want you to tell them how to move so that their bodies and minds feel better when they walk out the door. It’s not about you, and it was never about you. So let go of the idea that you need to put on a Super Bowl half-time show complete with pyrotechnics and rainbows shooting out your butt. All you need to do is lead a solid, strong practice.

7. Take it one pose at a time.

I remember teaching during the very early days of my pregnancy, before anyone yet knew. I was feeling so nauseous and weak, but couldn’t tell anyone. A few minutes into some of those first trimester classes, I’d think to myself, “Ohmygosh, how am I going to make it 87 more minutes?” Rather than getting caught up in the enormity of the energy output you need to garner, come back to this moment. Come back to this very breath. Instruct the low lunge you’re holding folks in for the next five breaths. Make it to the other side. Take it step-by-step, pose-by-pose, without looking ahead to the scope of the class remaining. You’ll be ultra-present and deeply involved, and it will flow by smoothly before you even realize it’s over.

8. Don’t put on a perky mask. Let yourself be real.

I’ve long said: Yoga doesn’t mean you have to be perky all the time. Yoga means you get to be REAL.

Some of my favorite teachers are exactly that because they allow themselves to be who they are. They don’t try to fit some archetypal image of who they think a yoga teacher “should” be. Perhaps the most intimate and most inspiring thing you can do is to let yourself be real, too. If you’re feeling quiet, let yourself be quiet. If you’re feeling vibrant, by all means, radiate, baby. But don’t feel like you need to put on a charade when you walk in the door. People want a teacher who’s human, not a machine.

Virginia Woolf said it best: “No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.”

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9. Let go of the need for a theme.

Some schools of yoga encourage you to always teach around a theme, a heartfelt quote, a peak pose. I say: screw that. You don’t need to come wielding Hafiz. Leave the hastily-scribbled Rumi instagram quote in your purse. Don’t stay up all night devising the most pretzel-y sequence that ever was.

Provide a well-rounded practice with equal parts warm-ups, standing poses, seated poses, backbends, and forward folds, and you’ll be fine. Sometimes the nugget of wisdom you were searching for comes up when you least expect it, when you’re there three breaths into Camel Pose. Let it.

10. Trust in the inherent wisdom of the practice.

Everything students need is already there in the practice. You are just driving the bus. The school bus has it all, already. In fact, it’s tricked out, man.

The first yoga sutra, Atha Yoga Anusasanam, means exactly this. You chant that simple sutra to open the class and in so doing say: “Ok, I’ve got everything I need, already, right here, as I am. In this jiggly body. With these tight hamstrings. With this bum shoulder. And this racing mind. Now is the time for the yoga to begin.”

That’s what’s so awesomely radical about yoga, of course. You don’t NEED expensive shoes. You don’t NEED a climbing wall. And, in spite of what the ads tell you, you don’t NEED the $108 pants. All you need is your breath, a little space, and your bare feet. From there, you build the heat, you open it up, you slow it down, you wring it out.

Leading the practice is the same way. Even if you come into the room and just start counting the breaths, instructing the poses, folks will get exactly what they need. They don’t require you to balance spinning plates and juggle elephants while wearing sequins. And sometimes…

11. Silence says more than you ever could.

When in doubt, hand it over to silence. Let the stillness fill students’ hearts and minds. Don’t resort to anxious chattering to try to fill it up. How does that classic saying go? “Don’t speak unless you can improve upon the silence.” Yup. That’ll do.

 

 

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Rachel Meyer is a Portland, Oregon-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, On Being, Yoga Journal, Yoga International, Tricycle, HuffPost, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com.

This is Not a Test

This is not a TEST!

From a peaceful slumber you awake – slowly the precious darkness of sleep rolls out of your body into the warmth of the daylight that softly melts your eyes open…

And then all of a sudden, your peace is broken and you pop up.

Completely forgetting where you are and ripped away from your relaxed form:

“Where am I??”

“Oh yeah…” and slowly you recall…the midnight taxi to your hotel from the train or bus or flight and …the cute clerk at the check in giving a key to the unconscious and drained version of you after an entire day of traveling.

Or

“Where am I?”

“Oh yeah…” it’s 6:37am in a random city or in your home town and no, you are not going to sleep-in and read a magazine in your underwear; no, you are not in Tahiti, you have got to get some coffee and a meal inside of you before you are very late to work.

And as the day goes on of course your unconscious self is reevaluating your previous day that came to you in the form of last night’s dream that you just can’t seem to shake throughout today. And your unconscious self is comparing the moment of this situation at hand to the many other moments where your presence is compromised.

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Your unconscious self wants to sabotage your moments and remind you of the speech you botched in college while you are standing in front of your best friends families and all your friends at her wedding.

Your unconscious self delves into the darkest closest of your past relationships, wanting to show you how you are.

But you are not the past! And this is not a Test.

None of it is. The whole get up – the whole shebang;

We are a part of the evolution.

This is REAL. Not a test.

The most random position, situation or cluster of things or events are a tessellation of sensations, sentiments, stories, woven into your existence.

Water droplets cascade like a flock of birds.

A desert sand storm whips a kaleidoscope of dirt into your eyes and ears and face; you are alive.

Your sensations are alone, separated like petals of a flower, fronds of a palm, needles of a pine; all collected at a point. And that is the point. Small attributes of the whole, that without is naked. Yet that point of contact is the connection needed for existence; a hibiscus proudly shines her petals for all to see, and we thank her for showing us her beauty. True sensations and thoughts are opened when we tap into our true nature.

 

“Being spiritual has nothing to do with what you believe and everything to do with your state of consciousness.” Eckert Tolle

 

Your feelings construct a pattern that is decipherable by unlocking your true self. The feeling is for feeling, the emotions are for leaving.

Allowing yourself to adjust to a new place is something easily overlooked. In regards to working in a new place your responsibility to your happiness in your new space is vital to your overall performance and well being.

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Your true assignment, however, whether you are a transient yoga teacher, or a stay at home dad, or homeless living in a car, is to be you. This is what you are here to be. There is no one else to be! In this life we are forever in the state of learning — feel the learning, not the yearning. Taste the air you breathe and let it become you. Have the experiences, they are a part of you but they are not you.

When you experience the embarrassment of being late, or saying something silly, take a moment to recognize the fault and move on — apologize if you need to but do not dwell on your short comings! To recognize them takes the short away! You are there with it, your presence is necessary to feel the difference, feel the lesson and be a person that has gained from your lessons. You are not getting graded by anyone, but look at yourself with your own eyes — you get to be your own guide and you can relax, and forgive, and learn, and BE with yourself.

So in the moments of confusion and delusion: no, you are no longer on vacation; no, you can no longer pretend that everything is ok when you don’t feel ok… Get in touch with your higher self: Be present in your moment because it’s real. You need you to be real. We all need you to be real. So be brave and be real.

Waking up in a blunder doesn’t mean you’re off track — no no no it’s a blessing! It’s fun, but I would suggest to not let it bite you in the butt when you wake up somewhere that you’re disappointed about instead of beaming with excitement, because when you are aligned with yourself you won’t wake up estranged from who you are.

And the key?

Presence. All day, all moments, in all decision making, in quiet time. Body presence, mind presence, friend presence. You are not your past, you are not your future, you are not your thoughts that manipulate your movements; no, you are forever the present moment, and yes, you have every right in the world to be completely present and enjoy it.

So in your new home, your new job, in Thailand, in Chile, with strangers or when you are with your family, when you’re daydreaming of home, or a past lover, be real by being present.

Namaste.

 

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Abigail Tirabassi: writer, dreamer, believer, artist, ocean lover, finding joy daily.

IG: @scrambby

To Stay or To Go

To stay or to go.

 

The travelers dilemma.

 

The two best things I own right now are my single fin surfboard and a half of croissant that I’m saving for lunch. I’m in a dream — I’m so excited about both. So excited in fact, that I changed my ticket back to the states to indulge. Only by a week. I am a gringa, American woman, living a fulfilling life in Costa Rica but also maintaining a job in California. I also live a fulfilling life in Florida. And life is really, really good. I’m connected to all these places for various reasons, all within the realm of my adulthood, my dreams, my capabilities. Granted, one always knows that one can do more: stay put somewhere, have a farm, make a family, start a new career…but is that me talking?

 

The inherent fact of a traveling life is movement, this is just as much a fact for sedentary life. With a traveling life there is so much newness on a daily basis that in comparison to a sedentary life, it seems like there’s more newness, more magic, more to explore. But in reality it’s equal. Thoughts are movement, thoughts provoke emotion which is movement, thoughts provoke emotions which provoke thoughts which provoke movement, desire, escape, expansion, change. This all happens when you sit, too, but in traveling mode we are physically pushing the limits, pushing the mold, knowing that movement equals safety, safety from thought provoking movement in stillness…

 

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As travelers we know that there is always that pull to “get back to reality” get back to where we came from, our jobs, our families, only wishing that we could afford to stay longer, maybe even live the life of traveling as an occupation but nah, that’s so difficult and I need more money to do that…I need permission. So this pull is always with us, this pull is egocentric, this pull is greedy, this pull is society’s voice implanted inside of our heads saying no, sorry, you are a different person. But are you? Are you the person that wants to stay a little longer, do something spontaneous, make “wild” decisions?

 

One day about a year and a half ago, here in Costa Rica, a local friend comes up to me and my girlfriend saying that there is a sea lion on the beach — we were in relative disbelief, how could there possibly be a sea lion here so close to the equator? Where did he or she come from? Is the animal sick? Caught in a storm? We went running down the beach to see the leo marina. When we got to the spot the creature had since disappeared, but in no way did I think the sea lion was imagined. My girlfriend began to tell me about an evolutionary theory that she had read about: where in animal communities it has been noted that there is a tendency for a member of the community to stray away, to go outside of the limits of what is considered normal — and that the actions of this individual is quite possibly the first steps that a species takes as a whole in evolving.

 

The radical individual paves the way for the change, as in how a cell within one’s body eventually multiplies and creates more cells. Maybe sometimes it doesn’t stick, maybe sometimes is takes a few generations, but in general the idea is change from the individual.

 

How inspiring!

 

And yet so alone this sea lion must be…

 

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As time has gone on many people in the area have seen the sea lion, I’ve seen a video taken of it, barking at the videographer and jumping off of rocks into the plentiful ocean. I even think there was a little article written about it in a newspaper. This creature is surviving in an previously unknown land, sustaining and yet completely removed from it’s former community.

 

Does the sea lion want to go back? Can the sea lion go back? Does the sea lion go back, maybe traveling a current and living seasonally?

 

Do You want to go back? Can You go back?

 

In traveling, the world expands. One is put in situations that practically forces absorption, soaking in sights, sounds, cultures, friendships, and through the many journeys you change and become apart of the events as they are apart of you. You survive your surroundings, you are living the travel, and then home is now something different. You see where you came from with different eyes, you realize places are places and things are things. Home is a place as anywhere else is, and things are things as anything is a thing. Time becomes a farce and we recognize the holiness of what is real for each and every one of us.

 

And reality changes. It is not the needs, the musts, the responsibilities; reality is what is.

 

I’ve changed my ticket twice since I’ve been here in Costa Rica for the past month. Deliberation, checking surf reports, talking to friends about work in the states, talking to work about dates … All the while thinking that I need money to be righteous, though knowing I find righteousness in my decisions. So I’ve settled on a date to encompass the next swell and even get to work on a project for a few days at my friends farm within the work time frame that I was told. Well come to find out the swell is late by a few days and the work is early by a few days, so I’m basically missing both! And thus the inspiration for writing this.

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I catch myself jumping quite a bit and as a result I revel in this genuine journey that is completely unique to me. And I love it. I’m not going to change my ticket again. I’m at peace with my decision. Oh the trails and hiccups and cruelty and misjudging! And home! Home is forever calling me back to California, calling me to Florida and then calling me right back to Costa Rica. And through all my evolving I realize there is one true home and it is inside me, wherever I am, making my journeys, experiencing and riding the current. Like the sea lion, living without judging, surviving the moment, finding genuineness in my decision making, finding home within the moment.

 

“Home is where the heart is”. That’s just awesome cause my heart is right here! Right inside of me! Pumping blood and involuntarily allowing me to BE the experience the we call life.

 

Namaste.

 

 

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Abby Tirabassi: born on the gulf coast of Florida, shovel bum in California, surfing in Costa Rica, finding joy daily.

 

IG: @scrambby

 

Featured photos: Megan Kathleen Photography

 

The Word “Namaste” is Overexposed. Played Out. But Here’s Why We Need It.

The word “Namaste” is pretty played out these days, isn’t it?

You can find it everywhere: on yoga mats, on bumper stickers, on water bottles. You can buy a “Namaste In Bed” t-shirt on Amazon. You can pick up Namaste bracelets and handbags and trucker hats on Etsy. You can dig into Namaste-brand gluten-free pizza crust and chicken noodle soup. You can walk into Namaste-branded pilates studios and wellness centers.

(Not to mention the hilarious yoga-world-skewering web series Namaste, Bitches.)

The word itself has taken on a certain cultural significance. It’s become a brand, recognizable even to someone who’s never stepped foot on a yoga mat.

Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche called this phenomenon spiritual materialism. Spiritual materialism occurs when a spiritual concept or practice is turned into a product for the purpose of making money. It’s rooted in the idea that you can buy and sell spiritual qualities like peace, grace, or transcendence.

Namastizzle, baby.

There’s no going back now.

*

I’m having a hard time writing about yoga lately.

There’s such a cruel juxtaposition of things going on in the world.

It’s summer yoga festival season. My FB feed is packed with photos of half-naked tan bendy people decorated with henna tattoos and patterned leggings doing yoga poses on mountains everywhere I look. And they are having so much FUN and sweating and chanting and living and doing their thang, you know? And I’ve been there and done that myself, and oh man yes, is it so fun. Right on, people! Namaste! Jai Ma!

But those yogis-gone-wild posts are bookended with videos of awful shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis and Dallas and heartbreaking massacres on the French Riviera and hand-wringing from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where fiery speakers are calling for gun rights and white supremacists are offering prayers.

How are we supposed to even reconcile the two?

It feels crass, doesn’t it? To share happy-pretty-shiny yoga pictures on Instagram when the world feels like it is, quite literally, devolving into chaos?

I’ve only got one word.

Namaste.

*

When we put our palms together in Anjali mudra and bow at the end of class, we’re saying: the spark of divinity in me acknowledges the spark of divinity in you.

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We’re saying: I see the God in you. And in so doing, I’m reminded of the God in me, too.

Some people get freaked out by this. I see it from my seat up front. The awkwardness. The twitching. The just-wanting-for-it-to-be-over so they can roll up their mats and get out of there. There’s something pseudo-spiritual about it that rubs a lot of people the wrong way.

(Here’s a hilarious confession from one such person, found in Laurie Penny’s scathing and whip-smart recent essay, “Life Hacks of the Poor and Aimless:”

“I confess to you that I’ve been doing yoga for two years and it’s changed my life to an extent that I almost resent. I have trained myself, through dedicated practice on and off the mat, to find enough inner strength not to burst out laughing when the instructor ends the class by declaring ‘let the light in me honor the light in you.’ The instructor is a very nice person who smiles all the time like a drunk kindergarten teacher and could probably kill me with her abs alone, so I have refrained from informing her that the light in me is sometimes a government building on fire.”

One of my early Bikram teachers used to close class by sarcastically saying “May the Force be with you.” It got the point across. I’ve known colleagues to say this at the end of class instead:

“I honor the place in you where the entire universe dwells. I honor the place in you that is of light, love, truth, peace and wisdom. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, We Are One.”

Works for me. Same idea, right?

My teacher Rusty used to remind us that “no one has more God than anyone else.” I felt jumpy about that word for a long time, you know, remembering that for lots of folks, “God” hasn’t always been a friendly force. “God” has often been an old white bearded dude who supposedly hates gays and oppresses women and denounces sex.

Meh. Not for me. Not for many of us.

So you use other words. Try “life force” or “prana” or “soul” or “being,” for starters.

*

Bhakti yoga and meditation teacher Ram Dass describes namaste this way:

Treat everyone you meet like God in drag.

Whoa.

Can you imagine? Every interaction would be transformed — from your daily encounter with the Starbucks barista, to the toll booth guy, to the parking ticket lady, to your neighbor with the Confederate flag in his yard.

What goodness could come about?

Let’s take it further. What if, gulp, Donald Trump is God in drag? (Hint: he is.) What if Hillary Clinton is God in drag, too? (Hint: she is.) What if Mike Pence and Bernie Sanders and Stephen Colbert and Roger Ailes and Megyn Kelly and Kanye West and Kim Kardashian (yes, Kim, too) are all God in drag?

(Spoiler: they are.)

How would that change the way you move through the world?

It’s so easy to villainize one another right now, especially in the heat of this topsy-turvy election year. So easy to demonize, to dehumanize, to forget that every single one of those controversial figures is a unique child of God, a spark of divinity, a bodhisattva — yes, Donald Trump, along with Hillary Clinton and you and your mom and your 8th grade algebra teacher.

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If we can manage to see this light of divinity in one another, it’s a whole lot easier to be kind. Realizing that Donald and Hillary and Kim and Kanye are people who age, and ache, and heal, and wonder about their life’s purpose; realizing that they are someone’s beloved, someone’s child, someone’s parent, someone’s whole world, just as you are someone’s beloved, someone’s child, someone’s parent, someone’s whole world.

We have to be gentle. We can get furious, yes, and passionate, yes, and fired-up and righteously angry and impatient to call out injustice — and we SHOULD. But we need to lend a certain tenderness to that anger, too; an implicit remembering that underneath all the political brou-ha-ha is someone who wakes up in the middle of the night and scratches his butt and walks to the bathroom for a drink of water and lies down again in a body that’s older and creakier and more tired and more wrinkled than it was the year before.

And man, it’s hard. Sometimes, it feels damn near impossible.

But namaste reminds us, challenges us, to see every life as equally worthwhile, equally a manifestation of goodness and potential and divinity — especially those that have been historically and systematically devalued. To see every body: black, brown, white, old, young, queer, disabled, dressed in rags or dressed in couture, as equally valuable, worthy of care, alight with the spark of divinity.

Alton Sterling had that spark. Philando Castile had it. Trayvon Martin had it. Oscar Grant had it. The police officers killed in Dallas and Baton Rouge had it. The families on the boardwalk in Nice had it.

I’ve heard a lot of folks say they’re done with politics for now; they’re disenchanted, and they don’t want to see anything else. They just wanna do yoga and fill their FB feeds with puppies and cat videos and pictures of food.

But that doesn’t feel right to me. This stuff is real. It’s way more real than some kitten riding around in a shark costume on a Roomba. It’s way more real than Pokemon Go. It’s real to your kids and their future and the future of this planet. It’s not just a bunch of political hot air. It has ramifications, enormous personal and socio-political and global ramifications, and to shut that dialogue out is to bury our heads in the sand.

Suffering is universal. Aging is universal. Buddhism’s First Noble Truth reminds us of this.

I don’t believe that anyone is inherently evil. I do believe that in the course of being in a human body people suffer, and that damaged people, hurt people.

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But they’re God, too. Infuriating avatars. God dressed up to challenge our every assumption and piss us off and offer us opportunities to stay open-hearted and gentle and kind. And we can still hold them accountable for their less-than-life-giving behavior while acknowledging their humanity. When those avatars act in a way that does not lift up every being’s wholeness, that threatens the well-being of large groups of people based on their race or their income or their religion, it’s up to us to call them out.

This, too, is namaste.

Namaste serves as a non-denominational challenge to not get lazy or complacent; to realize that we can’t just myopically contain our practice to the mat. We can’t be content with just stretching and breathing and preaching that the peace of the microcosm will benefit that of the macrocosm. We can’t just look to the privilege of our own self-care and say, ok, it’s all well and good to do this, so I don’t need to march or protest or write or sing or tweet.

We have to take that namaste one step further.

Activist and yogi Kerri Kelly spoke this truth beautifully in her recent TEDx talk. She called out the problem of “the privilege of well-being,” arguing cogently that we yogis are mandated to step out of our green-juiced, acupunctured bubbles and show up off the mat as well as on, rejecting “a storyline sponsored by a system that profits from our sickness.”

Kelly describes the ways in which she’s grappled with her own privilege of well-being over the years, realizing that “no one can be well unless everyone is well; we are in this together.” She learned to follow her own pain into a process of transformation, collective action, and reconciliation, and now calls on us all to “discover that we are not alone in our heartbreak and we are not alone in our hope.”

Though the system may be broken, though there remain deep structural inequalities and wretched institutionalized suffering, we are called to come together to revolutionize that system, to acknowledge the wholeness in each being, to call out the injustice that blinds us to one another’s divinity, and to bow to one another across the barricades.

Namaste.

 

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Rachel Meyer is a Portland, Oregon-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in Yoga Journal, The Washington Post, On Being, HuffPost, Yoga International, RecoveringYogi, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com.

Svadhyaya: Understand Yourself, Understand Your World

“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”  – Zen proverb

This quote is one that I often refer to. It’s one that I come back to again and again when I feel like I am too busy, too tired, too caught up in life to put aside those twenty minutes per day on my meditation cushion. But it also came to mind quite forcefully the other day, when I was encouraging a friend to at least consider the idea that regular yoga classes might be good for him and his bad back. With a laugh, he replied, “I don’t have time for navel gazing.”

Since when has taking care of ourselves, and getting to know ourselves, become “navel gazing?”

And, come to that, since when has “navel gazing” been such a bad thing?

In our Western culture, we’re taught to constantly look outside of ourselves for fulfillment, happiness, success. We are conditioned to believe that material things will bring us happiness, that money is one of the most important measures of success, and that other people – our friends, families, lovers – will fulfill us.

We forget our own responsibility to ourselves.

Taking time to know and care for ourselves – rather than our jobs, our bank balances and all the other people in our lives – is too often seen as selfish, indulgent, even immature. And yet how can we expect to be able to relate to the world around us, if we don’t know ourselves? How can we expect others to understand us and know how to treat us, if we don’t understand ourselves and treat ourselves well? How can we expect our bodies to keep functioning properly if we don’t take care of them?

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I’ve recently returned to the UK from two months at an ashram in the Bahamas, where I was participating in a Karma Yoga program. It was possibly the ultimate exercise in navel gazing. For sixty days, I meditated, practiced asanas, participated in twice-daily satsangs, journaled, and read. I served too, of course, and taught yoga classes. But along the way, the primary lesson was that yoga is the ultimate tool to learn about that elusive person called “me”.

When we first come to the mat, we are drawn into the wonderful world of our own bodies. We feel muscles that we never knew existed. We twist and bend and stretch in ways that we never thought were possible and, gradually, we develop a deep respect (and perhaps even love?) for the body that carries us and serves us and makes our life on this Earth possible. We breathe more deeply, we feel more energy and, in a wonderful circle, we start to feel that sense of being physically alive which brings us back to the mat for more.

Becoming more aware of our bodies naturally leads us into becoming more aware of our minds. If we stick with the practice for long enough, sooner or later we start to really feel our emotions. We cry in Savasana, and we don’t know why. Stretching out the hips in Pigeon Pose brings up all sorts of memories and feelings that we thought were dead and buried. We feel more conscious of when we are angry, sad, joyful, content and we want to learn more. We want to understand what it is that brings us to those places, so that we can either avoid the triggers or cultivate them and, as our understanding of ourselves increases, so does our understanding of those around us. Perhaps we become more compassionate, more kind, more open, more understanding. We recognize that we get angry when someone cuts in front in line, and so we get it when other people do the same. We’re able to recognize when we’re being unfair, or judgmental, or hypocritical, and we’re able to call ourselves on it – and we’re able to point it out to others too. And in this process of learning about ourselves – the process of Svadhyaya, or self-study, that is one of the observances of yoga – our way of dealing with the world and all its turmoil changes.

It’s not easy. But when we understand, care for, and love ourselves, we open the door not only for other people to be able to truly love us in return, but for us to truly love, care for and respect our world and other people. And that – rather than being selfish, immature, or indulgent – is one of the most selfless, courageous, and vital things we will ever do.

So go ahead and navel gaze, for twenty minutes a day. And if you feel like you don’t have time, do it for an hour. It will change your world.

 

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Ali Shevlin is a yoga instructor, freelance proofreader / editor, writer and traveller. She runs Natural Energy Yoga in North East England and, when not on the mat, can usually be found reading, writing, or planning the next adventure.

You Know You’re Ready When…

“S.H.R.I.I…S.H.R.I.I…A.N.A.N.D.A……
Shrii Shrii Ananda …….M.U….”

“Murti?” I asked.

I almost couldn’t believe it, when I heard the well spoken man from Guatemala City, spell out the name of my Guru to the internet cafe helper, who was helping him type his login password. He was as equally surprised to find that I, a fresh young traveling yogini from Texas, was able to finish his thought, and the name of his most sacred and beloved teacher.

At that point, I had only heard my Guru’s name spoken a handful of times, as I was very new to the tantric lineage of Ananda Marga, and still in the process of being introduced to the teacher and philosophical teachings.

Before Ananda Marga, my experiences of yoga were primarily asana based, within public studios. However, within the four and a half months leading me up to my big Central American adventure (my first solo international travel experience abroad), I had attended two intensive retreats, that were based on living life through selfless service and devotional approaches to yoga. During these intensives, I learned about the 8 branches within the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and had gained several tools and insights into the preparation and practices of meditation. My favorite tool to help focus the mind before meditation is the use of a mantra (a collection of syllables to free and focus the mind), and kiirtan, which is the singing of mantra.

After a long chat at the internet cafe, I came to find out that my new Guatemalan friend, had been a part of Ananda Marga since the 1970s, and had even met the founder, Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, before his passing.

He ran a yoga based hotel in San Marcos on Lake Atitlan, and invited me over for kiirtan, meditation, and dinner. After completing our devotional practices and meal, I was invited to teach about the 8 branches of ashtanga yoga to the other guests and volunteers of the resort, and to lead them through the practices of kiirtan and meditation. Immediately my self doubt began to set in, and I quickly searched for any excuse I could come up with to redirect the conversation away from my invitation to teach.

There were numerous yoga classes, being taught daily in San Marcos by experienced and certified instructors, and I was just a young, fresh, twenty two year old gypsy, who was still in the process of learning about different ideas and approaches to yoga. I tried to come up with excuses as to why I couldn’t lead a kiirtan and meditation group at his hotel, but I had already revealed to him my desire to one day become a yoga teacher, and he wasn’t about to let me escape this opportunity so easily.

It was then that he gave me one of the greatest teachings of my career. A lesson that I still pass on to all of my students in training to become yoga teachers.

“Trust that you’re ready to teach, as soon as the universe asks for your teachings.”

My new friend helped me to build confidence in knowing that I had everything I needed within that moment, to answer the call of the universe, and step into my new role as a bhakti yoga teacher.

I didn’t think that many people would show up for a class on devotional yoga philosophy and meditation, but it turned out that no other instructor on the lake was currently offering yoga classes that went beyond asana during that time, and my workshop was well attended by local yogi ex-pats and travelers. Many of the attendees had been practicing yoga for much longer than myself, but they all seemed genuinely happy and impressed by my devotional offerings, and many even asked if I would consider doing it again, though my travel plans would only allow for that one day.

That was the most full that my heart had felt up until then, and it was during our group kiirtan that I decided to pursue my yogi life goal, of becoming a full time traveling teacher. I often look back to that sleepy rainy day, in a small town in Guatemala, as being the birth place of my yoga teachings and awakening of my inner Guru.

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Mollie Galbraith has taught yoga internationally since 2004, within 11 countries across the globe.