On the river and in the long distances between, there has been space for reflection. For clearing out the mental clutter, letting go of what’s not needed and connecting with the things that matter.
Seven days of my journey was spent on a houseboat with both sets of parents. We do this almost annually, and it’s always a test of patience, as silence, contemplation and reflection are concepts that children of the Great Depression (our parents) don’t seem to be able to grasp. There was endless observations of the bleeding obvious (the weather forecast said it’s going to be 33 degrees today … announced three times within three minutes by three different people sitting in the same room at the same time who have surely heard each other and the radio announcer say it), discussions of the ingredients of prescription medicines, endless repetitions of ailments (how can they have so many and still be spinning the mortal coil?) and let’s not forget those conversations about half-cousin’s butcher’s pets whom you don’t know, never will know and probably don’t want to know.
Nonetheless, there was time for retreat and reflection as the boat slowly chugged along (it was a paddlewheel houseboat). When we stopped, we would take long walks in the bush where increasingly elderly parents can’t go (or can go in the case of my mother, but won’t go because there is always an excuse for not exercising). And there was time for the river, the bush and delight in each other (the much reduced Anthrofamily unit, that is). I won’t recount our trip here; if you’re interested in more photos and reading a little more, check it out here.
Off the boat, we looked at blocks of land for our retreat. We found two suitable places – and then something else happened which caused us to pause the land purchase. It’s not something bad -rather a new door opening- and thus we will wait a few weeks and see what happens. Nonetheless, it could mean a move south sooner than expected and a whole change of life for Mr AnthroYogini and me (plus the 12 year old AnthroBambini and our menagerie).
On the way home, we took the Oodnadatta Track and escaped into the desert wilderness near Lake Eyre. Again, there was more time for meditation and reflection…
Cutting to the Bone I: Group Fitness
I am letting go of the need to teach group fitness classes. I have been teaching group fitness (think aerobics, Pump, Step, Attack etc) for 20 years. Several months ago, I told the gym where I teach that I was taking a two month break. Did it happen? For a whole 2 weeks … whilst I was at the yoga intensive and 3500km away!
However, as soon as I returned, the gym started calling me again, saying: please, Amanda, we’re desperate … we don’t have enough instructors, just this once blah blah. So stupid me says yes. I don’t want to do this anymore. I’ve had enough – I want time for my own fitness … when you’re teaching 4 or 5 classes a week and working full time, your own fitness is what suffers. I have given so much of my life to the fitness industry. I even grew another instructor (my daughter) for them. I have served several communities in this way and it is time to move on.
So when I think about giving it up, and make my decision to do so, I feel the slimy grasp of ego saying: ooh, but you love when you get up there and teach … you love the people and the buzz of teaching, the drama of gym politics (actually, Ms Ego, I hate to tell you this, but gym politics are utterly vile).
Well, Ms Ego, think on this: how many times last year were you crushed? Hurt? Did you whine about spending three lunchtimes per week practicing for a 5pm class, whilst also having to concentrate on the Real Job? It is time to let go…
Note: I did it. I emailed the Group Fitness Manager and quit on Monday 19th January. I felt instantly as if I’d been swept clean inside with a broom.
Cutting to the Bone II: Yoga Practice & Teacher Training
I thought about this a lot when I was away. I didn’t practice as much as I thought I would when I was away but that was ok. Right now, I am in re-charge mode and I don’t feel that I need to meet anyone else’s agenda. My reflections turned frequently to my recent experience at the Yoga Teaching Intensive and I have some observations about this. First though, I would like to acknowledge Linda Sama’s blog and this quote from Judith Hansen Lassater in Yoga Journal, which I draw from:
“…(yoga in the west) seems a mile wide and an inch deep. I mourn the fact that many people in the United States know about asana just as a way of working out. To me, that’s not what yoga is. It can lead to deeper personal transformation.”
If I try to pin point what was deeply unsatisfactory about the intensive training, three things spring to mind and they are closely related to what Judith Lassater says above:
– Teacher training in the West is (mostly) about churning out asana instructors in order to make a living in a saturation market … not about the kind of yoga I practice or aspire to.
–Cramming a month of tuition into 10 days didn’t work for me – especially when I was not inspired by the content. Perhaps these courses ultimately arise by our fast-food mentality crossed with our ‘anyone can become an expert in ten easy lessons’ mentality. The result for me was a perceived shallowness in my teachers and insomnia for myself. Yoga as a socio-cultural spiritual tradition is what suffers most of all, a great river’s depth and breadth choked to a narrow channel.
– The course was really about teaching people who’d never been up in front of groups before how to teach. As I wanted the 8 Limbs philosophy and functional yoga anatomy, I was neither challenged by this style of tuition. Nor was I inspired to learn.
For several weeks after returning from the Intensive, I held true to the idea that I would return to this particular centre and complete their level 2 training. Now, I know that it’s not for me. Truthfully, the Intensive came close to eliminating any desire I have to practicing yoga altogether. I walked away deeply disillusioned. This has lead me to ask: Why do I do/teach yoga?
Here are the deeply personal answers:
-Connection with myself and all that is
-To study and explore yoga as a non-dual spiritual practice rather than as a dualistic (samkhya) practice
-Because breathing, meditation and chanting connect me to spirit
-As depression therapy
If I simply rested on my experience with one yoga teacher training intensive, I would give up yoga altogether and focus on other work. I also notice that ‘teaching yoga’ isn’t really a driving force for me. The main reasons I did the Intensive Teacher Training (wow… I’ve used capitals … it must be really bugging me):
-to allow me to be ‘registered’ and thus satisfy legal requirements when I am frequently asked to fill in for other yoga teachers
-to deepen my own practice (in a spiritual sense)
-to gain access to yoga therapy training (which I intend to link with anthropological psychology in therapeutic practice for the treatment of depression)
In two of the cases above, the Intensive served its purpose. However, if I was to ‘weigh’ these motivational drivers, the one which means the most to me is the deepening of my own practice – and that was a minor consideration of the Intensive (although this might be argued that our practice logs -which will comprise part of the final accreditation- do focus on daily practice, along with observations of the use of props and adjustments etc).
The crux is, I’m not sure that most yoga teacher training I’ve encountered in Australia goes anywhere near the depth I’d be satisfied with (Satyananda Yoga excluded). I think Svasti’s lineage probably meets these expectations – but I will leave my explorations on this topic for another post.
Cutting to the Bones III: I Love my Parents … But
Being with them for a week in an enclosed space brings to light differences and changes. I should state here that I am adopted. I was three weeks old when I was adopted, and my adoptive parents are my parents*. Why is this important? My parents are separated by more than a standard generation from me. They are (in common sociological terms) part of the generation termed ‘Elders’, whilst I am Gen-X. They don’t understand silence, introspection, globalised nature of the contemporary world. They grew up in large families full of noise and blah blah blah. They lived through shortages in World War II and as a result, seem to be addicted to stuff: buying stuff, owning stuff, eating stuff. Hoarding stuff. Saying stuff.
My parents have been married for 50 years and retired for about 5 years. Since retirement, their worlds have narrowed dramatically – mainly to concerns about what their neighbours are doing and their own ailments. They tell me stories about my hometown (Bowral) as if I’d never lived there. There’s also gloom and doom: for as long as I could remember, my mother has been an eternal pessimist and everything is BAD. In retirement, everything is ten times worse! They have never voted for anything other than the conservatives in their lives, because for them, voting conservative means you are middle class – not working class like their own parents were. No one seems to have got through to them that politics is no longer about progressives vs. conservatives. I have voted conservative on occasion, too (although mostly, I’ve voted progressive – Green).
This brings me to an observation: I feel like I have nothing in common with my parents. I cannot discuss politics, cultural heritage, joint management, anthropology, conservation, something funny from You Tube, yoga, or even contemporary public sector management with them. They cannot relate and I feel frustrated and ripped off: I want to have deep and meaningfuls with my parents – not discussions about The-Lady-Next-Door-Who-Always-Wears-Pyjamas-And-Never-Goes-Outside!
Thus, time spent with my parents on the houseboat was like time spent with those for whom English is a second language. It was a relief when we stepped off the houseboat and visited a friend of Mr AnthroYogini who’s a ranger. We could have a proper conversation about deep and meaningful stuff!
There is nothing I can do about this but practice radical acceptance. I fear that my parents’ world will continue to contract as they get older – but it is not something that I can change. But I feel … disconnected from them. As if they are strangers, not my parents. As if they are part of that narrow, xenophobic, anti-environmental group whose motto is: if grows, cut it down; if it moves, shoot it; if it’s in the ground, dig it up.
So slap me if I say next December that I am going on the houseboat with my parents. Slap me if I start to tell you over and over again that it’s -40 degrees at Mawson Base … in Antarctica or that it’s 37 degrees today in Alice Springs. Slap me if I tell you about the guy next door with the worst teeth I’ve ever seen …
*(Before you ask, yes, I’ve met my birth mother and we are very alike. Something else: my maternal grandmother taught yoga until she was 80 – she’s now 91).
P.S: Congratulations to the United States and Barack Obama for bringing light and hope exactly when and where it’s needed. I am so grateful to have seen this day.