Coming to Yoga

Several days ago, Svasti wrote a post that rang a clear, true bell in my heart. After practicing for many years, Svasti last year completed a teacher training course. Here is an excerpt of what she had to say:

That old maxim “those who can’t do, teach” isn’t true at all for yoga (and probably many other disciplines, too). Yoga teachers must practice yoga, must understand what they are asking others to do before they can even think of approaching the front of the room.

I have been thinking about this post all week; thinking of the truth in those words and their relationship to my own coming to yoga. In 1999, I was selected to undertake training in a new Les Mills program called Body Balance (in the US, it’s called Body Flow). In those days (!) Body Balance (BB) was all yoga with a smidgeon of pilates. Now, BB is a hypnotic and highly addictive mix of Tai Chi, yoga, with a teaspoon of pilates on the side. If you haven’t tried it, promise yourself that you will do three classes.

Anyway, by 1999 I had been a fitness instructor for 10 years. I was no stranger to teaching people how to do odd things with their bodies (grapevine, anyone?). However, my experience with yoga at this point amounted to something like 3 Iyengar classes in my early twenties. Undertaking the BB training was stepping into an entirely different world; an alien landscape of complexity, new feelings, disorientation, and awkwardness with my body that I had long since forgotten. The course was three days of feeling totally out of my depth, frustrated, resentful and overwhelmed. There was only one other instructor from my gym undertaking BB training. This was woman who was a long term yoga practitioner, who effortlessly performed Surya Namaskar, Virabhadrasana, Trikonasana and every other asana requested of her. Alongside her, I felt like a 5 foot high elephant trying to perform ballet in gumboots! I cried at the training, because I was so sore, so demoralised and so inadequate. To complicate matters, in less than three weeks after the training, the gym where I worked was launching BB as new program, so I had to be able to teach an entire hour long class of warriors, forward bends and pigeons! No pressure, eh?

Having no yoga background, I struggled. I came to love the music associated with BB, but hated teaching the classes. I think it showed. We never had great numbers of participants, and eventually, the gym pegged the program back to only two classes per week, both taught by the other instructor. I filled in, and participated in launches for new music held every quarter.

In early 2000, I began my first stint of doctoral fieldwork and moved to Narooma on the Far South Coast of NSW. There is a big yoga community there (especially at Tilba Tilba) and I began to think about what I’d done wrong with Body Balance. I realised that having no yoga background meant having no understanding, no vocabulary and no body sense for the discipline … all of which were absolutely necessary for communicating with participants. There was also the breathing aspect of yoga which Body Balance training doesn’t really teach –yet those BB instructors who teach the best use the breath continually throughout their classes. These are also people who have a yoga background. Thus, I began to take Iyengar classes as much as I could. I was also fortunate enough to undertake a weekend course in Sydney on yoga for fitness instructors. After this, a gym in Narooma decided to launch Body Balance with me as the star. The second time around, teaching BB was bliss, was joy, and the classes were packed (although this too has significant draw backs).

What was different? Now, I had the experience of being a beginner, a vocabulary associated with where and how to place the body, an understanding of what one should be sensing in each asana, and the experience of truly feeling yoga to share with my participants. As Svasti has said, yoga is not something someone can teach in order to learn. One has to practice yoga in order to teach yoga.

Someone much wiser than I has said that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. I believe this is especially true in the case of yoga. Yet this is the opposite of the message we absorb every day in so many subtle ways: time is money, learn X in 10 easy lessons, more speed, more more more speed. Perhaps that was why the two-week yoga intensive I did at the end of 2008 scarred me so much. There is no quick, easy way to learn to do yoga other than sustained practice and study. There is no two week or even four week course that is ever going to teach you to teach if you’ve never done Trikonasana before and have never struggled with sirsasana.

In yoga, the journey is far more important than the destination.

… And the destination is always shifting to an unknowable event horizon.

Yoga Bitchin’

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I can’t help but comment on what’s been happening over at Linda Sama’s blog.  If you haven’t seen it, check out this post.

That’s Mr Anthroyogini bitchin about custard!

Linda has announced her intention to put her blog to sleep soon. I’m sad about this, as it’s one of a handful of yoga blogs whose posts I subscribe to. However, I could sense the integrity and sincerity in her post announcing her decision to close the blog down, and appreciate that it is time to move on.  Life’s like that.

Linda is the real deal. A true yogini. She volunteers her time in support of others (teaching yoga for free in a women’s refuge). She has invested many years studying with people like Desikachar, Paul Grilley and lately, Mark Whitwell – all highly respected yogis.  She has reflected upon bad experiences that happen to her with insight, looking for the lessons in them.

Which makes me wonder why moronic trolls nasty lurkers feel the need to place ‘good riddance’ type messages on her blog.

If I was more spiritually developed, I would say “ohh… namaste, bless you, fairy floss, thank you for your lesson etc.” But I’m still edgy and raw. Anger still arises, resentment still arises and try to I watch it and not get involved. I’m not always very good at non-attachment, which is why it’s my maha-sankalpa.

To me, the yoga world is identical to the fitness industry: hung up on its own holiness, on perfection, on contortion, on arrogance and on plain old bitchin’.

Reflect on my observations of 20 years employment in the fitness industry and make a comparison with the yoga world:

  • There are the snobby, so-called ‘elite’ master-trainer instructors (ohh-too-holy to talk to you, scumbucket).
  • There are many instructors whose only employment is fitness classes and whose mouth, empty heads and EGOs are at least as large as the space in which they teach.

This was all brought home to me clearly only yesterday, when the CEO of the fitness centre I quit from early this year said: “In ten years of managing (name of chain of fitness centres) I’ve seen it over and over again. The only place we have bitching in the centre … fighting and backstabbing is in group fitness… with the massive egos that go with getting up in front of people and teaching.”

These people are tossers. It’s why I stopped teaching after 20 years and walked away from something I loved.

The yoga biatches who left the comments on Linda’s blog are mega-tossers. I too am starting to turn my back on the image-obsessed world of bitchin’ asana barbie dolls.

As Abdi Assadi says: Project yourself to the moment of your death. Do you think you’ll still be bitchin’ then?

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With all this bitchin’, it must be time for me to bitch.

I’m going to Canberra for a month on Monday. This is to prepare my PhD thesis for submission. And you know what???

I AM GETTING A GOD-FORSAKEN COLD!!  Not fair. So not fair!

Mithya – the Dependant Reality: Thread 2

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I view my life as a complex adaptive system (CAS), a series of nested feedback loops. Some appear complete in themselves, but all are interrelated: anthropology, family, gym, yoga, plus those other parts of my life I don’t write much about here such as Advaita, camping, bushwalking, geocaching, and birdwatching. What happens in one part of the CAS that is my life cycles around, causes a ripple and eventually affects others in a lesser or greater manner. There are many dependent variables and unexpected outcomes – all intertwined.

I haven’t mapped my life as a CAS yet, however I believe it would be a useful tool for monitoring depression and understanding one’s own psychology. Data could be easily collected through keywords in a diary and then mapped using one of the network mapping tools that maps links between websites … but I significantly digress!

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Mithya, the Dependant Reality: Thread 1

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Regular readers of this blog will know that late last year, I undertook a Level 1 Teacher Training. I was far from comfortable or happy with the course.

In fact, I came away reeling. This course challenged everything I felt, experienced and understood about yoga: it was inauthentic, more about pumping out asana teachers than anything else. Any deep explorations of philosophy, mediation, pranayama or anatomy were dismissed or discouraged.

As a result, I suddenly found upon my return that I didn’t like doing yoga any more. I certainly didn’t want to teach. I could not reconcile myself with the training: there was no mutuality of purpose, no depth, no connection. Why I was spending 1000s of dollars on something I no longer identified with?

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Exhaustion

flatI am so tired, I could sleep for a week and still need more.

The last three days of the intensive were good. Better than the rest. There was an awesome kirtan on Sunday night. One of the participants made MP3 recordings of all of the lectures (including the kirtan) assembled the files and made copies for us all. (Om Namo, Tashi Dawa, you gorgeous Arnhem Land yogini).

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