Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Yoga Pain Playground


Situations in and around yoga can provide helpful learning points. It's not always just the practice, but also in the teaching and learning about yoga there can be opportunities for self-acceptance and emotional growth.

I was assisting in a therapeutic yoga class when the quick hand movement of a teacher caused a dense wooden brick to fall on my right big toe. When it happened I said, "Ouch!" Then I quickly covered up with: "I'm okay." I wanted to free up the moment so that we could get on with the session. But I was distracted by the emotional sense that I was hiding my hurt. The yoga teacher continued the instruction, fulfilling expectations.

My toe was fine, but my emotions were out of kilter! I wondered how I could balance myself without crying all over the student. So before the teacher left I looked into his eyes and said, "That hurt my toe."

And he said,"I could see that: I'm sorry."

Somehow this admission that I had been hurt, and that I had been heard and acknowledged, helped me to go forward with clarity.

When I was looking at the bottled up feelings, and feeling overwhelmed by them, it looked like feelings I had had as a kid--and totally out of proportion with what had happened in yoga on that day. This event brought up for me the time from the ages of about seven to eleven when there was someone in my life who had administered sudden painful punishments in an effort to control my behavior. Of course, I did not wish to be controlled in this crude and brutal way and I often didn't understand, and couldn't predict when these strikes were coming. So I learned to deny my pain in an effort to keep my sanity.

To keep a level head in situations where this person who was bigger than me was unleashing their anger without restraint, I learned to deny the pain. I now see that it hurt me so much, and that my truth--that I had been hurt--was important.

So when that inner pain came up in the yoga scenario described above, I was able to clear it by being truthful. And everything got lighter after that. Small interactions can have big healing effects.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

I Love Thee


"I love thee, as the glad bird loves
The freedom of it's wing,
On which delightedly it moves
In wildest wandering."
-Eliza Acton, I Love Thee

I read this poem fragment to students today in Oz Park. It was a class for Lululemon, and tons of students showed up. It was fun. The day was gorgeous! When we were walking to our spot there were people getting their party started with some tunes. So I was a little concerned about how it would go, but it was fine. Any other noises were just there as I taught. There was a lovely wind, cool shade, cool grass, and warm sun. We did standing poses, balancing poses, plenty of "warriors", forward folds, backbends, inversions, seated poses, and some poses lying on the back.

The group was large enough that when I read the poem, I read it four times--one for each quadrant of the group. I walked to one corner of mats and prefaced the poem by saying that I was reading it in the spirit of yoga helping to cultivate a good relationship with one's self (I mean, could I just have said, "I love you" to a big group, many of whom I had just met? I didn't want to turn them off...). Then I walked to three other spots and repeated my spiel three more times. I was quite satisfied to have pulled that off. I regularly read poetry to my classes, and here I did, too. I found a way that worked.

And when the group came out of Savasana at the end, I suggested that they do it from the place I recognized in the poem: a place of inner freedom, where it is okay to honor your capacity to be free. 

We honored our inner wildness!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Eyes Coming from Clarity


More on this quote:

"The Kathopanishad describes Yoga thus: 'When the senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intellect wavers not--then, say the wise, is reached the highest stage. This steady control of the senses and mind has been defined as Yoga. He who has attains it is free from delusion'"
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, eighth paragraph of the Introduction.

I wrote a bit about it here, and I could probably write a post about it everyday for the rest of my life and still be learning. So here's more:

Yesterday, I saw it from the perspective of "Meaning Making Mischief" and talked about how we use our minds in everyday, ordinary consciousness. In worldly experience meanings change: If I'm feeling good I might love you so much, and if I'm in a bad mood I might not appreciate you as much.

Another thing that might affect how I experience you is past experience. Maybe my friend told me that you tried to sleep with her, and you're already in a committed relationship. I might have an aversion to you based on what I heard. And it might not be based on the truth. Maybe my friend was desperately lonely and egotistical and came on to you and had framed the story in the way it was told to impress me, and to protect her wounded heart. Well... You know, things get confused.

But if I was seeing with eyes coming from clarity, what would the world look like? What kind of decisions would I be making in my day-to-day life?

What if I could look at the world without story-clouds obscuring my view of life and the people in it? What would happen if I could really see how my heart is wounded, and how it affects what I do and say? I wonder if I might change, and start to act from a place of greater clarity.

A possible route to greater clarity could exist in a regular practice (yoga) that helps us transcend ordinary consciousness for a bit of time that would allow for a moment of insight on returning to everyday life. I think this IS what yoga offers. In taking time to step out of the storm of ordinary, everyday, getting-things-done-and-covering-your-ass type of mentality we might come back to our lives with a fresh perspective. And if we do this often enough, some of the insight may gain enough power to persist and enable the confidence it takes to make a positive change.

Let's practice and see!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Meaning Making Mischief


"The Kathopanishad describes Yoga thus: 'When the senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intellect wavers not--then, say the wise, is reached the highest stage. This steady control of the senses and mind has been defined as Yoga. He who has attains it is free from delusion'"
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, eighth paragraph of the Introduction.

This quote is a description of an altered state of consciousness. The mind and the senses (which are usually preoccupied with earthly tasks) are quiet. And the intellect is not devoted to solving the world's problems here; it, too, is quiet. So what is here? What is this quote talking about?

This is a state that is not actively engaged in everyday tasks like buying the milk, getting the kids ready for school, or shopping for a new hair dryer.

This is a state of experiencing consciousness when we aren't trying to do anything or feel anything about the physical world. It is a state that is different than our ordinary waking state. We are experiencing ourselves in a way that has nothing to do with buying or owning anything. This is a way of being that might seem strange to us.

But I think it's worth looking into. It's a healing space. It's a space that is without words (as the mind and intellect are stilled). This is not a place to figure anything out, or make dinner plans.

So what's it all about? Why is it the highest state?

It is considered a valuable state because it gives us a break from lives of illusions and meaning making mischief, and is said to provide clarity and insight.

“Meaning” is a flexible concept. When something happens it might mean one thing to me, and then later in life it might mean something entirely different. For example when I was first getting into Ashtanga yoga in my late 20’s I told people I was doing it to get a “hot body”. And I can’t remember if I fully believed what I was saying—I think I did. Now I think that this hot and sweaty phase of my yoga journey was a clarifying one. So in a sense it was really about getting in shape and healthier. I wasn’t too far off the mark with what I was saying, except that saying I wanted a “hot body” implies that I wanted to do it to please others. When really this stage of getting fit helped myself.

Becoming strong in my body along with the stress relief that yoga brings led to confidence and happiness in myself that was it’s own reward.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Skillful Living


“Yoga has also been described as wisdom in work or skillful living amongst activities, harmony and moderation.
‘Yoga is not for him who gorges too much, nor for him who starves himself. It is not for him who sleeps too much, nor for him who stays awake. By moderation in eating and in resting, by regulation in working and by concordance in sleeping and waking, Yoga destroys all pain and sorrow.’”
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, seventh paragraph of the Introduction.

Only a person who is awake can do what is outlined in the above quote. I think it might be easier to act compulsively by overeating and overdrinking than it is to actually enjoy the right amount. A person has to be actively engaged in the activity to moderate it correctly. We can't just do what we did last time, always. Life lived in this way is on autopilot.

I have fasted. I have binged. I have gone without sleep. I have overslept. I have been a workaholic... So I guess you could say that I am the best (really the worst) person to respond to this quote. There is no halfway on this one for me because I'm the worst offender.

I hate boundaries and detest limits. I just want to run free. I don’t want anyone to tell me what to do! And yet I have also found parameters to be helpful. Like it’s nice to go to a yoga class where a teacher defines what we are doing in class. And in this definition some poses and actions must be left out—because yoga is so vast. So when it comes to my mind I don’t want limits, but as I live in space and time limits, choices and moderation are necessary to live life effectively. This ensures that we can get and give the right amount, instead of just waiting for whatever life might dish up for you. We can end up a bit lost with a passive attitude. Life is active. Life requires choosing. Life requires defining.

But, the above quote is a real bugger for me because I resist it. I mean, it certainly SEEMS like a good idea. But a part of me doesn’t want to moderate my activities. I just want to have fun. It is HARD to stop what I’m doing and say okay: what is the right amount? Is this the right thing? If I have a box of cookies in my house I want to eat them. I’m going to eat them eventually, anyway… So why not get them out of the house now.

I do best when I have a plan about what I am eating. When I do I don’t even have the cookies in the house. But when I’m listening to my craving—yep, I want those cookies. I want all of them.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Philosophical Blog Recognition

As you may already know: this blog is mentioned in an article about yoga blogs by Lauren Ladoceour on page 85 of the August 2009 issue of Yoga Journal.  And now that I'm done practicing the restaurant scene from When Harry Met Sally and fetishizing the page with little hearts, silver balls, and arrows I'll talk a bit more about this incredible experience. I mean this is the first (and hopefully not the last) time that something I have done has shown up in such a big magazine. Wow! I'm still excited.

Here's the quote that mentions my blog, "Subjects range from the philosophical (brookshall.blogspot.com)..." Aaaah, my blog has been seen as philosophical, how great!

The traditional yogic texts like the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita offer tools to help us navigate our inner worlds--something we desperately need in troubled times, such as ours. The journey that being alive presents isn't always easy... Nor is it supposed to be. We live in a world of opposing forces, and our job (the way I see it) is to maintain balance in all this, and to do what is right even when it is not easy. The practice of yoga, and studying about it is a medicine for me. It helps me to be at home in my life.

I've been mentioning my inclusion in the magazine to students. Some of them have clapped, and everybody seems happy for me. I'm also sure that some are indifferent, and some colleagues are jealous. It's part of the richness of life that everybody expresses and reacts differently. So I'd like to thank everybody who is happy for me, and I want to thank those who are indifferent to my writing yet enjoy my yoga classes. I also want to honor those who react with sourness and resentment for those emotions have taught me so much about where I need healing, and helped to point me toward the work I need to do.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Welcome, Yoga Journal!


I have been in a euphoric state ever since I found out that my blog was mentioned in the August 2009 issue of Yoga Journal (links to the buzz: Svasti, YogaDork, Yoga for Cynics, YogaDawg, it's all yoga, baby, Elephantbeans, Yoga Deals, The Reluctant Ashtangi). And when I held the actual printed magazine in my hands and saw my blog –WOW! I pretty much had a non-stop ORGASM that lasted for MORE THAN AN HOUR. And I’m hardly kidding--I am so excited!

My blog has been my love child that I’ve been working on for almost one year. I cherish the time I spend writing my posts. It fulfills a need I have to tap into the depth of my consciousness and communicate to a wide audience. I love it!!

So thank you, Yoga Journal! Thank you, Lauren Ladoceour! What a wonderful gift it is to see my blog mentioned in print! Thank you readers! Thank you friends! Thank you family! Thank you students! Thank you teachers! I am thrilled to be alive!

Offering the Fruits


“The Bhagavad Gita also gives other explanations of the term yoga and lays stress upon Karma Yoga (Yoga by action). It is said: ‘Work alone is your privilege, never the fruits thereof. Never let the fruits of action be your motive; and never cease to work. Work in the name of the Lord, abandoning selfish desires. Be not affected by success or failure. This equipoise is called Yoga.’”
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, sixth paragraph of the Introduction.

As an American, I was taught to value the pursuit of pleasure above all other experiences. It’s my God-given right. If it bothers someone else… So what? Right? What’s “mine” is mine! If I enjoy a product when that product’s production poisons other people and the animals and the environment, is that okay? Is it okay to eat factory-farmed animals? (See the movie, Food, Inc.  for more info about this industry. Beautifully produced movie with shocking revelations about how our food is produced. It also shows consumer choices making positive changes. Playing now at Landmark's Century Centre in Chicago.)

As I ponder: ‘Work alone is your privilege, never the fruits thereof.’ I realize that when I am focused on the fruits of my labor, I am primarily concerned with my belly, my pride, my security. My focus is on what can I get right now: instant gratification. I see my fruits, and I want them now! Focus on the fruits also leads to greed. If I want “fruits”—like money, sex, power, and food—I’m only looking for those rewards, without concern for anything beyond myself. And I want more for me!

Another perspective of work is to consider how what one does will affect one’s future self and future people. The things we do today will affect people we haven’t met yet. And when we are acting, taking into account our best understanding of how what we do affects others (including our future selves) we can do better things. Let’s create a beautiful healthy world, starting with our own bodies! Let’s create a loving compassionate world by listening to the concerns of others, and our own inner challenges! Lets do what we can do to make the world a better place!

The yoga of action is called Karma Yoga. It is doing things in line with that aspect of your self that cares. Sadly, we learn to turn that off when we get hurt. The path of yoga includes caring, even if that sense of your self has been so deeply buried that it must be excavated with special tools—yogic tools, heart tools. It is courageous to care. It takes the dedication of a warrior/warrior goddess to be true to one’s heart.

So this is where the art of writing almost fails. I am doing something now by writing this and sharing these thoughts. It comes from a sense of caring about the subject of yoga, and caring about communicating beyond my personal mindscape. I also believe that the seeds of positive change start inside, and when these seeds start to germinate there is an opportunity/privlidge/necessity to take these beautiful little seedlings into your hands and to plant them into the earth. It is time to take the positive change that you have imagined, and to make it real.

This is where I want to do better. I feel like I witness hundreds of deaths a day when I dream a happy dream about what would make life better, and dismiss it for something I “have” to do, or something I’m just used to doing. This is an old habit from the days when I used to feel powerless, but now I know that I can change my own life. And when I do there IS a larger effect. What I do for myself affects others. When I’m able to hear my own pains, I am able to be present to hear those of others. And this really helps. So I see my work as the work of a healer. And as I learn to heal myself I learn to help beyond myself.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Multifaceted Yoga


“As a well cut diamond has many facets, each reflecting a different colour of light, so does the word yoga, each facet reflecting a different shade of meaning and revealing different aspects of the entire range of human endeavor to win inner peace and happiness.”
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, fifth paragraph of the Introduction.

Yoga can mean different things to different people, and different things to the same person at different times. It might be a workout, a way to de-stress, discipline, medication for an ailment, physical therapy, emotional healing, refuge, support for change, community, a psychic portal, etc.

One day a student of mine shared that she wanted to find her keys, when I had asked what she might like to get out of that day’s session. When I replied with a questioning look, she said, “Seriously, that’s what I’d like. They’ve been lost for two days and it’s very embarrassing.”

I said that I couldn’t promise anything, obviously… But I also left it open that it might come to her doing class. I could see that she was not grounded, the breath was shallow, and the mind was a-buzzing. There was a little stress around the eyes—a worried look. So our session included some quieting poses, held long enough to have a deep effect. There was a good amount of focusing on the breath, going inward, relaxing, and letting go.

At the end of the class I asked how she was doing and she said, “I think I know where they are.” And I got a call in under an hour after she had left saying that she had found them. Incredible, right? Out of a surprising request came a satisfying outcome.

What allowed me to go into this situation with an open mind was my belief that the answer was inside her, but it was somehow clouded by anxiousness and distraction. So I thought that perhaps if she could get quite inside that the answer would reveal itself to her.

When we quiet down the treasury inside is without bounds. We only have to ask the right question to discover what we need. It could be finding a lost object, or finding the solution to a life concern. The best answers come from inside your self. And the best friends help you to see that.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Freedom from Pain and Sorrow


“In the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, which is the most important authority on Yoga philosophy, Sri Krishna explains to Arjuna the meaning of Yoga as a deliverance from contact with pain and sorrow. It is said:
‘When the mind, intellect and self (ahamkara) are under control, freed from restless desire, so that they rest in the spirit within, a (wo)man becomes a Yukta—one in communion with God. A lamp does not flicker in a place where no winds blow; so it is with a yogi, who controls h(er)is mind, intellect and self, being absorbed in the spirit within. When the restlessness of the mind, intellect and self is stilled through the practice of Yoga, the yogi by the grace of Spirit within finds fulfillment. Then (s)he knows the joy eternal which is beyond the pale of the senses which reason cannot grasp. (S)He abides in this reality and moves not therefrom. (S)He has found the treasure above all others. There is nothing higher than this. (S)He who has achieved it, shall not be moved by the greatest sorrow. This is the real meaning of Yoga—a deliverance from contact with pain and sorrow.’”
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, fourth paragraph of the Introduction.
**Gender inclusiveness added by me.

A few years ago I had a free session with a well regarded “healer guy” in town (I’m not sure what else to call him—a multi-modality psychic healer aroma therapeutic massage therapist new church energy healing minister approaches description.). So I went. The first time I went he had me waiting so long, I ended up in tears—I can’t really imagine why right now, but that’s what happened. He had just been chatting in the other room with his wife, and didn’t realize I was there, and the receptionist seemed to think that he knew and was coming soon. So I was in the waiting room listening to muffled laughter while stressing mildly(?) about making my next class on time. So maybe I SHOULD have been more suspicious. But he said that he was disappointed and sorry that he had stressed me out and offered me a second free session. And I went.

He had asked me if I wanted to be free of pain and suffering. And I said that I didn’t know because I was experimenting at that time with the notion that processing pain might be part of my purpose in this life. And if agreeing with his request were to take me away from my purpose, I wanted nothing to do with it. At that point I WAS suspicious that he might be practicing healing hokum. And I didn’t stick around for any more sessions.

Also there IS substantial legitimate scriptural evidence that someone can have a “deliverance from contact with pain and sorrow” as stated above. So what I think now is that while the physiology of pain in the body might not change, and situations that have the potential to cause pain might not change, what can change is our perception of how these events affect us.

In the past I interpreted this kind of offering (to be free from pain) as an invitation to escape. And it still could be. Like if you go to an MD for pain and come out with pain-killing drugs, which might be helpful, but doesn’t affect the underlying problem. You still have a problem—it just doesn’t hurt anymore…

So the question becomes: Can freedom from pain and sorrow look different from “numbing-out”?

I think a yoga student of mine is teaching me about this. This person has a degenerative disease, and while they have been doing very well there is evidence of the illness. It is a reality.

One day there was some talk—I was advising that perhaps it might be time to modify behavior to ensure physical safety in the wake of physical challenges caused by the disease. And the response was that this beautiful person didn’t want to give up their self to a disease. It made me think about how even the smallest gesture and utterance that a person makes is a cherished expression of who they are. In a situation like this there can be a fear of loosing one’s self and becoming the disease.

What is the option here? And isn’t this putting a story line to something we all face: loosing our selves to disease, injury or death?

The option I am able to see at this moment is the choice to live every moment to the fullest, to really wake up to the moments of one’s life, and not to settle for things you don’t really want. Most importantly, I want to use what resources I have: the amount of health, physical ability, and everything I can to express my love and gratefulness to be alive in this world. And even if I only had the use of one finger, I hope that I could let that finger move in expression of my unique being without hesitation or shame.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Yogi Identity


The third paragraph of the intro to Light on Yoga is very short:

“One who follows the path of Yoga is a yogi or yogin.”
-by B.K.S. Iyengar

When I was a kid I played with the yoga poses. Did that make me a yogi? I think not. Someone could be a “yogi” without ever having studied a formal yoga technique. When someone lives their life with effort towards living up to what is best in that person, they could be called a yogi for being on a path of aligning with a larger truth, or a connected life. And another person might be able to move their body through a series of postures and not necessarily be a yogi. They might be off the “path of Yoga” if they were ignoring a call to listen inward and grow greater.

The “path of Yoga” is a path of discipline and excellence. It’s about seeing what needs to be done, and making the physical changes required to accommodate this inspiration.

Choosing the “path of Yoga” is a continual process. As I go through my day, some of my choices are in line with what is best. And some things I might do automatically, without consciousness. So to be a yogi means to constantly choose the best course of action for every moment.

Yoga technique is helpful to cultivate health, and to purify one’s awareness. If we mistake automatic responses for conscious decisions we cannot effectively live in line with a sense of connection and purpose.

Being a yogi is a dynamic path of action—a “yoga butt” has nothing to do with it. American culture is so obsessed with appearance and sexuality that someone could easily be confused about yoga from all the sexy ads depicting “yoga”. Yoga is also a capacity for stillness, peace, and inner awareness.

The path of yoga looks different for each individual. In fact there might be times where you need to move through life with ignorance, to help you learn how to align with your truth through comparison and contrast. Like I might have to eat enough junk food to learn how bad it feels, and then compare that to how it feels to eat healthier. The contrast can provide information that helps me make better choices going forward. I can choose to become more conscious of my diet or I can automatically eat whatever is around.

Even the choice of diet can affect our ability to live in line with what is best in us.

I think my “path of Yoga” began when I started to make decisions for myself. It has not been consistent. There have been choices made with clarity, and things I have done that were totally clouded with jealousy, fear, anger or sadness. This is just the truth of the process. I learn as I go.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Releasing Resistance


“Yoga is one of the six orthodox systems of Indian philosophy. It was collated, co-ordinated and systematized by Patanjali in his classical work, the Yoga Sutras, which consists of 185 terse aphorisms. In Indian thought, everything is permeated by the Supreme Universal Spirit (Paramatma or God) of which the individual human spirit (jivitma) is a part. The system of yoga is so called because it teaches the means by which the jivatma can be united to or be in communion with the Paramatma, and so secure liberation (moksa).”

-by B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, second paragraph of the Introduction.

Yoga was discovered in India, and I, an American, can use it. And in order to understand it I do think that it’s important to study the psychological framework that made this discovery possible. An integral part of this is a foundational understanding that “everything is permeated by the Supreme Universal Spirit.” So there is something divine in everything. I translate this into my yoga practice by looking to all the cells of my body for their divinity, relying on their ever-present support. But, why stop there? My mat, too, contains this universal essence. And the room, and the other people in the room, and of course the whole building, the air, our friends and enemies, people we love and those we detest, indeed the whole world, and the entire universe is knit with threads of divinity, or maybe even a love-atmosphere.

In the yoga practice this can be a palpable experience, and probably at other times, too. I am referring to experiences where the world is perceived as love. I have sometimes wondered if, at times, pregnant women are in this space. Love relationships and drugs (I’m told) can also imitate this state of being.

The reason we’re not in this blissful state more often is because we are cloaked in sneaky types of resistance that accumulates over time. Releasing the resistance that grips around experience can help one to realize a euphoric state, and perhaps beyond that, clarity—a prerequisite for freedom.

And I’m convinced right now that an aspect of this at a certain point (not when a person is new to yoga) is confronting pain in practice. In a recent post I was thinking around pain I had experienced in a yoga workshop. And it’s also true that in the week following this intense, and even painful practice, that I have felt freer and more aware in my body. And with this increasing freedom comes increasing responsibility. As the body releases some of the “glue” that was holding it together as dumb stiffness and more flexibility comes in, one has to learn to support the architecture of the body with intelligent support—or more pain comes. So poses I might have just leaned into in the past while just learning to release the stiffness, now require intelligent activation so I’m not stressing my increasingly flexible parts.

Ideally, a person has connected to the bliss of yoga, so when it comes to the time where the pain is processed you already have the commitment and cellular understanding—the strong foundation it takes to go forward. So I don’t think it’s a good idea to go into pain unless you know what you’re doing, or you are with a teacher whose expertise you trust—even then be careful: It is YOUR BODY.

I’m interpreting the pain I’ve been experiencing lately in deep practice as a subterranean gripping in my body—subconscious unless I put myself into a pose that makes it conscious. I’m excavating the reactions to stresses I have experienced up to now. (It’s almost like releasing stuff from “past lives” because I’m in a different space now.) Certain poses make me aware of terrible, almost unbearable fear and anger, sometimes sorrow. But this past week I’ve worked with staying with it when this discomfort comes. I happened to also be in a class this week that put me into this kind of space. After the class I was in a state of high emotion, really stirred up. I went into the bathroom and released my tears. It was the coolest cry ever. It was great because it was a letting go. In the past I would beat myself up when I cried by telling myself how bad it was. Or I would have dumped my pain on someone else. But now the tears feel light. I understand that this pain is mine and I can release it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Enlighten Up! Go see it.

Last week I went to the preview screening of the new documentary film Enlighten Up!. It was a screening just for yoga teachers which was kind of a trip. I was the first person there. A couple other teachers arrived and complained about the quiet room. I thought that was strange coming from yogis. But yogis come with a wide range of tastes as the movie also showed. Filmmaker Kate Churchill was there to introduce the film, and to answer questions at the end.

The film offers an amusing take on a variety of famous (and somewhat famous) yoga teachers, including Norman Allan, David Life, Sharon Gannon, Cyndi Lee, Dharma Mittra, and a pro wrestler yoga teacher for men who ended a class with, "Namaste with T and A." For me, the best part of the film was seeing Mr. Iyengar speak on yoga. And seeing recently-deceased Pattabhi Jois got my attention, too. Mr. Iyengar underlined the concept that health is the first aim with a hatha yoga practice. For him, the spiritual aspect didn't show up until his body was ready.

Ms. Churchill started out the project wanting to talk about the transformation that she experienced in yoga by watching someone else doing it. So she selected someone new to yoga (Nick), and planned to visit as many of the best teachers in six months as they could. The process was not without conflict, and their adventure is definitely worth viewing. At one point we hear Churchill whispering from off-screen to Nick, "Ask about moksha." But Nick will not be controlled, and continues on the search in his own way.

And at the end he has some genuine insights about his experience with yoga, but it's just not what the filmmaker expected. There is a shot near the end of the film showing Ms. Churchill practicing yoga and falling out of her headstand, seemingly expressing her own letting go and finally allowing the film to be what it was.

Enlighten Up! opens in Chicago on Friday, June 12 at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema. Check it out!

Monday, June 8, 2009

What is it About Getting High?


Sometimes I get a comment on my blog that just blows the whole thing wide open. Suddenly I am totally transparent, and can no longer hide from what I have seen. Dr. Jay of Yoga for Cynics wrote such a comment on my recent post, Fishing for Yoga (you can see the comment I’m talking about at the end of the post).

I started to wonder to myself: What IS IT about getting high?

Here’s my history of getting high:

When I was growing up there were adults around me who felt like all the best times were high times. Especially times already past that were really wild according to the tellers.

So when I was in high school I did some things strangely enough to impress particularly one adult that I desperately wanted to feel connected to. First I experimented with drinking. Then pot. In college I tried some things to impress friends, and by then I had convinced myself that this was what I wanted. I wanted to do well in school and experiment with drugs. I wanted friends and to party! Then after college I didn’t really know what to do and I drank a lot when I was out. Then I fell in love and the bars weren’t so interesting anymore. And by the time the love-high faded I had found yoga!

And in blog posts like Ashtanga Butterfly, I have been beating myself up for hiding in my yoga, rather than using it as a tool for liberation or deeper insight. And Dr. Jay’s comment has shown me to myself, even though he might have been talking about himself.

So yes I used alcohol and drugs to escape at a certain point. And then I hid myself in love, giving myself to that wonderful feeling of connection—so things WERE GETTING BETTER at that point. There was a time when I recognized this. And then I forgot because it became REALLY IMPORTANT to find out who I am. And in the relationship I thought I couldn’t see that. But REALLY I just wanted to bury myself in another MAN. So it’s good that the yoga practice was there to obsess on at that time. It did keep me out of trouble. SO I am blessed that the yoga has such INTOXICATING POWER for me. Otherwise I might have found a more self-destructive path, and instead I found a path to my heart.

Thank God for yoga!

So, what is it about getting high? For me it’s to hide from pain. There is a fairly common negative view of the world that I shared with people I knew at a certain time in my life. It has to do with a deep feeling of hopelessness. Eckhart Tolle’s words resonate:

“Many people never realize that there can be no “salvation” in anything they do, possess, or attain. Those who do realize it often become world-weary and depressed: If nothing can give you true fulfillment, what is there left to strive for, what is the point in anything? The Old Testament prophet must have arrived at such a realization when he wrote: “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” When you reach this point, you are one step away from despair—and one step away from enlightenment.”

-The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle

Mr. Tolle adds a note of hope at the end of this quote when he mentions that one can despair or move toward enlightened consciousness. The good news is that there is a choice. I believe this to be true. When I look at the world sometimes I feel pretty bad. The problems can seem so big and overwhelming. But if I can do something, even something small, to make the world a better place I start to feel better. We have to work together to create positive change that will resonate on a world level. Nobody can do it alone. Alone I can only make positive change at a personal level. But this can be HUGE.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Wondrous Weekend

I was at a party this weekend where a child was offering this dragonfly for everyone to behold. I just couldn't get enough of this sight, nor of the poetry the moment seemed to suggest.

It was a wondrous miracle to see the beautiful child holding this incredible representative of life. A perfect moment that reminded me of who I am. I saw myself as a child of eight years sitting at the edge of Horn Pond in Maine watching the dragonflies. I was fascinated with the movement of their flight. I remember seeing that some were flying attached to one another, and figured they must be mating.

I also thought of the time last summer when I was in my apartment, melancholy and alone and a dragonfly showed up at my window! At the time, it seemed like a symbolic messenger of a sort of culmination, as if my spiritual and physical journey of the last few years was going to arrive at a sort of maturity. This amazing creature shot me with hope.

And I just think dragonflies are cool.

I also did a yoga workshop with Laurie Blakeney at the Yoga Circle. We did some deep and downright painful work on the feet and legs. Some of it was inspired by the Virasana sequence in Light on Yoga. I think it's really good for me. So I do think that it's a GOOD IDEA to work out those painful bits in the feet, calves, hips and shoulders. BUT, I also found myself wondering how much pain I want to or even reasonably can include in my own yoga practice without becoming an angry maniac. I usually think that yoga soothes my inner beast, but holding these and other poses was bringing out an inner monster. That said, there were parts that I also enjoyed in a less-than-masochistic way. And I KNOW (know?) that it's good to release those painful nuggets, too. Also the group aspect as well as the extra expense of a yoga workshop makes it an atmosphere where I can put up with more. But--Eeeeyeeyeeaye. Those poses had me squirming!

And at the aforementioned party I felt like I was embraced in an atmosphere of acceptance and love. Many of my yoga students and friends were there and I felt their blessing. Good vibes suffused this busy weekend of training at the yoga workshop, partying in Michigan, and teaching yoga, too.