Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Yes But, What About Yoga?

On Monday evening, we had our last yoga class at Full Tilt.  It was a very small class - only two people (thanks Shannon and Cheryl!) - but in some ways that was perfect.  Shannon has been coming since I began teaching and is very dedicated.  Cheryl is a new student (to me), joining the class only this summer. 

Not yoga-related, but it is pretty.
Colette gave me my first break as a yoga teacher, before I even had any teacher training at all.  Fueled only by a desire to share the love, I made up sequences based on classes I remembered and videos I watched.  Amazingly, no one was injured.   That experience inspired me to actually get some training and the rest, as they say, is history.

Until that history reaches an end.  Full Tilt, Colette's farm and artist residence centre (and yoga studio), is for sale, and while it is in the care of the estate's executor, no one is allowed on the property (save those who are visiting it with the intention to buy).  When I look back over the years that I taught there, I think what strikes me most is that yoga really happened, almost while we weren't looking.

The classes were never huge.  I think eight to ten were as many as ever came at one time - mostly it was around four or five people.   Yet, there was a sense of a community.  For the students who showed up for class each week, I think it all added it up to something transformational in ways that were both subtle and gross.

In yoga, there is the idea of samskara-s, which translates loosely to mean habits.  We create samskara-s every time we take an action and the more we do one thing, the bigger, deeper our samskara becomes.  So, our negative samskara-s could be seen like ruts in the road.  The more we take that road, the deeper the rut, the harder it is to get out of it.  According to Mr. Desikachar, in yoga we are working to replace our negative samskara-s with positive samskara-s.  I feel like I have witnessed this in myself and my students, at least a little bit.

Sometimes I wonder why yoga has this power, especially the asana.  I mean, anyone can do a bit of stretching and a bit of gymnastics and walk away feeling a little more limber, perhaps, but not changed in some more profound way.  Yet, even if all you do is asana, yoga does change people in profound ways.  Very, very slowly, but it does.

I also think about how it is possible to misuse yoga so that our negative samskara-s get ever deeper and reinforced.  One needs a teacher to point this out, I think.  In the beginning, we are drawn to whatever style usually because it reinforces certain qualities that do not need reinforcing.  It is possible, with the guidance of a good teacher, to use that very thing to actually help us break through the negative and make it a positive.

Shall I make an example of myself?

Here is what I mean.  Ashtanga has a reputation for attracting Type A, overly-ambitious, competitive people who obsess about mastering asana, have lots of preconceived ideas about advancing through the series as quickly as possible, and who enjoy the physical punishment of doing such a rigorous practice six days/week.  Sounds like a fun crowd, no?

I won't say that I don't fall into some of those categories.  And I won't say that I didn't spend the first several years of doing my practice caught up in all those things.  In fact, I will say that I was exactly like that.  I thought I was aiming towards one thing but the practice had other plans.  When I had visions of myself mastering the primary series and quickly moving into second series, my teachers put me back to half-primary.  I have written here about this before, but to quickly recap - they put me back there for a good long while.  So long that I finally had to get over myself and begin to (hold on to your hats) enjoy the practice of practice.  When I began to think that one could easily be very happy doing the half-primary for a lifetime, my teachers gave me more postures and I was soon doing the full series.

I have witnessed myself go in and out of that cycle over and over: I get ambitions about where I "should" be and then work through that to a place of comfort with where I am.  I remember having quite a set back when I inadvertently overheard someone telling one of my teachers that I had a "beautiful practice".  That messed me up for a good while!  If and when I do have a beautiful practice, I would say that it is a very humble practice, first and foremost.  If you didn't see humility among the list of qualities that I first mentioned, then you will see what I mean about how yoga can take what is exactly your particular poison and turn it into medicine.

(This is where it gets incomprehensible to anyone who doesn't practice ashtanga...sorry!)

This summer, as I have been practicing on my own, I had set up some loose goals (I mean, I am still a Type A - haven't cured that yet).  Among them were to finally be able to come back up from bhuja pindasana on a regular basis, to really get bakasana into the vinyasa's where it is supposed to be, and (insert dramatic music here) to get to where I can come back up from my drop-backs.  So, what has really happened?  I had a little break through with both bhuja pindasana and bakasana, again, almost when I wasn't looking.  A subtle shift and suddenly they are not so impossible.  I would say it had more to do with awareness than strength.  As for my drop backs (and coming back up)?  They have not advanced very far.  Instead what has greatly improved are my jump-throughs and my sirasana.  So, go figure.

(Ok, back to normal talk.)

So, is the yoga found in the newly improved sirasana (headstand) or is it in the fact that I stopped putting a lot of judgement and narrative around my ability to do sirasana?  That answer is fairly obvious.

And, with that, I need to actually go do my practice and then prep for teaching at a new space in Corner Brook.

Nothing stands still...

No comments: