02.10.10

Why I don’t write about yoga

Posted in Exploration and Questions at 6:21 pm by tracichildress

In this winter’s hibernation stretch, with the holidays behind me, I have discovered something new about myself: yoga has settled simply into my life. This might make more sense with some context. 10 years ago I did a two year apprenticeship with my teacher in Germany; she taught me how to teach; she shared a powerful methodology. From there, I went on to study in India, to do a two year teacher training, to complete a Master’s thesis (& degree) that looked at yoga in our culture and the way folks are excluded from it, and then to work for one of the largest nonprofit retreat centers in the United States, doing curriculum development for them in yoga, mindfulness, and holistically minded/intended events.

This is relevant because it was a whirlwind of ten years of immersion in yoga– as my practice, as an art I share, as an evolving cultural phenomenon, and as a business. I do not agree with the idealization of the practice. I have fought hard to use my position (as practitioner, teacher, business person, and curriculum developer) to push the yoga culture in directions that are more inclusive. I have met and gotten to know a very significant handful of the famous and the not so famous among us in the community.

So when I started this blog, I was sure I would have much to say. However, after a few weeks, I found myself more compelled to write on my other “non yoga”blog (VisionWorks). This was the first sign pointing me to where I am today: realizing that yoga has become part of who I am in a way that it feels unnatural to sort out and ask to stand alone. It is, if anything, simply a tool and a practice in a life I lead and a spiritual inquiry I am committed to.

I recently started an advanced yoga class again. I have maintained a regular practice as I’ve moved with my family to a new city and started our new life, but I have lost interest in adventurous poses in my home practice, so I entered the class not sure how things would go. What I discovered was that I could do all of the advanced poses, and that I enjoyed it. However, I also noted that it wasn’t what it used to be.

The yoga sutra that speaks of asana– stirum sukum asanam– speaks to establishing a seated posture that allows one to sit for meditation. Asana stretcthens the body, the nervous system, gives one access to the breath. From there, we can enter the deeper layers of our beings: penetrate through the kosas (thourgh breath, mind, intellect, intellegence, to bliss). BKS Iyengar teaches that one teaches from the gross to the subtle–from that which we can see to that which we do not see. Asana works similarly: from the gross external inward to the more subtle.

I do not plan to give up my asana practice; I just find myself needing less fanfare.  Yoga has taken me much deeper into (& out of) myself — through  the layers of my being. I don’t claim to have touched bliss– but I do feel that I have come to a more peaceful place and cultivated that capacity in a more accessible way. I can call on my breath, mind, and intellect more easily and invite them to support one another in mundane non-asana oriented moments, the easy and the hard ones.

At an Omega Yoga conference, Aadil Palkhivala once spoke about asana being for the sake of knowing god, and for that alone. Anything else, he said, is ego. If getting your foot behind your head helps you to know God (these are my words now, not his), then do it, and do it again; but if it doesn’t, well, then what is it that it is doing for you? Is it helping you to meet your fuller potential?

Right now I find myself more at peace, more in touch with god (or that sense of larger purpose) with a 10 minute paschimotanasana than with a fast paced 40 pose sequence. Come spring, I may need more speed to access the subtle parts of myself. In the meantime, (and I hope, from now on in my life) that finding myself less compelled to write about “yoga” as a separate experience,  continues to correlate with being content to simply experience it as it unfolds each day, each breath.

09.28.09

Practice and spiritual progress

Posted in Exploration and Questions, Personal Practice at 12:19 pm by tracichildress

In Isherwood’s commentary to his translation of the yoga sutra (I.30-31, pg. 65), he writes: “Conscious feelings , however, exalted, are not the only indications of spiritual progress. We may be growing most strongly at a time when our minds seem dark and dull. So we should never listen to the promptings of sloth, which will try to persuade us that this dullness is a sign of failure as long as we continue to make an effort.” This has been an important idea for me in the last year. It has been a point of meditation and I feel I have grown from contemplating it.

I recall an introduction to a book of poetry by Mark Strand, one of my favorite poets. In it he writes of a year in his life when he found himself always in his garden and never at his desk writing. He struggled that year with a sense of sadness and lack of worth—questioning whether or not he was really a poet. I recall reading this with a sense of understanding, and since have continued to observe my own fear of not being something because I don’t appear to be doing it in a particular way. I like to recall how Mark’s introduction ended—by writing that the very book in my hand, the collection to which the story was an introduction had indeed been written that very year. He had not sat at a desk or written, but none-the-less, the poems in that book had been born and nurtured in that year—to be recorded later in a frenzy.

I think that this is something like faith—belief that we are exactly where we should be and trust that once on the spiritual path, dedication will always take us home. Writing and being creative—in addition to my yoga pracitce—help me to remember this, again and again.