Why I Stopped Caring if My Yoga Was Right

Some yoga teachers claim authenticity of their practice because of how old it is. I’ve practiced with teachers who say their yoga is the “real yoga,” because their teacher taught them the “real teachings.”

Why do we need age or exclusivity to authenticate our personal experience in yoga?

I’ve been exploring a new approach to alignment called “The Bowspring.” It flies in the face what many of us were told and have believed for years that a strong core was “the belly pulled back and up,” and that an anatomical neutral pelvis was the safest and healthiest way to work. I have taught hundreds, if not thousands, of students these same principles: keep the tail moving down towards the heels (but don’t tuck it!), pull the belly back to protect the lower back, front shoulders back, shoulder blades flat on your back!

It’s a rigid shape. It feels hard to me, especially now.

bowtest
The Bowspring alignment echoes an article circulating recently from NPR about why indigenous cultures don’t have back pain. When the base of the buttocks lifts, the belly is full, the lumbar curve is greater than “anatomical neutral,” and the whole ribcage expands out and back. I’ll be the first to say I am not an anatomy expert (just an anatomy nerd) — but in my body, that feels better. It feels stronger, fluid, and dynamic. My body feels soft AND strong at the same time, and not at all rigid.

I was talking to a student about this after my lunchtime class today, and I’m beginning to wonder: Why do we care so much about which yoga practice(s) are “authentic”? Why do we care how old the poses are? Which sequence or alignment is the best? How could we say that anyone (or any country, or any religion) owns yoga? Does it matter that the vinyasa we all love is probably only 150 years old, and was influenced by British calisthenics?

I suddenly realized: Who owns love? Which love is the best? What love is the most authentic?

The answer, of course: none of us, and all of us, all at once. All love is the best, but none is better than another. To paraphrase my teacher’s teacher, “How can you compare infinites?”

That’s the kind of yoga I’m interested in. I want yoga that makes me curious. I want yoga that nurtures change and growth, and doesn’t elevate something static. I want yoga that helps me explore my body, my thought patterns, my emotional hang ups, and leaves me feeling more myself.

So I’ve been practicing the Bowspring. I might teach it in class or online somewhere down the line. But it doesn’t matter.  

If your practice leaves you feeling stifled, restricted, pent up, or somehow less than… I’m curious: what kind of yoga are you interested in?

Integrity

You’re made up of a million different parts. Perhaps even an infinite number.

It’s like the night sky. You can look up, and see twinkly lights — you know that some are stars and some are planets. You even know there are some that you can’t see because of light pollution. You know there are more than you can’t see because there so far away, but you still trust that they’re there. Millions of stars. Spread out across the universe – perhaps an infinite number across an infinite universe.

The gift of this life is exploring all the different pieces — and trusting that just because you can’t see some of those pieces right now, you trust that they are there. You keep exploring, keep looking closer, deeper, farther.

Despite being made of infinite parts, you also know you’re one whole. You’re both things: the pieces and parts of you that you can take apart, and the whole together. The old adage says your whole is more than just the sum of those million parts.

The remarkable thing about the matrix that is you is that one part also carries with it the connection to every other part. Sometimes the connection and relationship is easier to see, sometimes it’s more tricky. You know when you move your foot forward to step, something happens in your pelvis. It may be harder to experience what’s happening in your neck when your foot steps forward – but the more aware you are, the more willing you are to explore that connection.

It’s even harder to see those connections in the parts of us we can’t see — but know are there. When you offer someone a kind word, you know that’s connected to your history of experience with them. It might be harder to connect the kind word you offer to that person with your history of experience with someone else, but you’re willing to explore that connection.

What if it’s all connected? What if your foot is connected to the kind word? What if your history of experience is part of the miraculous matrix of your body?

Are you willing to see it? You’re one thing, refracted and reflected from an infinite number of angles.

Integrity is moving from that one thing in an infinite number of directions. You’re brave enough to make decisions from your center, instead of trying to be one thing in your day job and something else at home with your kids. You know the things you say to coworkers affect how you kiss your lover goodnight.

An infinite number of stars, one whole you.

Is Your Practice Protection or Prison?

Physical yoga (asana) comes from tantric schools of yoga. Tantra, however — contrary to everything your mother fears — is not all about sex. Instead, tantric practices are a concrete exploration of the divine. Tantric practice, in any tradition, involves ritual, movement, mantra, and other practices that give us a chance to experience the miracle of the world instead of just ruminate about it.

The word tantra comes from two Sanskrit roots – “tan” means expansion or stretching, while “tra” and it’s variations means protection or tool. Tantra, in its earliest forms, is often translated as “weaving” or “loom,” – in a way that we must stretch thread, and then bring it together, then stretch again and so forth.

If you have a physical yoga practice, that might sound familiar. You roll out your mat, take some sun salutations, and then settle into a yoga posture. Your practice expands into more and more challenging poses, you begin to stretch and extend your body, find more space, and then dive into that space. You’re constantly expanding, settling in, expanding, and settling in again. This is one of the reasons we call it a practice: because there is always more to explore, always more to stretch, always another pose. Perhaps paradoxically, there is always more contentedness, more ease, and more stability to be found in each of those shapes.

Mantra might be another piece of your yoga practice — another word adopted into our modern vocabulary. Mantra hasn’t been as misunderstood: most of understand it as a word or phrase repeated that comes to represent an idea or ideology. In yoga practice, repeating a mantra has a very similar meaning.

Etymologically, you can see the similarity between mantra and tantra. They both have that “tra” – protection or tool at the end. The “man” comes from “manas,” which means mind — sometimes just the thoughts, sometimes the entire space between your ears including emotions, senses, and all the rest.

So then mantra can both protect the mind and be a tool of the mind. We can use mantra to direct the thoughts — and by directing them in one singular direction, we direct the mind AWAY from all the crazy we’re trying to avoid most of the time. It’s like the banks of a river: without those boundaries, the water spreads, sits, and stagnates into a swamp. The edges keep the water moving in a certain direction.

But what happens when those boundaries feel stifling? What’s the difference between protecting the mind from distraction and putting blinders on? What happens when the walls you built up to protect yourself become like a prison?

This is where tantra returns. There is no final answer, but instead a constant dance between feeling restricted and feeling protected. Every time we get complacent, we can challenge ourselves, expanding our thoughts and our body. Every time it feels like too much, we can always retreat back into the safety of our practice.

The Two Kinds of Darkness

This epic super moon eclipse on the vernal equinox has me thinking about darkness. This is what I’ve been thinking:

There are two main flavors of darkness in our life. Because its easier to see what happening in the world outside us, rather than the world inside us (although I think they are the same), I’ll use meteorological metaphors to talk about these shadows. First, there’s the darkness caused by a great big, ominous, angry storm cloud covering the sun. And then there’s the darkness of midnight, in the void before dawn. It’s two completely different kinds of darkness, and yet we tend to respond to them in similar ways.

The storm clouds show up in our life as suffering — we are abandoned, disappointed, betrayed, or otherwise wounded. When we’re in the midst of this kind of darkness, it’s impossible to see the brightness in our life. When friends suggest the silver lining (i.e. getting laid off means you have time to pursue that side career of your dreams!), we quietly resent their perkiness. We try to be more cheery, we know we should be more positive – but when things are dark, sometimes you just have to wait for the darkness to pass. Because no storm can last forever.

The other kind of darkness is the darkness right before the dawn. The black sky, the void, the emptiness. This darkness is terrifying to many of us, because we aren’t sure what will come next — and we are paralyzed by the idea the we might have to begin to paint the picture of dawn.

Both kinds of darkness pass, but while they’re happening they seem like they’ll last forever. When we’re in the depth of heartbreak, we imagine we’ll always be heartbroken. We’ll never find love again, we’ll be alone eternally — might as well get a grocery cart and 12 more cats now. It the moment just before daybreak, when we have no idea what the next step on this path is because no one else has ever tread this path (because it’s our path), we can’t imagine we’ll ever know what the ground feels like under our feet or that we’ll ever be able to do anything at all.

Here’s what I see as the difference: the storm cloud offers a kind of security blanket, a kind of familiar bleakness that will neither surprise nor disappoint us. Sometimes it just hurts so good. That blackness before daybreak, however, is terrifying – it’s emptiness, eternal possibility. I will do anything to get out of that space.

And so this eclipse is a little like that midnight darkness — a little reset button on the sun. It can be terrifying to realize that our entire life might change forever and we could move in a completely new direction, especially if we think we have to chart the course from the beginning.

I suggest just start with the daybreak – start with the streaming layers of red and ochre, that painfully exquisite sight of your life rising over the horizon.

Commencement — What I Wish Someone Had Told Me at My Graduation

I was invited to give the Commencement Address at Herzing University‘s December graduation last night.  It was one of those opportunities that came to me through a  series of unpredictable events (aka divine providence), but it meant I had just a few days to put together my thoughts for these graduates. I might have said something different if I had been given more time, but instead I just shared with them exactly where I’m living now. Check it out:


Good evening and welcome! I want to thank Jason for inviting me tonight. It is a deep honor for me to be among you, with your family and your friends and your partners and maybe even your children. I share with them deep pride in and inspiration by the dedication that got you here tonight. Please know that your work blazes a trail for everyone you meet – everyone who wants to make themselves better, their work better, and their world better. I want to a share a quote with you from one of my favorite authors, and it’s a quote I try to live my life by. Marianne Williamson says:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

As you move forward after your time here at Herzing, you have two choices. You can move towards joy, or you can move away from fear.

We all have fears – even fears that we are powerful beyond measure. That power in us can be intimidating, and it encourages us to take risks – and sometimes those risks lead to failure. I don’t know about you, but I’m deeply afraid of failing. I might have been a little afraid to get up here tonight, afraid of what you think of me, afraid I’ll say the wrong thing, or that I’ll let you down.

But I made a choice – not to move away from that fear, but instead towards the deep joy of sharing with you something I believe so strongly. I know each of you were afraid to begin your studies here, I know each of you had moments when you thought, “I can’t do this.” And I know each one of you made a choice, with great courage in the face of that fear, to move forward.

I think you already know what so many people don’t know – you can live a life that you fall more deeply in love with every single day.

A very wise person once told me: if you want to be happy, do things that make you happy.

And you know what I mean by happy – I don’t mean pleasure; I don’t mean sit on the couch eating bon-bons and binge watching “Orange is the New Black.” When I say happy, I mean so excited to get up in the morning that you’re simply thrilled to be alive.

If you want to be happy, do things that make you happy.

Sometimes when I say this, people argue. They always say some variation of these two things: One, “I don’t know what makes me happy,” and two, “I’m not sure I can be happy.”

I think you graduates know – I think you already have an inkling of what makes you happy. And it’s what got you to this chair tonight. It’s what got you through all those tough assignments, group projects, and the moments when you thought you couldn’t do it.

And if you’re still not completely sure – keep trying. Keep trying things on in your life; take risks. Get curious about the things that make you happy. Don’t be afraid to find things that don’t make you happy – but for heaven’s sake stop doing those things!

If you want to be happy, do the things that make you happy.

If any of you, any of you, fall into that second group, with a deep doubt that it is possible to be that happy – to be in love with your own life – trust me when I say it’s possible.  It’s not just possible for some of us.  It’s possible for each of you.

I learned too late in life that I had a choice to believe this. I could change what I thought about myself and my life. I was not a prisoner of my past, and I could instead embrace my future. And that’s what got each of you here tonight. If you can’t quite believe now, let me believe it for you: You can have a life and work where you are rewarded for being your complete, authentic self, and you fall in love with your life a little more every day.

Just like any other lifelong relationship, you will have doubts. You will wake up some mornings and think: “I’m just not sure I can do this.” That’s normal. It’s actually a great sign – because it’s a sign you’re about to grow. And you already know that because of how many times you maybe thought it in the last few years.

My mom went to medical school when she was 40 years old and I was 6. She once said, “the amount you learn is directly proportional to how uncomfortable you are.” Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

And I know you already know something about this. You know what helps you. I want to share what helps me, and what helps the people I work with every day:

Breathe. They kick me out of yoga teaching if I don’t remind everybody to breathe. Your breath can’t lie – when you get nervous it gets short, quick, and hard. When you’re content or relaxed it’s slow, steady and expansive. So when you’re scared or nervous, slow your breath down. It will trick your brain into thinking you’re content and relaxed. Trust me, it works.

Pray. Americans have a lot of baggage around the word God, so I try not to say it very much. I encourage you to find a deep, abiding connection with a power greater than yourself. Connect to the mystery and the miracle that your heart continues to beat every minute of every day. Don’t be afraid to get quiet. That leads me to the next one:

Be Grateful. Give thanks for the good things in your life, focus on the things that you have, instead of focusing on what you don’t have yet. Your attention is one of the most valuable currencies you have: what you focus on grows. Remember and give thanks for the things that bring you joy. You might just find those things growing.

Be Kind. Be kind to people. Be kind to everyone. Even the people it’s hard to be kind to. I work with homeless drug addicts, corporate executives, and everyone in between. If I’ve learned anything it’s this: it doesn’t matter the circumstances of life, everyone is suffering. Be kind to the people you meet – everyone you meet. And please remember to be kind to yourself.

Laugh & Have Fun. Do things that make you laugh, just because they make you laugh. If you want to be happy, do things that make you happy. Laughter is like nature’s medicine – it’s also great ab work. Laugh as often as you can, and whenever possible, laugh with other people. Because the folks near you are struggling with all the same demons you are, and they need a laugh just as much as you do: maybe even more.

In closing, I want to say thank you. Thank you to your friends and your families for everything they did that got you here tonight. And thank each of you for not giving up when it got tough, but instead moving a little closer to your dreams every day.

The end of that Marianne Williamson quote I started with tonight is this:

“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Congratulations. I can’t wait to see how each of you makes the world a little brighter.

Thank you, and good night.

What Ingress Taught Me About Yoga: A Confession

Ingress has been my dirty little secret for the last four months. Ingress is a mobile, geolocation capture-the-flag style game. Anyone with a cell phone anywhere in the world can play, capturing real-world locations on behalf of their team, and creating imaginary links between those locations (called portals.) When you link three portals together, you create a field for your team. There are only two teams – and you pick which one the day you sign up. No takebacks.

It’s a drastically simple game — as a player, you build a score based on how many places you go, capture on behalf of your team, how many you link together, and how many fields. The team is scored on how large all current fields are, based on population density and not geographical area. There are a number of things you can only do with a team of 8 players (or more) – which mandates teamwork, especially the further you progress.

The logistics of the game are the same over and over and over again: go to a place, claim it for your team (maybe after taking it from the other team), link, field. Capture, link, field. Repeat. Over and over and over. The game is always being played. Always. Everywhere. The official slogan of the game? Ingress: The World is Not What It Seems.

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For the last four months, I have played an embarrassing number of hours of this game.  Sometimes it was just stopping in between appointments (‘let me just capture this portal on my way to work’), sometimes it was hours at a time (linking and fielding all 54 sculptures at City Park’s outdoor garden), sometimes driving long distances through the night with fellow players to reclaim key portals from the other team. I’ve been a little ashamed of it, to be honest — it didn’t seem like something a yoga teacher “should” be doing. I never crossed the line into secretive, but I could see how this could become a compulsive addictive hobby for even well-intentioned players. It got too close for comfort for me.

On November 15th, Ingress came to New Orleans for a special event called an “Anomaly.” These monthly events have special rules over a period of 4-5 hours, and players come from all over. All told, we probably had nearly 800 people on both sides playing in New Orleans.

As the host city, our local team pulled out all the stops — coordinating hotel blocks, events, tours, as well as the on-the-ground strategy for gameday. We had help from other teammates from across the country for weeks leading up and over 400 “agents” from out team played. And we won.

Perhaps the strangest irony is that this series of events is called Darsana. In yoga, darsan is what we receive from our teachers when we sit with them. It means “audience,” being able to sit in the presence of the guru. Nothing about Darasana felt like darsan to me.

This event was just like every event I’ve ever been involved in producing in many ways — the core team was stressed to our breaking point, regardless of how much we tried to prepare in advance. Teammates disagreed over strategy, tactics, coordination… and as everyone got more tired, tempers grew short and feelings got hurt. At the end of the event we all were happy to win, and yet… we were also just a little sad. Friendships and romantic relationships are permanent changed, and our team will never be the same.

As we came to the big day, I fell into my old patterns of caretaking while putting my own feelings and experience on the back burner. I ignored my own needs, because it was easier to pay attention to others’. I told myself I wouldn’t do it again, that I could set boundaries this time. But old habits die hard. We all learn the same precious lessons over and over and over again.

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The morning of the Anomaly, I ran into a yoga teaching colleague and mentor and told her I was going to “the opposite of yoga.”

This had become my narrative about Ingress: it was the antithesis of everything I was doing in my life. It was decidedly un-yogic. In some ways, it became an outlet, an escape from the intensity of my day-to-day life. Everytime I played, I felt like I was cheating on yoga, breaking some unspoken rule for yoga teachers. Shouldn’t I be meditating somewhere? Or planning a class? Or practicing myself? Instead, I snuck around “hacking portals” and “blocking links” and “destroying fields.”

I spoke exactly that way about yoga – and still do, sometimes – for the first year of my teaching. Yoga was frivolous, “woo-woo,” a thing relegated to ditzy hippies. Three years ago, every time I told someone at my old suit-wearing job that I was training to be a yoga teacher, I apologized. To my surprise, everyone I told was curious, interested, and impressed. After three years, I’ve finally begun to accept that yoga is more than I imagined, and being a yoga teacher is a more significant job than could have I expected. I might still snicker to myself when my Reiki teacher says things like “auric field” — but I’ve begun to recognize that hint of doubt as the signal of somewhere I need to grow.

When I told my friend I was going to the “opposite of yoga,” she smiled knowingly. “It’s all yoga,” she said. What a pat, trite thing to say, I thought. Lightbulb: it’s where I need to grow.

My doubts, my self-doubts especially, are the shining light where there is work to be done.

Through this whole process, I thought “these poor people who spend all their lives on Ingress. Don’t they have anything truly meaningful in their lives? What are they running away from?” Such sneaky self-righteousness. Ingress taught me just what my yoga practice teaches me: humility and compassion. Because now I’m asking myself: “Don’t I have anything meaningful in my life? What am I running away from?”

Aren’t we all running from something? Don’t we all look for an escape sometimes?

We can use yoga as an escape from the real world, or an opportunity to see it more clearly. We can imagine the yoga studio is a retreat from our daily grind, or we can see it as a place to reveal our lives to us more clearly. Every medicine can be poison if taken in the wrong doses.

I thought Ingress was an escape. In fact, it gave me an opportunity to see myself more clearly.

Now I need a new hobby.

Never Without Fear

Nataraja’s Abhaya Mudra

One of the more common mudras in the yoga tradition is the Abhaya mudra.  Bhaya is often translated as fear, and a- is the negative modifier, so the abhaya means literally “No Fear.”  The gesture means “be not afraid,” or “have no fear.” It’s a welcoming, inviting mudra, and we often see the murtis (statues of hindu gods) with one of their hands in this position.

One of my teachers, Douglas Brooks, has a fascinating translation that may appear counterintuitive for this word – but I truly love it.

“While the raised open palm may appear to us a signal of caution or even warning, it is also an invitation and an opportunity to approach, then come closer, open the heart, and accept the journey of self-inquiry. Fearlessness is the beginning of all such journeys, not just the end. Fearlessness is never without fear but rather that way in which we step into our courage and bring the heart, mind, and body into a deeper appreciation of each and every situation.”

Douglas also suggests that a hero does the thing we are afraid to do, so that we don’t have to watch him do it.  In the oldest sense of this, we don’t want to watch the warrior defeat the enemy — we know without thinking that witnessing slaughter of another human would be traumatic — but we understand this is a “necessary evil,” and we’ll even throw him a parade when he returns.  Once we have matured past a certain age, we know that heroes are human, and if fact we want human heroes, since those who find joy in the slaughter are monsters, not heroes.

So is it possible that what makes a hero is her fear?  One who knows the power of her action, who steps strongly the direction of the task at hand although they may be terrified of each step.  The hero must understand the gravity of her action, and be aware of the inherent conflict of taking such a step.  The true hero is never without fear.

So for us, today — who hopefully have no experience of armed combat — what are our fears?  And how can we walk both fearlessly and never without fear into the things that frighten us the most?

What’s it like to walk into a room of people you haven’t seen in over ten years?  Or to start a new job or business?  How does it feel to walk into a first date with someone you don’t know well?  Or to ask someone on that first date?  How does it feel to ask for a raise? To stand up to your parents (or your partner, or your best friend, or your children) when you make a decision that they don’t like? To tell your partner you’ve been fired?  To end a relationship when you know it will devastate the other?

Instead of repressing that feeling, that anxiety, that fear, can you lean into it?  Can you be never without fear, instead using your fear as a guidepost, accepting it for what it is, and allowing it to inform your actions without ruling you?  Fear can only paralyze us if we resist it.  Next time, can you instead raise your hand, abhaya — fearless and never without fear, breathe, and take steady steps forward into and through it?

This playlist invokes Kali – that fierce quality in all of us that defends the ones we love – and Nataraja, the dancing face of Shiva who’s abhaya mudra invites into the dance of life, both through and despite our fears.

Into the Desert: Bhakti Fest I

I’ve just returned from five days of Bhakti Fest – what I lovingly refer to as Yoga Heaven.

In the middle of the Mojave Desert, at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, about 5,000 yogis and bhajans come together to sing, practice, and pray for four days. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to be at Bhakti Fest, but I want to give it a shot to share it with you all.

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Windfarm

I arrive on Wednesday mid-morning, after a three hour drive from my brother’s place in Pasadena. Los Angeles has a magical quality, sandwiched between the ocean and the mountains. But Joshua Tree is in the desert beyond the mountains, and the drive there is a metaphor for the journey we’re embarking on. We leave behind the beaches of Santa Monica, and hikes in Hollywood Hills, drive through gaps in the San Bernadino mountains, past giant cities of windmills, beyond Palm Springs’ 100 golf courses and the Native American Casinos to arrive at the Institute for Mentalphysics in Joshua Tree, CA. (Yes, that’s what it’s called).

The Retreat Center is well worn, with a few central buildings – the Sanctuary we use for workshops, the carpeted “exercise” hall that transforms into Yoga Hall I – surrounded by modest housing designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and his son. Don’t get too excited – it’s no Falling Water – but the stark design of the apartments and caravansary don’t distract you from the landscape.

The desert of Joshua Tree

The desert of Joshua Tree

And then here in the middle of the desert, is a giant outdoor stage, along with two other yoga halls, and a tiny village built for all of us to come together to sing, practice and pray. We drink chai and vegan protein shakes, eat delectable dosas stuffed with kitcharee. I’m grateful they have a coffee stand, and the chunky monkey (blended bananas and cacao nibs) ain’t half bad.

I settle into my apartment, a bathroom and workable kitchen (except the stove is just for show), which I share with six other women – five of whom are strangers. I describe my sleeping arrangements as “bougie,” to a friend who (like most attendees) is camping in the desert nearby. I know myself well enough to know that I’m not enlightened enough to go without A/C and my own shower for five days in the desert.

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My first day is spent in an intensive with Dharma Mitra. He’s one of the old masters; a 70-something Brazilian who you might accidentally mistake for Indian — especially when he effortlessly demonstrates a two-fingered headstand. Like most of the spiritual teachers of the weekend, I am reminded that humor is mandatory to be successful in this business — whether because it attracts students or keeps you sane doesn’t seem to matter.

Mitra tells us at least a dozen times to “extend our compassion beyond our pets,” which is a much milder version of vegan promotion than his previous edict “If you eat animals, you become an animal.” I do my best to meet teachers like this with a blend of compassion and humility, for both of us. We do an old school practice that requires a lot of long holds of deep poses, including lizard as pose #3. There are lots of invitations to bring lotus or half-lotus into our postures, which I politely decline.

Like many old school teachers, he goes around the room giving less-than-gentle adjustments. It almost looks like he’s throwing people into poses, teasing them when they cross the wrong leg in front, openly scolding people who can’t follow his direction. He can get away with this approach, yet it stands in such contrast to the gentle coddling I give my own students who don’t have a highly developed sense of body awareness.

Within half an hour we’re doing a number of headstand variations (again: on carpet under yoga mat), followed by shoulderstands. These are the “king” and “queen” of poses, but I try to remind myself to take it easy and not push too hard — I can do the poses, but I know my ego still makes wagers my body can’t cash in on. I’m a little worried for the students who are less aware or less careful, considering these are also the most injurious poses in the practice. I’m surprised that Mitra pairs us up at the end of practice for a couple of acro poses, and grateful when he gives us an extra long savasana. That is something the old school teachers get right every time.

We’re given a 20-minute break, and return for a dharma talk about the philosophy of yoga. Without telling us that’s what he’s doing, he’s breaking down the first three chapters of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. I find it nice to start here. The Sutras may not be everyone’s favorite text, but it seems important to start weaving the tapestry of the weekend with this as the base layer. We’ll hear competing advice over the weekend to the “nirodha” yogis (withdraw your senses, retreat inside, and discover the magical gem of your true nature), but Mitra offers it sincerely and honestly as “the right way.” He goes into the koshas and the kleshas and atma bodhi, and teaches some pranayama. He tells us to skip the first two chapters of the Bhagavad Gita (bless his heart).

He uses computer and cell phone metaphors, which seem ubiquitous nowadays in the yoga crowd. But it’s a nice way to think of it: what makes a cell phone useful is the signal, not the hardware. You’re gonna trade in for the newest technology every two years anyway (if you’re lucky enough not to crack your screen) — so better not to get too attached to your current device. Remember: the signal is what matters. “If you don’t see the bliss in you, you’re blocking it.” It’s both a hopeful and hopeless sentiment.

He tells us he loves to play pool. He gives practical advice about how to put these lessons into action: do your meditation like you take a shower. Do it every day. Don’t beat yourself up when you miss a shower, you just take one the next day. He closes with a perfectly luxurious 30-minute yoga nidra (usually translated as “yogic sleep,” but that he calls “psychic sleep” — I prefer this translation.)

* * * * *

I limp back to my bougie apartment to eat, shower, and prepare for the opening kirtan. My knee hurts, and I know instantly that my chronically tight groins were not okay with the deep groin work, even if I did skip most lotus attempts. I promise myself I’ll make an appointment with a body worker in the morning.

 

More to come…