Tag: Revealing

A Short History of Yoga, or How The Hell Did We Get Here?

When you look at the cover of Yoga Journal and see a skinny white lady in $100 yoga pants doing acrobatics, you are looking at a very modern, very American version of yoga. Which is not to say that asana (postures) aren’t yoga.

Instagram yoga is yoga. Ashtanga yoga is yoga. Iyengar yoga is yoga. Chanting is yoga. Reading and studying sacred texts is yoga. Writing poetry is yoga. Meditation is yoga.

Sometimes I think that my definition of yoga looks a little like the congressional definition of pornography: I can’t exactly define it, but I know it when I see it.

I do think it’s useful to know a little about the very beginning, because sometimes that helps us understand where we are now.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive, exact, academic history of the timeline of yoga. I will get things wrong, but this gives us a through-line of the practice right until today on your mat.

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So, let’s do it this way:

Why Do Yoga Every Damn Day

I’ll be honest, I didn’t intend to become a yoga teacher. I enrolled in teacher training very selfishly because I loved yoga, and I wanted to do more of it, and more deeply. I had no interest in sharing that with any of you, thank you very much.

Then, much to my surprise, it turns out that nothing makes me happier than teaching yoga.

I teach yoga because it changed me. It changed my body, but it also changed my perspective, my worldview, my understanding of myself, my concept of God, and my general opinion of wearing tights in public. With very, very few exceptions, my yoga practice has vastly changed my life for the better.

Now, let me clear: I don’t believe that I can change you, your perspective, or your worldview. In fact, I try to live and work under the assumption that I can’t do any of those things. But I do feel a great privilege of sharing the practice that has been shared with me, exploring and explaining it in a way that I hope is useful to you.

Because I do believe that yoga will change you.

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In January 2014 — after I quit my “real” job — I knew I needed structure so I signed up for an Iyengar Yoga Intensive at Yoga Bywater. All my favorite yoga friends raved about Heide, her teaching, and the practice. They also warned me how much it sucked. How much they hated waking up that early, and how hard it was.

I’ve come to believe that often the best things are also the worst things – so that seemingly mixed endorsement was exactly what I needed to be sold.

For nearly eight months, I woke up to practice from 7:30-9:30 am, five days a week. Ten hours a week of yoga changed my body, and quickly. I knelt with wooden wedges pushed into my knee creases, did backbends over wooden blocks, through metal folding chairs, and in ropes tied to a wall. I did handstands every single morning. I held downward facing dog for five straight minutes (eventually). I did 153,000 leg lifts. I did most of it without complaining, griping, or whining. Mostly.

The level of precision required in Iyengar practice is immense and impressive. After ten years of vinyasa yoga, and two years of teaching, I thought I knew some things about my body and alignment. In those eight months, my alignment was fine tuned — it was like before I was only spinning the Big Radio Dial to get into the general vicinity. Now I was spinning the Little Dial, getting clearer and clearer and clearer.

“My right hip is tight,” became “My anterior inner left groin is restricted, my posterior inner right groin is stuck, my right sacrum pulls to the left, and my piriformis is hypertonic.”  I can differentiate between the heads of all three hamstrings, and know which one is being pulled by my hyper-lordotic pelvis, and which one makes my knee hurt. I became acutely aware of which ribs were moving and which weren’t. I can now feel exactly where my 7th rib pulls away from my spine. My body awareness skyrocketed.

I learned the first four lines of the yoga sutras by heart. I chanted the invocation to Patanjali. I began to understand the value of this text by putting it into practice in my body.

But perhaps most important? Where I used to think I didn’t even enough “will power,” I now know my tendency is to work so hard that I injure myself. I never think what I’m doing is enough. I’m a show-off. And I hate how I look when I walk.

I learned that a teacher who sees me every morning learns what I can see about myself – and what I can’t see. She lovingly reminds me that “you think you’re doing it, but you’re not doing it.” She’s my accountability. She’s a balanced view of my practice. She shows me when to work harder and when to ease up.

And the difference between how she sees me and how I see myself is a direct measure of how much I still have to learn.

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A year ago, I started offering the same kind of short-form, intense practice in my own bhakti-infused vinyasa style. And I discovered how magical it is to watch people change in such a short period of time. To push people harder than they think they can be pushed, and also to empower them go easier on themselves. I do my best to see people lovingly yet honestly, and share what I see.

I cannot change you and I cannot make you see about yourself what you don’t see yet. But I can share what I see, lovingly and honestly. I can be a witness to your transformation. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, I can offer useful feedback that will enable you to change yourself. And I will always learn from you, I will always be inspired when you show up every morning at 6:30am, and I will always be grateful that you let me share the beauty of this privilege of teaching you. Every. Single. Morning.

If you have questions about practicing this way, send me an email.  Or bite the bullet and try it. We start Monday, January 4th at 6:30am.

I dare you.


The Veil is Thin

This time of year, we sometimes say “the veil is thin” — the division between the waking world and the sleeping world, the conscious and unconscious, the embodied and transcended.  Halloween (All Hallow’s Eve) gives us a chance to remind ourself that we’re all just dressed up in costumes and masks all the time.  My teacher Mitchel Bleier once suggested that we get all dressed up not to disguise who we are, but instead to discover who will recognize us despite our external trappings.

We all know that feeling of walking down Frenchmen Street in 7″ platform boots, giant wings, a mask, elaborate costume — only to have someone see us, recognize us instantly.  Maybe you don’t know the feeling of platform boots and the smell of Frenchmen Halloween — but that recognition, that being seen, is something we all deeply crave.

But what is it that we’re seeing when we see another person like that? And how do we cultivate that vision?  Is it their walk?  Their “aura”? (Aside: I hate words like aura — I think they separate us more into the in-the-esoteric-know and otherwise.)  Do we hear that specific lilt in their voice, glint in their eye?  Why is it that the year I dressed us as The Angel From Montgomery, my fake white eyelashes veiled me from the man I was sleeping with at the time, but not my yoga DJ?

How do we reveal our own true self – not the one we costume with careers and status, fancy clothes and perfect hair – but the one that those who know us recognize?  And how do we train our vision to look beyond these external veils, to the true nature of the people around us?

When you mask this Friday — I encourage you to explore if you are trying to hide or reveal your light.  Sometimes, when we entirely change our external layers, only most real parts of ourselves remain.