(Featured in Moon Salutations book by Laura Cornell)
A small piece of writing that will become a part of something bigger, when I can sit for a longer period of time...
One of the more powerful experiences in my recent life of travel was the chance to dance in the light of a full moon on the beach in Bahia, Brazil, a beach all but void of any human form other than my own. The moon was huge. Exhilarating. The reflected light of the sun reflecting again in the tidal waters, right where the ocean became a river and ran alongside itself. Lots of reflections of reflections. I’ve not been one for doing things in my life that may qualify as Wild Woman. Until the birth of my children. Nothing that Sark wrote about, until this past year. Nothing resembling the dark goddesses except Manic Panic and an unruly high school boyfriend or two.
Yet this moment held me in a culmination of the lunacy of this full year of birthing two babies at the same time. I was as round and as full as the moon, in the months before they were born. I howled like a ruddy Bhairavi during their birth. I bled. And bled. And bled. And bled. And met Kali.
I often sit in self-conscious bittersweetness, in my 900 square foot, certainly suitable apartment; homebound more than I’ve ever been, oscillating between my attempts at busting open hearts and minds and tuning up bodies in the few courses I am still teaching, and then coming home to watch teeth grow; to watch hair grow. It’s fantastic. And paradoxical. Home is the best kind of cultivating heart-full boredom that I’ve known. Work is enchanting and soul-feeding. I’ve spent the vast majority of my life wanting adventure and travel. So being at home is a new, slow cooked pace.
I just watched a little clip of moonlight on the Brazilian ocean in a movie and started to cry. Then I looked over at the full, sweet faces and smiles on my boys and smiled. There. Here. My full moon reflections. Them. The reflection and refraction of the light we’ve created. Okay, then. Okay.
I am on the other side of my most recent rite of passage, giving birth to my spritely twin boys, who are now two months old. I would say "already" two months old, or "just" two months old, but those descriptors imply that I understand the meaning of the time that has passed. (Mary Oliver: Meanwhile, the world goes on…) Time has become relative. Or maybe it isn't time that's changed. Maybe I have changed. Or maybe there's more to time than I thought. My teacher describes four different kinds of time: linear, cyclic, punctiliar and recursive.
Linear was the only time I knew before yoga.
"When I was little…"
"When the boys are bigger…"
"Before I die I want to…"
"I can't wait to…"
"That's in the past…"
Life moving forward. Can't go back in time and change how things went. This, too, shall pass.
Which lends itself well to:
This is what I have come to describe to students as "geologic time." The earth settling and folding into itself and erupting over and over again, in a pattern so vast we can only study it in theory, or see it in remnants of proof of all that time passing. Epochs.
Or, as my sweetie loves to say as a catch phrase meaning, order of magnitude: BigTime. (As in, "I love you. BigTime." Or, "That class kicked my ass; BigTime.")
But Peter Pan says it best:
This has all happened before and it will all happen again.
I have joined the ranks of the billions of people who have endeavored to make more people, and those people will make more people.
Then there's Punctiliar time.
Think "punctual." As Douglas Brooks says, these are the be here now kind of people. Full disclosure: I suck at that. I think it's because I have a vivid imagination and an active dream life. I don't think this moment, as it is, is all there is. That's somebody else's yoga.
Finally, Recursive Time,
A record on repeat. No, the same record, starting over again before it's completed its cycle. Like a round. No, the same record playing on five different record players… Or?
Row Row Row your Boat,
Row Row Row Your
Row Row Row
Not skipping but layering on itself. Oh boy. Hard to explain and even harder to understand.
It's like changing a diaper:
it has to happen every couple of hours, and for us, that's x2. Sometimes the shit comes in the middle of a change and it starts again before its finished. Kind of like life.
Okay: it's the reason I like practicing the same poses, or chanting the same mantra over and again. It's the same practice, over and over again. Except it's not. It's why one pose can teach you everything you know--because it keeps unfolding and enfolding into a bazillion other experiences. It's one moment that opens into a bazillion (yes, a bazillion) other moments, other possibilities of exploration, a beginning now and now and now and now.
It's like the first Yoga Sutra:
Atha: Now. We begin the practice of yoga.
But each time you read it, the sutras says now. and now and now.
That's recursive time. It starts anew within itself.
Uf! The. point. (punctuation.) I'm. getting. to. is this:
The time I have been given to be home, still, in the chaos of babies, is completely in thanks to the generous support of the yoga community and the greater community at large. This pause, this be-here-now-time, has enabled me to engage a new perspective on how and when I would like to re-enter the world, on what kinds of classes, workshops, retreats and trainings I would like to offer, and on how I can best be of service to the greater community. I know better how I want to spend my yoga time.
On a Recursive note: I am delighted to step back into my tried and true role as a public class instructor in August. Stay tuned for my regular teaching schedule.
I am thrilled to re-engage my role as a teacher trainer this fall at Yoga Yoga, and eventually with Global Yoga Shala (think 2015).
I'm also looking forward to new adventures. Some upcoming & new offerings are below, including another collaboration with Laura Forsyth and One Yoga Collective. Contact me if you'd like to register. I look forward to our time together.
Impossible to disentangle or separate.
It’s been more than a full year since my last entry, and now I write having traveled farther and more frequently than ever before into the far reaches of the world, into the boundaries of my own life experiences, and into the depth of my own heart. These three directions, these three processes are, as I have come to realize and as my teacher likes to say, “inextricably interwoven.” So here I sit, at an (un?)godly hour in the middle of the night, awake, in Austin, because in India, from where I’ve just returned from my third trip of the year with
Global Yoga Shala, it’s tomorrow night already. And ostensibly the end of the world?
Well, it’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine this day because I woke up realizing that I might, finally, have taken my own advice seriously, and might, finally, believe the thing I’ve been saying to my yoga students for the past few years…we’ll get to that advice soon enough.
The world traveler
It’s the experience I just had, in India...in trying to sum up everything I did and saw on my first journey (of what I’m sure will be a lifetime of journeys) to India.
"What was it like?"
"How was India?"
"Did you love it?"
"Are you happy to be home?"
My response to all of these questions is, “Yes.”
India is cacophonous. A veritable feast for the senses, in sound, smell, taste, touch, sight. Food for thought and fodder for the heart of hearts. It’s bright and windy, loud and dirty, beautiful and scary, everything all together, all at once, life inextricably interwoven into itself. India is the living tapestry of Tantra. In the city, the sacred and the profane simultaneously coexist, in one alley, filled with spices, onions, peppers, people, goats, tuk-tuks, women, children, cripples and breathtakingly beautiful goddesses, grime and gold, dirty feet, adorned feet, upside down and mangled feet, men in skirts, women in skirts, goats full of babies and milk, motorcycles with six people on them, bicycles stacked with more grain than one can easily consume in a year, art, gods, poverty and sparkling eyes.
On the “vibrating island” of our little peace of paradise, the Ayurvedic retreat center, the yoga shala, the sound of birds—so freaking many birds singing the lightness of being twenty four hours a day, joined by the chanting over the loudspeaker on the temple island next door at 4 in the morning, joined by 12 seemingly random people who all came together, through Global Yoga Shala, to chant the Gayatri mantra, to do our part for a time (for all time?) to help the sun rise. We learn to make yoga out of everything.
We learn to radically engage ourselves, each other, the teachings, life, fully. We tell the stories of our bodies, the strife beauty and uncertainty of our lives and we share in the process of recognizing the depth of the practice, benefit and lifelong commitment to depth and breadth, the cacophony and alarming silence of life, of yoga.
The life traveler
And all of this immense beauty, yoga teaching and revelation, on the heels of one of the most trying and difficult years of my life. So much change. So much sadness. So much love and support. So much happiness.
To my friends who watched me—with a multitude of expressions on their faces—take a leap into a new and unknown life, take trip after trip all over the world and into loving arms, speak for countless hours about the controversy of downward dog and of god—I have said to them as they have asked me, ‘how are you doing?’ with immense earnestness and concern, I have said, “I’m the happiest I have ever been and I am the saddest I have ever been. It’s both at once. They don’t exist without each other. They’re inextricably interwoven.” Kahlil Gibran has known this since 1923:
“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain."
To my parents, I have said this:
Dear Mom and Dad,
The Global Shala training this time around is just as sweet and intense and wonderful as the others, but with something so much more, and difficult to describe.
First, it’s been such a joy and blessing to have my beloved here with me, and also helping to reach into ourselves and reach out to each other as we explore our relationship as life partners, as teachers of two seemingly different yogas, and from teacher (me) to student (him.) It’s been a great adventure, complete with laughter and tears, trial and error, and moments of breakthrough. We are very much in awe of the fact that we get to spend this time together doing such an amazing things, changing others’ lives as well as our own.
And then there’s India. People were right when they said that India will always surprise you and will be more than you can imagine. This is amplified by the fact that we’re really on what one of my students has come to call a “Vibrating Island.” It’s really a fantasy land or fantastically a reality land?… this tiny island in the middle of a lake filled with migrating floating flowers. The island is teeming with all manner of wildlife, the majority of which are very loud birds. Crows, kingfishers (my new favorite bird, by the way), a family of screech owls that roost in the neighboring rooftop and keep my friend up most of the night. (The baby owl landed, staring at the group of us, last night on a chair at the next table over on the lawn. A truly magical moment.), herons, ducks, birds of paradise. Mosquitos, millipedes, chameleon geckos, some kind of giant (10 inch long) lizard that likes to sprint across the lawn to the yoga shala and up the bamboo screens to watch us practice through the slats in the screen… It’s a microcosm to the macrocosm that is chaotic India.
Teeming with life, traffic, where lanes are a formality that most people ignore and women ride side saddle on the back of a motorcycle balancing their 4 year-old between the two adults and holding baby in her arms. All of this happening while she’s in a beautiful sari. Since lanes are optional, people let you know they’re coming by honking their horn. This happens every time the bus approaches someone walking or bicycling in the street, which is about every 10 feet.
I am overwhelmed by the beauty outside, in all its color and noise and chaos, and I see it reflected in the eyes of my students, watching the color and noise and chaos make more sense through the practice of yoga—of coming to know themselves for the first time through reflection on the body, mind and the heart’s desires. It really reminds me of that t.s. eliot poem that goes something like, when you leave a place you thought you knew, and travel to see the world, you come back to that place, as though to know it for the first time.
I love you both so much and feel so grateful to be your daughter…that you advocate for me, that you encouraged me to learn and to be curious, to follow my heart, to be myself. It’s taken me a long way…into my own heart.
I love you,
The depth of my own heart
My advice to my students is this: Remember that there’s no part of you that’s not welcome here. In this room. On your mat, in your yoga practice, and finally, in your life.
And so now to me, to be repeated like daily mantra. Libby: remember that there’s no part of you that’s not welcome here. In your life. In this room. The ‘good’ and the ‘bad,’ the beautiful and the ugly, the anger, the ecstacy, the profane, the sacred, the sad, the flawed, the lovely, the scared child, the struggling adult, the yoga teacher, the yoga student, the friend, the employee, the boss, the leader, the follower, the sister, the daughter, the ex-wife, the lover, the body, the mind—they are all me.
Yoga has taught me, as my teacher’s teacher has taught me, that “Every part of us that we do not learn to love will become hostile to us.” The moment I try to reject a part of myself—decisions I’ve made, fears of inadequacy, my own strange beauty—I have missed the point. Yoga brings me back to the point. To say Yes to every experience life offers; to every part of myself. Then make yoga of it. Engage fully, with radical affirmation and acceptance.
People were right when they said that you will always surprise yourself and will be more than you can imagine. I am overwhelmed by the beauty inside, in all its color and noise and chaos, and I see it reflected in my own eyes, watching the color and noise and chaos make more sense through the practice of yoga.
I cannot be any less than all of this, and I am certainly more than all of this put together… all the roles I embody, all the parts of me I like and the ones I don’t—all the experiences I’ve had that I like, and the ones I don’t—are inextricably interwoven. They make each other.
It's been a while since my last post--I've just been out in the world full tilt.
Thought I'd share a letter from a fellow practitioner on the path following our brief and lovely encounter after a class I taught at the Austin Yoga Festival. I offered a Tantric philosophy-embedded asana class. The story I told, to make a very long Indian story short, goes like this:
Shiva, the Lord of Yoga, is a fairly seedy, fringe-of-society character. Here, in this story, he lives in the forest (away from culture) with his love, Parvati. We come upon Shiva and Parvati playing game after game of dice. This Indian folklore tells us that Parvati, (aka Shakti aka Matter) wins nearly every game of dice (life) and Shiva (aka Consciousness) loses nearly every time.
This might seem odd in the light of yoga and its attempts to make more conscious humans out of us...like a good tantrika, though, matter/Mother Nature/the body always wins. The tantric stories remind us we're here to savor the time we have in these bodies, to listen to the body's innate wisdom and to let Shakti win: to let the vibrancy and fullness of life win; to understand fundamentally the gifts of our own embodiment...
From: Karly Pitman
I wanted to write and say hello - we chatted yesterday before your talk and I met you when I first moved to Austin and took your class on the free day of yoga on Labor Day.
I so enjoyed your class and the stories.
I was chuckling to myself as you spoke, because when you were talking about us being misfits, I thought of this quote, one that comforts me about being completely abnormal -
"It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." - J. Krishnamurti
I also loved what you shared about matter always winning...AND that even though we lose, we play the game over and over. That percolated in my heart all day after the festival. My path has been one of loving every messy, aching, human part of us, to embrace and care for our humanity, rather than looking at it as a nuisance, a hindrance, something to evolve out of it, to edit, minimize, or, sadly, to feel ashamed about.
And yet opening to our limits, to our humanity, is not an exercise in pity or giving up. We still play the game. We play it over and over by opening our hearts to this need for care, to relate kindly to these limits, to relate compassionately to our tender vulnerability and not to make it wrong.... Rather, it is the source of our beauty, our joy, our cosmic lovemaking.
I think it's intentional that we live in human bodies with limits and impermanence and our tender, tender needs. And I celebrate this with you.
Lastly, I really love the reminder that the "spiritual life is not a vacation from irritation!" That's it's not about escaping from our problems but to relate to them kindly and wisely. In my experience, a spiritual life can bring more challenge. To have others affirm this makes me feel less alone and gives me belonging.
I bow in gratitude for you, and for what you do,
Karly is a coach, speaker, workshop leader, and author who helps men and women heal the roots of food suffering through self kindness, self compassion, and self acceptance - what she calls growing human(kind)ness. Karly founded First Ourselves and leads its compassion based support group for women healing from food "stuff." She lives with her family in Austin, Texas. Learn more about Karly at karlyrandolphpitman.com.
I agreed to write an article on Patanjali's 8 Limbs of Yoga for the Austin Yoga Festival. I'm so grateful for this process because, as a Tantrika, I don't rely as heavily on this system as I used to do. As a yoga teacher-trainer, it's such a prominent part of basic 200hour courses, that it's been such an enriching process to refine my understanding of Patanjali's yoga. As I often say to inquiring yoga philosophy students, 'to become a consumate modern dancer, you have to know ballet.' Most forms of modern dance reference and are built upon the principles of ballet. Same with the evolution of yoga philosophy. I know there's some great metaphor to include here--5 foot positions in classical ballet...8 limbs of yoga... Will work on that one... Here's the article.
... ... ...
A Yogi's To-Do List
On Patanjali's 8 Limbs of Yoga
Practitioners of yoga are called yogis, and yogis love lists. Even the popular definition of yoga offers an explanation in list format. Yoga: union or yoking of body, mind and breath (toward a common practice, which in turn unites the practitioner with her or his best self.) Yogis love questions almost as much as they love lists. Why practice yoga? What does yoga do for me? How do I practice yoga? How do I become a yogi?
Approximately 2000 years ago, give or take 400 years, a sage named Patanjali offered a response, and codified what many consider to be the first how-to manual on the practice of yoga. This manual, called the Yoga Sutra, is one of the most widely referenced yoga texts among yoga schools, likely due to its attention to detail coupled with its level of succinctness: this Sanskrit text is a long list of short aphorisms. What does this manual teach the practitioner to do? (i.e. Why practice yoga?) Patanjali says in Sutras 1.2 and 1.3 that yoga completely calms the fluctuations of the mind, enabling the yogi to see clearly and to rest fully within her or his essential, whole and peaceful nature.
So, how do we become yogis? By practicing yoga. And how do we do that? We make a to-do list. In the second portion of the text, Patanjali offers a list of eight elements that an aspiring practitioner must cultivate in order to reach what Patanjali considers the desired goal of yoga: the calming of the mind and the return to essential, peaceful nature. This list is known as the 8 Limbs of Yoga. Because this list is so popular, many yogis have taken a stab at their own translation of the text. Through the wisdom of the larger community, combined with my own thoughts on the matter, here is the list and a translation of 8 criteria for being and becoming a yogi. If this list leads you to more questions, you’re on the right track.
8 Limbs of Patanjali’s yoga
1. Yama: outward observances
Yama often translates as “restraint”, but the yama(s) (yes, Patanjali gives a list of 5 yamas) are invitations to external observances, or outward practices, that promote peace and harmony in life—in interactions with the outer world of social and environmental circumstances. In Yoga Sutra 2.31, BKS Iyengar translates the yamas as “the great, mighty, universal vows, unconditioned by place, time and [social circumstance].” They are as follows:
Ahimsa: non-harming, affirmatively translated sometimes as compassion for self and all others.
Satya: truthfulness, in thought, word and action
Asteya: non-stealing. Nischala Joy Devi’s sutra translation offers asteya as a concept of “abiding in generosity.” She says when we practice asteya, we remember we are greater than our material wealth, and we have what we need within.
Brahmacarya: energy conservation. This yama has many translations, but one translation that may apply well to our day and age would be “wise use of energy,” that is, learning to safeguard energy, and to choose our battles. One example in yoga practice would be to pace yourself when taking a long class, so you’re able to maintain your strength when the body becomes tired.
Aparigraha: non-grasping, non-hoarding, or non-attachment. This yama could also mean, again, using Devi’s affirming language, “resourcefulness” or “abundance,” i.e. the ability to recognize and cultivate gratitude for one’s own resources.
2. Niyama: inward observances
Patanjali offers a list of 5 niyamas as well. Niyamas are inner observances and actions that improve one’s self and one's immediate environment.
They are as follows:
Sauca: cleanliness. Sauca is cleanliness not only of one’s body and surroundings, but cleanliness of mind. Think of it as what philosopher Dr. Douglas Brooks calls cleaning out "the junk drawer of consciousness.” Sauca can help the practitioner get rid of unwanted collections of thoughts.
Santosha: contentment. Santosha is the practice of contentment, practice being the operative word. Sometimes life is difficult, and it’s hard to remember the feeling of contentment. Santosha is the process of looking for the good, or of counting one’s blessings regardless of the circumstances that arise.
Tapas: literally “heat;” energy of transformation, specifically self-transformation. Self-transformation can happen in numerous ways. Tapas can be the process of breaking a sweat in yoga practice, which signifies physical efforts that promote a healthy and fit body. Tapas also refers to any effort the practitioner makes that promotes health, not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. Philosopher Chase Bossart says, for example, that an action of tapas may be having that difficult but necessary conversation with a loved one that, while challenging and emotional, will improve the relationship.
Svadhyaya: literally “study of texts,” but often translated as self-study. Let’s combine these two translations and call svadhyaya the process of taking great teachings so much to heart that they become a part of the practitioner, which provides insight on becoming a consummate observer of the all aspects of one’s self.
Isvarapranidhana: surrender to the fullness of self. Isvara is a word for god in Sanskrit, but has come to have additional connotations meaning best or highest expression of self. Pranidhana means “placement under the fullness.” Isvarapranidhana could translate to the process of placing or holding consciousness fully upon one’s ideal embodiment of self. Yoga helps us embody our ideals.
3. Asana: posture, seat.
The most commonly known of the eight limbs, the word asana means “seat,” or “to find a steady and comfortable seat.” Interestingly, Patanjali does not comment extensively on the practice of asana. He does, however, offer general advice, in Sutra 2.46. He says, "sthiram sukham asanam." As world class yoga teacher and practitioner Judith Lasater translates, Abiding (sthiram) in ease (sukham, sweetness) is the practice of yoga postures (asana.) Others translate this sutra as the process of holding a paradox in the body. Here are some other translation examples:
Asana practice should be firm, but pleasant. Asana is effortful effortlessness. A good asana (yoga posture) yields steadiness and sweetness within the body. A good pose is one that stretches and strengthens simultaneously, in all the ways the body needs, in order to create optimal physical alignment.
4. Pranayama: to extend (ayama) one’s vital life force (prana).
In other words, pranayama is the process of understanding and utilizing the wisdom of the breath. Studies have shown that deepening the breath calms the nervous system as well as the mind. By deepening and evening the breath, yogis for centuries have experienced less physical stress and less mental chatter.
5. Pratyahara: to turn awareness inward, to withdraw sensory information from external stimuli.
Some scholars posit that Patanjali wrote the 8 limbs in a specific order because one limb creates the circumstances necessary to make the proceeding limbs more easily accessible. For example, it’s easier to to draw awareness away from external sensory information when the mind and body are calm from the effects of asana and deep breathing. When the yogi is less distracted by external circumstances or random thoughts, she or he is more easily able to concentrate on a desired idea.
6. Dharana: concentration.
Here again Patanjali outlines a natural progression from one limb to the next. Dharana is the process of bringing the mind to a single point of focus and holding it there. Remember, the word yoga means to yoke. Dharana yokes or harnesses the faculties of the mind toward undivided concentration.
7. Dhyana: meditation.
When able to concentrate on a single point of focus (be it the breath, a posture, or the highest ideal for oneself), meditation begins to happen. Meditation can be an elusive word. Let’s think of meditation here as the process of being able to hold the mind steadily and continuously on one point of focus.
8. Samadhi: total absorption, bliss, to hold the realization of unity.
Samadhi, the final criterion for the experience of yoga, is a state in which the yogi is completely immersed in the object of concentration. The yogi then gets a taste of what it might be like to reach Patanjali’s yogic ideal: a quiet mind with which to remember one’s humanity as the essence of peace. For some, doing the dishes may be a meditation, for others it may be painting, or running, or practicing asana. Samadhi, however, is that moment when everything else disappears and only the elements of the present moment exist, the practitioner is able to see not only connection of body, to mind and to the breath, but to everything. A sense of real peace—bliss—arises out of this deep connection to oneself and one’s surroundings.
Libby Cox, E-RYT 500, is an artist and dancer whose love for the human form and movement brought her to Hatha Yoga in 2000. She has been involved in the Austin yoga community since 2003, serving as a studio administrator, yoga teacher and teacher trainer. For more information, visit www.libbyyoga.com.
Dr. Douglas Brooks: www.rajanaka.com
Judith Lasater: www.judithlasater.com
BKS Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Nischala Joy Devi, The Secret Power of Yoga, A Woman's Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras
Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Commentaries on the Raja Yoga Sutras
Chase Bossart: www.chasebossart.com
As a yoga teacher trainer, a number of teacher training students have asked me about the reasons why I teach the way I do. Why the amount of detail--the sheer number of words I use to describe asana to yoga students as they practice? This line of questioning has been an excellent opportunity for me to think through the wherefore of my teaching style.
I want to offer students the opportunity to revel in the little details, the subtle movements of the tiniest bits of the body, and the way the details can draw them into their personal embodied experience as a means to experience the rich, complexity of wisdom we carry around with us, sometimes (most-times) unawares.
Let's look at different philosophical viewpoints:
I think Patanjali and classical yoga tell us over and again that the body is 'in the way' of an experience of our essential nature, in the way of us having intuitive knowledge of the nature of the universe--'in the way' of us knowing why we are the way we are, why things are the way they are, and what the hell to do with this time. We need to distinguish the mind from the body, to transcend the body so the mind can rest, free from the burdens of individualized human embodiment and with a greater (read "better" and "different") experience of Self.
In my understanding, Tantrikas tell us that it is because of and through embodiment that we can even come close to having a lasting connection to the Self, our essential nature. (This may not give us all the answers, but it will sure give us tools to engage with the fullness of human and cosmic experience.) To Tantrikas, the body is the key to unlocking the door to universal wisdom. And further, I think Rajanaka Tantra will tell us that embodiment is not only the key to the door leading to universal wisdom; embodiment is also the door. And it's Universal Wisdom Itself...and it is by drawing the body and mind (and a few other characters) into conversation with each other, that we begin really to hear the wisdom emanating from our corporeal experience.
In short, I believe in the inherent wisdom in and of the body. The body is smart. To remember that wisdom, the mind literally needs to figure out how to embody the tissues, to listen deeply, into and between the cells themselves; to pay attention to the details, to let the details draw us in, and to learn from the Master of Universal Wisdom her/himself: the gift of human embodiment.
As ever, standing on the shoulders of giants, I have come to this realization thanks to the work I have done in the presence of my teachers, this time Patty Townsend. Here, then, is an excerpt from her Embodyoga blog post:
What Does Anatomy Have To Do With Yoga?
"The field of form and relativity, according to Tantra, is nothing more or
less than [a] vast sea of creative intelligence manifesting into nature, under
its own motivation, through itself and its elements — earth, water, fire, air,
and space; one seamless undulating sea of undifferentiated and differentiated
awareness, vibrating at varying densities, with changing, rising, and falling
characteristics and traits, giving rise to a nearly unimaginable variety of
Might this be so? If this idea resonates with your intuition continue to
If at every level of our being, including all the densest layers of our
structure, we are aware and intelligent-vibrating-energy why don't we notice
And also, what would it be like if we did notice this? And even more
interestingly how can we do it?
Great teachers from many traditions have told us that the reason we don't notice
the overwhelming reality of life is that we are constantly being distracted by
the functioning of our individual mind and our egoic-self-involvment. In other
words – we are not paying attention! We are usually just preoccupied with
This is where the study of embodied anatomy™ comes in. Since the human
body-mind is such a perfect manifestation of creative intelligence – all we have
to do is attend to it. We embrace our bodies as the objects of meditation. We
inquire – with keen attention and refined, inwardly directed senses – into our
structure. Clear and persistent inquiry always reveals insight into the
qualities and the functions of the structures, and the intelligence that is
their very nature."
Whew! I just got back from a long overdue vacation, and feel a renewed excitement in rejoining the Austin yoga community.
Two exciting additions to the yoga & philosophy flow this year:
First, I will be joining certified Anusara® teacher Mandy Eubanks for her first Austin Immersion this fall! She has asked me (and I agreed, jumping up and down,) to teach the yogic and tantric philosophy portions of the immersion. Get ready: the subject matter is gonna be juicy! And, as I tell my teacher training students, it's gonna be fast and dirty: we usually get just a couple of hours, if we're lucky, to dive into a vast and inspiring body of literature, ideas and ideals. Sometimes you don't know what hit ya!
Visit the "Immersion" part of my website (under Yoga) for more information, or just head to Castle Hill's events site for more information.
Second, my dear friend and fellow teacher (and fellow yogi) Russell Burns has created the first annual Austin Yoga Festival. He asked me (and I agreed, jumping up and down,) if I wanted to help organize. My official title for the festival is Teacher Liaison. We are slowly building up a schedule of classes and events that will represent the breadth of yogic knowledge, support and practices that the Austin yoga community offers on a daily and weekly basis!
Visit www.austinyogafestival.com for more information.
I hope to share the yoga love and to see you all at one or both!
When I was in Waldorf training, soooo many book titles flew across the room--most of them with titles like: Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path: A Philosophy of Freedom; Nature's Open Secret: An Introduction to Goethe's Scientific Writings; Art as Seen in the Light of Mystery Wisdom Well, I have and/or have read many of those books. Not sure whether I've understood them, but have gotten a lot just from reading the titles.
The book title that has stuck with me the most from that time, though, is a book that, with a little Google research, I was not able to find. Often Steiner's books and lectures get such elaborate names because they've been translated into English 6 times, each time with the plan to make them more politically correct and more accurate than previous titles... Bear that in mind when I say that the title I have loved the most over the years and the one that makes me not even really need to read the book is one called Practicing Man.
This title may have evolved to something like Practices for the Betterment of One's Humanity, but, gender neutrality aside, I just like the idea that that's what I'm doing. I'm practicing man. I'm practicing how to be a human being. Every day.
Through yogic eyes, this reminds me of one of the basic tenets of yoga practice: practice. To Patanjali: Abhyasa. Steady, consistent practice. To Woody Allen: 80% of success is showing up.
It's always about more than specific, even ritual yogic practices, though.
Every day, I show up in my body and deal with all my little quirks. Some that I love, some that I hate. The ones I hate are almost always more interesting. For example, I have an anger streak. For more than a year now, I have been really looking into it and into attempting to practice to try not to get angry and things that are not worth getting angry about--like getting stuck in traffic. And life has presented me with plenty of opportunities to practice. It's exactly like the practice of asana: the more times I have the chance to practice, the easier I feel in certain poses. So, I'm Practicing Man on not being angry. I've got the whole process down to 15 minutes, start to finish. Ex: I get pissed about something. (and i mean angry wanna shout expletives wanna act like a stubborn selfish child) and then I sit, and say nothing, and watch until the feeling of anger is completely gone out of my body. The last two times this has happened, I have noticed the whole process takes 15 minutes. Not bad.
Mostly, I just think I'm practicing how to be human. It will always be just that. Practice.
practice: [n,v] learn by repetition; rehearse; commit, engage in or perform, translating an idea into action; repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency; habit
Click here to read a great Elephant Journal article on Anger from a Buddhist perspective.
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
--Isaac Newton, Letter to Robert Hooke, February 5, 1675
As a teacher, so much of what I say comes straight out of my mouth, verbatim, from what my teachers have said to me. I often feel like a channel, a medium, spouting information handed down to me then woven into my imagination. Every so often, I will realize that something I've just said was actually original material. I think to myself, 'I should write that down!' (The blog has really helped with this process.)
I have been thinking so much recently about my role, my Dharma, as a yoga teacher, how I got here, and the teacher/student relationship in general. Okay, I think about it all the time. I have been thinking about it even more in the past few weeks, though, because I just got a new job. I will be teaching people how to teach yoga!!! I am officially a part of the Yoga Yoga Teacher Training faculty and will begin teaching the sections on Literature, Language, Philosophy and History in the 200hr RYT program. This is something I've been wanting to do for so long--to dive deeply into the material, for me as a student and as a teacher, and now as a teacher of teachers. I really do feel that this is a calling. I think--no, I feel--this is my Dharma. To use this word, dharma, means that this opportunity is nothing smaller than my own recognition of my stake in the betterment of humanity.
The more I study the Bhagavad Gita, the more I am inspired to think of life as an epic battle for the understanding of the Self and my Self's stake in the world. In the Gita, Arjuna must come to terms with his role in an epic battle. He asks his friend and mentor, Krishna (who we learn quickly is more than human,) for help in navigating what the hell he's supposed to do with his life, with this epic moment.
In so many ways, this story has helped me to realize I've been asking my mentors, my teachers, what the hell to do with my life and how to figure out who I really am and what I have to offer. Most importantly, though, the battle for Self has helped me realize my own inner teacher: I have within me, in this body, the potential to realize true joy, to recognize the divine spark. That, (to quote Buddhist scholar Ruth Fuller-Sasaki,) "God--if I may borrow that word for a moment--" isn't something that's waiting for me when I shuffle off this mortal coil, but something true and real here and now. Self-realization isn't waiting for me in a cave, away from society, and it isn't waiting someplace away from life itself, but that it is through life itself that I can realize my own potential.
These questions, these teachers, this yogic battle has helped me to discover I'm fighting the good fight, asking people to take a good look into themselves and the nature of their own humanity on this planet; to live their dreams for the betterment of humanity. It's big and scary! Being able to share this information, to move more deeply into the conversation with students, is something that brings me the kind of joy that's almost indescribable. I feel so lucky, so humbled. This is lofty, HUGE stuff. But what it's all really done is made me more--just--myself.
This is so much in keeping with process and deeply related to our conversation about Kali and puking/regurgitating: being able to teach this information is an excellent opportunity to understand and integrate it better myself. (What is the medical field's surgical learning process? Watch one, do one, teach one? I'm sure there are plenty of great metaphors about guts/surgery/puking/healing/observing/inner knowing that I could insert here, but that's beyond the (stetho)scope of this blog post for now.) Suffice it to say, this is my chance to continue integrating all the amazing ideas and teachings that I have received from my teachers, and to pass it on so it can live into the minds, hearts and bodies of other yoga students and future yoga teachers.
That said, what I'd like to offer now are direct quotes from one of my favorite teachers on two subjects near and dear to my heart: yoga and tantra. I have learned through yoga and asana how to stand on my own two feet as a teacher; but those feet stand on the shoulders of giants.
With all of this in mind, I'd like to offer two different paragraphs from the heart and mind of Dr. Douglas Brooks. The first is on yoga; the second is the promised pontification on "wait a second: what is Tantra?" The former is from Srividyalaya, the latter from Poised for Grace: Annotations on the Bhagavad Gita from a Tantric View, Douglas's brilliant book.
"Yoga is engagement, even if that engagement means to disengage, as the ascetics exhort us. Yoga in the early traditions is the means by which one creates that kind of engagement that liberates one from the bondage of the temporal, material world. Just what this means depends who you ask, that is, which texts, traditions, sources, etc. When we reach a yoga like Rajanaka (a school of Sakta Srividya) there is less emphasis on extricating oneself from the world's terms and more about engaging them as deeply as possible, including those terms (like suffering or fear or pick your thing you don't like) and making those things, too, opportunities of engagement."
"Wait, I thought you were going to talk about yoga philosophy. What the heck is Tantric Philosophy?"
Shakti’pata-anusarena shishyo’nugraham arhati
“By falling into the current of Grace the seeker becomes capable of holding the constancy of the Heart.... By stepping into the current, by falling into the energies of Grace, the seeker becomes capable of becoming weighty, of becoming the Guru.”
- trans. Dr. Douglas Brooks
Below is a passage from Douglas's notes on Chapter One of the Bhagavad Gita. I love this passage, because, in less than 500 words, he takes us through some of the most integral concepts of the Gita and of yogic practice: namely Dharma and action.
First, a note about Dharma. Dharma means, according to the great Tantric adept, Abhinavagupta, "the notion that we, as human beings, do here, on earth to support justice, nurture our collective value for civilization, and empower a system of laws that connects us to the higher claims of our innermost reality." (Poised for Grace: p. 29) In short, dharma stands for the natural order of the world and our stake in it. This is that moment when confusions abound about what yoga is and how we practice it in the light of the modern world. Can yoga offer me a way to become a better person? Do I go meditate in a cave away from society? Can I be a yogi if I work at McDonald's? Do I exact the law? Do I become a politician? A schoolteacher? A wife? A mother? What do I do with this life?? How can I possibly figure this out?? This is what the Gita is about. How do we reengage with the world once we have had a yogic experience? Once we've had glimpse of the bigger picture?
Through a two sentence history of Tantric schools of thought (Darshanas--Philosophical schools; literally darshana means"to see,") Douglas leads us through ways that the Gita addresses some of the classical concepts of what it means to be in a body and on a spiritual path, outlining ways that this material changes when filtered through a Tantric lens.
Here we go:
"Some Tantrics (read also: yogis) think themselves above Dharma, as if obligations to the world don't apply to the sage but only for those who can't quite fathom the depths of transcendent freedom. But others, particularly the Kashmir Shaivites and later Goddess-centered Tantrics of the Srividya schools, remind us that we are woven wholly into a single fabric of Consciousness made up of infinite threads and possibilities that invite our attention. Our bodies, minds and hearts are integral elements to Self-recognition. In contrast to many non-Tantric traditions where the limited and conditioned terms of mortal embodiment are, at best, means and more properly impediments to the recognition of our sublime, divine nature, the Tantric takes an integrated view of the whole person. Every feature of our experience and existence will be part of the process and the realization of the divine. The body will be just as important and real as the mind, the heart, and all other features of experiential identity of the Self. The yogic process of support, nurture, and growth comes from Dharma itself, which is the way in which the universe has provided all the terms and conditions necessary for an integrated recognition of the Self. Dharma, simply put, is not only the structure that nurtures and supports the possibility of Self-recognition, is is the process through with the Self reaches recognition. To ignore wholly or claim transcendence of Dharma is tantamount to refusing the very nature of reality and gifts of embodiment."
A while ago, I taught a workshop inspired by Douglas Brooks’ talk on the Triadic Heart of the Goddess: Kali, Saraswati and Lakśmi. Like a good Tantrika, I proceeded to describe how these goddesses manifest as us, and that when we take on their characteristics, we see them come to light in our actions. One of the attributes of Kali, as I understand it, is her amazing ability (in some depictions of her) a. to gross us out, and b. to vomit and regurgitate.
Have you ever come home from a life-changing movie/lecture/class/training and said to your roommate/lover/friend, “I’ve just got to share this with you! I had the most amazing experience and I can’t keep it inside”? Sometimes life, yoga, this stuff is too big for us to keep inside (like Kali the big Black Hole attracting everything in her direction.) We have to share it, to teach it, to learn and re-learn it. We have to puke it back up, partially digested, and take a good look at what we’ve made of it so far.
At the end of a 2 ½ hour lecture and asana class, hoping to integrate these stories and information into my students’ bodies, one of my students came up to me and said, “I wish I could puke like you do.”
My response, respectfully, ir/reverently, was “It takes practice.” I think this image applies to the learning process and the process of sharing one’s insights from practicing yoga. As a student of yoga, I am constantly in a process of digesting the information that my yoga gives me. When I teach, all I have to offer is this—partially digested, regurgitated insight. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m still, always, in a process of learning. This process is scary!
Sometimes I wish I just knew the "right" answer, that I could simply offer something to students with a definitive sense of authority. Yet so often, yoga doesn't provide answers. As Judith Lasater says, "Asanas aren't answers; they're questions." We have to get out of our heads and into our bodies and hearts. (Hence all the severed heads.) That deep exploration, that undefined process is scary just like Kali is scary. She’s the darkness. She’s the blackness of the unknown. She represents Death. But, you see, when we’re dead, that’s it for corporeal learning. But Kali also represents rebirth and a mother's love for the birth of humanity. So, can we invite ourselves in our humanity into the unknown and see it as a gift, as a learning process; as a process? I am a student of partially digested process.