Category Archives: yoga and religion

Is Your Relationship to Your Fellow Man Making You Sick?

Five thirty A.M. the reporters at NPR assault me with the news of the deadliest mass shooting in our history. I am awake.

My tired mind forces a memory scan. Who do I know in Vegas this week? It seems just yesterday my friend Holly said she is going there for something. Shit. Was it this week?

Disaster comes upon disaster, one shoved down as the other surfaces coming with more and more frequency.  The Trump disaster overshadows all. Hope is slipping.

The webinar I watched on Alzheimer’s hits my frontal lobe. The doctor listed the places on earth called Blue Zones where people have the least medical issues including Alzheimer’s. In the U.S. there is one place. It is Loma Linda California. He says it is not any particular diet as much as a clean diet devoid of alcohol and smoking that keeps them healthy but there is more than that. There is community. Love and charity prevail not instigated by crisis but on a regular basis. It is the basis.

We cannot thrive on a daily diet of grief. The stress is killing us as fast as fast food, climate disasters and drug overdoses. Stress corrodes the brain.

We live in a war zone. We are at war with each other. We are at war with our President. We are at war with our own failings.

My husband notes on shooting a documentary about Trump supporters that the commonality is the question, what about me? He perceives an overarching narcissism that trumps empathy.

Put on your own oxygen mask before your children’s. Who doesn’t know that? You need to love yourself before you can love someone else. That’s common knowledge too, right? Charity begins at home. We are advised to look after ourselves in order to become. But how do we know what is too much charity and what is too much self interest.

After all, for true self interest we should be concerned as much with the people around us as ourselves. They are our environment. They are the fabric of our lives.

There is a social implication of controlling others or overwhelming them which is described in the yoga text, Yoga Sutras as bramacharya. This does not define dictatorship versus charity but allows us to consider staying in our own lane either way. However bramacharya does not stand alone. It co-exists with a call to kindness, generosity and contentment with oneself and one’s lot.

 Insecurity is the enemy.

Are we stuck between those that wonder what about us and those that worry what about me? Do we rail against what seems an extreme of one or the other? There is so much need for those outside our pack and also so much instinct to gather the loved ones and shut the door.

A Pakistani Muslim friend of mine daughter started kindergarten this year. She invited the class to her daughter’s birthday party and only a handful of people responded and came. She found out another girl whose invitations went out later had a party the same day and that’s where most of the class had gone. They hadn’t invited her daughter and they hadn’t responded to her invitation though the policy at school is for invites to go through the school and to everyone. My friend had an emotional crisis. Why was her daughter shunned? And then she got sicker than she’s ever been. She tells me it’s the flu and she felt like she was dying.

I write this because it seems a metaphor for all our sickness, this social disease. This dis-ease.     My friend is used to a strong community. She is an outsider here. What does this do to our bodies?

Today another person went off the rails and unloaded bullets into strangers. We don’t know why yet. There will be demands for better mental health screening, for gun control and for tightening up against terrorism if they find any links to a terrorist group outside the U.S. I doubt any of it will successfully happen.

Human beings need a chance to work a job that allows them to care for themselves and their children. We need to be educated. We need to eat and drink cleanly. We need to have fun. We need time to have fun. We need to live a life beyond survival. We need time and space to be charitable. We need friends and family who are not crazy to care about us. We need to feel secure.

Tech life allows us to find new avenues of isolation and rudeness.  The benefits of information at a fingertip seem small compared to the disruption of our social lives. There’s no turning back but there has to be some measure of discernment and that is the problem. There is no true north. That star there? It’s fake. It’s that easy to dismiss something that is accurate.

We are untethered. Fact has become opinion even to its face. There is no moral anchor. Where will it come from? I don’t know. I know for a student of yoga the moral restraints and observances as described in the Sutras is a useful checklist, as useful as any commandment from the bible.

If it seems I’m saying that yoga will save us think again. I know lots of morally bankrupt yoga folks. No one is exempt from hypocrisy. This is a think piece. I’m thinking out loud. Hope it gives you something to consider about yourself as it does for me. And if want to read the basis of modern yoga’s moral system, this is a good place to start. And by the way, I don’t know that it was written so much as a moral system as a way to manage personal energy so that me, myself and I can find peace within whatever situation I’m in. If it is a way of separation, it is at least a separation that leaves room for inclusion. Now go figure that riddle out.

 

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Sanders, Trump and Yoga

There is a murmur in the corner of the not so tiny yoga community about the state of affairs of yoga.

Bitchin Yoga always weighs in as vigorous claims interest her. For her, what was once surprising is not now. Age teaches. The state is adrift at the surface which is why she’s keen on learning high wire skills. Beneath the surface not much has changed.

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Consider this in terms of this election year. An unsettling season of ferocity seems normal these days. What once seemed weird or alternative or unlikely now seems a solution as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump rise in the polls. Judgment of some kinds ceases as the Status Quo fails to deliver. Unconventional organizers ascend and division is clear.

The time is right for the once strange of yoga to increase in popularity, attract developers and further divide in these days of radical unrest and financial uncertainty.

Yoga practitioners with a pre-modern yoga history had little to distract us from the practice as it wasn’t tied to livelihood or even solutions to specific social problems. Modern yogis have a different experience to reckon with. Survival is paramount and so is unleashed creativity if they want to stay in what has become the game.

 

Yoga isn’t fringe anymore and “mindfulness” has pierced the commercial world. Yoga class as a *“mindful” exercise isn’t necessarily entirely different from a yoga classes twenty five years ago but as an increasing component of the public domain, it is presented differently. Now it is subject to regulations enforced by an outside source. That changes the flavor of things. The outside source used to be the first and second limb of yoga.

 

Before blogging there was a book on the state of yoga in America. Hearkening back to the chapter I wrote for that book, I still think that the first limbs of yoga are the key to the state of yoga and most things in America right now. Attraction or willful rebellion to those guiding principles of ethical restraints as well as the interpretation of those principles shapes the character of our choices. We are flailing wildly perhaps not realizing we are looking for direction. But we look for structure nonetheless.

 

To put it simply, the first limb describes the social offenses to avoid if one wants a peaceful life. The second limb describes the components of that life. In short, if you are doing the right thing you will sleep at night and want to take the next breath in the morning. But what is the right thing if not an opinion these days?

 

Look at the followers of Trump and Sanders and a yogi will notice that what looks like non-violence, honesty, lack of greed or gluttony and overstepping one’s power is not the same for everyone. Perception comes from individual experience of life. In fact there are a disturbing amount of stories of power abuse in yoga studios though the owners seem clueless. How interesting that a major goal of yoga is to break through this veil of perception to see truth.

 

What truth is has become one of the paramount questions of our time. Politicians tell their truths. It is different for each of them. They inform and influence the greater group. The group has shared truths. Some things become evident and absolute but often the case is not closed. This is the state of the yoga studio and teacher as well.

 

Discontentment’s fire fuels us and the West becomes a Wild West again. We will survive at all costs. We will sling guns where we want. We will break boundaries in relationship to all things whether it is sex, drugs, rules, racism and yes yoga. Political incorrectness has become correct. Survival comes first. When you open doors it is interesting to see who and how we choose to walk through them.

 

Is the yoga being taught now working? I’m sure it is working for some students because the interest in walking through a door that advertises illumination is to want that. So if the student keeps walking in and the teacher is at least conveying that yoga is the practice of self awareness or discipline or kindness then some yoga is being taught. Perhaps it is enough if the student recognizes there is work to do and because we are hard working people we can embrace that. We are the work we have to do. Perhaps that is the surface we want to scrape.

 

As for the financial survival of the teachers it is like other businesses today. The price of everything except salaries is going up. Perhaps that’s why so many teachers use yoga as their hobby or second business. Still, more people are putting hard earned cash into teacher training that won’t pay them back in much more than a brief education. There must be some pay off for them. That says to me their yoga experience has got them hooked, hopefully on more than ego. That’s not a bad thing.

 

It is a long time since I had a studio. I was lucky to be part of our local ballet company and my rent was cheap. I did not hire or fire. There were no Groupons and for that, there was no competition. We had punch cards and an honor system and a yoga family that lasted longer than the average attrition rate now. I am grateful beyond measure for that beautiful experience. I cannot say I know the state of yoga now but I know one thing for sure. It is a changing status while beneath the surface the seed of yoga is not.

 

*This is noted because I don’t like the use of the non- word mindfulness when thoughtful worked just fine. I used it here because it is part of yoga culture now.

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Find Me In the Bardo

I am sick; stricken completely dumb with laryngitis and not at my best. I’m certainly not meant to be teaching a yoga class, that’s for sure. If you wonder how important a teacher’s words are to her craft try taking yoga from a mime. It’s not that satisfying.

But it’s Christmas week and near impossible to get a last minute sub and besides, I’m teaching at the facility whose parking lot was the target of my vandalized car and since no one has offered to help me pay for the damage, I’m working overtime.

My joints feel poisonous and I make the mistake of not giving a shit that I’ve chosen a play list that is completely horrendous. I have no idea how I have this on my I-pod but it says Holiday and Spirit and Jai Uttal is singing something Adonai and that’s the best of it. My body wants a couch and this music will not inspire the rush of endorphins that I’ve relied on in times of inertia and bad attitude past to make me powerful beyond this body. It’s fair to say that in this moment, the once renowned rebel yogi who could move an auditorium of students by example has lost her groove. And I suspect it’s more than this passing illness. Or is it?

“We do not see things as they are.

We see them as we are.” ~ The Talmud

 

The bardo is a Buddhist term for the place between lives that Christians might equate with Purgatory or Limbo. Depending on how you’ve managed your life, you might spill from the bardo toward the light or you might not. It is a purification ground and can be a painful process. One thing is for sure, you aren’t in Kansas anymore. And you might not immediately recognize that you’ve left.

There is a point in life in which you realize you are not the person you always knew. It seems like it happens overnight but it doesn’t. You don’t think the same way. You don’t like or feel the same things. You don’t teach the same way. How did this happen? That’s always the question. The answer is you stayed alive. The answer is you stopped or were stopped to notice what was inevitable. In the stopping comes the temporary pain of knowing, the sweet realization that you are more real than ever and the power of choice.

It’s the bardo time of the year though we have just passed the darkest day. We barely notice under the glare of holiday lights. We make a purposeful choice as a community to herald the darkness by laughing at death on Halloween and later hoping for life with the Christmas messiah and Hanukkah’s message of eternal light. Too busy to notice the boogeyman, we are uncomfortably comfortable in an accelerated life that does not allow for time off anyway. We run through and from the darkness. It is our nature to be afraid of anything as still and dark as death. The year begins with bold declarations and resolutions that come less from stillness than the ceaseless adrenal rush of hope and denial.

Still, transitions happen. Bridges to somewhere else abound. It’s not just an age thing but the many cycles of a life. But what might seem less profound in younger years is undeniable when no longer camouflaged by youth’s intensity.

Sickness stops us when all us fails but I am not it’s servant and in 25 teaching years have only one memory of stopping for one day for illness. I pride myself on racing through the bardo of viral war, wielding my sword of energy born of yoga, dance, chi gung, plant medicine and defiance. It has worked to pull me quickly from the abyss without a blip.

Now dumbstruck with the viral beast I’ve still ploughed on in surety that ignoring it will dispel it but laying limp on the couch follows every effort. Still with every burst of renewed energy, I’ve driven myself forward like this foolish rhododendron in my garden that has been sneaking forth blooms with every thaw since the first frost, well before her time. No wonder her flowers are frostbit and limp. Can I not see how alike I am?

If ever nature screamed: SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP, it is now but I declare, I AM NATURE TOO AND I WILL DECIDE WHAT IS NATURAL FOR ME!

I spent years unaware in the bardo expecting the same students, the same appreciation. When old students reappear decades later, I am sure I will fail them now. I will not be giving that exact thing they loved, like that favorite food they remember from their mother. I have changed and that might disappoint.

No fan of marketing, I would not reinvent myself by anything other than the quiet way I have done it but still, when students ask if I will teach my old dance class or talk about me, in front of me, as the teacher who did this and that, I feel a bit un- tethered. I have run ceaselessly to avoid the darkness and for all of that, must deal with the bardo as I can say with surety that I have long been its guest.

Is this too melancholy for this joyous time of year? No, it is perfect timing. This purification is not really painful but wistful and I think done for now. Anyway, I’m a mournful poet. Sorrow is just so beautiful. And hope is the unseen side of sorrow.

If you are looking for your old teacher, come find her in the bardo. She’s on her way out.

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Catharsis In Ashes~We Are Stardust

 “Our abandonment is over

We will think that way no more

We belong here, we belong here

We are blazing at the core”

                                                                ~Kenneth Robinson

Autumnal equinox turned the southern corner; spilled light through my front windows in a way not like yesterday. We are anointed by voluminous blue radiance come to illuminate an internal life of winter.

 

A home that holds light is good fortune in a season of change as change is a leap into darkness.

 

Days before the definitive shift a friend’s poem grew roots in my head:

 

Our abandonment is over

We will think that way no more

We belong here, we belong here

We are blazing at the core

 

He had set it to music and asked me to dance.

 

And a mirage moved through the hot dust of the Nevada desert at Burning Man as I remembered a photo of my son.  It became the backdrop for the song. I couldn’t say why except for the timing of events.

 

Jack at Burning Man

Jack at Burning Man

 

Catharsis, revolution, turning of tides, defying the status quo, beginnings and endings, grief and redemption can’t be ignored. Blame the super moon; the radical shift of planets and tides. Blame big events and small incidents. Blame a storm of happenstance for the hand up out of the muck. Wake up. Wake up. There are more procrastinations than tomorrows can hold. It’s time to move on. Things happening in familiar circles and those circumnavigating the globe are boiling. Can you feel it?

 

In this moment of upheaval and assimilation I, ruled by Virgo who is both my sun and rising sign and governor of the intestines, thrive as separating wheat from the chaff is my forte.

 

The beginning of a new year marked by the Hebrew calendar is a good occasion to scrutinize the tribes that declare us their own~ culture~ nation~ family~ friends~ community: We take stock of our people and ourselves. Our people because they’re a reflection but also the company we keep. And they could be holding us down as comfort often trumps and turns in to conviction whose binding eventually reveals all. The company blows apart.

 

 What if we’ve come from stardust as conjecture has it?

We would be like stars: They come together until the energy that binds at the core

Is so bound it cannot move.

Claustrophobic and toxic with stagnation,

We blow apart from the others like supernovas.

 

Scientists found that neurons that do not make contact with other neurons in the human body shrivel and die.

Philosophers liken that to a human need for contact but what of too much contact:

Does closeness also foster destructive tendencies?

When toxicity breeds from stagnation and stagnation comes in many forms, anger involutes to depression or to volatility for one.

 

Oh it’s easy to come together from disparity. To rally against a foe is the easy work.

How to come together and stay together in closeness?

 

We struggle toward unconditional love and fail and try again.

Relationship is a puzzle that frustrates all but whose heart is frozen.

 

Get to the bottom of the frozen heart and find abandonment. That is my over reach for today. When and how were you abandoned in big but mostly small ways; ways that excused you from humanity’s mores?

 

Someone did not want you, could not hold you as you were, could not hear you, could not suffer the burden of being loving or even responsible in a selfless way. You don’t remember every detail or you do but your actions say there is memory. We are wired to remember the cautionary tales. How ironic that this means of survival stands in the way of our evolution.

 

We are guilty of tiny mistakes natural to new beings navigating unknown waters. Little piles of pebbles become the boulder blocking our door.

 

What of yoga and/or faith can help us here?

In the way memory is coaxed to the surface,

In the way relationships with others who resonate with positive vibrations raise us,

In the way unconditional connection to Mother Nature softens us,

In the disconnected moments that we connect because we learn thoughtfulness,

In the way we are taught that becoming our best means excavating our worst.

 

 I have woven a parachute out of everything broken. ~ William Stafford

 

The Jewish holiday that marks the beginning of the year is called the Day of Atonement.

It is excavation day that follows a week of reflection;

 

To say pardon me,

If I was ignorant,

If I was selfish,

If I was greedy,

If I was insecure,

If I harmed you or myself or our maker in any way

 

And then to hear by virtue of all sins forgiven;

I am worthy

I belong here

I am not abandoned because I have embraced myself

And the magnificence of the universe within me is surprisingly magnified by contact with others doing the same work.

 

In my favorite outfit, sweatshirt and bare feet, the cool breeze on naked legs and hot sun in my hair, I welcome the change which comes whether I choose it or not. We are walking through our own fire.

 

Happy New Year.

May my fire light your way

And yours light mine.

(In the year 5775)

 

Sanchi, golden flower,

your aura sanctifies.

Your love, and your will

are stronger than the tides.

 

A morning star awaits us

as we awake from troubled dreams.

The fool stumbles, the heart redeems.

Ecstasy has opened me, though I still break my vow.

I may still fall prey to fear, but it’s clear to me now—

 

Our abandonment is over.

We will think that way no more.

We belong here, we belong here.

We are blazing at the core

 

Of Mystical Reality,

Highest Vibration,

Crystalline Perception,

Total Liberation,

Superbliss Buddha,

Self Realization,

Elemental Know-How,

Miraculous Transformation.

 

Gate Gate Paragate Parasam Gate Bodhi Svaha

 

Gate Gate Paragate Parasam Gate

 

Our abandonment is over.

We will think that way no more.

We belong here, we belong here.

We are blazing at the core.

                                                         ~Kenneth Robinson

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One Precious Life in The Third Act

 

I am not a religious person

I don’t speak of God

But sense the order of things

The smallness or bigness of things

 

In meditation I hear myself say;

I don’t want to contribute to society

It’s a reaction

To the onslaught of opportunities flung in the face daily

Through the electric waves

That scream aimlessly from every wired port

 

Electricity is appealing

Particularly in storms

Last night the storm scared the pants off people cowering in their beds

And burned my friend’s folks house down

I stood naked in the brilliant night

Comfortable in the lightening

A sense that lightening makes me strong

This electricity

 

Not so much the metal messengers when

They carry shock waves of disaster, fear and demand

Lightening may equal disaster and fear as well

So perhaps the relevant word is demand

 

 Through the internet they beg; know this, learn this!

So often it would be better to learn what I have forgotten

Like shopping in my own closet

I think I need a new blouse

But here in the back is one I’ve forgotten

I don’t need new things

I will not bury myself under but

Pull from the treasure of my past

Piling on others things

Isn’t this the definition of gluttony?

One must be discerning to keep exhaustion at bay

 

I do not react to ‘contribute’ in the apparent way

And consider as I hear it

The small ways

In the beauty of the garden

The delicacy of the dinners

Helping students find their way

Placing the flower in the vase

The conversation with a friend

Efforts for those I love

And for those I do not

But who need me none the less

In which one cannot be other than in service

 

Mary Oliver’s question lingers;

What will you do with this one wild and precious life?

This is not the first or even the second act

I now know the curtain will go down

How many years are left in wholeness?

Where wild youth did not care

Or believe in mortality

Now wild stays under the skin

And less inclined to engage beyond;

I will not be bullied into the pen

 

Join this

Fix this

No and maybe

I see ways small and quiet

To offer this one precious life

To both of us

 

What is undone here?

Really, not all that much

I notice things are big and small

Endless urgencies press the swollen gates

I hold my ground in quiet ways

To save this precious life

 

Author’s note: Contribute is the word that came to me but it held more meaning than to help. I’m reworking my website and have been given suggestions on marketing that include a slew of social media sites. And I don’t want to have to contribute so to speak, to that life in order to create mine. And there is the weariness of being inundated daily by requests to sign on or up or give signatures, money etc. and no sooner do I acquiese than there is an additional request. It’s not just the endless information that comes at us but the time spent sifting through it. Where do the days go?

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Yoga: A Stretch of……Faith?

_MG_1953Hil_new year's 2011_cropped_websizeReligion Is Not Just a Hair Trigger Word

 I wrote this piece and posted it on Elephant Journal in 2010. I never put it on bitchin. I am posting it here today  because the discussion of yoga and religion has made headlines in my family’s home of Encinitas. As the discussion is still relevant, I’m giving it a place here.

The day we moved to our Nashville home our elderly neighbors came out to see who we were. The first question they asked was “What church do you go to?”

Aside from the fact that it was a rude question from the part of the country where I come from as our spiritual pursuits are personal and shouldn’t matter to anyone else, I was taken aback because they assumed we went to a church. We don’t and I was a little uncomfortable telling that to people I’d met for one minute because to my mind they were assessing me the way people around here size you up according to where your kid is educated. 

They meant no harm and for this culture it is not rude and church is their community and they were probably wondering if we would be part of it and hoping we were. As I hesitated with a shake of my head, they asked if we worked in the area and I said I was a yoga teacher.   “Oh, yoga”, the wife quietly said with a confused and forgiving smile.” Did that excuse me from the religious question?  Was yoga my religion?  It didn’t matter. We have been the best of neighbors but what I thought was a silly misinterpretation of my job was maybe more my misunderstanding of yoga.

About fifteen years ago I had a woman in class who said that she had a son with colitis and was looking for ways to teach him to relax. She came back to tell me that though she enjoyed the class she couldn’t come back because it seemed antithetical to her religion. She said she was a Christian.  People here introduce themselves as Christians and think nothing of it but identity by religious beliefs was new to me. She impressed me as narrow minded and trapped and I wondered if her son’s condition was exacerbated by moral strictness or guilt. I never thought that her perception of yoga or my class was correct.  After all yoga is a system of energy management, a philosophy that holds no God as king, a direction for moral and ethical conduct that veers down no particular religious path.

Or is it?  Wikipedia describes religion as a set of beliefs explaining the existence of and giving meaning to the universe, usually involving devotional and ritual observances and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. It is also described as a communal system for the coherence of belief in a highest truth.

 Webster defines yoga as a Hindu theistic philosophy and theistic means belief in a single God and the popular guru, B.K.S. Iyengar, makes references to the ‘Lord’ in his description of yoga.

 It seems the view of yoga as a religion would be correct. It seems that it was my mind that was too narrow. I’m considering my place in this religion.

Reflected in the media, household publications and the internet, yoga looks like a phenomenon that deserves attention.  Is this country embracing a philosophy or a faith in its runaway yoga mania? I envision how bhakti yoga looks to the eyes of on outsider. Here is chanting, and  prayer shawls flying; eyes rolled up in ecstasy.  A foreign tongue recalls an ancient language invoking the name of Krishna in all his incarnations. Hands form for  prayer in Anjali mudra.  Statues of Hindu gods and strange symbols sit at a shrine. The word “goddess”is  resurrected.  Women lead the dance, hair blowing in the wind.

 An off balance nation searching for answers is a great opportunity for ambitious life-coaches and sales people.   Zen collides with Dale Carnegie as Tony Robbins and Werner Erhard- like yoga gurus gather numbers like Joel Osteen in the mega-church. The term principle, previously enjoyed by polygamists and Moonies, has found a home on the banner head of a fast growing yoga community.( This was John Friend’s Anusara banner which is now defunct.) Yoga isn’t just yoga anymore it’s a kind of yoga and yogis with business heads are marketing names and promises and manifestos like the many divisions of the church.  Come to us, come to us, says the number crunching preacher luring us in.  Cleanse your toxins and free your soul. The yoga studio becomes a franchise. The teachers are independent satellites. They are salaried employees.

If yoga is a religion then who amongst us is qualified to teach it? It’s a complicated religion which makes it even harder. It’s almost impossible not to happen upon a pathway to things unseen when doing a physical practice done with integrity. Even if we aren’t teaching a religious aspect of yoga but doing asana and breath, students made need guidance beyond anatomy. Through the body comes the awakening of yoga. Then what? Call your shrink and your priest and don’t ask me or do you assume the character of either?  You could be playing with fire. And what if you describe the poses and the names? There is talk of sages and deities. And what about when the first strain of a mantra comes over the loudspeakers. We cross into something beyond the body. What are we responsible for? How many yoga studio advertisements casually toss the words body, mind and spirit into the menu? Are there skills to back that up?

I once took a class from a new teacher who told me that my knee hurt in a pose because of unresolved past life issues. Noooo, my knee hurts because I have a fallen arch which caused a strained medial crucial ligament and partially torn meniscus. But thanks anyway. Maybe she would think that my arch had fallen because of unresolved past life issues but I hope she would get to know me before mentioning anything about it.

I took a class in which we were held hostage in a backbend while being read a description of animal torture from a PETA pamphlet by some ahimsa (nonviolence) preaching visiting yogis.  I, who run screaming from the room if I see a suffering animal on television, left feeling sick and violated.  I later read a quote by the same empire building offender saying that the secret to life was to take things lightly.  Thanks for the laugh.

We use the word consciousness.  Has it become just a word without content? Are we just conscious of what’s convenient to see?

The Harvard psychologist B.F. Skinner did an early experiment with pigeons. They got rewarded if they made figure eights and hit tennis balls. That’s funny and awful but Skinner was proving that even natural beings will do weird things for immediate rewards.

What bigger reward is there for a new yogi than to be part of the group?  It’s human nature to want to be accepted by the pack. A couple of students from a local studio which follows a highly stylized practice took class with me recently. They moved through the postures by rote. They paid no attention to my instructions, they finished every vinyasa sequence with anjali mudra although I wasn’t teaching that and jnana mudra, the seal of wisdom, appeared at every opportunity.

I asked one of them what those gestures meant.

She answered, “I don’t know.”

I said, “Then why are you doing it?” and she said again that she didn’t know.

“If you don’t know what it means and you don’t know why you’re doing it, then it’s just jewelry!  Do what you need to but you ought to understand what you’re doing.”

 Tennis playing pigeons remind me she’s been trained to mimic for the reward of membership and the uniquely human bonus of pride in emulating a popular teacher’s style that was borrowed from an even more popular yoga teacher’s style.

The sign on the church across from my house which has maybe the worst sentiments ever once said, We like Sheep.  Do we like ‘sheep’ in yoga too?  Are we raising sheep? Not for me, thanks. Raising two kids has been all I can be responsible for. And that crowded barn just feels claustrophobic. I’m not crazy about hanging out waiting to be fed and watered on anyone’s schedule either and I expect my students feel the same way.

Are we supposed to be missionaries spreading light into the darkness?  What are we part of? Who are we accountable to? Who are we kidding, could it be ourselves?  What about the aim of yoga to uncover the veil of illusion that covers the universe, how’s that going?  What about for profit and power? Religion tends to be entwined with society and politics.  We need to make a living at our work and power may just be handed to us when people follow. Are we fit to manage that? How many times have I been ignorant? Have I done any harm? Those are hard questions but they have to be considered on a regular basis when you’re dealing with so many personalities; when some may want to find in you their physical therapist, psychotherapist and priest.

I’m driving down a country road on a moonless night and the street lights are suddenly and briefly gone.  I’m driving blind. It’s just a stretch of darkness, I think.  It’s a stretch in the dark; a stretch of faith.  I don’t want to hit anyone, any animals and I slow down and tell myself, “I can’t see anything but I won’t hit anything. I refuse to hurt anyone.”   “I’m on a stretch of faith.”

©Hilary Lindsay 2010, all rights retained

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