Tuesday, October 19, 2010

People cry a lot in yoga.

Have you ever noticed this? Moving through a sun salutation, flying through 5 full wheels, or calming down in savasana, have you ever heard a little sob or two from one corner of the room? Ever stopped to notice that it was you?

I have. I'm one of those people. I've always been pretty sensitive, and I've loved those moments in those really powerful classes when something just breaks and this release happens inside of you, and your sort of feel horrible and euphoric all at the same time, and then you leave the class feeling lighter, different, like something bad is gone and something new is possible.

And it hasn't happened to me in a really, really long time.

Part of the reason some people must practice yoga is because of its infamous transformative powers. We break down so we can build up again, and there is this amazing high that comes with it. It happens in the first few months, usually, and then who knows how many times after that. Then maybe we just keep looking, keep searching, like if I can just do that again, if I can just break down that one last barrier then...what? I'll be free? Happy? Never have any problems or traumatic situations again? Achieve samadhi and leave the world as I know it? Get a cheeseburger and move on?

I don't know. But I certainly keep on looking for it, and I have been following the teachers that have taken me there waiting for that moment to reoccur. Waiting for something to be....clear. Someone trying to sell you on yoga will probably not tell you that that just doesn't always happen.

Well, this weekend, I went seeking answers with one of the biggest names in transformation out there right now: "The Queen of Kundalini Yoga": Gurmukh.

Kundalini yoga is basically a practice in which you do something repetitively until you want to kill yourself and have no choice but to tune out and let the thing happen, whatever the thing happens to be (transformation? A cheeseburger?). These Kriyas are purported to change the actual molecular structure of your body and your brain. You know those etheral white folks wearing white turbans and flowy white outfits? Those are the Kundalini-is.

Now I don't want to give the wrong impression: I thoroughly enjoy Kundalini, and I love teaching certain Kriyas in my classes--they can be incredibly powerful, and maybe they do actually change the molecular structure of your body and brain. Kundalini yoga is an example of the many types of yoga that try to change you and sometimes really can: Hot yoga's purifying fire, Baptiste Power that will make you sweat your asana off, Forrest Yoga that will work you until you curl up into a ball and cry like a baby, Chakra based Hatha that will make you a superhero etc etc etc.

But I was sitting in a room FULL of Kundalini-is, many of whom were in the white garb, watching this quite old woman in lots of jewelery and draping white cloth sitting up on a pedestal reading from a book and telling us what to do: pretend you are about to hit yourself in the face, and then turn your palm forward instead. For 11 minutes. Or what felt like an eternity. I start to hear sobs here and there. Gurmukh is saying, "Let it go. Don't analyze it. Whatever is coming up, let it go." I was thinking, "cheeseburger." Just kidding. But I wasn't quite in the same room if you know what I mean. And I am a BELIEVER in this kind of shit.

This was after a talk on how in this Western world, we have too much information in our minds. Too many tv shows, to much internet, too many cellphones. Empty your mind, she was saying, and tune into the innate intelligence of your heart. Absolutely yes. But then an added implication: if you do not do this you will go crazy. "Has anyone seen the movie A Beautiful Mind? Brilliant, brilliant man. Crazy."

hm. If we empty our minds too much and lose our ability to think critically, then we become like lemmings who would run off the edge of a cliff after their leader, or, you know, start dressing like them. In white. With turbans.

Not that this was in any way Gurmukh's intention. She is obviously an amazing teacher who has done important things for many people [and I am no one's authority on why the turbans]. And I am not saying we don't need teachers and leaders--we do, desperately, and they can take us places that will slowly make the world better. If I didn't believe that I wouldn't be a teacher, would I?

But I think when you get a bunch of people together who want transformation, who are unhappy with their lives, who need something outside of themselves, they are vulnerable to anything you say. They look for a leader, someone to tell them, It's not your fault you are unhappy! It's the awful world you live in! Use this secret technique I have and you can be transformed!

And you know what, it works.

Not because, I've realized, you finally went to see the guy who spent 6 years meditating in the Himalayas, or the person who invented a style of yoga that makes you backbend a lot with a smile on your face or because you went to see the woman that teaches Madonna yoga. Or because of the secret technique. Or because of paying many dollars hang out with whoever, whether it is Shiva Rea or David Bowie. It's because you WANT to be transformed. Your teacher is giving you tools and you are choosing to do something with them. The tools themselves may not be the point.

There is only one true teacher, and it's you. The teachers that have made me cry in yoga weren't some special aliens who were smarter or better than me (more experienced is a different story), I was just willing to listen to them. I can't rely on Gurmukh or David Bowie or anyone else to make me something different, I am the only one who can do that. These teachers help you find your path, show you things you never could have dreamed of, help you to be strong and safe in your body and your mind: they open the door. But you are the only one that can walk through.

And then what?

Well shit, I don't know.

So In lieu of an answer, I leave you with this poem from Tukaram:


Don't brag about flying
the way we

They don't write books about it and then give

They don't take on disciples and spoil
their own air

Who could dance and achieve
liftoff with a bunch of
whakos tugging
on you?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Sadie Nardini and me on the couch watching NetFlix and sneezing

So everything was going swimmingly--In one weekend, I had my birthday celebration(s) including a beautiful dinner with my parents and Robert at the Van Dusen Botanical Gardens [they make the food WITH the stuff from the garden! Now that's local] and a lovely dinner at Grub on Main Street with some particularly goodlooking friends, 3 different workshops at the Vancouver Yoga Conference and Show [Anodea Judith, Sadie Nardini, and Maria Garre], AND finished a recording of a spoken word track inspired by/including a poem I wrote for a real live yoga CD, and BAM! I got sick. Big surprise, right?

Well, finally it is Monday, and I spent the day in my pajamas doing yoga, drinking a huge pot [literally, a cooking pot] full of cinnamon tea with white tea flowers, watching NetFlix [which is an amazing technology, truly] and working on that thing I've been hearing people talk about: "resting."

Have you ever noticed that yoga teachers tend to teach what they need, not what they already have? Sadie Nardini, a beautiful, magnetic, charming woman who obviously works ridiculously hard [185 youtube videos!] at giving as much of herself to as many people as she possibly can, is a woman with a very specific "core message." Distil down the coal, she says, to the jewel that is inside you. Stop trying to please everyone and just be who you are. Create boundaries. Stick to your message and stick to your voice; the best teacher, lover, friend, parent, etc. that you can be is who you already are. One of the things I love about Sadie is how honest and down to earth she is: and with that it is quite clear that she is a giver, a pleaser, a wanderer, and a freedom fighter against the boxes the world and she herself have created around her. She teaches core integration so beautifully because she has so clearly struggled with it. I think I resonate with her teaching so much for a reason: I, too, often teach "feet on the ground!" because I am often trying to remember to do that.

Lately I have been theming a lot of my classes on change--the fall can be a stressful time, and things tend to shift with the seasons, sometimes in ways that are not so thrilling. My [business] partner's [life] partner's business [I know] was trashed and set fire to recently, and then her SHOES were stolen off her porch. Two different friends had their guitars stolen this month on separate occasions, and a friend and student of mine got stuck in the hospital for almost a MONTH with blood poisoning, unable to do yoga for probably the next six months--and this is someone who practised often more than once a day.

But change, as they say, is good, though not always easy, and here I insert the requisite Wayne's World reference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoPiJOubR-4. Sometimes getting sidetracked gives us a chance to think about where we are and what we are doing when it is the LAST thing we really want to do. And when that sidetrack goes right off the rails and something breaks, we have a chance to put it back together in a new way. Hard times make us better people--I love this quote I heard the other day:

Good judgment comes from experience, but experience comes from bad judgment.

I know, I know, I know I need to rest more, I work too hard, I am too hard on myself, and whenever I do this too much or for too long, I get sick or I twist my ankle or something else goes horribly wrong, as if my inner buddha is whacking me with a big stick. My friend in the hospital said to me: "Some people have a mid life crisis and they buy a new car. I'm having it here in the hospital." What an amazing human to take a month in a horrible little hospital room as an opportunity to meditate and face who he has become and who he wants to be. He has a whole new life to come back to on the other side. I'm not sure I'll get that far this Monday afternoon, but I do understand this illness as a message.

Rest is a beast I struggle to master, and while my students teach me to be smarter, stronger, cooler, and wiser, I try to collect their lessons and my own and watch as they come out of my mouth while I'm teaching. Sadie asked us in this conference: if you could write a message in the sky, and everyone in the world would read it and really think about it, what would the message be? It's a good question, and I think for many of us the answer would be a lesson we had to learn the hard way. My message would be: "Think for yourself." And it takes stopping, sometimes, in the middle of the mad flow of life in this world to do that, and look at what you are doing and judge whether it aligns with who you really are. And when you stop, everytime you stop, you have the chance to start again. Starting again is an adventure everytime, but maybe then so is the stopping.