Fasten Your Seat Belt…

I want to say, before anything else, that maybe I’m wrong.  That perhaps my time in high school and again in college spent as a Bible-thumping, tongue-speaking Charismatic has made me a bit wary of preachers.  My mission as a Yoga teacher is to teach you what I know and what I’m learning.  My mission is to keep you safe and injury free as you grow in your Yoga practice.  My mission is to encourage you and my hope is that you discover that there is more to Yoga than the physical.  When we practice with peace, with non-violence towards our body, free of an agenda and expectations, a connection takes place between the body and the spirit. It’s not up to me to point it out to you.  You must find it.  Sometimes it takes no time at all – we feel the connection with our very first triangle.  But for many of us our fear of doing it ‘wrong’ holds us back.  There is no ‘wrong’.  There is tightness, joint restriction, agitation, fear…but there is no wrong.   Sometimes to grow, we need to step back, to take a lighter approach.  Sometimes to grow, we need to dig deeper.

Yoga is a blessing in my life. But its ever-increasing commercialization has, at times, made me feel insecure as a teacher and as a student. Can I still practice Yoga if I don’t have the right clothes?  The right mat?  Am I skinny enough?  Can I put my foot behind my heads?  Why, after twenty-five years of Yoga practice does Crow still elude me? Dare I confess that, on occasion, I’m a sucker for a crisp slice of bacon?

So – in the spirit of healthy skepticism, fasten your seat belt, we’re in for a bumpy rant.

I want to like John Friend and Anusara Yoga.  I really do.  I love the alignment-based technique, the sense of humor and joy.  The highlight of the 2008 San Francisco Yoga Journal Conference (besides discovering Three-Minute Eggs) was my Anusara session with Désirée Rumbaugh.

But then I read this quote from Friend’s interview in the September issue of Yoga Journal“When I was four years old, Kennedy got shot… I was sick.  My mother fed me whiskey and honey and put me in front of the TV.  So I was in an altered state of consciousness when my shows were preempted by the Dallas tragedy.  Watching the funeral caused me deep questioning about the meaning of life.  Why would we be created to have it all taken away?”

John Friend and I are the same age.  I asked questions that week, too.  Questions like, “Mommy, why are the boots in the saddle stuck in backwards?” I’m pretty certain I didn’t question my existence. Jack Ruby killed Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24th but, other than that, death had nothing to do with me. November 24th, 1963 was my 5th birthday.  I was afraid the celebrations might be cancelled.

Maybe as a child John Friend was calibrated to a higher universal frequency than me.  Maybe he tapped into something I didn’t notice because I was too busy thinking about my mom’s pineapple upside down cake and not stepping on the kitchen cockroaches that occasionally made daring daytime raids.

The truth is, as much as I want to believe, I’m very, very skeptical that John Friend questioned the meaning of life at age four.

But I like being a skeptic.  I think it’s healthy.  And, these days, there’s a place for skepticism in Yoga.

So I’m putting the Commercial Yoga World on notice.  Unless I see you walk on water I’m not going to follow you like a puppy.  But I’ll believe you’re a human, just like me, who has honed a skill through hard work and dedicated practice.  I’ll believe you have a gift for teaching.  But I won’t allow the masses to convince me you’re the Next Great Yogic Hope.

And please don’t put a copyright on poses that are thousands of years old.  Don’t try to convince me your sequencing belongs to you and you alone,  or that practicing the sequence in a super-heated room is healthy.  It might be, for you, but not for me.  I tried it.  I even enjoyed the spiritual benefit. And yet, each time I began a hot yoga practice the result, for me, was illness or injury.

So please, if hot yoga makes you feel jubilant  please don’t proselytize that your Yoga is the only way. I’m happy you found the Yoga that fits your body, mind and spirit.  Now pardon me while I go find mine.

If you are a human, just like me, don’t try to convince me that with your system I can become a Level I Yoga teacher in a weekend workshop.   It’s impossible.

And if I mention my Iyengar background to you, don’t smirk. Yes, it has happened. Don’t look at me as if I need de-programming.  My Iyengar background keeps my students safe.  Will you break a sweat in my class?  Perhaps during Surya Namaskar.  Maybe not.  Do we care?  Is Yoga a hard-core cardiovascular exercise?  On the other hand, will you learn how to modify each pose to suit where your body is that day?  Will you be in a quiet and safe environment?  Will you be mindful of the body and the breath?  Yes.

Finally, if you design, manufacture or sell Yoga equipment or clothing, I want you to know that I choose to no longer be manipulated by your advertising.  Tell me what your product is, how it works and why I might want to have it.  But be honest about it.  Don’t make me feel less of a Yogi because I haven’t purchased the latest mat, the trendy clothes, the coolest block.  Seriously.  Do you think Patanjali had a foam block?

Yoga in America is in a strange place.  It’s being diluted and pushed and pulled and turned into something I don’t believe it was ever meant to be. It’s becoming overpriced, over-marketed and elitist. The question new students usually ask, “Am I flexible enough to practice Yoga?” seems to be slowly changing to “Am I pretty enough/handsome enough/ sexy enough to practice Yoga?”  I hope I’m not the only one who finds that sad.

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