Arbitrary as it is, the end of a calendar year always lends itself towards reflection and re-evaluation. Marking time with numbers makes it near impossible to avoid an attempt at measuring progress as the dial ticks once more. Really though, these annual assessments are only useful if they inform how we think about the course of our lives more than what we think may have been accomplished in it.
Generally speaking, we’d like to think that we have more sway over what happens in our lives then we actually do (see The Joy of Survival.). That is not to say that we have no capacity for affecting the things that happen, because we most certainly do, but the illusion that we are in control over things we are not often causes us to expend ourselves in ways that are at best counterproductive.
Only so much effort, employed at the right time and in an appropriate manner, has any real impact. Otherwise, as my father might say, we’re just farting in the wind.
Most of the people I meet are not lazying around with their lives. In fact, they are “leaning in” and putting themselves forth in every way imaginable. Often, these efforts do not lead to desired outcomes and its easy to feel discouraged. Or even question the value of the pursuit altogether.
I sometimes fantasize about what it would be like to just pack a bag and leave it all behind. Just depart completely from my wife, my daughter, the yoga center, this blog, everything. To completely shirk the entrenched structures of my daily routines and feel the days pass and the seasons unfold with all their boring and magnificent void-ness. But just as soon would come the loneliness. That bleak feeling of there not being anyone to hold and love. The blunt sting of unmitigated uncertainty forever blaring in the back of the mind.
Oh, let us not take for granted what a profound blessing it is to wrap ourselves in the warmth of familiarity and friendship.
Recently I learned something amazing about my heart from my friend and colleague, Leslie Kaminoff at yogaanatomy.net. I learned that my heart alone does not generate enough force to circulate the blood through my body. That in fact, there was first a fetal circulation. A momentum started in me by my mother. And when I took my first inhale, and this life began, my heart picked up that existing momentum. Like pushing my daughter on a swing, once the momentum is started, the amount of force required to keep it going is much less. The force that propels the blood through my body and the momentum of my life did not originate in me.
My daughter is in school now. Sure feels like an accomplishment to have ushered her into the hands of outside educators. (For anyone still in the trenches of early parenthood, I encourage you to take refuge in and support Mathew Remski’s new project, Family Wakes Us Up.) Already, I can see the influence of what I once heard referred to as the “shit head habits of other shit head kids.” But I have to trust that, even if she ends up adopting ways of being different from my own, something of what I hope to have communicated through our relationship will always be there for her to fall back on.
The momentum of my daughter’s life may have originated in the spark created by her mother and me, but now it is hers alone to carry.
That my heart does not act alone and my daughter cannot be controlled speaks to a broader point regarding my efforts in life. No matter how determined and disciplined I may be, there is simply no way to know how things will play out. The momentum of my life swings both forward and back. If my efforts coincide with the up swing and are sufficiently released for a time during the back swing then I further the continued health of my life force. If I am off, exerting and releasing in opposition to the existing rhythm then I weaken the momentum, expend myself unnecessarily, and the whole thing starts to feel like a drag.
So here’s to kicking our legs forward at the right moment and letting it all swing back without a fight. Sometimes when it feels like the passing of the years is catching up to the road ahead, a strained metaphor is the best you got to go on. And that’s just going to have to be enough.
Speaking of efforts coming to fruition, my yoga DVD is now available:
Information technology is transforming the way human beings engage and interact with one another. Like most industries, the yoga world is keen to embrace and capitalize on the new media. But without a clear understanding of how these technologies are affecting us and a conscious relationship to their usage, we are easily betrayed by their advertised promise.
I remember my first America Online email account. I maybe checked it once or twice a week. Now, I have a full blown addiction. Sometimes, as I am opening my inbox for a third time in fifteen minutes, I actually say to myself: “Why are you checking your email again? You just checked it.” But I still go ahead and open it all the same. You just never know when something important, a new opportunity, might pop up at any given moment. And my phone doesn’t even have email notifications turned on. For many of us, we no longer log in to check our email. Our email finds us.
Its hard to admit but I think the majority of my emails are not even being read. I sometimes take considerable time preparing an email, crafting it to make sure that it contains all I want to say and reads as intended, only to get a quick response to something that was in the first paragraph and nothing else. Chances are the recipient was in the back of a cab and only read the first few sentences before firing back. Everything is faster now. And we’re all trying to keep up. For the first time, regular people are reporting signs of stress that were previously reserved only for air traffic controllers and 911 operators. What was once only accessible by way of someones ability to remember it can now simply be looked up in a minute on Wikipedia, marking a change in human cognition and behavior.
“Just as television is better at broadcasting a soccer game occurring on the other side of the world than it is at broadcasting the pillow talk of the person next to you in bed, the net is better at creating simulations and approximations of human interaction from a great distance than it is at fostering interactions between people in the same place.” – Douglas Rushkoff
An email is no longer the same as a letter. Maybe it never was. But nowadays, if you don’t get to the point in a flash then chances are its being missed. And when our transmissions do not extend beyond 140 characters, meaningful content is inevitably lost to the gross and sensational. We have embraced the internet as a vehicle for connecting us to the world and generating new forms of communication, only to find ourselves feeling more disconnected, and endlessly searching for substance in a sea of Adwords.
Of course, when it comes to business, content and meaning are much less important than click through’s and sales. And while the net has made it possible for some businesses to grow in new ways, the massive scale of the internet perpetuates a myth that anyone can grow a small independent business into a global empire with nothing more than a DSL line and a website. Commercials for internet providers depict a man making dog biscuits at a corner store, cut to him standing beside a fleet of trucks filled with dog biscuits, cut to him in an executive office and celebrating his success on a yacht.
Even if your website, blog, youtube, facebook, twitter and instagram feeds actually drive some traffic to your yoga class, you are still going to need to back it up with something real. And no matter how amazing your posts might be, chances are they’re never going to get 30 million hits and launch you into yoga stardom.
Yoga training is rightly more concerned with well being than with wealth. But this means that yoga practitioners tend to be less business savvy and therefore more susceptible to the internet hype. Just look at how many budding yoga teachers have blindly posted full length videos of their yoga classes to YouTube, and the array of new internet portals that are springing forth to take advantage of all the content that is being given away for free, without any real consideration as to who is actually profiting from it. Very rarely, if ever, is the teacher reaping the same kind of benefits that the guys with the MBA degrees are.
Sure, it’s cool that our childhood Jetson’s-inspired dream has come true and we can now have yoga practice via a video chat. But let us not be mislead into believing that the internet will bring the world to our doorstep when, in actuality, it’s probably only going to provide directions to the people who live within a few miles radius. Whatever the web might be able to bring is only so good as our ability to maintain focus on what’s happening in our immediate spheres, and the relationships that are nurtured there.
Most people who practice yoga with any consistency over time begin to recognize that the benefits extend well beyond having a strong and flexible body. But unlocking the keys to the real power of yoga often requires a fearless embrace of vulnerability that runs contrary to the image we have of yoga’s fruition.
The confluence of personal practice, the display of that practice outwardly, and the truths that are revealed in that process have been at the forefront of my own experience. After more than fifteen years of developing programs of practice, I am currently producing a yoga video that will document the sequences that have proven most effective. In the context of my teaching, I have demonstrated these practices publicly many times. But setting that practice down to video, where it is captured for all eternity, or at least as long as there is a back-up on a hard drive somewhere, asked that I accept a snapshot of myself in my life and practice as definitive.
My practice can only really be expressed in its entirety, over the course of my whole life and all that it entails.
We shot me doing the practice twice. The first day I really brought my A-game. I nailed all the alignment points I wanted to emphasize. My breath was as long and even as I could make it. I wanted to show the practice in its most accomplished expression. After all, it represented my work as a teacher and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I wanted it to be impressive to others.
When we arrived for the second day of shooting, my producer said: “Yesterday was great. You really nailed it. But honestly, it felt very technical. Maybe this time you just go for a feeling. Like, do the practice exactly as you would if you were alone, not for the video, just for yourself.” Frankly, had I been given that directive on the first day, to just do it for myself and not the camera, I would have likely said sure and then gone ahead and done it for the camera all the same. As I said, this is a representation of my life’s work for public consumption. But since we already had the perfect version in the can, I was able to fully embrace the suggestion.
In that second shoot I genuinely had a practice for myself, as I do daily, with virtually no regard for the camera. And the difference was palpable. There was a sense of privacy and intimacy and timelessness. Only through a combination of happen-stance and my personal needs in that moment, was I actually able to let go of the self-consciousness that usually comes with picture taking and engage the soul of my practice.
Of course, it turned out that there were some technical problems with the camera and lighting on the first day which rendered it mostly unusable. So we were forced to rely upon the second day shoot. As we got into the editing process, we began to notice that while the second day shoot looked and felt special, there were many subtle irregularities. For instance, I did three breaths on one side and four breaths on the other. Or my breath would speed up or slow down, even in the course of one sun salutation. These idiosyncrasies are fine in the context of my personal practice but when trying to create a practice tool for others presented a dilemma. We considered re-shooting. But the inconsistencies were slight and the more we thought about it, the more it became clear that we had to embrace what we had, with all its imperfections.
It was no longer about making a yoga video. It was about facing the discrepancy between an idealized vision of myself and my practice and the actuality of what it is.
When I watch the final cuts of the programs, I see my practice revealed in a way that I had not planned. The reason my breath gets faster in that sun salutation is because I’m stressing about having to redo the health insurance. When I rushed that transition from warrior two into extended side angle, I was knocking myself for turning 42 soon without having written a book yet. And when I forgot that breath on the second side, my insecurities over not yet having the resources to be a sole bread winner for my family were rearing to the surface.
I see me with all my shit. My fears, my sadness, and my hope. I see the parts of myself that are usually reserved only for myself. I see me carrying the weight of my life on my shoulders, not the perfect picture of my accomplished yoga practice.
But I also see that through the course of my practice, that weight is lifted some. I can see tension and anxiety come in, and then go out. I can see how my physical practice is only an outer display of the real inner work and benefit. Most importantly, I see that the key to that process is me loving myself. Meeting the overwhelming uncertainty of life with the nurturing and care that human beings need. It doesn’t look glossy. Its full of bitter sweet torment.
And that’s what I see when yoga practice is working for people. I see them come in with the weight of their lives on their shoulders. I see them in a process of gradually lifting that weight with the humble surrender of showing themselves love, sometimes with great resistance and confusion. It’s never perfect, and yet, it is.
Life coaching has emerged as a new wellness profession and is being closely associated with yoga. What was once mostly the purview of corporate managers trying to maximize the productivity of their workforce has become a mainstream. But this forced marriage is doomed to fail. For the relationship between life coaching and yoga is too often rooted in superficial trappings. Read more »
Now that yoga class attendees who were never really into the yoga have largely migrated to Crossfit, and the once freely-given pass on safety has expired, grassroots practitioners are reclaiming the terms of their trade. The old school of yoga is resurgent, offering an antidote to a cultural infatuation with youth and body image. Read more »
Triumphant as it may seem, the vast internet array of photos depicting every budding yogi’s best arm balance is misleading. Assigning these images to the epitome of yoga detracts from the real glory of yoga, which actually takes place outside the practice ritual. Read more »
There are three general sensibilities that shape the process by which someone comes to an understanding of yoga, and its capacity to empower. Each approach offers benefits but, contrary to common assumptions, they do not all lead to the same conclusions or results. For purposes here, these perspectives will be referred to as: transcendental, transformational, and sacrosanctual. Read more »
Hype surrounding meditation abounds. Wherever you look, someone is extolling the virtues of meditation while unwittingly sabotaging its occurrence. The intent is to help people better manage stress and enjoy more fulfilling lives. But what many refer to as meditation, with all the grandiose claims being bandied about, easily engenders more problems than it solves. Read more »
Since its inception in 1999, the Yoga Alliance has developed a deservedly bad reputation for collecting millions of dollars from the yoga community without providing any real service in return. However, a new president and CEO has taken over and the time may have come for yoga teachers and schools to rethink previous positions and explore an organization that is more responsive. Read more »
Among those interested in yoga philosophy, many consider the notion of a “householder” interpretation to be a watering down of essential teachings. However, a strong case can be made that not only is the mundane path equally steeped in the history and philosophies of yoga but that it is profoundly more relevant and helpful to modern practitioners then predominate dogmas. Read more »
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