Posts Tagged With: yoga sutras

The Ganesh in the Room

If you teach yoga, you’re probably familiar with the phenomenon of the yoga audition. And if you don’t teach yoga, this may sound a bit disconcerting. But it’s a “thing” and yes, it flies in the face of what yoga is supposed to be all about in more ways than I have room to write about.

A friend of mine recently “auditioned” to teach yoga at a popular upscale fitness center in a major city. Her story is about as close as I’ll get to being a fly on the wall as I’ll never go to one of these cattle call auditions myself. She had three to five minutes to give it her best shot or rather, performance. She also had to participate as a student in everyone else’s auditions as well. This was part of the deal.

Am I alone in thinking that this is a messed-up way to find the most skilled yoga instructors? To that end, what other industry subjects job candidates to sit through other prospective employee interviews? But this is indicative of how upside-down the yoga industry has become. Pun intended.

I know a lot of professional actors and auditioning is a necessity if they want to land a role. But think about it: Yoga teaching is not acting, although it’s helpful to keep students engaged and entertained. It’s teaching.

What’s going on here? How did teaching yoga become another ego-filled offshoot of the entertainment industry?

I’m not just talking about the ludicrous way yoga teachers have to strut their stuff to land a teaching gig. I’m talking about the whole kit and caboodle. The entire yoga industry has run amuck and I’m not afraid to say so.

Let’s take a closer look at the general state of teaching yoga, keeping in mind this isn’t how we all roll:

  • Yoga teachers are expected to work their way up to prime teaching slots at coveted studios. This means “volunteering” aka working at the reception desk, sweeping floors, cleaning up props and more. For free. If you’re a studio owner you may balk at this saying that your studio offers “work-study” – meaning your volunteer labor can take classes in exchange for work. This isn’t entirely awful, if you are made of money or perhaps a college student who wants to take a couple of classes a week as a hobby. But, barring those circumstances, if you’re aspiring to teach yoga, why not “volunteer” your services at a needy charitable organization versus a for-profit yoga studio? And to studio owners: I suggest paying wannabe teachers, even at minimum wage. This way they can decide how to spend their discretionary income.

A starting out yoga teacher is akin to a starving actor. It’s time the industry stops preying on these newbies.

  • A skilled yoga teacher isn’t necessarily a marketing maven. Yet, owners of studios, gyms and fitness locales can’t seem to differentiate between the two. Either that or they just don’t care.

 

Those with the most class groupies, the highest numbers of “followers” on Instagram and Twitter, as well as thousands of Facebook friends, often win by filling their classes. Meanwhile, the best teachers out there – the ones who actually know their stuff and would never think of posting Instagram pictures in a one-handed upside-down pose – don’t get hired because they can’t attract swarms of students and it doesn’t make financial sense for the studio. I get it. But how do we reconcile it when students leave classes wondering how they too can achieve a one-handed upside-down pose or lose weight to fit into those skinny yoga pants?

 

  • 200-hour and 300-hour teacher training courses have proliferated – some good, some bad, some ugly. As a result, our industry continues to spit out teachers who practice their most impressive poses in order to audition for menial wage teaching jobs. Oh, did I mention that the yoga industry is unregulated so the onus rests on students to figure out where to go to earn a quality education that will prepare them to teach this ancient healing practice as well as land teaching jobs.

 

  • Then of course there is the issue of whether yoga class students can sort out the riff from the raff in a regular class setting. I don’t think so, at least not when you’re new to yoga. Just think about it: If you’re a new student who attends your first class at studio XYZ and the teacher offers a kick asana workout and you’re looking for a new fitness routine, you may think that this is the be all and end all of yoga.

 

Since When Is Teaching Yoga Like Starring in a Broadway Show?

Once you’re done mulling over the above points, let’s pause for a moment and talk about the Ganesh in the room, er yoga studio.

Yoga has become all about the ego. Some may even go so far as to say that modern day yoga actually promotes the ego. I know, it’s tough to swallow. Yoga teachers and studios thrive off having the biggest classes, most popular workshops, and teacher trainings with waiting lists. Some teachers walk around with headsets on because without these contraptions, no one can hear them say, “Leave your egos at the door.” You may argue that you need a headset because your classes are too crowded. But, I say to that: time to limit class sizes. This way you can actually see all the students in the room and do your job: Teach them instead of shouting poses and commands into a microphone.

But this is a tough one as yoga teachers often earn their income based on the numbers of students that attend their classes. Students might as well walk in the door holding up dollar signs. Teachers need to be popular. It’s part of being successful in this industry. It feeds the ego, not unlike getting a lead role in a Broadway show or movie.

It’s enough to make your head spin as this ego trip is about as far away from yoga as we can get.

Stepping Down from the Soapbox

This may be ruffling some feathers out there. But I speak from experience as I was part of this circus act until recently. I ran a bustling yoga studio for 10 plus years. I offered a 200-hour teacher training course for eight years, hosted scores of workshops featuring nationally known instructors, led retreats, guest taught at prominent resorts, and hired dozens of teachers  – alas never any “volunteers” to sweep the floor.

However, I am opting not to run my studio anymore by choice. It was time to step off the hamster wheel as I didn’t like what was going on in the industry around me. I still teach two classes a week out of my space but I no longer run a studio. There’s a big difference.

I have moved onto other things, yet I love yoga and consider my practice a vital part of my life. To that end, I’m now focusing on expanding my online kids’ yoga teacher training business, Pretzel Kids. I’ve also gone back to writing and my journalism roots.

What’s to Come of the Yoga Biz?

Meanwhile, other studios and teachers – and there are some darned good ones everywhere – are still fighting to succeed and to do so, they need to retain students, have an audience, and market like crazy. Doesn’t sound much different than any other industry, right? Yoga teachers and studio owners deserve to earn a living too, right?

Trust me, I understand and support this. But, here’s where the buck stops: Yoga is VERY different from other industries. Other businesses, you see, aren’t all about teaching others to drop the ego. If we could just figure out a way around the ego, there would be no issue. But, here’s the contradiction: If we really wanted to banish the ego, we’d get rid of conventions, festivals, podcasts, posing on Instagram, lululemon, and the list goes on. What should we do? Close down all the studios? Stop teaching? Stop attending classes, workshops, yoga events? Make a mass exodus and turn to other careers and income streams? It’s a big dilemma. The industry is changing and it’s up to you to decide if you want to be part of it and how.

Find Balance

Here’s an idea. Maybe it’s time to stop and find balance – in the name of yoga. Everyone’s idea of balance is different. Find out what works for you and try not to get caught up in the yoga rat race. For me, I focused on developing the Pretzel Kids online yoga training course. It seemed the right time to move this exceptional course online for a low price point. This way aspiring yogis and non-yogis alike can move their teaching aspirations in another direction – take it to the kids and out of the adult yoga studio. Pretzel Kids helps those taking the course learn how to teach children’s yoga and market classes where kids congregate: schools, camps, daycare centers and more. I resisted the online yoga world for a long time, but ultimately, this was the best way for me to reach masses of adults worldwide who want to teach a quality kids yoga curriculum. This experience has taught me that you can find balance by teaching yoga in an ego-free way with the help of modern technology and tools.

Find Truth

Maybe the yoga community should just be honest. Isn’t truth a big part of yoga? Let’s all fess up: This industry is where it is today because, generally speaking, looks and appearances have become more important to yoga than the practice itself. The ego is winning. But you can change this – for yourself at least.

So what to do? There’s no one answer but here’s a good start: Try spending some time alone on your mat. Move any way you want to. Get quiet. Wear pajamas. Learn not to care about who is teaching you, who is listening, and what studio you go to. Be your own teacher. Be creative and figure out new ways to hone your skills.

As a yoga teacher and yogini, my wakeup call came when I took time off from teaching adult yoga classes and taught myself. Give it a try. The Ganesh in the room will appreciate it.

Robyn Parets is a journalist, business writer and retired yoga studio owner based in Boston. A former writer for Investor’s Business Daily and NerdWallet, Robyn is also the founder and owner of Pretzel Kids (http://www.pretzelkids.com), a children’s yoga brand and online teacher training course. You can follow her on Twitter @RobynParets or @Pretzelkids, and keep up with her musings on her blog at http://www.awayfromom.net.

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Categories: business of yoga, challenges, Etcetera, get real, letting go, musings, Philosophy, That's Life!, Truth, Yoga | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Careening Down a Dangerous Path

So, I’m perusing through my Facebook feed the other day and I see this post:

“Sometime soon, we may reach a point where half the women in America will be teaching yoga to the other half…”

An interesting quip from a man I worked with at a California newspaper in the early 90’s.  To my knowledge, he’s a PR executive and not a yoga teacher. Hmmm, even non-yogis realize things are out of control and there’s no end in sight.

I touched on this in late 2013 when I wrote an article that evoked much discussion in the yoga community. My honest reflection resonated with many, ticked off some, and got people thinking.

Icicles on studioSo, here I am watching the snow fall outside my window in Massachusetts. It’s been about two years since I traveled to 40 cities in the US and Canada in the course of 15 months. I got a realistic pulse of the yoga landscape in America and hit classes in strip malls, YMCAs, intimate settings, large chain studios, gyms, and pretty much every place in-between. When I returned home, I reassessed where I wanted to go with my studio, Breathe Joy Yoga, which sits behind my house in the woods.  After witnessing the state of the yoga industry, I knew it was time for a change. I was done operating a full-blown studio where part of the job was competing for yoga newbies who are more concerned about sweating, low prices and convenience than immersing themselves in the practice. So, instead, I focus on teaching two to four classes a week at Breathe Joy Yoga. Everyone is welcome and every class is engaging and unique as I never have a yoga pose playlist prepared. I also oversee Pretzel Kids® trainings and classes, and I have returned to freelance journalism. Once in a while, I offer PR and marketing consulting services to other yoga professionals trying to navigate this rocky landscape.

So why revisit this topic? Well, because we’re no better off than we were two years ago. In fact, we’re much worse off. And this, my friends, affects how and where we practice yoga, as well as the integrity of our community as a whole.

Today, I would guess 30-50% of yoga studios offer 200-hour yoga teacher trainings. It’s no surprise as these courses generate fast cash and help pack studio classes. Now, don’t get me wrong. Studio owners deserve to earn a living and hopping on the teacher training gravy train is a sure-fire way to ensure that they do so. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. But, here’s the problem: As long as students continue to drink the Koolaid served at the closest yoga studio, teacher trainings will multiply like bunnies in a highly unregulated industry. Seems a little harsh, I know. But let’s peel off some more layers here.

DSCF0442Yoga in America isn’t what it used to be and we, as a yoga community, should stand up in Tadasana and take notice. It was only 11 years ago when I opened Breathe Joy Yoga. I offered a comprehensive teacher training course as much out of need as desire. There were simply no programs in my area. The market wasn’t saturated and skilled yoga teachers were in high demand.

Flash forward to today: If you throw a ball out a window in any major US city, it will hit one yoga teacher on the head and bounce onto another instructor’s asana. Taking classes and teaching yoga is the “in” thing and many students wear rose-colored glasses and think that, if they become a yoga teacher, they too can open a successful studio (just find an empty corner, start a Facebook page, and viola!) or at least teach a few classes a week (good luck finding a studio without a two-page list of subs). The plot thickens. Many still think they can quit their day jobs and make big bucks teaching yoga. Now, I know…..some of you are thinking I sound cynical or this is just sour grapes. But, let me tell you right here and now: I sure as heck don’t have sour grapes. I love to practice and teach yoga. And, I enjoyed the challenge of turning a small, community-supported studio into a thriving business. I wouldn’t have chosen any other life or livelihood for the eight years I ran a yoga studio full-time.

Here’s another thing: I love that yoga is now readily available. I just wish we were more responsible about this mushrooming growth. One of the pitfalls of working and practicing in an unregulated industry is that many businesses offer yoga classes and have no idea whether their own yoga instructors are skilled. A certificate from a crash course is sometimes all a health club needs to hire a teacher. It’s even become commonplace for prospective teachers to “audition.”  Here’s a common scenario: A club owner sits through a slate of “auditions” and then, regardless of whether this “casting director” knows the difference between yoga and Pilates, a yoga teacher who fits the “part” is selected from the lot.

And then there are master classes. What defines a master class? Well, nothing really. At least not anymore. Any newly-minted, recent 200-hour graduate can throw together a workshop and call it a master class. Scratch that. No 200-hour certificate is necessary as anyone can teach a master class. It certainly sounds impressive and many students take the bait, especially when they see this so-called expert on Instagram striking a perfect pose. Our industry has run amuck here. In my opinion, there are only a small handful of teachers who should be considered “masters” in any field. Yoga is no exception.

About now I’m probably pissing off some of you. But, put your egos aside for a moment. I’m saying it like it is. Satya for ya in its truest sense.

To that end, I’m going to tell you a story that may help illustrate where our industry is headed. I’m warning you: It’s a doozy.

A couple of months ago I received a pitch for a workshop from an out-of-town teacher whom I had never met. I usually only offer workshops taught by experienced teachers I know. This way, I feel comfortable about what I’m selling and confident that my students will take away something valuable from their time and financial investment. But, it sounded good so I decided to give it a go. The teacher sent me a description of the workshop for beginners, which would include backbends, arm balances and inversions. She then explained that the inversions would encompass variations of headstand, shoulder stand and maybe handstand. Further information indicated her method will help students reach happiness faster. Ok. Let’s stop right there. Reach happiness faster? By doing a headstand? Wow. Now you really got me going.

Call me crazy. Call me responsible. I don’t care. I had to put my foot down and question her proposal. Here’s our email chain:

The “teacher”: “Regarding inversions, I am skillfully trained to teach them in a very safe and attentive way. I realize that not a lot of instructors feel comfortable teaching them (and thus they go untaught which I believe is a shame), but I feel that if proper alignment is taught, modifications are given and safely precautions are taken, inversions are not only extremely beneficial but tangible to even the most beginner of yogis. (INSERT HERE THIS TEACHER’S STYLE, PURPOSEFULLY LEFT OUT) places a strong focus on inversions and without them, I wouldn’t stay true to its homage….”

I agree that inversions are beneficial, however, kicking our egos to the curb: Even with modifications and the best instructor in the world, my experience is that it’s impossible to watch everyone at the same time in a large room filled with upside-down beginners who you don’t know. I was getting squeamish just thinking about the possibility of someone falling over on my hardwood floor. I also wasn’t feeling too warm and fuzzy about a teacher who felt that, without teaching specific inversions, she was not staying true to her yoga lineage. I mean, c’mon, really? Aren’t there plenty of other asana choices out there? Um, yes.

Here’s how it ended peacefully as I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt:

Me: So, here is my position: From a liability perspective, I feel it’s not responsible or safe for me to offer this at my studio.  I understand that you would prefer to stay true to your homage but I need to stay true to safety and health. Are you able to offer rabbit pose, basic tripod and/or modified shoulder stand with legs up in an “L” (like legs up the wall without the wall) as alternatives? Let me know your thoughts. Thanks again.”

She wrote back: I understand your concerns. Yet on the other hand I ‘respectively’ [sic] disagree.

That was that.

So let’s talk a little about homage and lineage. What does that even mean? Back in the heyday (meaning hundreds and even thousands of years ago – long before lululemon pants graced our yoga classes), yoga teachers were taught by true experts to pass down this ancient tradition.

Take my primary teacher, Diane Lagadec. Diane is the real deal. About to turn 71, Diane runs Maha Yoga Center in Bridgewater, Ma. and you can often find her in a safe backbend or inversion. She trained with Shri Khanna, who was one of the yogis who came to the states in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s to learn and teach.

“He came to Boston to complete a doctorate and while he was here he created a small ashram in a home in West Newton. He was friends with Yogi Desai, Dr. Mishra (also known as Swami Brahmananda Sarasvati), etc. We got to meet and learn from wonderful teachers. Shri was from the Maha Ananda Ashram in Simla, India. I studied with him for years,” said Diane.

I realize there’s no one path to anything, but I am fairly certain that enrolling in a 200-hour teacher training for a handful of weekends or taking classes in a hyped-up studio with packed classes and hotshot teachers is not going to help you reach nirvana faster. What to do? For starters, do your research.

If you practice yoga, inquire of yourself: Why am I choosing this teacher to guide me? Maybe you have no idea whether he/she is skilled. Maybe the time works for your schedule. Maybe the quality or safety of the class doesn’t matter to you. You still should ask.

If you’re considering enrolling in a teacher training, ask yourself:  Why do I want to take this course with these teachers at this studio?

If you’re a yoga teacher or studio owner, ask yourself: Why do I want to teach? Why do I want to run a 200-hour course? There is no right or wrong answer.

The point is: We should all be digging deep. Or, as we yogis say, it’s time to practice self-study, a.k.a. Svadhyaya.

I may be going out on a limb here but we are careening down a dangerous path. Literally. Yoga students are blowing out hips and shoulders regularly. I’m thinking Patanjali didn’t have this in mind. Take a look at the Yoga Sutras. Depending on your interpretation, only about five of the 196 sutras (II: 29 and II: 46-49) discuss anything to do with asana. Let’s sit on that for a while.

Robyn Parets, a journalist and yoga teacher, is founder of Pretzel Kids® and owner of Breathe Joy Yoga studio in Massachusetts. A former writer for the Los Angeles Times, Inc. Magazine Group, Investor’s Business Daily, and many other publications, Parets turned to yoga and meditation in 1999 after her life was interrupted by a neurological disorder. Bedridden for nearly two years with two children under four, Parets credits her dedicated practice with helping her gain back her health. She recently traveled across the country, documenting the changing yoga landscape along the way. Parets is now focusing on blogging, reconnecting, and creating her next chapter! Find inspiration at: www.awayfromom.net

 

Categories: business, business of yoga, Etcetera, get real, humor, journalism, Philosophy, That's Life!, Truth, Uncategorized, Writing, Yoga | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Oh Yeah, Life Goes On

As I sit here reading the Sunday paper — the one hard copy periodical I still read regularly — I begin thinking about when my kids were little. Things weren’t always easy for them, for us.

When my oldest son Ethan was two, we moved across the country, from Los Angeles to Boston. Soon after that, I got ill with a neurological disorder. Noah, my youngest, was only 5 months old when this happened. I was in bed for two years and missed his first steps and many other firsts. Then, when they were in 2nd and 5th grade, their father and I got separated, then divorced. I got remarried a few years later and my sons got a new step-brother out of the deal too. In the middle of all this, I changed careers – went from a journalist to a yoga studio owner.  A lot of changes and I worked a gazillion hours a week. When things were finally starting to settle down, Noah got cast in a Broadway touring show. I was running  two yoga businesses at the time but I knew what I had to do: leave it all behind and go on tour with Noah. But, I also left behind my husband, two other sons, my businesses and my dog.

3 Boys

My big boys

When I came home five months ago and 15 months later, I had a lot of decisions to make and catching up to do. Should I build my businesses back up to where they once were? Should we move out of this house if I no longer need the yoga studio that is on the property? At the same time, I had a lot of catch-up work to do with Ethan on his college applications and visits. Then it hit me: Where did life go and where is it headed?

Honestly, it feels like a blur. Next year this time, Ethan will be out of the house, living at college and starting his adult life. Noah will be a sophomore in high school while pursuing his dreams of a dance and theater career. Yes, I was there for my boys, always encouraging them and supporting them. But yet, I don’t remember a lot of details. Life changed and moved too fast.

Lake Massapoag

when things get quiet, you see clearly

So I decided to put the brakes on – at least in the best way I knew how in this ever moving forward swirl of life. For the past five months I have committed to making no major decisions for myself. That’s right: None. Rebuilding Breathe Joy Yoga was just too big of a decision so I decided against it. Been there, done that. I just wanted to spend some time “being.”

Not rushing, not racing, not having to do a million things at once. For the first three months, this felt, well, weird. I woke up every morning thinking I had to be somewhere, but I didn’t. I raced to my computer to open my email fully expecting messages from yoga students wanting information on classes and workshops. Nothing.  In my new experiment of “nothingness”, I didn’t even practice asana every day or even 4 days a week like I used to. Sure, I exercised BUT I made sure I didn’t take myself too seriously or put pressure on myself to do any one kind of exercise. And, I will admit this openly now: I let my meditation practice go by the wayside. You see, when I meditate and get quiet, I hear what I need to hear and do. I just didn’t want to listen to advice, not even my own. I was afraid of what I’d hear, like “You are spending too much time doing nothing. You should be running a business. You should be making more money. Yadda, yadda, yadda.”

This little experiment has been one of the biggest challenges of my life. I’m a “doer” by nature, not a “be-er.” I had no idea how hard this would be and it doesn’t help when even my kids say: “Mom, what are you going to do next? Are you going to get a job, start a new business, go back to the studio? What do you do every day?” They aren’t used to this new me.

Ironically, this little experiment was not intended to actually be an experiment. I just wanted to slow down. And, in doing so, opportunities have come into my life for myself, my family and my children. Amazing how that happens when you commit to nothingness.  You actually become more receptive to positive change AND you leave room for new opportunities to come into your life. Imagine that?  And, by the way, isn’t this a form of meditation of sorts? Isn’t this being present?

In this moment, this is my yoga – sans asana and all. Seeing life as it is: right here, right now.

Categories: Accidental Stage Mom, Billy Elliot, business, business of yoga, get real, letting go, Philosophy, That's Life!, Writing, Yoga | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Witnessing the Yoga Scene

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/11/witnessing-the-yoga-scene-around-the-country-makes-me-consider-closing-my-studio-robyn-parets/

Categories: Accidental Stage Mom, Etcetera, get real, humor, letting go, On the Road, Philosophy, That's Life!, Travel, Truth, Writing, Yoga | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Discriminate and Eliminate: Walk On…….

I’ve been home for two months now. For the first time in a VERY long time, I have space to reflect. Life feels peaceful and calm – a major contrast to the whirlwind of a lifestyle I had for the past 15 years. Between having kids, working full-time as a journalist, running a yoga studio (open seven days a week), and then going on tour with Noah, I felt like I didn’t ever have a break. Oh, and I almost forgot: I was sick for two years with a neurological disorder (that I am blessed to have recovered from) and I got divorced, re-married and acquired a step-son along the way. Don’t get me wrong. I am not complaining. I had two successful careers, have an incredible husband, a supportive ex-husband, three wonderful sons, and my health. My future is sprawled out in front of me. I am blessed.

field with a path

follow your path

But in order to get to a place where I can look across this huge, spacious field of opportunity, I needed to walk away. Walk away from people, jobs, houses, sticky situations and more. Just walk away. There have been times when I have tried to walk away while others kept trying to drag me back in. There have been times when I have found myself knee-deep in a situation I desperately wanted out of and the only way to break free was to make a choice: walk away and not look back. There have been situations where I know I was right YET my happiness was being sacrificed. So I walked away. There have been times when I wished I had told people my side of a story or situation. Yet, I knew this would cause controversy and instead kept quiet. In those instances, I walked away. I know this is very vague, but there are just too many situations that come to mind. I somehow know that you can all relate.

It all boils down to this: Sometimes the path to peace and happiness in your own life is to pick another path and change your direction. Now, everyone has their own opinions and surely for some, walking away is a cowardly route. Yet, look at the alternative: staying in a toxic situation, place, relationship or job (just to name a few) is simply unhealthy – emotionally and physically.

When leaving a difficult place, you will notice a lot of commotion around you. This makes it even harder to walk away. Some people will support you without asking questions. Others will demand explanations, as if your choice to let go is somehow their business. Others will ignore you because they don’t know what to say. Still others will talk about your decisions and tear you down as a person, leading to rumors and gossip which can become not just untrue, but ugly. These types of people are usually the ones who have nothing better to do then gossip about others rather than deal with their own lives head-on. The truth is: your life is your life and your choices are uniquely yours. No one else, except those you invite in, need to know what led to your decisions. If they insist on knowing or opt to start rumors, they were probably not worth having in your life to begin with. Hmmm – maybe time to walk away.

Walking away is the same as letting go. And this is not easy. How many of you have struggled with leaving behind a love relationship, even when you know it’s a bad one? What about friends? This can be challenging too. Have you ever grappled with ending a friendship because you’re afraid of the ramifications such as mutual other friends walking away from YOU or this so-called friend starting negative rumors? Not all relationships are meant to go on forever. Surround yourself with good, kind people. People that lift you up, not pull you down. When people no longer do this for you, maybe it’s time move on. Ultimately, letting go is very personal. Some of us hang on for way too long and others don’t give things enough time. There is no right or wrong choice. There is only your choice.

field of flowers

create your field of dreams

A wise yoga teacher once said (and it has stayed with me): Discriminate and eliminate. Plain and simple.

If we all spent more time figuring this out and walking our path instead of involving ourselves in situations which are none of our business, the world would be a more peaceful place.

So here I am in the now. I’m doing the work. Simplifying and letting go. Looking ahead at the vast field and not knowing what’s on the other side. I’m ok with that.

Categories: Accidental Stage Mom, Etcetera, get real, letting go, Philosophy, That's Life!, Travel, Truth, Uncategorized, Writing, Yoga | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Think Inside the Box

Yeah, I know. The saying is “Think Outside the Box.” But sometimes, you need to turn things inside out and take a look inside because what you think is going on around you isn’t what it appears to be. Huh?

Let’s back up a bit. I am now home. This marked my biggest stretch of time away from home since going out on tour with Noah. I was gone for two solid months, a bit more. The last time I was home was for only a few days in mid-March when we came back for Noah’s state exams. He was in testing and I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to get a months’ worth of appointments crammed into four days’ time.

So now we are home for a couple of weeks. Although I still have tons of appointments and organizing to do (including opening mail, sorting files, paying bills, etc.) this time at home also includes time for introspection. It’s necessary. It’s about time. You see, living on the road leaves little time for contemplation of any kind. My meditation practice has been kicked to the curb, I hardly have time for an asana practice anymore and I feel lost in the shuffle of an odd sort of reality show.

It’s like living in a traveling college dorm. You live, eat, travel, work, exercise, and socialize with the same people for months on end. You grow to understand each other and know each other – sometimes a bit too well and sometimes not really at all. The “not really at all” part is when things tend to go awry in a social experiment like a touring musical. You see, rumors can run rampant and people often get sucked into believing things about their travel mates that can be, well, let’s say not nice and untrue. Usually I just try to be the best mother I can be to my son and stay away from the fray. It can be isolating at times but mostly, it feels safe. Most of the people I live with do not know me very well. With this said, I can say I have some tried and true tour friends – some people I hope will be my friends for life. They are good, kind and honest people – people I know I could go to for any kind of help. But in order to really know me, or anyone you live with, you have to look inside the box and not just at what’s going on outside. This means forming your own opinions of people and not listening to what others may say. It seems easy but it isn’t. It’s hard enough in the “real world” when you go to work every day and come home to the sanctity of your own home and family. It’s even harder on tour.

Yesterday I enjoyed something I haven’t had time for in a while: reflection. I delved into my Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, an ancient and brilliant sage. For those of you unfamiliar with the Sutras, they are a collection (sutra can be translated to mean “thread”) of kick-ass advice on how to live a more compassionate and fulfilling life. I immediately gravitated to Sutra 1:33:

“By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness” – Sutra translation by Sri Swami Satchidananda.

The first three parts of this all-important sutra come easy to me but the last part is where I struggle. I’m going to paraphrase a couple of pages from Satchidananda’s book so you all can understand what I’m talking about here. After that, we’ll discuss and hopefully you will all weigh in as well.

           “Whether you are interested in reaching Samadhi (enlightenment) or plan to ignore yoga entirely, I would advise you to remember at least this one Sutra. In my own experience, this Sutra became my guiding light to keep my mind serene always. 

            Who would not like serenity of mind always? Who would not like to be happy always? Everyone wants that. So Patanjali gives four keys: friendliness, compassion, delight and disregard. There are only four kinds of locks in the world. Keep these four keys with you and when you come across any one of these four locks you will have the proper key to open it. What are these four locks? Sukha, duhka, punya and apunya – the happy people, unhappy people, the virtuous and the wicked. At any given moment, you can fit any person into one of these four categories.

            When you see a happy person, use the friendliness key. Why would Patanjali say this? Because even four thousand years ago there must have been people who were not happy at seeing others happy. It is still the same way. Suppose somebody drives up in a big car, parks in front of her huge palatial home and gets out. Some other people are standing on the pavement in the hot sun getting tired. How many of those people will be happy. Not many. They will be saying, “See that big car? She is sucking the blood of the laborers.” We come across people like that: they are always jealous. When a person gets name, fame or a higher position, they try to criticize that person. They will never admit that she might have gone up by her own merit. By that jealousy, you will not disturb her but you disturb your own serenity. She simply got out of her car and walked into the house, but you are burning up inside. Instead, think, “Oh, such a fortunate person. If everybody were like that how happy the world would be. May God bless everybody to have such comfort. I will also get that one day.” Make that person your friend. That response is missed in many cases, not only between individuals but even among nations.

            And what of the next lock, the unhappy people? We should have compassion. If you can lend a helping hand, do it. If you can share half of your loaf, share it. Be merciful always. Remember, our goal is to keep the serenity of our minds. Whether our mercy is going to help that person or not, by our feeling of mercy, at least we are helped.

            Then comes the third kind, the virtuous people. When you see a virtuous man, feel delighted. “Oh, how great he is.” Don’t envy him; don’t try to pull him down. Appreciate the virtuous qualities in him and try to cultivate them in your own life.

            And, lastly, the wicked. We come across wicked people sometimes. We can’t deny that. So what should be our attitude? Indifference. Don’t try to advise wicked people because wicked people seldom take advice. If you try to advise them you will lose your peace. I remember a small story from the Pancha Tantra which I was told as a small child.

            One rainy day, a monkey was sitting on a tree branch getting completely drenched. Right opposite on another branch of the same tree there was a small sparrow sitting in its hanging nest. Normally a sparrow builds its nest on the edge of a branch so it can hang down and swing around gently in the breeze…it was warm and cozy inside its nest and the sparrow just peeped out and, seeing the poor monkey, said ‘Oh, my dear friend, I am so small; I don’t even have hands like you, only a small beak. But with only that I built a nice house, expecting this rainy day. Even if the rain continues for days and days, I will be warm inside. I heard Darwin saying that you are the forefather of the human beings, so why don’t you use your brain? Build a nice, small hut somewhere to protect yourself during the rain.’ You should have seen the face of that monkey. It was terrible! ‘Oh, you little devil! How dare you try to advise me? Because you are warm and cozy in your nest you are teasing me. Wait, you will see where you are!’ The monkey proceeded to tear the nest to pieces, and the poor bird had to fly out and get drenched like the monkey.

            This is a story I was told when I was quite young and I still remember it. Sometimes we come across such monkeys, and if you advise them they take it as an insult. They think you are proud of your position. If you sense even a little of that tendency in somebody, stay away.

            So have these four attitudes: friendliness, compassion, gladness and indifference. These four keys should always be with you in your pocket. If you use the right key with the right person you will retain your peace. Nothing in the world can upset you then.

Okay, discuss or think…but take it all in.

I am sure that some of you who know me personally might be thinking, she wrote this about me. If so, check the egos with your baggage and get real. I am writing about me and you and everyone who is human. And remember, the sage Patanjali said the words above, oh, about 4,000 years ago. This means that WE, as human beings, have not changed much in thousands of years. We have the same issues, the same problems, the same struggles that our ancestors had. The reason I brought up my current situation (being on tour) is because living in a bubble gives me a unique perspective. Once I stepped out of the bubble, it became much clearer to see where my own struggles lie. It’s also evident that Sutra 1:33 can be applied to everybody and every life circumstance in some way, shape or form. It’s like taking a good, hard look in the mirror and then placing the same mirror in front of everyone you live and associate with. Most of us can relate to one or more of the four character types outlined in Sutra 1:33. Maybe you’ve even associated with all of them at some point or another in your life, as life is constantly changing.

We have ALL also encountered happy, unhappy, virtuous and wicked people and have probably handled these folks quite differently depending on our world views and life experiences. Again, for me, the toughest type to deal with is the fourth. Wicked is a pretty strong word, I know. But it was not my word choice, it was Satchidananda’s. And, wicked, as I interpreted it through my readings of various Sutra translations over the years, doesn’t have to mean wicked as in “Wicked Witch of the East.” Sometimes it’s difficult to see “wicked” on the surface and again, this is why we need to look “inside” the box.

Patanjali says there are four keys. My struggle, again, lies in finding and accessing the key to number four. You see, it’s hard for me to be “indifferent.” Usually I internalize things for a while and take everything personally. Slowly, I am learning to let go and go about my own business. I know I need to try harder still just to disregard and ignore these types of people. If I can do this successfully, anyone with a wicked nature can’t affect or hurt me. Again, this fuels my resolve to work towards letting go through yoga, meditation, breath work and whatever other means are useful to me.

What keys are challenging for you? Have you taken a good hard look in the mirror lately? What type of person do you see: happy, unhappy, virtuous or wicked or a combination of more than one? How do you best deal with each of these types of people? Do you hold the keys?

Life is not easy. The best we can do is be friendly to the happy, compassionate to the unhappy, delighted for the virtuous and indifferent to the wicked. Amen Patanjali.

Categories: Etcetera, get real, On the Road, Philosophy, That's Life!, Travel, Truth, Writing, Yoga | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Reality Check

Yoga Sutra 1.8: “Misconception occurs when knowledge of something is not based upon its true form.”

As Sri Swami Satchidananda explains it: “In the twilight you see a coiled rope and mistake it for a snake. You get frightened. There is no snake there in reality; there is a false understanding. But still it created a terror in your mind. It is not only valid knowledge that creates thought waves, but erroneous impressions also.”

We all have things we think to be real or true. Our relationships, our careers, whatever it may be that defines us. But what happens when your truth isn’t quite as you thought it was or should be. What then is the truth? What is real?

I’m going out on a limb here and I will probably piss off some yogis and yoga teachers in the process. But I don’t care. Gotta speak my truth.

And I know, I’ve probably already lost about half of you already…..but stick with me here. It will all make sense in a moment.

I left home in April 2012 and have been touring the US (soon Canada) ever since. Pretty much the only thing that’s kept me somewhat grounded in this tour de force is my yoga practice. Not the sweating, twist-yourself-in-knots type of practice that many Americans consider yoga, but the breathing and simplicity of the practice. Sometimes I just stand in mountain pose so that I can truly feel my feet on the ground. Other times I roll out my mat and do what feels good. And still other times I go to a yoga class. That’s where the truth starts to become fuzzy.

In every city I go to, I search for a yoga class that isn’t hot or power or rock ‘n roll or in a sling shot. I look for the studio that’s been in town the longest or has a teacher older than 19. I’ve been to studios from Los Angeles to New York City and many places in-between including, in no particular order: Wisconsin, Michigan, Tennessee, Texas, Arkansas, Indiana, Vermont, Minnesota, and Nebraska. Some of the studios have been chains, others just small spaces. I can tell you this for sure: yoga ain’t what it used to be. Everyone has a gimmick and everything is FAST. Yup, that’s right: FAST. In all but a couple instances, the classes have been crammed with as many poses as the teacher can think up in an hour, regardless of whether he or she knows how to safely get students from one posture to the next. Music is usually blaring (not that I have anything against loud music, but sometimes it hinders the ability to quiet the mind). The students look like they are competing in a yoga fashion contest hosted by lululemon (sorry, it’s true). Teachers talk incessantly even when they have nothing to say. Most classes have next to no warm-ups or cool-downs. They usually don’t mention the breath or the mind. One had no savasana at all.

Here’s the thing: This is what people want or at least think they want. This is how teachers are learning to practice and instruct.

It’s a sad but honest reflection of our culture. As a society, we don’t know how to slow down but yet we want to do things that are good for us. So we do yoga. Even if we don’t know what that is. We also teach yoga even if we don’t know how or even have an inkling of an idea of the centuries old healing practice that we are passing down.

Let me back up here for a moment. I opened my yoga studio nine years ago. At the time, I was pretty much the only Hatha studio around. Since then, there are now studios within 10 minutes of mine IN EVERY DIRECTION. All but one offer strictly hot, power yoga classes. I’m not even counting the gyms and YMCAs which all also offer yoga. In order for all these studios and classes to serve all those students, there have to be enough teachers. So almost all studios now offer training courses, many of which are franchised or canned (but the students don’t know this). I am not saying these programs are bad or that all teachers don’t know what they are doing. I am just trying to lay it all out there. Teachers are being pumped out faster than you can say Patanjali and students are coming to classes in droves regardless of whether the class is good or bad. They hang on the teacher’s every word even if the teacher has no idea what he is doing or saying. Students think that if they do enough chaturangas, they are doing yoga. Heck, they might even think that 20 chaturanga push-ups will quiet the mind. Skip it, they probably don’t know that stilling the mind and yoga are one and the same.

It’s not just happening in studios. Look at yoga conferences and festivals. Students flock to these big events where the classes are taught by those I now call rock star yoga teachers. These are teachers who have become “famous” in the yoga world and have large followings of students. Some of these teachers are actually very good at teaching yoga. But most are just overwhelmed with their own egos and the large base of students who seek them out in a convention center packed with 150 other adoring students. Most of these teachers are under 35 years old and many have been teaching this ancient healing art for less than eight years (that’s my unscientific poll but I betcha I’m right on the money here). I’ll admit it: there was a time when I aspired to teach at these big conferences. When people pay money to come to your classes or workshops, even if the money goes to charity, it feeds the ego. No getting around it. But after witnessing what I have over the past eight months, I want none of this.

Wanderlust Austin

Wanderlust Austin

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Me and my gal Michelle

It all hit home in Austin, Texas. Michelle, one of my closest friends, lives there. We did our yoga teacher training together at Maha Yoga Center with a gifted and wise teacher. For the past four years Michelle has been whining about the yoga scene in Austin. I keep encouraging her to teach because, well, she’s the real deal. She has tried but can’t seem to find a studio to teach at — somewhere she can keep it real. She said all the studios are hot or power or fast or gimmicky. She said all the studio directors and teachers don’t know a thing about anatomy and sure as heck can’t teach a breathing technique. I didn’t believe her. I mean, really, Austin? It’s a pretty progressive city with lots of yogis. Since I try to take a class in every city I visit, I was determined to hit a studio in Austin with my yogini friend Michelle. We picked a studio named after its famous circuit of yoga festivals: Wanderlust. It looked hip and fun. Let’s just stop there….We walked into a noontime class and had to restrain ourselves from laughing out loud. The skinny teacher in perfect yoga clothes had us rolling on the floor, literally. We rolled and then jumped up. Rolled and jumped up. Rolled and jumped up. We did a few fast poses in-between the rolling and jumping and then she bid us adieu. No rest for the weary. No savasana.”That wasn’t even on the top five worst classes in Austin,” said Michelle as we walked out. I raced back to my hotel to roll out my yoga mat. My nervous system was completely out of whack.

I know, I know. To each their own. But really, call that what you want, but don’t call it yoga. To me (and you are welcome to disagree) yoga was and is about quieting the mind, breathing, finding stillness, feeling grounded and balanced. It’s about moving in a way that makes sense and is rooted in anatomy and yogic science. It’s about being honest with yourself and your students. It’s about knowing your limitations. It’s about slowing down so that you can listen and hear your own inner voice: the voice of intuition. It’s about finding stillness amid the activity. Try doing 20 poses on both sides in an hour. There’s simply no time for stillness. Police give fast drivers speeding tickets. Who is going to slow you down in life? Just you.

Witnessing the yoga scene around the country has caused me to consider closing my studio on several occasions. I’ve become skeptical of myself. I mean, what is my purpose for being here when I’m losing the battle to hot yoga studios, fast classes, and DVDs/podcasts that promise results in 20 minutes? I have often wondered if perhaps I’ve got it all wrong. But then I come home and realize that what we are doing here is worth it. Regardless of whether we’ve got five students or 500.

This is real.

Categories: Etcetera, humor, On the Road, Philosophy, That's Life!, Travel, Truth, Uncategorized, Writing, Yoga | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

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