Teaching, Yoga
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What I Learned This Summer

Some of you have asked what other than my need for sleep and privacy did I learn about during my recent incursion into the world of yoga therapy.

It’s funny because since coming home from part one of my yoga therapy training (part two is next August), I’ve begun a ten-month long Polarity Therapy training.  I can’t seem to get away from school these days, which is a good indication of the direction I’m heading in.

I have gotten polarity work done on me for about two years now, and find it a very powerful form of body/energy work. The founder of polarity therapy was an osteopath and a naturopath and a chiropractor and librarian and minister and certified in midwifery and massage therapy and a gazillion other things.  As I see it, Dr. Stone was a synthesizer, testing out “what works” from different healing traditions, both allopathic and eastern (especially Ayuvedic medicine), and then figuring out how to both explain why these worked in no-nonsense language and then developing techniques that consolidated all these approaches.

Though I have another 40 years (and perhaps several lifetimes) to go before I get close to there, in a small way,  I get how it must have worked for him.  I feel like I’ve been studying maps drawn on transparencies, and now I’m beginning to lay them on top of each other and project them against a lighted mind screen.

It’s all connected.  (And as two of my favorite teachers like to say   “it’s about all the chi.”)

So here’s five things I learned — and since they’re connected, they’re in no particular order:

(1) It’s all Midrash, even when folks claim it’s not.  Related to the words for story, investigation and study, midrash is essentially about how you interpret and apply things.  Jews use midrash to mean biblical exegesis but also the stories that aren’t written down that are actually the most important of the teachings.  I feel pretty lucky to have been brought up in a culture where all stories and all interpretations were fought passionately about — and all were considered right.

Like you, I’ve taken classes with both ideologues and simpletons.  So, I found it a huge pleasure to study with a teacher who is a scholar and a storyteller, able to help me understand ancient texts in light of my own times, and my own life.  Joseph LePage’s insight into yoga as a comprehensive healing system comes from his study of Sanskrit and sutras, and his years of practice (a kind of yogic R&D) — and it shows in his generous, compassionate and liberating interpretations.  So another lesson: when you find certain teachings don’t resonate with you, you might just need a different teacher.

(2) Mudras are like musical notes you play with your fingers.  Well, there are mudras that involve other body parts, but mainly they’re thought of as hand gestures that help activate and lock in specific energetic qualities.  In all the years I’ve been practicing and teaching yoga, I’ve learned very few mudras, having mainly used two over and over and over again:  anjali mudra (prayer hands) and chin mudra. (Make an ok sign with the tip of your thumb touching the tip of your index finger.  Do this with both hands. Now rest them easily on your lap while seated.)

Dr. Cornel West demonstrating Hakini Mudra, which embodies the quality of balance

We had a lot of fun with mudras — learning about different “families” of mudras that were grounding or uplifting or balancing or meditative cooling — and combining mudras with breath and affirmations and chants and poses.  They’re so easy to do and it’s cool to do them on the down low in my pocket as I walk around town.   I have even “caught” students doing them on their own.  Yee-hah!

(3) Tennis balls are the cheapest massage you can get.  I bow to the feet of Maria Kalima who shared her great obsession with finding the right ball for every body part (and body) and has taught  me how to make my feet (and gluts and shoulders and hips) feel awesome — all with a small investment and minimal floor space.  I have also bought recycled golf balls since I like it strong on my soles and a softer yamuna ball for rolling on my sensitive tummy.  Basically, they all feel pretty darn good.  Added plus:  Claribel the Cat purrs loudly when I roll around the floor.

(4) We all need to take a break from even the good things, which can turn bad right quick.  Doing the same thing in the same way can cause repetitive stress injuries.  Yoga is no exception.  I was convinced that I was developing  arthritis in my left knee. (I’ve had it in my low spine for years.)  And I was wondering what was up with my shoulder.  So I basically took a break from my regular practice for a few weeks, and wasn’t even walking much or doing any other exercise very much.  And — surprise! — the body is feeling loads better and lighter.

At some point during the training, I had the revelation that I have regularly pushed myself through pain or exhaustion because I unconsciously operate on the assumption that I am weak and lazy and need to develop strength and discipline and stop my kvetching.  I went through a few days of painfully certainty that I have used my yoga much as I have other self-destructive activities. (I jokingly say yoga is my crack, since it helps me crack my joints, but you know what they say about the hidden kernels of truth.)

And then I freaked out at some of the things I must have said to students, hoping none of them have been physically or psychologically injured because of my idiocy.

After a few days, I thankfully slam-dunked my head in some ice water and realized the middle way:  yes, I’ve likely thought, said and done some really stupid shit.  Yes I might have caused some harm to my body through my yoga.  AND given that diabetes, cancer, hypertension, mental illness, heart disease, and generalized  illness and malaise runs through these genes of mine, I’m in damn good health — and I bet this is at least partially due to yoga. As for my students,  I’m willing to wager I have helped more than I have harmed and can only hope that my teaching gets better with age.

A yoga teacher friend of mine has a yoga teacher who takes a month-long yoga fast each year so he can examine his habits around the practice.   It’s an amazing idea on so many levels, that I’m going to intentionally build it in.

(5) There’s no “secret” or single “law” of health or abundance.  I loved the approach that is used in yoga therapy of using the five “koshas” or layers of the self as a comprehensive way of assessing where a person might be in and out of balance and designing a practice that deals with all these levels.  The first layer is the physical — and it’s the one most people understand the best.  You start there and stay there until there’s trust and comfort in moving into the more subtle realms of emotions and energy and spirit.  I’ve grown to realize the wisdom of this over the years.

I went a wee bit batshit after a couple of students said that illness was karmic, and free choice 100%.  What about genetics or factors of poverty or trajectory of political and civil oppression, or environmental destruction?  Nope, it’s all about the Law of Attraction: we simply attract what we put out, and/or we must have made this choice before we chose to incarnate as say, someone who is trafficked or lives in a place where mines pollute the air and groundwater or people are forced into essentially slave labor by the destruction of ancestral lands.  My justice-loving ass decided it needed to breathe and back off.   And, I’m committed to keep focusing on what my clients tangibly feel and are willing to express, and try not to judge their karma or stupidity in making illogical choices.

With that — thanks for reading!

And a few shameless plugs:  I will be offering a day-long Reiki 1 workshop on Saturday. October 29th — to register and more info click here.  The night before from 8-10 pm, we’ll a Pen & Pose workshop called “The Inner Banks” because all breathwork, yoga and writing prompts will deal with the water element in our bodies.  No yoga or writing experience necessary.     Finally this Sunday, October 2nd at 4 I’ll be doing a poetry reading and workshop — on the metro!  More information at Knowledge Commons.

This entry was posted in: Teaching, Yoga

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I'm a yoga therapist and coach who is fascinated by the ways in which scientific inquiry has converged with wisdom traditions in concluding that our physical, psychological and spiritual well-being are intrinsically connected. I try to use this knowledge to help people feel more resilient, courageous and alive.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Enough | Y's Elements

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