I believe wholeheartedly that yoga can uplift, empower, and transform us — each of us, together. My yoga practice has become an important part of who I am, and I work hard every day to practice yoga and to share my work with others.
But there’s unrest in the world of yoga, as there is everywhere lately, it seems. Thinking about how we talk about this unrest and what it means for our communities has led me to reflect on what it is that I practice and what I offer up to each of you.
In a recent J. Brown podcast, Richard Miller (the Desikachar/yoga nidra one, not the Ashtanga one) was asked about this current era of fallen leaders, teachers, and gurus. Miller said, “You don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, and the teachings are the baby.”
His words resonate strongly with my own views, and they’ve given me cause to better define how I see us working together in this life project we call yoga.
My yoga journey spans nearly two decades. In that time, I’ve studied Jivamukti and Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, and I’ve seen unrest wax and wane. When confronted with issues that have hit close to home in each of these yoga communities, I’ve worked to ground my reaction in the teachings.
This has meant reflecting on what each of these methods has brought to my own life and to the lives of countless others that I have practiced alongside over the last 17 years. It’s meant doing the best I can to lead by example, to uphold sound ethics, and to serve our community.
When I hear/think/say the word “ashtanga” my first thought is “8 limbs” and my second thought — thanks to my teacher David Garrigues — is “hatha yoga, the ladder to Raja yoga (samadhi): my ultimate aim.” Then my third thought is Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga — the method of practice that I engage in each morning and a system to explore the 8 limbs and the ladder.
I practice within that system six days a week and I am a big fan of a vigorous asana practice. Practice and teaching in the Mysore method (self-led with 1:1 teacher-student cooperation) is my preferred approach; however I don’t believe it needs to adhere to arbitrary strict or rigid rules and I do not approach it as such.
It is my assessment that this method is a sound platform for our work together. That said, we each come to the mat with our own unique experiences that have shaped who we are inside and out. I believe it is a fallacy to try and force these unique bodies into the same shapes. There must be room for creativity and individual expression. So, YES, in “my” room, we get creative — if creative means incorporation of research poses, having open and honest reciprocal communication, and using props to enable each of us to take our best posture and move toward a state of meditation.
I’ve long held a personal motto that “if I’m not learning, I may as well be dead”. Sounds a bit harsh, but I suspect you get my drift. And ever since I was a little boy I have been drawn to study. I also hold great respect for my teachers, especially those that respected me in return. When it comes to yoga I’ve had the good fortune to study intensively with three of the best teachers in the world. It was and is my choice to study with them and I have no issue in showing reverence to them, in fact I do so happily. I do feel that such a relationship is an important element of the learning process. It is through the strength of those relationships that I now feel its time to stand on my own two feet and move forward confidently by trusting in the knowledge I’ve developed.
Over the coming months and years I intend to continue to study, practice, evolve and change and I’m sure this will be reflected through my own practice and teaching. I believe Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is an excellent method; however, I also believe that the time has come to assess and recognize where change is needed. We can adapt such that we preserve the value and essence of its practice and teaching. I intend to be a part of that positive change. In the coming days I will be publishing a pledge – my commitment as a teacher – as part of my effort to cultivate that change….
*Special thank you to my dear friends Jen René, Maggie Lively, Mike Stefani and Jessica Morrison for their insightful reviews of this blog – the first in a series.