Searching for Ahimsa

I don’t really know how to address this article about my Yoga Teacher Trainer. I had been made aware in general terms of some of the accusations against him in the last year, and have been slowly coming to terms with this. If you download the print version of this publication, you can read more of his self defence in his own words, which may do more harm than good in terms of public perception but certainly seem like an accurate reflection of his experience.

I’m glad to see that he has incorporated consent cards into his teaching, although, as many of the people interviewed say, it may be too little too late.

The difficult part for me is trying to figure out why I was so attracted to his style of teaching in the first place, and what lessons I can take from this. I stopped taking classes as soon as I heard about the allegations about him, but more importantly, I need to rethink what yoga classes should be. I am so grateful the studio here for helping me process and develop my understanding of adjustments this last year. The workshops and discussions we’ve had have been transformative in the way I see the role of a yoga teacher. That, along with the Yoga and Movement Research Community that Diane Bruni runs, have set me down a path towards a radical change in how I teach.

The other side of this, though, is great sympathy for everyone involved. The people who were hurt at Bhava, as well as for Peter. This #MeToomovement is so important for our society. We need to come to terms with the harm and abuse that happens so regularly, and understand how our silence and acceptance makes us all complicit in that harm. It is time to truly learn how to practice Ahimsa, on and off the mat.

 

#MeToo comes to Yoga

 

“Seek in the heart the source of evil and expunge it. It lives fruitfully in the heart of
the devoted disciple as well as in the heart of the [person] of desire. Only the strong can kill it out. The weak must wait for its growth, its fruition, its death. And it is a plant that lives and increases throughout the ages. It flowers when the [disciple] has
accumulated unto himself innumerable existences. [Those] who will enter upon the path of power must tear this thing out of his heart. And then the heart will bleed, and the whole life of the [person] seems to be utterly dissolved. This ordeal must be endured; it may come at the first step of the perilous ladder which leads to the path of life; it may not come until the last. But, O disciple, remember that it has to be endured, and fasten the energies of your soul upon the task. Live neither in the present nor the future, but in the Eternal. This giant weed cannot flower there; this blot upon
existence is wiped out by the very atmosphere of eternal thought.”

There is evil at the root of all human endeavor. No one is exempt. The latest airing of Patabhis Jois’ violence toward his female students is not news, but it brings to mind the question of what do we do with a practice which is a product of history. If history is, indeed, a nightmare, then the path to awakening must lie through truth telling. Perhaps all that we hold dear will seem to dissolve, but it must be torn out by the root.

Forward Bends

I don’t focus as much on forward bends in my practice as I used to. Ashtanga Primary series played a large role in my practice for years, but then I developed yoga butt, and learned the hard way how to protect the body from excessive forward and backward bending.

That said, forward folds are an important part of any practice.

Also, four words are much better than two, right, Bobby?

Karma Yoga Opportunity

You may have noticed my breathless announcement last month that I’ve been added to the schedule as a yoga teacher at Burlington Yoga. What I didn’t share was the weeks of deliberation before I signed on. I raised money from friends and family across the planet for my teacher training, and my equipment. I did so because I wanted to be able to offer free yoga from the outset. Offering yoga classes for free is how I get to practice my yoga. It is an opportunity to put into action the last words of my mantra: “That there may be more light and life on the planet, and all may have without buying.” So it was hard to make that transition into the studio system without feeling like a hypocrite. My rationalization went something like this:

  1. The students aren’t paying for the yoga, they are paying to keep the lights on (I got this from a great podcast with Nischala Devi).
  2. Teaching in the studio I like to practice in will deepen my own practice, and strengthen our Kula (a new Sanskrit word I learned from the studio owner, and my primary teacher: )
  3. The (very small) amount of money I earn from teaching can be used for appropriate karma activities.

So, as my first month is coming to an end, it was very lucky that I received an email about a very worthy fundraiser. In addition to donating my first month’s money to this cause, I’d like to invite all of you to consider donating as well. Forrest grew up in the community where I was first taught to meditate, his work as a documentary filmmaker is a direct continuation of the work done by my teachers there. Even as I write this, my heart is overflowing with joy. This is what brings more light and life to the planet.

I hope you consider making a contribution to this campaign.

Bandhas!

Banderos
No, not that one. These:

Classes this week will focus on the three bandhas and ujjayi breath. Click on this link to view the sequence (this is my rough outline; each class will vary depending on the students).

Also, as a reminder here are the classes and locations I’ll be teaching (Mon/Friday at Burlington Yoga, and Monday/Thursday at FCCEJ.

If you check this calendar you will find out if there are any last minute changes to the schedule.

Amazing Podcast to Share

Guys! Hey, Guys!!

Just today this podcast was suggested to me (the path that brought to the suggestion is an interesting story as well, but I’ll save that for another time. This podcast is an interview with Nischela Devi who, in the connected yoga world is, I guess, pretty well-known.

If you care at all about yoga, do yourself a favor, and listen to the full 90 minute podcast. There was so much that she offered that felt like it spoke directly to me. Things that have been brewing inside for a while that she gave voice to, and things that I plan on immediately putting into my practice, starting right now.

The podcaster, J. Brown, who conducted the interview is also something special. I’ll think of him for a while as the Marc Maron of the yoga world, although I don’t know how apt that description is, but I have subscribed to the rest of his podcasts as well.

Yoga Teacher Ethics

This NYT opinion piece, addresses, but does not resolve an important issue in the Yoga world:

…the case of Mr. Choudhury is not unique. In 2016, a beloved teacher in the New York City-based Jivamukti Yoga center, known for its celebrity clientele, was sued, along with the center and its leaders, for sexual abuse by her mentee. John Friend’s Anusara community was rocked and dissolved in 2012 after he was discovered having affairs with married students and performing Wiccan-like sex rituals. Kripalu’s Amrit Desai was accused of sexual misconduct and abuse of authority in 1994 and a $2.5 million settlement was paid (the Kripalu Center in Massachusetts divorced itself from Desai and reorganized). And there are, of course, countless under-the-radar stories of yoga teachers coming on to students or touching them inappropriately in class.

The ‘solution’ offered at the end of the piece is a step in the right direction:

I believe all organized yoga teacher training should include training in ethics and, if affiliated with Yoga Alliance, point students toward that resource. Each community center, meditation group and yoga studio should post a code of ethics, as Jack Kornfield’s Spirit Rock community recently did. Every center should have a formalized, safe place to report abuse seriously and anonymously. Even secular yoga studios should provide this service, alongside mats and towels.

But this is only a first step. This kind of abuse happens whenever we put someone else in charge of our growth and healing. The teacher/student relationship (or priest/parishioner) is so inherently uneven in terms of voice and power that abuses like this are inevitable. It might even be fair to say that this is a feature, not a bug.

I find the reminder in the penultimate paragraph to be the most salient way to address this issue:

We ended each class with a Sanskrit chant that translates to, “The one true teacher lives in the center of your heart.” I wanted these young girls to know, though teachers are helpful guides, the one true authority is inside of them. I wanted them to carry this lesson forward into their adult yoga world as women.

We can all do with the reminder that our connection to the universal soul cannot be mediated, that growth is not granted, nor wisdom handed down, but earned through the sweat of our brow. I would love to know the mantra that the writer is referring to. I couldn’t find that translation anywhere, although there are a few mantras that have a meaning similar. Here’s one: