Write with honesty and ‘write what you struggle to know and understand. Everyone in the class struggled with pulling their experiences up and out, putting them to paper and sharing them with others”. Writing is ‘transformative’ therapy for Seattle-area veterans haunted by their experience
About that Yoga thing: those of you who have been reading and attending my classes the past month know that I returned to the Bhagavad-Gita in order to begin again in my practice of offering yoga classes. This is what I struggle to understand: Why another Warrior 2?
The translation I prefer begins with our protagonist, the Warrior Hero Prince Arjuna, desperate to understand, too. In Chapter One: “The Distress of Arjuna”, Arjuna asks Krishna, his friend, mentor, and creator incarnate of the universe, why fight? What good is it going to do? How could Arjuna doing what is expected of him be of benefit? It’s only going to cause everyone a lot of suffering, as he imagines the battle and aftermath.
Every Friday, as I write out my weekly class plans, over and over again I struggle with why are we doing warrior poses? Why do one or two or three? Is it just because Krishnamacharya taught it to Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, Desikachar, Srivatsa Ramaswami, A.G. Mohan and Indra Devi, who then passed it on to us Westerners? Is it my own conscience that tells me, “if there isn’t a ‘yoga pose’, they will think this isn’t a ‘yoga class’ and go somewhere else?” Or, is that the party line politics and marketing of American Postural Yoga messaging me?
“Arjuna contemplates what it means to stand on the field of Dharma and ancestry and his own conscience at the brink of what will most certainly be fight to the death. Arjuna has never shrunk from a battle, has an unquestioning capacity to take the lead. What value will his actions have long after he is gone?” – Douglas Brooks, CC 102, History of Yoga, Lecture Nine
I’ve been teaching yoga for 10 years now, practicing asana for 18. I can say with honesty that my own Virabhadrasana Dwi- Warrior 2 has been very different day to day, year to year. As I have learned more about my own physiology and grown into introspection and interoception, I find Vira 2 sometimes monotonous, sometimes eye-opening. Lately I’ve noticed that if I do six sets of 15 reps or 30 second holds each side, (yes, that’s 90 Virasana 2 repetitions, yes, it’s a bit of a battle), about the 75th, it gets VERY interesting: everything engages. I find out what I wanted from the practice, and the last few are to see what I can do with what I find.
I wrestle with thoughts of leading you through a yoga practice like this. I don’t know if you too would be interested in experiencing the process, in investigating how it becomes a whole being practice, or if you would give me dirty looks, complain and ultimately quit.
The Bhagavad-Gita offers three principal strategies for the practice of yoga- loving devotion (bhakti) knowledge (jnAna) and action (karma).
You will let me know, I'm sure, through your actions whether another Virabhadrasana 2 is devotion to, knowledge of or the action of Yoga for you.
Of late, the Tuesday evening and Saturday yoga classes have lost a committed, robust attendance. To put it plain, they appear to be “failing” One to two attendees remain. The schedule shows plenty of late cancels and a few classes no one signed up for at all. The Monday and Wednesday, Sunday classes are chugging along, with the regulars pretty much making and keeping their commitment to themselves and their community.
Why are the yoga classes languishing while the Practice for Injury and Pain classes are thriving?
I’ve had this conversation with students, and my mentor, even my husband. We postulate many theories:
“The posture is a mirror to help you see something. So, people tend to think of asana as some kind of external thing, but it's not at all.” – Gary Kraftsow in conversation with Georg Feuerstein
“सत् sát : that which really is, entity or existence, essence, the true being or really existent."
To be honest, there is no one agreed upon meaning of yoga. Even if you look up the Sanskrit, or ask a master teacher, go read The Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavatgita, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras or The Hatha Yoga Pradipika; depending upon which text and who translated them, the “What Is Yoga” will be different.
What is the failure? The failure is I have simply smiled and welcomed you to class, asking if you have yoga experience and leave it at that. The failure is I don’t communicate to you as you try out Aspiration Community Yoga that the poses and breathing are methods for your awareness of This-Now. The failure is you come to yoga because you believe it might help, but you don’t come to be aware of This-Now. And you it needs to be convenient, when you aren’t busy.
Where’s the deception? We are vague with each other. When you show up at yoga class saying, “I heard this will help me feel better”, neither of us clarify what doesn’t feel good or your concept of “feel better” entails or the timeline you envision. I do not disclose, “I will design a program for you to experience This-Now and you will ‘feel’ different when you are aware of it.” I don’t even ask if you want that. Because you want your hip or your shoulder to stop hurting and that’s a clear and easy goal, no matter your priorities.
[Martin Buber] was lecturing at Columbia and I raised my hand and said, "There's a word being used here this evening that I don't understand. He said, "What's the word? I said, "God" You don't understand what God means?" he replied. I said, "I don't know what you mean by God.” - Joseph Campbell, Thou Art That, p 60.
And so, as Burmese meditation master Sayadaw U Pandita instructed, “Begin Again”. I want to ask you the awkward, no-short-answer-question, “What do you mean by Yoga?” You may be flustered at my question. Don’t I know what Yoga means? After all, my bio states I was trained within the lineage of a particular yoga school starting in 2002. But I don’t know what YOU mean by yoga. By understanding each other, you may make a more informed choice whether my offering best matches your search.
WHEREAS I did not desire in childhood to be a part of this
I thought if I was diligent, consistent and hardworking enough I would be chosen. I thought if I was loyal and friendly, I would be included. I thought I could make myself worthy to those I esteemed. But I often heard from family and society “Who do you think you are, one of us? You are not, you do not fit in.” They didn’t want me to be a part of, leading me to self-doubt. Doubt, the third in the trifecta of grasping, fear and doubt.
I have known since I can remember I belong here, of this earth, of this forest, of this city. But relationships of family and society have been transactional. The earth, forest and city welcomed and held me without fail, without a price to pay, as I am, however I am.
Siddhartha resisted every temptation Mara could devise. The lord of desire had one final test. He demanded to know who would testify that Siddhartha was worthy of attaining ultimate wisdom. And his demon army rose up to support him. Siddhartha said nothing. He reached down and touched the ground, and the earth shuddered. Mara’s demons fled.
The cataclysmic realization of the past month- a month of loss and grief- was a deep understanding of belonging. I have never been able to earn belonging. Belonging means “to constitute a part of something; (also) to come from, originate in” (Oxford English Dictionary). Waking early one morning, brain again reflecting on the events of recent weeks, I may finally have gained the wisdom, the deep inner knowing that worthiness does not require the currency of proof.
Palmer Joss: Did you love your father?
How did I know? Because I had been wanted- without reservation - by my dogs and my husband. Together, in each of those relations, I had been a part that made a whole. Within that whole I didn’t want to be wanted, didn’t cling to fear or doubt what or who I am. Over the past month I have felt the earth’s gravity claiming me its own. I have reached my hand to the floor of the practice room, touching the Vast One that she will again claim me her own. My husband, across from me as I sobbed, firmly telling me, “You are worthy”. This time, I didn’t ask him to prove it. I didn’t doubt him. I knew he spoke the truth.
You belong somewhere you feel free” – Tom Petty, Wildflowers