“It's the student that makes the teacher. And that was very freeing, because I'm just still going about my life and taking care of things in a certain way. I’m allowed to be myself, but when a student comes, some practitioner comes to ask me a question or relate to me in the role of a teacher, then I'm a teacher, they've made me a teacher, in response to the situation. But that's, not really what I am. When that's over, then the next thing I do is maybe I'm sweeping the hallway- then I'm a sweeper….” Gil Fronsdal: Stories with my Zen Teacher, Sojun Mel Weitsman
Life is full of surprises and opportunities. The future is uncertain and unknown. When one door closes, another door opens, but hanging out in the hallway while you wait might not be your idea of what you want to be doing. Here’s the thing- that’s true every day and has been our entire existence. It’s just that now, in the time of a pandemic and societal upheaval we can’t disguise it.
Last April, May and June, when this was still feeling new and different, I had the opportunity to ask Ajahn Amaro and Ajahn Sudanto each questions about how they balanced teaching with practice. I also listened intently as they spoke on questions from others who where having the same feeling of relief and deep quiet during our imposed break.
After the pandemic shut down our community classes, I have not once missed working two jobs or constantly rushing to “fit it all in.” I’ve been practicing for myself, rather that to figure out how to teach it. I’ve been learning about other stuff than anatomy and eastern philosophy/psychology. I found that I really enjoy spending lots of time with my husband, and he likes having me sit with him in the evening. We even got back to doing the New York Times Crossword together- something we had given up for my too full schedule.
I know the incomparable value of having a teacher- and how rare it can be to have one who can point the way along the path one is traveling. Each time one is present in my life, I feel as if I have won the lottery! It's kind of the Goldilocks principle to have that teacher who is "just right".
I just recently was blessed with such circumstances and am getting an enormous value from working weekly one on one with a personal trainer and being referred to a pelvic floor physical therapist who might be able to clarify my understanding of how the muscles work.
I do not identify as a “Yoga Teacher”. Really, I am a practitioner who is intensely driven to study and practice and morally driven to pass it along to anyone willing to also do the work. This was one of the comments given by Ajahn Amaro, too. We only point the way, you must do the work. Both monks also offered that short and longer breaks and sabbaticals were necessary to teaching practice. They each take 3 month and one year breaks for personal retreats sabbaticals.
“It's most like this: whatever the situation he's in, that was the teaching. One of the very important teachings of Mel, and I think of Soto Zen, that has come to me, is the importance of practice. That practice is really the teacher; practice is the center. And we all share the practice, rather than the teacher being at the center. Everyone, including the teacher is sharing the practice, and we're all doing the practice together. We're all engaged in it.” Gil Fronsdal: Stories with my Zen Teacher, Sojun Mel Weitsman www.audiodharma.org/talks/audio_player/12307.html
What ever comes in the next month or year, I don’t believe I or any of us will return to the schedules we had before, meaning the daily routine of pre-Covid pandemic. Hopefully we will have all seized the situational teaching and taken it as necessary nutrition: The only practice there is, is to live here and now, this breath, this step, this smile, this affirmation of life in action.
Write what you are desperate to understand.”
I wanted to write about personal responsibility and equanimity. Those two themes caught my attention this month. I have a hard time maintaining equanimity around those who reject personal responsibility. Yet, I was reading how personal responsibility, along with seeking the counsel of teachers is the practice of the guardians of the perceived world. And I read how equanimity is one of the “Ways to Cross Life’s Floods”.
I felt flooded by heat most of August- both in temperature and temperament. Family disharmony. National, regional, local crises. Difficult situation at work. Getting the house painted. All the peace and ease of doing less and focusing more flung into frustration, exhaustion and insomnia. I stressed about the hot August weather, the mostly bad news I read of in the paper, the actions (rather lack thereof) of others at the workplace. Unwanted feelings, physical crashes and mental surges. I imagined myself on a teeter totter, jarred as I topped and bottomed out.
Except Sunday morning, heading up into the foothills. Week after week, the quiet and simplicity of walking, sweating, focusing on where we are and nothing else. The cool and calm return. Looking out over some gorgeous panoramic vista, I no longer know who else is to blame or what I was so upset about or what else should be different.
I want to spend my life in that experience of evenness. How to do it? How to not get catapulted into emotional extremes without going to the extremes of hiking 4-5 hours?
Sitting down to my desk, searching for how to begin, I notice all the notes I’ve written on a scraps of paper as I have been reading and listening, seeking the counsel of teachers. I wondered if personal responsibility and equanimity aren’t composed of these notes. Although most of them are on themes of patience and acceptance. I wondered if I already have the teaching. What if practice what I already have?
These first two are both better known, frequently referenced quotes have been stuck to the wall alongside my desk for many years. My eyes will glaze over them, not seeing, but then once in a while stop and slowly read, absorbing and feeling into the ease they bring to my mind:
We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” – Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart
Do you think peace requires an end to war?
Then there are the Post-It notes on my computer screen. These seem to hang around for a year or so, maybe longer or less. They remind me of the direction I wish to go, pointing the way:
Finally, here are the handwritten scraps of notes, the month of daily listening, learning, practicing and writing. They float around on the desk, on the workbench, in my pocket. I want to not just understand them, but to live them without grasping.
Patience, khanthi, is a letting go of time. (‘A samana is one who has no future’)
When I try to separate the wisdom from personal responsibility and patience from equanimity, I just can’t figure out how there could be one without the other. They are parts of a whole, a balance, completeness. I understand that emotional freedom is possible, no matter the circumstances, provided I continuously practice what is useful. When I am here and now, in this moment, with just this as it is, I experience the balance of being whole and complete, a sum total of my parts, and a part of the sum total.
Why write all of this to you, Aspiration Community Yoga friends? I long ago gave up the notion that my experience is unique. We share our stories with each other, never knowing when, where or how someone else’s experience is going to be a great amount of help.
I first came to know most of you through our shared desires to care for our bodies. How we respect our bodies is intertwined with how we regard our emotions and thoughts. "It's hard to feel good when you don't feel good" my friend Dave Lozier would say.
When you ever feel something else or someone else is the source of your teeter-totter ride, when you feel a dislike of anything that causes delay, have an intense want for change or expectation that is not happening soon enough, perhaps one of these poems and micro-teachings might be of use to you, as they are to me. Any that are not, please set them aside.
In June I finished the course I had been working on since February. I learned a lot about the pelvic floor in all our bodies- male, female. I learned about glute muscles (the butt and outer hips), internal rotation of the hips and hip hinging, about rib flare problems.
Everything I learned in this course that is of use to me is something I hadn’t been taught before or elsewhere. There are pieces that I am adding into the big puzzle of my body. I am noticing for the first time habitual actions and movement patterns I was not aware of before. This is great, as then I have the opportunity to replace that with a skillful action or pattern that benefits my body. Sometimes I am doing this seemingly a million times a day, some days more successfully than others. All in all, it was a genuine life-changing course, as it answered some mysteries I’d had for maybe 40 years (how to stand up “straight”, or improve my posture) and questions as to why did I loose the ability to do things that used to be so easy for me. I am so glad I did the course and am personally grateful for all it taught me.
This, along with other circumstances leads me to share with you that I did not “enjoy” taking that online course. I struggled through 4-1/2 months of feeling aggravated. This has not been the only course or class or teacher I have “stuck it out”. I can’t say I’d do each of them again. Some I would, some I wouldn’t. But I can say I don’t regret any of them, for a variety of reasons.
Why tell you this? We are not going back to our little practice room to gather for class any time soon. But your being needs to be cared for no matter what the course of the pandemic is.
With that, here is my reference list of schools, teachers, trainers, classes online. This list is not exhaustive or comprehensive, so if I have missed something or someone, please be understanding that I just want to offer something to check out if you have not settled into a new way of practicing.
Yoga Schools offering online classes and online yoga streaming. These are schools I’ve been a student at that I respect and admire. You just can’t go wrong with any of these, in my opinion:
Seattle Yoga Arts https://www.seattleyogaarts.com/ my alma mater.
Two Dog Yoga https://twodogyoga.com/ my favorite place to take a weekend workshop.
Lotus Yoga http://www.lotusyoga.biz/ long established, steady presence with a mission to be present to the community in Columbia City.
Yoga in the Center https://www.yogainthecenter.com/ Very creative and widely sourced fusion yoga. Check out the kettle bells or the somatics.
Glo.com https://glo.com/ They are not exaggerating that they have “world class teachers”. I took many many classes from Jason Crandell, Stephanie Snyder, Jo Tastula, Kia Miller, Marc Holzman, Annie Carpenter and Rod Stryker. They have Meditation and Pilates, too.
Yoga Teachers offering online classes and private sessions:
Elizabeth Rainey https://elizabethrainey.com/ (my longtime teacher then mentor and now cohort) She is Inviting, gentle and kind- the diametric opposite of me. Rainey is a certified yoga therapist, offering Yoga Nidra along with asana classes and individual sessions.
Doug Keller https://www.doyoga.com/Pages/practice-video.htm I first met Doug at Two Dog Yoga in 2002! Excellent at teaching current scientific understanding woven into traditional yoga. He focuses on therapeutic practice for the body. This guy knows stuff… He brings together traditional postural yoga (he studied with Iyengar in India) with current studies of the fascial and nervous systems, just to mention the tip of the iceberg.
Dianne Bondy https://www.yogaforeveryone.tv/ Dianne is doing on a nationwide level work that I admire beyond words- yoga for those of us who do not look like magazine models. It’s not a hyperbole to say she has done the work to make yoga accessible!
Christina Sell https://www.christinasellyoga.com/ She’s extremely flexible, extremely strong and what you might have and image of when you think of the yogi who can do crazy poses. The caveat is she’s a baby boomer and shows what is possible at any age.
Trainers I have learned from and respect:
Tony Gentilcore https://tonygentilcore.com/ for his excellent and irreverent written content, https://home.tonygentilcore.com/ for his “Free-ish” training program. You may have seen the red sweatshirt “Because heavy things won’t lift themselves” This guy is great at keeping things interesting and getting things to move correctly. He’s a nice guy to top it off.
Dr. Sarah Duvall https://www.coreexercisesolutions.com/ is a trainer and a PhD of Physical Therapy. Check out her “Free Resources” tab or her social media content. It’s stuff to help with moving through life. The website states that she only works with women, but in her social media posts, she also works with men. The 4 months I spent learning from her has created a revolution in my ability to activate muscles and joints.
Cori Lefkowith https://redefiningstrength.com/programs/ Redefining Strength post tons of free stuff on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Pair how to move from the Physical Therapist with one or more of the stretching/activation/strengthening programs for steady, progressive changes for stability and mobility. All of Cori’s moves can been modified for the level you are working at- important to know because I’m not always sure she has a clue how strong she is.
To finish up, an emotional/mental care list of those I have or am finding key to understanding how to become kind and wise:
Tara Brach https://www.tarabrach.com/talks-audio-video/ Tara was my “gateway”. She was the first meditation teacher that spoke and taught what I needed. Her talks are easy to find and free, either through her website or podcast apps.
Sharon Salzberg https://www.sharonsalzberg.com/ Sharon taught me that there are actually a multitude of methods to mediation- especially important as the primary two that are taught (watch the breath and mantra) just get me more neurotic. Loving Kindness and Sound mediation were game changers.
Jonathan Foust https://www.jonathanfoust.com/weekly-talk?category=talks I first was recommended to listen to Jonathan because he also lives with chronic pain and teaches how to use mediation to live with it, rather that fix it or make it go away. I got hooked listening to him as he talks about his daily adventures and applying the Insight methods more or less skillfully. He really does walk his talk. Everything he teaches is freely offered.