Off the Mat and Into the World: A Yoga Forum

three_new_yoga_poses


“Abandon your masterpiece, and sink into the real masterpiece.”

― Leonard Cohen

 

I have practiced yoga for nearly 25 years now.  And, in fact, at this very moment have my head deeply buried in books on the 8 Limbs and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.   One year ago today I had a most invigorating round table discussion with some of my respected peeps in the yoga world, and some not in the yoga world but are wise individuals nonetheless.  The reason I know I had this discussion a year ago is because it was on Facebook, and the Facebook minions just love to remind us of anniversaries.

Facebook is actually never lovelier than when rich, vigorous conversations arise on a subject of great substance and depth.  Even the shut-in can attend the party.  That’s the beauty of it.  And in a time when the untold uglinesses of Facebook are routinely bandied about and analyzed, and we’ve all certainly experienced it, celebrating the beauty of it is refreshing.  Such conversations often arise for me, as I have a mineral-rich amalgam of FB friends, both real-time and virtual, and it’s those very kinds of conversations that keep Facebook interesting.

In this case, I was really happy to revisit that discussion, and found it just informational and insightful enough to bear sharing here.

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My original Facebook post: May 30, 2015

I recently found a new yoga center in my neighborhood, and it is the real deal!  Tonight was the 2nd class I’ve now gone to, and tonight’s was Kundalini, which I used to practice years ago at The Awareness Center in Pasadena, and which is the form closest to my heart.  It was a great class; rewarding and challenging. Challenging in the sense of things being woken up, disturbed, stirred up, released, accepted, held onto, resisted, worked with, the whole smorgasbord of spiritual experiences, and the ultimate agenda of inner peace. Rewarding in the sense of those various shifts happening as we move our bodies, oxygenate our cells, and focus our energy toward benevolence and balance. I bring this up because for several years now I have been on the hunt, as it were, for “the real deal.”  The real thing is actually everywhere; it can be found easily. But as I’ve tried to take on a regular practice, I’ve had to consider my finances, and yoga centers can be expensive. So for me, I’ve tried to find the real deal at gyms, where for one monthly fee one can do all the yoga one wants. That hunt has been largely futile. Invariably when I’ve walked into a new gym in the neighborhood to inquire about membership, and they ask me what I’m interested in, and I say, “yoga, but is it the real thing?” they, without fail, assure me that it is.  They are almost always wrong. And I wonder if their answers to me are because they are instructed to say whatever the customer wants to hear, or because they really don’t know what yoga is.  I suspect it’s exactly both. I am being very judgmental here (the first step to recovery is admitting it 🙂 ). But I have been genuinely frustrated, so it is what it is.  What I have found is a great sweeping commercialization of this ancient spiritual practice.  And that’s what yoga is – a spiritual practice. But now this other animal exists; yoga as another mode of aerobic exercise. Another way to get fit, get hard-bodied, be impressively flexible, even competitive.  It’s all about the externals. But the real thing is a profound meditational system that consists of what are called eight limbs (synchronistic to Buddhism’s eightfold path), and only one of those limbs regards asana, which are the poses that seem to be the entire package in the commercialized version. (“Oh, and the faster we move through these poses the better, so we can get our heart rate up and shed those pounds!”). Yes, I’m being sarcastic right now, although I have actually heard that uttered.  In any case, the real thing is a cultivation toward inner peace, spiritual harmony and balance, alignment with divine power, and integration of the physical and the mental. The word itself means “to unite” in Sanskrit. And it has been known to have profound impact on everything from depression to chronic illness to just simply improving our sense of well-being, and our willingness to self-investigate.  It’s been a lifesaving practice for me.  And the only reason the phenomenon is even in my thoughts tonight is because I had a most gratifying class, and it seems so odd to me that that experience has been so elusive over the past few years, and I would love it if my genuine yogi friends would chime in on this thought, and share your perspectives.  In fact, I welcome anyone, yogi or no, who has a thought on this.  Is there room for all of it (I suspect the answer is yes)? Or is it important to clear up general misconceptions about this beautiful, transformational practice for the lay public?  Or do I just have the whole damned thing wrong?  I suspect the answer to that is yes too.  Fire away.

Ken Rosser  
Years ago I read a yoga instructor saying that he felt that awareness of the spiritual benefits was not necessary in order to receive them, that in doing the exercises you opened that door anyway … I dunno, there was something about that I found kind of charming in the way that works so contrary to how “the west” operates in any of its disciplines …

Me
Hmmmmm.  I think I may need to go to my mountain and think about that one for awhile.

Ken Rosser
Just passing along something your post loosened up in my brain that started rattling around – and I remember the quote really sticking with me because when I was raised Catholic I would NEVER hear a priest say that the act of taking communion or even praying would have spiritual benefit whether or not you believed – that whole tradition hinges on your state of belief.  To say that yoga works whether or not you believe sort of makes it like a spiritual medicine in my mind, in the way that I don’t have to believe in antibiotics in order for them to kill bacteria.

I dunno…I’m just spouting here.

Me
Kenneth, your “just spoutings” are always some of the best Just Spoutings out there.

Lily Knight
Distortions are inevitable, since everything is continually changing, but you have the experience of your soul guiding you to where the light grows in you, and the practice of seeing the god in everything.

Candyce Milo
It IS hard to find that sweet spot.  I know.  I’ve watched Chokae’ Kalekoa post his photos and think that he may be the last of the quiet, Om breath centered, ritualistic teachers.  I think a lot has to do with yoga studios needing to keep their lights on and bills paid and their courses are thereby driven by the kind of people who power through their experiences and want a heart-rate boost, or they know nothing of the practice and are looking for an “easy-workout” with some stretching. 😳  I often see disappointed faces whenever the class isn’t physically hard enough or the poses are breath-balanced.

Me
Candi, your insights about teachers needing to bend to popular demand in order to keep the lights on are very insightful.  Makes me sad that people look to yoga for something that it isn’t. But then again, I’m getting feedback here about the importance of bringing my own intention to the practice, no matter what the nature of the class is (AND leaving others alone to do the same thing….when did I get to be such a bully!?), and I’m really trying to sit with that one right now.  Mountain calling!

Chokae’ Kalekoa
Actually, none of them are “The Real Thing” … and yet … they all are.  Don’t mean to get all Zen on a sistah … Or, do I? ….  🙂   I do get your meaning though, and feel your frustration. Having practiced deep meditation since I was 11, I feel grateful and lucky to have had my first approach to Hatha Yoga be from a meditative perspective.  My first young taste of “Hatha” Yoga Practice was in San Francisco with B.K.S. Iyengar’s Book Light On Yoga.  Mind-blowing.  I also found Patanjali’s 8 Fold Path, in which, as aforementioned, Hatha Yoga is simply one of the eight steps.  Overwhelming.  Over many years came a deeper interest and enthusiastic introduction to many forms, expressions, and systems of Hatha Yoga. From Astanga, Kundalini, and Sivananda, to Jivamukti, Viniyoga, Bikram and many more.  All practices, at their foundation/core, are all incredible practices.  As a Hatha Yogi (using the term in this case in reference to anyone who regularly practices any form of Hatha Yoga), one has the opportunity to experience many variations of practice methods within each “Style” of Hatha Yoga, with emphasis placed on various approaches at various times with various intensities – Hard, Soft, Meditative, Flow, Athletic, Therapeutic, Esoteric, Aesthetic, etc.  Although each system or style of Hatha Yoga may focus more on a particular method than others, they all (generally speaking) include, in one way or another, all of the above and more … despite the ridiculously childish this-yoga-is-better-than-that-yoga rivalries, vile commercialization and mountainous agglomerations of pure bullshit (a sanskrit term meaning bullshit) permeating the Hatha Yoga world on a global scale.  Through practicing and teaching Hatha Yoga for over 25 years now; to all kinda folks on a few different continents, I have seen and experienced the fact that, regardless of whether one considers oneself to be Believer, Non-Believer, Spiritual, Non-Spiritual, Theist, Athiest or any other Club Member … “regular practice” of any Hatha Yoga system, has the potential to bring about deeper understanding of oneself, harmony inside and out … and the healthy union of body, mind and soul, whether one is fully conscious of the benefits or not.  “Wax on, Wax off.”

Me
“Bullshit (a Sanskrit word meaning bullshit)…”  Chokae’, I love you for so many reasons, as you are a genuine shaman to be reckoned with, but never so much as when you make me laugh.

Candyce Milo
I stand corrected, cuz I guess my post is really about “look what I notice when my eyes should be on MY mat…” doop!

Me
GURL, don’t even get me started.

Victoria Kassa
OMG, this is a lot to chew on and mull over.  I have only ever practiced sporadically.  Angie, your album has been my go-to, which fits my budget and gets me centered.  So the real deal I think is also what you bring to the practice.  I see lots of studios popping up here in Highland park.  My schedule and budget are limiting me to actually explore them.  However I’m just curious about the “market.”  Are people really meditating or just working out?  I’m gonna stick with my home work out for now.  Thanks Angie!!!

Me
Thank YOU, Vicki. I’m so glad you’re using the CD!  I wonder if polls have ever been conducted on your very question.  I would be curious to know (the control freak in me just cannot seem to be tempered.)

Chokae’ Kalekoa
Another thought that may help… Practicing yoga and one’s yoga practice are 2 very different things. Just like rehearsal is different from performance.  When working hard, correcting, adjusting, pushing myself to the limit of the moment, I’m “Practicing Yoga” – When I’m indoors, or out in nature doing asanas at sunrise, sunset, or under the moon, in preparation for, or as meditation, that’s my “Yoga Practice.”  The harder my practice, the easier my practice 🙂 .

Melanie Taylor
Wow, I’ve been overwhelmed reading all the profound and thoughtful comments. I finally had a moment to chime in, as I’m always up for geeking out about yoga.  My thoughts:  When I get all in my head about my 30 year practice (3 of which I’ve been teaching), I’m reminded of the wisdom of BKS Iyengar, who said, “Body is the bow, asana is the arrow, soul is the target.” And it goes without saying that breath is the Way.  I’m also a huge fan of “beginners mind,”  going back to basics of breath moving through the body.  And also, working from the outside in, because the body is the most accessible tool to the heart, which at the core of everything wants to express itself.  I’ve practiced all the disciplines but vinyasa remains my favorite because it mirrors nature, the movement guided by breath like wind through the trees, or waves crashing on the shore.  When I was getting certified, we had lots of spirited debate about the merits of yoga as fitness versus yoga as a spiritual practice.  My feeling is anything that gets you to the mat is going to benefit you in ways you never imagined.  And when you take your yoga off the mat is when it gets real.  It is insidious; it affects you, increases your awareness and maybe that will lead you to be more curious about the practice itself and how you make it your own.

Lotus Lindley 
What a wonderful thread. Thanks for including me Angela. Personally, I feel out of the norm of the yoga loop anymore.  But, I began with Bikram yoga 15 years ago. A dancer/dance fitness instructor at that time, Bikram was the perfect transition.  I loved the heat, the sweat, the athleticism that created the “work out” which fed me. It was at that studio I saw a picture of Yogi Desai, who drew me instantly. Within months, I was at a week long retreat with him, received Skaktipat & my life has never been the same.  I still chuckle at how my first couple of classes in his “Amrit Yoga” system left me underwhelmed & frustrated. I wasn’t sweating, I wasn’t getting a work out, but I hadn’t yet sensitized energetically to the inward “pull” so to speak, yet either. My practice since, for the most part, has been a very solitary one.  For me, Bikram was perfect & just what I needed in order to move me toward the next perfect phase.  It continues to work that way!  I believe Soul has a way of guiding us to what each needs along our journey.  I guess the point of my story is that there are many right times, right places, right teachers, for just the right lessons ~ all along the way.

Me
Blessed peeps, this is all such spiritual gold.  I want to meditate on each comment thoughtfully.  I am humbled and grateful to be given such loving feedback in my moment of trying to work it out.  The tangles that live in us … for me, this one’s lived for a long time, just tucked away, and only, ironically, JUST as I’ve been rewarded recently by a couple of strong classes, did this particular tangle rear up again for my perusal. It just blows my mind that finding a fulfilling class has felt like stumbling upon the Holy Grail, and it is a phenomenon I felt was worthy of a posted thought.

Melanie Taylor
Angela…One more thought to your original post as to teachers that may not resonate with you and where you’re at that day: that’s when my Iyengar mantra kicks in and I use that frustration as an opportunity to fire up my practice (deeper pranayama, extra vinyasas) and clear out negative shit that doesn’t serve my soul. Put simply, if I’m not feeling my teacher, I just go hard until I burn it out.  🙂

Me
I suspected that the idea of it being about what you bring to your own practice in any class, with any teacher, would largely be the feedback I’d receive.  And so far, you all seem to be on the same wise page, which means that there is no Holy Grail;  yoga is everywhere, in every inhale and exhale, every experience, especially the ones that challenge our beliefs, or just plain irritate us.  I truly thank you all for this feedback.

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And that pretty much wrapped up the FB thread, which went on for a few thought-provoking days, and did me a world of good. The conversation, however, continues and continues.

Leonard Cohen, iconic singer/songwriter and Zen monk, said the quote that began this forum (abandon your masterpiece, and sink into the real masterpiece) about his experience of living for some time at a monastery.  As you’ve just read, I had some pretty righteously indignant feelings on the subject. And I was artfully, lovingly, but most definitely, nudged right off my soapbox.  And therein, I think, lies the essential meaning of Mr. Cohen’s beautiful words.

My contributors and comrade-in-arms:
Ken Rosser is the man I call my musical soulmate, with whom I’ve been involved in several music projects, and who may just be the most innovative and soulful multi-stringed-instrumentalist I’ve ever come across.  Check out our duo CD sometime, called MUSIC FOR THE WEEPING WOMAN.
Lily Knight was my Kundalini teacher (and favorite yoga teacher I’ve ever had) from way back when I studied yoga at the Awareness Center in Pasadena, and who is the one responsible for opening up this world for me of self-investigation and soul-tending.
Candyce Milo is a razor-sharp, irreverent comedian, actor, and writer, whose ability to examine the human condition in her one-woman shows raises her above the masses.
Chokae’ Kalekoa is, as Candi says above, just about one of the last of the quiet, Om breath centered, ritualistic teachers.  He is a yogi-shaman bad-ass, and founder of the Shut Your Monkey Meditation Workshop, which he travels all around the globe.
Victoria Kassa is a lifelong educator, which may be the noblest calling on the planet, and someone I’ve grown up with, literally since infancy, so….yeah…family.
Melanie Taylor is a yogi, singer/songwriter, seeker, carrier of light and eternal optimist.  She is also my birthday twin, and my true sister from another mister.
Lotus Lindley is a Reiki healer, and a Path of Sacred Feminine & Essential Oils Facilitator.  After having only met her through Facebook at that point, she actually came to my rescue with an earth-shattering Reiki treatment when I was going through something once. Blessings to her forever for that.

A deeply heart-filled gratitude to these treasured friends for contributing not only to my thread, but to my learning, my healing, and my ongoing cultivation of peace and compassion.

May this forum offer you an insight or two that you might not have had before.  Om shanti.

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

 

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A Rose Knows

Portrait of cute gril with big afro

 A rose blooms and releases fragrance.
It doesn’t question its deservedness.
A rose just knows. 

I’ve been wanting to tell of this encounter ever since it happened a few months ago, but have waited without really knowing why. Until yesterday morning, when I realized I’d been waiting for the title of my story. Victoria Thomas of the Agape Center, who was the visiting speaker at the spiritual center where I chose to spend Mother’s Day morning, at one point during her talk said the above quote. As soon as I heard this, I knew my piece was ready.

This spiritual center that I have newly started calling home, and sometimes sing at, hosted a craft faire this past Christmas, and anyone who had a craft was offered the opportunity to have a booth. I’d hesitated a commitment, and lost the opportunity, as booth space was spare and quickly snatched up. I didn’t represent a single thing that day, even though I have CDs, books, I’ve been handcrafting dreamcatchers for the past year, I make dolls. I sort of felt frustrated with myself that I’d had the instinct to hesitate, but ultimately it was okay as I had great fun attending in order to support all the other artists, crafters, and friends. And to top that off, on the day of the faire, right outside the front door of the center, the neighborhood’s Christmas parade was going on, so it was just one of those magical, wonderful days to be alive and to be part of a community.

“Would you like to buy a copy of my book?” she asked.  She was eight years old.

The bazaar was teeming with booths and tables of handmade jewelry, and crafted dreamcatchers (damn it, I make dreamcatchers!), and exotic crystals, and one-on-one healing sessions of every kind, from Reiki treatments to spirit animal readings. I’ve always been a sucker for a craft faire, especially if the general bent is New Age-y. I am crystal and sage mama. Always have been, and this was like a miniature version of the Whole Life Expo.

I’d already pocketed a few choice purchases. Knickknacks that would add to the energy and color and boho spirit of the 700-square-foot home I call my Zen cottage. I’d just made the silent promise to myself, “No more. You’ve shopped plenty now.” But who says “no thank you” to a little girl?  And a book?  She didn’t have a booth, I saw no inventory; she’d just planted herself in a corner.  I needed to see where this would lead.

“You have a book?” I asked her.

“Yes, I’m a writer!” she offered proudly.

“Well, okay then. How can I possibly say no to that?  How much for one of your books?”

“That’ll be one dollar.”

As I handed her a dollar bill, she proceeded to pull from her knapsack a single piece of notebook paper, folded in half.  I could barely contain a giggle. The title on the “cover” was The Little Fairy, and was adorned with the drawing of a stick figure sprite, some clouds and a sun.  I smiled so wide at my purchase, making sure to show her my delight, and couldn’t decide if it was more precious or ballsy.

I opened the folded piece of paper to reveal the story inside:

There once was a little fairy and she loved to fly.
But her wing got stuck on a rose bush and broke.
“Oh no” she cried.
She was sad so she went home and tried to fix it but she couldn’t.
But then she knew someone who could fix her problem.
“Can you fix my wing?”
“Sure.”
The End.

Whaddaya know, a lesson in conflict resolution. Made as simple as it truly is, if we adults could only manage to find our way around the viscous clouds that apparently go with adulthood.

“What a wonderful story,” I said to her. “I hope lots of people buy your book today.”

“Thank you!” she blushed.

I couldn’t rid my brain of this little girl for the rest of the day. Was it her creativity that I found so irresistible?  Or her unbelievable tenacity to assimilate with the adult world around her of product and consumerism? For certain it was her purity of spirit, and the compulsion to put her unfiltered, uncomplicated, I-don’t-need-no-stinking-booth carpe diem spirit, and her entitled (I write, therefore I am a writer!) energy into the ether.

“What’s your name?” I asked her, before I walked away.

“Angie,” she answered.

“No kidding.  My name is Angie too.  Except that everyone calls me Angela now that I’m an adult.  But look here, we have the same name.”

All Angie could do was giggle.

“May I share something else with you?  Not only do we have the same name, but I’m a writer too.”

“Where’s your book?” she challenged, without even a moment’s pause.

“Well…I….I…..”    I didn’t have a ready answer.

She just smiled, and let my “well…” hang in the awkward air, waiting for a conclusion that never came. I smiled back, wished her the world, and kept on roaming, but with my tail somewhat between my legs.

IMG_4566

I had absolutely fallen in love with this little girl’s mighty chutzpah, and decided that her book would have an honored place hanging on my refrigerator door behind a magnet, reminding me always. Reminding me always.

I see grace in everything. I just don’t see the wisdom in not. Because it is a paradigm that functions to create an environment where I always feel taken care of.  And on that day, with that encounter, grace was in full action as I was taken care of by a young girl who taught me, in no uncertain terms, that I needn’t ever question my deservedness.  A rose certainly doesn’t.

Neither did Little Angie.

 

 

 

 

References:
Victoria Thomas of Agape Center
Center for Spiritual Living Granada Hills

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.