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My Yoga Journey begins

This weekend I began Yoga training. I will share a bit about
the experience – at least my reaction to it.

 It is amazing to me that even after hours spent doing
intensive yoga poses over and over again, I wake up the next day and nothing
hurts. That is a beautiful and remarkable thing about yoga, and the best
tangible evidence I have that practicing is truly good for you, body and soul.

 Dance, on the other hand, hurts all the time, no matter your
age. I suppose this is because dance is about defying nature’s limitations and
pushing your body beyond the limits in an effort to create a visual image that
is illusive and idealistic. Perfection is the dancer’s goal, and the artist is
expected to suffer to achieve it. Between you and me, I love that about dance.
  I hate what the art does to your body,
breaking it down, but it seems worth the end results. The fact that not
everyone can dance is one of the things I admire about the art form. To become
a dance artist requires soul, physical strength, and a gift from God. Dance has
always been, and always will be, my true calling, so I love it despite its
flaws.

 Yoga, on the other hand, works within the framework of the
body’s natural design, and the mental relaxation and breathing which is central
to good technique forces the student to relax, thus avoiding injury. A yoga
student is taught to listen to his or her body and adapt poses so there is no
stress on joints or muscles. In the opposing dance universe, a student is
taught to suck it up and suffer for art’s sake. Different attitude. I don’t
suppose I need to mention that there I am in yoga class pushing beyond what is
comfortable on my 50-year-old body in every pose, because I can’t shake the
idea that I’m not making progress unless I hurt. Dancers are not only familiar
with physical abuse, but they revel in it because pain is often the path to
improvement. Sick creatures, us dancers.

 I think I am an annoying yoga student. Not by choice, but by
nature of my personality and previous life experience. I ask too many questions
of a technical nature, and the answer I get is always, “it depends” or “You’re
over-thinking things. It’s not important.” Since over thinking happens to be a
problem with me in many areas of life, I’m sure the evasive answers I receive
are a fair response. Still, I am sometimes very frustrated with the lack of defined
answers to my questions. Mostly, this is in regards to the mechanics of yoga
movement. We move from one pose to the next, and I ask about what exact
positions we should move through during the position. Is it better to have a
flat back or to roll through the spine? Should the eyes lead or follow after
the pose is stable. The answer is, “It depends.” It depends on the student, the
body type, the mood of that particular practice, and what I want to achieve at
this moment in time. It depends on what feels right and good. Some yoga
techniques are more defined, and perhaps studying one of those methods someday
would suit me better (hint, hint), but in this particular yoga method we believe
in adaptability and less defined structure.

 Meanwhile, I’m thinking the hell with what feels right and
good, I just need to know what IS right and good adhering to yoga standards
because then, come hell or high water, I’ll master it in that way.
  As you can see, I have a way to go
regarding my gentle yogi-ness.

 In dance, there is an ideal, a defined perfection that a
student is always working towards, so naturally I want to know what the yoga
ideal is so that I can help students, through modified poses or whatever
methods required, to achieve greater skill. And in the back of my mind, I’m
thinking a student with great potential might come along and he or she will
need more advanced coaching, and I want to be prepared. All this makes my
questions seem pushy and too focused on achievement-oriented goals, a very unyoga-like
approach. I’m sure the teachers want to slap me, but that wouldn’t be yoga like
either, so instead they smile at me with love and shake their head with “you
don’t get it yet,” tolerance.

 I then shut up, reading the gentle frustrationin their eyes
and think, OK, I’ll shut up. I get it academically, but setting goals for a
student, having an objective for the class still seems important to me.
  So shoot me. Clearly, I’m going to have
to work on this “total acceptance, no judgments, no expectations” element of
yoga training. I love and admire the attitude in theory, but because I’ve
always been result driven, the gentle approach to movement isn’t going to come
naturally. So this is something I will work on.

 There are other elements of yoga Asana (the physical) I
adore. There is a gentle touch used in correction, and the loving, non-judgmental
attitude where you can do no wrong is alien, but it’s remarkably admirable. I
hope to adapt and evolve as a teacher by learning this approach to teaching
movement.

 Yoga training is not just about the physical. It is about
spiritual practice as well. You must define “intention” for your practice and
your life. When I told Mark that we spent the afternoon discussing our
inner-most fears and desires, and I think I disappointed my instructors in this
area, because I was one of the few who didn’t break down in tears and expose
interior pain (not because I can’t or won’t but because honestly, I don’t feel
broken inside), he sighed and said, “Honey, the fact is, you are very
sensitive, but you are never vulnerable. Ain’t nobody gonna make a big
yoga-crybaby out of you.” (He said this not as an insult to those who expose
their feelings in this safe setting, but to hold up a mirror and make me laugh
at my own foibles- and it did.)

 “What are you saying? That I’m not able to let down my
guard? That I’m too pig-headed to go through yoga training in an open way?”

 “Well, Denver and I were just now wondering how you were
doing. She was saying, “Does mom have any idea of what she is getting into,
that she’ll be thrust into a touchy feely environment that will be more than a
little challenging considering her nature?”

 I think I sputtered a bit over that.  

 Mark went on to explain that he knows me well enough to
understand I have great empathy and feeling for others, but personally, I rely
on inner strength to deal with the world, and that’s not conducive to the
exercises used in self-revelation programs.

 Them’s fighting words, but then, that’s my problem, isn’t’
it? I am not a victim, but a warrior, and admitting it comes across as if I am
in denial or as if I’m not honest enough to reveal my innermost pain and
suffering.
  The truth is I would
reveal my misery if I felt feelings of loss or worthlessness inside, really I
would, but damn if I’m not fairly pleased with myself and my life at this
particular place and time. Of course, I’m not always satisfied in all ways with
my existence, but perfection is unattainable and I believe I’m doing the best I
can with what I have to work. That is the best a person can do, and I won’t
beat myself up because life isn’t perfect.

 In choosing an “intention” I spoke of my wanting to
reconcile my relationship with food – that I felt strongly about industrial
farming and I wanted the strength to kill a turkey at the end of my yoga
training. The teacher thought I was striving for comic relief, and wasn’t
pleased. He asked me to redefine what I was trying to say in a sacred, soulful
way. I just couldn’t explain how seriously I felt about my relationship with
food – that I didn’t think being a vegetarian or a vegan is the answer, because
I rather eat a steak (despite a factory cow suffering) than a tomato because I’ve
learned 97% of tomatoes eaten any season other than fall comes as result of
forced slavery (in AMERICA, ya all.) I want to live authentically to my
environmental and ethical beliefs, and I worry about human suffering more than the
effects of food choices on my personal health (I’m so sick of everyone’s life
purpose rolling back around to me, me, me. Time to think not what the world can
do for us, but what we can do for the world, oh selfish ones.) So, since
killing turkeys is not yoga-like, I let the food thing go, but deep down, that
is the one thing I am truly wrestling with inside. (Food ethics, not killing
birds)so I think that qualifies as my “intention”. The problem is, the world
had gotten so off kilter regarding food production that there is nothing left
to eat if you want to eat morally (not to be confused with eating healthily.)
So it is a complex issue.

 Mark reminded me that the people in my seminar are all
coming from a different place – the place where we were four years ago. They
are living in a stress filled environment, with disappointments and
frustrations at every turn.
 They
are still slaves to environmental conditioning, consumerism, social
expectation, bla, bla, bla. “Remember, four years ago, you were there too. You’d
be the biggest yoga-crybaby in the universe back then, because as I recall, you
were depressed and sad all the time.

 Oh yeah. That was me. But it’s not me anymore.

 I tried to
explain myself to one of the instructors. I said, “I feel like a dog that got
hit by a car and crawled under a bush to lick her wounds. For me, those 18
years of obsessive work and living in the rat race was like standing in the
highway with lights coming at me. Add to that the constant drama and personal
attacks that came with running a dance school, a midlife crisis and a desperate
desire for adventure, and life spun out of control. That was like being hit by the
car. So we walked away from everything and moved to 50 acres for a couple of
years of solitude, peace and nature. The most productive thing I could do was
engage in gentle interaction with innocent animals. That was me crawling under
a bush and licking my wounds. But now, I’m emerging, healed – feeling strong. I
feel like me again, only a wiser me with more diverse life experience adding to
my inner resources. I’m proud of where I live, how I live, and I’m grateful for
the authentic life we’ve created. I have goals again, hopes.”
 

 When asked to come up with one word to describe how I feel
about myself, I said “strong.” This did not go over with the mediator of our
group. He shook his head and said, “No, another word.”

 I instantly knew that “strong” wasn’t acceptable because in
this yoga-world of peace, love and self-acceptance, “strong” sounds too
forceful and aggressive. It is a word associated to people who cover up their
pain with feigned control or something. But honest to God, strong is what I
feel, and I’m not denying something else inside, at least not that I know of.
  Strong is not a cover-up for vulnerability,
or a way of sheltering myself from the world. I’ve been beat up too, so I know
what it is to feel shattered. But sorry, I’m just not shattered anymore.

 Now, least I give you the impression that I felt
disapproaval from my instructors, let me make it clear that simply isn’t
true.
  Yoga is based on the “you
can do no wrong” viewpoint. It is about total acceptance, approval, and
unconditional love for your fellow humanbeings. But accepting and loving a
student who has some resistance is another thing entirely from their being a
joy to teach.

 The mediator looked at me and said, “What you really want is
for people to love you, right?”

 I said, “Of course, who doesn’t?”

He told not to be flippant and to repeat that I want people
to love me with reverence and truth. So I did.

 And you know what? Repeating that sentence in a solemn way
was the first time I felt like a phony. I know that was not his intention, and
that he is sincerely trying to help me reach a greater truth, but it felt like
he was taking a stab at a common “issue” when in fact, I believe everybody
wants to be loved, so my wanting it too is no revelation. I don’t feel a
desperate need for love and wanting to be loved isn’t a problem because it
motivates me to act differently than I want to act.
 Heck, I already feel loved, by my family, friends and
students. What really motivates me, but I couldn’t it say to him, was my one
core belief:
  that the strong must
take care of the weak – that we are not all given the same gifts when we are
set upon this earth, and I feel I’ve been extremely blessed with strength (and
some hard-gained wisdom), and I’m designed to tap into that inner strength and
use it to help others lead authentic lives.
  My purpose. Ee-gad – that sounds arrogant, but it’s how I
feel.
 Strong – and a champion of
those that need help.

 I was told to find a word that defines me. I said I hoped I
was inspirational. My mediator said, “Then voice out loud that you are
inspirational.”

But I couldn’t. I shrugged and said, “I don’t think anyone
can slap a label on themselves and suddenly be what they proclaim. That’s pure arrogance.
I think all a person can do is ASPIRE to be inspirational. I can’t control how
the world receives me, but I can commit myself to trying to be inspirational,
and I do.”

 He was willing to accept that, or else he was ready to give
up on me. Like I said, he is always loving and supportive so he wouldn’t say or
do anything to make me feel I failed in the exercise, but I sensed that he
wanted more from me.
 

 And so describes Ginny in yoga training. I know I am a tough
student and probably not the kind the teachers enjoy working with. This program
is supposed to be life affirming and life altering, but since I do not seem to
need of drastic attitude or a life shift to find contentment, working with me
is bound to feel less fulfilling to someone who has devoted their life to
leading the lost to the alter of yoga. Nevertheless, that does not mean I won’t
get something important from the seminar.

 Despite that I’m not headed for great life revelations (or
at least I don’t think I am) I love yoga training. I love learning new things,
seeing the world from a new angle and probing the mind and attitude of people
that approach life differently than I do. I marvel at the loving, open,
accepting attitude of the teachers, for they are role models that remind me I’m
sometimes cynical and have a great deal to learn about unconditional
acceptance.
  So, I proceed with an
open mind, knowing I’ll embrace what rings right and true for me, and discard
the rest. That is the how we grow, picking through ideology because we each
have diverse life experiences that define truth, as we know it. There is no
universal truth. There is only what works for us independently.
 

 They have ceremonies in the yoga tradition, sort of like a
“coming of age” proclamation. As people define their intention, they are ready
for their ceremony. I seriously doubt they will find me ready for a ceremonial
confirmation anytime soon, if my first seminar was any judge. Perhaps I’ll
never seem worthy (which means I wouldn’t graduate). What am I supposed to do,
fake vulnerability? Pretend I believe we should all be vegans so I don’t have
to kill my turkeys?
  Make my
intention learning to embrace total acceptance , which wouldn’t be so bad
except that I believe true faith comes after you ask hard questions of any
ideology.

 I think people come to this yoga training because they are
at a crossroads in life and they are seeking answers, support and permission to
change their world. They feel broken and in need of healing and support. But I
am a different case. I was broken and needed healing four years ago, so I
shucked my life and slinked away to reflect and act on what I believed is
important. I filled my inner longing with animals, an MFA and nature. I changed
my view of the world by immersing myself in a new culture, changed my
relationship with food and consumerism, gave a little something back through literacy
work, and enjoyed a period of few demands for the first time in my life. I
wrote a book, and redefined my relationships with others. Now, I’m ready to
re-enter the world and I’m deciding how. I’ve come to yoga training not because
I’m seeking answers, but because I found them. I came because I want to add to
my arsenal of resources, because I’m ready to make a difference, and I’m
seeking just the best path to do so. Yoga seems a natural addition to my
skills, a way to help others find acceptance and peace and physical awareness.
It helps people learn who they are, what they want, and gives them the strength
to pursue happiness– which is what I love about writing (and dance) too.

 This right of passage that Yoga is supposed to unveil– this
enlightment, is something I’ve already experienced or at least I’m well on the
path to understanding. So, while I’m probably perceived as arrogant and a
really unauthentic yoga student who is missing the point, I think I get the
point more than most. In fact I’m of the opinion that some people who are very
quick to embrace ideology without questioning it or testing the perimeters are
the very people who only receive a surface understanding of that ideology. And jumping
in with both feet on day one without reservation is a habit of people who can
just as easily replace that ideology with the very next one that comes along,
cause it’s the fun of the drama and the IDEA of yoga they love more than the
kind of love that comes from a deep understanding and appreciation for the
reality of the ideology. I am different. I wrestle with ideology, challenge and
dissect it, so that when and if I embrace a new view of life, I do so with sincere
faith and conviction because I couldn’t rattle the truth of it.

 So, I am absorbing the essence of yoga on many levels,
intellectual, physical and emotional.

 Perhaps it is a matter of my learning style. While gaining
my MFA, I was a resistant student. One would even say I wasn’t cut out for the touchy-feely
literary environment with it’s high brow attitude and passionate definitions of
what is or isn’t good, regarding literary verses commercial literature. But I
emerged changed from the training, moved beyond description. I asked lots of
inappropriate questions, challenged the methods, the teachers and readings. I
couldn’t accept that certain masterpieces deserved respect simply because
academics claimed these writings captured the human condition. Sometimes I
couldn’t help but think economics, social attitudes, mass literary hysteria and
the close-knit cultural attitudes of the movers and shakers in the literary
world were responsible for the reputation of a piece rather than it’s true
merit. And if I didn’t stand in awe of the classic masterpieces, I was told I
didn’t “get it”. Perhaps they were right and I didn’t get it because I wasn’t
intellectual enough, or brilliant enough, but to this day, I think there’s an
element of the emperor’s new clothes in academia. A true individual thinker
(which I hope to be) shouldn’t be afraid to voice an opinion contrary to what
is the sophisticated norm feels for fear that it will make him or her appear
“stupid” or unenlightened. The new me rather sheer a sheep than be one, ya
know. But the fact that I wasn’t an easy student didn’t mean I wasn’t a serious
student. My MFA was the most poignant, life altering challenge I’ve ever
undertaken, and I’m grateful to my teachers, the program and God for leading me
through the process.

 I think it will be the same with yoga.

 So, I’ve begun my four-month journey to become a yogi. I
won’t write about others in the class, beyond saying they are all admirable,
lovely individuals. Their journey is not mine to share, but I feel there is
nothing wrong with sharing my own revelations, experiences and failures. Writing
about a thing clarifies it for me and
 lets friends go along for the ride and hey, I’m not shy about
admitting that I fumble ungracefully through new things. But I will say the
teachers are wonderful people with earnest intentions, admirable skill, and positive,
encouraging attitudes, and that makes the introduction to yoga a lovely
experience.
  I have a week of homework that includes reading, preparing a short lecture/report on the first chakra, taking a long walk in nature (after fasting) and daily practice. As they say in yoga sessions when you’ve made a commitment to your revelations – “I’m in”.  

 Namaste

About Ginny East Shaddock

Director of Heartwood Retreat Center, Ginny is also a writer. This is her personal blog with essay form writing about life and reflection. My entries are often lengthy and random, because I'm not here to promote or sell anything. I'm not expecting followers - just find this format a good place to think with the pen.

4 responses »

  1. Hey Yogi, when’s the last time you made a Boo-Boo. Can you BEAR it. Your Ranger.

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  2. Ah – wouldn’t your life be boring if you didn’t have me to heckle.

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  3. That comment was weird. Anyways, I started taking yoga because my hips hurt and i needed something new in my life. I find it hard also to not do everything the way it was meant to be…and when I’m in poses…i want the teacher to come over and manipulate me so i know I’m in the correct position–but she doesn’t. She simply says we are wonderful and we are achieving so much. That aspect of yoga is disappointing to me….the “you can do no wrong” part. Yet at the same time its almost nurturing to the soul because what you do in class is right for you and you are doing it for only you and no one else. Keep being strong and inspirational yogi 😉 It takes all kinds

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  4. Actually – my training program spends lots and lots of time on hands on corrections and “easing” people into correct form. But don’t think that just because we have a dancer’s mentality that we are being short changed in yoga. The truth is, Im beginning to see that the have the shortest distance to success – that our “muscle into a pose” attitude in dance makes resistance inevitable and hard to overcome. Ahh… now I figure out the secret to great dance training. Isn’t that just like life? But that is not to say I won’t blend what I know of both movement ideologies to become a kick- butt teacher, at least in the Asana part of yoga (the physical). My biggest challenge is understanding and living the other 7 limbs of yoga – which is vital too. but you know me….always loved a challange.I’m going to London tomorrow for my birthday. Yippee for me!    

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