Tuesday, November 29, 2016

by John Valusek

Empathy is terribly important right now. We are asked to dig seriously deep. And what a fucking challenge. The gasoline fires of hate will immolate us regardless of political stance, privilege, or sound convictions.
For those of us fortunate enough (and can we recognize just how lucky we truly are?) to have incorporated regular practices of growth, insight, and well-being into our lives, we have a unique advantage to (potentially) call upon inner resources of (increased, not inexhaustible) patience and tolerance, a wider sphere of interpersonal inclusivity, in the face of, frankly, collective murderous outrage.
Yoga, for example, might be an anchor into something approximating sanity. Righteous anger, if untempered, won't find its sustained source of fuel in the obliteration of oppression, ignorance and terrible injustice, but in the mind and body of the passionate and socially-minded person overcome with rage. Enter: self-restraint, also self-care.

Needless to say, the election hit us like a bomb. In the aftermath there has been a rallying cry in certain circles, perhaps rightly so (see Charles Eisenstein's article, The Election: of Hate, Grief, and a New Story), toward understanding the other and fostering something akin to a fragmented but intentional unity with different factions along the sociopolitical landscape.
I was suffering with the intensity of emotions the night of the election and the day following. I could feel the animal impulse to violence. The atmosphere is too charged for extreme reactivity; without entirely numbing out, a salve was and is needed to maintain feelings as healthy catalysts and not additional layers of destructive pain; we needed to take it down a notch.
What followed in the spiritually hallowed hills of Yogaland (some at least), however, was an element of laziness in relationship to social ills for the sake of a premature peace. This already somewhat lengthy post germinated in response to the tone of sentimental hand-holding with contrary points of view pertaining to everything from the president-elect to indigenous rights and environmental protection.

In regards to a well-intentioned post I encountered today, the heart of which read: "All perspectives are right, all are valid."
I've gone and had a reaction. While this might be a useful thought experiment in empathy expansion and the transcendence of limiting biases, this approach... just doesn't sit well with me... What do we mean by "right"? And by "valid"?
There is validity in that perspective arises, and may concretize, from subjective experience: my faucets run water of varying and specified temperatures when I, of my own seeming volition too mind you, turn these knobs on my sink; my bathtub and showerhead likewise bend to my will (with the occasional nudge from the plumber); drinking water is plentiful, whether from the bottle, filtered, or direct from the tap.
"We're good, we have water. This is great."
Yes, an apparent validity could indeed be argued to arise from the perception of this relative truth.
Is this "right"? Certainly we have *a* right to our perspective. But no perspective exists above critique; we are charged as the heirs of evolution with questioning our own thoughts and deepest held beliefs, and the ideals of others, and conversely, with welcoming external critique of that which appears to us as given, sacrosanct and unquestionable in our often less-than-entirely-acknowledged worldviews.
We must find ways to connect; we are in this together.
Empathy is the gateway.
But I posit that all worldviews are in fact not created equal.
Another cries: "Destroy it before it destroys us."
From where did this perspective arise?
In regard to the construction of oil pipelines, it's a well-established fact that they are dangerous. It isn't a matter of if there will be an accident, spill or leak, but when. In specific regard to the Dakota Access Pipeline and it's corresponding physical point of protest in North Dakota, destruction of sacred native sites notwithstanding, a spill at that location along the Missouri River would stand to contaminate the water of some 17 million people. And in regard to climate change at large and our relationship to continued fossil fuel consumption, there is a sobering wealth of reliable and unanimously agreed upon data indicating that we may well already be beyond an event horizon of irrevocable environmental damage; irreversible heating is already well underway and will continue likely unabated through the mechanism of "positive feedback loops" (e.g., warming temperatures melt arctic permafrost which releases tremendous amounts of methane which continues the cycle of increased warming caused by the atmospheric presence of increasingly high concentrations of greenhouse gases); there is no more time. We are entirely out of it. The system that continues to thoughtlessly, mercilessly, and *aggressively* burn fossil fuels tightens the stranglehold that chokes us (and future generations) all:
"Destroy it before it destroys us."
Clearly I have my own perspective here. And ideally, it morphs, learns and grows, incorporates others, and isn't so deadlocked in catastrophization that it dehumanizes large swaths of the (mostly American) population with whom it disagrees.
But while seeing past the walls of an uncompromising, static viewpoint is an essential leap of growth toward maturity, consciously choosing an informed perspective is an equally necessary act. What is the full arc of spirituality if not transcendence followed by a return to ground and earth and humanity, the vastness contained within the limitations of an entirely new yet still finite being.
And as far as "valid" and "right" go, from the extremely biased (and, yes, unenlightened) chair upon which I sit, there isn't a moment's hesitation in declaring the dueling perspectives of business-as-usual and radical, immediate change as being entirely unequal points of view, interpretations of an ultimate and non-conceptual reality though they may fundamentally both be.
When the fires of discernment, keen *judgment*, and decisive action meet the balm of interpersonal understanding, empathy, and self-restraint may the true blade of yoga be forged.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

from Sarah Kucera, CSOY Teacher Trainer and Director of Sage Center for Yoga & Healing Arts

Two short but emotionally charged weeks out now from Matthew Remski's illuminating workshops at the Colorado School of Yoga, I can honestly say I had no idea I'd come out of the workshop with new found knowledge AND a hefty side of mixed emotions--honestly, I was left questioning if I was even equipped to be teaching yoga.

Over the course of the weekend, Remski shared his well-backed and documented research that reveals that the very teachers we glorify and are deferential to as our lineage holders inflicted abuse and corporal punishment on their yoga students. And not once or twice, but as a regular teaching tool. And that this may have set the stage for excessive and/or injurious hands-on assists, sexual manipulation and abuse and guru-worship in the modern era. Many times Matthew referenced the term gaslighting. The term is used in psychology when someone manipulates another into self-doubt or to question their own sanity (a term I was only recently made familiar with as it was used in media associated with Donald Trump during the debates). Victims of this kind of abuse often rationalize the way they are being treated--a teacher causes injury and the student rationalizes it as "for my own good" or as an accelerator on the path towards transcendence - no pain, no gain after all. We talked as a group about countertransference and how today's teachers may be inflicting our own feelings or experiences onto our students. There was lengthy inquiry into yoga's vertical and horizontal relationships between transcendence and therapy. We were strongly encouraged to evaluate our own approach as yoga teachers. The topic was heavy and I began to wonder how I could teach yoga and be certain that my attempts to help guide people through movement and breathing would be effective now that my previous paradigm had been shattered?!

...but there was light. I kept thinking about how fortunate I am to be a part of a community that is open to both hearing and discussing challenging things. I felt thankful for my natural draw to education and my desire to question things rather than to simply do something because someone else said so. I recalled the powerful experiences that yoga brought me that didn't always involve a teacher. And just as I was calling into question if this path is right for me, our presidential election happened and our studio became a safe haven for people to grieve and discuss.

This work is necessary and so long as I am willing to continue self-study, I can be confident in my approach and my teaching. I'm committed to being the best teacher I can be, to self-evolution and to always knowing why I'm doing what I'm doing. As I'm willing to question, I'm willing to be wrong. My ears, eyes and heart are open.   

from Tracey Garcia, CSOY Director of Teacher Trainings

Having been raised Catholic, I have a strong affinity for deeply rooted tradition. There is undoubtedly a comfort that can be found in doing things the way they’ve always been done. However, sometimes a little itch begins to develop in the back of your brain asking “ but why?”  That itch was personified for me during a training in the form of Matthew Remski.

Remski is a yogic scholar and a seeker. He came to the Colorado School of Yoga to present his research through a workshop called “What are We Actually Doing in Asana?” (the cool kids shorthand this to WAWADIA.) During his presentation, he offered anecdotes he had collected regarding yoga injuries incurred through harmful adjustments and a lack of teacher ownership in the student-teacher dynamic, and students’ blind trust placed in the hands of their teachers. His research culminated with the realization that modern postural yoga has its roots securely wrapped around the desires, whims and sufferings of a handful of human men.

As the weekend came to a close, I felt like Neo upon learning the true nature of the Matrix. What now? What is real?  Then, I set aside my questions, made my uneasy way to the studio and taught my expectant students. I saw what is real.
  • A safe opportunity to scan your inner landscape
  • A space to let the fa├žade fall away and be vulnerable
  • Our open-minded, open hearted community of humans
  • A palpable shift in the charge of energy in the room
  • An extended moment to approach and experiment with a deeper state of consciousness

I know what is real. In pulling the curtain back and revealing some of the less than savory aspects of yoga, Matthew Remski did not destroy my believe in the power of yoga.  Instead, he allowed me to realize that I have the ability (and responsibility) to steer my teaching and my students in a healthy direction. No longer will I settle into the pacifying comfort of “doing things the way they’ve always been done.”  If a handful of men can form the history of yoga, this woman can, and will, join in shaping the future. 

Care to join me?

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Manure Happens. Fertilize.

by Gina Caputo, CSOY Founder

A few years ago, a man asked if he could send me a book to read. It was on the Yoga Sutras. I already had at least a dozen translations and found it hard to imagine his would add anything earth shattering to what I already knew of this text. But when someone offers you their art, their creation, how could you say no? Maybe it's the Italian in me but it felt like turning down a home-cooked meal, or a mixed tape (Google it kids). So I said yes, especially because the subtitle was "A Remix of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras with Commentary and Reverie". Matthew Remski had me at the word "remix". What I read was indeed very different from any other translation and it was provocative. Some would say downright controversial. It challenged the long-standing paradigm that frankly, I felt we were supposed to just accept as "ancient", "traditional" and "real". I was intrigued. I started following him on social media and read more and more articles and opinion pieces that often made me go "Hoo, hot damn!" or "Oh no he didn't!". So when I opened the Colorado School of Yoga, he was high on my list of teachers I wanted to invite because I knew he would create an opportunity to explore the widely-accepted paradigm, which I think is a healthy and essential practice for sustainability in our field of study and work. I think a regular poking at what we do is a good way to practice discernment and, frankly, a good way to avoid turning into a yoga Oopma Loompa.

This past weekend Matthew came to CSOY to present WAWADIA, his current research project, short for What Are We Doing In Asana Anyway? It was scintillating, illuminating and provocative, just as expected. He knows full well, though, that he's opening a Can O' Worms and that can feel very disconcerting and destabilizing to some. In many ways it's just easier to do things without asking questions, especially with a sense that 5000 years of history and wisdom are behind what you're doing. However, he is quick to point out that worms make compost too and that what is revealed may actually provide nutrients to your seeds of intention as a modern day yoga teacher and enable you to be of greater service to the practitioner of today. It's not terribly far off from when Richard Freeman says "Yoga will ruin your life." Both of these remind me of one of my favorite (and decidedly unorthodox) teaching metaphors: Yoga is a "shit disturber" and you may actually feel awful before you feel wiser, almost as if you're sitting in your own shit for a bit while you learn from it and it changes (compost heap). In Nature, shit is fertilizer and as it is in the macrocosm, so too is it in the microcosm. Meaning, as it is in Nature, so too it is in you. The exploration and examination and experiencing can turn your "life's manure" into rich, nourishing fertilizer.

When we reflect on our lives, most of our greatest learning experiences came on the tail end of something difficult or painful. I'm not convinced there is some kind of toll lane on the spiritual path that allows you to zip past the slow downs, gridlock and accidents and emerge wiser. Yoga is certainly widely painted as a practice of peace, harmony and tranquility which may be a bypassing of the actual practices involved in someday realizing those cherished qualities. For example, at a retreat recently, Seane Corn said "We have to know tension in order to truly release it". That process of knowing is often accompanied by feelings of sadness, anger, frustration, incredulity and resentment (i.e.: shit). Yoga practice gives us this concentrated and visceral opportunity to explore the tensions within us, not just physical but the many push/pulls we experience internally. Our field of study is ourselves, from our outermost self (ie how we behave in the world and our bodies) to our innermost self (some would call soul or Atman). And within a field that complex, there are so many blind spots to illuminate and that illumination usually comes with a painful price tag.

I firmly believe this practice gives us the opportunity to look at the tapestry of our lives and make connections, sharpen focus and unearth the root causes of our suffering. And because we are all connected, committing to this honest (and often dirty) work will ultimately be of benefit to all. We teach by example, we influence and impact each other ALL THE TIME.

My renewed goal after this weekend with Matthew is to do everything I can to create a safe haven for exploration. To facilitate an opportunity to witness what arises and explore it according to one's own desire, ability and appetite on any given day. And I commit to redoubling my efforts to not turn away from the manure but keep my eyes and heart WIDE OPEN and my soul gardening tools handy.