Do No Harm

In a recently published article in The Walrus titled “Yoga’s Culture of Sexual Abuse” a lens is turned toward the yoga community and a renowned teacher who abused his position of power in a similar manner to many of the #metoo stories which have recently come to light in other industries and organizations around the globe. The major difference in this story is that the abuse took place under the guises of spirituality and spiritual practice. A painful article to read, this expose on Krishna Pattabhi Jois’ inappropriate behaviors as a yoga teacher not only brings to the table an uncomfortable conversation but also the need to recognize blind trust in the yoga community, and to understand its detriment to a person’s health.

While the #metoo movement has made it more common to out sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviors of men in power, accusations and exposes of the sexual misconduct and deviancy of male leaders of yoga schools are nothing new. Back in 2012 John Friend the founder of the Anusara Yoga tradition, the tradition that I study and teach, was himself accused of deviant sexual misconduct and consequently stepped down from the organization completely. Jois and Friend are not alone, they in fact are in thick company, joining the many male leaders of varying yoga schools who have been accused of sexual wrongdoing. These men are undoubtedly excellent yoga teachers; this is why they have generated enormous followings and grand schools of tradition. Yet these men were always human no matter how beautiful the practice they were teaching was; these were always men with human faults.

The article mentioned above relays the stories of nine women’s accounts of being sexually perpetrated by their venerated yoga teacher, all while being assisted in asana. Reading the article made me very upset. As a yoga student I have only been the recipient of respectful touch. As a yoga teacher I am diligent about touching respectfully and with consent. As a studio owner I expect my teachers to follow the same protocols. To be the victim of sexual assault is detrimental to one’s health on every level, to be the victim of sexual assault while pursuing a spiritual connection is damaging beyond words.

As students of yoga we generously follow our teachers with great swaths of trust. Most yogic traditions espouse absolute and unquestioned devotion to the Guru and in general, a great teacher can charm you into trusting and following blindly with charisma alone. No matter how much the teacher reminds you to be in your own body it is easy to get swept away in the current of the room, the bigger the body of water (i.e. the more students there are) the faster and stronger the pull. Such a pull has a hypnotizing effect, as does the asana, and the subsequent re-wiring of the brain and nervous system make the practitioner ever more vulnerable.

As I understand it Jois’ assaults were not protested in the moment. They were not protested because they took place in an environment that championed spirituality and surrender. The rewiring of the nervous system in the context of spiritual practice must have led to confused minds which muffled the inner knowing that something was explicitly wrong.

Vulnerability is inherent in a yoga practice. For the practice to do its work the practitioner needs to become vulnerable on every level. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to find a teacher who is trustworthy and will respect such vulnerability.

For students of yoga who have become intoxicated on yoga’s goodness it is easy to believe that the leader of an international and long standing yoga school is honorable. It is just as easy to walk into a relationship with the leader of such a school with unwavering trust. Because the roots of yoga sit deeply in principle and ethic, being sexually abused by an internationally renowned teacher is never a consideration. Such a thought would not cross a passionate student’s mind amid the gift of being able to study with their “teacher” or “Guru”. Violating a student in such vulnerable space is disgraceful and must be exposed and eschewed.

After reading the article I have questioned the value of hands on assists. I know that in my own experience they have been very beneficial. I also know that I do not need those assists to have a spiritual connection and therefore must question their weight. In an environment where vulnerability is inherent anything I as a teacher can do to nurture trust is valuable.

When new students arrive at Shree I like to remind them that the instructions are an invitation and not a command. Some schools of yoga approach such concepts differently but in the end, it is all the same. The practice of yoga is about getting to know your own inner voice of authority and teaching it to be wise and discerning and in alignment with something bigger than oneself. That authority which is bigger than oneself is also bigger than the Guru touting it. Questioning authority must be inherent in such a practice. Teachers of self-realizing practices who put the kibosh on self-authority must be left behind. Tolerance of forced deviant behavior from leaders of any organization on their subordinates must never be condoned, it makes everyone look bad and prevents full vulnerability and true personal and spiritual growth.

The practitioner always has the last say on what is right in the pose for them, what is good about the practice for them, what serves in their body, mind, and spirit, and what to leave behind. For many years now I personally have had to wrestle with the ugliness of this industry and the many misguided values of the greater yoga community. The fall of my own yoga teacher invited me to ask the hard questions many years ago and in the end, I do my best to remember to first look for the good, second remember what serves, and lastly choose something that enhances life. Sharing this article sheds light on some of the ugliness of this industry and at the same time the power that it is inherent in everyone to make choices. Doing nothing is a choice. Following blindly is a choice. Listening to your inner voice of authority and saying no to the outer voice of authority is also a choice. The purpose of the practice is to quite the fluctuations of the mind-stuff, not to spiritually bypass them. Be vulnerable, be trusting, and be your own Guru.

With Love and Respect, Always, in All Ways, For Giving,

Genevieve

 

 

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Guest Post By: Liz Fox

I’m 62, And So Are You

As I was checking a visitor into class the other morning, she was asking what style of yoga I taught.  It just came out of my mouth, “I’m 62, and so are you!”  She was likely in her 50s, but she totally got it.  As did I at that moment. I don’t really look my age, and I certainly don’t act my age, and I don’t really feel my age, but my body, especially in the morning, owns its age.

I never thought about it until I started teaching yoga. I would always do the class the teacher provided, inhaling and exhaling on cue, lifting this limb or that, reaching, bending, folding, etc.  It was all fine, but it was actually not fine. I was listening to the teacher, not to my own body.

Once I was in control, it all changed. I realized my body was not usually ready for what the teacher provided, and it was my responsibility to take this on. Let me explain: I remember the first morning I woke up in pain. I was about 28, and had been at an all-day horse show the day before, where I won the All Around. That was 14 classes, really pushing it. (I now wonder how my horse felt the next morning.) I woke up and felt stiffness, and it was really the first time in my life, and I said, “Wow, this is what they are taking about.”

Now, every morning is a form of that first experience. The first thing I do is lower my 14 pound dachshund from the bed. (I try to limit his jumping, which is hard on his long spine.) That experience, which I do every morning, I compare to every other day that I begin with the same movement. Even with super safe lifting technique, I feel it in my back. I joke to myself that I will now move from being a cripple and transform into a yoga teacher.

This is normal for most of us, right? Our bodies have been used, enjoyed, pushed, tested, and that is life.  But many of us, in our 2nd or 3rd acts, are in the best shape of our lives.  I could to a backbend in a doorframe when I was 14, but so what. Those amazing photos on Instagram of young girls doing backbendy and strength moves are impressive, and impossible for most of us. Inspiring, but like a trip to the moon. Yet, we are taking much better care of ourselves now, and appreciate each breath in a way we never could in our youth.

Hence, Morning Yoga.  Sonya told me a story once about a guy in her classes in Mysore. The poor guy was in his 40’s, and the Mysore practice was a strong, early morning Ashtangha practice, so he would get up 2 hours earlier, which was like 3 am, to do Feldenkreiss, to prepare for yoga practice. The point being, that Ashtangha was designed for bodies much younger, like teens and 20’s, the first act of life.

That story resonated with me. First, because I am not that responsible to really get up that early to take care of myself. But wow, yeah, that is what I need. Sure. (Nothing against Ashtangha, not at all. There is so much wisdom in that practice, but it is not for everyone!) But it also gave me total permission, as if I needed it, to look into my own body, and prepare what needs to be prepared, and I saw the value of this.

It is an open secret that yoga teachers teach what they are experiencing. If my shoulders are hurting, I will likely gravitate towards a shoulder opening practice. When my hips feel tight, I will go to that. And since my body is stiff in the morning, it is natural for me to teach to that.

My injuries have been spinal, so for me, a long slow, consistent, somewhat predictable spinal warm up works best. Others might have knee injuries, and need to attend to that. We all have stiff shoulders.

Morning yoga, the way I teach it, assumes we are all 62, or older, and our bodies do not spring out of bed ready for an strong practice. We might get there in half an hour, and might do the most lovely utthita hasta trikonasana of our lives, twisting our spines, lengthening our limbs, lifting our hearts. But first, we listen to our bodies, offer them some time to unwind, and recover the bloom of youth.

Yoga is a journey, often one without goals. Sure, we have goals, and sometimes the goal is to feel better in our bodies, in our souls, to more deeply connect to ourselves. Sometimes the goal is to face reality, putting our limitations into context, yet seeing what might be possible.  For 6 years, I started each class I took with the intention of “I will not get hurt.” Nothing wrong with that, but now I am learning, and hopefully teaching, more thoroughly, that precaution.

My favorite book title is Pema Chodron’s “Start Where You Are.”  Duh, but so profound.  Even if you do not know where you are going, or where you want to go, or where it is possible for you to go, find out where you are now, and start there. Take care, let fear go, and trust yourself.

dristi and saving daylight

One gift that the darkness of winter offers is an appeal to inward reflection. When the outer eye’s view is obscured, whether by darkness, by dream, by death, or by obstacle, we are encouraged to turn in to see. It is here, in and behind what is observable that our intuition, perceptibility, and deep wisdom are nourished, and often, born. Through svadhaya – self-reflection or self-study – the yoga is always an invitation into this intimate work. It refers to honing our consideration of patterns that bubble up from less than our highest places, and a noticing practice for the effects of our habits and behaviors. Svadhyaya is getting to know oneself as an inherent step in the process of improving the way we move in the world. Much of the time, svadhyaya is a commitment made on the practitioner’s behalf. Occasionally, we receive svadhyaya support from the outside – utter darkness, dream space, a particular relationship or experience that forces us to look within for a reflection of the truth. If we are confident that we are in the right place at the right time, we call these things inspiring, even “teachers”. And if we are not so grounded, we might run from the very same things, screaming.

After spring ahead daylight savings, the evening classes at Shree are suddenly completed in the daylight, and at least a little of the internal, intimate energy of a class in the quiet of dark, is lost. Having led 5:30-7 evening yoga classes for bunches of years, this springtime change always tosses me, a bit. As an act of rebellion, ‘cause I think daylight savings is kinda bunk and discombobulating, my classes this week have been all about dristi – focusing the organs of the eyes through the transitions of asana. Dristi has been presented to me as “the eyes look here in this posture”, and I have found great power in following the dristi rules. For sure, looking to one particular place rather than all over the room, is an improvement for a distracted mind. As I understand, there are nine possible dristi points the yogini could be “looking”, though the direction of the outer eyes does not necessarily delineate what we are seeing. Sure, it refers to an internal relationship of the structural form of the posture to the nervous system – by aligning skull and eyes to what is happening throughout the body, channels for optimum movement of prana are also aligned, thus improving the effects of the posture. But also dristi is a external seal of the relationship between inner and outer sight, or perception and attention.

Sutra 37 of the Radiance Sutras 112 Gateways to the Yoga of Wonder & Delight states :

nirvrksa giri bhitty adi dese drstim viniksipet
viline manase bhave vrtti ksinah prajayate

as translated by Lorin Roche :

go to a wide-open space
gaze without looking anywhere.

the mind stops its building of thoughts,
and rests on its own foundation –
immensity.

the light you see by
is the light that comes from inside.

By choosing one point or channel of focus, the mind is stilled. When the fluctuations of the mind are calm, the deeper knowing that the mind is capable of digesting, is more available. To look beyond the veil of what the outer eyes can see is to step through a gateway into the divine mystery of the boundless. A simple practice of concentration, which is where the dristi work fits in to the ashtanga system – the limb of dharana – becomes an open door to see beyond the obvious, to dream, to imagine, and to connect our single selves with something bigger. As we step over the threshold of tomorrow’s new moon, and Tuesday’s new season and new year with the sun’s drop into Aries for another round, mind where your eyes are. What is it you are looking to create? What has been taking up space on your screen? What do you see when your eyes are closed? What do you wish to gaze upon in the coming cycles? As you look with respectful, and curious eyes to your place in the universe, may you be lit up from the inside.

Big respect and Love, Suki Ola

time soup

if we had never forgotten
and were in a state of
always remembering

there is no mistake
in being here

we might fall
to our knees
in praise of a bee’s buzz
– their sting –
and harvest

we might be easier
about shitty behavior
and traffic
and rather, focus
on how
to heal a planet
a sick society
our children’s lungs
and their heartbreaks

we might
raise one another
up

it is
quite a magic thing
that any of us
are breathing
can laugh still
and ever
fall
in
love

that these miracles
go down alongside
the nightmares
and the way my heart fibers have known
a version of each
is enough proof

for me

time is a bending
resilient
thing, like us
brewing in
a well and slow-cooked broth

bones and aromatics
bubble away with
dreams
as garlic cloves,
bursting

days
duly become decades
and sip themselves
into
the eternal marrow of a
fortified invitation
to do something
with
and within
this living
simmering
soup

Love from the bubbling broth,

Suki

A Love Manifesto

To be made of Love, unquestionably

   To question everything in the search for Love

To walk in fullness, breathing deeply everyday

To touch the earth and everything living with defenseless courage

   And give thanks for every opportunity to love each other

To dream unconditionally and act Honestly

To create fearlessness where fear is Tempting

To be a fountain of Light where confusion abounds

To liquefy all that is solid in our hearts

    And enliven all that is weary

To listen to the crying of our sisters

To listen to the crying of our brothers

   and not grow bitter but strong

   with unwavering compassion and

   confidence, go forth in the direction

   of Freedom

To Honor our truest selves and remember

   Our spaciousness in Spirit

To celebrate each other uninhibitedly

   with the laughter and Love our deepest thirst is for.

                             Amen (Anonymous)

Home Fires

I’ve been putting off writing this and I know why. It’s an uncomfortable subject, perhaps not for you, the reader, but certainly for myself. The subject is homelessness. Not as an abstract idea, nor as a cause for social justice but actual, physical homelessness- specifically my own.

I spent a period of roughly two years homeless, victim to my own addictions and lack of skills necessary for coping in regular society. It wasn’t always easy and it wasn’t always hard. There were moments I wouldn’t trade for anything and there are memories I’d much rather not revisit. When you’re homeless you’re either anonymous or conspicuous. One turns out to be no better than the other. Engaged in the business of survival, it’s easy to forget that there’s a world beyond basic necessities or that you might have or deserve a place within it. This, then, becomes the crux of the matter; deserving, feeling worthy of . Yesterday when I awoke it had snowed five inches at my house. For a good twenty minutes I struggled with the question of whether to light a fire or not. It would seem a logical thing- the house was cold, I planned on being in it for the majority of the day, so why wouldn’t I? The why not is because I have conditioned myself over years to get by with less, to remain as unobtrusive as possible, to not be in the way or demand too much. Sure, the house is my own, the wood too, harvested and split and stacked by my own hand- but it doesn’t seem to matter. Somewhere within my being is a residual message telling me to deal with it, to not make a fuss.

Enter Yoga. So much of this practice for me is assimilating myself into a culture that I never thought I was allowed to be a part of. A culture that not only allows but encourages, nay, celebrates, self care. I sometimes tell the story of learning to take baths. Baths as opposed to showers. Luxuriation instead of utilitarian. The smallest things are the biggest things. This Yoga, this practice, to me at least, is about introspection. It’s about manifesting the best possible version of yourself so that you can be of service. That you might be available for what the world is asking of you and make no mistake, it is asking. You are necessary in the grand orchestra and divine play unfolding before you.

On Saturday evening, we will gather, as a community of caregivers, of ourselves and others. We’ll share stories, ideas, perhaps some tears. For the moment, I’ll be tending the fire.

In Love, Clint

 

Winter Poem

 

Winter Poem

Darkness closes in now

Cold, long nights

Crows call

Do not be fooled by bright days

They say

Winter is here

 

Stay in the stirring

Breathe

Deeper

 

Hold fast to center

Hug

Squeeze

Tuck

Yourself

Into yourself

 

It won’t be long

Before the days are long

Breeze

Cool like breath

Skin

Wet with heat

 

Prepare now

Sort seeds

Plan plots

Tend to tools

 

And dream

Bright, Wild, Beautiful Dreams

 

~ Genevieve Oswald

 

A good long rest

Good day and hello from the waning twilight of the year. Solstice is coming and the days are quick to finish here in the northern hemishphere. In the depth of the dark is an invitation, silent, invisible, palpable. When our outer eyes are intercepted by darkness, the gaze is turned inward, naturally. By turns, looking in can be calming and soothing, or intense and flashy (literally, flashes of light and images that reveal themselves when the outer eyes are closed). What do you see when you are not looking for anything? What presents itself to your mind and heart when you pause? What sensations do you feel when you are still?

We don’t grow in the light. Looking to the plant world for inspiration, we see that all growth happens in the dark, much occurring beneath the surface of the earth in root systems long before sunlight kisses sprouts. Photosynthesis, like the upright, day-to-day process, feeds us incredible amounts of information and room for growth. But without pausing in the quiet dark to rest, without digesting, all the details become scattered fields of data.

All this to remind you that with the commitment to come to the mat thirteen times in the next moon cycle, you guarantee yourself as many chances to integrate all the information you are harvesting in your life and practice, in savasana. I, personally, am committing to offer longer savasana in my classes through the end of the year. Yum. That’s a promise for everyone, but especially a branch extended in respect for all the To The Moon & Beyond peeps. Join me in movement, probably a whole bunch of caturangas, and stillness to steep in the brew.

Bowing to new beginnings with the coming solstice,

Love and Peace,

Suki Ola

No More Bah Humbug

There was a time when the Holiday season would really spark a deep agitation and discomfort within me. I was quickly the first to state I was a Humbug. My hum buggery at the time was grounded in what I considered sound mind, reasonable beliefs, and a fear of repeat past experiences. Bad past experiences.

I am happy to say my previous resemblance to Ebenezer Scrooge has morphed into something less severe and absolute. Not that I have swung so far across the pendulum to the other extreme, I am still far from a Holiday season lover. Nevertheless, the agitations I experience at this time of year are no longer glaring, constant, and without relief. I tell this tale of my past because from the Humbug’s point of view, a commitment to a yoga practice during this time of year is a great antidote to Scrooging out.

This year I’m not sure what I will do on Christmas day, but I do know that for the week leading up to Christmas and for the week after I will be getting on my mat in the company of others. I do know that such a commitment will create room for whatever experience I am having to be bigger, softer, smoother, fiercer, more relaxed, more pleasurable, or whatever the moment calls for. I know this from experience.

I know that through a commitment to the practice during the Holiday season, my own experience has become more bearable. I know that my commitment to practice during this time of year has enabled me to continually make more room. Not only in my body but also in the limited belief structures of my mind which were stifling my ability to previously experience these holidays with joy. Yoga does that, it makes room in the body, mind, and spirit.

While this year I am still not putting up a tree, nor will I be wrapping many gifts, I won’t be saying “Bah humbug”. That’s a thing of the past. I will be saying Namaste, 13 times or more, as the moon waxes to full and the year comes to a close. I will also be saying prayers of gratitude for all that has transpired for each new day to pass. I hope to share my gratitude, my Namaste, and Holidays with you.

With Love, Always, in All Ways, For Giving, In Joy,

Genevieve

 

slating time for magic

Perhaps the idea of adding another thing to your plate this holiday season is : tremendously challenging to get excited about, daunting, and even seems the impossible. Me too, a little. I feel a juggler, often, hurrying from one meeting and item on the list to the next, and reviewing at the end of the day an unpacked project that has been waiting in the wings, ignored, and calling my soul. I am a modern-day stress bug. Yoga seriously helps by for real slowing down my roll, especially when its crash-coursing along at a fever-pitch. Sometimes I literally crawl onto the mat, waiting for inspiration to come, and indulging in the pure space of a pause. Most of the time, the pause swings back around to movement. Some days, I just lie there, hardly moving a muscle on purpose.

They say that yoga actually expands one’s capacity and creates time, rather than gobbling it up. But if I pitched that to entice you to join me, I’d feel a bit of a pushy jerk. And to my individualistic and bullheaded brain that all sounds like a big should, which maybe makes you feel like running, faster. So I’ll just say I’m with you. In the middle of the holiday rumble, I am willing to make life an experiment and leave something left open for interpretation. The rest of the agenda is pretty clear – work, party, obligation, commute, blah blah blah. And the thirteen times slated for yoga are hours left free for the divine mystery to fill. And all we have to do is show up? What a relief.

Love, Suki Ola