Tag Archives: self-awareness

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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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

Everything is medicine, and everything is poison.

The climate, literally, and in a broad view of humanity and politics, is feeling pretty v(olati)ile at the moment. And so, our opportunity to discern – to really truly get honest about what is helpful and life-affirming, and what is blighted behavior – is real. As autumn’s patina wends its way into the high desert sunshine and the gardens dry, I marvel at what the last year has brought. What a story I am tempted to tell about our lineage of human relationship with each other, and the planet! And I am aware that knowing what has gone down and how it got us to where we are, is invaluable information, but that the story, which lends itself to blame and shame, is venomous, and nary helpful.

In just the right proportion, at the right time, and for all the right reasons, we can take in poison, and heal. Shiva did it, we all have. I’ve also dosed inappropriately something I thought was “good medicine”, and made things way worse. Peppermint tea isn’t actually a panacea, and neither are antibiotics, this is the premise of the medicine-poison thing; nothing is for always.

People can also be medicine, and poison. Those we learn from, whether it feels delicious or bitter, are catalyzing change. We are all medicine people if we walk with awake eyes and hearts to how we affect each other, and we are pushing poison if we walk with closed-minded attachment to what is no longer true. Life is powerful! It is no small gift of being that we incarnated with human life. Wise living strikes the ultra-fine equinox balance between healing and harming inside of each breath.

And since we’re s’posed to be talking yoga, the asanas, pranayamas, and deep wisdom teachings of the yoga are also, medicine and poison, alike. Maybe one day a posture feels magic, and another, it causes pain. The pranayamas, inappropriately used, diminish life force, create stress, and can do serious harm. And scriptures written for the climate of a few thousand years ago may not be applicable verbatim to us, today in 2017, trying to figure out how to “be ahimsa”, or “cultivate peace” in the wake of bigoted buffoons playing as world leaders. Reading the news by default negates our opportunity to focus only on breath all the ding-durn day. We can’t do both, see? It feels dangerous to pretend to “stay cool” while watching devastating images of life destroyed, and a t-shirt that says “Namaste, Bitches” doesn’t feel loving to me, but who am I to say? Prescribed snippets of media-free moments, and critical doses of stress-relief during urgent times set the tone for healing in the now, and in the ancient ways. Small acts of self-and-together-care help us to rise from the ashes of judgement that keep us all down, and move forward in equity, respect, health, and love.

This is what healing looks like. I do believe that a guiding light and divine wisdom – God – is everywhere. And I commit to making and tending a thread of personal connection (context), between individual and the vastness, or else, I’m just prescribing unrealistic and ofttimes harmful concepts and practices. Anything we learn from is a guru. Taking the reins, then – even taking power back – is a process of making choices in every moment with intention (the thread), and willingness to transform (openness and humility amidst the vastly immeasurable spiritual stew of life-altering potential) through the experience. In the brewing process, maybe we learn to put poison into context, and make medicine with our words and actions that will actually begin to heal the wounds of the past? Apply love liberally.

Blessings for this equinox time, friends.

In deep respect,

Suki Ola

Contemplations on Supreme Consciousness

Everything is supreme consciousness. Supreme consciousness is as the heart of all things and simultaneously permeates all things. It is muted by the laws of maya, the veils of the koshas, and the bondage of the malas, appearing to be something other than it is. Atman, pure divine consciousness is as much a part of every living thing, as death is the fate of all things living.

Maya creates delusions of appearance. Also from maya arises illusions of reality. Such illusions are tied intrinsically to perceptions of identity, perceptions of ego, and perceptions of self in place. The essence of supreme consciousness is an eternal dance of Shiva and Shakti, the knowledge and the expression, the energy and the form, united and forever bound. In the Koshas, maya is the Shakti (the creative force of the universe) pulling us away from ourselves while simultaneously manifesting all that is beautiful about life itself.

Revealing themselves in five sheaths the koshas expressions are explained as follows. Annamaya Kosha, the physical sheath or even more literally the sheath of food. The body needs food for survival, without food hunger limits perception of the divine. Pranamaya Kosha, the energy or prana sheath is the vital force which produces the subtle vibrations related to breath and connects the physical body to its senses allowing the Atman to animate in the manifest world. Pranamaya Kosha ties perception of divine to the senses, if it is not tangible it does not exist. Manamaya Kosha, the sheath of the mind. The mind is the supervisor of information reception and distribution. Manamaya veils the capacity to clearly perceive thoughts and emotions without doubt and illusion. Vijnanamaya Kosha, the sheath of wisdom, the knower, the judge, the discriminator. In the delusion of the veil of maya the Vijnanamaya Kosha attaches wisdom to the story that is written by the outer sheaths. The koshas simply tie our identity to their veils of delusion. Liberation from these veils of consciousness enables supreme consciousness to reveal itself as the eternal center of experience and knowing. As the veils of the Koshas are lifted, perception expands.

In consort with the veils of the Koshas are the malas, the delusions of impurity. Anava-mala, Mayiya-mala, and Karma-mala all manifest in the human experience to create the illusion of finite and mundane experience. Anava-mala generates the experience of feeling incomplete and imperfect, it is the primary structure that creates the basis of the limited illusion of finite life. Mayiya-mala forms the perception of separation, the “I am alone and will always be alone” thoughts. Karma-mala creates and sustains the perception that one is unable to do anything of worth or value, that all efforts are without aim or satisfaction.

Why would supreme consciousness manifest itself hidden in the veils of such limited perception? Why would feeling incomplete and insecure be built into the fundamental principles of human being? Why would the capacity to know oneself as the essence of the nature of the supreme be veiled from consciousness by design?

It is said that the reason for human life in general is that supreme consciousness wanted to experience itself so it veiled itself from itself to be rediscovered again. In rediscovery is the revelation that generates such a spaciousness within that the amrita, the nectar of the bliss of knowing the nature of the divine becomes so sweet its flavor cannot be ignored. In revelation is connection, in connection is bliss. In life is forgetting so the dance can be done over and over again. Forget, remember, experience bliss, forget, remember, experience bliss, and on and on. The experience of the bliss becomes the incentive to stay committed to the practice of remembering. Over time the waves between remembering and forgetting get closer, get smaller, and are perhaps completely washed away when all that remains is supreme consciousness.

Additionally, when we allow ourselves to perceive everything as supreme consciousness than we allow ourselves to remember that are never really truly alone. Through such a perception we remember that we are connected by the web of consciousness, the breath of life, that from which all arises and all returns. We remember consciousness is what is at the heart of all energy and is what enables energy to align intelligently, to manifest into life forms that are more than rudimentary and single celled. We come to know without question that consciousness is what generates thought and simultaneously the energy that turns thought into action. If all of life arises from consciousness than all life is connected through consciousness. Even when the energetic imprint varies, it is consciousness that makes the imprint. So while an experience of life is so often singular, it is also an experience of consciousness as a whole, which ties all things together. Consciousness is the thread of connection, from nothing to something, from breath to action, from thought to form, from heart into the world.

Through the awareness of consciousness and the realization of deepest connection as a result of the web consciousness weaves we have the great opportunity to step out of questioning and self-consciousness and into confidence and community. The veils of maya lift, the bondage of the malas is broken, and all that remains is the supreme self. Self with a capital S.

 

With love, always, in all ways, for giving, in joy,

Genevieve

 

 

For today, a list of 8 things I believe that I know to be true :

Stay creative, stay open wide, and steer clear of certainty, for it mocks the spirit’s nature of freedom. As the noise of the news is deafening, and I can only stomach so much atrocious information at one time, this is my practice of late. It is like a sweet salve for the parts of me that border on obsession and anxiety to figure out the truth, right now, and fix the issue. My wise and candid Father recently emailed me a link to a list that well-advertised his disposition of keeping a beginner’s mind. One of the most curious humans I know, my father explores the world with childlike wonder. I am blessed to have such a teacher and guide, and found 25 Ways To Kill the Toxic Ego That Will Ruin Your Life to be a funny peek into the state of humanity. The precepts are simple, happy reminders to stay present. The language is wholly approachable, and each facet provides a conversational channel to deeper spiritual teachings.

How easy it is to be swayed into the camp of certain doom, and absolute disgust, when faced with the facts and anti-facts of today’s cacophonous media soundscape. But, I was reminded this week in a community talk about resiliency (thanks, Kyle and Jan!) that it takes time to digest hard information, just as I know so well the slow and uncomfortable process of digesting foods that don’t sit so nicely in my guts. I have been led by fear and anger to make sheer judgements based on fear-producing newscasts before, ok, many times, but am encouraged by things like this new-age-y list with decided inquiry. A doomed planet, rampant hate on and off the streets (in seats of office), and disarray in the pockets of policy that are supposed to be arranged so neatly are not the only news, they’re just the loudest. Reading through the lines is super hot right now, and there are bushels of good people doing good things to meet the challenges of an awkward start to 2017 on earth.

The recent momentum in industries of self-help, wellness, and practices like yoga points to a pursuit of health and peace and happy, as a cultural theme. I happily participate in these ultra-mod industries of wellness, and observe the irony of needing to be ever-reminded of one’s own innate capacity to heal. Plus, it’s nice to be in such abundant company. Thus, I am a student of yoga, every day, and I try to educate myself, reading: astrological forecasts; a slew of online news reports; spiritual wisdom journals; herbalism, meditation, yoga, wellness, and insight blogs; books. Certainly these are a curated set of horse’s mouths, and I choose them carefully, as every tidbit affects the scene and timbre of the day. Some days the ole’ guts are ready to absorb mainstream media, and some days, some things are just impossible to swallow.

The special brand of action that is born from curiosity, which leads to exploration, and then to glimmers of understanding, will well up inside of me if I wait and see what it looks like, feels like, tastes like, and breathes like. I believe that the wisdom that only comes from experience – prajna – is the good stuff. I know this, and I teach this. Yet, I forget. And at the risk of being too a cheerleader, which some days I am really into, We know this. We have gone down weirder paths before, together.

First on the 25 ways list, Epictetus, the Greek philosopher born as a slave (according to Wikipedia, where admittedly, much information first reaches the shores of my peering mind) is quoted to say, “It is impossible to learn that which one already thinks one knows.” Smart, Epictetus. How many times have I talked myself into being sure of something, only to be dashed on the rocks of mystery and chance?

When I think about it, the things I believe to be true fit it one rather small basket. And when I falter, and question the relevancy of what my teaching yoga has to do with anything at all, I recall that these spare lessons feel universal, and totally relevant right now:

Love is a resilient, unbreakable, and indelible force;

Life is fragile;

Health is a balancing act;

Yoga helps me, most of the time;

Breath is happening, but breathing is more fun;

Peace takes effort, and has got to come from inside;

Trust your gut;

All is shifting all the time, so let it, as certainty can surely kill: creativity, the mood, and will at least put a rude scratch into the perfect mirror of divine mystery. 

Love and deep respect, Suki

Ever-evolving trust and small cheese

Discomfort, bred from recognizing what would benefit to change, comes with the territory in any self-awareness practice, like yoga. To see the habits, thoughts and attachments that no longer serve the highest is the beginning of purifying the mind and body to serve the spirit. It is just this awkward state of self-reflection that has driven much of my yogic studies along. I feel liberated when I realize an old pattern has changed, and despite knowing all it takes to transform, am tickled by the occasional feeling that it that all arose out of the blue. Sometimes I forget where I began and sometimes it just takes that long…

What a yogi chooses to do with this knowingness is a key to maintenance of happiness and ease. One option is to focus the mind on releasing that which so blatantly blocks evolution. “I will no longer eat cheese”, (as it upsets my stomach). “I will stop talking negatively to my body”, (for I believe that I am well). “I will release a poverty consciousness around earning and allowing for abundance”, (I know that I am worthy). Here are examples of affirmations I have fiddled with in the past. Their repetition and practice served, in a way, to infuse my world with new concepts and perspectives, surely.

But I found myself fixated on more adversity than I had hoped for. “Cheese”, “negative talk”, and “poverty consciousness”, were words I was repeating daily and my mind was lapping it up with a big spoon. The mind can only do so much with the information it is served and will focus on what is presented with regularity, whether or not it is the heart’s desire to shift just that thing. All this time and my practice was attaching deeper roots to just what I wished to forgo. My small prayers were contradicting the natural course of their very spacious nature.

Lately, as laissez faire as it may seem, I choose to pray big and accept that now is the time to release ALL that no longer serves. Trust in the process anchors such a capacious invocation. With these words, I honor all the work that has been done to carve deep canyons of possibility into the matter of mindstuff, and bodystuff, and all humankindstuff. This new way is neither positive nor negatively charged, it simply is full reverence for the magic power of manifestation. As little habits slither off into oblivion, deeper patterns of thought and behavior are also sent down the happy path of letting go. All in the universe is metaphor, each singular thing reflecting and refracting the light of another, and we as light beings are doing the same. Why not trust that one wide current of calling is enough? Now we’re talking powerful stuff, which is prayer, if we leave the gates open.

With love and respect for the process, Suki

Unwrapping the Gifts of Self-Awareness

As a student of yoga I find great value in understanding the gifts of the practice. However, there are so many gifts to the practice that understanding them all in a short window of an hour or an hour and a half is beyond the scope of reason. As would be expounding them in a short blog post. Rather, one at a time we unfold the wrapping of these magnificent presents, on and off the mat, in pursuit of truly understanding this wealth of knowledge that has been developing for centuries.

One of the most beautiful of the gifts of the practice is the profoundly rewarding gift of self-awareness. In the context of yoga, the practice of tuning our being into a state of continuous harmony with our hearts, our motives, our relationships, and our environments, self-awareness is the necessary tool to get the job done well. When we come to the mat and our gaze turns in, toward our breath and our body, it is essentially also an act of reaching into our toolbox to grab our tuning instruments.

Thousands of channels of energy run through our bodies. From the more gross channels of veins, nerves, muscles and connective tissues to nadis, belief structures, and the states of being in our hearts, we are constantly experiencing energy in motion.   Sometimes the movement of energy through these countless channels becomes blocked, resulting in discord, discomfort, disease, and distress. The combined efforts of pranayama, asana, and contemplation, practiced in a consistent manner over an extended period of time, result in the clearing of such blockages, the healing of illness, the reduction of stress, and the harmonizing of the fragmented aspects of an unintegrated whole.

The significance of the practice and its effects on ones life are as multitudinous as the various asana poses, schools of yoga, and thoughts that run through ones head in the course of a lifetime. Over time, just as with the many aspects of the self, with return to the practice more and more will be revealed, assimilated, and transformed into something of use and value. Such gold then becomes useful on and off the mat to bring more luster into ones life, more choruses of harmony, and more sweetness of ease. This is the kind of gift that we unwrap over the course of our disciplined practice. This is the power of self-awareness that in time reveals much more than just that which first meets the eye.

“Practice and all is coming.” –Pattabhi Jois

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

Genevieve