Tag Archives: Truth

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.

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

 

 

The Chit of It

If you have found yourself ever asking the deeper why questions of life; ontological questions about the nature of existence, epistemological questions about the nature of consciousness, teleological questions about the specific purpose of reality, phenomenological questions about what consciousness experiences, and the weightiest of them all, questions of theodicy which pursue the reasons for suffering and evil, and the nature of pervasive good, well, perhaps we could call you a philosopher, a seeker, far out, or just a student on the path.  No matter the title or identity gained from being a deep thinker, what has the potential to arise as a result of these questions, aside from a common occurrence of more questions, is an understanding of the nature of Sat Chit Ananda, and the necessity of the Chit.

Continue reading The Chit of It