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On Binding, Commitment, and the Teacher that Is Struggle

Baddha Parsvakonasa because I had some things to work out in my spine and side bodies, in my heart and mind. Also, Go Warriors.

Baddha Parsvakonasa because I had some things to work out in my spine and side bodies, in my heart and mind. Also, Go Warriors.

I tell my students that our practice of yoga is seldom about all the fancy and interesting shapes we can but out body into; but instead is about putting our body into shapes, and then practicing being present there. Sometimes the shapes are striking, or lovely, or impressive, at least on the outside. Sometimes they're easy; sometimes they're quite complicated. 

This morning I found myself craving practices that would require a bit more effort, would on appearance, confine and prevent expansion, but would have an effect of creating more space, more energy, more movement and expansion and rest. So I found myself in the shape above and some others: twisting, binding, contortions that are (for me) challenging. There isn't any great, cool epiphany that I experience in bound side angle pose; I practice expanding into integrity in this shape, I make sure the bind isn't inhibiting my alignment; I enjoy breathing into the shape, and trying to make sure that I'm dwelling with my breath, listening to it, and staying present in the posture and sensation. 

This kind of practice is important to me because of how often it mirrors day-to-day. Professional challenges, relationships, desires, even attempts at personal growth, can all be fraught with struggle and obstacle. This week I celebrated my seventh wedding anniversary with my husband. I sometimes want to use the word struggle, along with words like laughter, joy, affection, intimacy, connection, to describe the last seven (to ten) years. They haven't been consistently easy: we've fought, and sometimes quite ugly; each of us has experienced personal struggle that has required a lot of the other. I believe deeply in the personal, admirable, and brave choice to commit one's life to another person, because there's a lot in our current world that seeks to supersede, compromise, or even destroy that commitment. I think we're still married not because we're scared of being apart from the other, or because we're lazy, or because we won't let the bastards get our marriage. I think we're still here because each day, with all of its snares and vines, we'd still rather do life together than apart.

So, in marriage, like at work, like in yoga practice, like when I'm faced with fear or a journey that feels so uphill as to seem perfectly vertical, I put myself in the shape, and I take it one breath at a time. This isn't really a post about marriage; commitment to another, like any yoga posture, is just an opportunity to look closely at yourself in a particular shape, and see where we are gripping or holding, where we're working too hard, where we might need a bit more integrity or discipline, or where an adjustment from a pair of loving hands might be in order. The challenge of the posture, like the challenge of relationship--work, platonic, romantic, and individual--serves us as a mirror to show us our tendencies, our blind or weak spots, our successes and growths, and allows us to continue to seek openness, non judgment and equanimity, one breath at a time. 

I won't say anything quite so hackneyed as, embrace the struggle. (It's in the yoga teacher handbook, but I want to roll my eyes at that one.) But I will say sometimes a shape you find yourself in is hard, and that struggle has something to teach you. It can't teach us if we're too busy complaining about how hard it is, or if we're trying to force it, or backing off it because we're scared. All we can do is find the deepest shape we have access to, breathe and witness.

One Yogi's Guide to Self-Care

Taken mid-run on a gray morning when I was thinking about what possessed me to start running in the first place. There are moments when I hate it, but more moments when I am surprised by how strong, clear, and capable I feel.

Taken mid-run on a gray morning when I was thinking about what possessed me to start running in the first place. There are moments when I hate it, but more moments when I am surprised by how strong, clear, and capable I feel.

[white people] are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it they cannot be released from it... if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.
— James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Initially I started this post with some confessions about my shitty self-care routine, but after some reflection, I realized that was just dumb and shallow. If you wanna know about my "guilty pleasures", you can ask, but we have some real talk to get on with. Things are different now, our work is different, and our self-care game needs to be as tight as our self-education, self-study, ally and advocacy game.

Shit just got real for some of us, right? Some of us have known the ugliness, the contagion, the destructive power of white supremacy and patriarchy for some time; others are only now just beginning to see how silent, insidious and dangerous it is. Our priorities are shifting. Many of us are feeling a sense of urgency. Hopefully, for all our sake's, rather than dissolving into myopic apathy, that urgency is being galvanized into a change that, one drop at a time, will rain down justice on all of us, washing away the fascism and corruption that is a real, credible, and determined threat to our lives and future generations. 

I am not exaggerating.

So some of us are doing the work, right? We're putting safety pins on our shirts and writing checks and hopefully we're calling our congresspeople and our president; we're organizing, we're marching, we're learning, we're thinking and digging and having deep conversations. But this work is fatiguing. For those of us new to advocacy and resistance, without resources, we can burn out fast. And don't let me front, I'm as new to resistance as any of us; I am less new to reflection, self-study and self-care. With that in mind, I wanna encourage us to enact some real, healthful self-care rituals, and to reflect on what self-care actually means.

 

Self Care Increases Awareness

We have all had the day/week/month/season where we just wanted to shut the world out, pull the covers over our heads, and come out when the storm has passed. Pain is real, and sometimes it feels intolerable: makes it hard to speak, hard to breathe, and feels like it will never go away. When that pain comes day after day after day, sometimes all you want is whatever will allow you not to feel it. Maybe it's weed, or chocolate, or anonymous sex, or online poker, or carbs, or bourbon, or gossip, or cruelty. Maybe it seems victimless or harmless. Whatever that practice is, it's not self-care, it's anesthesia. (And make no mistake: you engage in a behavior--gossip, junk food, avoidance, attachment, contempt, disgust, self-hatred--often enough and it becomes practice. Patterns establish ruts in the mind, and crawling out of those ruts and building new ones takes effort.)

Anesthesia does not make you feel better. It makes you feel nothing. It deadens your sensations. Some part of this is appealing in your pain, or fatigue, and you want it to be over. But underneath all that fatigue and pain is a tiny voice that says, I don't want to give up, but I need help! I need a break! Pay attention to that voice: it's not asking to be abused or numbed or silenced; it's asking for care and generosity. If you feel like that little voice is gone, and you can't hear it anymore, call someone

The difference between anesthesia and self-care is that self-care is generous. It gives something to you: rest, energy, a needed change in perspective, a chance to stretch and grow. It doesn't turn the volume down on all the things, and take from you. It gives you the strength, resources and resilience to keep doing the work.

 

Yoga is not Anesthesia

Feeling is the essence of life. Without feeling, we are not quite human. The real value of our asana practice is that, as we do pose after pose with awareness, we are inviting more sensitivity into our bodies and our lives. We are learning to tune in and feel. So we not only feel BETTER, but we FEEL better.
— Aadil Palkhivala

Self-care doesn't make you feel less, or nothing. It sometimes doesn't make even make you feel better. In my experience, self-care provides me with the tools I need for processing, for resting, and for understanding who I am in any particular context, so that I can show up from a more whole place within myself, even if that place is flawed, broken, vulnerable. While self-care can include pleasure, for me it takes a lot of conversations with myself about what would the best practice be that will help me be a better more whole version of myself as I move toward the work of providing spaces for healing, growth and compassion.

I know a lot of folks who go to yoga so they can tune out. Yoga class somehow seems less self-involved to us than playing online poker for countless hours, or holier than picking up a stranger to crawl into bed with us so we don't have to be alone. But underneath the Sanskrit and the talk of moving prana, when we use yoga as a means of not-feeling, we might as well be popping a Xanax with a white wine chaser.

Here's the thing: yoga wasn't designed as anesthesia. It's true, you can use it literally as pain relief: you can heal an aching back, or strengthen weak joints, you can lose weight and build strength and muscle tone. But the physical practice is just one of eight elements, and while yoga's goal is to "still the fluctuations of the mind", that stillness is not in pursuit of forgetfulness, numbness, and distance. 

"Yoga applies endurance, learning and commitment. It reduces alienation and cultivates empathy." Endurance, learning, commitment, empathy: what part of that sounds like, you won't feel quite as bad anymore? If this really is what our practice is--not (just) a strong back, flexible hips and the ability to strike an Instagram-worthy pose--if our practice is about reducing alienation (so you can connect with others, even those you feel aversion for) and cultivating empathy (especially with those you feel aversion for), then if we're using it as pain relief or as a bliss booster shot, we're missing something. We may be engaging in a practice of physical fitness, we may be infusing our body with fresh oxygen, and we all know how good that can feel. But we can grow our yoga beyond that. 

In threads of yoga, quoted above, Matthew Remski names the eight limbs of yoga: "relationship to other, relationship to self, poise, freedom of breath, freedom of senses, focus, contemplation and integration." (Can you spot asana in there somewhere?) He writes, "Contact with the other (yama) establishes your personhood (niyama), which is enhanced by groundedness (asana). Silent reverie upon the internal space of selfhood (pranayama through samyama) prepares you for a richer experience of otherness." This isn't what we usually hear from the solitary, ascetic practice of withdrawal in pursuit of Divinity. Even with our pocket computers and earbuds and all the ways we have to simulate connection with each other that practice certain and powerful alienation, the yoga practice at its most useful for us now can be one of a constant dance of moving in and down into ourselves, to more efficiently, fully and compassionately reach up and out to our community.

All this to say: when you feel shitty, go to yoga. If nothing else, the breathing and the moving will do you some good. Even so, be mindful of how you use the practice. If you find yourself craving the hard sweat and the pushpushpush when the shit is on top of you, remember: the most challenging physical practice that will make you forget may not be the right one for you. Those of us who consistently gravitate toward a vigorous practice should ask ourselves, am I using the practice as a distraction from something else? If you need not to think about the work, the problem, the stress for an hour, bless you. I understand. Leave it at the door, do your practice, and step back to it with renewed clarity and compassion. But be careful with the instinct to practice in pursuit of feeling less. If your practice is doing its job, you may be feeling more.

Self-Care is a Strategy for Resistance

We are committed to collectively, lovingly and courageously working vigorously for freedom and justice for all Black people, and by extension all people. As we forge our path, we intentionally build and nurture a beloved community that is bonded together through a beautiful struggle that is restorative, not depleting.
— "Restorative Justice", Guiding Principles of Black Lives Matter movement

For the long-term, you'll want to establish a useful, sustainable self-care schedule/ritual that will ultimately be feeding and nourishing for you. You will know it's working when you can Show Up in the world for others without feeling overextended or exhausted. So often we spend our time slinging our feelings all over one another and then to cope we collapse and act out; I invite you to step into a self-care practice that is more supportive, useful, and sustainable.

As our energy starts to go out more often--as we're advocating for others, doing deep, and sometimes painful, self-study, as we're showing up more fully in the world--we find a struggle to strike a balance between putting resources in so we can put resources out. In some sense, your self-care ritual, like social justice, like self-improvement, like yamasvadhyaya and samyama, doesn't end, you're ever done; some days or seasons it feels easier to pursue than others. But we must do our best to stay consistent with our practices. Our community depends on us. 

So, important things to remember about self-care practices:

1. breath

This can't be surprising coming from a yogi. Prioritize your breath. You don't have to know a bunch of fancy techniques; even a few slow, conscious, deep breaths can go a long way toward bringing your awareness in with compassion. The time to take a breath gives us a chance to assess what it is we're feeling. If you can't do it in one, take another. Then take another. Use the breath to help teach you about what's going on in/with you, and if/when you're feeling especially triggered, make it dark and quiet (pratyahara: sanmukhi mudra, anyone?) and listen to your breath. Whether you're active or still, working gently or vigorously, study and care for your breath, and let it take precedence. The more I engage in the physical practice of yoga, the more I learn that for all of the fancy posture pyrotechnics that are a part of the yoga zeitgeist, the Oldheads had it right: pranayama is where the power, the gifts, the fruits really are.

2. bravery

Self-care takes bravery. Most people opt out of real, radical care for themselves. It's the reason that we lack the physical, energetic and relational resources to Show Up. It's easier to smoke Camel lights and eat Hot Fries (true story) than it is to examine what goes into us and how it effects what goes out. We're too scared to make the effort. It's hard to make yourself vulnerable by standing up for people who need allies, or to educate people who are too afraid to acknowledge their own ignorance. Think of self-care as an opportunity to practice behavior that will make it easier for you to be the person you want to be in community with others. A 20-minute nap or yoga nidra practice is powerful compared to an hour of video games. Foods and supplements that help you build muscle and release toxins are more effective long-term than a red-eye at the coffee shop or a 5-hour energy drink from the 7-11. If you are anything like me, choosing positive, nourishing habits over ones that feel easier but also depleting, this practice takes effort, and might not always be fun. But consider the bravery you're showing by making this choice. Don't abandon yourself. Your health and life are important enough for you to care for, and not to treat cavalierly. You need you, and we need you too. 

3. joy

Let it feel good: not the junk-food/anesthesia/acting out good, but genuinely good, the good you feel when you've accomplished something challenging, when you've gotten restorative body work done, at the end of a nourishing savasana. Learn to discern between the plastic-y, false sheen of "good" that frankenfood and habitual negativity can offer, and the clear, light, joyous freedom that sleep, movement, and laughter have in store. Laughter is key, do not forsake it. Laughter softens your belly, deepens your breath, improves your immunity, and releases hormones into your bloodstream that lower stress. Baby goats in pajamas, episodes of Too Cute, Kevin Hart, Russell Peters, Ali Wong, reruns of CarTalk, whatever does it for you: let laughter be a part of your ritual. Nature is also good: sunshine, dirt, damp pellets that fall from the sky. Water is life. The Earth is your mother. Spend time with her.

4. stillness

I am generous with definitions of this world, but I'll tell you this: it just about never has a screen involved. The world is pulling at you, seeking, craving, demanding your attention, so much so that it will lie to you without shame. (again, not exaggeration. don't be scared or confused. be informed.) Your attention is in small supply and high demand. You must carve time out of whatever else you're doing for stillness. For real: the legit, no-distractions full presence to be with yourself. Sleep is important, but sleep does not count. It's harder than it sounds, and it sounds hard. Be compassionate, but be vigilant. Your mind will run away, will throw anything up in front of you so you don't have to dwell in the stillness and quiet. Don't get pulled down the path of cognitive or analytical thought. With love and determination, pull your mind away from the distraction and back to the stillness. Maybe you need a mantra to repeat, maybe you need a place to rest your gaze, maybe you need a sound, whatever. Make it analog, make it consistent, and make it still.

5. humanity

In a workshop I took with Eric Shaw, he taught us that technologies of renunciation build tapas, remove us from our patterns and clarify us. That's fancy yogaspeak for the idea that giving up some of the day-to-day luxuries we take for granted can shake us up enough to allow clarity and lightness be present within us. Sounds good, right? I take it with a grain of salt, though, because I think that sometimes, some of us (and my hand is in the air here) can get carried away on the track in pursuit of "self-care" and wind up back in a pattern of monastic self-righteousness and judgement. So, stay human with yours, don't take this too seriously. 

Sometimes You Need Anesthesia

There's a reason the doc knocks you unconscious before she slices you open: there are some thresholds of pain that are simply unsafe and unwise for the body to experience. You know and I don't what your thresholds for pain and trauma are; I'm not going to tell you that you have to feel all the feels all the time. It's fucking exhausting. So: what you need is online poker? Okay. Set a timer for how long you'll play, how much you'll win or lose, and stick to it. What you need is anonymous sex? I get it. Be safe: ask the right questions of your partner (you don't need to know their name, but you do need to know when they were last tested for Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and HIV), and use a barrier. And if you need more conversation about what safer sex means, come talk to me or one of my colleagues. What you need is shitty food and shittier tv? I understand. Eat out of a bowl, not out of the container or the bag, and set an alarm, so you don't blink and six hours has gone by. We all need to act out sometimes, and if you do, do it and bless it; but put some boundaries on that shit, and keep your word. Make a choice for the future you that the present you will act out wisely. Be willing to accept the consequences of your anesthesia. They can sometimes be quite costly.

I'll say one final thing about self-care, especially for those of us who tend to output more than we input. A consistent, sustainable routine is indispensable. Burnout is real and dangerous. Do not abandon others because you could not take care of yourself. Word of that shit gets around. Your community needs you; better to give what you can and not more, than overdo it and leave someone who's depending on you holding the bag. We gotta keep taking care of ourselves so we can keep taking care of each other. 

 

Bonus: what does my self-care look like? I practice. I seldom do fancy shit that would look good on a magazine cover. I often do postures that move my spine through a full range of motion, deepen my breath and allow me to feel more at ease in my body, about 30 minutes, if I'm lucky. I run. I sit with my breath. I read. As often as I can, I practice this: it is everything. If I could, I'd do it daily. I chant: the body is 70% water. Sound moves more efficiently through water than air; I repeat sounds and words that are life-giving. When I have time, I engage the world around me and I light candles and throw cards and make a little magic.

Woke Yoga

Because sometimes I need my calming, nature images to have a little more backbone.    Because I am out of time. I can no longer afford for yoga to only be the feel-good, self-aggrandizing love fest anymore. I need yoga to wake the fuck up. And you may not know it, but you need it too. 

Because sometimes I need my calming, nature images to have a little more backbone.  

Because I am out of time. I can no longer afford for yoga to only be the feel-good, self-aggrandizing love fest anymore. I need yoga to wake the fuck up. And you may not know it, but you need it too. 

On November 8, I went to work, I provided care, I taught a class, and I voted.

I spent that evening and most of November 9 weeping in rage and terror.

I am not gonna talk about why I feel traumatized and betrayed but not surprised. I am not gonna talk about what a painful reminder the 2016 election has been of what our country is, what fear, what hatred, what racism, lives vibrant and healthy in our nation. (because this is current and not just history, fuck history, time moves in a spiral, and history is repeating itself.) 

I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.
— James Baldwin

Instead, I wanna talk about how we as yogis respond.

Part of my training as a yoga teacher was more or less this: leave your politics at the door. Your work as a teacher is not about what you think or what you want. It begins and ends with your ability to facilitate safety, growth and healing for every student who walks into your shared learning space. 

It seems pretty sound advice. But I'm not sure it's possible.

My politics can't stay at the door. My politics come with me, in my skin, my eyes, my lips, my hair, my voice. I'd argue the same is true of every teacher in this country, whether we acknowledge it or not, whether we even know it or not. The fact of my body in the room, especially at the "front of the room" has political weight. This is a reality I have no control over. Being a black woman in the seat of the teacher has meaning. That meaning might change depending on who else is in the room with me, but it's not gonna go away, no matter what I wear, what voice I affect, what practice I teach. I'm not afraid of it, and I'm not going to pretend it isn't there. And now, if it's possible, being a black woman in the seat of the teacher has even more meaning, than it did last week. To leave politics at the door is an act of privilege, it's a privilege I don't share, and frankly, I don't think any of us can afford it.

Like many of us, I was all up in my screens during the aftermath of the election--what a strange phrase, "aftermath" like a natural disaster--and in my FB and Instagram feeds were posts from teachers I respect, some I know closely, some I've never met: photos of sunrises and fields of flowers and abstract watercolors: posts about how we're all gonna be okay, how the sun keeps coming up every day and there's a lesson in that for all of us, how the practice is about cultivating equanimity, work without detachment, even when times are tough.

All I could think was, don't fucking tell me it's gonna be okay, don't fucking talk to me about equanimity, don't fucking talk to me about detachment. I don't want to hear about peace and self-care. I fear for my life. I fear for the lives of my clients, and some of my students. Less Shiva on the mountain top, more Kali liberating motherfuckers by chopping off heads.

(I know, scholars, I know. I get that Kali liberates us from our ego, and her destructive force is what helps us not to identify with our bodies. I live in America, where to disengage from my body is to put it at risk of annihilation by a force that doesn't seek my liberation, that only seeks the annihilation of black bodies in America. So just, work with the metaphor.)

It's true, I'm in my feelings in a big way. No, that's not the right language: I feel terrorized by the nation I call home. This feeling is not new. It might lessen in the passing of time, but it will never leave: I'm a black woman in America. If you can't understand why the undercurrent of terror in my existence is real, you have more reading to do. 

I struggle with posts like these, wherein yoga/pranayama/samyama are identified as the tools of healing-as-detachment, because they feel somehow rooted in abandonment. They seem to say, yes, shit is bad, but don't feel that bad here, in the yoga space. Here, you should return to your practice of detachment and ignore all other input. That will be a healing practice for you. I do not believe denial is healing. It's dangerous.

Yoga is not a vacation. It can be restful, but it is not rest. Whatever your effort level, yoga is a constant practice of attention, reflection, and interrogation, and that takes effort. To sell yoga as a place where suddenly politics don't matter, where suddenly part of what you feel and struggle with isn't real anymore, is just dishonest.

If the manifestation of equanimity in your practice means you distance rather than engage with the world around you--if you don't look for ways to actively support the people of color in your life, the Trans* folk, the immigrants, the Muslims, the workers, the women--if it means, white yogis and yoginis, that you are not having difficult conversations with other white yogis and white friends and family about how you reach for those of us on the margins, how you show up for we who are even less safe now, then regardless of what you can do with your breath or your body, your practice is failing you. 

Let me say that again, simpler:

if your practice and its fruits do not motivate you to seek the rights of others in our world to be free, to breathe, to live and work with as much access, freedom, and safety as you have, then your practice is failing you. It is failing you, and failing your community. 

Fuck yes, it is a bold statement.

There's a beckoning tangent here about the history of the yogini as a person on the margin and how we gotta put ourselves where our yoga ancestors began, but instead of following it, I ask, why do we try to soothe so quickly and so certainly after collective trauma? Why do we need to keep telling ourselves and others to calm down, to take care, to take the good and the bad with equal detachment?  Why are we in such a hurry to move people out of their feelings?

I think some of us are afraid of the conflict inherent in politics. Conflict is not serene, it's not equanimous; it's unpredictable, dangerous, potentially damaging, like a power tool in the hands of a toddler. How do we achieve oneness with the Absolute if we've got our knickers in a twist and our blood pressure all hiked up about something? How can I listen for the whisper of the Divine if I'm shouting all the time? Knowing that I'm in conflict with a member of my community makes it harder for me to practice beside them, right? 

I understand. Most of us don't do conflict well enough not to be scared of it. But conflict can be real, powerful, AND deeply compassionate. We can fight for what is right, what is just and even merciful, without hardening our hearts to do so, and without hating or harming our neighbors. We have so many examples of how to do this. Jesus got mad. Jesus flipped tables and marched in streets. He also sat quietly, and he knew how to sacrifice for others. I learned recently that when Martin Luther King was here in Chicago marching with others for fair housing rights, a young white man on the street was spitting and cursing and throwing bottles at him and others. He walked up to this young man and said, "You are too smart and too good looking to be so full of hate." We hold them up as saints now, but they were just humans, like us. It's possible.

I also think it has to be said in our capitalist yoga society, that to publicly acknowledge, avow and affirm opinions that aren't popular with all people can cost you clients. Because politics breed conflict, and because people don't like conflict, if you bring to them rhetoric that challenges them, they won't stay. Or they won't come back. While we as yoga teachers say we want to help others manifest growth, healing and connection, we also want to feed our families and keep our kids in shoes. Right now we are stuck in (complicit in?) a system that grinds us into yoga-sparkle dust trying to do both of these things. And so we have to try not to sacrifice our morals and values in pursuit of earning a living and hope that throwing conscious crumbs before our students is enough, or we choose to sacrifice our values and live with the consequences of that dissonance. (Hint: chronic illness, consistent conflict in relationship, scorn, resentment, contempt and self-hatred are all symptoms of life with that dissonance.) Angela Jamison has written about this brilliantly, beautifully, here, and Mathew Remski's essay in this book makes me want to snatch up a few of my like-minded teachers and do some real radical shit. I can only say that for all the deep, deep, lifelong-lasting love I have for this work, it is unsustainable in its current economic model.

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.
— Audre Lorde

Some of you are out there asking, "But how? What do I do?"

Sigh. Better writers than me have answered this question for you, and the answers are out there, but you have to find them. Stop posting selfies in your newest pose like it's a pair of shoes, quit scrolling for the next yoga challenge, and go to the library.  

1. Read like a yogini. That is to say, read with skillful attention, and read the stuff you've never read but need to read. Don't ask your friends of color or your LGBTQ friends to build you a reading list, hoping you can use it as a bonding opportunity, and thinking that they'll love to teach you. We/They won't. We love you, but we're all too busy trying not to get harassed or beaten or killed. Need a place to start? HuffPo put this list together, and Bustle put this one together. There's some overlap, but not a ton, so look at both, and there is both fiction and nonfiction, so no excuses. Include this list also, because revolution must be intersectional. Add The Color Purple, and everything written by Audre Lorde. Here's a digital thread of essays via Twitter that can whet your attention. These are not exhaustive lists: there is no paramount list for what to read that makes you an ally. Take control of your education like your very life depends on it. Because it does; millions of lives depend on it. (Also, podcasts: CodeSwitch, Another Round, On Being, Black Girl in Om, these are just a few of my favorites).

2. Listen like a yogini. Just as you would in a challenging posture, breathe and listen to what arises. Find an environment where you're in the minority, white yogini. Start the difficult conversation with someone, with many someones, who are on the margins. Don't burden your friends of color or LGBTQ friends or Muslim friends with your anguish and white liberal guilt; ask them questions that make you uncomfortable, and listen closely to the answers. Don't react or get defensive: this is the equivalent of gripping or forcing in asana. Work compassionately with your boundaries and be courageous. 

3. Own your shit like a yogini. Yoginis see things as they are, and are honest about the reality, whatever it is. When a yogini finally nails that arm balance, she doesn't stand up and crow. She might feel a brief flutter of joy, an instant kiss of samadhi on the forehead, but as soon as she feels it, it's gone, and eventually that arm balance becomes just another pose. When a yogini falls out of a posture, she doesn't curse herself and whine about it to her friends. She shrugs, and blesses her body.  This is charged work, and your injury, defensiveness, resistance will come up. Know what is yours, own what is yours, and don't spill it onto someone else.

4. Stretch like a yogini. As a student of yoga, and especially a teacher of yoga, your job is to raise the vibration of our collective consciousness, and that doesn't, can't and won't happen just in the yoga space. Your work in the studio is beautiful, powerful, but it's also not enough. I promise you those of you who believe your dharma is to teach yoga, it does not begin and end at the doors of the studio; the whole world is your classroom, and you must find ways to embody and to teach skillful action, compassion, and reflection to all the people, in all the places you go, even the ones that scare you. Yoginis regularly put themselves in postures that are  uncomfortable; at some point, you will have to roll up your mat, leave the conversations of oil-pulling and basti and Patanjali behind, and step into the dirty, strange world and act. (And dear God, I am not talking about that "let's take yoga to Africa" weirdness. I believe it comes from good intentions, but so did missionaries and crusaders. It is colonialism and misappropriation, and I can hardly look at it.) I am not saying there is only one way to act consciously. Acts of protest are not homogeneous.  But if your growth and aid is going to do anything more than stroke your own ego, it's gonna have to move into capital-C Community. 

One final word of what you can expect from me, as a growing teacher: I am not gonna tell you not to be angry, or sad, or terrified. These are difficult, unpleasant feelings, for us when we experience them, and for our community when others experience them with us. But feeling them is important. You'll move through things at their own pace, but moving through it is also important. Don't try to process faster for anyone else's benefit, and ignore anyone who tells you to "get over it"; they're projecting their discomfort onto you. Give yourself the time, the permission, and the space you need. I am gonna keep you and others safe while you're feeling these feelings. I'm also gonna do the work and champion the rights of people at the margins with all I have, with all I am. I am gonna call out white supremacy, hatred, violence and injustice on the street and in the studio with equal compassion and clarity. I'm gonna feel what I feel without being ruled by it, and I'm gonna create a safe space for you to be with your feelings so you don't even think about mine. I'm probably gonna offer you some woo-woo as well, because I believe in it. But my woo-woo is gonna be firm on our earth, because that's where we are. 

And because I love you, I'm gonna keep poking you with a stick. I Need You to Do The Work.

Autumn Observations

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What an interesting time of year Autumn is: both literally and energetically, there's this ramping up of energy as students of all ages return to school, as people stow memories of summer vacations and adventures and prepare for the hard work and digging in required of winter survival. It's never been my favorite season. Maybe because my birthday is in the summer, maybe because of my Ayurvedic signature, maybe because I'm still a kid at heart, but Fall always feels like saying goodbye to all my favorite things and preparing to endure an interminable season of discomfort, darkness and stagnation.  

Bleak.  

So the last several years, I've made up my mind to try to welcome this change in the season: I seek to explore the gifts of Autumn, to treasure its colors, delight in its harvest and engage in practices that will make Fall and Winter rewarding and not depleting. 

This year, I made a big deal of the Equinox. At the beginning of the month, I took a few weeks to change some physical habits. Every morning for a week or so, I took abhyanga, I ate a Kitcheree monodiet for five days, and I I worked with a specific mantra to help my cultivate some of the grounding energy that had felt so elusive for much of the late summer. 

I had some help too. Mercury went into retrograde, and there were two eclipses with the new and full moon; those of you who follow the astrology know that bodes for a season of lots of upheaval. And there was. I looked really closely at some behavior patterns I engage in, I reflected on some injuries I've been hauling around for too long, and I got my feelings hurt repeatedly. The intersection of all this caused me to do a lot of internal work as well, ask myself questions like, "why are you mad no one is offering that which you clearly don't want?" "If you don't care about this, why does it bother you so?" "What is this really about?"

All of this together let me to set a whole crop of new intentions. And it led me to a mala.  I wanted to mark the season change with a ritual that would physically and energetically allow me to observe the change in the light, the air, the temperature and energy, and to remind me that as there is a change with-out, there can be a change with-in. I decided to set aside some time to do 108 sun salutations. I went to my friend, Adam, and said, "Hey, man, I want to do a mala, to observe the Equinox this fall. You wanna join me?"

Adam, in his full enthusiastic affirmation, was totally down, and when the two of us put our heads together, we came up with a ritual that we opened up to our community of friends, teachers and fellow practitioners. On September 22nd, early on a Thursday morning, we all met at our home studio, and chanted together, and observed the dawning of the Autumnal Equinox with moving ritual.

(Maybe later, I'll write a how-to about setting up your own mala, your own ritual of 108 salutations to mark the new year, or new season, or a shift you want to commemorate in a specific way, with a kind of physical dynamic prayer that this practice can be. But this post isn't it. Instead, it's a reflection on what we did together, and how it made me feel.)

It was a pretty amazing experience. It wasn't the grueling, interminable, hard-working slugfest that 108 sun salutations can sound like: each of us did our own practice; we moved at our own pace, in a way that was sustainable, and energetically charged for each of us; we took rest when we needed it, and we wrapped when we were finished. Around the room, you could hear the sound of breath moving through bodies, and feet stepping forward and back, and the soft plink, plink, plink of scarlet runner beans being moved from one bowl to another. It was beautiful. Being able to share an experience that meant so much to me personally with other people was a real gift; I love creating community around acts of ritual. There were points at which I felt my own resolve flagging, and I would reach out energetically to others in the room who were steady and focused, and hitch a ride on their wave. There were also times when I felt others losing steam, and I would think, c'mon, sweetie, we're in this, we got this, and I'd focus my gaze and my movement and my energy. The give and take of practice in the room was powerful and rare. 

On a personal level, the ritual gave me the chance to set some intentions for the person I want to be, for how I want to treat myself, my loved ones, my community. I won't share all of the intentions I set, but a few I feel are pretty special include:

  • I am resilient.
  • I release behaviors and relationships not in alignment with my growth and healing.
  • I set healthy boundaries.
  • I am an agent of subversion for the good of humanity.
  • I trust the Divine timing of The Universe.
  • I am strong, courageous, and compassionate in the face of adversity.

It was a wonderful day. I'm grateful to everyone who came to practice with me, and I'm so proud of all of us, working together, cultivating discipline, focus, shared energy, gratitude, and devotion. I sincerely hope it won't be the last time we can share the experience.