From Revolver Yoga Studio Teacher Training 2019
Q: How do you make a connection, when you're actually in a yoga pose, to bring in the breath and let it go? How do you do that?
A: How does your breath feel? How does it sound? How does it taste? Where does the breath land in the body? Is the exhalation longer or shorter than the inhalation? Often, simply being curious about any part of our experience, including the breath, is enough to open to our natural stream of awareness, providing that sense of connection both to ourselves and our experience that feels grounded, real, and meaningful.
That being said, it does help to move slower in a movement practice where the intention is to strengthen the pathway to presence. That might mean finding a slower-paced class or one that doesn't emphasize music. It's so important to not have strain around the breath - even in ujjayi. Remind yourself to check in frequently - "what's the quality of the heart and mind right now?" "is there stress or overwhelm present?" and move at your natural pace. That's so important - to understand your natural pace, to let your movement be initiated by the breath rather than the other way around, and to stay in poses long enough that you can explore the nuances, soften, and expand.
Q: Meditation! I have this tumultuous relationship with it. Do you sit? Everyday? What have you found works best for you? I feel the pull but haven’t found the time of day? Method? Something else?
A: There's a truly brilliant aspect to meditation that is very often overlooked, and that is that any moment of awareness builds consistent mindfulness. Sitting regularly is really supportive to the process of mindfulness because there are less external stimuli pulling our attention in one direction or the other, and we actually get to see the internal push and pull of wanting and not wanting, the wax and wane of awareness and dullness, and moments of confusion and clarity. Any moment of awareness is a moment of mindfulness, so any moment in daily life is an opportunity to be aware. Guided meditations are helpful if the mind is really scattered and choppy, but it can also be important to also give yourself time to be alone if that's realistic for you.
For a long time I sat every morning, or even for a period twice a day. I really wanted to stop suffering, which for me was living in near constant anxiety and this feeling of being very out of sync with life. Then, during this long period of meditating twice a day for big chunks of time and "being a really good yogi"- you know, being able to hold handstands, wearing a mala, having some crystals around, channeling signs from the universe and all of that - my longtime partner left our relationship, and while I'm sitting there on the couch while they're telling me we're breaking up, I was literally thinking both, "is this really happening? This can't be happening. What am I going to do without this person?" and "this is great! This is what I've been waiting for! Stay here! Feel this! Notice this!" And I saw so clearly the truth that the pain and difficulties and suffering in life is not only the motivation, but also where the waking up happens. That changed how I approach meditation, and now I'm a lot more gentle with myself and consider my meditation practice beginning from the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep, and I make time to sit and tune to awareness - even for a few minutes here and there - within that.
Q: I find I'm often overwhelmed by the breadth of the wellness industry/how to reconcile religious beliefs (im Christian) with spirituality/ belief in the universe as well as crystals, cards, all that stuff. Do you have any advice? I know this is something I have to figure out on my own but looking for guidance :)
A: Good! Keep questioning it. Everyone on the planet is trying to figure out how to be happy, and we think that being happy relies on a certain level of absolute truth and meaning. One of the underlying realities of the wellness industry is that it's an industry, so it's always trying to stay relevant so that it can continue to be profitable. The expressions of that industry can be seen in the complex web of classes, cleanses, teacher trainings, meditation apps, crystal therapy sessions, healers, affirmation cards, etc. etc. These are human expressions that point to the process of understanding the key questions of who we are, what we're supposed to be doing with our time on earth, and what happens after we die. Those three questions are the root of every spiritual path.
One of my favorite sayings, which I'm pretty sure was in the Bruce Lee movie Enter the Dragon, is something like "don't mistake the finger pointing to the moon for the moon." All of these things inside of the wellness industry are just fingers pointing to the moon. I would say the same thing about any religion - the rituals, the group energy, the scriptures - are fingers pointing to the process of answering those three questions. You don't have to figure how one can coexist with the other. They are all a pieces of the same whole.
Q: How can I begin a meditation practice and make it feel meaningful?
A: Meditation is within the natural capacity of all of us, and it is simply being with reality as it is unfolding here and now. Most of us come to a meditation practice because we are struggling in some way, whether that's feeling very anxious or frustrated, emotionally flat or uninspired or anywhere along the spectrum of human emotion. The Buddha taught that all of these flavors of dissatisfaction (dukkha) - from obvious to subtle - that we experience are not only what often bring us to practice, but the fuel for us to keep investigating. It is our own innate compassion that leads us to want to find a way out of struggle, and it is with that same compassionate heart that we learn to meet the inevitable highs, lows and plateaus of our life. Your practice will become meaningful when you experience the profound benefits of it.
Q: Do you think it's possible for everyone to attain something like the splits over years of practice or are some bodies just not designed to move in certain ways?
A: Both. Anyone can achieve any pose, but I guess you have you decide what the end point of the pose is. Poses are a continuum, like everything else. So poses for someone who started dancing at 3 are going to look different than the same poses from someone who just decided one day at 50, after years of running or sitting at a computer, that they want to do the splits. What does "doing the splits" mean? One leg back and one leg forward, right? Some people can do that pose right away and have their pelvis resting on the floor, and some people can practice that pose for twenty years and be using blocks and a bolster with their pelvis two feet from the floor and yet their legs are still in the same position. Isn't that attaining the splits, too? There are structural variations in anatomy that make some poses more accessible than others in some bodies, and then there are the things we do with our bodies that shape how they move. The bigger question is, even if you can do the pose the way you think it should be done, what happens when you finally achieve it?
Q: Something I’m struggling with right now would definitely fall into the comparison category. I work for myself and have just this year come to accept that I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those “I never sleep because I’m always working because that’s what you do when you run your own business” people. 50% of the time I pride myself on prioritizing work-life balance, my mental health (yoga every AM). And that I need lots of self care in order to do my best work. But the other 50% of the time I’m reading interviews with women I admire running businesses I aspire to and think I could be doing so much more if only I have more of myself. My anxiety spikes and I have restless energy I don’t know what to do with and end up paralyzed in my own comparison and fear. I can’t seem to shake that feeling even though I mostly do a good job of staying optimistic and trying to be proud of the work I do.
A: First of all, you are not alone. Everyone compares themselves to other people, it's just something we do and has biological reasoning behind it, so it's hardwired in, so to speak. It seems like you have pretty consciously decided to prioritize your life in a certain way. It's great that you admire and are inspired by other people's success. That's actually a really beautiful and valuable quality of heart known as mudita - joy that meets the happiness of others.
Success is a moving target - it can't actually be realized or held. There's always another level. There's always going to be more. Looking to success to define happiness or to achieve happiness is never going to pan out in a deep and lasting way. So what is it that you want? Until we look deeply, our idea of how we will finally feel satisfied is predicated on a attaining certain level of external validation. That doesn't mean stop trying or doing your work - far from it. Examining how we live our lives, how we are in the world, how we are in relationship to ourselves shows the way to the deep satisfaction we deeply hope to find. Developing the qualities and the values that we move with and that guide us in how we interact in all of our relationships is the path.
Q: my question is more so for some advice and words of encouragement on my journey as a yoga teacher. im dealing with the ever familiar, "can i be an (effective) yoga teacher and still live my lifestyle in the western world? one that indulges from time to time and one that seeks pleasure for pleasures sake but still has a deep practice and understanding of what it brings to me and my students, and believes so strongly in the importance of passing along the mind/body/spirit connection?"
A: A great many effective yoga and deeply impactful teachers in the western world are experienced in the western world. One way or another, we must understand the mentality and values in which we are conditioned, and to be an effective teacher you can really only reach people who connect with you. Our task as teachers is to help unite the spiritual with the material - that which we can perceive through our sense doors and that which is ethereal, spacious, and unbound. So you absolutely need to know what it is to struggle with saving for a mortgage, being in relationships, dropping your expensive phone and hearing that disgusting crack of glass on the pavement. I think we very often mistake that practice is making shapes with the body or sitting still or chanting or whatever - practice is always. It's all fodder for the path. You've got to live in the real world in order to talk to real people.
Just keep going. Step by step, breath by breath - that's the real vinyasa. Be willing to shift your perspective when it's apparent that you no longer hold the same views as you did before. Be playful and willing to make mistakes, because you'll mess up. Be honest, humble, and human, and above all, just keep going.