Staying rooted in the memory and feeling of the specific situation, we respond to six prompts to capture our stressful thoughts in short, simple sentences.
1. We identify the emotion we feel, with whom, and why. For example, "I am angry with Paul because he lied to me."
2. We identify how we want the person to change and what we want them to do. For example, "I want Paul to see that he is wrong. I want him to stop lying to me."
3. We write down our advice for the person. For example, "Paul shouldn't frighten me with his behavior. He should take a deep breath."
4. We write down what we need in order to feel better about the situation. For example, "I need Paul to stop talking over me. I need him to listen."
5. We list our complaints about the person or the situation. For example, "Paul is a liar, arrogant, loud, dishonest, and unaware."
6. We write down what it is about the person or situation that we don't ever want to experience again. For example, "I don't ever want Paul to lie to me again. I don't ever want to be disrespected again."
As we express our feelings in writing, we should allow ourselves to be as petty, judgemental, or childish as we may feel without censorship; this is our opportunity to discover our true emotions from that moment.
Turn It Around:
Finally, we practice turning around each of our statements to find multiple opposing statements and consider whether they may be as true as or truer than our original thoughts. A statement often can be turned around to the self, the other, the opposite, and written in contrasting language. Each statement will be different--some have one or two opposites, some have four or more--don't force any that don't make sense. Sometimes to find a good turnaround, we can replace the subject with "my thinking." For example instead of, "My body should be more flexible," we can say, "My thinking should be more flexible." For turnarounds to the sixth prompt about what we never want to experience again, turnarounds can begin with "I welcome..." or "I look forward to..."
For the above example, "Paul lied to me," we may find the following four turnarounds, "I lied to me. I lied to Paul. Paul didn't lie to me. Paul told me the truth." As we consider the truth and validity of the opposing statements, we should stretch ourselves to identify any examples or evidence that could support them. In this example we can explore how the deception was really our own wanting to believe, our own self-deception. We can explore how clear and honest we were with Paul in the situation. We can explore Paul's understanding and intentions, and his own truth in his lived experience.
The Work of Byron Katie binds Satya, Santosha, Svadhyaya, and Brahmacharya as we examine the validity of our beliefs and look for other possibilities (Satya), we exercise mental inversions and create space for opposing viewpoints (Santosha), we recognize the possible differences and disparities between our interpretation of an event and how it may have been experienced by another (Svadhyaya), and we engage with The Work as an active practice in our aim to approach unity consciousness (Brahmacharya.) While The Work is challenging, this contemplative yoga bears beautiful fruits, and I encourage you to apply the practice once or twice a week, and to notice how your beliefs and experiences transform and evolve. Start with whatever experience is most prominent in your awareness, whatever has you most upset in this moment, whatever is most energetically charged, as there you will find the most helpful results. As we continue with the practice and work through different memories and situations, we may then begin to apply the practice to specific Anti-Racism work, checking in with our beliefs about what we're hearing in the news and how we interpret "the facts" of any given situation.
Enjoy the practice, and please let me know how it goes. Namaste ~ Teagan
The Yama Brahmacharya combines the Sanskrit root Brahman, which means eternal truth, ultimate reality, single binding unity, or universal consciousness, with Carya, which means moving toward, going after, following, engaging in, or occupying oneself with. Brahmacharya connotes the active practice and movement toward unity-consciousness. Often yogis equate Brahmacharya with conduct or observances consistent with the path to Brahman, managing energies, extremes, and cravings, especially around sexual abstinence, but we must understand that Brahmacharya entails more than a code of practices or behaviors. Brahmacharya means to actively and consistently pursue spiritual liberation through a lifestyle dedicated toward achieving unity-consciousness.
We must remember too that unity-consciousness depends upon everyone achieving this enlightened state; unity-consciousness by definition cannot be a solo endeavor. The mutuality around our efforts helps emphasize that there is no need to be austere in our earnest enterprise; we can maintain a playful attitude. A favorite teacher of mine likes to imagine that she remains the last person approaching unity-consciousness, and that everyone she encounters each day is actually a Buddha or Guru in disguise, posing lessons for her, and waiting on her to reach realization, that unity-consciousness finally may be achieved.
The Niyama Svadhyaya combines Sva, meaning one’s self, one’s own, the Ego, or human soul, with Dhyaya, which means meditating on, from the root Dhyai, to meditate, contemplate, or think of. Often yogis translate Svadhyaya as the study of self, self-reflection, introspection, or self-observation, but this limits our understanding in the context of our 7.8 billion world-population. These common translations miss the mark in that Sva means self in a broader sense, accounting for first person myself-ourselves, second person yourself-yourselves, and third person oneself-themselves. Svadhyaya means much more than self-study; Svadhyaya connotes contemplating the 7.8 billion distinct individual selves who inhabit our planet, building awareness and understanding around our differences in perspectives and experiences. In essence Svadhyaya means duality-consciousness, or cultivating self-awareness in reflecting on our separateness or duality.
Derived from the Sanskrit root Yuj, which translates to attach, join, harness, or yoke, Yoga means union or coming to oneness, and speaks to how our personal experience intrinsically intertwines with the diverse realities of others. Karma means action, act, work, or deed, but differs from Kriya, which also translates as action, deed, or effort. Whereas Kriya refers more to an activity, practice, or technique in terms of applying effort and taking steps in action, Karma ecompasses a broader view of an action’s impact, accounting for the actor’s intention, and the action’s effect and result. Karma Yoga means approaching oneness through how we act with awareness around our intent and our impact.
Ram Dass taught that, “We are complex entities in the fact that part of us is separate from everything else, and part of us is not separate from everything else. That is, we are both a group of separate entities, and we are an awareness that is manifested as many entities but it is only one.” Ram Dass said, “One could interpret life as an awakening journey back to unity, not to unity as opposed to diversity, but to the unity where unity and diversity are each contained in the other.” This understanding requires our practice with Santosha, as we need to entertain in our minds a sense of unity and a sense of diversity, not as poles in opposition, but as elements like yin and yang, each contained within the other.
As we allow for both diversity and unity to coexist within each other, karma yoga asks us to honor our separateness while we invest our attention in our sense of unity-consciousness. It’s a question of whom we see when we look at others: Them? Us? Me? There’s a difference in our intention and our impact when we act from a place of separateness than when we act in an attempt to return to the one; both the way in which we perform the act changes, and the way in which the act affects us changes. We still act from a place of ego, and we still must honor our distinct differences, but when we start from a place of separateness and act in order to return to a unity experience, we begin to apply our actions as an offering. As Ram Dass said, “I work on myself as an offering to you. I serve you as a way of working on myself.” I will be exploring more around loosening our grip on personal identity in relation to dharma and service in terms of sustainability and divisiveness in my next article invoking Aparigraha and Tapas.
Karma Yoga in Practice with ANti-Racism
As we practice anti-racism in an effort to relieve the suffering of BIPOC communities, let us remember Ram Dass’ sage wisdom:
“I am working to help them and that, and at the same moment, I am working as a way to work on myself, realizing that until I am free of my identifications to my own attitudes, opinions, and separateness, my acts of necessity will be perpetuating some degree of divisiveness in the world. Even as I'm doing good, I will be also creating suffering. And in knowing that, I've got to work on myself and I can't stop until I’m enlightened because the dance goes on, and you can’t stop acting because you're in an incarnation, and the acting just keeps happening. So then, the only conclusion is, I will use my actions to work on myself as an offering back into the system. I work on myself as an offering to you. I serve you as a way of working on myself. And that double whammy, or that double investment, or that double process, means that the more you serve, the emptier of identification you get when you’re doing karma yoga properly. And the freer of identification with your own separateness you get, the more you're being fed. And the more you're being fed, the more you can do, and the more you want to do, and the more joy you're having from it.”
In practicing Brahmacharya, Svadhyaya, and Karma Yoga, we can address some common Spiritual Bypasses: denying diversity, discounting disparities, and avoiding accountability.
We may hear people say, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or “we are all one human race.” In these cases we need to practice Svadhyaya and remember that we need to honor and respect the diversity of our unique experiences. We should understand that what feels comfortable and safe to us, may not feel comfortable or safe to others. Often yogis get hung up on the fact that Yoga means Union, and forget that while our aim is achieving union, there are necessary steps to take to get there. Yes, we are all one human race, but the reality is that some of us enjoy privileges at the expense of the oppression of others. We need to be aware and sensitive to that. Let’s practice Satya with Svadhyaya and get honest about the reality of our current state of affairs and the reality of the experience of others, and practice Brahmacharya and Karma Yoga to move toward achieving equality and unity.
We may hear people say “I don’t see color,” “All lives matter,” or, “We’re all in the same boat.” If we don’t see color, we are choosing to ignore that our systems demonstrate a pattern of benefiting some skin tones while prejudicing against other skin tones. While we may all be weathering the same strom, we certainly are not all in the same boat. While some of us relax in comfort in sturdy luxury yachts, others of us are struggling in the water, scrambling to keep afloat on whatever debris is within reach. If you have ever criticised Rose for her famous declaration “I’ll never let go,” as she allowed Jack to slip into the cold abyss in the wake of the Titanic when there was clearly room for two on that door, it’s time to take a look at our own vessels and get real about our capacity to accommodate. It’s time to recognize who has access to safe harbors and to identify who has been systematically left out at sea in dangerous open waters, made to battle to secure a solid place of safety.
We may hear people say “Good vibes only.” Yoga is a practice, and nobody ever promised that it would be easy. Yoga is not about blissing out on love and light; it’s about dedicating ourselves to our practice, showing up consistently, leaning in to discomforts, and sticking with our goals and commitments. The lightness, the bliss, comes only as a result of our earnest dedication and moving beyond blocks and obstacles. If we are committed to practicing yoga, we can’t pick and choose what’s comfortable and convenient; the Yamas and Niyamas encompass an important part of a complete practice; Brahmacharya & Svadhyaya are important elements in practicing Yoga and Karma Yoga. We must be willing to recognize the suffering, oppression, difficulty, violence, and tragedy happening all around us. We first must be willing to see, acknowledge, and process the reality of what's happening that we may come to a place of awareness and understanding. Then our practice becomes an invitation to build our capacity to hold space for these extreme polarities in lived experience, to apply our efforts to achieve remedies and resolutions, and to participate in actively supporting justice and healing.
More Anti-Racism Resources
Although I will continue to share resources that I am finding helpful personally as a white American woman new to the Anti-Racism movement, ultimately this is a personal practice. Practice mindfulness in engaging in conversations. Listen for what resonates, and for where you sense dissonance. Apply a critical eye to facts, statements, and the source of information. Watch out for bias and agendas, identify emotions and interests, and follow your instinct around what's inviting further investigation.
yoga & anti-racism SERIES, PART 1.1 OF 8
June 5th reflections, as shared in the Coco Yoga Community Forum:
I am committed to incorporating a lens of social justice to my yoga practice both within the container of the yoga shala and outside in our larger communities. I recognize that as someone who has benefited from a system ingrained with racism and white supremacy at the expense of black, indigenous, and people of color, I have responsibility to take part in actively dismantling racist systems and attitudes, and co-creating new systems and attitudes that honor and bring healing and justice to those who have borne the immeasurable inhumanity of racism and white supremacy. I recognize that my part in this work begins with my own active and committed contemplative practice.
Where are my limits? I will never fully understand the multi-layered experience of those who live the oppression of these systems day in and day out. Furthermore, I will never fully understand the extent of the benefit and privilege I garner owing to these systems. I am not qualified to lead this revolution, and given how blind I have been to my own complacency with systemic racism, and how unaware I have been around my own ingrained white supremacy, I am not qualified even to assess how well I am doing in this practice.
Is this work risky or counterproductive? Given my place of privilege, this work does not pose any risk to my own wellbeing. The risk that engaging with this work poses is the possibility that my own unidentified racism surface in damaging ways, causing real harm and perpetuating racist beliefs and systems. I must be thoughtful in this work because it puts others at risk, but ultimately sincerity in pursuing new systems and ways of being with cautious care could never be counterproductive. This work is the only path for my personal liberation in dedication to raising my own bar for understanding, compassion, empathy, and integrity; and each person’s commitment to doing better is what will achieve the new reality for all for which this revolution is calling.
What are my capacities? I am capable of educating myself, of seeking out and hearing BIPOC thought leaders as well as common and varied BIPOC voices and experiences. I am capable of engaging with what I am hearing, bringing new ideas and perspectives into my practice however uncomfortable I may feel, however difficult it is to hold the truths of the experience of oppression. I am capable of leaning into the discomfort, sitting in stillness with ideas that I have previously avoided, and applying yoga philosophy to reorganize and attune to a better way of being. I am capable of listening and reflecting on feedback, of taking proper time for rest and pause. I am capable of owning my blind spots, faults, and mistakes, and dedicating to repair damages done. I am capable of learning, and unlearning, revising and updating my perspectives and understandings. This is not easy work, but I commit to keep with it into the long-term and stretch beyond my own resistance and discomfort.
Yoga & anti-racism SERIES, PART 3 OF 8
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
This sanskrit prayer we so often invoke at the end of yoga asana practice speaks to the purpose of yoga. “May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.” Here we state our desire for the wellbeing of everyone, and our intention that our own practice contribute to this greater good. Yoga invites us to walk the path to freedom and happiness, for ourselves and for all--the path to inner peace and peace on earth.
The Yamas & Niyamas
In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali outlines the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, beginning with the Yamas and Niyamas, which illuminate yoga’s inherent design. In Sanskrit Yamas connotes reins, the restraints employed by a charioteer. The Yamas steer our interactions with others, teaching us how to navigate our interpersonal world with ethical behaviors to respect all others and create harmonious coexistence. “May all beings everywhere be happy and free...” Niyamas shares the same root, with the added prefix Ni, in this instance indicating inward or within. The Niyamas guide our internal practice and right relationship within ourselves. “...and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”
The Yamas and Niyamas direct and focus our actions to achieve freedom and happiness for all, to reach ultimate union, or enlightenment. They are often described as guideposts, numbered in order reflecting Pantanjali's elucidation in the Yoga Sutras. However, we might consider the Yamas and Niyamas more as trail-marking cairns comprised of stacked stones. We might imagine that the stones have tumbled, and that we may rearrange them more stably in such a way to better illuminate our path and lend to more coherence. Let's consider a cairn with Satya & Santosha at its base, and place Brahmacharya & Svadhyaya second. We stack Aparigraha & Tapas third at the midpoint, followed by Asteya & Saucha. We cap the cairn with Ahimsa & Ishwara Pranidhana at the pinnacle. Arranged in this way, we're clearly directed toward social activism and anti-racism; it's the only way forward with applied practice.
As a white American woman late to the anti-racism discussion, my first step in this journey is to educate myself, to listen to those who live the realities of racist oppression, and to pursue the full truth of our history and current state of affairs. I invoke the Yama Satya, propagation of comprehensive truth, and the Niyama Santosha, multiple truth reconciliation.
Satya is often translated as non-lying, or truthfulness, with the implication that as long as we are honest and impeccable with our word, we are practicing this virtue. Satya entails so much more than this limited interpretation. Satya means non-falsehood, non-distortion, non-ignorance. We must allow for multiple truths; we cannot ignore or deny the truth of others.
In Sanskrit, Sat indicates the ultimate eternal truth, with the suffix ya indicating doing or accomplishing. Satya requires active investigation in seeking the whole and complete truth. We must be willing to question the dominant cultural narrative; we must be willing to hear and digest multiple perspectives and to exercise our own discernment. We must analyze the validity of our usual information sources and evaluate entrained biases, inaccurate assumptions, hidden interests, and covert agendas. We must identify which voices have been silenced, unduly discredited, or eclipsed. We must consider alternate views and sort facts from opinion. We must amplify the voices that long have been oppressed, and bolster the stories of those vulnerable to violence in speaking their truth. We must encourage courageous free-thought and nourish fresh perspectives; we cannot feed the fear of dissent. We must piece together a more complete picture. Satya means to dedicate practice to cultivating our understanding. Satya means to propagate a more consummate, collaborative, and comprehensive truth.
Santosha, derived from Sanskrit Sam, complete, altogether, entire, and Tosha, acceptance, or being comfortable, means to make peace with, or to reconcile multiple truths. Santosha asks us to develop our capacity to hold comfortably the varied elements that comprise the complete truth, and to accept dichotomous or paradoxical realities. This is a practice of mental flexibility, that we may stretch ourselves beyond one limited view and exercise ‘both/and’ competency, allowing for seeming opposites both to be simultaneously true. We must build our faculty for uncertainty and contradiction.
Santosha invites us to be present with all that is, to face what we’d rather not see. We must sift, sort, and structure the multiple aspects of truth to create space in our minds and foster a sense of clarity and ease so that we are not overwhelmed or burdened by the enormity of true reality. Santosha is often translated as contentment, and this is an important element. We must not be frustrated or deterred when the multiple components do not readily align or make sense within our active framework. We must be content to keep with the practice, to build space to accommodate our own blind spots and allow for gaps in our understanding. Practice with Santosha requires calm receptivity, persistence in reflection, and a willingness to rearrange concepts, rule out false paradigm schemes, imagine ideas inverted, follow corollary patterns, and redefine our sense of truth, reality, and identity.
Practicing Satya & Santosha with Anti-Racism
As I continue with this first step of listening, educating myself, and investigating the full truth of our history and current reality, I’d like to share a few resources that I’m finding helpful as a white American woman new to the anti-racism movement:
Thank you for engaging with the anti-racism discussion and exploring with me how yoga calls us to activism for social justice. In my next post I continue with this practice and explore Karma Yoga & The Paradox of All-One, invoking the Yama Brahmacharya and the Niyama Svadhyaya.
Namaste ~ Teagan
Teagan studied International Studies and the Heart-Mind Diplomatic Paradigm with Professor Sean Kay at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, including in the summer of 2008 a six-week internship under the guidance of Tara Leaman at Our Place D.C. serving woman in prison and recently released in Washington, D.C. She had the privilege to attend a Bloc Party concert in D.C. during this internship, and while this song embodies a sort of anthem anchoring an ethos of that time, place, and mental space, these dual videos side by side also offer an alternate response to the #BlackOutTuesday phenomenon.
On the right we celebrate an amazing black artist, performing in full glory, albeit to a predominantly white audience. On the left we can appreciate the lyrics on a blackout backdrop and consider "this modern love" of our current Black Lives Matter movement--the love we hold for our BIPOC community. Many of us who are privileged and white have been "lost in the forest", while the BIPOC community have been trying to reach us, to get through to us with the facts about racism. The "books", the information, are all around us; we need to keep "learning the facts" and enjoying the practice, without "getting offended" or upset about what we've been ignorant, innocent, or "absent-minded" about until now. We need to "be more discerning," "more demanding," to know and to fight for "what is good for us," what's good for everyone in our communities. Those who are privileged, who've "been paid" need to step up and leverage resources for healing and justice, to "pay for you." "What are you holding out for? What's always in the way?" The time for racial justice, for safety and equality for BIPOC is now. The ending is almost prophetic of the Covid Quarantine, "Do you want to come over and kill some time, throw your arms around me." Let's take care of each other.
keep Safe & start a Block Party
This Yoga & Anti-Racism Series streams forth in personal practice in response to Michelle Johnson's call to radicalize yoga to create a just world, as I've detailed in Part 1. Many words around Satya and Santosha reverberate themes from Sarah Varcas' framework interpreting the astrological signature we are experiencing in these times. Thank you Michelle Johnson and Sarah Varcas for your guidance and your invitation to come into better alignment.
Yoga & Anti-Racism Series, PART 2 OF 8
Normally I don’t share such personal musings in such a public way--and never at such length. However, last week listening to Michelle Johnson’s book Skill in Action: Radicalizing Your Yoga Practice to Create a Just World, I received a key that unlocked the gateway marking the threshold to contemplative practice. I’ve been approaching this path for some time, but now the door has swung open, and the force of what lies beyond is beckoning me emphatically with its gravitational pull.
Last week I extended an invitation to our community to join me in contemplating How Yoga and Social Justice Intersect, and the first step requires an honest reflection on where we’ve been and where we are, so that we can identify our true potential and limits, and enter into this practice with great care. I urge you to read or download Skill in Action and follow the guided practices to begin shining light on your own history and evolution, and I hope others in this community will take time for this practice, that we may build together a supportive sangha for active exploration.
What follows in this post are my own thoughts on my own recent experiences, the dark night before the bright dawn, appreciating the birth of a new day. As I mentioned, this post is lengthy and personal, but it’s the necessary foundation upon which I will be building my contemplative practice; it’s the context for upcoming posts as I begin to explore Social Justice & The Purpose of Yoga, Karma Yoga & the Paradox of All-One, Dharma, Divisiveness & Sustaining Activism, Appropriation & Holding Space, Surrender to Activism, and The Yamas & Niyamas Activism Model in practice with Anti-Racism. I hope that sharing my own experiences may somehow help someone, even in a small way. In practice, in presenting our stories with clear intention imbued with an earnest sense of purpose, we liberate our sentiments to fulfill their highest potential, and we free ourselves from what has been occupying our attention and drawing from our energies, creating space within for something new. Thank you for reading.
Namaste ~ Teagan
At the end of September 2019, moving into October, the heart of our rainy season here in Costa Rica, the season when things slow way down, the time that businesses take reprieve closing their doors for a week, a month, a breath, a pause in the absence of the usual tourism upon which they rely, with empty streets and cloudy skies, intermittent showers and sudden downpours, the idea of a week away from teaching brought a profound sense of relief, and we planned to close the yoga studio for a week for ‘Rainy Season Break’ to rest, play catch-up, and recuperate.
My friend and colleague Veronique offered to guide me through a Peak States Therapy session, and I thought--yes, perfect, that’s exactly what I need--a good healing session to recharge as I kick off this week, so I’ll be energized to make the most of this time and attack the slew of tasks that have been accumulating on the back burner. At that time Veronique was fairly new to Peak States Therapy, and she was eager to get more experience under her belt. I had never heard of the technique and had no idea what was in store for me, but I trusted Veronique and greatly appreciated the bodywork sessions we often exchanged.
The two-hour session was the most subtle form of healing therapy I have ever experienced. It was like a very slow and gentle conversation as Veronique asked me to imagine a series of life scenarios, identifying the person and emotion that ever so faintly peaked into my consciousness in relation to the memory or experience, and she instructed me to hold a couple pressure points on my hands. It felt as though nothing was happening at all, just quiet listening and imagination. When I went home my impression was that while it was a peaceful and pleasant experience, I wasn’t sure it had much value. I definitely hadn’t felt the distinct reset and realignment I so often receive in her Neuro-Cutaneos Technique bodywork treatments, noticing clear shifts in my body throughout the sessions, and a significant improvement in my state by the time she finishes her work. The Peak States Therapy was different. I left thinking that maybe this work is too subtle for me, or maybe she just needed more practice. I would soon realize that I couldn’t have been further from the mark.
In the “week off” that followed it was as though all the most condensed and potent emotions buried in the deepest trenches of my being, rose up and poured out of me. I had never known myself to be capable of expressing such fiery anger, such fierce rage, such devastating grief, and in such rapid cycling succession. My body was purging too. My cycle began two days ahead of its normal schedule and extended two days beyond, essentially doubled in length, and physically manifesting the same qualities as my emotions--the purifying expulsion of the most stagnant, foul parts of myself.
Needless to say, it was not the week I had planned; by the time I was to get back to teaching I hadn’t completed any of the work I had hoped to put behind me. Throughout the month of October, I struggled to get back to normal. I was feeling burnt out. My yoga teaching and practice felt hollow, like I was going through the motions, vacant of any sense of the spiritual, purpose, or meaning. It was a difficult month. October marked the ten-year anniversary of my younger brother’s suicide, and adding to that, I had made the commitment to create and lead a Breast Health Self-Care Workshop and Healing Circle in support of the local Breast Cancer Awareness group’s events. Buried emotions were still surfacing, albeit more gently now, as I reflected on those in my life who have been affected by cancer. The month presented new and unexpected logistical challenges as well, between navigating the new corporate legal requirements implemented at the time, and in losing a valued member of our Yoga teaching triad who was called home to be with family after her grandmother’s passing. To-do lists grew longer, and complex emotions entangled. I tried to keep positive and push through, to have fun with the Halloween festivities, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something really needed to change.
The weekend following Halloween, at the portal of Day of the Dead when they say the veils are thin, I set aside a large block of time for ritual to delve deep into meditation. It was the reboot I desperately needed. Profound visions poured through imparting prophetic images, scattered puzzle-piece clips of information, and the most uplifting sense of energizing inspiration. I saw myself pregnant, and also our Mother Earth pregnant, the sensation of innermost stillness, the depths of gestation, a visceral sense of the void in interlude between caterpillar and butterfly, impossible to express in its expanse and fullness. I was flooded with a mix of open-ended ideas and possibilities paired with fortified inner-knowings and convictions.
I knew I needed to engage with contemplative practice, and I knew I needed respite from asana, yoga’s physical practice. I announced that I would be canceling my regular asana classes for the month of November in favor of a weekly satsang to explore the principles and philosophies of yoga, and to address and engage with what was real and present in our community. I knew I needed an opportunity for realignment before we’d be back in full swing for the launch of our high season in December, and given that our community is at its smallest in November as even our most committed students who live here year-round venture away to visit family at Thanksgiving, there couldn’t have been a better time to reset.
In the first satsang we explored the value and the challenges of self-guided practice, the dynamics of moving on the mat without the cues of an instructor, in solitude away from the momentum that arises in group practice, where our coordinated flows foster a sustaining current akin to geese flying in pattern. I couldn’t have guessed how pertinent this discussion would prove five months down the line in the face of Covid-19’s global lockdowns. Home practice or no practice.
In one satsang our group gave full attention to one member who was in the process of fulfilling his Yoga teacher training and was looking for experience leading class, and for constructive feedback. He guided us through a mini class, and afterward we discussed what worked well, what was unique to his voice and style, and aspects he might consider exploring further. Another satsang turned out to be a one-on-one meeting with a local environmental activist doing important work in the community, and we brainstormed and thought through plans for the upcoming year. We couldn’t have known how many of those plans would prove moot for now in the face of lockdowns and new norms of operating. Hit. And miss.
For myself the satsang that stands out was the conversation centered around the five Yamas and five Niyamas, two of the eight limbs in Yoga philosophy. I’d first learned these concepts a decade earlier in my Yoga teacher training, and had since encountered them on several occasions in workshops and classes, and in reading articles online or in magazines. They always felt elusive; I never held them all clearly in my mind, and much less in my heart, except for a few that I had come to grasp and internalize through lessons and practice with Kundalini. Before the satsang I read up; I did not feel at all prepared to teach these concepts, but was comfortable enough at least to open up and guide a discussion. It was an important conversation. Although at the time I didn’t come away with any breakthroughs in understanding, I recognize that I was planting seeds in very fertile ground.
My call to reset and my distinct realignment in priorities marked a clear divergence from my then business partner. The pivot catalyzed our recognizing that it was time to part ways. While I had imagined that the extra time cleared in November’s schedule from canceling regular classes would be applied to bolstering our business and getting ahead of the game for a prosperous high season to come, instead I needed to dedicate that time to the difficult and involved task of unraveling the partnership as delicately as possible to preserve its fruits and keep integrity intact as much as may be allowed under the stress of the separation.
Emotions were high, feelings were hurt, and all variables seemed up in the air. We passed through a prolonged period of shifts and changes, waiting for pieces to fall into place, but each new development brought more elements into the equation. I wrestled to reconcile my intuitive compass and the puzzle pieces from my vision with reasonable rationale and judgment.
The rational part of me felt energized and keen for new developments. I was excited to launch for the first time in December a complete Pranayama class equipped with a lens linking Pranayama and free diving in our SCUBA-centric community. Plus logically, it made sense to keep the studio open through the high season, until the end of March, meeting the needs of the community and harvesting the fruits of our labors. However, my intuitive heart was telling me it was time to close shop, to bring the machine to full stop. I wanted to clear the canvas and apply all my energies to visioning the future. I wanted to start preparing for a family and building our home and the new yoga space.
When I had entered the business partnership a year and half prior, the yoga studio had already been operating for more than a year, so I hit the ground running, learning as I went. Even though things for the most part went well and we made steady progress, the absence of a clear vision, purpose, and mission statement lurked in the back of my awareness. It seemed we could never make focusing on this foundation a priority as there were always the day-to-day tasks with which to keep up, and some other event or project requiring our attention. I was determined for December to dedicate the time to get clear and put the vision, purpose, and mission for Coco Yoga and Wellness in writing. Blessed as I am with a father who sends me pages and pages of articles suggesting how one might approach this task and achieve great results, I felt well-equipped for the work. What I didn’t realize then was that it was never a question of making it a priority to set aside the hours or weekend and apply myself to the goal--my real resistance was the unidentified inner-knowing that I wasn’t ready with clarity and conviction.
Ultimately, with December bringing the blessing of the foretold pregnancy despite our family planning, my intuitive heart grew stronger and the voice of my body wisdom grew louder. I needed rest. I needed stillness. I spent January wrapping up the loose ends to close the yoga studio and fulfill responsibilities to clear the way to retreat. By February I started powering down, and with March’s global shutdown, I fully cocooned. I was ready to allow my entire sense of self and personal history to dissolve, for my elemental parts to rearrange, reorganize, and recreate into something new. Full stop. Pure creative energy. Wu Wei, non-doing. Pure imagination. While others complained of boredom, nothing to do, I wouldn’t engage with my lengthy to-do list; I couldn’t be called to motivation. Only inspiration. I did only what I was moved to do. No expectation. I made myself the seed, planted deeply in the earth.
Now the seed coat is cracked. A small sprout is shooting forth, slow but determined, looking for the light.
This Yoga & Anti-Racism Series streams forth in personal practice in response to Michelle Johnson's call to radicalize yoga to create a just world, as I've detailed in Part 1. Thank you Michelle Johnson for your guidance and your invitation to come into better alignment.
yoga & antiracism series, PART 1 OF 8
Commit to self-awareness and being honest with yourself in recognizing your abilities and honoring your limits. As in any Yoga class, some suggestions may feel good to you and may feel easy to complete. Other suggestions may pose a challenge--you may feel resistance, discomfort, or difficulty, but you may be surprised how you feel afterward whether you achieve the suggestion in its fullest expression, or you have a new experience in making the effort and taking a step in progress. Other suggestions may not be accessible, or an attempt to complete the instruction may pose a risk or be counterproductive to your wellbeing in this moment. As always in Yoga, we must bring awareness to where we are in this moment, what helpful and beneficial practices we should pursue, and what risky or counterproductive practices we should avoid. We need to bring awareness to what resistance and discomfort we feel, and observe our process in being present with these feelings and striving to stretch ourselves in facing them. We need to be open to how our distinctions may differ on a given day or in a given moment as we assess what’s accessible and desirable, and what’s risky or counterproductive, and we can witness how these may evolve or change drastically as we continue our journey and our experiences shift and transform. Recognizing our abilities and honoring our limits with honesty and sincerity are acts of self-love; they are not selfish, but in fact, are expressions of love for others. Consider your capacities and limits and write down an expression of your commitment.
Consider how Yoga and Social Justice intersect. What initial thoughts come to mind? Do you have a clear answer, or is this question something new? Write down your initial ideas and perceptions.
With which of the 8 limbs of Yoga are you familiar? Are the Yamas and the Niyamas a part of your practice? If you are unfamiliar with the Yamas and Niyamas, take some time to look them up and familiarize yourself with these tenets of Yogic practice. Once you have familiarized yourself with them, consider how they relate to Social Justice. I’ll be reflecting and writing more on these in the coming days and weeks; I’d love for you to be part of the conversation. What are your initial thoughts or questions connecting the Yamas and Niyamas with Social Justice?
Watch Michelle Cassandra Johnson’s TEDx talk There is No Neutral (17 minutes). What resonates with you in how she speaks about Yoga and the breath in relationship to racism and white supremacy? How do you feel in your body listening to her presentation? What initial thoughts or questions come up for you?
Visit Pranamaya.com and download Skill in Action: Radicalizing Your Yoga Practice to Create a Just World. Listen and engage with the audiobook and practices. The regular price is $16.95, but it is on sale now for $13.56. You do not need any special app to listen to the book; you will receive an email to access the book and listen through your internet browser either on your phone or computer. The book includes 3 chapters on Skill in Action (2 hours and 12 minutes) and 5 practices: Where I’m From (2 minutes), My Heart’s Desire (4 minutes), Uniquely Positioned (6 minutes), Justice in the Body, Justice in the World (5 minutes), Multiple Truths (4 minutes). The monetary investment and time investment to complete this step are comparable to two yoga asana classes in local studios here in Playas del Coco, Costa Rica.
Read over what you have written and take time to reflect. Share some of your thoughts in the comments below. If you do not feel comfortable or called to share your responses, consider why. Are you feeling resistance and discomfort, or would it be risky or counterproductive to share?
Take time to connect with your heart and your breath. Lean into your feelings without any judgement around what you should be feeling or how many of the suggestions you were able to complete. Simply notice where you are and how you feel. Honor your feelings and your experience and thank yourself for taking time to engage with this practice. Allow this sense of gratitude to grow within you as you consider all the blessings you enjoy in this life, and all the blessings on the horizon already on their way to coming into being.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu. May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all. Namaste.
Thank you Michelle Johnson for your years of dedicated work around yoga and anti-racism, your guidance and call to radicalize practice, and the invitation to come into better alignment.