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.