7 Ways to Prevent Yoga Teacher Burnout

prevent_yoga_burnout

One of the things in my life I’m most grateful for is that I get to teach yoga in exchange for money. This means that I have turned my deepest spiritual commitment into a livelihood. Yet, at times, my work becomes stressful and can compromise my well-being. This would probably seem counter-intuitive to anyone other than a yoga teacher, as folks have often intimated that I must have the dream job since I just get to do yoga all day. Because of this belief, I have found it difficult to admit that I’m getting burned out from my work.

This summer I was able to talk with some of the faculty from the SSCY 200 hour yoga teacher training about how to avoid burnout as a yoga teacher. I’d been giving it a lot of thought because by the start of summer I was experiencing increased anxiety, physical pain and a need (and thankfully the opportunity) to take the entire summer off from teaching. Talking to these long time teachers and yogis helped me to realize that there are myriad ways to minimize the toll that teaching can take, and many of these actions can in turn make us more effective teachers.

It was quickly and unanimously agreed that the number one way to prevent burnout is to commit to a regular yoga sadhana (practice). We are not practicing yoga when we teach; we are teaching yoga. The lifetime practice of yoga requires a daily commitment – whatever that looks like for individual teachers based on their yoga lineage and lifestyle. This not only allows us to ‘keep the tank full’, but informs our teaching, and helps us come to class grounded and balanced no matter what else is happening in our lives. One teacher joked, “That’s it. Problem solved. Article written!”

7 Ways to prevent Yoga Teacher Burnout

1. Don’t stop Learning

But even with a regular sadhana, we can find ourselves at some point lacking enthusiasm or feeling bored with our own class offerings. To prevent this stagnation we need to continue to learn as teachers (and not just to fulfill our continuing education credits to maintain our Yoga Alliance designation). We need to explore aspects of yoga that are calling to us. We need to study with teachers we resonate with. We need to read books and blogs and attend community classes simply because we are yoga students first, teachers second.

2. Keep a Substitute in the Wings

When we are not feeling 100% – whether from sickness, injury or emotional stresses in our lives, we need to ask for help and that help has to be easily accessible. Having a substitute teacher list for all of our classes allows us to take care of ourselves, gives our students opportunities to experience other teachers, and might also allow new teachers an opportunity to gain experience.

3. Simplify and Streamline your Classes

We don’t need to create a new class plan for every individual class we teach. Some teachers choose a theme for the week – whether it’s workshopping a certain pose, using the same quotes or focusing on a particular aspect of spiritual growth – that can be carried throughout the week but modified based on the style of yoga being taught. Just as important is to review the plan after class and make notes of what worked, what didn’t and what changes we may have made during class, or plan to in the future. Our teaching must continually evolve based on experience and education, but we don’t need to start from scratch every class. Make notes, keep notes and have a plan. This practice conserves energy, reduces stress, and ensures that we are offering variety to our students from week to week.

4. Conserve Energy and Stay Hydrated

We yoga teachers tend to talk a lot through the course of a class which means more exhaling than inhaling. Prana is lost! But so is moisture. I’ve made it a practice to fill my water bottle at the start of class and make sure it is empty by the end. I’ve also found that recording a class, or just listening intently to my words, has helped me discover ways to use words more sparingly. Like good poetry – choose the best words in the best order. We, as teachers, also need to offer our students silence so they can focus on their inner listening and we can exemplify the stillness of the practice.

5. Demonstrate Less

We also need to offer stillness to our body at times. As teachers we are expected to demonstrate poses, but we should do so carefully, ideally at less than 80% of our fullest expression and if assymetrical, on both sides. In beginner or special needs classes, oftentimes there is a need to demonstrate for the entire length of the pose, but sometimes I find myself demonstrating a pose when no one can actually see me! Spending less time in the pose also allows me to keep an eye on the students so as to offer individualized cues or hands on assists. Similarly, when injured, I’ve known teachers to ask more experienced student if they might be willing to demonstrate certain poses for the class when need be.

6. Fair Remuneration

One of the most challenging aspects of teaching yoga has been figuring out what is fair remuneration for my work. As a natural karma yogi, it is tempting to teach for free. But as a householder yogi living in the world, teaching yoga is my ‘right livelihood’ and my energy needs to be exchanged for money. I know teachers who teach freely for Yoga Outreach, but balance that with higher paid classes in the the corporate sector. Some teachers work full time elsewhere and only teach yoga as a community service. And some teachers teach twenty classes per week just to make ends meet. A lot needs to be taken into consideration – travel time, prep time, the needs of the students, our relationship with our employers and our own financial needs. There’s no one answer as to what we, as yoga teachers, ‘should’ be paid. But if we find ourselves resentful of what we’re being paid, or if a class depletes us rather than fills us up, it is time to take a closer look.

7. Build your Teaching Community

Believe it or not, teaching yoga can feel like walking a lonely road at times. Connecting with other teachers in our community in order to share experiences and resources, ask for input and celebrate accomplishments is indispensable! I meet with some of my teacher peers every few months and it has been such an unexpected gift! Case in point, just last week I shared the rough draft of this article with them and they offered even more insight and wisdom.

As yoga teachers, we are all going about our ‘right livelihood’ in our own unique ways. I am still learning how to take care of myself in order to offer my students my best self. Thankfully the yoga teachings stand on their own – offering my students their own glimpses of their best selves. We all meet there together – just by showing up on our mats! Be gentle with yourselves. Take good care!


KenziePattillo

Kenzie Pattillo completed her 200 hour YTT at SSCY in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver and currently teaches hatha, yin and restorative yoga in her community and at yoga getaways at the Centre.

As an E-RYT 200, and having recently completed her 500 hour YTT through Semperviva Yoga College, she looks forward to joining the YTT asana faculty this summer at SSCY.

News from the Centre: July 2016

Greetings Friends.

The Solstice has come and gone. Summer is fully upon us with its outward spiral of heat, light and life force. July may be whirling away, but we remain firmly tethered by our sadhana, as we circle around the Centre.

floral harvest

Our land provides us with so many delicious things!

We welcomed our Yoga Service and Study Immersion (YSSI) participants into the community in June. We hosted five different programs and many private retreat guests, which offered myriad opportunities for the YSSI and KYs (residential karma yogis) to grow together in community through hard work. Sofi, our new kitchen lead, has joined us for the summer as well and we are still looking to fill the Programs Assistant position for the busy months ahead.

Harley in a cherry tree

Harley in a cherry tree.

We have begun holding Wednesday morning work parties to ensure that we are coming together to work on bigger to do list items. We are hoping to fix the fence line, as the deer are munching our kale and strawberries, and earlier in the month we cleared brush and prepped the firewood to dry for winter. We are working honestly, but we also play! The volleyball net continues to be well used, with usual games held at 5 p.m. daily when the weather cooperates.

The weather has been co-operating! Milo continues to steward the land with reverence. He shares with us these words from the Farm:

The gardens burst into abundance after a most welcome June-uary brings savory squalls to our parched soils. Water, what big life you have.

Now it’s July and honey bees have arrived! Snugged into our Carpenter Chris built top-bar hive. Seeds of support including buckwheat and clover have been sown in their wake. A sanctuary we will make.

Our legumes, also a theme this year, are blooming and booming. We’re up to our ears in peas! Dan’s bush beans follow their lead as stretching for the summer sun and repair damage done.

Lots of harvesting on the horizon and fun to be had. Come play.

Our board member and KY Julie Higginson blessed us with some of her bees!

Our board member and KY Julie Higginson blessed us with some of her bees!

 

Carpenter Chris built the bees a top-bar hive.

Carpenter Chris built the bees a top-bar hive.

Looking forward, July is full speed ahead with our 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training beginning July 3rd. As the first half of the training wraps up mid-month, we will pause to celebrate Guru Purnima on July 19th, beginning at 8.30am in the Pond Dome. For those unfamiliar with this ancient Vedic ceremony (yajna), it is an opportunity to honour Babaji and all spiritual teachers, rededicating ourselves to all that the teachings inspire within us, to attain real peace.

Guru is your own Self which is projected onto a person who is more knowledgeable and capable of teaching. In the beginning an aspirant seeks support from outside, which is given by the teacher. But when the aspirant begins meditating honestly, his or her own Self is revealed as the Guru. Then the aspirant starts turning inward and finds the path, which is shown by the voice of the heart.

If you are interested in offering at the Yajna, or would like more information, please contact Rajani at 250 537 9537 or rajanirock@me.com.

July will turn to August as we gather together for our Annual Community Yoga Retreat. Registration is now open and there are opportunities to volunteer as well as participate to varying degrees. We like to think of this retreat as summer camp for yogis, friends and families.

This Month’s Newsletter Offerings

“The very first question that I was ever brave enough to ask Babaji was, “Babaji, if you had only two words to say to the people of the world, what would they be?” And without hesitation, he wrote “Attain Peace.” “

The above quote is from Pratibha Queen’s piece The Practice of Peace. Reflecting on her own experiences as a long time devotee of Babaji, she explores the attainment of peace with great clarity and generosity of spirit.

Those who attended ACYR last year, especially with children, no doubt remember Catherine and her husband Ishi, providing the kid’s meals every evening. This month gifted teacher, and lifelong learner, Catherine Dinim, shares her story in Our Centre Community.

Long time Karma Yogi (and Satsang kid) Arpita offers us kapotasana (pigeon pose) through a Yin lens in Asana of the Month. She includes a thoughtful exploration of Yin Yoga which is a style of yoga that is especially well worth practising at this time of year as it can help balance the Yang energy of the summer season.

If you are in peace, then others around you will feel peace.
So your best effort should be to work on yourself.

Wishing you peace, peace, peace.

Warmest regards,
Kenzie

Book Review: Love Poems from God

Love Poems to GodLove Poems From God

Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West
Translations by Daniel Ladinsky

book review by Kenzie Pattillo

THEY CAN BE LIKE A SUN

They can be like the sun, words.

They can do for the heart
what light can
for a field.

-St. John of the Cross

I began shaving for my yoga students. There I said it. I was 35 years old and had never shaved anything, ever, but I did this for them. Why? It’s the same reason I seek poems about God without the word ‘God’ in them to share at the end of my yoga classes. I want the yoga classes I teach to be completely accessible, without any triggers that might ramp up my students’ left brains and take them away from their own present experience of yoga. (This is also the reason that at rec centres I don’t ‘om’ before and after class, though at studios I ‘om’ to my heart’s content).

Now, one might think that looking for ‘God’-less poems about God in a book titled ‘Love Poems From God’ might be a fruitless (and somewhat ironic) endeavor, but I beg to differ. I had previously discovered that Daniel Ladinsky’s translations of the poetry of Hafiz in ‘The Gift’ offered a healthy handful of poems for my use. ‘Love Poems From God’ proved to be just as full of such divine seeds to plant in the fertile, post-savasana soil of my students open hearts and minds.

Admittedly, I turn to this book often for my own solace and nurturance, and I draw deeply from all of the poems- ‘God’-less and ‘God’-full. Ladinsky has once again done an inimitable job translating a diverse range of poetry into a contemporary feeling anthology that traverses the spiritual traditions of East and West, as well as great swaths of time! By book’s end, what is made plain are two things- it’s all the same God, and it’s all about LOVE.

Though some might critique the author’s translations as too contemporary, he preempts such judgement with this quiet rebuttal in the introduction:

“In studying the lives of these wonderful saints, I can’t imagine any of them saying “no” if they were asked if we could freely adapt their words to a few bluegrass tunes or whiskey soaked jazz. I think they might shout, “Go for it baby; set the world on fire if you can, kick ass for the beloved with some great art.”

Included in the book is a short biography of each saint before there poetry appears. As spiritual aspirants, we are often encouraged to read about the lives of saints, and Ladinsky offers just enough information to contextualize the poetry that comes after while whetting the reader’s appetite for learning more about each of these god-intoxicated individuals. Ladinsky writes:

“I chose these great twelve figures to work with because of their ability to help us know our own sacredness, and because of their skill to awaken us to the wonder- and thus gratitude- of the common.”

So I offer you now a few “God”-less poems about God.

THIS CHOIR

So amazing this choir of
socks, shoes, shirt, skirt, undergarments,

earth, sky, suns, and
moons.

no wonder I too, now,
sing all
day.

-Rabia (717-801)

~~~

A RABBIT NOTICED MY CONDITION

I was sad one day and went for a walk;
I sat in a field.

A rabbit noticed my condition and
came near.

It often does not take more than that to help at times-

to just be close to creatures who
are so full of knowing,
so full of love
that they don’t
–chat,

they just gaze with
their
marvelous understanding.

-St. John of the Cross (1542-1591)

~~~

WHAT DOES LIGHT TALK ABOUT?

When you recognize her beauty,
the eye applauds, the heart stands in an ovation,

and the tongue when she is near
is on its best behaviour,
it speaks more like light.

What does light talk about?
I asked a plant that once.

It said, “I am not sure,
but it makes me
grow.”

-St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

~~~

THE WAY THE FOREST SHELTERS

I know about love the way the field knows about light,
the way the forest shelters,

the way an animal’s divine raw desire seeks to unite with
whatever might please its soul -without a single
strange thought of remorse.

There is a powerful delegation in us that
lobbies every moment for contentment.

How will you ever find peace
unless you yield to love

the way the gracious earth
does to our hand’s
impulse.

-Rabia

~~~

WRING OUT MY CLOTHES

Such love does
the sky now pour,
that whenever I stand in a field,

I have to wring out the light
when I get
home.

-St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)

~~~

LOVE DOES THAT

All day long a little burro labors, sometimes
with heavy loads on her back and sometimes just with worries
about the things that bother only
burros.

And worries, as we know, can be more exhausting
than physical labor.

Once in awhile a kind monk comes
to her stable and brings
a pear, but more
than that,

he looks into the burros eyes and touches her ears

and for a few seconds the burro is free
and even seems to laugh,

because love does
that.

Love frees.

-Meister Eckhart (1260-1328)

~~~

THE HYMNS OF THE EARTH

I wanted to be a hermit and only hear the hymns
of the earth, and the laughter of the sky,

and the sweet gossip of the creatures on my limbs,
the forests.

I wanted to be a hermit and not see another face
look upon mine and tell me I was not
all the beauty in this
world.

For so many faces do that-
cage us.

The wings we have are so fragile
they can break from just
one word, or

a glance void
of love.

I wanted to live in the cloister of
light’s silence

because, is it not true, the heart
is so fragile and shy.

-St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)

~~~

A GREAT YOGI

In my travels I spent time with a great yogi.
Once he said to me,

“Become so still you hear the blood flowing
through your veins.”

One night as I sat in quiet,
I seemed on the verge of entering a world inside so vast
I know it is the source of
all of
us.

-Mira (1498-1550)

Ladinsky does us a great service by uniting these many voices within the pages of ‘Love Poems from God’ through the medium of his formidable skill as a poet and translator.They each prove in their own way that a divine union with God is possible, which seems to be at the root of  Ladinsky’s intention behind this book. He says it better than I ever could when he writes,

“That concept, that sublime, divine experience of union with God I believe has existed since humans could conceive of time…To dismiss the possibility that the divine can speak through women and men is to limit God…Through their poetry, their lives, and their prayers, God played for us his music, which can still be heard today, hundreds of years later, for what a party the soul aflame ignites.”

This is my kind of party.


KenziePattillo

Kenzie Pattillo completed her 200 hour YTT at SSCY in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver and currently teaches hatha, yin and restorative yoga in her community and at yoga getaways at the Centre.

As an E-RYT 200, and having recently completed her 500 hour YTT through Semperviva Yoga College, she looks forward to joining the YTT asana faculty this summer at SSCY.

Yoga Nidra: Let Yourself Be (and Listen)

yoga-nidra-unsplashAs our daily routines slowly transform through different stages of our lives, our daily sadhana (yoga practice) must adapt accordingly.

Now that my children are in school full time and I am teaching back to back yoga classes most evenings, yoga nidra (yogic sleep) has become a non-negotiable part of my sadhana.

I admit my savasana (corpse pose) has never been strong (or long) when practicing at home. I can guide my own sadhana up until that point, but I need external guidance to relax deeply. I initially began playing an audio recording of a yoga nidra practice during my savasana to add length and depth to the practice. My restorative yoga training had given me opportunity to experience and offer this practice within the context of restorative yoga; however, the more I consistently practiced yoga nidra, the more I realized its value as a standalone practice for deep healing and profound states of conscious relaxation.

My initial exploration came about as I practiced many different yoga nidras based solely on how much time I had until school pick up once I’d completed my sadhana. There are yoga nidra practices available that range from 20 minutes to eight hours (the latter specifically for insomnia, the former how long I typically have to spend lying on the floor). I was only familiar with the script I’d been given in restorative yoga training, but I quickly learned that there are variations to the offering of the practice that have different intentions but equally effective outcomes. I’ve redistributed my prana, explored my chakras, travelled into space (maintaining a golden umbilical cord to my body), communed with my personal deities, experienced thought waves as bodily sensations, expanded my pranic field and more, all within the framework of yoga nidra.

The Practice of Yoga Nidra

For those unfamiliar with yoga nidra, let me explain the basics of the practice. The practitioner lies on the floor in savasana (though you can sit in a meditation posture as well) and listens to a teacher (in person or recorded) guide them through the practice. There are eight stages: initial relaxation (internalization), affirmative resolution (Sankalpa), rotation of consciousness, breath awareness, manifestation of opposites, creative visualization, repetition of initial Sankalpa, return and closing (externalization), with room within this framework to adapt the practice to an individual’s needs or to explore a specific theme.

Wikipedia explains yoga nidra beautifully:

“Yoga nidra, or “yogic sleep” is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, like the “going-to-sleep” stage. It is a state in which the body is completely relaxed, and the practitioner becomes systematically and increasingly aware of the inner world…. This state of consciousness is different to meditation in which concentration on a single focus is required. In yoga nidra the practitioner remains in a light state of pratyahara with four of his senses internalised (withdrawn) and only the hearing still connects to the instructions. The yogic goal of both paths, deep relaxation (yoga nidra) and meditation, are the same, a state called Samadhi.”

The Origins of Yoga Nidra

In its present day manifestation, yoga nidra is a relatively new yoga practice, but it’s origins are ancient. The modern method was developed by Swami Satyananda Saraswati in the 1940’s, based on the ancient tantric ritual of “Nyasa” where mantras are internally or externally placed on different parts of the body to purify body and mind in preparation for meditation. The chanting of mantra and rotation of awareness harmonizes the nervous system, balances pranic flow, and renders the mind one pointed to induce pratyahara (sense withdrawal) in preparation for dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation). Satyananda felt strongly that this was a practice the modern world needed, and that, if the mantras were omitted, its transformative potential could still be maintained, and this highly complex and advanced technique would become accessible to people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds.

The Benefits of Yoga Nidra

There is so much more that can be explored in relation to yoga nidra, though this knowledge is not needed to do the practice. Seen through the lens of the koshas (gross, causal and subtle bodies), yoga nidra leads the practitioner systematically through each sheath, and, with grace, one arrives at Anandamaya kosha- bliss! Seen through the lens of states of consciousness, one is intentionally led from conscious mind (Jagrat), through subconscious mind (Swapna), into unconscious mind (Sushupt) and, again, with grace, one arrives at superconsciousness (Turiya). Through the lens of science, recent studies have concluded that the practice of yoga nidra can significantly reduce symptoms of stress and therefore help and/or prevent stress related illness, as well as reduce the severity of symptoms related to PTSD and adult onset diabetes. It’s also been claimed that the practice can eradicate deep rooted psychological problems, cure insomnia, awaken the faculty of intuition, and increase the memory and learning capacity of students.

I love everything about yoga nidra. I love its ancient origins and its recent incarnation as a practice accessible to all. I love creating an affirmative resolution (Sankalpa) and seeding it deeply into my subconscious to one day bear fruit. I love listening to a recording I’ve never heard before and being taken on a journey I’d not been expecting- like to deep space! I love how the practice recharges my batteries and allows me to face the second half of my busy weekday, present, rested and calm. I love how even on the hardest days I can still will myself to lie down and listen. I can let myself be. And that has made all the difference.

Here are links to two yoga nidra practices I’ve listened to many times:

 

KenziePattillo
Kenzie Pattillo
completed her 200 hour YTT at SSCY in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver and currently teaches hatha, yin and restorative yoga in her community and at yoga getaways at the Centre.

As an E-RYT 200, and having recently completed her 500 hour YTT through Semperviva Yoga College, she looks forward to joining the YTT asana faculty this summer at SSCY.

.

Book review: Myths of the Asana

Myths of the Asanas

The Stories at the Heart of the Yoga Tradition
Written by Alanna Kaivalya and Arjuna van der Kooij

Book review by Kenzie Pattillo

“Yogic myth has a genius to clothe the infinite in human form.” Eknath Easwaran

MythsOfThe AsanasBookThe authors of ‘Myths of the Asanas’, Alanna Kaivalya and Arjuna van der Kooij, use the asanas (yoga postures) as a means of turning us towards the true goal of yoga by way of myth and metaphor. “The myths point to a higher state of consciousness. They depict the travel of the soul from ignorance to illumination. Their goal is to take us from the illusions of our ego centred existence (samsara) to the reality of liberated existence…” Especially in the West, where yoga is offered as primarily a physical practice, this book shows that a closer look at the poses themselves offer a means of moving the practitioner closer to truth. As Manorama so eloquently writes in the epilogue,

“Myths of the Asanas’ offers the reader an opportunity to journey into this metaphoric link that exists between the yoga pose and its myths. When one engages an asana, one can explore not only the literal pose but also the depth contained in a pose’s story. This fluid linking between the ancient and the modern gives the student of yoga both a window into the profound yogic path as well as a manageable lesson to practice with.”

BookReview-PadmasanaBecause I bought the book with the intention of applying its contents to my teaching, I was briefly disappointed to find a lot of the poses offered are quite advanced. I teach mostly beginner and multi-level classes and many of these poses I will not have opportunity to teach. But what I have found is that even the most unattainable, pretzel-like poses are based soundly in truth that can be applied to other, more attainable ones. For example Padmasana (lotus pose) is not easily achieved by many yogis but by reading about the lotus growing from Vishnu’s navel opening  to reveal the sound of ‘Om’ thus causing the creation of the universe, one can realize it’s not just about the pose. Onward the text reveals the metaphorical significance of the lotus flower and brings it full circle back to the posture as a seat for meditation and ultimately enlightenment by way of the term ‘avidya’ and Patanjali’s yoga sutras.

“The journey of this sacred flower reflects the journey of the yogi. We are rooted in the earth, absorbed by the endless cycle of births, deaths, sicknesses, tragedies, celebrations, bills, apartment leases, and family relations. The yogi knows this muck as the dirt of avidya, the great mistake of identifying ourselves with something other than our divine nature…The promise of yoga is that eventually, through enough nurturing and determination, we will surface above the water and realize our full potential.”

This was just the first pose in the book! Every pose explored by the authors leads the reader from posture, through myth, into metaphor until the deep, profound intention behind the practice is once again revealed. Every pose exposes the potential for transformation of consciousness.

BookReview-WarriorPoseSometimes the myths themselves seem rather inexplicable, yet Kaivalya and Kooij manage to elevate them. For example, the myth attached to the warrior poses (Virabhadrasana) is shown to be about our own struggle against our reactive mind and how to maintain an uplifted outlook (chitta pranadam) by introducing yoga sutra 1.33,

“In order to preserve an elevated state of mind, be happy for those that are happy, cultivate compassion for those that are sad, feel delight for those deemed to be lucky (virtuous or righteous), and experience indifference to those perceived to be wicked.”

Sure, Shiva sent Virabhadra to cut off his father-in-law’s head when his wife Sati appeared to instantaneously combust. But he made it right: he replaced Daksha’s head with a goat’s head…(?) Apparently even god’s make somewhat questionable decisions sometimes.

“It is not easy being a warrior, especially one who is constantly fighting against a reactive mind…Warrior poses are a reminder that ferocity exists not only to destroy but also to allow us sufficient strength to achieve integrity, compassions, and a loving state of mind.”

‘Myths of the Asanas’ offers explanations to many Sanskrit terms I’ve come across in my yoga studies, yet by reading this book I feel they’ve finally sunk in. Terms like abhinivesha, avidya, chitta pranadam, dristhi, guna, guru, isvara pranadana, jivanmukta, karma,  lila, maya, nadam, namaste, om, sadhana, sadhu, samasara, Shraddha, siddhis, and yoga nidra (just to name a few) are all introduced and explained seamlessly and effectively.  I actually hoped there was a glossary of terms at the end of this book so I could test myself! Coupled with an index, this could be an excellent textbook and a very effective approach to teaching yoga philosophy and history at a teacher training.

Kaivalya and Kooij are concise and not effusive in introducing ancient yogic texts from which many of the myths originate or the metaphors are expounded. The Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, Yoga Sutras, Mahabharata, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and the Vedas are all contextualized within yoga’s long history. I imagine a reader new to yoga could feel well informed and satiated while gently encouraged to explore these background texts when they feel ready. I was surprised that there wasn’t a bibliography at the book’s end referencing particular translations of these ancient texts. A great translation can make all the difference and obviously a lot of research went into the writing of this book.

BookReview-balasanaI’m still contemplating how and when to share the bounty within these pages when I teach. For my beginner students, there is time within class to explain the significance of Anjali mudra, Namaste, ‘Om’ and Savasana as they are consistent parts of a yoga class that might seem inexplicable to those unfamiliar with yoga.  The more physically accessible poses such as Balasana (child pose), Tadasana (mountain), Gomukhasana (cow’s face), and Dandasana (staff pose), could allow for some deeper explorations, as they are often held for more than five breaths.

I feel strongly that ‘Myths of the Asanas’ could be very valuable to both yoga practitioners and teachers, and all lovers of myth and metaphor. This book acts as an accessible guidebook, graciously offering to lead the reader from the physical realm of asana to the infinite realm of truth. Alanna Kaivalya and Arjuna van der Kooij have created an exceptional and unprecedented contribution to the contemporary study and practice of yoga.

 

KenziePattillo
Kenzie Pattillo
completed her 200 hour YTT at Salt Spring Centre of Yoga in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver, B.C. and presently teaches yin, hatha and flow yoga in her community. En route to completing her 500 hour YTT designation she has recently begun practicing one on one restorative therapeutics.

Householder Yoga

Babaji‘The yoga of householder is a very hard yoga. Not for everyone. Be householder saints.’

Ten years ago, just as I was trying to figure out who and how to be in the world as both a spiritual aspirant and an adult, I found out I was pregnant with my first child. Sure, I’d been broody for years, but my partner and I were relatively young, living far away from family and friends, and I had recently been seriously contemplating a spiritual life of renunciation. So I turned to ‘The Yellow Book’, an early compilation of Babaji’s teachings, conveniently unbound, to find a few pages I could keep with me for guidance. These are the four I chose:

‘Be your children’s servant.’

‘Children being born now need to be around people with open hearts.’

‘All babies are yogis.’ Because their chitts have less thoughts. They are in their purest form and the light of God shines in them.

The yoga of householder is a very hard yoga. Not for everyone. Be householder saints.’ The yoga sadhana of householder yogis is to live alone among people and to be in desires without desires.

Just these four pages were enough at the time to assure me that raising children was a potent form of spiritual practice. But by serving my children selflessly (karma yoga), with an open heart of devotion (bhakti yoga), while living in intentional community (family), I was also renouncing the outer world in a sense, becoming the world for my children. As each year passed their world grew bigger and my role within and without my family began to change. I needed to understand what the practice of householder yoga really meant, why it was considered so difficult, and how ‘to live alone among people and be in desires without desires’.

Babaji doesn’t just make this stuff up – so I did some research. As in, I typed ‘householder yoga’ in to Wikipedia and this is what I found:

In ancient India there developed a Hindu system of ashramas (life stages) that helped guide one in living in accordance with one’s Dharma; ‘something essential to completing the full development of a human being and fulfilling all the needs of the individual and society’. (Wikipedia)

Divided roughly into 25 years, the first stage was called Bramacharya (bachelor/student), the second Grihastha (householder), the third Vanaprastha (forest dweller/retired) and finally Sanayasin (renunciate). It was acknowledged that the second stage, Grihastha, was most important because by leading a virtuous life, contributing positively and materially to society, and raising and educating children to continue humankind, one supported everyone within the other three life stages. In turn, this phase was considered the most challenging for spiritual aspirants because it was ‘where the most intense physical, sexual, emotional, occupational, social and material attachments exist in a human being’s life.'(Wikipedia)

It was noted that the system was set in place to avoid mass renunciation and the breakdown of society, but there were exceptions. Those who experienced complete dispassion towards the world during the student stage could go straight to renunciation (like Babaji). But for the rest of us, the hard work of spiritual sadhana (practice) was, and very much still is, to be found while ‘being in the world but not of it’.

I found a helpful passage in Between Pleasure and Pain, written by devotees of Babaji, based on his teachings.

“Marriage invariably means family life and all the financial responsibilities that go along with it. We have to earn a living and provide ourselves and our families with the necessities of life. But how do work and family responsibilities fit in with spiritual life? Don’t all the traditional teachings say that we have to renounce worldly possessions? Is this to be taken literally? If not, what is renunciation?

Renunciation is something other and much deeper than the mere physical act of giving away one’s car, television set, and stereo, etc., and going away to live in a cave in the Himalayas. Renunciation has virtually nothing to do with physical possessions. It is strictly a state of mind. Renunciation for householders means living in the world without becoming bound and obsessed by it. And worldliness, the opposite of renunciation, is only attachment to sense objects and sense experiences, and not the objects or experiences themselves. Work and household responsibilities are perfectly compatible with spiritual life. Our attitude alone determines whether our lives are “spiritual” or “worldly”. In fact, considering our culture and our needs, household life is undoubtedly the most viable approach to sadhana for most of us.

…Work done begrudgingly and work that becomes an obsession are both forms of ego indulgence and create more attachments and a greater sense of separation. Work that is done willingly, responsibly, and with pure motives is a very high form of sadhana- karma yoga.” (Between Pleasure and Pain)

…and from Silence Speaks…

Q: Is solitude preferable to being a householder?
B: No, but a householder sometimes needs solitude to see him or herself from a different angle.
Q: Is a householder’s progress slower?
B: Progress depends upon your honesty. A sadhu (renunciate) can be much slower in sadhana than a householder if there is not honesty in sadhana.
No one can have everything. We gain something and we lose something. In this way life goes on. Without developing the qualities of tolerance, compassion and contentment we can’t live together and can’t love each other. A married couple should sacrifice their personal desires and row their boat together. Negativity is not unusual; it exists in everyone. But we have to overpower these negative things by watching the mind.

There is no peace if there is no limitation of desires. We create problems mostly by our own dissatisfactions. No one can be happy all the time. Sometimes we get sad and depressed, and at that time our sadness projects onto the people around us, which creates problems or dissatisfaction. I have not seen any householders who can say that they have no problems. I can’t say that householders can eliminate all problems, but they can reduce the emotional strain by understanding the real situation.

…and a final word from Everyday Peace…

There is nothing wrong in wanting material things when you are a householder. But when you want material things and at the same time reject spiritual life, that is not good.

…Money has its place in life. It’s not the most important thing to have money. With lots of money you can’t eat more than the capacity of your stomach. You can’t wear several sets of clothes. You can’t ride in three or four cars at the same time. Money gives material satisfaction and at the same time dissatisfaction. But you need money to pay your family expenses.
The most important thing is peace. Without peace one can’t get contentment. Without contentment life is unhappy and miserable.

…We are in the world. We have to desire things we need. But in desiring the world we should also desire to get out of the world.
Sadhana is very important. It does not matter what sadhana you do. The important thing is to do it regularly.

Wish you all happy together.

I get the sense that all of Babaji’s teachings are for householder yogis. Over and over again he reiterates that limiting desires is an important part of the path and that regular sadhana supports this aim. The yoga of parenthood continues for me to be a practice of devotion and selfless service, and, as I venture into the wider world of livelihood and community engagement, these practices continue to challenge and guide me. Babaji writes of karma yoga- “Work without devotion is sand” which flows seamlessly into bhakti yoga- “True love is untouched by desire and attachment” “Love is always there when you are not hating”.

Jai Babaji!


KenziePattillo

Kenzie Pattillo completed her 200 hour YTT at SSCY in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver and currently teaches hatha, yin and restorative yoga in her community and at yoga getaways at the Centre.

As an E-RYT 200, and having recently completed her 500 hour YTT through Semperviva Yoga College, she looks forward to joining the YTT asana faculty this summer at SSCY.

Book Review: ‘How Can I Help?” Stories and Reflections on Service

How Can I Help book coverWe are all walking each other home.

‘How Can I Help?’ Stories and Reflections on Service
by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman

The first phone conversation I had with a beloved friend after her mother died was punctuated by a lot of tears on both sides of the line. She had been her mom’s main caregiver during the final few months of her life, and the experience of both caring for and saying goodbye to her mother had been profound and transformative. Amid the tears and heart talk, she mentioned a book that really helped her during this time, and she felt strongly that I should read it. Less than 24 hours later my eyes were drawn to a bright orange book cover on the tiny book shelf at my favourite juice bar as I awaited my ‘Ganesha’s Greens’. Amidst the raw food and vegan cookbooks sat my friend’s book recommendation; ‘How Can I Help’- Stories and Reflections on Service by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman. But of course: that’s how strong our love is.

Ram Dass and Gorman begin by establishing a few key principles, and then circle back to them as different aspects of service are explored. Beginning with the premise that we are all helpers, that compassion is our true nature, and that spontaneous expressions of innate generosity arise when we realize our inherent unity, they explore the barriers to that natural compassion. In acknowledging those barriers, they offer ways to overcome them, while providing deeply moving first person accounts that help place these ideas firmly in the world of experience. Those of us who learn better with concrete examples and/or personal narrative will especially benefit from this aspect of the book.

Ram Dass is a yogi’s yogi (he was even taught by Babaji way back when) yet I don’t recall the word ‘yoga’ being mentioned even once in the text, which makes the book more accessible to a wider audience, while still effectively exploring the practice of karma yoga. Wherever a barrier to effective helping is found, cultivating ‘The Witness’, unjudging awareness, is offered as a remedy. By creating more space to see situations clearly, our compassion for ourselves and others increases, our sense of unity is amplified and the helper and the helped dissolve until there is only helping. But it’s not easy and it takes practice!
The only practice offered in the book is called “opening to pain,” which not only helps us experience firsthand our own reactivity and aversion to suffering, but also offers the foundation stone of the Buddha’s teaching: “He saw that if we could break that link between painful conditions and the reactivity of the mind there was hope of liberating ourselves from the continuous experience of suffering. He realized that pain alone is not the enemy; the real enemy is fear and resistance.” Illuminating our reactions to suffering is also part of cultivating ‘The Witness’ and dissolving our sense of separation through true compassion.

“Through these practices, and our efforts to keep our hearts open in the presence of suffering, we find ourselves more available to whoever we are with. Compassion is increasingly an automatic response. We find a deep quality of love infusing our actions with others. The expression of this love, in turn, becomes increasingly our goal, whatever the circumstances. The more unconditionally we share it, the more helpful it is to all.”

This book is a helpful, practical guide for volunteers, those in the helping professions, activists, and even just friends and families trying to meet each other’s needs. But, this book also reminds us that helping is a deep spiritual practice of devotional service.

“Service gradually becomes an offering, first to those we are with, but eventually to that greater truth or source of being in which we are all joined in love. Helping becomes an act of reverence, worship, gratitude. It is grace merely to have the chance to serve.”

“It is no longer an end in itself. It is a vehicle through which we reach a deeper understanding of life. Each step we take, each moment in which we grow toward a greater understanding of unity, steadily transforms us into instruments of that help which truly heals.”

Every chapter of this book leads us toward a greater capacity to be of service. Certain chapters resonated more with me because of my own experience of helping, yet each chapter led me again back to the realization that true compassion is born of bearing Witness and dissolving any notion of a separate self. Ram Dass and Paul Gorman have served us all well by writing this book. It is truly, truly helpful!

 

KenziePattillo
Kenzie Pattillo
completed her 200 hour YTT at Salt Spring Centre of Yoga in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver, B.C. and presently teaches yin, hatha and flow yoga in her community. En route to completing her 500 hour YTT designation she has recently begun practicing one on one restorative therapeutics.

Book Review: “May I Be Happy” by Cyndi Lee

“May I Be Happy”
A Memoir of Love, Yoga, and Changing My Mind
Written by Cyndi Lee
A book review by Kenzie Pattillo

Book-Review-May-I-Be-Happy.JPEG-0d885I found a new yoga memoir at the library last month unexpectedly. I’d been in left brain yoga study for months it seemed – reading books about hands-on adjustments, sequencing and anatomy – and was yearning for a little personal narrative to apply to my yoga studies. Enter “May I Be Happy” by Cyndi Lee: a compelling and well-written memoir that also has within its pages the potential to help us heal our relationship with our own body.

The story is divided into three sections – arising, abiding and dissolving – providing a metaphorical structure that beautifully reinforces the subtleties of Lee’s unfolding journey towards self-acceptance. Teaching discourses interspersed throughout reinforce the process she is going through on her own path and her willingness to bring her students along with her. Her complete honesty and humility are refreshingly daring and exemplify her commitment to the vows of the bodhisattva. “I vow in every moment…to be helpful to every being I encounter in my life- all those beings I know and love, those I know and don’t like so much, and all those many, many beings I’ll never meet.” This book is a manifest expression of that vow.

My first take-away from the book came in the opening line of the opening paragraph: “Vinyasa has three parts – arising, abiding and dissolving”. Now that I’ve thoroughly digested this book I’m starting to recognize this truth in each yoga posture I perform, in the unfolding of both my home practice and the classes I teach, and even in the trajectory of my own life. “It’s a big vinyasa; everything that happens plants a seed and everything that is happening is the fruit of a previous seed. I’m becoming more aware of the seeds that I’m planting; and I’m becoming more aware of the seeds that have created my current experiences. That also means I can choose which seeds I want to water.”

What arises for her is the realization of her own suffering through long held body dissatisfaction that had been normalized early on in her life and cemented as a “full blown adult body grudge” that was only getting stronger as she passed through middle age. It was affecting her relationships, her health and her ability to teach yoga authentically. “Most all of my friends know this syndrome well and consider it a normal thing for our self-esteem to be based on how we feel about how our body looks.” She shares her inner dialogue about these feelings in real time while attending a Yoga Journal Conference in Hong Kong and on pilgrimage to India to visit Deer Park where the Buddha shared his first teachings. She mines her past and sees the origins of her negative body relationship in her upbringing as a minister’s daughter and her young adult life as a professional modern dancer. Once she begins to truly see how unhealthy her relationship is with her own body she sees how it’s been with her all along. It just keeps arising!

She moves into abiding, exploring the presence of this reality in her life, while seeking counsel from friends and mentors, Jamie Lee Curtis, Christine Northrup, and other long time girlfriends. She integrates this newfound awareness into her meditation practice as a 30 day challenge in the form of a Zen koan of sorts, asking herself, “What is my ‘ideal’ body?” She offers her students a lively discussion of sukha (ease) and dukha (suffering) – practice sukhasanasa-stop practicing dukhasana! – and an experiential teaching of Basic Goodness, found through sitting in Vajrasana and exploring the reality of neural plasticity in regards to the power of practice. “I was not going to share this with my class, but I realized that repetition is how I’ve become such a masterful critic of every nook and cranny of my one precious body.”

Two thirds of the way through the book Lee is firmly aware of the truth of her reality, but still hasn’t found a way to change it. The dissolving still must find a way to be initiated. Enter her mother’s own dissolution and the discovery of her husband’s philandering and the potential dissolution of that relationship as well. Then, Louise Haye (mother of positive affirmations and catalyst for by far the most entertaining discourse in the book) tells Lee to acknowledge her own mother’s narcissism, her own unwillingness to do anything about her situation thus far, and the absolute imperative that she not call the book “I Hate My Body”, because every time she says it, “It just gets worse!” Louise tells Lee in no uncertain terms that she has spent a lifetime practicing “rotten affirmations” and instead offers her the affirmation “I am my own yoga student”. Haye helps Lee see the contrast between how she thinks about herself compared to how she thinks about her students: “I love them and I don’t care what they look like and I never think their bodies are wrong.”

Lee meets with Buddhist nun Jetsumna Tenzin Palmo, who reminds her to take her troubles into her practice and turn it into the path. This includes thanking Lee’s husband for his indiscretions and forgiving the women who were involved. But most importantly Palmo recommends that Lee practice Maitri-loving kindness- for herself. ‘May I be safe/May I be healthy/May I be happy/May I live with ease’ becomes another powerful affirmation to dissolve her lifetime body grudge.
“That old grumpy voice was the one thing not being fed…The most important safe and healthy environment was inside my head. I was no longer willing to live in a place where the law said I had to be perfect. And I was not going to live with someone who didn’t like me, respect me, or take proper care of me, so I broke up with that person – the woman who hated her body – and decided to become the person I did want to live with.”

During the final chapter of this book Lee literally becomes her own yoga student as she practices along with a yoga video she made a decade ago. She feels such compassion for her past self and acknowledges how far she has come. “I realized I had decided to accept the assignment of working with this body. Not to get rid of it; not to resent it; not to wish I looked more like somebody else; but to take this body as it was at this moment on the path towards more goodness.” “If I loved it (my body) unconditionally, I might learn to love myself unconditionally, and then to spread this unconditional love to others. That was a good day’s yoga practice.”

I couldn’t help but relate to the inquiry set in motion in this book. I believe that most women live with at least a small amount of ‘body grudge’, but that it is viewed as something non-negotiable – the cost of doing business as a woman in this contemporary world. I completely identify with a quote she shares by Gelek Rinpoche who said, “You can’t divide yourself into parts and hate one part and love another – both parts are you.” Yoga asana practice has helped me to access those parts of my body my mind has judged unacceptable and integrate them back into a loving, safe whole. The mindfulness inherent in yoga practice has helped me access the truth in the statements “You are not your thoughts” and “Don’t believe everything you think”. What needs to be added is the knowledge that we can change our thoughts, not just abide them. Though I’ve been able to create some space between myself and my negative body thoughts, they still arise quite regularly and if not brought to the light of awareness, I can easily find myself watering full grown plants long ago planted as seeds. Through Lee’s words I feel empowered to not just abide these thoughts but to apply some conscious affirmations in order to plant new seeds instead.

This book tackles a very big subject with grace and courage. Our relationship with our body is nuanced, multi-layered and deeply personal. I can’t even begin to do this subject justice by reviewing this book, but Lee does the subject profound justice by writing it. As Louise Haye said as she hugged Lee goodbye, “…when you get it, you’re going to get it for everybody.” Thank you Cyndi Lee! This book will help so many people. Please read! Please share!

 

KenziePattillo
Kenzie Pattillo
completed her 200 hour YTT at Salt Spring Centre of Yoga in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver, B.C. and presently teaches yin, hatha and flow yoga in her community. En route to completing her 500 hour YTT designation she has recently begun practicing one on one restorative therapeutics.

Book Review: The Gift, poems by Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky

A Book I Wish Were Found at the Library
A book review by Kenzie Pattillo

Hafiz The Gift book coverI offer this book for review not because I found it at the library, but because I wish it were found there. I read poems from this book after my yoga students finish their savasana and make their way back to a comfortable seat and close their eyes. I pick a poem intuitively during the last few minutes of final relaxation, and almost without fail a student after class will tell me how much this specific poem spoke to them and ask where to find this book. Hence, I wish I could send them to the library to find it!

I have always deeply loved poetry but wasn’t introduced to sacred verse that truly spoke to me until I was given a translation of Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘Duino Elegies’ on the eve of my first solo traveling adventure (which of course led me to SSCY). I actually stopped writing poetry at that time because he so perfectly expressed what I yearned to but found so truly inexpressible. Soon after, I discovered Rumi – lucky enough to be living at the Kripalu yoga centre when Coleman Barks, eminent Rumi translator and scholar, came to perform Rumi’s poetry. Between Rumi and Rilke I thought I was well served…until I found Hafiz.

About ten years ago, while living at SSCY, I came across ‘The Gift’ and felt such endless nourishment in its pages. I could open at random and be rewarded, or start at the very beginning or the very end for that matter and fill up on true soul food. I committed the simplest to memory and repeated them like mantras. As a poet and a seeker I delighted in these best words in the best order. Daniel Ladinsky’s contemporary use of language made Hafiz’ work accessible and yet timeless. These three poems I can still draw on when ‘The Gift’ is not with me at the end of a yoga class.

IT FELT LOVE
How
Did the rose
Ever open its heart

And give to this world
All its
Beauty?

It felt the encouragement of light
Against its being,

Otherwise,
We all remain

Too

Frightened.

~~~~~

THIS SKY

This
Sky
Where we live
Is no place to lose your wings
So love, love,
Love.

~~~~~

THE SUN NEVER SAYS
Even
After
All this time
The sun never says to the earth,

“You owe
Me.”

Look
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the
Whole
Sky.

As my boys grew older and I resumed teaching yoga regularly, I recalled something that struck me in an article I’d read about the qualities of a good yoga class. The idea was to include something of your understanding of truth and of beauty in your class. To me truth and beauty are indelibly linked and perfectly transmuted in sacred poetry – so I began to bring ‘The Gift’ with me to class.

I intuitively chose to offer one poem after savasana and before closing the practice. While researching poetry in yoga class for this piece it was often suggested to offer a poem at the start of class as a theme to weave throughout or at the start of savasana to help guide the relaxation. In both instances I thought the mind would not be ripe to intuit the deeper meaning of the verse, nor were words an appropriate anchor for practice or final relaxation. I didn’t want to sense wheels turning throughout class or savasana. As I explored my own intuitive reasoning for this placement I came to see what beautiful potential sacred poetry has for unifying the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Please forgive the simplicity of my understanding, but a good savasana takes us deeply into the right brain (imagery/sensuality/expansive presence) but we naturally transition to some left brain function (language/linear and analytic thought) to leave class and go about our worldly duties. In this transitional place the transcendent nature of both the poem and the practice can hopefully be recognized and received . Poetry elevates – and the closing of our practice primes us for deep poetic reception. Hafiz so beautifully expresses the ineffable knowing that yoga practice leads us towards.

WITH THAT MOON LANGUAGE

Admit something:

Everyone you see, you say to them,
“Love me.”

Of course you do not do this out loud;
Otherwise,
Someone would call the cops.

Still though, think about this,
This great pull in us
To connect.

Why not become the one
Who lives with a full moon in each eye
That is always saying,

With that sweet moon
Language,

What every other eye in this world
Is dying to
Hear.

~~~~~

WE HAVE NOT COME TO TAKE PRISONERS

We have not come here to take prisoners,
But to surrender ever more deeply
To freedom and joy.

We have not come into this exquisite world
To hold ourselves hostage from love.

Run my dear,
From anything
That may not strengthen
Your precious budding wings.

Run like hell my dear,
From anyone likely
To put a sharp knife
Into the sacred, tender vision
Of your beautiful heart.

For we have not come here to take prisoners
Or to confine our wonderous spirits,

But to experience ever and ever more deeply
Our divine courage, freedom, and
Light!

~~~~~

AND FOR NO REASON

And
For no reason
I start skipping like a child.

And
For no reason
I turn into a leaf
That is carried so high
I kiss the Sun’s mouth
And dissolve.

And
For no reason
A thousand birds
Choose my head for a conference table,
Start passing their
Cups of wine
And their wild songbooks all around.

And
For every reason in existence
I begin to eternally,
To eternally laugh and love!

When I turn into a leaf
And start dancing,
I run to kiss our beautiful Friend
And I dissolve into the Truth
That I Am.

Another of my considerations when offering a poem at the end of a class was whether it was appropriate to use the word ‘God’. This can feel very loaded for some folks and I want my sensitive, receptive, post-savasana students not to feel triggered unexpectedly by my offering. Thankfully Hafiz uses so many different words to express the divine that with 250 poems to choose from, avoiding the word God helps narrow down my choices. But at times I will preface a poem by saying that I will be using the ‘big G’ word (“so please take that to mean whatever it means to you”) and at other times I simply omit the word God and replace it with love or light (my apologies to Daniel Ladinsky- but I truly don’t think Hafiz would mind).

These are a few I’ve had to preface over the years:

A HARD DECREE

Last

Night

God
Posted
On the Tavern wall

A hard decree for all of love’s inmates

Which read:

If your heart cannot find a joyful work

The jaws of this world
Will probably

Grab hold of your

Sweet
Ass.

~~~~~

I GOT KIN

Plant
So that your own heart
Will grow.

Love
So God will think,

“Ahhhhh,
I got kin in that body!
I should start inviting that soul over
For coffee and
Rolls.”

Sing
Because this is a food
Our starving world
Needs.

Laugh
Because that is the purest
Sound.

~~~~~

THE GOD WHO ONLY KNOWS
FOUR WORDS

Every
Child has known God,
Not the God of names,
Not the God of don’t,
Not the God who ever does
Anything weird,
But the God who only knows four words
And keeps repeating them, saying:
“Come dance with Me.”
Come
Dance.

Even if I’m misguided in my understanding of the right brain/left brain poetry connection, I still feel that after savasana is a fertile time to plant the seeds of the true intention behind yoga practice. We all know that there is more than just stretching, strengthening and relaxing going on in a yoga class. Much like poetry, it is more than the sum of its parts. What one receives from a good poem and from a good yoga practice is often times indescribable, partly because they nourish a part of us that is beyond words and partly because they meet us exactly where we are at which is so deeply personal.

There is much to be said about Hafiz- his place in history as a Sufi Master and realized being, his rediscovery in the West these last 200 years, and his influence over contemporary poets and poetry. But for me, the true measure of this book is that even after ten years I can still turn to its pages and find inspiration, companionship, and a rowdy God-intoxication that is contagious. As Coleman Barks so succinctly puts it, “There are universes inside Hafiz, a lineage of masters. Daniel Ladinsky follows the playfulness; the rascal moves well.”

In closing, I offer my favourite bhakti mantra from “The Gift”. It was the first I committed to memory, and the only one included in this review that I find too personal to share in a class setting.

~~~~~

MISMATCHED NEWLYWEDS

Like
A pair
Of mismatched newlyweds,
One of whom still feels very insecure,
I keep turning to God
Saying,
“Kiss
Me.”

 

KenziePattillo
Kenzie Pattillo
completed her 200 hour YTT at Salt Spring Centre of Yoga in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver, B.C. and presently teaches yin, hatha and flow yoga in her community. En route to completing her 500 hour YTT designation she has recently begun practicing one on one restorative therapeutics.

Bring on the Yoga Fiction – Book Reviews by Kenzie

Continuing the theme of ‘yoga books not found in the ‘Yoga’ section of the library’, I present to you two works of ‘Yoga Fiction’. Though I read all sorts of books, I turn to fiction when I want to take a little vacation from my life and inhabit a completely imaginary one that is well crafted and engaging. Yet I admit I was slightly skeptical of the idea of yoga fiction, especially when also touted as chick lit, meaning “genre fiction which addresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly” (Wikipedia).

YogaFictionBooks
But, honestly, I loved both of these books. In fact I read both again six months later and enjoyed them just as much the second time around (a poor memory really helps with this). These books conjure worlds I can easily imagine myself inhabiting, or at least as a fly on the wall. I was able to suspend disbelief and simply experience the stories not only because they are about all things yoga, but also because of (rather than in spite of) their ‘chick lit’ genre. I AM a modern woman: I should more often approach my yoga with humour and light heartedness. And yet because they are about yoga, they go deep. Both of these authors have obviously mined the depths of yoga themselves or this yogi would have found their work disingenuous.

Both books offered some yogic wisdom at the start of each chapter. ‘The Yoga Teacher’ had simple silhouettes and lyrical descriptions of asanas that then wove themselves thematically into the following chapters. In ‘Enlightenment for Idiots’ it was either a quote from a yoga guru, often hinting at the real teacher behind the fictional one about to be encountered, or a pose description that lent itself to the unfolding story. I think this speaks to the truism that you ‘work on yoga and yoga works on you’, and that this practice does not stay neatly on your yoga mat but follows you out into your world whether you like it or not.

‘The Yoga Teacher’ is set in London, England and Grace is an Astanga yogi and pharmaceutical sales rep. Throw in the turmoil caused by her partner dying, her new boyfriend’s drama and a chance encounter with a psychiatric doctor with similar misgivings about the pharmaceutical industry, and you’ve got a recipe for major life change! As this is a work of fiction I’m tempted to not give too much away, but, suffice it to say, she does dump her boyfriend, quit her job and head to a yoga teacher training in the States. The irony is not lost on her that she is heading west, not east, to study yoga.

Anyone who has completed a YTT likely recalls the sharp contrast between who they thought their classmates were at the start of training compared to who they revealed themselves to be by the end. The author, Alexandra Gray, shows through Grace’s character that this is as much about our own innate biases as it is about yoga’s cumulative effect of peeling away the layers we use to project our ideas of ourselves onto others, thus allowing us to simply being who we are. She also explores that awkward limbo of a thirty-something woman who is not so sure which ‘camp’ she belongs in: the young, single, childless twenty-somethings or the more experienced (and less drama-oriented) over thirties.

The second half of the book follows Grace back to London to make her way as a teacher. When her yoga teacher offers her a position at his studio without pay she casts her net wider to make a living. She grows into herself as a yoga teacher by embracing the opportunities that come her way, teaching patients referred to her by doctors who have no more solutions, and as the ‘hired help’ to London’s rich and famous.

‘Enlightenment for Idiots’ has a similar story arc of a young woman/yogi in a tumultuous relationship choosing to make radical change and using yoga to reimagine herself into the future. But in this book, the scope of exploration is wider and humour is used to great effect. Amanda, living in LA, has a degree and a series of dead end jobs. She writes travel ‘For Idiots’ books to pay the rent and is offered the job of going to India to write a book about how to find enlightenment – ‘For Idiots’ of course.
I suspect any travel log of India would be fascinating, but seen through the eyes of a Western yogi who must track the elusive ‘enlightenment’ while sending chapters back to her editor regularly about her progress makes for an infectious read. Amanda visits gurus and ashrams that overtly hint at their ‘real’ counterparts- Amma, Sri K Patabhi Jois, Satya Sai Baba, as well as straight up places of spiritual pilgrimage: Mt. Arunchala, the Ganges River, Rishikesh, Mysore and the cave where the Buddha was said to have meditated, as well as the tree where he gained enlightenment. She finds the ideal travelling companion in a red-headed, dreadlocked, celibate sadhu who always speaks of himself as “we”. He offers a counterpoint of stillness and perspective to offset her frantic search in the face of a plot twist I dare not share in hopes you will read this book!

I really fell for Amanda. She has an honesty and wit that feels refreshing amid the overly serious tenor of many seekers. The way the author shares Amanda’s inner dialogue shows insight and familiarity with how we all fall into the ego’s trap of creating a narrative of our lives from the outside in and then suffer when reality fails to mirror our own mental constructs. There is a vulnerability in sharing such private thoughts that I think only a work of fiction truly allows, and thus I was able to feel more emotionally invested in Amanda’s unfolding story.

These are stories to get lost and found in. They offer beauty, depth and an honest glimpse into a contemporary woman’s experience of life through self-inquiry and subsequent transformation. They also realistically explore the intersection where yoga practice meets life and both consequently become enriched and enlivened. Plus, in case you haven’t already, you get to attend a yoga teacher training and a pilgrimage to India.

Bring on the yoga fiction!

 

KenziePattillo
Kenzie Pattillo
completed her 200 hour YTT at Salt Spring Centre of Yoga in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver, B.C. and presently teaches yin, hatha and flow yoga in her community. En route to completing her 500 hour YTT designation she has recently begun practicing one on one restorative therapeutics.