Posts tagged yoga

It seems as though there are teachers of yoga whose aim is to get more people doing yoga period. I call these folks the yoga evangelicals. And I don’t mean it negatively at all. I use it to refer only to the active conversion of the population not doing yoga to the population doing yoga.

We need these kinds of teachers.

These kinds of teachers help others cross over the threshold onto a path of wakefulness. It is an important job these Bodhisattvas have. The great boon these teachers have is that they are constantly pulling from a large pool of people. The population not doing yoga is still larger than the population doing yoga. So the yoga evangelicals or bodhisattvas or whatever you want to call them are lucky in the sense that they always have the opportunity to contact new people, new clientele. You can make big business actually out of this market.

Then it seems there are teachers concerned with some percent of the population already doing yoga. These are the choir leaders. These are teachers like myself, who want to help along the path once the person is already converted and committed. The difficulty with this kind of teaching is that our pool is inherently smaller by sheer number. But at the end of the day, an active five members is more powerful than an inactive fifteen members.

Once you get into the pool of people already doing yoga we come into the sea of competition. I will tell you, competing is a waste of time, money and energy. We all have stories around this word ‘competition.

“Little Suzy wouldn’t play with me.”

“I was the best at soccer.”

“She stole my idea.”

And it goes on and on.

The sea can start to feel pretty crowded rather quickly. So if you are a preaching to the choir kind of teacher, how then do you find your specific choir?

For me I always consider the natural development and progression of a yogic path. We need guides for each developmental stage of our practice. We also need those special ones who can help us cross thresholds. The teachers that are best within a particular stage itself are not always the best thresholds ones. But they can be.

Once we are committed—once we are born onto the path—we need a nurturing teacher to carry us through yoga infancy. We need a teacher who will show us the magical nature of this practice as young children on the path. In our adolescence we need a teacher who can challenge us and tolerate us challenging them. We learn how far away can we go and still feel connected. As we move into young adulthood on this path we need equality, companionship, mentorship. We need time for self-discovery and asking questions. Teachers becomes like touchstones rather than those whose hand we hold. We then move into a place of older adulthood where we stand in the truths of our experience. We stand next to our colleagues with pride. We are humble and magnanimous as we begin to give back to others what we have gleaned, digested and made unique. In our old age on the path we are wise from being sculpted by the teachings and from the experience of actively teaching. We are full and empty. We hold all but hold onto nothing.

In this spiral I lay out above, please remember that psycho-spiritual development in regards to yoga specifically does not always match up with our physical development. Many people start yoga when they are already adults. So in some ways we are going back to go forward.

No one place or juncture on this map is better or worse than the other. In fact, each part is necessary for the next.

Think about the baby that doesn’t crawl and just starts walking. That might be amazing at first, but it can create sensorimotor hiccups down the road. Just like yoga poses, sometimes we have to go back to go forward.  If you don’t learn the basics well and have the imprint strong, eventually it will bite you in the ass.

The yogic path is a path of spiritual development that involves the development of motor skills in conjunction. It is one of the reasons asana is so powerful. Its also why we say all asana does is prepare us to sit. Asana is preparing us to give and receive wisdom when we can no longer do asana. But we can sit, in stillness, shining radiantly.

The pool is crowded. Yes I know. Many people do yoga now and many people teach yoga. But we are not a dime a dozen actually. How does a fish find its way through? It looks for the openings where another fish is not swimming. And it also is willing to swim in a school. It is willing to swim next to and in conjunction with its mates. One fish leads and the other follows and they switch. Its actually really simple. You cannot go where someone else is already standing. Go where they are not standing. And you have to be willing to follow sometimes. And you have to be willing to lead sometimes. There is more than enough room. I learned this metaphor and teaching from my teacher and I truly do believe it is pure truth.

Personally, I am really awesome at teaching the adolescent yoga practitioner and transitioning them to adulthood. It’s just my natural inclination. I can teach people newer to yoga, and I am okay at it. But I am not as good at as I am with helping people through the push and shove of growing up. Also, I am not the wise quiet one in the corner with the mysterious twinkle in their eye. Well, not yet at least. I’m not good at working with people in that stage. I may remind them of their youth, but I bow humbly at their feet. I don’t pretend to be at a stage in my development I know I am not.

Anyways, the point is this; if you think the sea of teachers is crowded and the pool is too small, shut up. You are not helping the problem. You are creating the problem. The truth is that the yoga evangelicals are not going to stop converting people into yogis. Which is awesome because we need the converts! It’s a great thing! They are helping us. It means our pool is always renewing itself. So don’t dismiss those teachers pounding the pavement to get people into the pool. They are working hard for all of us.

Furthermore, us choir leaders are invaluable to the evangelicals. Converts need a place to go once they are committed. People will always seek out their like-minded friends. They will want to find where they belong and fit so they can best harmonize. So the way in which we are teasing out and finding openings is actually crucial to the sustenance of the whole yoga ecosystem if you will. If we have a huge sea of people wanting to do yoga and there is no place for them to call home then turning them onto yoga is a disservice.

We need the choir leaders.

I guess from a ‘business’ perspective it would be good to have part of ones yoga business be in the converting and another part be in the support and development of current practitioners and teachers. I honestly believe  though that its fine to choose as well. If we do the things that seem like they will make us money, we often miss the very thing that naturally produces income because it is our birthright to be sustained by it.

Lastly, I don’t have a neat and tidy way to wrap this post up because development is rarely a neat and tidy process.

Neither is yoga. 

The Walk

This is a piece I wrote a while back but it is worth posting again. I suppose my christmas wish is a deeper sense of connection and authenticity in every way possible. I think one of the hardest pills to swallow and make use of is one's privilege. 


The other night strolling along downtown Boulder after sushi I witnessed something truly touching. No, that’s not really the right word. Maybe it was enlightening. Maybe it served to remind me of kindness. I think it reminded me of human being-ness.

We passed a man with a sign who was asking for money and the sign said it was his birthday. Elliot stopped, let go of my hand and walked up to the guy.

“Hey man, I don’t have any cash or anything but look, happy birthday.”

The man’s face grew a big smile and his eyes had the glimmer of something--recognition, maybe hope--something where he felt of personal value I think.

“Thanks.” He said back.

“Yea, sure. I hope its great. Happy birthday”

And then just like that, Elliot retook my hand and we walked on. I looked back at the guy like I was five years old or something and he was smiling at us and nodded at me. I turned and kept walking hand in hand with Elliot proud to be his fiancé. Shit, I was proud to be his friend.

A while back he said to me that the worst thing to do when someone on the street is asking you for money is ignore them. I know you know what I am talking about.

The person blatantly asks you as you walk by for nickels and cents or a few dollars and you walk on like you didn’t hear, like you magically went deaf temporarily. Eye contact in those situations is almost impossible and so you walk on.

I think Elliot said to me that it’s the worst thing to ignore someone like that when he saw me do it one evening stroll. He saw my awkwardness, my momentary lack of sensitivity. I suppose I decidedly walk on because I tend to not have cash in my wallet (enter the world of universal plastic) and so I feel badly I don’t have anything to offer, or at least give them what they want so I just ignore the whole situation altogether. Also I think I just feel like I can’t help. And so in that powerlessness I pretend like I don’t care. In fact, he explained, it is not even about the money.

Anyway, so he says to me that even if you don’t have any money you should at least make eye contact. You should at least acknowledge their presence and need. You could even say: “Sorry dude (or dudette) I don’t have any but I hope you take care.” Just words or body language to acknowledge that they are there on the street is something to give. The worst thing is to pretend its not happening. The worst thing is to ignore. The worst is to let them slip through your consciousness like a waking dream of no consequence.

Note to self: We all want contact. We all want to be seen. We all want to be acknowledged for simply existing in a body as somebody. It is not always easy to see things as they are. To see the truth in all its painful beauty is a skill cultivated through acts of kindness in simply acknowledging presence and existence of whatever is present in one’s field. 

May kindness find its way through each of us, in the biggest and smallest of ways.

Assessing Genius

In my ten plus years of teaching yoga, I have taught in many different places. Boulder has by far been the most difficult in which to build a following. I must say though, over the five years being in Boulder I have managed to build and sustain a mighty Saturday class that pulls about twenty five to thirty five students on any given week. I feel like this is a huge achievement in this town. NOT because of the number but because of the number of regulars. People have a plethora of great classes to choose from along with teachers who are considered institutions in this community. So if you get people coming back for more, its good thing.

I would say I see about four or five new people to me in class each time. The vast majority though come like its church/synagogue etc. They come every single week. Frankly that makes me so proud.

When I love something I devote myself to it or that person fully. I might take a long time to warm up but once you have me, I am yours. Similarly, I might be an acquired taste, but it seems once people get over the brashness, the blunt truth-ness, the outrageousness, and intense social awkwardness they realize I am alright after all.

I am a student who believes in resonance. I believe in the power of learning through being with and hanging out with. So for me to have helped build a crew of people, who express their devotion by getting out of bed come rain, shine, hot or freezing temps, this is a high achievement. 

I share this not to boast but rather to say that what I wish studios and teachers looked at more closely was retention and attrition. The student who has ten students might seem low on the list. But, if eight of those people come each time, that’s really great. It is worth a whole lot. If you have someone pulling twenty or sixty people but they loose them quickly or have a low ratio of retention and thats your goal, maybe its time to reassess. if your aim is pure numbers. If your aim is to introduce as many people to yoga as you possibly can then retention will not matter as much. In fact, new student ratios will be more valid. 

I want us to consider deeply what we want as teachers and studio owners and whom we are teaching to and what our aims actually are.

My aim has always been to build a community, to collect a tribe, to form a movement. I used to be really shy about this because I felt like it was ostentatious and who the hell would want to be part of the group? But more and more I am celebrating that deep knowing in my bones, blood and cells that my aim actually is in reinventing modern yoga and psychology culture to encompass the old and create the never before seen. As you can probably tell by now, I am not so shy about it anymore. That is all a little off topic.

The point here is the need to make our goals measurable with appropriate standards.

My goal is not numbers. My goal is quality of numbers. So why should I be assessed by amount of people? The instrument for measuring success towards my goal should be retention should it not?

Furthermore, if someone is teacher-shopping they will still reap tremendous benefit from my class. But the person who is looking for depth and breadth and someone to follow through with, then they really see great benefit in my class. My Saturday classes are each individually unique and make sense unto themselves. You could come once, have a nice schvitz, learn a few things and never come back. When you come over time though, you get a sense of the deeper current of my 'body of work'. My teachings are a little more time-release if you will.

So again, the assessment tool for success should be appropriate. Like are people emailing from years ago that something made sense to them finally? If so great! That’s a measure of success. Do I pay particular attention to the comments that are highly polarized like “I LOVE your class” or “That was just completely inappropriate”. Well, no. do I notice when you show, week after week, month after month. Yes. 

So the long and short of it is I suppose, what are your goals? What is your aim? Who you are serving? Is your assessment tool valid?

It is like Einstein said: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Every teacher has their genius and every studio has its sense of purpose. But if we rate them based on attributes that have no meaning and bearing on them, they will always fail. I was taught yoga was a way to unlock, celebrate and express my genius. So why hold myself and ourselves to standards that perpetuate neurosis, psychosis, and falseness?