Posts tagged yoga teaching
The Soul Must Flow

When Anusara Yoga fell to its knees and I made my very wise exit, I was forced to decide on a name to call my current public class. I settled on the name soul flow, which I now affectionately refer to as SoulFlow. (Please note there is not a trademark on that right now. Nor am I suggesting you read this and then name your class as such.) At the time, to be honest I had no idea what I was doing. I actually thought the name was pretty lame, cheesy and actually frankly, stupid. I also felt like I wanted to call the class 'yoga' but no one would come to a class called 'yoga'.

Like we name our babes we name our intellectual and creative children. So I gave SoulFlow its name, not fully realizing the thing I had birthed. But it was a birthing. I am clear about that. 

Through trial and error I learned how to nurture it, care for it, grow it and be with it. I learned who its friends are (the people who come to the class). So no, SoulFlow isn’t 'just vinyasa'. Like a child that is given a nickname and then outgrows it, this class should not be nicknamed vinyasa because it is a misrepresentation.

It is fringe in a way because it boldly takes the leap that many of its schoolmates have yet to take actually. The class explicitly reaches into the psyche. We do not apologize for, or cover up in any way the fact that we are working at the deep emotional level in the class. Many other yoga classes work at this level, but few make it explicit. (The few that do by the way, are the classes I go to and the teachers I steep with).

People do not come to SoulFlow unless they are ready to be worked over at every level.

Some people find this annoying. Cool. When I was in grade school I was super annoying too. Mostly because I asked a lot of questions of the Rabbi's. I would get sent to the principles office for all the questions and rebellion. SoulFlow has been sent to the office once or twice so to speak. It too, is a little rebellious. It is an outspoken class that gives students the space to question the authorities within themselves and around them.

The class has some tenants to its 'style'. I profoundly dislike the word 'style' when it comes to yoga. It’s all fucking yoga okay? But if it is all yoga and we are all going to the same place, are we not entitled to take the road that most entices us to get there?

So yes, SoulFlow has its specific elements. You will always find those four elements in every class. Now before you go all ‘that’s like Anusara’ on me, you can trust me deeply that its not.

We need structure and continuity to learn and grow at every level. We actually will not feel safe enough to deepen if those pillars of stability are not present. It is difficult to work on issues in a marriage if one person keeps threatening divorce. So the four pillars of what happens is just the guidelines of how the self-selected community organizes itself within and around the context of the class. In this way you can sort of prepare yourself for what is about to happen. This is good.

Do not fret; I am not making a style of asana. I am not trying to trademark or patent asana. Asana is free. Anyone can do asana. It is just that there is a way to study and practice asana. That is what SoulFlow is. It is a way to study and practice asana. What places SoulFlow into its own uniqueness though, is that it is also a way to study and practice your SELF. And when I say self, I mean the little self and the big Self. The class is about learning asana yes. The class is also about learning to take the seat of your self. This isn’t much different than any other yoga actually. All yoga helps us, in the end; take the seat of our selves most fully and comfortably.

The difference in SoulFlow is that the study of the SELF is explicit. There is tremendous power in transparency and making the covert overt. So the inner workings of yoga are brought to the surface in this class. It is in the practice of using asana to make ourselves transparent creatures that this class gains its power. It seems most of all, that SoulFlow is an embodiment practice using yoga asana as its vehicle. SoulFlow is a practice of embodiment—of coming home to your body, mind, and soul. It takes a practice that has many ways of ascension and relies on and emphasizes the ways we can ever more descend into our bodies to be radically full--radically, painfully, and ecstatically HERE.

It is magic and it is science. It is ritual and it is routine practice. It is deep exploration and radical enjoyment.

All the pieces I speak and teach to through Applied Psycholgoy for Yogis, show itself in SoulFlow. Think of SoulFlow as the living and breathing example of what Applied Psychology for Yogis looks like in action. There are other ways to utilize the teachings from Applied Psychology for Yogis. SoulFlow is just one of the ways. That though, is another post. 

Creatures and creations must always live into their names. We create not knowing the form it will take. We birth without knowing what our children will look like. We see the meaning of our creations develop over time. And eventually 'our' creations come to stand on their own without the handholding and carrying of us anymore. They no longer belong to us. They belong to world. 

Each creation, whether a child or an intellectual creative expression, must come to exist on its own. It has its own Life Force, Soul and Essence. And this essence must have room to flow.

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?

Evolution Of A Revolution

It feels important to say that in my mission to bring more and more refined psychological concepts into the world of yoga, that I am actually not teaching anything that is not present in the ancient texts, anything not already embedded in the primary teachings of yoga itself and anything we haven't learned from the effective cosmology charts of different lineages.

If you study Hindu myth, the same teachings of psychological concepts are there. And I dare say these concepts existed in the ways of yoga before the therapists and neuroscientists started catching on. Freud, Jung, Perls, Bowlby, Siegel and the like, all the heavy hitters, they didn’t invent things. They showed and have continued to show in a different way and in a different language what it is the yogis were saying for years and years.

Also, we have seen an evolution in the world of psychology. Much of Freud is outdated for where we are now in our cultural conception and modern conventions. We are all built on someone else back and this is surely true in the psychology world. Although much of Freud we may toss, we also have built major understanding for each other and ourselves because of his crazy ideas.

This too is the case in yoga. Each stream and method built in response to or out of connection with another. We are always comingling, mixing, evolving. We know both theoretically and experientially that when we experience inertia or we are constantly stuck on one channel or one way of being we develop neurosis.

Options allow for health. They force our discernment.

The fusion or rather I should say, overt connection of yoga and psychology gives more options one either side of the same coin. Imagine making a penny worth more than one cent. This is what I am up to. It is what many of us are up to. We are increasing the worth and value of both systems as the call for integrative evolution quickens.

Far too many people turn toward psychology in the great void of loosing our mythic consciousness. If we go after our minds and leave our mythic allegories, our faith, our devotion, and our practices behind, then we are just as lost as when we only live in spiritual naiveté. We know in our modern western culture we cannot simply yoga our sins away. Rather yoga becomes the tool or the method through which we can both observe what is and create change. Productive witness function and a healthy humble mind are keys to making accurate discernments as well as lasting changes. Similarly, if we leave the body behind we may never access the breadth and depth of wisdom actually contained within us.

I want to assure my fellow yogis that all those yamas and niyamas, all those paths to samadhi, they are still revered in the psychology world. They just come under other names like emotional regulation, mindfulness, distress tolerance and the like.  For me I believe it is more about making these processes sacred to the yogi overt to the modern human being rather than allowing them to appear as purely magical yogic experiences.

The blending of yoga and modern psychology may afford us the understanding that the seeming magic and miracles of yoga are not chance or happenstance. They are real. They can be repeated. They can be used in overt ways to facilitate huge change at the personal, interpersonal and intrapersonal levels.

My hope is that the yogis and therapists alike feel less and less threatened by one another. Without some kind of body-based ritual, sorry therapists, your work will, dare, I boldly say flop. Your clients should have faith in something much bigger than themselves, or you, for that matter.

Faith is a marker of psychological health. 

Without the rich understanding of the mind and our behaviors, we are too easily swayed. We too easily succumb to the perils of spiritual practice including bypass and manipulation as well as inefficacy. Spiritual practice as well as body-based practice does not excuse behaviors in the daily-life realm. We have evolved too far for that to be enough. The realities and practicalities of modern western life are now out of the bounds of what the sutras say. Psychology concepts can help the yogis reinterpret and re-attune to the truths of the age-old texts. We may find these teachings more applicable, and hence more meaningful to our current times.

Yoga has always been the evolution of a revolution. Why should it be different now? 

Lastly, I have to confess as both yogi and therapist I still do agree with Patanjali. Above all, when all else fails, pray to God.