This is a kind of rant. A shout – a scream – for space for those who are marginalised by mainstream narratives. The context is that I’m feeling pretty pessimistic about Yoga at the moment. I mean, I still love practicing asanas and pranayama techniques are really useful, meditation is realisation in action, mindful movement gives me insights into my relationships within and beyond my skin, and Yoga Nidra is a wonderous system of interconnections that allow things to reorganise and integrate. But the last three workshops I have attended have been real eye openers, and not in a way that benefits tolerance and compassion: it’s all been a bit judgmental, a bit holier than thou. It’s maddening and constricting and saps my energy so I thought I’d let it out, and then let it go.
I’m keen to recall the Buddhist aphorism, be fierce with yourself, be gentle with others, so with that in mind, I don’t think names are important, and I also don’t think naming styles is important. What I do think matters is that Yoga is taught, and workshops are conducted, with some key thoughts in mind.
My own take on Yoga is a bit weird, a bit non mainstream. I’m not a Buddhist. I’m not a Hindu. I’m not a socialist or a Marxist. Nor am I strictly vegetarian, organic wearing, or always calm. I’m working on compassion. I don’t go for the Atman bit: for me, there is no inner soul awaiting awakening, no inner beauty waiting to be revealed if we can only slip into the shapes shown to us by the old teachers. Nor is there any other state than the state we are in right now, so there’s no improvement, no getting better, no progress, no journey. There is just this, just as it is, right here, right now, with all the impermanence and imperfection that implies. We can add layers of judgement but it will be what it is, though we may find it harder to accept. We can add layers of compassion and that may make it easier to accept and so to shift in it, or see loopholes, or feedback into systems that are more flexible, more ready to change.
For me, there’s no mind separate from body, no soul separate from mind, no you, no me, nothing but the experience, and the experience will end. Humans are not at the top of any evolutionary tree. We just happen to be able to reflect, to be conscious, and this is what changes things, and it’s also what gives us responsibility, the ability to respond, although that ability is confined to the realm of realisation. It’s realisation, all the way down. For me, the reality is the perception of this impermanent, imperfectable moment by moment movement that is the soul, the body, the mind, and all the other names we might decide to call it.
I realise that for many people this non dualistic approach to Yoga is heretical and does not sum up what for them are important feelings of being able to see Yoga as a path. However, when their statements of their ideologies alienates and oppresses mine, when their reiteration of their idea of a Divine light shining in all our hearts makes me feel vacuous, then I think they are less aware of the compassionate nature of the practice than they are pretending to be. It’s not as though I pull the wings off flies. But I want to be allowed to express and realise my own understanding during workshops, not feel like I’ve been swept out on their tide of self conviction.
You’re not right. I’m not wrong. What this perhaps might show me is that when I present my philosophy during Yoga classes, I must be careful not to bang on about non-dualism. I want people to be able to understand Yoga in their own terms, physiologically. I want it to shift narratives but not because I’m imposing my ideas on them; because they reach their own moment of self awareness. They deserve – I deserve – to be able to lie in Savasana without being told that this is a time to let my soul flower and become what it always has been – that’s your ideology, that’s your attempt to understand the wisdom that you have interpreted. It’s not mine. And you shut me out when you talk like that and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt.
Now, the other thing that really strikes me about going to Yoga workshops is the tension I feel when there’s a push to make a lot of money out of the process. Sure, I understand and appreciate making a living. I’m making a living too. But saying that there’s a finite number of places and then squeezing so many people into the room that you can’t actually find a space for everyone against the wall, or carry out the facilitator’s instructions because you’ll put your foot through a window – that’s not OK.
The only thing I can do is bring this back to my own classes. Limit numbers to a group I know I can fit into the space available and if it’s a very full class, make sure that the asana practice I choose is feasible.
And that brings me to the final thought for today. Why are so many very popular workshops still conducted by men and attended by women, almost exclusively? This is a really uncomfortable power dynamic and I think we need to question it. Or maybe I need to question it because everyone else is OK with it. I’m going to make a concerted effort to attend workshops run by women, or attended by a mix of men and women, in the future.
I’m fine with women wearing make up – I do it myself sometimes! I’m fine with vanity – I’m as vain as the next person – and I’m certainly fine with feeling sexy under the right conditions. But a Yoga workshop is for developing your practice, not for flirting with the instructor, or for the instructor to play with boundaries around what’s OK to touch and what is not.
So, for the record, I’m going to see if I can shift my relationship with my CDP for a while. I won’t be travelling great distances any more – west of the country only, from now on; teachers will be female, or I’ll make sure the group’s mixed so we don’t have that patriarchical dynamic that is just retrograde, and, get this, sometimes I might even just train myself, go down to the hut for half a day and (so long as I reciprocate and take over from him in equal measure) with the support of my husband, spend time retreating at home. Of course I believe I can learn a lot from other people. But I’ve got a few unexplored resources of my own and when other people impose their views from the top of the room, I’m inclined to think I’ll be more enlightened by spending time learning from my own experiences than trying to dodge the ideological bullets hammering at me from over there.