Living the Practice: A discussion on the politics of Yoga
Please allow me to start off by sharing that I am a human being living the practice of yoga and messing up as I go along. I am not perfect, nor do I want to elude in anyway that I have this all down. My reason for sharing these experiences is to shine light on how I have best found to handle living my practice in the trenches of "yoga politics". Yes, even in the "oh so zen-like peachy world of yoga" there is manipulation, distrust, comparison, lies and all the things us teachers guide you on how to practice understanding. Crazy huh?
Well, it really isn't as crazy as you may think. Remember, we are all spiritual beings having a human experience and in that, we have forgotten the love and peace that we already are and instead many - even in the yoga world - have chosen to continue living from a place of fear and behaving in ways that are hurtful towards others. The practice teaches us to move past our egos and to be honest about our mistakes or the times when our ego gets crazy loose :) The practice teaches us to dive into our shadow sides and learn more along the journey, so that we may live from a place of light and joy!
In my years of being in this "business" and at this point, let's be honest, it is a business, a similar theme keeps coming up. I point this out because we have all been here. No one is exempt from this pattern in life. It looks like this: saying one thing and then one's behaviors are completely the opposite. Remember the saying, "actions speak louder than words"? This is what I am talking about here.
I have had the honor of teaching and working in several communities around the nation. Along that journey thus far, this pattern is coming up more often than not in the "business of yoga" and this pattern looks a lot like the politics of our country: confusing, untrustworthy and definitely unkind. From Los Angeles to Vail, Colorado, to San Diego and now in Salida, Colorado the "actions speak louder than words" theme needs some attention, especially in this line of service offered.
Let me share with you my experiences. It began in Los Angeles of all places. That was a rat race indeed as a new yoga teacher. I survived, though I won't say it was easy. Because I had my practice and I believed in it, I stayed true to myself and I managed to create a small platform for myself to teach and share the yoga loving. Los Angeles showed me some of the politics of yoga and I am happy to say that I wasn't personally effected by it during my time there.
When I relocated to Vail, Colorado, I joined the yoga community right away and began teaching at several studios in the Valley. A funny incident happened two years into my journey there. I was let go from a yoga studio and without any explanation. I asked to come in and to speak about the situation. I wanted to learn why and what could I do better in the future. Still to this day, I am in the dark about my release. The owners and other teaches of that establishment stopped talking to me and began to treat me poorly. It was a painful and very hurtful time. None of which is what we learn in our trainings or books on the path of living the practice of yoga. We learn to be truthful with one another: Satya. We learn to be accountable for our actions and to pause to see how we are all connected. We learn to speak from a place of loving kindness: Metta and we learn to cultivate more compassion for one another: Karuna.
Needless to say, my heart was broken into many pieces that year. It was not just because I was in the dark on my release. It was bigger than me. It was the first time I personally experienced "yoga politics". I knew the business of yoga to be a tricky one since traditionally yoga was taught as SEVA, service, to the world, but I didn't realize how far off the track of living the practice we would go or could go. Perhaps I was just being naive or really "super yogi optimisitc", but I'll be honest, it was a huge wake up call.
But you know what? I survived. I shifted my energy to the studio I was directing at the time. This was the first of many studios to come that I would direct. I devoted myself to building a strong community of individuals with the intention to spread more love and kindness in our lives, in all that we do. I will admit, it was really hard at first. I found myself wearing that pretty picturesque landscape on the outside of contentment: Samtosha. When really on the inside for a few months my heart was in pain. I kept having to hold that sweet Beloved like a mother would and whisper words of compassion: "no need to lash out, love...feel it all and love it all...this is part of the journey...fill yourself with more love even for those who hurt you...forgive them...forgive yourself...remember we are all connected...we are all one" It was not easy guys!!!! I wanted closure from the outside and I realized I couldn't get what I wanted. Closure is so valuable in our lives. It means dealing with our shit!
Well, over time, I did mend my broken heart. I led a stellar community for two years after that in Vail and completely fell in love with yoga as business and practice all over again. But as my journey unfolded, a chance to reside in Southern California arrived and my partner and I took it. We landed in Encinitas, a beach town of San Diego. Similar to LA, this place was a "yoga mecca". There were so many studios and so many teachers and so many people. It was amazing and scary and inspiring all at the same time. I felt blessed that over the course of the years, I had built so many relationships through the yoga community, I had many studios to choose from and many people to meet! To be honest, it was overwhelming at times.
Eventually, though it took some shifting through a few different studios and some time, I did find my yoga home. I landed at Yoga Bound in Carlsbad. It was there at this studio with this sweet community, that I was able to really begin to shine. I had so much support from mostly women, but men too, who were living the practice and embracing it fully. I was astonished at how welcoming and encompassing everyone was. Those wounds of the past began to mend even more as I was filled with encouragement and honored for my uniqueness. Together, we built a community of souls who were living their practice, stumbling at times but getting back up, and in it all, really showing up to this thing we get to live, LIFE! But even though I was in an honest and open yoga community at Yoga Bound, that didn't stop the whole of the yoga community having the similar experiences of "saying one thing and acting another". I witnessed a few fellow yogi teachers who were let go from studios without a clear explanation. Though, this time it didn't happen to me, it was still happening.
It is common that in other fields of business an explanation for someone's release may not be warranted. Think though, if we did provide answers to why we were having issues with our employees or teachers, everyone can evolve and grow even if one is let go in the end. I had the honored of being on the other side as a manager of two studios and I definitely took that as a chance to learn how to navigate these conversations for both parties to learn. We are in the business of yoga, teaching people how to reconnect to their inner teacher and create inner peace and abundance within - this is a practice of guiding people and offering healing. So why then is it a clam up situation when it gets sticky between yogis?
As I became more and more comfortable in my own skin and in guiding others on this path of living our yoga, an opportunity arose for my partner and I to pursue a dream of owning land in Colorado. So we packed up and moved to the small town of Salida, Colorado. Let me first say that moving from a big city to a small mountain town is very different. I was conscious that the way of life was slower and maybe one could even say more stubborn in smaller towns. I don't mean this negatively. I am simply trying to paint a picture of the differences. You see in big cities, you have to be "on the go" everyday to keep up with the "rat race"; you have to be fluid, open to changes and letting go of things more readily. If you are not, well, you may miss your opportunity. Not that that opportunity couldn't be yours, it's just that there are so many people, if you aren't awake to those chances, someone else will be. I learned a lot on how to be in the "flow" and trusting in the process living in San Diego. However, the "rave" was another reason why my partner and I chose to move back to a mountain town. We desired to have a simpler way of living - a slower paced lifestyle.
I need to share that I was elated to be welcomed to a community to teach and to direct at a local studio in my new mountain town right away. Honestly, I thought getting into a teaching gig may be challenging so I was going to take my time and settle in before I started teaching. Fate had other plans. In that, fate also had other lessons to teach me along this new path.
Not even one month into my new role and the "actions speak louder than words" theme began to show up from the owner of the studio. I would be told one thing and then treated in a different way. I was instructed to do something and then events changed without any notice. I was asked to help with tasks and yet wasn't given the information needed to do the tasks. I realized right away that this was all boiling down to trust, so I stepped back, took some deep breaths and a few times I tried to open up a dialogue about what our communication and to grow together. The door was not open. I chose to hold the space and started taking it really slow. I mean I did just move from a city where you are "on it" everyday so I was used to a quicker pace and open dialogue - though that isn't a "city thing" - open dialogue - that is a living the practice thing; that is a "doing the work thing".
I spent a lot of time (probably more than I needed to) sitting with this situation and the inquiry of "what is it about myself that I am not seeing?". In the end, I realized it came back to yoga politics. It was control, manipulation, confusion and all those wrapped up into a big 'ol burrito smothered with "fear there isn't enough" atop of it! I didn't know what to do or how to go about it. Why can't there be honesty so that everyone can evolve mindfully and grow?
My classes were doing wonderful. I had a steady following and had only been at the studio for three months at this point. My one workshop I got to teach at this studio was full and I just adored the students. So when the owner attended my workshop and then told me afterwards that she no longer wanted me to teach at her studio, I was confused. When I asked why, she really didn't have a reason. This time, I wasn't hurt. This time, I didn't feel that I may have done anything wrong. This time, I was saddened by the whole situation - the inability to be honest and real, to address that space between us that could be mended if only an open dialogue was present. Tending to the uncomfortable space is doing the practice. Even if the outcome is to still go separate ways, at least there is an honest closure. I could see this wasn't going to happen. I felt a deep seed of compassion welling up inside my belly and decided to surrender to what I could not change.
Living the practice is stepping into the unknown and dealing with those that challenge us. It is sitting with the uncomfortable and asking "what is really going on here?". It is being open to discussion and honoring people - respecting people - enough to hold their space and be truthful with one another.
That is support.
That is love.
That is kindness.
That is compassion.
That is yoga, people.
Have we gotten so wrapped up in the business, the politics of whose studio is better and blah blah blah, that we have forgotten the purpose of the practice in the first place?
The purpose of this life is to remember our connection and oneness.
To remember where we came from. To remember we are love and peace. To remember all beings want and can be free from suffering.
To remember that there is enough for everyone.
That you are enough. That you are here. Born. Alive. This is your birth right to be here.
So wake up and start living this life and honoring your brothers and sisters along this Beloved path! Especially as a leader in the yoga community - studio owners, directors, managers, teachers - it is more of our responsibility than any other to live the practice!
I am just like you, human, with all the same emotions and with decisions I have made in my past that helped me get to where I am now (some may call them mistakes). I share this with you because it is important to me that we start awakening not just individually but as a collective and especially in the yoga community, as leaders of the practice, on the larger scale, not just with one studio or one town or one city, but as a whole. Living your practice takes courage. It means being vulnerable and honest. And that gets sticky and uncomfortable.
May my sharing and insights spark something in you today. I hope it strikes a chord and stirs up some things inside. Maybe now, you'll have the courage to speak to that person you have been avoiding and to be honest with them or to address the situation with kindness that you have been neglecting with yourself or with another. You see when we hold that stuff in it becomes toxic to our bodies and minds. We are only drinking our own poison.
When we begin to live from our hearts and speak from our hearts, living the practice becomes a part of our Being. We cannot help but go right to that place. No questions asked. It becomes a way of living: Living Yoga!
I guess in part that is why I felt this deep desire to write this blog and share it with you; because it is my living yoga! Namaste.