Shy yogi

So I am pretty shy.  Some of you who don’t know me well may be surprised by that.  Don’t get me wrong, I am an extrovert.  I like meeting new people and socializing.  I love people watching and interacting with the people who come to my classes.  It takes effort though!

I have heard shyness defined as fear of negative social judgment.  I think this is what I deal with.  It is something that I am working to improve when I teach.  I really do observe everyone in my classes very carefully and I learn their challenges and likes and dislikes on the mat.  But sometimes, especially when I begin a class, I still have to work hard to make eye contact and use direct interactions.

The awesome thing about yoga is the lack of competition and the lack of judgment that you find in a yoga room, especially when compared to other more traditional sports or fitness activities.  In yoga, everyone’s eyes (should be) are on their own mat.  No one cares if you wobble or take a break; if you are struggling they are probably using too much effort not to struggle to care about what is going on with you.  When I attend a yoga class my personal practice gains positive energy from the yoga community around me.  The other people only add good stuff, not bad.

I am trying to shake my past as Gym Class Roadkill in order to grow past the ways my shyness may challenge me as an instructor.  I don’t think shyness is a negative trait.  I just need to learn how to make it work for me on the mat, so that I can feel as confident as possible that I am providing a good experience.  I want to practice ahimsa or non-violence toward myself.  Teaching yoga is a practice.

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Non-Traditional Yogis

I have been talking with friends and colleagues lately about the notion of being a non-traditional yogi.  This post from Yoga Journal blogger Victoria Yee touches on her view of herself as a non-traditional yogi.  What do you think of yogis who don’t adhere to a “pure” or stereotypical yoga lifestyle?

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On Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I have been asked to lead an interactive workshop at the Wadsworth Atheneum art musem’s tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  These are thoughts I wrote in reflection on the topic:

“So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? “.

– Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963

What is yoga?  What is a yogi?  Who was Dr. King?

The answers to all three of these questions are more linked than one may think.

In the Sanskrit language, the literal meaning of yoga is something like “to yoke” or “to join”  or “to unite”.  While most westerners either imagine a thin, Hindu ascetic sitting cross legged atop a mountain or a well-heeled woman on a rubber mat in expensive designer yoga pants, the meaning of yoga has a much broader scope.  Regarded as the most important yoga text, Pantanjali’s Sutras were written sometime between 2 B.C. or the second or third century.  The text includes a philosophy or a set of  eight “limbs” to live by.   Found among and within these eight limbs of yoga are yamas and niyamas, or abstentians and observances.  As an aside, the limb of asana or physical yoga poses were originally a part of yoga to help strengthen the body and posture to sit for longer periods of time in meditation.  The real goal was to dive into these philosophical quests.

A person who lives their life seeking to follow this yoga philosophy is known as a yogi.  For myself, a Modern Yogi is someone who lives their yoga on and off the mat.  The physical practice of downward facing dogs and the like is what has become the focus in America.  However, the mind-body connection and most importantly the connection between the body and our ability to control our breathing are also important modern limbs.  In fact, Pantanjali devoted an entire one of his eight limbs to the control of breath and it’s benefits for the mind and body.  The practice of yoga breathing is known as pranyama.  Finally as a Modern Yogi, the yamas and niyamas are simply guides to living fully, kindly, with gratitude and with service to fellow human beings and our earth.

Which brings us to Dr. King.  The first of the yamas is ahimsa, or simply put non-violence.  Specifically this includes inflicting no injury or harm to others and also to no harm one’s self.  You can think of it as non-violence physically but also non-violence in thoughts and words.  As we all know, words can hurt, and ideas can too.  If you ask anyone about Dr. Martin Luther King’s beliefs, his strong belief in non-violence is likely one of the first things they would mention.  In fact, Dr. King was largely inspired by the idea of non-violence by Indian social justice leader Mahatma Gandhi.  India used non-violent civil disobedience as a method to seek independence from colonial British rule.

Dr. King and his allies were activists against the unequal treatment of African-Americans in this country in ways that included quite a bit of violence.  From physical intimidation during the Civil Rights struggles of the 20th century as far back as the violence that was a part of slavery, violence was on the table.  However, Dr. King’s monumental idea to embrace non-violence may have been the reason his movement was so powerful.  In the face of such unequal treatment, standing firm with one’s own humanity and doing the right thing is something that I am sure made the world take notice.

I think that in today’s world, the idea of ahimsa or non-violence includes concerns like bullying, cyber-bullying body image and self-esteem issues.  We need to work on loving each other, and we need to work on loving ourselves.  It’s the right thing to do.

What can you do to eliminate some of the negativity from your life and embrace Dr. King’s idea of non-violence?  In honor of Dr. King, try to do something to love yourself and to love the others in our world to make it a more peaceful and  a more beautiful place.  Be kind.  Be a yogi.


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Yoga is for wussies?

According to a Fox News guest (insert grain of salt right here), “yoga nazis” are contributing to the “wussification of America” by introducing yoga to children.

“I think Yoga’s amazing, I think it’s wonderful,” Winget said sarcastically, apparently unaware that the wingnut joke writes itself. “I’m going to say that because I don’t want all those yoga Nazis coming after me on this thing. Listen, I think it’s a great supplement to a real sport, but it’s certainly not a sport.”

Competition is a part of life, and the non-competitive practice of yoga builds a serious sense of drive that can only support someone in competitive endeavors. Think of it this way: you want to beat the pants off of your opponent in a competition sport. The opposition has a name and a face, there is a score being kept and people cheering for the outcome they desire. In yoga, you come to the mat to face off with your own edges, your own fears of falling, enduring quaking muscles and sweat burning your eyes. You come to the mat seeking to truly live in the present, letting go of the story of your boss yelling at you or the fact that you ate too many Christmas cookies and you belly is hanging over the waistline of your yoga pants. Quieting the mind and the inner voices can take a hell of a lot of strength.

On the mat I wiggle and wobble as a teacher. I mix up my left from my right. I feel uncomfortable if a student loses balance and falls or can’t begin to mimic my version of a yoga pose. It’s all a challenge and it all causes me to return to my practice day after day with humility, drive, freedom from ego (this part is a work in progress) and a sense of dedication. It is a practice. And it is a practice that teaches you some pretty worthwhile, real-life stuff.

As for the Wussification claim, I would like to challenge anyone who feels that way to bust out a forearm balance or a fallen angel pose. Or they could go to Bikram. Class fee is on me.

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