Normally, when I sit down to write a blog post, I begin with some sort of big idea, revelation or declaration that makes a clear and concise point. As I sit here in the woods outside of San Marcos, Texas after having spent five days doing 30 hours of asana, hours of chanting mantra, seemingly endless meditation (you know it feels like that sometimes) and a good dose of writing and reflection everyday, I feel calm and really, really tired. Not only that, I have so opened myself to the universe that makes up a yoga asana intensive – new people, new poses, new ways of looking at the practice and myself – that nothing feels sure, except for the process of practice.
There has been a lot of conversation during this intensive about how lucky we are to have a teacher who is, as my fellow student Livia Cohen Shapiro so intelligently phrased it, “smart, but relaxed.” When she said this during our closing circle, we all laughed, because we understood how true it is. Christina Sell is a smart cookie, and she is passionate about sharing the practices, especially to experienced teachers, but she is never going to tell us how to teach. Christina doesn’t give us set sequences to take back to our home studios. She never tells us that some poses are off limits and that we shouldn’t teach them. And she certainly does not change the names of poses to whatever sounds cool and then trademark it. She trusts us.
Christina never causes us feel bad, or less than, about our current circumstances in life, practice or in teaching. All that she asks is that we do something, and even when it’s hard, to do our best and engage. “Okay, do something,” is the hallowed refrain heard again and again within the walls of The San Marcos Yoga School. So many times, in fact, you start to think maybe she means something pretty important.
Christina shows up each morning of the intensive, clipboard in hand with a list of handwritten poses on it. After morning puja, we, her students, do the poses she asks us to do. In between, we ask questions, investigate some approaches, study the alignment, check out Light on Yoga a few times for reference, eat some chocolate, cry and usually – four hours later – we have all had some sort of transformational experience.
I am absolutely not joking.
Through the course of the practice, it is pretty much guaranteed that all of us experience states of being ranging from being humbled, awed, defeated, engaged, competitive, not good enough, over it, in love, jealous, devoted, awake, honest, supportive, hungry, thirsty, exhausted, and elated. All in one practice. It feels like a miracle to have the opportunity to practice self-love and acceptance in the face of all of it, and walk out of that room each day changed in some small or even larger way. It’s pretty fucking awesome, and it’s pretty fucking nerdy, and it’s pretty fucking special. But, it’s also a mountain top experience.
We can climb to the top of a mountain, and learn a lot about ourselves on the way up, but we don’t really want to live there. The view is expansive and informative, but the ground is usually uneven –much like the millions of feelings experienced in four hours of high level asana – and it’s hard to grow food up there because the air is thin, the sun is too strong, and there’s too many rocks. So, we come back down and bring what we saw at the peak and integrate, to the very best we can, our memory of the steep journey and the beautiful view back into our daily lives.
This is what it feels like when I come home from San Marcos. In many ritual experiences, the person who has been on walkabout is expected to return to the community with an offering. Vinyasa School, my monthly program for beginners and curious practitioners, gets to be my offering this time.
When I first began to imagine what my life would be like as a yoga teacher, I did not envision that I would wish to come back to the nuts and bolts of the asana syllabus in the form of something like Vinyasa School, but the more I teach, the more I have come to find that a solid foundation in the basics, the chop-wood, carry-water of our daily asana practice, is where the seeds for change and growth are planted. No one is going to want to continue a yoga practice without the moist, warm, nourishing soil. And that’s what I imagine Vinyasa School to be – a place for supported growth.
We will learn and explore, and get really clear in our intentions inside the alignment of the poses so that when we come to class, we will have the opportunity to be a part of the larger conversation. So that when you hear your actual teacher, or the one inside of of you – both on the mat and in your life – says, “Okay, do something!” you will have a framework on which to hang your practice.
Bursting out of the seed pod to sprout is not easy, just like climbing the mountain. I don’t think the participants of last month’s Vinyasa School, many of them very experienced, realized that they were going to sweat quite so much, but when real engagement with our experience in a safe setting occurs, real learning follows. The memory of that clear vision can be sustaining in times when the going gets tough, which it will.