Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Svadhyaya Exercise - Biases and Prejudice in Modern Day

I have been distracted from blog posts for a while - not an excuse - holidays, an additional training, an exponentially increasing teaching schedule, and lots of marketing have put the blog on the back burner...until today.

I love NPR...it's almost the only radio station to which I listen, and I subscribe to their Facebook posts as well.  Today there was an article about What Does Modern Prejudice Look Like, and they have a whole brand new program about biases called Code Switch that has me over the moon excited.  I'd love for you to check it out, especially if you don't know the term "code switch."  It deals with something about which I am even more passionate than I am about the practice of yoga

What does this have to do with yoga?  I could say it is a part of union, or that it is a part of self-actualization, or any number of things, but none of those could begin to express how deeply intertwined they are for me.

The more time I spend in the yoga community, the more frustrated, and honestly angry, I become when I hear people, that many think quite enlightened, express blatant biases of which they are completely unaware and which are insulting and harmful to those around them.  Part of Svadhyaya for me, years before I became a yoga instructor and continuously, has been looking at my biases.  I think it is something every human should do (given that their basic needs are met of course) in order to fully participate in the world in which we live; and I believe it is something that should be required of every teacher training at the 200 hour level.  And yes, the fact that I stated that is one of my biases, as is much of the following.

I have had met more people turned off by the biases of yoga teachers and the yoga culture fostered by the likes of Lululemon, Yoga Journal, and the majority of yoga videos available in the big box stores around the country, than I care to count.  Biases based on size, socio-economic standing, ethnicity, etc. are nurtured with every ad, cover art, and article that features a European-American, female, ballet dancer body type in an add wearing a $150 pair of yoga pants doing an arm balance on a $100 mat on the beach.  It is a message of exclusivity that I believe the yoga community should be above.

Yes, I realize that these are commercial institutions fueled by the consumer they serve.  I get that, truly I do, and I'm not judging the companies for their actions.  I am however, suggesting that we, as yoga consumers - the yoga community, may want to do a little self-study to examine why this is marketable to us

Why is that designer outfit worn to class so appealing?  Why do we price classes the way that we do?  Do we offer classes in areas where the population wouldn't be the norm in our studios?  Do we feel free to express our opinion on mats and clothes to our students or others in our class?  Do we make a judgment about another student's ability based on their size?  Are we teaching that everyone can do every posture, if they just keep working at it?  What are we doing for Karma yoga on a regular basis?  Are we so adherent to our understanding of how a posture should look that we don't allow students to modify for their own body, if they know how?  Do we explain "Om" or "Namaste" anytime there is a student that may not understand the use of those terms, or do we let them decide without education whether they are comfortable saying terms that they may believe to be religious?  Do we name our classes, "Advanced" based on inversions and arm balances?  Can you create a safe space for and honestly, lovingly teach a student with whom you have diametrically opposed social or moral beliefs?  Do we as students fall into cliques with those that have the same attire or equipment, or are we inclusive of everyone in the room?

Yes, there are some yoga philosophies that have very distinct doctrines, but do we understand that this may be the only time a student will experience yoga?  Do we suggest other options if our philosophy doesn't fit?  Would we even know, or would they just leave never to return?  No, most yoga teachers aren't making a ton of money, so why would they make classes cheaper, or teach in an area that wasn't target rich for paying students? But, if we are decked in designer yoga wear, couldn't we consider donating a class a month in a park or community center where no one has ever thought of putting a studio?  Yes, with additional practice some may achieve a challenging posture, but based on anatomical structures, not everyone should safely do every posture without modifications.  Do we know how to make modifications for a large person to allow them to be fully in the pose?  I've never taken a class with anyone that did, and it has most certainly never been taught in any standard training I've ever attended.

Please don't misunderstand, I am not saying anyone is right or wrong for any of those things, it isn't my place to judge.  Yes, I am very aware of my biases that are coming through.  I am merely suggesting that if we don't know our own biases, we may be putting out information or images that are less than beneficial to others.  We may exacerbate the biases of others resulting in uneducated people making judgments about such things as yoga in schools, then we get irate that they are ignorant and closed minded - our biases.  We must know ourselves.  We will always have biases, it is part of our survival skill set, but becoming aware of them, allows us to begin to be mindful of the choices we make and the messages we send on the mat and in our daily lives instead of them coming out sideways or unintentionally.  Isn't that part of living a yogic life?

If you are interested in exploring this for yourself, some resources I have found useful are teachingtolerance.org and Ruby Payne's A Framework for Understanding Poverty.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


When we develop the role of observer - of our selves, our thoughts, our actions, our feelings, all of our senses - we may notice patterns in our lives.  Situations or circumstances - which we may consider good, bad, or neutral - may recur throughout our lives.  If we view those situations or circumstances as a visitor or messenger, what message or lesson might they be trying to impart?  Are we being mindful enough to notice?  Are we ready this time to learn?  Have we learned new things each time we encountered them already?

The Yogic Principle, Svadhyaya, is about self-study:
 Svadhyaya asks you to look inward and get to know yourself better. It teaches you to feel the difference between your own natural rhythms and the cadence of the world around you. It can teach you what's practical and healthy to focus on, and what you may need to delegate or drop. (Yoga Journal - http://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/2622)

Though I learned this in my Yoga Teacher Training, it was a practice that I had begun cultivating many years earlier through traditional therapy and 12-Step Recovery Programs.  It is, for me, about being mindful of my actions and reactions, thoughts and feelings, experiences, choices, desires.  It is a practice of being gentle with myself; of learning to treat myself as I would a dear friend, with love and support, attention, interest, and value.  I often practice following a thought or feeling along a path, inquiring of myself and it what more it has to tell me or where it originates, sometimes even where I feel it in my body (somatic sensations).

As I reflect on the end of the year, begin to set goals for 2013, continue my adjustment to San Antonio and building a life and community here, and reflect on some very emotionally trying experiences of the last few months, I find myself increasingly focused on this principle of svadhyaya.  If we are to know others, and others us, oughtn't we first know ourselves?  How can we set realistic expectations for our lives if we don't know the roots and networks of our own actions and beliefs?  Many of us spend a great deal of time being busy - sometimes by choices, sometimes by circumstances...sometimes as a way to avoid this practice of svadhyaya.  We are human doings instead of human beings, frequently.

For me, the practice of self-study is the most important thing I can choose to do in a day, the most important thing for me to make time and allot energy to do mindfully.  If I am not examining from where the decision to do charitable work comes, can I truly be giving selflessly?  If I don't know on what the lessons I teach children are based within my beliefs, can I be sure I am teaching my truth?

Consider taking some time to think about this, and find a practice of self-study that is right for you.  I am committed to an ever deeper practice of svadhyaya in the coming year, if for no other reason than without it, I don't believe I can be the most loving and authentic human being, for myself and my students, possible.  To be less is doing myself and them a disservice, and listening and learning from the messengers in life is much more peaceful than fighting or ignoring them.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Happy 237th Birthday to the United States Marine Corps today, and Happy Veteran's Day tomorrow!  If you see a Marine today, wish him or her a happy birthday, and make a concerted effort to tell anyone you see in uniform or something that says they are a veteran (Veteran's plates, a ball cap that indicates veteran status, whatever), "Thank you for your service!"  Whether his or her service was yesterday or 60 years ago, we can never repay the dept we owe those who put themselves in harm's way that we may continue to life the life of peace and freedom that we enjoy here in the US.
In the next few years, we will continue to have a growing number of service members coming back from combat, requiring a great deal of care, understanding and patience, but let's don't ever forget that we owe them that as well as tremendous respect and gratitude.
Maybe this Veteran's Day, instead of just enjoying an extra day off work - especially if you do get off of work - find one thing you can do to support our military, veterans, and/or their families.  Maybe you can bake cookies for the USO, pack care packages for active duty deployed members, or just go visit a veteran's hospital or senior center, and/or donate to a reputable veteran's care group.  Be creative, use your individual talents!  It's the least we can do!
Check out what the founder of Go Daddy decided to do:
Video tribute from Go Daddy

Monday, November 5, 2012

Cultivate An Attitude of Gratitude

I often get caught in the frustration of day to day minutia - red tape of establishing new programs, frustrating campaign ads, buying toilet paper - and it is easy to get into a mood of brood.  I am beginning this next year of my life (my birthday was last week) with a mindful effort to cultivate my attitude of gratitude!

I am relatively healthy, those I love are all relatively healthy, I have a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food on my table, I have a wonderful practice I get to share with others, and I have friends and family that I love and who love me.  I am TRULY blessed!  I am reminded of this so often - when I see the devastation from the super storm Sandy on the east coast, or when I teach classes at Haven for Hope (the shelter in town) - that I don't know why it is so easy to forget!  For today, I will remember and be grateful!

For what are you grateful today?  Think about it...

Here is a Meatless Monday recipe from the Ayurvedic Institute for kitchari - it's good for every constitution, and is great for being gentle with your system.  Especially nice if you overindulged this weekend in less than healthy foods like I did! :-)

Have a JOY filled day!

Kitchari Recipe
1 cupBasmati Rice
2 cupsMung Dal (split yellow)
7 cups (approx.)Water
a bit ofSalt
2 Tbs.Ghee
3 tsp.Mustard Seeds
2 tsp.Cumin Seeds or Powder
2 tsp.Turmeric Powder
2 tsp.Coriander Powder
2 tsp.Fennel Powder
1 pinchAsafoetida (Hing)
Kitchari means mixture, usually of two grains. This is one kitchari recipe that is particularly nourishing and easy to digest.Options
  • Vegetables such as zucchini,
    asparagus, sweet potato
  • For Vata or Kapha conditions:
    add a pinch of ginger powder
  • For Pitta: leave out the mustard seeds
Carefully pick over rice and dal to remove any stones. Wash each separately in at least 2 changes of water.
Sauté the seeds in the ghee until they pop. Then add the other spices. Add the mung dal and salt. Sauté for 1 or 2 minutes. Add boiling water, bring to boil, then simmer for 30 minutes or until the dal is about 2/3 cooked.
Now prepare any vegetables that suit your constitution. Cut them into smallish pieces. Add rice and these vegetables. Stir to mix, adding extra water if required. Bring back to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes or until rice is fully cooked. Aim to have minimal water remaining, leaving the lid on the pot to allow any excess to slowly be absorbed.
Caution: Kitchari mono-diet can lead to constipation if taken exclusively for several days, as it is low in fiber. To ensure proper elimination, the following may prove helpful if taken once a day, away from kitchari meals: psyllium husks or seeds with water OR oat bran OR prune juice.
Teas for each Constitution
Vata Tea — equal parts ground ginger, cumin and coriander
Pitta Tea — equal parts ground cumin, coriander and fennel
Kapha Tea — equal parts ground ginger, cinnamon, and a pinch of clove
© The Ayurvedic Institute 2011.  Fair use policy.  Privacy policyContact us.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

WOW! What a Ride!

It has been a very interesting summer for me, and we are already in the full swing of fall!  I am working with Sundara Yoga Therapy, Mind Body Yoga, and Hope for Heroes in Austin, trying to get some classes scheduled with Yoga Day and Haven for Hope here in San Antonio, finding new activities for San Antonio Yoga Meetup which I took over this summer, just finished Warriors at Ease Module 1 and going to iRest Level 1 on Sunday.  Almost glad the MBS Fitness classes at 1221 Broadway are on hiatus for now, or I think I would be a bit frazzled during this organizational period.  Thank goodness some of the organizational part will be over in a couple of weeks, as will my trainings until March.  It is interesting though to walk through finding my routine in this new landscape.  I feel very lucky to have a supportive significant other that helps me remember to take time to breathe, to be silly, and to continue to practice what I preach! :-)  I would like to get more Skype classes off the ground by the first of the year, and am helping with a training in the DC area in January too, so it will continue to be busy, but this is what I need to propel my goal - of making  the therapeutic tools of yoga more accessible to all - forward.

Friday, May 18, 2012

This has been a crazy busy time for me...I just finished my Trauma Sensitive Yoga Teacher training last week, I am teaching two nights a week at 1221 Lofts, just took a full time position to make enough money to pay for my next training, am working out some possibilities for additional teaching avenues, am headed to Austin tomorrow for an Overcoming Anxiety with yoga clinic, and getting so caught up in the urgency of it all, I forget to take care of myself.  I forget WHY I am on this path.  Then my brother, a combat disabled veteran with PTSD, posts a link on my personal Facebook page that puts it all in perspective...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qX9FSZJu448&noredirect=1
THIS is why I am working my butt off to get enough money to get the certifications I need to give every person possible the tools to heal themselves!  If even one person is helped by the tools I can provide through yoga, it will ALL be worth the struggle and frustration of this moment!!!!  I am so grateful for the love and support of those around me and my innumerable blessings!!!!!!  Creating our best selves, and our best lives with the tools available is what I believe life is about.  Sometimes things just need to be put into perspective!  Sat Nam (true name - true self)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

This is my first blog post...ever...
Things are definitely moving along in the development of this practice!  I am in negotiations for space to hold donation based classes beginning in April, teaching for MBS Fitness at 1221 Lofts, will be teaching a class for Central Market employees this spring, am discussing teaching at two other facilities, and am registered for Trauma Sensitive Teacher Certification training in Austin, TX this May.  Between that and the job that pays for my trainings, I should never get bored, that's for sure!  With all that building a  practice entails, it is imperative that I remember to do my daily practice - pranayama, asana, chant, meditation as well as nutritional attention are all important to keep me moving forward.  I can't very well share tools for self-healing with others if I am not continuously utilizing them myself, can I?  Every choice has greater significance if it is intentional...Today, I will strive to be intentional in honoring my practice and myself.