Somehow two weeks have gone by in our teacher training, and we have covered so much ground that it is hard to know where to begin. Last week we began the assisting section of the training led by Darcy Lyon, and we also had Friday night philosophy class with Lauren Slater about yoga and nutrition. And then this past weekend we learned continued learning assisting from Darcy, and learned from her about yoga and psychology on Friday night. No small subject matters, to say the least!
I’ll start with the yoga and nutrition section. Interestingly, the first Yama of the Yoga Sutras is Ahimsa, or nonviolence, and the first Niyama is Saucha, or purity. As we learned, both are integral in shaping a yogic diet. And both can be interpreted in multiple ways. How can what we eat be nonviolent to our bodies, and to the world? And, in endeavoring to eat nonviolently, is it implicit that we maintain pure systems, internally and in the world? These are some of the questions that we chewed through with Lauren, and probably could have gone on to digest for hours more. In a world where the globalized systemic hegemony the Global North creates food injustice dispersed amongst the Global South, and even in poor areas of the North, and in a world where globalization and environmental racism collide in creating toxicity in much of the food consumed by those who can’t afford non-GMO and organic food, how do we consume with Ahimsa and Saucha? Also, in a culture so obsessed with particular body images that are gendered, raced, and sexualized, and in a culture where toxic food is obsessively advertised to the masses, how do we eat nonviolently and with purity? It can become easy to obsess about food and food choices, but such cycles of obsession then become self-consuming, and do little to effectuate more systemic cycles of oppression. These were just some of the many thoughts that swirled around my head during Lauren’s talk.
Some additional questions that Lauren posited for us to think about with food that we eat are: In what ways does this food serve me?; In what ways does it harm me?; Am I eating it to nourish my mind, body, and soul, or am I using it to hide? She suggested that we begin a food journal, and that we eat at least one meal a day in silence, making our a meal a meditation of gratitude.
Along the lines of gratitude and giving, we began Darcy’s class by picking secret buddies to daily gift with little presents, ranging from poems to flowers to fruit. Between practice teaching on each other, attending support groups, and activities like gift giving, I can really see how much more tightly woven our cohort is becoming through this training.
With Darcy, we went on to study a new teach map, similar to the one that we learned from Chrisandra, but incorporative of adjustments. Instead of using harnessing and expanding to describe the energy flows of yoga asanas, Darcy uses stability and freedom, which really are quite similar to what we learned from Chrisandra. Nevertheless, it took most of us a little bit of time to transfer from one discourse to the other. I think that it was good practice for us to do so though, so that we don’t get bound within one way of describing something, and so that instead we really understand it. We learned more about passive and active language, and pretty much all came to realize that we need to become more active in our describing of asanas and alignment. We began practice teaching in small and sometimes large groups, which was a bit scary at first for many of us, but I think that we all realize how much practice we need, and are grateful for this space to learn and experiment and be given the opportunity to make mistakes and try again.
The Yoga and Psychology Friday night lecture was highly engaging and thought provoking. So many of us are drawn to yoga because we either consciously or subconsciously realize that we obtain psychological benefit from practicing, but so few of us really begin to desconstruct the relationship between mind, spirit, and body. While Western psychology (aside from transpersonal psychology) primarily elides thinking these relationships, yogis have been attentive to them for centuries. The yogic path of self-realization is one that moves progressively inward, through layers, or sheaths, called the koshas. There are five koshas: Annamaya, or the physical; Pranamaya, or the life force/energy; Manamaya, or the mental; Vijnanamaya, or wisdom; and Anandamaya, or bliss. Often, the various problems that students come to into a yoga class seeking for help with have to do with an imbalance of at least one, if not all, of the koshas. We spent class time practicing with hypothetical problems that a student might have, ranging from depression to a shoulder out of joint. We tried to figure out what koshas were out of balance, and what we would prescribe as a yoga practice for restoration.
I am often so blown away by the relationships between mind, body, and spirit that are so tantamount to yoga, and so lacking in settler cultures. It makes so much sense to me that in the West, as we’ve largely forgotten our own mind-body-spirit practices through settler colonization, diaspora, slavery, and assimilation, that we turn to practices like yoga to restore a balance that is often so missing through Western culture. For me, the question becomes how do do this mindfully and with attention to the problematics of cultural appropriation. So much more to think about!