Dive in

I had the good fortune to go to eight precious hours of lecture by Sanskrit scholar, Prof. Rao, while he toured through the United States. As the amount of time was limited, he touched upon points in the Upanishads, the Gita, as well as the Yoga Sutras, in broader strokes than he would normally teach. He was absolutely charming and quite engaging, and he warned us that he could only cover so much. However, what I found interesting was how he described this overview. Prof. Rao compared it to a road map. He said he was merely showing us points of interest in an overhead visual map, his coverage was just dots marking where we could chose to explore further.

In this same way he described a quest for spirituality or meditation. Though he said it could be done in a universal approach, solo, that it was usually easier by concentration on one with guidance from a guru. He compared it to teaching young children to swim. Though you could just have them jump in or throw them in to flounder and struggle, more likely than not, only a few may do well that way. However, many would be safer and more at ease if they wore floaties on their arms to have support and while gaining confidence to learn the right motions before diving in alone. Self exploration is easier when a foundation is present, even then there can still be a coach or teacher to help with nuances on the way.

I’m teaching my son to drive right now. He will be taking his test in a few weeks to get his drivers license. The first day I took him out with his permit, we started in a quiet and mostly empty school campus parking lot. He was nervous, more than I had expected, so I had to really show him calmly that I trusted him and get him confident in his speed and stopping capabilities in a big circle before adding anything else to the mix. He’s now up to night, rain, and highways. He’s pretty good, I had him take a drivers education course that included eight hours behind the wheel and thirty hours of classroom instruction. I’ve had them work on ensuring he’s capable and competent in not just what is included on the test but my weakest areas of instruction..parallel parking.

Comically, I’m excellent at parallel parking, (years of living and driving in NYC) but yet, somehow, lack the right words to instruct it properly for a beginner. I think sometimes, when things come effortlessly to you, it makes it harder to teach. If you’ve never had to think about how to go about it, how do you tell someone else how to do it other than the basics? I think this perspective holds true in teaching asana as well, it’s easier to help or assist someone in a place where I’ve struggled, like backbending, versus one that I could just do…though believe me, there aren’t many of those! In some point of any instruction, there is a point of letting go, of trusting that the exploration needs to be within the individual. That success comes through their own trials and errors.

A road map of spirituality can show the highlights of places to visit, but it doesn’t cover the journey. What will be in the path? Will it be a straight shot on the expressway or meandering country roads? Will it involve a specific religion, all, none? Will the knowledge gained in the trip be understood, explored, questioned, enjoyed or just memorized? Just as I have to let my son explore the roads alone, it’s not always going to be sunny days and clear visibility. There will be stormy nights and accidents. There will be times, you just want to be along for the ride, a passenger just relaxing and enjoying the scenery, but instead your in charge. Have I given him the confidence to trust his capabilities and the right tools to navigate his travels behind the wheel? Does he know it’s a marathon and not a sprint, that his duty is to focus in the moment and avoid harm, and that what arises may be beyond his control? I’ve been thorough and done the best I could. Regardless of my vivid imagination, I must let him undertake this right of passage, my growing pains of letting go, and pangs of all the what ifs out in the world, only impede his own journey now, just like an Olympic swimmer would be by floaties. It’s time to let him dive in.

The Feet of the Guru

While studying in India, we had chanting classes three mornings a week. I was particularly fond of this part of learning. Though there were some I was completely familiar with, a few were new to me. The Guru Ashtakam was one. I loved it’s meaning, sounds, and intention. Devotion comes from the teacher within. It’s not just what we do, or learn, but what we take within us. The lotus feet are sometimes said to be spiritual wisdom itself, or pure consciousness.

My Teacher, M, left this week to study at KPJAYI for the next two months in a teacher intensive study. The training is sold out as well as a new offering. Though I will miss her guidance, I’m very excited for her as well. I hope this time of study and immersion will enhance not just her capabilities as a teacher, but also as a practitioner, a person. I wish her joy, wonder, wisdom, love and relaxation!

I think M has a phenomenal practice already, not just because of the beauty and strength in her asana, but because of her dedication. Her voice as an instructor is thoughtful, compassionate, and astute. There is no question of her expertise. Yet, what truly makes her a fabulous teacher, is knowing she doesn’t have all the answers and that there is always more to learn.

At our shala, we have been left in very capable hands. M has brought in another level 2 certified instructor to watch over us this summer, so far so good! S is a highly proficient ashtangi, with a focus on alignment. Something everyone needs reminders in maintaining and striving for more. Parampara and all that, but even so, we each teach it with our own personality coming through.

My first teacher told me a story a while back about a student who went to a weekend workshop with a highly regarded instructor, and came back exclaiming that so and so finally taught her the right way to do a downward dog! It was obviously a pose that our teacher had worked with her on and adjusted her just about everyday she practiced. There had already been so many changes in that dog since her very first one, some incrementally, others more obvious, yet this particular weekend, under someone else’s guidance, it all clicked. Don’t get me wrong, that is awesome, and I’m sure whatever occurred did help better align her down dog but ultimately it’s the whole process that gets you there, not just the last piece of the puzzle.

I have no idea what pieces of the puzzle will finally fit for me this summer, as I come to the mat and get advice from a new set of eyes. S has already picked up on my need to RELAX….more. I guess there is no need to even share with him, that I’ve improved greatly in this endeavor, to unmask that my innate temperament is so tightly wound? Do I so readily forget my biggest challenges like not noticing the stain on the rug until company is coming over? Its funny because it’s not that in either instance I don’t want to work on it, but sometimes distractions and other challenges seem to get in the way and then I lose track of my inner to do list. I chuckle writing this as my defense mechanisms come into play logically explaining my shortcomings. Hopefully someday, I won’t feel that urge, and then maybe I will relax!

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My teacher once asked me what my favorite asana was, I didn’t answer her, because I had never really thought about it, but to answer her, it’s not just one, it’s the whole closing sequence, probably because I sometimes relax in it;-)