teach yourself

“If we know anything about a path at all, it’s only because of the Great ones that have gone before us. Out of their love and kindness, they have left some footprints for us to follow. So, in the same way that they wish for us, we wish that all beings everywhere, including ourselves, be safe, be happy, have good health, and enough to eat. And may we all live at ease of heart with whatever comes to us in life.” 

– Kirtan closing prayer by Krishna Das

This weekend I finally got to take a class at a Chicago yoga studio that I’ve heard good things about for awhile now. The vibe there was totally sweet, kind, familiar, and sweaty (but not too sweaty – that just-right sweaty that let’s you know people are loving what they’re doing rather than pushing themselves too far – it’s a fine line). Moksha Studiio is an authentic place where people seem to be teaching and practicing from the heart. I chose the class because the teacher proudly broadcast herself on the web site as being the oldest teacher in the lot. As I cross the mark into my latter 40s, such declarations resonate with me. I liked her style – from her oddball, one-piece unitard and looonnng dangling earrings, to her exacting movements – clearly a dancer. But perhaps the two things I liked best were that she touched me and that she got her lefts and rights messed up.

As a teacher, I don’t get touched too often. I love my fellow teachers at my studio, but we tend to focus on our students when we’re teaching and not necessarily view a fellow teacher as a student, even if that’s what she’s chosen to be for those 75 minutes. So to have this woman touch me from the get-go — moving her hands up my spine during the opening centering — and giving me a nice solid neck pull with some kind of minty oil during svasana — was dreamy. Needed. Appreciated.

And the left-right thing … it’s not that I want to see another teacher mess up, but it humanizes the whole thing. It’s pretty easy to find yoga teachers these days who have a bit of the automaton in them; harder to find ones in funky unitards reading Wallace Stevens poetry with crisp enunciation and insisting you are raising the wrong foot when she just cued it.

I am trying to decide between three different learning opportunities this fall – a Gita course with an esteemed teacher, three days of yoga with a favorite earthy instructor, or a long weekend with a friend’s “guru” who teaches in a mind-body style. I can’t decide. But, really, it shouldn’t matter. I’ll be showing up at any of them, and I will learn what I need to learn.

This spring I attended a yoga conference, choosing a one-day teacher intensive to train with someone I’d heard good things about. The half-day intensive was what I could afford in terms of time and money and I looked forward to re-connecting to my learner self. I came away disappointed at the workshop’s somewhat remedial nature. I knew most of it already. But perhaps I needed to hear it again. Or perhaps I needed to hear it anew. Or to be reminded of how good my original training was.

Swoon and swoop with yourself and hear your heart. It will always lead you home.

The man was authentic and heartfelt. He was sharing his dharma with us, and in the end, that’s all that really mattered. He also elicited the above questions and reactions, which eventually – after turning it over for a few weeks – helped me to remember that my highest teacher is myself. Meditation in motion, they call it at Kripalu; listen inwardly, swoon and swoop with yourself and hear your heart. It will always lead you home.

Recently, I participated in a writing festival workshop with a very good teacher and a group of wonderful women. I read 40 pages of writing a day and commented on all of them, page by page, hoping that my words might help the other writers. In turns, I listened as they discussed  my writing. And though they all brought something to the experience, as the teacher definitely did, it was me showing up and being present for the event and for my own work that profited me the most. Me taking time for me.

The reason I was even in Chicago this weekend, was to hear Krishna Das. For two hours last Thursday night, I chanted with him and a crowd. Eyes closed more than open. Hands thumping out the beat on my thighs. The woman next to me with her arms and hands outstretched as though in a revival tent. Chris next to me singing every note, every vowel, no matter how hard to decipher. And me – a non-singer to the core – singing and singing and singing, my voice joining the others. Krishna Das was my guide, not my teacher that night; a leader but not the reason for the gathering. The reason was in me and those around me. We were our own teachers; he was the reminder.

Closing my eyes, swooning and swooping with myself. Learning at this half-way point of life to listen and trust. It’s really hard to hear sometimes. But I’m trying.


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