Thursday, January 26, 2006

First Class

The preliminaries:
33 aspirants (acolytes?).
30 women. 3 men.
Age distribution: 22-50, mean: 30.
4 teachers.
One asana room: 80x30, two columns in the room, three mirrored walls, one frosted glass. Nondescript carpet squares. Unfinished ceiling made of foil-covered materials, spotlights on dimmer switches, and a number of circular ventilation ducts for heat and humidity.

The first 45 minutes was a group recital, running us through the beginners' set and sequence of poses, the exceptional being the multiple teachers roaming and more pose adjusting than I'm accustomed to.

Allanna started us with a mantra: Om Gan Gana Pataye Namaha, invoking the good fortune associated with Ganesha, and then emphasizing that every obstacle can be overcome.

She then led a discussion of what it takes to be a good student. The following are my notes:


  • Whether you believe what the teacher says or disbelieve
  • Whether you agree with what the teachers says or disagree
  • Whether you already know what the teacher says or don't know
  • Whether you believe you understand what the teacher says or don't believe you understand

Be receptive -- more as reverence for your teacher than submission to the teacher. You are not forging the path alone. Only recently has yoga teaching been passed to students in a class setting. Previously, it was one teacher to one student, and was known as "transmission." Such instruction was a function of the teacher/student relationship. It required complete openness on the part of the student. Only through the student's openness -- not the student's judgment -- could understanding come.

On gurus... When you are ready for a guru, one will appear. You do not need to go looking for one. You find the teacher. The teacher does not exert authority or power. Instead, you invest the teacher with authority and power by the way you behave, listen, and honor them. Your willingness to be a good student creates the teacher. When you love your teacher, your love enables you to be receptive and open, to receive and learn what the teacher has to offer. In a yoga class, when a teacher calls a pose, the student assumes the pose. There need be nothing more than that. With time, transmission from the teacher to the student occurs.

Still, there are impediments to learning. Among them -- the student's own ego can block openness that would otherwise allow reception of what the teacher has to offer. And all teachers have something to offer, no matter who or what they are. As a student, your task is to receive what there is to receive. In a class setting, this means -- within reason -- do what the teacher says. Release your form to your instructor. You may find yourself gaining insight into a different pattern than the one you expect, than the one you believe, than the one you know. In releasing your insistence on yourself, you may gain insight into your own mind, discovering how your resistance ends your receptivity. Allow that your teacher may know better, even if you don't think she does. If you think that a mistake is occurring, can you follow the instruction and be humble enough to receive what that experience offers?

Let go of expectations for this training. This does not mean "do not experience" the training. Instead, it means just let go. Your first homework assignment: this week, go out to eat with a friend or partner. Look at the menu the waiter provides. Then give it to your companion, have your companion decide and order for you, and then eat whatever comes with joy. Don't be hung up on getting your own way. Learn to be happy with what you get. Practice letting go. If you accept what is given, without expectation, you will get everything there is to receive.

On karma...

  1. Karma is actions, whether thought, word, or deed.
  2. Karma is certain. It can't be avoided or hidden from. Even thoughts generate karma -- the most powerful karma, like seeds that grow. Think of an acorn growing into an oak. Thoughts are the karma that is hardest to change.
  3. Karma expands. Your actions will be magnified back to you.
  4. If you don't do the actions, you won't receive what the action offers.
  5. If you do do the actions, you will receive what the actions offer
  6. There is no good or bad karma. We may talk about karma that way, but there is only what you do with karma. Example of 24 Hours character who benefits from the "wake up call" of getting hit by a car.

All of you have had tragedies. What happens doesn't matter. What we do with what happens does matter. For many lifetimes you have practiced yoga. You have prepared during all those lifetimes for this training. Many things have been facilitated for you to come to this training. Spread the good from that karma to others. Karma will repeat until you work it out. "Guilt" and "blame" are not terms in Sanskrit or in yoga philosophy. They are concepts of western thought. There is really no time to beat yourself up. Self-loathing paralyzes the body and interferes with experience. There is no judgment implicit in karma. There is, however, logic. You can't plant a tomato seed and expect to grow a Christmas tree. If you give away money, you'll receive money, but not because you "get what you deserve." There is no judgment. You do not "deserve" yoga teacher training. What matters, though, is what you do with it. Since actions produce results, what do you want? Maybe you seek to teach? Maybe you'll find during the training that you no longer want to teach. Maybe you seek to deepen your practice. Maybe you'll find during the training that you want to teach.

Honor your teacher as much as possible. It's your practice -- what happens inside you -- that will make the teachings of your teacher special. Each of you will learn from each of you. The sprit of a teacher is the spirit of the divine. You will receive lessons from unexpected sources. If you have trouble, ask for help, even if only anonymously. In yoga training, it is disrespectful to point your feet at the teacher. Exercise the discipline -- so long as it doesn't cause you undue pain -- to honor your teacher. Will you feel discomfort in your ankle during a class? Yes. Let that pain be your offering. This will make the teachings you receive in that process more powerful for you.

Regarding what Yoga is...

  • "Body, mind, spirit" -- Body and mind are physical and will fade and die. Yoga is the union of your higher self with the divine.
  • A way of living
  • Balance. Guru puts hands together at heart, explaining that the hand position is a mudra of balance, two opposites in harmony.
  • Poses -- assuming a pose named one thing or another is becoming the thing the pose is named for.
  • Stilling the mind/meditation -- what happens in the mind? Chatter. Yoga provides us a way not to be attached to or governed by that chatter.
  • Breath. When you inhale, you draw in air that has passed from all other people.
  • Karma
  • Space opening
  • Dedication
  • Personal and Non-judgmental
  • One truth -- many paths. Gandhi walked only the path of ahimsa, and yet he attained yoga. There are many paths.
  • Healing -- healing the body, healing the separation of the spirit from the divine
  • Mindfulness -- awareness, consciousness

Even if you just practice the postures, yoga will sneak in.

May we be lucky enough to have in this group many, many problems. Because if we have them in this group, we'll be better prepared to help students in the future who have those problems and seek our help. In this training, we will all use each other's bodies and experiences to learn.

Dave: Always be ready to teach. Always be ready to practice. Injuries are great teachers of teachers. During the coming weeks, while practicing, notice everything in those practices -- cues, music, adjustments, everything.