Recently I find myself, more than ever before, explaining why I teach what I teach. Why slow yoga?
Maybe the lack of slow practice offered is a Berlin thing - a typical big city phenomenon when an overload of options, stimuli, experiences to consume, places to see and people to meet sends us spiraling off in thousand different directions (off our center). Or maybe it is my own evolutionary thing - my personal quest for ways to slow down cannot BUT reflect in my practice and in what I want to share with my community.
At different stages in our lives, different practices appeal to us. Also at different stages in our lives, different practices serve us best. What appeals to us and what serves us best, are not necessarily the same thing. I've been lucky to have great open-minded teachers to facilitate and guide my practice. But to be honest - mostly I bow down to grace - as when I have been ready, what no longer serves me, would become painfully visible and fall away on its own accord.
My first dips in the magic of the yoga pool were through Kundalini yoga. Mostly what it taught me, was to feel energy, to know ecstasy, to push my limits and to meet a challenge with willpower. I am not saying at all that this IS what Kundalini yoga teaches, I'm saying this is what I was able to receive at that point in my live. I practiced religiously twice a week for 6 years. I learned to love the chanting and without knowing anything about the philosophy behind this practice, I can safely say that this is where my seeking for meaning and truth started. (How I became a yogi).
Coming from a Kundalini yoga background, my first Vinyasa Yoga class was a bit of a shock to my system. I was puzzled, it was different, yet my body loved it! I was living, working and practicing in Syndey at that time - everything was new and I relished in discovering these new ways to move. My love affair with this moving flowing practice continues to this day. The dancer in me enjoys the fluidity and the endless creativity of a Vinyasa sequence which can feel like a full-body prayer in motion. My teacher training gave me the initiation, basic knowledge and tools how to keep digging deeper into the depths of the science and magic behind yoga. Some of this digging (un-earthing) has been through books, workshops, teachers, but a big part of it has been a continuos discovering through my own daily practice. (How I became a teacher)
Tapas would be the word to best describe this stage in my practice. I was hugely dedicated, fiercely focused and intensely committed to my athletic style of Vinyasa practice. Tapas comes from the Sanskrit verb "tap", which means "heat" or "to burn" and the traditional interpretation of tapas is exactly that - a fiery discipline to burn off the impediments that keep us from being in the true state of yoga (union with the universe). My practice was fiery all right - it felt exhilarating to see the changes in my body, to reach these new levels of strength and flexibility that I had never touched upon during the many years of Kundalini practice. I was on my mat 2 hours every morning and 2 hours every evening, sweating my way though vigorous flows, tackling head on and mastering one challenging pose after another. I kept going to new teachers, attending workshops and retreats, following the new trends, as a perfectionist I would from time to time step out of the flow and go to Iyengar yoga classes to become more meticulously correct in my alignment.
In the background of all this huffing-and-buffing would always be my meditation practice. By the time life had introduced me to Vinyasa yoga, I had already sat through two 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreats and I had had my mini "ahaa" moments with revelatory glimpses to the cunning nature of my own mind. Yet it wasn't until the tapas of my practice had burned off some pretty thick layers of pride and egoic attachments to being an "advanced" yogi, that both my meditation and yoga practice (not to mention my life!!) would go through a severe transformation.
My nicely packaged world started to rip from the edges and crumble about 15 years into my yoga practice and 5 years into my teaching career. Fierce grace! I was lucky, I guess. For a lot of intense dedicated yogis, it takes an injury to drive in the true call, meaning, depth, possibilities, freedom of their practice. In my case, it was a 5 rhythms dance workshop that gave the first (deadly) blow to the world as I knew it. As I began to clearly see my fear of failure as my main striving force for success, ego as the string puller behind my spiritual quests and my deep sense of unworthiness masked as kindness and generosity, I had to stop. First right there on the dance floor, as I had no idea where the next step would come from…if not from fear, ego or an attempt to be accepted?!
The months after the workshop were like a free-fall. I seemed to have lost about 90% of my willpower. The fire had burnt out and like in life also in my practice I was completely lost. The old way of functioning - the discipline, the pushing, the dedication, the commitment - was no longer available. I found myself bouncing in a mixture of polarities: confusion enveloped with clarity, self embraced by no self, form as an embodiment of the formless, understanding eclipsed by the knowing, the doing witnessed by the being, the doing happening within the seeing...
Since then my practice has become less and less forced and it naturally slowed down. I gravitate towards the mindful passive holds of Yin yoga, the fully supported and nurturing shapes of Restorative yoga, the spaciousness and connectedness of meditation. I still love to flow through my Vinyasa practice from time to time, but more for the fun of it rather than to accomplish or pursue anything. The "drive" behind my practice is fueled from a different source. The ego has not been eradicated, don't get me wrong. But it has been exposed!
And this is where I teach from. I see the value of a fiery practice, but as I've witnessed my own ego so drawn to battle with difficulty, I try not to lead a practice that will feed pride and egoistic ideas of what it means to be an "advanced yogi". I see the value in consistency, striving towards your goals and getting on you mat every day, but I am adamant to guide your practice towards mindfulness, self-acceptance and compassion over mastering a difficult pose.
There is a time and place for everything. There is absolutely no wrong way for you to connect with yourself through yoga. I just urge you from time to time to check in with your true motives and intensions behind your actions (be it on or off the mat). Are you willing to be aware? Are you willing to be wrong? Are you willing to open the eyes to expose a fraud? Are you willing to see that you may not be living from a standpoint of truth? Are you willing to keep doing that over and over again?
My teaching cannot BUT reflect my own personal determination to slow down, to have my practice be something that restores balance and cultivates my ability to be with "what is" and to expose the the ways I'm still deceiving myself.
I do not consider myself less ignorant than most people. I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teachings my blood whispers to me. My story is not a pleasant one; it is neither sweet nor harmonious, as invented stories are; it has the taste of nonsense and chaos, of madness and dreams — like the lives of all men who stop deceiving themselves.
Each man's life represents the road toward himself, and attempt at such a road, the intimation of a path. No man has ever been entirely and completely himself. Yet each one strives to become that — one in an awkward, the other in a more intelligent way, each as best he can.
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