Agree to Disagree
I'm writing this from the Omega Institute's Being Yoga conference, in Rhinebeck, New York, where I was a presenter. While here, I got to sit in on Gary Kraftsow's talk about resolving the concepts of Dualism (the universe, and everything in it, is made up of two essential unchanging natures: good/evil, body/mind) versus Nondualism (although things appear distinct, they are actually not separate: you, me, the trees, God). Fascinating stuff.
Now, how can these two seemingly polar opposite philosophies be resolved or brought to common ground? Gary offered that in order to perceive the Universal (sameness) in all things, we must have the context of relationships to things. And, in order to understand that we are all one, there has to be a "we" to unite. In the end, he says, our search for humanity and our search for divinity are, actually, one in the same.
Now, there's a lot more to it than that, but as I approach the next part of this conference, it helps to know this. I'll be attending what's called the Lineage Gathering, where teachers of different styles and belief systems will come together and join in conversation about yoga, life, and the role of the teacher in today's world.
I'm honored and excited to be a part of such a prestigious gathering, and envision myself sitting in the back row, observing and taking it all in. After all, there are lifelong scholars and teachers here, like Aadil Palkhivala, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, Lilias Folan, Sharon Salzberg, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, David Life, Sharon Gannon, and others. I'm intrigued to learn how they reconcile their different philosophies and styles of teaching for the greater good of leading others toward balance, harmony, presence, and clarity.
One thing I'm sure of: There will be no shouting, storming out of the room, overturning tables, or hurling expletives at one another. That's because every one of these teachers is trained in the art of integrity and respecting others. They know how to contain themselves in the face of adversity. Does that mean they always do? Probably not. But it's far less likely to see Gary Kraftsow or Beryl Bender Birch throwing a hissy fit than your average Joe.
The practice of yoga goes far beyond the performance of asana. It's a training ground for remaining non-reactive even if you're feeling intense sensations in your body, mind, or heart. Remember that next time you're in a long-held Chair Pose and you feel like bolting from the room--or throttling your cruel teacher's neck. If you can maintain your rhythm and grace on the mat, you can do it when things threaten to get heated in your relationship to the outside world. Yoga teaches us to stop, breathe, and use the tool of introspection, thus helping us avoid the slippery slope of hurtful words and actions.
Today, let's all take a cue from our master teachers, and act with a little more reflection and a little less reaction, and agree to disagree when we find ourselves with a difference of opinion. I bet Jivamukti's Sharon Gannon isn't going to convince me to go vegan, nor I to get her to try a free-range steak. However, we will bow to one another, recognizing the greater purpose we are each here to serve in the world.
Here's a pose I use to prepare me for the discomfort of being misperceived, of disappointing others, or of feeling wrongly criticized or judged. It won't be comfortable, because I'm going to ask you to go slightly beyond what you think you can do. But this pose can be a powerful teacher, if you use it to learn how to cool yourself down and remain focused on the bigger picture when the limiting and destructive fires of defensiveness begin to arise.
Core Pose: Utkatasana, Chair (Fierce) Pose (long-held variation)
Stand at the front of your mat, feet together. Bend your knees and touch the floor with your fingertips. Send your sitting bones back and wide, root your tailbone long, and, lifting through your lower belly, roll up with bent legs until your chest and arms reach for the sky. If this becomes hard on your neck, open your arms to the sides or press the palms together at your chest.
Look down at your feet--if you can't see your toes, shift the pelvis back until you can. Lift all 10 toes to activate your inner arches, and as you ground the ball and heel down, draw energy up from the Earth to help sustain you. Breathe slowly and deeply.
Stay in this pose until you think you need to come out. Then, stay for another 3-5 breaths. Afterward, take a few moments each in Standing Forward Bend and Child's Pose to stretch your legs and low back, neutralize the spine, and take the time you need to process.