I spent the past few days at Wanderlust, the music-and-yoga festival in the mountains of Squaw Valley, California. As you can imagine, it was stunning.
I was honored to teach a few workshops for practitioners of all backgrounds, levels, and yoga interests. Yoga teachers including Nikki Myers (Yoga of Recovery), Dina Amsterdam (Yin Yoga), and Maya Fiennes (Kundalini Yoga) attended, and another presenter, Giselle Mari (Jivamukti Yoga), graciously offered to assist me during a particularly large class.
I also got to be a student, opening my heart with Annie Carpenter and going down to the Delta in Shiva Rea's Sunday yoga revival. I talked yoga with Duncan Wong and was adjusted by Simon Park. As I watched people trying out styles and teachers that were outside their main discipline, my heart was filled with pride in our community for branching out in the spirit of curiosity.
To me, the definition of "student" is someone who wants to experience a variety of what the world has to offer, even as they may focus more on one aspect of study that interests them the most. There are many roads to center, but it's easy to let a single-pointed focus turn into tunnel vision. Sure, we yogis all have styles and teachers we resonate with strongly. Yet it's my belief that no one aspect of yoga or instructor holds all the answers.
Yoga teaches us that when it comes to discovering the truth about our nature, both human and Divine, we already exist in a state of full and complete awareness, although this is often obscured by veils of illusion and misaligned ways of perceiving the world. Our mentors can help us remove our blinders and remind us of this radiant truth. However, at times, all of us grow so attached to something or someone that we close ourselves off to other possibilities, or sometimes even to the awareness of our own potential for independent thinking or self-inquiry.
I'm happy to report that what I saw happening this weekend was the complete opposite. The yoga kula, or community of the heart, met here under the big sky, combined and recombined like a beautiful kaleidoscope under many masters, and people infused their spirits with inspiration and knowledge they may not have even known they were seeking. Personally, I was turned on to a breadth of fresh opinions and perspectives, all of which I'll use to inform my own practice and teaching.
When approaching the area outside the box, it's helpful to remember that our willingness to hear other voices and try new ideas will always, 100 percent of the time, teach us more about who we are. Whether you love the experience, discover it's not for you, or have a reaction somewhere in between, you've received valuable information about what harmonizes with you and what doesn't. Either way, you've strengthened your core connection with who you really are.
Being open-minded means that we don't become style snobs, turning our noses up at other forms of yoga. In John Friend's Anusara community, perhaps one of the most tightly knit yoga kulas out there, he asks his teachers to always honor other disciplines, and to speak respectfully of them. This is the conversation we can all enter into, as we look around our yoga family and open our hearts to the possibility that, like any circle of nourishing relationships in one's life, there may be room for more.
This week, consider taking a class in a style you haven't yet tried, or with a teacher you've never studied with. Off the mat, let your open mind lead you into opportunities for growth and adventure.
Core Pose: Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
This posture is nearly universal across many yoga styles. When you do it, you link up with so many others in your tribe, and yet everyone sees and experiences it differently. Listen to your inner teacher while standing in Tree Pose--ask yourself "What else is here than what I already know?" From the widening potential within, allow the roots of your presence and the conversation with the center of your physical and spiritual gravity grow clearer and stronger.
Come to standing. Place your weight on the right foot and slowly bring your left foot to your ankle, inner shin, or inner thigh. Press your standing leg and left foot together as you bring your arms out to the sides or overhead, or your palms to your heart. Deepen your hip creases toward the sitting bones and lift your low belly in and up as the tailbone lengthens. Draw your shoulders back to reveal the heart as you reach the crown of your head away from your grounding feet.
As you bring your attention into a state of curiosity, allow your balance to interplay between the three points of contact on your standing foot: big toe mound, pinky toe mound, and center of the heel. With the same dance between stability and fluidity, work your way up the body, noticing new aspects of the pose, even how the mind and heart are responding within this profoundly simple asana. Then, do the pose on the other side.