Tag Archives: Practice

Accessible vs. Easy

I watched a Great Big Story video last night, Posing for Inner Peace: The Yogi Practicing Body Acceptance, in which Dana Falsetti talks about her yoga practice. There was one thing she said about teaching that stayed with me because it bothered me. It’s not what she said exactly or what I think she meant because I’ve followed her for a long time and know her backstory and I don’t think she meant to say anything negative — yet it might be easily interpreted that way.

In the video, she said, “I travel all over the world teaching body positive workshops. So, I don’t necessarily teach in a way that is about modifying or making the practice easier for anybody based on age or size or anything like that. It’s more about teaching in a way that makes everyone feel really included and really comfortable.” I think she meant to say that her focus is on inclusion and comfort, making her students feel a certain way rather than focusing on the mechanics of the practice. I also infer that she wants to be sure that one doesn’t see the fat (or illness, injury, or age) on her body or those of her students and make assumptions about their ability to practice, about how strong or flexible or capable they might be. Maybe she also wants her students to retain authority over their own practice, their own experience, and believes that taking the focus off modifications, variations, and props supports that.

And yet, as a teacher who DOES focus on the mechanics of the practice, on helping students find the appropriate modifications, the best variations, and the most helpful props, what she said bothers me. It seems to imply (even though I’m pretty sure that’s not what she meant) that “easy” is bad, that modifications don’t need to be taught, that student’s don’t need the teacher’s help in finding what is comfortable, or that making modifications or choosing variations or using props mean your practice isn’t challenging, that by doing any of these things you are taking the easy way out, (see Allison Ray Jeraci’s Instagram account to see one example of how “easy” poses are with modifications and props).

“So, I don’t necessarily teach in a way that is about modifying or making the practice easier for anybody based on age or size or anything like that.” It isn’t about making someone’s practice “easier,” but rather making yoga asana practice accessible. And maybe the statement only bothers me because I’m an accessibility geek when it comes to yoga asana practice, about people moving their bodies in general. Movement matters, for everyone, and as someone who facilitates movement experiences, I feel like it’s my responsibility and my JOY to figure out ways my students can move in ways that feel good, that allow them to meet their goals. When I teach, I want to help them find those ways, to provide them with whatever support, options, and tools I can.

Modifications, variations, and props don’t make yoga asana practice “easier,” they make it more accessible. They facilitate a student’s experience, allow them to meet their body, heart and mind (physical and energetic) exactly where it is on any given day. It cultivates a deep awareness of what they need and what they have to give. It allows them to meet themselves and others from a place of stability and compassion. It allows them to let go of external and internalized expectations about what yoga asana practice or the shape of their body is “supposed to” look like.

Practice can allow a state of being that Tara Brach calls radical compassion. One of the ways she talks about practicing this is R.A.I.N., which stands for:

  • Recognize what’s happening
  • Allow life to be just as it is
  • Investigate with a gentle, curious attention
  • Nurture with loving presence

And anyone who’s ever attempted that, on the mat or off, knows that it’s anything but easy.

 

On the Origins of Things

Today would have been my friend Kelly’s birthday. Would have been, because nine years ago, at only 37 years old, she died. I’ve written quite a bit about her here, including but not limited to:

  • Kelly Jo, in which I shared a short essay I’d written for a CSU publication in her memory, remembering her as a person who was strong, smart, creative, cheerful and compassionate. In the blog post, I said “If you don’t already have a Kelly in your life, it is my greatest wish for you that you will.”
  • Dance Party, in which I showed my “woo-woo” side. “I had told Kelly, when the cancer came back and she started chemo and she asked us to visualize events we’d share in the future, that one thing we’d do, when she felt better, would be to have a dance party. It started as an aspiration, but then I thought, ‘why not?’ and started to plan the music.”
  • The world is never the same after she is there, in which I shared, “I can’t think about how much I’ve changed in the last few years, how much happier and more focused I am, the drive I feel to do good, to save lives besides just my own without thinking about Kelly, without feeling a deep determination that I need to do what Kelly is no longer able to, to reflect all the love and kindness and good she manifested.”
  • Don’t give up, in which I said, “And yet, that’s one good thing that came from losing Kelly, (and Obi, and then Dexter) — I set the intention to heal myself, to be myself, and in that way to start to help make the world better. I vowed to keep my heart open, no matter how bad things got, no matter how hard it might be.”
  • Day of Rest: Remembering Kelly, which I ended by saying, “I am still here in large part because of Kelly. That and a huge dose of survivor’s guilt. I live with the somewhat twisted notion that if a person as amazing as her doesn’t get to be here, I need to earn the right to be here. I have to try harder, be better, not waste my time, stop messing around, ‘suck it up and get tough’ like my high school football couch and social studies teacher used to say. And yet, today as I remember her, on this day of rest, I know that she wouldn’t want me to feel like that. She would tell me ‘it’s okay, cheer up, you’re perfect.’”
  • Three Truths and One Wish, where I wished, “That after loss, we can find something to hold on to, something that keeps us from giving up. At the very moment I wrote the line above about our love going wild, a tiny fat hummingbird hovered outside my window just to the right of my computer screen. That feels like love to me, like both magic and medicine, and for now that’s enough.”

Every time this anniversary comes around, I sink into contemplation, about the meaning of life and more particularly the meaning of my life, and this year that dive is so much deeper. The best word to describe my current state is “confused.” Almost five months have passed since I quit my CSU job after 19 years. At first, I blamed the exhaustion, the stuck I felt on burnout, which isn’t entirely wrong. And yet, as time has passed and the summer turns to fall, I’ve started to suspect that it isn’t just burnout.

I’m confused. I was so sure that I’d take the summer off, like I have for the past nine years, and when fall came, I’d start my new work as a contemplative practice guide. My intention — beyond easing suffering, in myself and in the world — was to specialize in yoga asana, meditation, and writing as practice, and to spend more of my time writing. I wanted to hold space for people cultivating a foundation of a stable mind and embodied compassion. I wanted to serve my community, working towards social justice and liberation for all people.

At first the awfulness that was happening in the world seemed to support my intention, to make it clear that what I was hoping to do was necessary, needed, and therefore “right.” But the more I educate myself about things like racism and climate change and diet culture and misogyny and homophobia and transphobia and xenophobia and white feminism and cultural appropriation and spiritual bypassing and gaslighting and white priveledge and white fragility and capitalism and police brutality and private prisons and ICE and, and, and… I start to feel more like part of the problem then a force of change.

Last week, I did some wild writing with my friends Chloe’ and Mikalina. This is a practice we learned from our teacher Laurie Wagner. We were using On the Origins of Things by Troy Jollimore as our prompt. This is what I wrote:

They say “everything happens for a reason” and Pema Chödrön says that the lessons you need to learn will keep coming back until you finally learn and the first noble truth of Buddhism is life is suffering which simply means life is uncomfortable and you’ll never get exactly what you want. I agree with some of those things some days, but some of the time I refuse to accept it or it doesn’t make any sense. Things happen for no reason, life is chaos, and yes, you never get what you want. I keep trying to go back, travel to some origin that can explain what I’m supposed to be doing, what to feel and think. I want to do the best thing, but the list of possibilities is endless. I think if I can catalog or organize or interpret what has happened to me, fully study and process my experience, I’ll gain some clarity, know what to do. But it’s just like how I think if I just go to bed earlier or take a nap or skip the gym or eat more vegetables, I won’t be so tired all the time, but it’s not a physical tired, it’s tired of trying to make sense of it or hold space for all of it and now that I have all the time in the world what do I do with it when the possibilities are so endless and the list of things I care about is so long I will never stop writing it. Every morning has been cloudy, wet, cold, gray. I picked more tomatoes last night to eat with dinner knowing the cold would soon dip low enough that there’d be no more tomatoes and why is it like that, the fullness of summer lasting so long and late so that we completely skip right past the middle-ness of fall to the edge of winter. Start to finish up, but what exactly am I finishing? What did I even mean to say? That there’s all this space, that things have shifted and I’m not quite sure where I am.

So yes, kind and gentle reader, I’m feeling confused, and maybe a bit discouraged. I’m trying to make sense of things that just don’t make sense. I’m trying to find solid ground even as I know that doesn’t exist. And yet, please know: I’m not giving up. Things are taking longer than I imagined they would. I remind myself this is always the case, that it’s okay to go slow, so slow it might look to someone watching like I’m not moving at all.