Thursday, October 22, 2009

What ever happened to Dignity?

To me, dignity seems a noble goal. If you carry yourself with dignity, you present yourself with self-assurance and self-respect; you take your cues from within. You move with a sureness and calmness that suggests you are at peace with yourself and your choices (this is starting to sound like a facebook fortune). At least, this is how I see it.

I got to thinking about dignity when I was listening to an interview with economist Charles Kinney on NPR yesterday. He was talking about how access to television has moved women's rights forward in many third-world countries because of empowering stories on soap operas, etc. That may be the case in Brazil and Saudi Arabia, but TV in this country seems to have turned everyone into external validation junkies.

What is it with the "look at me, look at me! I'll do anything if you pay me/if you record me" all the time?!?! Remember when humiliating reality TV was eating a sheep's eyeball on Fear Factor? Now people expose
their bodies, their habits, their families, their addictions, their souls in a constant, desperate attempt to get any producer's attention. I'm thinking, of course, of those pitiful parents in Colorado, who hid their six-year-old and told him to lie when they launched their balloon in order to get themselves another reality series (as if Wife Swap wasn't enough fame and adulation).

You would think yoga would be the perfect antidote for this insecurity. And yet even the yoga community seems full of practitioners keen on branding themselves and selling yoga shoes to "help spread the word"--as if the word wasn't spreading just fine on its own without a lot of pictures of hot, young bodies doing arm balances.

Didn't anyone's parents pay enough attention to them when they were kids?

So here's my idea: let's bring dignity back! Let's celebrate quiet satisfaction and inner peace. Let's value thinking and contemplation and shed the childish demands for attention. Cool it with the material desires...get internal!

How's that sound...anyone with me?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

So You Think You Can Teach...

I'm surrounded by Eggheads. Professional Eggheads. Of my immediate relatives, there are seven Ph.Ds, five Masters' degrees, four university positions, at least one emeritus professorship, as well as publications, honors, titles, chairmanships, etc etc. This is a crowd that takes its education seriously. You can see why I get hung up on qualifications and trainings. I tear up during "Pomp and Circumstance."

With all the talk about "authentic" yoga, and asana teachers as fitness instructors and who should be teaching, and who is making a mockery of the whole discipline, I wonder, "What makes you think you can teach?" It's sounds like I'm being cheeky and rhetorical, but, honestly, I want to know.

If one has a solid, standard training--say six months to a year--meeting over weekends and learning all the asana, how to sequence them, modifications, a discussion of philosophy and history, maybe learning a bit of pranayama, student teaching--what is s/he really qualified to teach? To me, it seems, like s/he is ready to lead students through a safe, carefully-considered Hatha Yoga class. But, what about beyond that?

Yoga Alliance requires 20 (30 hr.s total) contact hours of instruction in yoga philosophy, yoga lifestyle and ethics for the 200 hr. R.Y.T. designation. The program is heavily weighted to asana, altho the techniques, training, and practice section (100 hrs.) includes kriya, mantras and meditation, evenly weighted between technique and teacher training. So how much time does that really leave for the spritual elements of yoga? And I'm not saying that this is a bad mix, but just that it's not a lot of time left for non-asana.

I suppose there is self-study to familiarize yourself with the texts most traditions refer to, but does that do anything beyod expand your own awareness? Does close-reading really prepare you to deal with your students' issues? Does reading the Bible make you a minister? Does investigating the Freudian canon make you qualified to psychoanalyze?

I think it's great to provide students with a context for their asana practice; to show them that Hatha is just one part of a much larger system. But this is as far as I go, because I just don't feel like I am qualified go beyond a simplified definition and explantion of the yamas and niyama or the other seven limbs. Do you?

I really want to do other trainings prepare a teacher to go beyond asana? How much time did you spend on the spiritual aspects of yoga in your preparation to be a teacher? Are we really teaching it or giving lip-service to the rest of the discipline so that we're not "just" fitness instructors?

I've been thinking about this a lot and this is why I ask. What do you think: are we really qualified to teach this stuff or should it be left to the counselors, ministers, monks, and therapists?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

American False Idols

Oh man, are there some juicy discussions going on out there in the yoga blogosphere(yogaspy, it's all yoga, baby, YogaChickie). I've been hanging back, without commenting, trying to decide what I think and I'm a little late to the conversation, but here goes.

What seems to be the general theme floating around these postings and the resultant commentary is what we--in the West--expect of our teachers, and what they see as their responsibility to us. What's really interesting to me is why these issues and expectations around the yoga student-teacher relationship seem so loaded and emotional. Are these really our spiritual leaders we're talking about? Someone invested in our mental well-being and development, who will let us down and disappoint us they turn out to exhibit human frailties? Why do some teachers encourage this kind of dependence?

Aside from a handful of senior teachers, aren't most people teaching primarily asana? Or at least, isn't this what most teachers are qualified to teach, without a lot of extra training in religion or counseling or psychotherapy? Why would you expect your yoga teacher to have any idea how to handle your spiritual development aside from leading a few chants or focused breathing exercises? Why would a teacher presume to be able to?

Am I mistaken? Does my role as a yoga teacher suggest I owe my students more than an effective sequence of poses and explanation to help create awareness of their own bodies? I don't want to be responsible for anyone else's spiritual life but my own. My classes are not hot or sweaty or competitive, but I never go beyond the basic physical aspect of the asana. If chemicals are released in the brain (and I suspect that they are) that calm my students and make them feel more satisfied or happy or mindful, that's great, but I would never tell them to interpret it as anything more than that.

Would you? Am I missing something?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Life Lessons from a Fishtank

As you know (or maybe you don't), we now have fish. Plural. We bought a Chinese Golden Algae Eater to clean up the tank and to keep Hot Wheels company. I know, they can be rough on goldfish, but so far everyone has enough food and space, and the only inhabitant getting harrassed is the snail (cuz he's been a bit mossy).

So, it was time to move onto interior decorating. One benefit of a geologist husband is I have a go-to guy for aquarium rocks that are fish-friendly and won't leach anything into the water or dissolve, etc. So we assembled a lovely tower of specimens and then transferred it into the tank to give everyone something to swim under and hang out one. Generally, just liven up the joint.

I knew it would be a bit traumatic for the fishes to have a pile of granite introduced into their space, but I figured they'd get over it. Well, all the finned inhabitants of our tank fluttered around the edges of the tank for hours, speeding past the rocks occasionally, without a second look.

Apple Snail (whether he is one or not, is still under debate, but this is now his name) sat quietly for about 10 minutes and then glacially, majestically sidled up to the sculpture to check it out. He stretched out of his shell the farthest I've ever seen to touch the rocks with his feelers and foot and then gracefully hoisted himself onto the rocks to continue his exploration.

How cool, how relaxed, how in control of the situation. In my habit of anthropomorphizing everything, I decided that this was a lovely example of how to deal with change. Approach with deliberate caution, check the situation out, explore thoroughly and embrace. I have never seen this snail from so many different angles as his cruised around his rocks. The other fish had come to terms with them by morning, but were still a bit flighty and suspicious (anthropo. again).

So I keep A.S. in mind. Something is always coming out from left field and I think I could learn a few things from a snail, my new, slimy role model. (And a bit less mossy, too, thanks to CGAE--called Nolo after a Hot Wheels Acceleracers character.)