A few months ago I had 2 great colleagues of mine (Ty Bohnet and Pete Longworth) ask me Why Empowered Yoga? Ty and Pete were in the process of creating a new website and other material that would visually represent Empowered Yoga and in order to visually represent Empowered Yoga they needed to know what I was all about.
I have been thinking about that question ALOT lately. I actually struggled with the idea of if I wanted to even have YOGA in the name because yoga can come with a certain dogma.
I can’t think of anything more empowering than getting to know yourself better, both physically and mentally. When we start to become aware of the way OUR mind and body work then we can begin to honestly ask ourselves important questions like:
What inspires me?
What am I all about? (currently as this is always changing)
What are my current stories, theories and paradigms that are limiting my growth,connection and happiness?
How should I live?
What do I desire?
Where am I running, hiding or playing small?
What am I afraid of?
This awareness can then trickle down to the everyday choices we typically make unconsciously throughout the day. This is what i believe ENLIGHTENMENT is.
Have you ever honestly asked yourself why you like a certain item of clothing, a specific car, why you eat certain foods, listen to specific music etc? How that item or product can represent your identity in some way?
Matthew asked a question to the group “how has your social conditioning, suppressed creativity?”
Initially I responded with the obvious like religious beleifs and Image. As I contemplated more I also had many other insights like education, medicine and YOGA
Thats right YOGA, or at least the way in which yoga is sometimes being practiced, talked about and marketed.
Looking back at the reason that I began to really dig into the practice of yoga was just around the time I became pregnant with my daughter Sienna about 10 years ago. Prior to this time I had been practicing and teaching yoga for around 5 years while I attended university, but it was a different kind of practice for me then. Having my first child my identity was shifting drastically and I found myself at a point where i did not “know myself” I was not asking important questions anymore. I was constantly looking outside myself for parenting advice, nutrition advice, life advice. I was reacting as opposed to consciously acting or better put choosing my actions. I felt lost, frustrated and angry.
As I dove more and more into yoga I began to feel more and more connected to my center. I learned how to listen better which was huge for me.
The coolest thing about having kids is that you get to observe them grow, mature, and shape their own identities. In this process, if you are conscious of it, you can also begin to witness how the personality is formed.
Another cool thing about having kids (okay slightly annoying at times) is that they constantly ask:
Why? Why? Why?
What I found from constantly being asked this question is that I was getting stumped a lot. Like I did not actually know or have a reason for why I was doing something. I found myself answering “because” and while there are somethings we can never truly be certain of, I was not okay with just “because” when making major decisions.
The more connected with my centre, the stronger I became, the more I began to ask myself more creative questions.
What does your desire or need boil down to?
Where does it come from?
Who is asking?
Is this action in alignment with your personal belief system and philosophy? (key here is YOUR, and not the one that you were raised to buy into)
And this was changing my life in more ways than Ican elaborate on here.
………………………and then this weekend I had another shift.
YOGA has been part of the social conditioning that was limiting my creativity. Yes the very thing I was using to open up was closing me off in other areas.
For instance I spent 5 years studying exercise science at university. In addition to this I spent thousands of hours strength training, studying martial arts and working with athletes as a trainer and health coach. I loved this work. I witnessed how movement allowed many of my clients to move past many traumas, limitations and illusions they has about themselves. I watched how it empowered people. Over the past few years the more and more I got into yoga and especially teaching yoga teachers the more of a box I began to stuff myself in again. I began to obsessively look outside myself for validation from what I perceived as more knowledgable teachers. I never asked the question Are they more knowledgable? Where did they get their knowledge from? Hatha Yoga is a very ancient art/science and while some of the practices have the capability to heal and connect some of the practices are extreme and we forget that these practices came from a very different time then the one we live in now, almost a different world: pre dissection (we knew nothing about anatomy) These practices were also limited to men who were not householders and using their body to expand their mind, from asana to purification practices and even body morification. While we could argue that dissection moved us away from how we feel and created its own problems, we also know that dissection and modern medicine has empowered us in many other ways. There is also a huge period of time between the original Hatha Yoga texts and modern yoga and there seems to be many contradictions between the father figures of modern yoga. I think there are some real dangers in 100% trusting our body and mind in somebody else’s hands.
I slowly began to turn away from my experience in anatomy and fitness and began practicing yoga religiously. I let too many teachers tell me how i should and should not move my body, even though my experiences would have told me otherwise. I even welcomed the chance for a senior teacher to physically put me into poses i could not get to on my own, despite feeling pain. I stopped strength training for a while because that could not be yoga.
Fast forward to the present. I had been noticing that I was having pains that were new to me, and granted i am getting older i had to be honest about what i was doing that may be causing or accelerating this breakdown. In a webinar with Christina Sell, we talked about vinyasa yoga and how the constant lunging forward may contribute to hip issues (she also discovered this through experience) and at some point we have to acknowledge that what we are doing may be hurting us in some way and in order to heal we may have to CHANGE the way we are practicing either until we fix the imbalance or maybe permanently. That seems simple enough right?
Well it turns out it is not soo simple.
It took me quite a while until i could LET GO of my attachment to my way of practicing or put another way my STYLE or SYSTEM of yoga. I think back to a book i read by Bruce Lee. In this paragraph he is talking about his Jeet Kune Do school. Martial arts is similar in that if we get to tied to our teachers and their systems we miss out on potential for growth and creativity.
I have not invented a “new style,” composite, modified or otherwise that is set within distinct form as apart from “this” method or “that” method. On the contrary, I hope to free my followers from clinging to styles, patterns, or molds. Remember that Jeet Kune Do is merely a name used, a mirror in which to see “ourselves”. . . Jeet Kune Do is not an organized institution that one can be a member of. Either you understand or you don’t, and that is that.There is no mystery about my style. My movements are simple, direct and non-classical. The extraordinary part of it lies in its simplicity. Every movement in Jeet Kune-Do is being so of itself. There is nothing artificial about it. I always believe that the easy way is the right way. Jeet Kune-Do is simply the direct expression of one’s feelings with the minimum of movements and energy. Finally, a Jeet Kune Do man who says Jeet Kune Do is exclusively Jeet Kune Do is simply not with it. He is still hung up on his self-closing resistance, in this case anchored down to reactionary pattern, and naturally is still bound by another modified pattern and can move within its limits. He has not digested the simple fact that truth exists outside all molds; pattern and awareness is never exclusive. Again let me remind you Jeet Kune Do is just a name used, a boat to get one across, and once across it is to be discarded and not to be carried on one’s back.
I mix it up from time to time and have modified the poses themselves, made up new poses and stopped practicing the ones that seem to hurt me. Honestly for me I think I was interpreting my injuries or pain in yoga as a weakness that needed to be strengthened or something in me that I needed to fix. I think many will resonate with this. I kept asking why? and at the core of this forcing through pain was lack. “I am not blank enough” What I learned from working with athletes and from studying biomechanics years ago is that repetitive movement in the body can create strain and then eventually binding up of the body in certain areas. This shows up as an injury, chronic pain and symptoms of burn out. We can see the same thing happen in yoga. The harder you are on something the faster it breaks down. I still have a vigorous yoga practice, but i am more open minded about it. I mix in some Yin and restorative sessions when my body needs a break. I am also not afraid to introduce effective movements I have learned from martial arts, pilates, sports conditioning and gymnastics despite that some feel this is ruining yoga.
I have also gone back to strength training a couple times a week. I have even replaced 2 weekly yoga practices with strength training because what I am realizing is that due to my NATURAL (meaning i was born with it) flexibility strength training creates more stability for me and I LOVE strength training. I have started incorporating some mysofascial work into my weekly practices as well and it is AMAZING the difference this is making.
My vision for Empowered Yoga is to continue to ask intelligent questions: to keep digging and to keep being honest about what i am discovering. This is called Integrity. In both the 200 Hr and 500 Hr teacher trainings I am committed to providing the most complete and objective information from various schools of thought (not just yoga) in order to provide my students with the information they need to create their own answers (which will change) and their own practice of yoga that in turn empowerers their lives and others around them.