Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Significantly insignificant

Moments in my life remind me how small I am in the context of the greater world: beautiful things like fall colors and crisp mornings, scary things like the bears who spelunked in my garbage last night, and humbling things like learning that I'm six hundred and twelfth in line for the next available representative. All of these lessons are good lessons, even if they alternately make me want to live in a cave and live in the concrete jungle.

As I hear other teachers mention the same stories I've told, or pick up on my mannerisms, I am humbled. On a daily basis I joke about my kind of yoga being called Kari Kwinn Vinyasa Flow Yoga, because I think that naming one particular practice after oneself is a bit... pompous. But at the same time I realize that what I'm teaching is Kari Kwinn Vinyasa Flow Yoga. It is a combination of the yoga classes my four year old self took on crisp autumn mornings instead of physical education, the years of participating in improv comedy and stand up as the 'straight man,' the shame of living years of my life trying to be someone I wasn't, and the joy in living my right life.

My teaching is informed by my every move, and I've come to realize that others who have taken my classes have absorbed bits of my verbiage and style and created their own yoga. This yoga evolves in the way that language evolves. It is a living thing that takes root in each of us and expands to the limits of our interpersonal reactions. It becomes the way we tell our story and share our personal significance with the world.

Can you recall a particularly profound yoga class you have taken? Where you were moved to tears or felt a few fleeting moments of bliss? That is a part of you today, it is in the conversations you have with loved ones and interactions with the clerk at the grocery store. Whether that moment stays at the forefront of your memory, it is the reason you take a breath instead of yelling at the driver who cut you off, or the reason you give away your last five dollars against your better judgment. If you teach yoga, it flows through you and ripples out into the world.

Your yoga is not your yoga, it simply flows through you.

Om bolo sat guru bhagavan ki

Friday, October 14, 2011

Boundless Boundaries

If you are relatively new to yoga, you might think that there are no boundaries in yoga. Case in point, I recently visited a studio out of state where I was 'adjusted' by a burly man who simply picked me up, rearranged my limbs according to his preference for the pose, and returned me to my mat. I literally hung in the air waffling between a state of terror and finding the situation more than amusing. It was a WWJD kind of moment. Like, seriously, what would Jesus have done?

I'm not sure any religious scholars have every contemplated this particular tidbit, but I think that he would have felt rather like me: uncomfortable. This is the best part of meeting new people and traveling to new places. I hear in some parts of Asia you are expected to snuggle with strangers on public transportation, while my parents would most like to greet you from the other room. And stay there. For dinner.

At the studio where I spend most of my time, people lay their mats down until they are nearly touching. Sometimes they bonk heads to tails or legs to walls, or feet to mirrors. The mat isn't like a magic carpet where your arms and legs must stay inside the ride at all times, the mat is a suggestion. A practice boundary.

Touching also happens. I've never actually lifted off of a yoga mat before (except in meditation, of course), but I've inadvertently grazed the wrong part of someone else's body with the wrong part of mine. I've stepped on toes, adjusted too harshly and otherwise invaded the space of others. I hate to admit it, but I've even grabbed the wrong water bottle. When all goes well in a flow based yoga class, we most resemble a school of fish, moving in tandem without making any contact.

Yoga is a singular experience. And it is about the union of self and everything else that isn't self. We don't often think of boundaries in our lives unless someone crosses one. Sure, if you mistakenly step on my mat as you fall out of a posture, no big deal. But if I walk into class and you're on my mat, practicing? We have an issue. I might feel comfortable with you using my toothpaste, but my toothbrush? Not on your life. Asana practice helps us explore those boundaries we've yet to discover in the rest of our lives and gives us an opportunity to assert them again. It is kind of like a return to Kindergarten.

"By the practice of the limbs of Yoga, the impurities dwindle away and there dawns the light of wisdom, leading to discriminative discernment."II 29, The Yoga Sutras

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Aha, Aparigraha

The people who say "it is better to give than to receive" seem like the people with the least stuff, right? They are giving the stuff. They should have the least stuff. I have always like to think of myself as a give-r, not a have-r or (heaven forbid) a keep-er.

So why do I have SO MUCH CRAP?

Have you ever experienced the beauty of this inner dialogue? Well, my darlings, the problem is in thinking we must always be ready to give, because IT IS BETTER TO GIVE than to receive. Do you follow? This little ditty implies that I must always have something to give, lest I ever be in a position to receive. Perhaps this is the reason that I have seventy bottles of wine, socks that don't fit me, and teething rings. This could explain my compulsion to purchase bird seed when it is on clearance, even though I have no birds and putting bird seed out in my neighborhood defies various covenants. My house is teeming with well intentioned purchases or acquisitions that are just standing by, waiting to be given at a moment's notice.

It is true that my friends appreciate my boyscout nature. You can be certain that whenever we travel together I will have the ibuprofen, the lotion, kleenex, bobby pin or quarter that you need. However, it recently dawned on me that it is just a tad unreasonable for me to take a condom with me on a business trip away from my husband, lest someone else need one.

You might be surprised to learn that no one has yet asked me for this valuable and well-traveled commodity in my five years of work travel

Perhaps the examples in your life are closer to reasonable. You have artificial sweetener on hand at home in case someone drops in who needs it, except you haven't had a soul in your home in the last five years requesting an artificial sweetener? You are equally as compelled as I am to obtain every last tiny, crappy hotel soap that has ever crossed your path even though you have yet to use one and you're starting to run out of space in your closet for unused soap (that guests might use if you ever had guests who wanted to use their own individual bar of soap).

What hole in my life am I trying to fill with tiny soaps?

What hole are you trying to fill with tiny soaps?

This is the blessing and curse of this yama. Non-grasping is what we're going for, and yet, we can't grasp for it. We must work towards placing what is clenched tightly in our fists into the open begging hands of the world, both figuratively and literally. Stop taking what you don't need. Start clearing out one thing every day that no longer serves you, whether it is an idea, a habit, or a million tiny soaps. Use them, or at least stop allowing them to use you.

It is better to give than to hoard, to keep, to hold tightly.