Abhyasa, Vairagya My Ass

That was just to get your attention. And it was indeed my intention to write a funny/snarky essay about not being rewarded for my good deeds.

Which I still may do.

I started practicing in 1990 at Crunch (it was a gym) when my knees couldn’t take bench aerobics anymore. The yoga teachers were Sharon Gannon, Cyndi Lee, and a few years later, Dana Flynn. Nobody mentioned abhyasa or vairagya. There was little mention of philosophy. It was a GYM. I went every other day. Then I started going twice a day every other day. But Sharon Gannon passed out a free class card for her studio on 2nd Avenue so I also went to Jivamukti. It was a REAL yoga studio and I was a little intimidated. (I went to kirtan not knowing what it was. It was the first time both my legs fell asleep at the same time.)

It took two years of hopping at the wall to do a handstand. I tell my students who are struggling that eventually boredom will overcome fear. That’s how it was for me. After about three years, I did my first crow pose in Sharon’s class. I actually shouted, “I DID IT!”  Her response? “Well, it’s about time.”  Bummer. So I figured I wasn’t working HARD enough, OFTEN enough, blah blah blah. That may have been true but somebody should have mentioned that vairagya part.

Descartes once said: “Happiness does not consist in acquiring the things we think will make us happy, but in learning to like doing the things we have to do anyway.”

There are many interpretations or translations of Patanjali’s Sutra 1.12-14:

From Barbara Stoller Miller: 1.12- “Cessation of the turnings of thought comes through practice and dispassion.”  1.13- “Practice is the effort to maintain the cessation of thought.”  1.14- “This practice is firmly grounded when it is performed for a long time without interruption and with zeal.”

OK. Thirty years later I have never maintained the cessation of thought. While I am spreading my breath through my spine to the soles of my feet, there is a WHOLE LOT of thinking going on. Sigh.

From Satchidinanda: “Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended for a long time, without break, and in all earnestness.”

Oh, I am earnest. BUT I HAVE A LIFE! What is “well attended”? What is “without break”? What about my wonderful students who can only come to class once a week? They are earnest. They are thoughtful. They show up regularly.

Doesn’t that count? I sure as hell think it does.

From Vimala Thakar: “If you persevere, if you persist, then even when you are working throughout the day the mind will remain steady, because it has learned steadiness.”

I like that one. So maybe I should stop feeling like a fake because I don’t practice four hours a day every day. I am doing the best I can. On the mat. But what about OFF the mat?

I had the interior of the Plum House at Heathen Hill Retreat Center painted recently. I packed everything that could move. I boxed up the dishes and emptied the china hutch. I took down every picture and removed the nails. I took all the ceiling fixtures down. I removed every switch plate and outlet cover. The rugs were rolled up in the bathtubs. Anything I could carry went into the basement. The painters (Chad and Nate. and yes, they did look like they could moonlight at Chippendales) arrived and said NOT A WORD. No, “Hey! This is the best prep job we’ve ever seen. Thanks! We know it was a shit ton of work for you but you made our jobs SO much easier.”  Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Just a perfect smile and a quick twist of a muscled torso before getting to work. I WAS CRUSHED.

Vairagya. I did the work. I did a fine job. It should have been enough.

And yet…

No one needs to applaud my effort on the mat in any pose. I am OK with “retiring” some of the stuff I used to be able to do. Now if I could just take that equanimity off the mat. Apparently 30 years is only the beginning.


Have courage.

Atha yoga anushasanam. (Now, yoga.)

I sit to write this in the midst of Summer Solstice: the longest, lightest day of the year, which also happens to be International Yoga Day. Summer feels like a season of abundance—lots of vacation, lots of yoga, lots of watermelon and guacamole and Aperol Spritzes. After a long, cool, East Coast Spring, the possibility and promise of summer is (for me, at least) highly anticipated.

And yet with the promise of abundant warmth and sunshine and beach time (with the promise of the abundance of anything, really), comes the nagging voice that says, “What if there is not enough?” The worry about whether there will be enough is often followed by something like, “What is everyone else doing and what if I miss out?” And in the age of epic social media saturation, there is plenty of evidence that everyone else is doing something fabulous and that you are, indeed, missing out.

That’s the thing about our brilliant brains—they can spin out before we even realize it. In an instant, we’ve left our bodies and the present moment and are lost in some cycle of comparing ourselves to others, while worrying that our past choices could have been wrong and that we may not be navigating ourselves toward an Instagram-perfect photo op. Thankfully for our busy, always evaluating and assessing and calculating minds, we have the practice of yoga.

When I catch myself in a fear-of-missing-out/inadequacy spiral, it’s helpful for me to remember two gems from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.  First is the first sutra: “Atha yoga anushasanam.” Translation: “Now, yoga.” So simple that it’s sometimes skipped over, this sutra reminds us that yoga and its practices and teachings are available here and now and at any time in the future, with or without the perfect pose or outfit or pedicure. And what a relief. Out of body moment? Jealousy? Sadness? Joy? Excitement? Perfect. Practice yoga. This may mean that you actually roll out your mat and practice asana. This may mean that you sit quietly in meditation for a moment or five and practice returning your attention to your body and breath in the present moment. This may mean practicing one of the central ethical tenants of the practice like non-harming (ahimsa), friendliness and compassion (maitri and karuna) or honesty (satya).

The other gem from the Yoga Sutra that I return to again and again is the concept of santosha, translated as contentment. The Yoga Sutra lists santosha as one of the five niyamas, which are observances that yogis are to practice within Paranjali’s system of yoga. For me, the practice of santosha is a practice of looking at the world around us and cultivating gratitude for what is in our worlds. It is not a practice of minimizing sorrow or of focusing only on successes and accumulation of material goods. Instead, santosha in action involves recognizing the entirety of our situations—the good, the bad and the in-between—and then making peace with and, perhaps, even cultivating gratitude for whatever is there.

So, as we roll in to summer, it is my prayer that we all take time to be embodied in the present moment. That we may be present enough to feel the sand or the grass or the pavement beneath our feet. That we allow for the possibility that we are enough and that we grow our ability to be content and at peace with who we are, where we are and what we are. And, finally, that we put down our phones and step onto our yoga mats every chance we get.

The Trusted Friend

Recently, Yoga Shanti teachers and staff members gathered for a meeting in preparation for the new fall schedule. We welcomed new teachers, introduced ourselves, and engaged in a discussion about our shared purpose as teachers at Yoga Shanti.

I asked the group, “What connects us to ourselves, to our students, and to each other as teachers?” Without hesitation, the response was, “Self-inquiry.”

Have you noticed that a question begets another question? It may take several more questions to extract the answer to the original question—to clarify, to penetrate, to arrive at a place that resonates with truth. This is one way to describe the process of self-inquiry.

Let’s explore this in an exercise. Recall a time when you were speaking to a trusted friend about something very important. Re-create the whole picture: see yourself, your friend, where you were sitting. Remember as many details as possible.

As your conversation began, you may have shared the context, some of the necessary details, but you both knew this was just the set-up. Then you started getting closer to the heart of the matter. You laid it all out. There, you said it. Then what happened? Did your friend ask you any questions? Did their questions allow you to go deeper into the subject? What was your response? Were you surprised by it? Were you able to see something or understand yourself or your situation better? Did it lead to further questions?

I asked you to choose a “trusted” friend. Why? What do these two words, “trusted” and “friend” imply? Does a trusted friend allow you to be more open, willing, and honest? Does a trusted friend listen generously with curiosity and empathy? Does a trusted friend create time and space just to be together? Does a trusted friend hold steady as the truth is revealed?

In self-inquiry, we are both the storyteller and the trusted friend. Have you noticed that most of the time when we are telling ourselves a story, the “enemy” starts barking orders, criticizing our every move, judging other people, placing blame, etc. But wait, what happened to the trusted friend? How does the trusted friend listen? How does the trusted friend ask questions? How do we feel in the company of our trusted friend?

As we practice yoga, we have an opportunity to create a new relationship with our mind—to cultivate the trusted friend within ourselves as we learn to see, feel, listen, and skillfully move our body. It is within our power to start asking ourselves important questions with openness and honesty. It is within our power to listen with curiosity and empathy. In class, each teacher recognizes that you have taken the time to be with yourself and there is space for you to defy the critic, to slay the judgment, to disarm the enemy, simply by asking questions that encourage new understanding. It is a worthy process that leads us toward truth. The trusted friend is our closest companion, our guide, and the resting place for our mind.

The Gift of Surrender

In June, I signed on to do a 10-day yoga retreat in Ladakh, India, led by Nikki Costello. This was to be my very first retreat, and the days leading up to it were fraught: I hadn’t been away from my three daughters for more than a couple of nights since they were born, and now I was about to jump on a plane, cross a few times zones, and park myself on a mountaintop in the Himalayas.

I wanted to back out.

About a week before I was set to leave, I was working at the front desk at Yogi Shanti, thoughts swirling around my head, when Nikki appeared. My reaction? CRY. Nikki said, “Yes, this is big. Your feelings are valid. I’ll be there for you when your plane lands in India.” So I breathed again, trusting.

I know it takes an act of God to change the course of your life. Sometimes these acts are baby steps, and other times they’re grand gestures. India for me was that grand gesture.

Fifteen hours after taking off, our plane landed in Delhi and my heart cracked open. We spent three days in that city, which was a good transition for me. I had cell service to talk to my husband and daughters, great food, Balinese massage, and a king-size bed—all the comforts.

BUT. The night before our 6am flight to Ladakh, the “I cannot do this” set back in. It was as if I were standing in a line I couldn’t get out of. Nor did I want to: I want to cultivate individuality in my lifetime. I want to be authentic. But spiritual growth, for me, is scary most of the time. I can’t determine if it’s pain-filled joy or joy-filled pain.

Ladakh is 12,000 feet above sea level, and it takes several days to acclimate. In the first 24 hours of this retreat, I cried, laughed, panicked, and prayed. But I was there, and I was in it a hundred percent.

When I woke up each day after that, my heart was filled with gratitude. I’d look out my window at the clear view of a monastery built on the side of the mountain. I’d hear the engine of the local school bus start up outside. (The bus driver lived with his family behind my building). The majestic mountains surrounded me as I walked to the temple for morning puja with the monks. Their chanting pulsated my heart. The novice children in the monastary pouring tea, banging the drums, looking up at their elders, rebirthed me. That sacred place welcomed me fully.

I surrendered, and felt free. I had nothing to hide. Those mountains could handle and protect me even in the darkest of nights. It was magical and amazing. Each day was filled with community, asana, and refuge.

As we neared the end of our time together, we were told that a rare meeting with His Holiness the Dali Lama was organized for our group. When His Holiness spoke with us, his first words were, “We are all the same.”

I’m sure I’ll be unpacking this experience for many days, weeks, months, and years. But I leave you with this, from His Holiness: “We are visitors on this planet. We are here for 90 or 100 years at the very most. During that period, we must try to do something useful with our lives. If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true meaning of life.”

Found and Lost

I hate losing things. I still mourn the loss of a white sundress that went missing on my honeymoon, and a pair of pink Gucci sunglasses that the ocean swallowed one Fourth of July weekend.

Two months ago, I was at a pharmacy on the upper east side picking up medication. I remember feeling anxious and unsettled, like I’d had way too much coffee or was about to take an important exam that I wasn’t prepared for. It was only 7:45 a.m., but I’d already been to the doctor and battled my way across town to get to the one pharmacy on the island of Manhattan that had what I needed. I left the pharmacy clutching my paper bag of drugs, and I was walking toward the subway when I realized my sunglasses—my favorite Ray-Bans—were missing. The case was empty. I checked the little side pouch of my bag where I sometimes hastily throw them, but they weren’t there. I turned around and raced back to the pharmacy.

“Hi,” I said breathlessly to the woman behind the counter. “I left my sunglasses here.”

“No, Miss…” she began, but I cut her off.

“I’m sure they’re here. I know I just had them, and I must’ve put them on the counter or something while I was paying, because they’re not in my bag or…“

“No, Miss, they’re…”

“They have to be here!” I said. “I know I was wearing them when I came in, and I haven’t been anywhere else and…”

“Miss,” she said sternly, silencing me. “They’re on your head.”

“Oh,” I said. My face got red hot. I reached my hands up to pat my head, and, sure enough, there were my sunglasses. “I’m sorry,” I whispered, and skulked out the door.

There’s a phrase in Sanskrit, praaptasya praapti, which means, “acquiring that which is already acquired.” The woman at the pharmacy didn’t give me anything—she didn’t have my sunglasses—but she guided me to the realization that nothing was lost.

So what does all of this have to do with yoga?

The yogis say that our true nature is limitless joy. Not that we have joy, but that we are joy. Can you even imagine?

It’s a tough idea for our limited little egos to grasp. Also, our daily experience belies this concept of unconditional happiness and peace. We’re so used to conditional happiness: I will be happy when I have a healthy, happy baby; I will be happy once I make more money; I will be happy when I lose 10 pounds; I will be happy when I can hold handstand in the middle of the room. I don’t know about you, but just looking for parking on Main Street on a Saturday in summer is enough to make me feel agitated and stressed out. So much for being eternally at peace.

Some yoga texts explain that the reason we feel unrest or anxious is because we’ve forgotten who we are. We wrongly believe we’re separate from one another and feel isolated in the human experience.  We carry around shame, disappointment, guilt, and resentment, and those things are heavy—it’s no wonder we’re exhausted all the time! We’ve lost our connection to our deeper Self, that part of us that’s always joyful and divine.

Patanjali tells us that even when we’re in darkness, or working through tremendous grief, our true Selves are limitless, eternal, content, happy, and peaceful. But what good is all this happiness and peace if we can’t feel it? Why have we forgotten? How can we remember again? How do we recover what’s lost?

Last year, at Ramanand Patel’s suggestion, I started studying Vedanta remotely with a teacher named Vijay Kapoor. Kapoor says that 80% of the Bhagavad Gita, that seminal Hindu scripture, is sadhana. I’d always thought sadhana meant “practice,” or even “an ego-transcending practice,” but Kapoor defines it as “positioning yourself”—positioning your life and your mind so that you can better understand your true nature.

Sounds easy enough, but finding your true Self takes sustained practice, hard work, and continuous study. It’s not an easy veil to lift, but the Gita gives us clues that it has to do with alignment.

How are you setting yourself up? Are you positioning your life in a way that allows you to access joy, or do you keep banging your head against the same brick wall and then wonder why you can’t find peace? As a head banger myself, I’ve been questioning my own alignment lately. Why do I continue to reinforce patterns that deplete me? Why am I reluctant to shed habits that make me anxious? Why am I still my biggest obstacle to experiencing lasting contentment? Why is it so hard for us to live our best lives?

Pema Chodron says, “You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.” The habits that diminish us are the clouds passing through. Sometimes they congregate into violent hurricanes, thunderstorms, or blizzards, but the sky remains the sky: vast, open, blue, radiant. I sometimes think I have more fun identifying with the storms, because they’re powerful and dramatic. They can shake the very ground beneath me and send bolts of fire from the heavens to the earth. They’re beautiful and awe-inspiring and exciting and badass. But I’m no more the storms than the waves are the ocean. I know this, but I also forget it. I lose it.

How do we find our way back to our true selves?

I think it’s different for everyone. I’m learning that for me it’s a combination of rigorous exercise, sitting quietly, being near the ocean, chanting, spending time with my son and my mom, rolling out my mat, reading Mary Oliver, traveling, walking in the woods, and narrowing my to-do list. Then I find myself again.

Then I lose myself again.

So the bad news is, you’re the problem. The good news is, you’re the solution. You’re both the disease and the cure. The poison and the tonic. You’re the only one who can start paying attention to how you can better align yourself so you have access to the well of joy and peace that you already are.  You find a way to acquire that which you’ve already acquired. Your favorite sunglasses that you fear you’ve lost are right there… on top of your head.

Pause and Reflect

I recently read the book, Thank you for Being Late: An Optimists Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, by Thomas Friedman, the New York Times Op-Ed columnist. His take on the world in which we live today inspired me to consider how yoga translates into our “accelerating” age.

Friedman posits: “The three largest forces on the planet: technology, globalization, and climate change, are all accelerating at once. As a result, so many aspects of our societies, workplaces, and geopolitics are being reshaped and need to be reimagined.”

A few examples that come to mind are:  social media, the new “shared economy” (co-working spaces and Airbnb), and the current state of our government (just consider our new president). These are all cycling at such a rapid pace that we have less time to adapt and respond; we feel constantly disoriented. Haven’t we all thought, “I can barely keep up”?

Many of us have gone through periods when we just have to step away from it all. I personally have stepped away from Instagram for weeks at a time, and I’ve stopped using Facebook altogether. I suppose we do this because we are seeking a sense of stability and grounding that is quite elusive when things move at such a rapid pace. It’s why many of us come to yoga, right? To practice stillness and being in the present moment. This brings us back to the title of Friedman’s book, “Thank You for Being Late…”, which is what the author found himself saying to people if they arrived late for a meeting, because their tardiness had given him time to pause and reflect.

About this “age of accelerations”, the author writes, “…opting to pause and reflect, rather than panic or withdraw, is a necessity. It is not a luxury or a distraction – it is a way to increase the odds that you’ll better understand, and engage productively with, the world around you.”

But of course, what matters most is what you do in the pause. I’m pretty sure binge watching your latest Netflix guilty pleasure doesn’t constitute pause and reflect.

Friedman’s friend and teacher Dov Seidman says,“When you hit the pause button on a machine, it stops. But when you press the pause button on human beings, they start. You start to reflect, you start to rethink your assumptions, you start to reimagine what is possible and, most importantly, you start to reconnect with your most deeply held beliefs. Once you’ve done that, you can begin to reimagine a better path.”

Seems like a much better use of time than reading Trump tweets.

In this most modern of circumstances, we can still call upon ancient yoga scriptures. The importance of “pause and reflect” calls to mind Yoga Sutra 2.1: “Tapas Svadyaya Isvarapranadanani Kriya Yoga,” which translates to “discipline, self study, and orientation towards the universal, constitutes yoga in action.”

As we pause and reflect (rather than withdraw) and assess, and possibly challenge the assumptions and beliefs we’ve formed, we can then redirect so we are less disoriented. The pause gives us an opportunity to become better aligned with both our true nature and the world in which we live. This practice of yoga in action may actually accelerate our own adaptability. After all, not many of us plan to retreat to the caves of Tibet to live in isolation! As human beings, we are not meant to be static, and we live in this age of accelerations.

How often do you pause and reflect? Are there beliefs or perspectives you’ve formed that need reshaping (in order for you to adapt as the world around you changes)? Can you connect with that which is universal within you and consider how it moves you?

Would you thank someone for being late?

Building The Wall

To Whom it May Concern,

I rather think of myself as a master in masonry. I have been erecting walls (and other dividers) as far back as I can remember. My expertise knows no boundaries. I am well versed in any size, shape, or dimension. I am so skilled at this particular task, I can likewise give you respective alternatives for the edifice you seek. My favored selection: a facade (more on that to come).

Below is the optimal template for your benevolent divider. Preparatory to start, please consider the fact that there are a plethora of walls already in existence; is yet another divider really necessary?


First we begin with Avidya (Ignorance, lack of spiritual knowledge). Not knowing yourself or your true identity is a very solid foundation for a strong structure. This ignorance will aid in the building of fabrications (for your facade. You will form many ideas about what you are or should be). People will yield great influence over you and help you form these thoughts and patterns. Time will solidify their imprint.

First layer

Asmita (ego, pride) will limit your consciousness and solidify your separateness from the world. As with all separateness conflict will arise. I suggest placing a mirror on the inside of the wall so you can focus on yourself. What better focal point than me, myself, and I (and others like me). In our state of Asmita, there will be a drive to please ourselves.

Second layer

Raga (attachment to pleasure) will follow. When we allow ourselves to be completely immersed in pleasure and the pursuit of it, we will do anything to keep out pain. We begin grasping for the things we desire.

Third layer

Dvesha (hate, dislike, enmity) comes next. Guarding our utopia will become of top priority—and anyone or anything that stands in our way will stimulate hate and more separation. Jealousy and intolerance will become close allies. Finally, we will encase our wall with Abhinevesha (fear of death, clinging to life). We will soon be convinced of the importance of these pleasures. We may even believe these to be the meaning of our existence, the reason we are here. We become fearful without our money, jobs, children, Things—we cease to exist. We believe this body, this actuality, is all there is. So we resist the end. Fear is the ultimate divider and creator of illusions. When used in concentrated forms one can actually control others to achieve their personal agendas.

Warning: The wall is limiting. The illusion of the wall will not last forever. This wall is a fabrication. Even as a master of construction, with all my years of expertise, I have yet to build a wall that keeps out the undesirables: pain, loss, disappointment—they still find their way inside. In my experience it is a futile effort. Perhaps learning to navigate life and all that it encompasses is a better solution. As you remove one brick (thought, habit) at a time without attachment, the impression begins to wane. I can tell you the process will leave you exhausted (at first) but some how hopeful—and seeking more. As light begins to trickle in, you realize the darkness cannot remain. You will begin to recognize yourself in the eyes of others. You will see similarities and sameness in lieu of differences. Love and steadiness will dismantle the wall.

We alone are the masons of our own lives. We are given a blueprint at birth, and it is our responsibility to sift through it. We all breathe, we all love, we all die. We all come from the same place. I am no expert here, but perhaps we return to it too.


It’s the week after Christmas, and I sit fireside in upstate New York with the 14-year-old Lab I helped raise from puppyhood. These days he’s generally halfway across the country with the ex-boyfriend, so stroking his white fur I mourn our impending separation. “Even in Kyoto … I long for Kyoto,” the 17th-century poet Basho wrote, nailing it then as now—and writing a pretty good primer for yoga study into the bargain.

The blues for being there is the stuff of aparigraha—the yogi’s pledge not to cling to the things and people we want, to what and who we shouldn’t want, to memory and calculation, to life and time itself. This fifth of the yamas, or restraints, is the toughest for me hands down. (“I could become attached to a box of hair,” a coworker once uttered, striking a funny indelible chord.) So it happens that I sit staring into a crackling fire alongside my beloved dog, lamenting not only losing him, but also Christmas, with its sparkle, its scents—even the carols, yo. (And this yogini is Jewish.)

Without a doubt, clinging plays out interestingly, nowhere more than in our practice. Triangle: Bring it on. Revolved triangle: Time to go to the bathroom. Just do the poses you like and you’re in trouble, though. The “bits and bobs,” to quote Colleen, wind up overstretched and underutilized.

But when you turn poses like triangle and revolved triangle on their ear—when you parivritta them, in asana speak—you balance the openness of hips and groin through attentive use of your outer hips, buttocks, and thighs. Asana, like life, has a way of insisting we engage in the full catastrophe in order to reap homeostasis, not to mention samadhi.

The same is true of yoga philosophy. Aparigraha becomes possible when you put forth intense, loving effort fueled by strong surrender underpinned by right living—in short, by hewing to the eight-limbed path. So you do it. A lot. Regularly. That’s the practice. It’s never been about feeling good always.

Back to my cozy Christmas for a moment, please. When those coveted days with doggie got cut short by a death in my extended family, the object of my gaze shifted from things I glowingly adore to a sweet old man in a coffin—the perfect windup to a story of aparigraha. Death is where we’re all headed, we know academically. But abhinivesha—clinging to life—prevails even among the highest beings. What we fear will be taken from us we must share.

So if parigraha, or clinging, boils down to the “I, me, mine” lyricized by the great yogi George Harrison, a-parigraha, the restraint against it, is ultimately the embracing of us all. It is the practice of engendering love and compassion for the full, gorgeous catastrophe of existence.

Because the one with the most marbles ultimately loses anyway, yo. And we all win by grasping kaivalya, liberation, with open palms, the only way it will be held.

We Ride on the Backs of Giants

T.K.V. Desikachar died on Monday, the 8th of August, 2016. He was one of the great influencers of Yoga in the 20th century.  Desikachar was the son (and student) of the great yoga master T. Krishnamacharya.  Krishnamacharya was also the teacher of Patabois Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, and Indira Devi.  Desikachar completed a lineage that is largely responsible for how we practice yoga today in the 21st century.

One of the indicators of the extensiveness of T. Krishnamacharya’s Yoga knowledge is the diversity and profundity of his four main students. Any person who has had the honor and privilege to study with one of his students realized that there was no cookie-cutter methodology. Each one of these four had the thread of devotion and refined inquiry, but much to T. Krishnamacharya’s credit, they each expressed it in radically different teachings and styles. Each one of these masters showed us a different facet of the practice and let the wisdom and light shine through the window of different personalities and perspectives.

How will YOU express the teachings as you ride this river of Yoga? Your special and unique boat is important and is not duplicated by anyone else.  We are trained and influenced by our teachers, colleagues, students and by the world at large but from where you float or swim in the river is a perspective that is occupied only by you. The ability to relax significantly into who we are and yet feel and listen to the whole is a magnificent gift of Yoga.

The story of the five blind people describing an elephant as they touch different parts (one on the trunk, one on the leg, etc.) is a way to remember that one’s truth may be relative to one’s perspective and that we must loosen our own point of view enough to listen and truly inquire about the whole.

200 Hours

Colleen and I both look back at the first teacher trainings that we took (she at Jivamukti and myself at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco), and remember that we each went in wanting to learn more about yoga with no intentions to teach. A common trajectory of yoga learning in this country goes from taking public classes or doing video programs, to attending yoga retreats, and then right into a 200-hour teacher training program. Often the teacher training is the spark that ignites a genuine home practice or a launching pad for taking more classes per week. This is a fine evolution of a yogi, but it doesn’t really qualify one to hang up a shingle and start a teaching career. Two hundred hours in any subject is a drop in the bucket – an introduction, a pillar to a foundation.

The long time yogis in this country are recognizing this and are setting up continued education and looking toward creating more stringent certification processes. We all love teacher training programs and love how practitioners get turned on and set on fire. We love when students begin to see the rich history and the infinite body of knowledge and the unlimited realms of exploration that are possible in this beautiful art of yoga. The only difficulty is when the 200-hour teacher training is seen as a completion or a sign of mastery.

So then, what is being taught in these 200 hours and what is possible in such a curriculum? A good introduction and some essential foundational aspects can be covered. Some essential questions that can last a lifetime can be served up. But let us not demean a 2500-year old art form that includes some of the most brilliant human thought and experimentation by thinking you can become a yoga teacher after 200 hours. Instead come and have your mind blown open, your heart cranked wide, and your liver cleansed, and get introduced to your new life as a curious and beautiful sentient being.