Tonight I attended services for Evelia Pineda Torres, who succumbed to breast cancer two weeks ago. The event tonight was a celebration of Evelia. There were about 250 people who gathered at the Elk’s Club in Waikiki in a beautiful sea side ceremony.
Even though it was a somber occasion, I was happy to see a lot of faces I haven’t seen for years and a whole lot of new ones. I was in sheer awe of the breadth of Evelia’s influence on not just the O’ahu yoga community, but other communities as well on our island. For example, there was a large contingent of Ultimate Frisbee enthusiasts. Evelia was a massage therapist and would offer the frisbee participants massages during competitions. She was well remembered by that group.
She was also an avid hiker and many who shared the trails with her were in attendance as well. Not to mention her neighbors, and family who flew in from her native Mexico. Her husband was surrounded by love and and support from her large community.
I have know Evelia since 1999-2000 when she was a student with Daws, my original yoga teacher. I remember her back then doing yoga-nidrasana, which is a pose where you have both legs behind your head lying on your back. That was her practice back then, and she had evolved even more through the years.
Many at the services said they were shocked when they found the news that she had stage four breast cancer which was announced in December. She continued to teach classes until just after Christmas. Her students remembered her as a strong teacher who challenged them, but also showed a tremendous amount of compassion and was encouraging to new students.
One of the ceremony’s speakers said that a theorem in physics is that energy never dies, it just gets transformed. Evelia’s light burned brightly in this plane, I’m sure she continues to radiate her divinity on her next journey. She will be very missed here on Earth.
*featured image courtesy of Iyengar Yoga Silent Dance Center Facebook page
My teachers are in Pune for March and that means subbing for me. I was not able to sub as much this month as I did when they went to China six months ago because of new care giving duties. The woman who was helping back in October found another job, and my wife and I have been tag teaming like parents to get my mother-in-law to daycare and other duties.
I do have to admit I got a bit burned out when I subbed last October which meant I taught upwards of eight classes per week. Of course that was coupled with a lot of personal loss. Now I will be teaching about 5 classes per week. Not as intense.
The good thing about my studio is that the next crop of teachers in training will get opportunities to assist with classes which takes a lot of pressure off. They are the cream of the crop of my teacher’s classes and it will be exciting to see how they develop as teachers themselves. Teaching is an entirely different skill set than practicing.
My teacher Ray left us all a nice note at the studio to take time to work on our own Sadhana even when we are subbing. It was a gentle reminder. As yoga teachers we have to take care of ourselves. It seems like a no brainer that we would, but I have seen a lot of teachers neglecting their own health and relationships to teach insane schedules in addition to having a job and families.
Balance is always something I try to fight for. The universe can sure flick a lot of responsibility your way. A good practitioner can manage, but must be constantly vigilant about conserving one’s energy.
So I am looking forward to the challenges of this month. I look forward to seeing students I haven’t seen for a while in addition to new faces. Hopefully I can maintain the standards of my teachers and even teach their students something new. But the main service is keeping our humble studio moving ahead in the absence of my teachers.
With each day’s headlines, I feel we are indeed in dark times. Even though Hawai’i days are bright in February, I feel the collective chilly mood of winter from the Northern Hemisphere.
I attended a talk from Buddhist nun Rev. Lekshe Tsomo a few months back when I was coping with my then ailing father-in-law who eventually passed last May. She said many things that brought me comfort, but the main kernel of wisdom I gleaned from her talk is that darkness and light cannot coexist.
You can take take this literally, but it works well in metaphor. One must shine one’s own light on dark things that come our way to shepherd us though this time. Even Iyengar felt “light” should be shown on yoga which was lurking in the darkness before his teachings brought the best of yoga to the forefront.
When you come across bad news, summon the power to ask “is this really true?” “Does this really affect me, or am I just reacting to the collective madness?” Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty collective madness to go around these days. That is why we have to learn what our practice has taught us during the “easy” times.
Even in the yoga world, there is mass chaos. In fact I would argue that there is even more than in the non-yoga world. We have egoic yoga celebrities writing misogynistic rants, engaging in thought and tone policing, and selling the practice out for every last dime. There are even those who deny the practice is even legitimate and was “made up” for political purposes.
As we sink into our practice, we have to ask “are all of these things making my life dark really true?” and we get an internal shout back “NO!”
Seven years ago, Mark Singleton published a made-for-the-average-Joe version of his thesis in Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice which states in so many words that yoga as we know it today is less than 100 years old. This has started a whole wave of thinking that yoga is some kind of scam dreamed up by Hindu nationalists who pirated asana-s from Kerala wrestlers and Swedish gymnastics manuals. Sadly, this has also inspired a new wave of yoga commentators in pushing a hate-filled anti-Indian agenda that is critical of teaching techniques by Krishnamacharya and his disciples. It has also given a slew of yoga teacher trainings self made license to do what ever kind of contortions they want to do and call it “yoga” which has led to an epidemic of yoga-related injuries. I have been reticent to delve into this debate as I had to educate myself more on the issue before having an intelligent voice in the matter.
Recently Singleton has teamed up with researcher James Mallinson to go on a fact finding trip to India to really find out where yoga came from. In the forthcoming press about Mallinson’s recent book Roots of Yoga, he states that yoga is not exclusively Hindu, but draws from Buddhist and Jain practices as well. Just like in a rainforest, a botanist finds a mysterious leaf peeking out of dense foliage and tries to find the root of the leaf only to find it is part of much larger matrix of life from which it is impossible to find a single source, it seems as though Mallinson et al. have found themselves in a similar conundrum. I have yet to read the book, but the press that has come from the findings of this team is leaving one with more questions than answers.
Which brings me back to the point of the title of this post: MPY or Modern Postural Yoga is an outdated term. We are not sure how old asana-s are and if what we are practicing today even resembles asana-s of yoga past before photography. What some of us know who are Iyengar practitioners is that the asana-s that our teacher taught have given us far more than we bargained for when we first stepped foot in class. Iyengar’s method of teaching and asana-s that he presented are transformative to one both physically and mentally. For those of us who stuck with it for several years, the practice continues to bring us more fruit with each consecutive year. At least that has been the case for me.
I am not a scholar, but a practitioner. But being a good practitioner means one has an element of scholarship in one’s sadhana, particularly in reading the classic texts like Patanjali Yoga Sutra-s. I read several translations as I am not fluent in Sanskrit so I can get a better gist of what the Sutra-s are trying to impart. The one truth I continually glean from my readings is that when one’s mind is silent from practice, one gains insight based on one’s own reality. The true yogic knowlege is gained from direct experience. Just like when you first learned to tie your shoes without help from your parents, you were forever empowered with that skill. There are many “tied shoe” experiences with continued uninterrupted practice.
So may the term Modern Postural Yoga find its way into the lexiconic trash bin of tired phrases. The yoga we practice today is from the same body infrastructure of humanity’s several millennia. The body of 2017 reacts the postures the way the body reacted to it in the times of the Upanishads. In case you didn’t know, that is far more than 100 years old.
I have to admit I’ve been in a bit of a rut of late. After the election, the holidays, and the daily press after the inauguration, I have lost quite a bit of my inspiration. My yoga class this morning made me feel like my teaching has gone to pot, but I am wise enough to know that my critical voice is sometime irrationally loud.
After an unusual hot spell in Hawai’i, followed by a strong windy weekend, many plants in my garden were damaged, and birds ate a good number of my snap peas which were just about to ripen.
In mental health counseling, people who get in bad emotional shape tend to have several stressful events in a short period of time and somehow lump all of these events as coming from the same source. Like it is some kind of fate they had these things happen to them. I caught myself having this kind of thinking and am wrestling my way out of it.
Today I did a few positive things to set me in another direction. After the “bad teaching” yoga class, I gave myself a few minutes in a restorative pose to lengthen my spine which is something I haven’t done for a while. Afterwards, I came home and spent some time in my garden. I felt the soil and it was dry and sandy. The garden in its own way told me what it needed. When the day cooled off I gave it a good watering and pruned a few of the damaged parts of my snap pea plants that were ravaged by those horrible birds.
I realized that I will not have a bountiful harvest after just a few months of gardening with no prior experience, but also saw that it is a process which will encompass many years. Just as I have been teaching yoga for many years and still have a long way to go to have any sense of mastery. This is the way of all things in life that are worth attaining. You may never attain them, but the process is satisfyingly challenging.
Featured image Buddha with a mango
Early January is an interesting time of year. My brother posted on his Facebook page that the week after the New Year is like Black Friday for the gym. As he is a triathlete who trains through the holidays while everyone is Ho Ho Ho-ing, I can empathize with his annoyance of now having to share the stationary bike with someone who will use the gym every day for two weeks, then never again until next January. Resolutions don’t seem to last long.
After teaching yoga class one of my students was chatting with me and asked me what I did all day aside from teach yoga. I proceeded to tell her my “second job” where I go into psychiatric facilities, and substance abuse rehab centers and assess people. After the assessment, I work to get them the help they need in the community. Then after work I told her about my duties as a caregiver taking care of my mother-in-law who is in a wheelchair. She seemed floored.”That sounds exhausting,” she said. I told her I don’t think I’d have it any other way.
I had plenty of goals going into 2016. I even thought toward the end of 2016, I’d better start working on my 2017 goals, but got an unsettling feeling when I started to think about what I wanted this year. After reading Masanobu Fukuoka’s book One Straw Revolution, I reflected on what he considers the fallacy of thinking in terms of “progress.”
The more people do, the more society develops, the more problems arise. The increasing desolation of nature, the exhaustion of resources, the uneasiness and disintegration of the human spirit, all have been brought about by humanity’s trying to accomplish something. Originally there was no reason to progress, and nothing that had to be done. We have come to the point at which there is no other way than to bring about a “movement” not to bring anything about. -Fukuoka pg. 201
2016 turned out to be a personally difficult year where just managing was difficult enough. So this year I am chucking my goals. Perhaps it is because I feel I am at a place of Santosa (contentment) that I am on the right path. Perhaps it is because I am too lazy to stop what I am already doing. Or perhaps I have developed enough confidence in myself that I can “manifest” what I need if I need it. Author Carlos Castaneda is famous for saying “all paths lead to nowhere, so choose a path with heart.”
Right now I am on a path with heart. I enjoy my jobs. I enjoy caregiving. I enjoy teaching, doing, and studying yoga. I enjoy gardening. I enjoy writing about all of it. Although I could do well with fewer of the hardships I face, all of the above provide well for me financially, spiritually, socially, and healthfully. Who needs goals when you have all that?
I want to wish all of you a merry Christmas.
Here is a wonderful sequence by Junior Intermediate III level instructor Peggy Gwi-Seok (aka “Badass Yoga Nun”). She has a very nice message and works to spread Iyengar yoga to the Detroit area.
As Blogspot and WordPress don’t play well together, I simply added the link.
Many blessings everyone!