So I pooped out on the blog last week, but I wanted you to know I had a good reason. I have spent the better part of the last 2 weeks completing my Anusara Certification Exam (yes, I am already a several-times certified teacher, and have been "Anusara-Inspired" for the last 8 years, but this is the FULL certification). It took me about 30 hours to complete and in the end was 72 pages of simple, black and white answers to questions about anatomy, translations of Sanskrit words, and explaining alignment principles, as well as many long, interpretive answers to questions about yoga and Tantra philosophy, application of yoga therapeutics, and my own thoughts and ideas about all aspects of yoga practice, as well as other topics.
Although it was very intense and intensive, it was an amazing process - really, a culmination of the last 10 years of my life in many regards, and it was energizing and exhilarating! I found that I was full of energy all week from immersing myself so deeply in spiritual study and thought. In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras he lays out an eightfold path of yoga practice. The first two steps on this path are practicing the yamas and niyamas, which some people call the "10 commandments" of yoga. One of the niyamas is a practice called svadhyaya, which means self-study, or study of sacred texts, and that's exactly what this Certification process has been for me.
Now let's be clear – the inner voice of svadhyaya is not the one that says, "Holy crap, you idiot why did you say THAT?" or "Man, that pose sucked!" or even "Hey, I had the best handstand in the class." It is the open, non-judgmental witness that simply observes. It is the voice of reflection that sees through the surface of things to what is really going on. Then the discerning mind can make choices based on what you’ve seen to move you more in the direction of shree - all that is life-enhancing and beautiful. When we look at ourselves with svadhyaya, we look with compassionate awareness at the full picture of our lives and can lean into that life more deeply, and live more joyfully and fully.
Most of us spend our lives creating and maintaining an image of ourselves, actually probably more than one: a public self-image, an intimate self-image shared only with those closest to us, and a private self-image. If we are willing to look at patterns, behaviors and strategies we habitually use to maintain that persona, we can use svadhyaya to pierce through the veil that this self-image creates, and we see through to the true nature of our own essential being. We see into the motivations that cause those patterns and behaviors. We can use svadhayaya to skillfully step back, and with self-love and compassion examine those aspects of our lives that aren't serving us anymore.
Another part of the Anusara Certification process is to make a video of a class I've taught and fill out an 8-page self-assessment form. This is the harder part of the process for me. Having to watch yourself on video is so painful at first. I was so intimidated by the process that I eased myself into it by just audio recording a few classes first and listening to them, just to get over the sound of my voice and to stop cringing at every other word out of my mouth. I avoided watching my first video for almost 2 weeks before I could bring myself to do it. But if you can come at it with compassion for yourself there is SO much to be learned. Once you get over the initial self-conscious squinting through parted fingers, this process is nothing less than transformative. When I was a performing musician I would tape record (remember tape recorders?!) all my practice sessions leading up to a performance. Nine times out of ten I would listen and think, for better or for worse, "Wow, that is not what I thought was going on there!" This experience was similar, and just as those tapes were invaluable additions to my performances, the practice of svadhyaya is an invaluable window into why we do what we do. Often, we are not even aware of what we are doing.
So first, take time to become aware. Close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths so that the constant chattering voice of multi-tasking that we have all become immune to because of it's imminent presence in our minds quiets down. And then invoke self-compassion. It's so important to start from there or else the whole process can feel shaming and punitive and that definitely does not move us in the direction of shree. Which is not to say it will be easy, but honesty rarely is. See your self as your dog sees you....or your mom....or spouse, and then just be open to what is revealed. Look with open, honest and loving eyes and allow yourself to be transformed.
Off the mat: Other than practicing compassionate awareness in our yoga practice and in our lives, one of the ways we can move down the path of svadhyaya is to enlist the help of those close to us. I’ve been reading Max Strom’s book A Life Worth Breathing, and in it he suggests this exercise. (I am giving a brief outline here – if this is of interest to you, I highly suggest you get the book and do the full exercise – or contact me at RDYogamama@gmail.com and I will send you the full version)
Choose four or five people you really trust and respect, and who trust and respect you (hint – those who you are in emotionally charged relationship with are not good candidates). Make an appointment with each one separately to meet private with the goal of critiquing you.
First, ask each person what your strengths are, your talents and gifts. It is important to start here! Then ask them to offer suggestions about what might be improved, where there are weaknesses or blind spots. Listen to the answers without responding, reacting, interrupting, disagreeing, explaining, or becoming defensive, however challenging it might be. If you can, record the conversation or at least bring a notebook to jot down some thoughts. You will see some patterns emerge and this will help you to practice svadhyaya. As Mr. Strom says “This exercise illuminates you, holds a lamp up to your face and says this is who you are, who you have been. With this new knowledge you can finally learn what direction to walk in – and when you walk forward with true knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses, you will not fail.”
On the mat: Start your practice by cultivating self-compassion and self-love – awaken your inner witness. In my classes this week we are focusing on plugging the head of the arm bones back, integrating them into the shoulder sockets to plug into self-awareness. Throughout your practice be mindfully aware and make alignment adjustments on a moment by moment basis, based on your observation of what is actually happening, not on what usually happens.
Open to Grace: Breathe in and open to the lessons you have to teach yourself.
Soften and open to the lessons from ancient traditions and holy scriptures.
As you breathe deeply, fill yourself up with self-knowledge and self-reflection.
Muscular Energy: Firm the muscles to the bones and embrace self-awareness and learning and growth.
Draw from the skin to the muscles to the bones and all the way into place inside yourself where the inner teacher resides.
Shoulder Loop: Draw the head of the arm bones back to plug into self-compassion.
As the head of the arm bone engages into the shoulder socket, engage with compassionate self-awareness.
Inner Spiral: Widen your sit-bones to widen your awareness of yourself.
Outer Spiral: Scoop your tailbone down into self-love and self-awareness.
Organic Energy: Shine the light of your truth out.
Let self-compassion and self- love radiate from the inside out.