Friday, August 1, 2014

Look Up: We've Been Exposed

Have we yoga teachers fallen asleep while riding the momentum of the growing popularity of yoga in recent decades?  Perhaps we had, but no longer.  It appears the scholars have arrived on the scene to pull our bed sheets down and awaken us with a shock of cold air.  Have you felt the breeze yet? 

While the popular blogs, publications, and social media forums pump out seemingly endless quantities of self-help advice, top 10 lists, and, what writer and yoga teacher Matthew Remski aptly describes as the “commodification of private fantasies marketed through parodies of self-expression” for the yoga masses, scholars like David Gordon White and Mark Singleton have been asking the questions that have the potential to overturn our accepted versions of the story and applications of yoga.  They steer us toward critical questions about how we practice, teach, and train our teachers, and why.

Though these and other scholars’ works are presented through a particular lens, and also perhaps with a particular agenda, it’s hard to ignore their message: The origins of our asana practice, our history, even our motivations are proving to be quite different from what we may once have believed.

Despite Mark Singleton’s advice, in Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, to avoid the tempting trap, I read the initial criticism with a bit of relief.  The surprising revelations about the questionable origins of modern asana practice focused  heavily on the practices coming from the tradition of Krishnamacharya. Not my lineage, phew!  But, with closer inspection and the passage of time, it becomes all the more clear that not one of us is absolved of the responsibility of taking a closer look. 

Sean Feit, in a recent a recent commentary discussing the changing understanding of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and David Gordon White’s new book on the topic, says a few words that hit close to home when stating this of the the popular trends in “American self-help yoga”:  “I see Affirmational Non-dualism as reflecting a quite delusional recent strain of spiritual practice, in which a privileged class uses yogic-sounding ideas to affirm their self-absorption rather than deconstruct the tendencies of mind that cause division and suffering, both individually and socially”.  Ouch.  But I can’t help but think that the recent explosion of yoga selfies, among other yoga culture oddities, is proving his point quite nicely.

All schools, all teachers, all students of yoga are subject to this radical reframe of our “Tradition” toward an understanding of a complex web of contradictory small “t” traditions, some of them recent, some ancient, some helpful, some beautiful, and many outmoded and shown to be injurious or ineffective by the practitioners who have lovingly upheld them through the past generations of western yoga.

For me, as a devoted teacher of yoga, and a recent one at that, these revelations inspired more than a moment of disillusionment.  How could our beliefs be so out of line with the reality of yoga’s past?  But this disillusionment gave way to a freeing perspective, one that acknowledges our most influential teachers as beautiful, brilliant and fallible artists shaping and delivering the practices they have learned and grown.  This view allows us to unhook from blind devotion, mystique, and fundamentalism, it allows us to evolve.  We might see our masters, founders and gurus not as purveyors of an ancient truth (or fallacy, depending on our perspective) but as artists who, much like us, shaped the strands of tradition into dynamic relationship with themselves and with their students.  We could choose to say they “made it up”.  But we can also choose to say “as do we all”, and then follow suit, incorporating the changing understanding of the physical body and exploring our rapidly evolving social and cultural needs.  We have the opportunity to offer the best of our tools by redefining our goals and our methods, and, perhaps, by stepping away from the camera and its accurate portrayal of our enthrallment with our own admittedly lovely images and turning our attention instead to those people and places in the world who need it most.  One might even say we have an obligation to ourselves and to our students to do so.

So while we have grown, in recent years, to turn the lenses of our cameras back on ourselves, is it possible that we may not be so readily turning our gaze back onto our own behaviors, alliances, and aims?  Is it possible that some yoga teachers have become, as Matthew Remski suggests in a response to a recent blog post, “unwitting mouthpieces for the forces of sexualization and objectification that are always already going on around them”.  Is it possible that our understanding of the history, mechanics, and outcomes of our practices needs an extensive overhaul?  

Acknowledging the possiblity raises some important questions. I won’t pretend to have the answers, but I have many questions about how we as teachers should communicate about and act upon the shifting sands on which many of our practices have been built. Do we dare question our stories? Our methods? The scope of our training? I hope so.  And I look forward to the conversations that result. 


Kate Pousont Scarborough
E-RYT 500
Director, Shelburne Falls Yoga



(Interested? Check out Matthew Remski's  thought provoking new project. WAWADIA- What Are We Actually Doing in Asana?)

Monday, June 9, 2014

defining who we are
flowers

The practice of Yoga is both ancient and broad.  Given the wide variety of interpretations of yoga teachings and the range of skill and intentions amongst teachers and studios, it can be hard to know what to expect when entering a yoga class setting.

As director of Shelburne Falls Yoga, the process of defining and redefining the practice, aims, and tools of yoga is ongoing.  My aim is to provide a nurturing and challenging environment in which you will learn the skills for discovering and sustaining long-term health and vitality. 

Listed below are just a few of the practices you will have an opportunity to explore as a member of our unique yoga community:

Safe and Efficient Movement PatternsLearn to identify how muscles are in use in a given posture, how the spine, pelvis, and limbs relate to one another, and where to initiate motion for efficient, safe, and easeful movement.

Non- Judging Awareness- Practice suspending judgment while anchoring attention to the present moment, cultivating a more meaningful and realistic relationship with your body and your surroundings

Stability and Mobility- Find a functional and safe balance between strength and flexibility, allowing for optimal range of motion while avoiding the potential dangers of hypermobility.

Balance- Promote balance in thought, in motion, in breath, and in the systems of the body to create a strong foundation from which to choose your next course of action both on and off the mat.

We look forward to welcoming you to Shelburne Falls Yoga this spring!

  
E-RYT 500, 
Director Shelburne Falls Yoga, 
Co-Founder and Director Living World Yoga School 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Mindfulness 

in 

Action

shiva
  

Mindfulness in thought and deed is an important topic for many of us who take up the practice of yoga.  But what is it?  A wise teacher of mine, Jonathan Foust, once defined mindfulness very simply as non-judging awareness, a definition which continues to resonate for me.

Non-judging awareness, or compassionate observation of self and others, is deeply embedded in many branches of the yoga tradition.  Those of us interested in the undertaking return to our practice each day with an intention of calmly observing and making room for each experience that presents itself.

Non-judging awareness is a simple practice, and also one that can take a lifetime to master as it continually brings us into contact with those parts of ourselves that we may prefer to keep hidden from our own and others' view.  But it also has a lighter, gentler side in its ability to invite us into the joy and fullness present in each moment with no need to change, judge, or achieve.  It presents an opportunity to celebrate our lives as they are right now.

In the practice of non-judging awareness, we cultivate the ability to see beneath the patterns and habits of the rational mind, allowing a deeper wisdom and intuition to be revealed.  Through this intuitive wisdom we may begin to see ourselves and our surroundings with a little more clarity, we may begin to live our lives a bit more boldly.

The practice of non-judging awareness is available to any of us at any time.  All that is required is a willingness to try suspending judgement and striving, if even for a moment, to rest in the convergence of breath and sensation, and to observe the results of your experiment.  You may be surprised to discover that a consistent practice of mindfulness in your relationships and daily activities has the ability to change your world! 
  
-Kate Pousont Scarborough 
E-RYT 500, 
Director Shelburne Falls Yoga, 
Co-Founder and Director Living World Yoga School 


handstand 2

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Creating Space:
Supportive Practices for Greater Vitality



It has been a long, cold winter here in the northeast and many of us are more than ready to transition into the warmer days of spring. As we bid a fond farewell to winter, we might also consider adding a few new practices to our daily routine.  In addition to a posture practice, Yoga and Ayurveda offer many tools to support balance and growth, creating space in our lives and bodies for greater health and vitality.  Below are just a few that I've chosen to incorporate into my own daily practice:

Tongue Scraping
When I first heard from my teacher that the "undigested metabolic waste" that appears on the tongue after sleep is better removed than swallowed, it made a big impression! Tongue scrapers can be purchased at many health-food stores and pharmacies.  A spoon is equally effective.  I do this first thing each morning before hydrating with warm lemon water.

Salt Water Gargle:
I was pleased to breeze through some repeated exposures to the flu after being reminded to add this simple and effective practice to my morning routine by Kripalu yoga teacher and Dean of Kripalu School of Ayurveda Larissa Hall Carlson.   A brief gargle with warm salt water once or twice per day helps to remove pathogens from the throat before they enter your system.

Oil Pulling:
There's been quite a bit of talk about oil pulling lately.  What is it? It is a practice of swishing organic unrefined sesame oil in the mouth (as you might do with a mouthwash, but for longer).   Though it may sound like a long while, twenty minutes passes quickly if you begin before entering the shower.  This practice helps support oral health and hygiene, but is also said to pull toxins from the system.  I swear by it!

Gentle Movements:
Try rotating the joints several  times  (ankles, shoulders, wrists, hips) and adding a gentle twist to your morning routine.  Gentle movements help to lubricate the joints, free the spine, and prepare the body for the day ahead.

Conscious Breathing:
Even a few moments of conscious, steady breathing can help to align the systems of the body and calm the mind.  If you have a pranayama practice, a few minutes each morning can make a big difference in your day.  If not, try sitting comfortably, allowing the breath to find a natural rhythm, and noticing the sensation of the abdomen or torso moving in response to the breath.  
 
-Kate Pousont Scarborough 
E-RYT 500, 
Director Shelburne Falls Yoga, 
Co-Founder and Director Living World Yoga School 

Monday, February 17, 2014

holding steady
 
Last month brought the beginning of another class session with my beloved young students.  Working with children often magnifies my understanding of traits and struggles that are common to
us all, and I know, as we embark on another season together, that these young students will be teaching me even as I instruct them. 
 
The concept of "stretching" is notorious for bringing out an attitude of striving and discontent in any age group.  And yet, expanding our range of motion in a mindful way can be a deeply healthful and balancing activity.  It is also essential to opening new doorways of expression for our young dancers.
 
One afternoon, as we gently approach the often sensitive activity of "splits",  I watch a range of reactions not unlike what might surface in an adult's yoga class.  Defeat was present,  and some pride,  and enthusiasm, and much desire to possess the desired outcome, now.  Just as I am about to speak to the need for awareness and patience, the entire group decides to try a "trick", a dubious activity involving pushing defiant limbs into the wall in hopes of attaining success, now.
 
As I watch and wait for a moment, giving an opportunity for the idea to run its course, I ponder the words I know I will offer as we reconvene, words that may be of relevance to those of us grown-ups who might also, on occasion, push blindly into the next threshold.
 
I will say to them, "How can you know where you're going if you don't first know where you are?".
 
And I will say to them, "How can you have the strength to move forward if you don't first have the strength to hold steady as you are?".
 
And perhaps they will not understand.  But perhaps they will, now or someday.  And what might the invitation to pause, breathe, and look clearly awaken for them?  What might it awaken for all of us?
 
On this particular afternoon, we settle again in our colorful circle of yoga mats, take a deep breath, and learn one small lesson in patience as we hold steady,  just as we are.  And then, in the small, clear space we have created with our own awareness, we begin to dance.  
 
  
~Kate Pousont Scarborough, E-RYT 500, Director Shelburne Falls Yoga


Friday, November 1, 2013

How We Grow:

Each time we turn our attention inward, a curious process is initiated.  Our first steps can feel awkward or humble, so simple that it can be easy to miss the landscape that might arise from the first seed of awareness.


We begin with self-observation, the non-judging awareness that forms the soil of our practice.   

With patience and attention, clarity arises, allowing us to see more clearly what is truly happening within us and around us.

This clarity gives rise to courage, which gives us strength to move forward toward an uncertain future regardless of what the outcome might be.

Our courage inspires love, the ability to give selflessly to others with no guarantee and in the face of certain loss.

Love leads us on to grace, a practice of celebrating victories and making room for shortcomings in ourselves and others equally.

And grace may deliver us to wisdom, giving us the tools to choose wisely the paths that serve our highest purpose and the humility to begin again each day.


~Kate Pousont Scarborough, E-RYT 500,
Director, Shelburne Falls Yoga
Co-Founder, Living World Yoga and EARTHjourneys

Friday, June 28, 2013

a life well woven



In the sunniest corner of the studio lives a hearty jade.  It has always been there,mountainsas long as I can remember at least.  It gives the impression of a timeworn desert visitor, thriving but perpetually red-brown and gnarly as it soaks in the hot sun on its upward trajectory toward an unknown destination.  On occasion it sheds a piece of itself, one of which I recently took home to rescue at the suggestion of a plant-loving friend.  

This daughter of the jade is thriving too, but bears little resemblance to its parent.  In the cool corner of my kitchen it is stocky and dark, with its fat, succulent leaves exuding patience and ease.  It is far less wild. Of the same stuff, yet so very different.

These plants are living example of the way all things are shaped by circumstance and environment. They also serve as a reminder to me to meet each unique variation of the human condition with compassion and respect for that which created it.  Like the plants, we are so often handed our circumstances and left to grow into them to the best of our ability.  

Unlike them, our human state affords us the ability to shape our environment in return.  And shape we do, to such wondrous and disastrous effect.  On some days I feel like a bedraggled weaver, handed a set of strings upon awakening with no choice as to their color or size.  But while I may not be able to change them, I can weave them into a tapestry that is uniquely my own, a dynamic fabric of experience that reflects my choices as well as all that is beyond my control.  In this process of creation, pain and poverty become just another pattern, joy an unexpected sweep of color, our entire lives a rich and varied work of art.

Each of us is presented with a choice each day, each moment.  And this becomes our practice; Are we allowing the threads of our lives to hang limp and tangle in despair, or forcing them again and again into a pattern that no longer fits?  Or are we deftly weaving all we have been dealt with attention and with joy?

~Kate Pousont Scarborough, RTY-500, Director Shelburne Falls Yoga~