The Work of the Light: Making Yoga Your Business
June 4, 2014
The "on the mat" practice of yoga asana is only a conduit for what is ultimately a practice of learning to live a more joyful life. This first posting of "The Work of the Light," my writings around this blessed practice, examines what it means – as students and teachers – to truly take yoga "off the mat," and make it the business of your daily life.
When I began regularly practicing yoga asana some 9 years ago, I never imagined myself as a instructor, let alone a yoga therapist in training, crafting her own full time career as a professional teacher. Teaching was something people “better” at yoga did. A former runner who always forewent stretching, I couldn’t even touch my toes. I came to yoga following reconstructive ankle surgery, and could barely walk. I craned and strained and marveled at folks who could do the splits, who could hold their one-legged balance, or push right up into a backbend it seemed my wrists would never support. And yet, regular practice opened and strengthened something within my physical body, and, gratefully, some thing, some place beyond the physical. Those beginning practices were like finding within me a place I hadn’t known existed, but for which I’d always been looking. I remember feeling, “I’ve been here before.” Home. I found home.
Something – some intangible and yet essential sense of self – began to shift. Some thing aligned. Something else fell away. The more I practiced, the more the space between me and everything else thinned in that blessed way that real joyfulness engenders. It’s a wonderful thing to navigate Los Angeles traffic in full consciousness of your connectedness to every other living being...it changes, thankfully, everything. Those early years were rich with lessons, like seeds, harvested from the fertile soil of a ready and grateful soul, a sometimes willing mind, and a relatively able, yet always eager body; my life now bears their fruit. Blessedly, the part of our being in which yoga takes root is a tender and devoted gardener; once rooted, the practice blossoms infinitely and exponentially.
It’s not a rare story, that of my coming to yoga - thankfully, it’s relatively and increasingly commonplace. It’s popularity is why I now have a job as an instructor of the practice. And it’s that very thing – the professional as well as quotidian dissemination of this blessed practice – that I find myself needing to discuss on these pages.
EVERYTHING IS YOGA
It’s a funny thing to make a business out of one’s spiritual practice. It’s why so many yogis shun the notion of making an income. And yet, it might be argued that neither craving for, nor aversion to profit aligns with the practice of yoga. Yoga is presence. Yoga is acceptance. Yoga is choice. Yoga is compassionate action. Turning teachings to profit is, therefore, also be a means by which yoga is practiced.
In class, you’ll often hear me say: "Everything is yoga." And this is the point I’d like to speak to in the context of what it means to make yoga your business. I write this to contribute to discourse within the teaching and studio-owning community, and also for all who consider themselves practitioners. Infuse your daily workings with the heart of the practice of yoga. Make yoga your business.
Everything we do has the capacity to be yoga, in that everything we do is an opportunity to practice being our best, most joyful Self. We have choice - agency - in whether or not we suffer, and moreover, whether our fear, and consequent attachment and judgement, causes others to suffer, too.
Everything is yoga! That funny piece of rectangular rubber is only a more structured space for a practice that can be – if we commit to making it so – part of each footstep, and each breath, until the last. It’s a process, one of continual refinement, by which we shed unhealthy ways of being in favor of ones that serve us in this venture of our own joyful Becoming.
The principles proponed by yogic practice are not yoga’s alone; they are the same avowed by every great spiritual tradition: compassion, non-judgment, non-attachment, contentment, truthfulness, discipline, self-study, among others. The practice of these ways of being while in the world is the real yoga! The physical practice – those truly funny poses into which we twist and contort – are simply containers, conduits, for the practice of these principles. If you practice asana with discipline and non-judgment actively in mind, they become like muscles you strengthen, assisting you during life’s heaviest lifting. Conversely, if you move on the mat with judgement and fear, spurred by spiteful competition, those qualities, too, will be strengthened, and you’ll bear the consequences of their heavy handedness in your daily life. What and how we practice on the mat is what and how we practice every other breath and movement throughout our day.
And therefore everything, truly, has the capacity to be yoga! Can we practice compassion when we collide with others, let alone with ourselves? Those times when we falter, attach from a place of fearful grasping, deceive, wound, ignore our truth -- those times too, are yoga, in that they are opportunities to learn so that we needn’t falter again in the same way! If there is an overarching wisdom to this thing called Life, it’s in how we are gifted with infinite opportunity to practice what we still have yet to learn. If there is a greater pull, it’s toward a Self whose soul purpose (pun intended) is to help us learn these lessons.
And once we begin to embody the lessons, we teach, either overtly, as “yoga instructor,” or more subtly, by example. Sharing becomes the most natural act. Because, abounding with the seeds of these lessons like a deeply rooted tree, rich with fruit, we can’t help but disseminate. The pull to teach, to sow, is as strong as gravity.
ON MAKING YOGA YOUR BUSINESS
And even these lessons are not novel, thankfully. Millenia of practitioners have come to consciousness about yoga’s role “off the mat.” And yet, because it is a lifelong practice, the disciplined practice of these principles must persist, especially after one begins to call one’s self a teacher.
And so, while I do believe that everything can inform one’s practice of yoga – especially the times we err – I also believe that teachers, in particular, have a responsibility to remain vigilantly mindful of the potential for fear (and fear’s insidious progeny of judgment and attachment) to terrorize (often unconsciously!) one’s yogic practice. History offers us plenty of examples of times in which teachings of higher purpose become overshadowed by very human tendencies–to oppress, to cheat, to dogmatize, to put one’s own personally motivated pleasure seeking ahead of others. Such is the fate of most great professions of the Spirit! Yoga is no different. Simply put, to paraphrase one of my heart’s most akined yogis, Bryan Kest, “we bring our shit into yoga, and turn yoga into shit.”
That we act out our humanity in this practice is, ultimately, the practice. But lest we reinforce suffering-inducing patterns of behavior, we mustn't let the practice – the work of the Light – become a means by which darkness is fed. If we chose to call ourselves yogis, we must work hard to talk back to the fearful, attaching, judging parts of ourselves, both on the mat, and in our daily lives–because it’s that very process that it is the practice!
What I have come to understand is that if I really want to practice yoga, to make yoga my spiritual as well as professional practice, it can’t be something I only do when it suits me. I can’t sideline the principles of yoga when it challenges my desire for gratification, financial or otherwise. I can’t only practice yoga when it doesn’t affect my bottom line.
As I have begun to navigate the world of professional teaching, I’ve noticed a few things I feel are inconsistent with the progressive practice of yoga I am choosing to make my own -- progressive meaning the point is to move forward on the path, toward joyfulness, away from fear. “It’s just the cost of doing business,” you’ll hear folks say. Not when yoga is your business, I say. The same rules by which profit-driven business operate – aversion to competition manifesting in copyrights and trademarks and non-compete clauses and lawsuits – have no role in the business of yoga. I plan to open my own teaching space one day, and I make this pledge, here and now, that I will close down before the drive for profit begins to overshadow the principles I am committed to practice and therefore impart.
Yes, we purveyors of this practice are human beings. Yes, studio owners and yoga teachers will slip up; will take advantage of the perceived position of power suggested by the owner-teacher, student-teacher dynamics. But let’s not forget that we are challenged so that we can learn to surmount those very challenges while upholding the principles we purport to profess!
And so I say to you, my fellow teachers and students on this path, let not the work of the Light feed the darkness! That part of you that feels fear, that seeks to attach from some frenetic sense of scarcity–talk back to it. As practitioners, but particularly those of us who call ourselves teachers, let the Light of yoga fill everything you do because everything is yoga.
And though you, reader, may not professionally teach...still, make yoga your business! Carry these principles into your daily life! Make them part of each breath, each footstep. And, blessedly, bear witness to the fruits of the practice multiply, infinitely.
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