Yoga With a Capital YClever Manka, · Categories: Manka's Posts · Tags: getting started, goals, personal
I thought I would let people know that in my search for images to use for the top of this article I came across this pic which is borderline NSFW (barely-not-naked man doing lotus pose) but you totally need to see because wow that’s fucking impressive.
Gopi was my first and best yoga teacher. It was an unlikely thing, when I was first looking at yoga, to choose her out of all the teachers in the Lawrence area. For one, her studio was in a different town, about half an hour south of Lawrence (that’s a long drive when there’s probably two yoga teachers for every square mile of this burg). I could probably have found a class close enough to walk to, but I picked the one whose route included not only a two-lane, unlit country highway but a quarter mile of gravel road and, finally, a one-lane dirt driveway that curved and turned around several buildings (as well as cows, cats, and peacocks). In addition to the drive, there was serious dedication to chanting at the open and close each class—not just your basic “om.” While we were in a pose, Gopi often read scripture, passages from Light On Yoga, or stories about the divine creatures, sages, and objects that gave their names to poses. This was Yoga with a capital-fucking-Y.
Krishna consciousness preaches love above all and I know their religion has its problems like everyone else, but Gopi walks her talk. She made me feel happy, safe, and loved in her class. In addition to being skilled at postural cues and instruction, she is the most compassionate, honest, and kind person I have ever known. I’ve attended classes with several other teachers, but Gopi is the only one who has evoked a sensation of home during class. When I decided to enroll in teacher training, I didn’t bother looking for other, more secular-based classes. If I was going to teach yoga, I wanted my students to feel the way Gopi made me feel.
When I signed up, I knew there would be a strong Spiritual component. We would have scriptural study of the Bhagavad Gita and The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali as part of the training, but not all-one-all-one ecumenical hippie happiness spirituality. I’m not saying that sort of thing isn’t great or doesn’t have a place, just that I knew this wasn’t that type of class.
After finishing the first weekend of the class, I can say I was right. I’m pretty sure the eleven remaining weekends will lighten up on the intensive study of the Bhagavad Gita and Sutras and begin focusing more on how those philosophies are incorporated into the poses, mudras, and practices. But even if they don’t, even if (oh please don’t) the classes continue to be hours of focused study on the meaning of the scriptures and sutras and discussions of beliefs and tenets (many of which I not only disbelieve but actively disagree with), I wouldn’t choose to be certified from any other teacher.
I believe we do a disservice to the culture that created yoga when we exclude it from its origins. Using it strictly as a means of exercise, or putting it in an environment that cultivates competition or envy is troublesome and appropriative (I can make a comparison to bellydance and the ways even good dancers can be appropriative if anyone wants to discuss that in the comments). It was important for me to learn yoga’s spiritual history and beliefs—to know and understand the concepts even if (when) they didn’t mesh with my views of the world.
Spirituality is not my jam. I was raised a Very Observant Christian but shed that pretty easily after a few months outside of Small Town Kansas. As a cultural background, I don’t mind it so much and it gave me a leg up in Art History classes for sure. After a fling with witchery in my late teens and early 20s, I declared myself an atheist (no agnosticism for me!) and earned a degree in Religious Studies to seal the deal. Never say never, of course, but the chances of finding My Path in the pages of Bhagavad Gita are pretty fucking slim. I rankle at the lack of women’s representation (and when they appear, they are usually wives, mothers, daughters, etc.), I am absolutely not on board with the notion of karma, and the heavy emphasis on a gender binary in the more esoteric areas (the right and left sides of the body, etc.) are bothersome to say the least. But there is an emotional-psychological component that I believe is intrinsic to yoga practice and if one wants to call that spiritual, I’m fine with that. Whatever it’s called, it’s important to include it in one’s own practice and crucial to include it in the teaching of others.
For twelve weekends (distributed somewhat haphazardly through the year), I’ll be attending a class that includes at least a few hours of scriptural study as well as an evening session with a community of Krishna Consciousness people, chanting, listening to a visiting swami-in-residence at Gopi’s farm, and working to find ways to interpret and apply the concepts to my own life (without fooling myself or anyone else that I am anything more than a respectful student). Am I going to convert? Good odds say no. But do I want to understand and respect the cultural aspects that developed the art and science of yoga? Absolutely yes.
The food barriers in my own life are why, before the classes even began, I found myself in the position of having to ask Gopi if I could (in good faith) deny her request to follow what she calls a yogi diet (no meat, fish, poultry, eggs, onions, garlic, or mushrooms) at least on the days we are having class, and for the lunch potlucks to bring only foods that adhered to it. Gopi is Gopi so of course she was concerned and compassionate to my dilemma. As the first class weekend neared, though, I decided I would at least try to honor the yogi diet rules. During Saturday’s lunchtime potluck I even had some of her mung dal soup. That turned out to be a very informative choice and I won’t be repeating it (Gopi was alarmed when she saw how much my abdomen had swollen by Sunday morning), but I feel better having made the choice to try.
I appreciate Gopi’s interpretation of spirituality. She embraces the efforts of those trying our best to make ourselves better, searching for our best selves, even when it’s just trying to figure out what our best self looks like. She doesn’t expect everyone (or anyone) to be in the same place mentally or physically. She accepts everyone in their current mind and body because who they are right then in her class is exactly who they need to be at that moment—they are home. There is no gym-style yoga certification that could teach me to help myself and others find the home of yoga in ourselves. For the opportunity to develop that skill, I will practice sitting, I will practice listening, and I will practice yoga with the most unlikely-for-me teacher in the most unlikely-for-me style of class. For me, there couldn’t be a better choice.
Clever Manka is your site host. She is not going to pretend she felt at all guilty buying a rotisserie chicken from the deli on her way home from Sunday’s class.