I love watching my yoga friends take quantum leaps in their teaching, practice, and life. Its clear when I witness them, sit in their presence, or just see the events they are creating that they have entered a different domain within themselves to offer what they do with grace, dedication, and love. I’m not just talking here about witnessing them on social media. I am speaking about teacher friends I know and am in touch with regularly that I see a significant shift in them, and I am proud of my colleagues who are thriving, offering, and keeping good boundaries.
Recent news broke that a yoga student is filing a sexual harassment case against a teacher at a very well known yoga studio in NYC. Disturbing news, yet not fully surprising on many levels. The need is so great in all of our yoga communities to develop better discrimination in behavior – both our own, and in recognizing bad boundaries around us in communities, and among peers. Huge imbalances of power were revealed during the final years of John Friend heading up Anusara, and the final reason there was such a teacher exodus from the method. I have no regrets staying in Anusara yoga as long as I did (I resigned May 2012), and I was not part of any sexual misconduct within Anusara (I joke, but I wasn’t John’s type). But I do look back at my time with particular teachers and wish I had better discriminating abilities to speak up when I was in diminishing circumstances beyond what was the obvious power differential. (I’ll be taking part on a panel speaking about this topic on May 3rd. Organized through YogaCity NYC, this is a free event and details are here.)
Yoga teachers are often considered leaders in their communities for their commitment to the practices and efforts to embody the teachings in life. As human as we are, as often as we all try, sometimes we fail to make the connections we need to, and we make mistakes. So, a few of my teachers made mistakes. Perhaps they were at a less mature place in their spiritual life, or just riding egoic waves of excitement from new found popularity. But I make mistakes too. Sometimes I misspeak, say something poorly or without enough sensitivity, I overreact, etcetera and so on. I am human, we all are. But what I do have is strong boundaries and I do know where not to cross.
Since leaving Anusara I have developed a stronger quality of viveka, or discernment, and viveka is what I think the yoga community at large needs to teach more of and embody. Viveka is discriminating the higher self functioning from the lower self. Differentiating what is of benefit to body-mind from that which is of ill-benefit. What is benevolent to self and all, and not. You build viveka from a steady practice of yoga, meditation, and study which can create a more permanent imprint of awareness in the higher realms, with the goal (if any) of living life from there. Seeing life, receiving life, and then offering to life from the highest. Knowing the higher is the way to know the lower, and recognize the lower impulses when they arise to respond differently.
Self study is the key. Staying in the practices and using the teachings in your life is also known as svadhyaya. The beauty and eloquence of bringing teachings to life can be sweetly envisioned as the goddess Sarasvati. Dressed in a lovely white sari riding a swan, she plays the veenu, holds nearby her mala beads and the Vedic scriptures, which represents svadhyaya. Sarasvati’s swan, or hamsa is the very symbol of viveka; discernment. In the mythology, when milk is poured into the river, Sarasvati’s swan is able to use its beak to filter out the milk from the water and only drink the sweet goodness. Symbolism can support understanding, and this one helped me make some sense of the yoga community issue this week.
Plus it’s election season. Our external ability to discern right from wrong, false from real is being activated since we get to choose a leader for the free world. And I certainly hope that a leader I choose to run the country possesses strong discernment between their higher impulses and their lower ones. Same is true for yoga teachers and national spokes-people and “image makers” for yoga. May they really be in touch with their highest selves to recognize when they’re functioning from their lowest.
And as a teacher, I am paying close attention to how my students understand the potency of recognizing their responsibility of creating discernment. The potency of what is theirs, versus what is mine, and I will continue to take responsibility for what is mine. Viveka to me has translated and taken form in me as good boundaries and integrity. I watch many of my colleagues behave this way, thank goddess. May we all continue to refine our understanding of our inner experiences and learn, learn, learn. Stay a student. Stay humble. Honor the student in front of you. Honor the vibrant presence of their being.
Have good boundaries, people.