After more than half a year in the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco’s Advanced Studies/Teacher Training program, I am beginning to feel like I am starting to break the surface in my education on yoga. I have tried to work hard at my study of philosophy, anatomy and teaching skills, practice asana and pranayama regularly (almost every day), and be as engaged with the yoga community here in SF as much as I can, while still making sure my other commitments are fulfilled. I am a big believer in education and ever since reading Adrienne Rich’s convocation speech from 1977, I have followed the tenet that you are learning only if you are putting in your due diligence. In this influential and heartfelt speech, she wrote:
The first thing I want to say to you who are students, is that you cannot afford to think of being here to receive an education: you will do much better to think of being here to claim one. One of the dictionary definitions of the verb “to claim” is: to take as the rightful owner; to assert in the face of possible contradiction. “To receive” is to come into possession of: to act as receptacle or container for; to accept as authoritative or true.
I never tire of reading and re-reading this masterpiece and look to it when I need inspiration. I needed some inspiration this morning.
One thing I have learned in the process of Iyengar Teacher Training is that yoga is not all dancing elephants and cool warriors born of dreadlocks. Now, for those of you who do not know me, please believe that I did not think this to begin with – I came into the process with open eyes and a (somewhat) firm background in this discipline of yoga. And, yes, it is a discipline. You do need to claim this education, perhaps even more so than the two degrees I already claimed; you have to commit yourself in a way that is much more intensely personal and often times conflicted than getting a college degree. I mean, this is my inner Self I am working on, right?
So why the doubts?
Well, there are several reasons, but perhaps the most troubling for me is the competitiveness that exists in our community. It has made me wonder if this is really my path after all. Don’t get me wrong, there is also a lot of support out there. But one of the reasons I started to do yoga regularly is that it was a safe space to explore my spirituality, sans judgement or dogma. It was a place that I cold feel good about my body no matter if I was curvy or bow-legged or not as bendy as the yogi next to me. It was my safe space in this all too harsh world of criticism and back-biting. So here I am, working on my Self and finding that this place I had hoped was my solace is filled with people who are just as ego-driven as the folks “out there.” That makes me doubt my own capability, my own ego, my own reasons for this practice of yoga.
I love my teachers and my practice. I am grateful to the teachings and the space to discuss and work on the most meaningful and beautiful aspects of existence. I am blessed that my husband is engaged and committed to this discipline, too. I am lucky to be a part of this community of dedicated yogis. I suppose I must take the good with the bad and focus on my own work, but it would be a much more satisfying process if we were indeed all in it together.