October 23, 2008

Bye bye yoga career

So sorry for the lack of posts recently.

I have spent the better part of the month here:

and here:

and here:

and here:

Pretty isn't it? It should be. It's the Enchanted Mountain...

These photos are actually old. I never bring a camera and have come to expect that eventually some of the students send me some photos off their cameras. Haven’t received any yet, so you get to see pictures from last year.

I was teaching for the fifth time at the center’s Teacher Training and it was effectively to be my last stand as a yoga teacher. But never say never. I haven’t documented here much of my doubts and frustrations and occasional all out rejection of having a career as a yoga teacher, but it has plagued me since we packed up our lives in Brooklyn and I, after much back and forth, apathetically slipped about a half dozen yoga mats and other props into a box and put it in the shipping container to South America.

The mats actually haven’t yet been out of the box, but the very first week I lived here in Brazil I was already introduced to the owner of one of the larger yoga centers in my city and with in a few months I was teaching classes, mostly in English and week by week added more and more Portuguese. (I must say if it hadn’t been for that opportunity, I probably wouldn’t have picked up the language as quickly as I did.) By the following March, not even 6 months later, I had met Joseph and Lilian of the Enchanted Mountain, which is the largest retreat center in the country, located in the state of Santa Caterina, and had been invited to come assist and then later teach for them. They're lovely folks. And their teacher trainings really draw a crowd.

The yoga center in my city then decided to put together a teacher training and they relied heavily on me, not just for teaching (and the certain currency my American-ness brought to it) but also for my organizational experience (thank you corporate event planning) to make it happen.

From there whole yoga career thing just snowballed. And I have spent the past two years being alternately miserable, grateful and guilty. Miserable mostly because of all the headache of having to organize a very disorganized school and teacher training, grateful because here I was, a foreigner, recently transplanted and with plenty of opportunities being offered to me without having to chase them down. And guilty – well guilty for being miserable that I was bored and burned-out and frustrated when I should be grateful and happy and a blissed-out yogi!

Yoga was nothing I ever planned making a career out of. It was something I enjoyed and in post-9/11 New York, teaching yoga was something I thought I would do for a while so that I literally didn’t have to leave my block in Brooklyn and make a scary exhausting commute into big high rise buildings for a while. But it was always supposed to be something I did on the side, while I figured out what was next. There is a saying I once heard: we have plan A which we think we are following and then our back up is plan B. But actually plan C is what is happening all along while we are too busy focusing on our plans to see what was really going down. Well, yoga turned into my plan C. (I think it was Vipassana guru Sharon Saltzberg who pointed that out by the way, but I’m not sure.)

I still enjoy it for myself. Practicing the postures is a pretty complete way of taking care of your body. But yoga is so much more than that. In the heavy commercialization of yoga it has become mostly known as a bunch of flexi-bendy poses. But that is just the tip of the iceberg and in large part a 20th century invention. In the 2000 year old classical treaty on yoga, the Sutras of Patanjali, the postures aren’t even described; instead it is all about the psychology of the mind and the pursuit of pure liberation from the sufferings caused by the mind. The idea of using the body as a means to that end is in there, however it’s just 1 of 8 (or 16 if you count all the individual ethics) pieces to the puzzle. Beyond this classical treaty there are tons of other texts on yoga and then there is the whole cannon of Vedanta – a philosophical system so advanced and complete that only a few very special and illuminated folks out there have ever gotten a grasp on it in one lifetime. And I have so much interest and so much desire to deepen my studies in this part. But I would no sooner be interested in teaching aerobics than more sun salutations.

The hardest part of walking away from my career as a yoga teacher is, it seems to be something I am very good at. Teaching physical posture part that is. I’m pretty good at connecting with people; call me a bullshit charmer, so very Sarah Palin of me.

And I tend to keep a pretty good sense of humor in the classroom. Which is different I think from a lot of students' experiences with other teachers. (Yoga here in Brazil tends to be taught as very serious business – after all it IS your immortal soul we are talking about!)

Add to that all my years as a dancer, which gave me a good grasp of anatomy and an experiential knowledge of the body. The students at the retreat center mostly gush and fawn over my classes – or at least that’s what I’ve been told by some of the staff that read their evaluations. I never have personally read them because my fragile ego would be crushed if there were even one critique in there. See! Isn’t that crazy. So many yoga teachers I have met have some of the most incredibly unbalanced egos – I try to keep a clear head, but the “fame” of being a good teacher or trying to make a name for yourself so that you can have a career out of it can really mess with that balance. Just one more reason to stop doing it! (That immortal soul thing again…)

But still, how do you walk away from something you are good at?

Just like this. By writing two pages of self-indulgent navel gazing … so there you have it. The beginning middle and end of my yoga career. At least for those of you that didn’t fall asleep after the first 200 words.

Just for fun, you can click here to see a short video of me doing sun salutations with Joseph chanting the corresponding mantras.

And if you really want a laugh – you can click here to hear me speak some really terrible Portuguese while teaching …

Next up. Tractor time!

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