Monday, April 22, 2013
I apologize for not being terribly on-the-ball about posting this past week or so. I've been launching a new site called Yoga For Smart People. If you want to read what I have to say about Celebrity Yoga Culture, Johnny Depp, and yoga sex scandals, check out my essay, "Gotta Getta Guru." Otherwise, I will be posting again here in a few days.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
My neighbors down the street have been drunk since 4pm yesterday, roughly two hours after the explosions in Boston. I could hear their hollering from inside my kitchen all afternoon and evening. They’ve been out on their porch again today since I walked my dogs this morning, holding cans of beer in soggy paper bags.
Does this make me nervous? Yeah, kind of. When they’re sober, they wave and say hello, but when they’re drunk they just stare at me hard when I walk by. If you aren’t the kind of person that’s drunk at 9am on a Tuesday, it’s just sort of hard to wrap your head around, which is why I’ve been thinking about it all morning.
I’ve been trying really hard to practice feeling compassion for them. I was mostly failing until a few minutes ago. And then I thought about how I felt when I heard the news about Boston.
I felt scared, angry, sad, and confused. I felt like something bad had happened and there was nothing I could do about it. I felt like something bad might happen to me, my loved ones, or my home and there was nothing I could do about it.
You name it, I felt it. We all did.
And maybe if I hadn’t sworn off drinking for 2013, I would be drunk right now, too. Because that moment when you are overwhelmed by grief and confusion always seems like the best time to have a beer.
I can imagine my neighbors watching the news for an hour, growing increasingly more agitated, when finally someone suggested that they turn off the TV and roll a blunt on the porch. What a relief that first hit and that first crisp swallow of cold High Life must have been.
And maybe for a few hours they talked, and consoled each other in the way that a lot of men (and not just men) seem to; by theorizing about who to blame and how to get revenge. And then a few hours of beer and weed and talk of vengeance might have passed and eventually settled into angry despondence.
And that’s when I walked by with my dogs and waved and my neighbors were just too drunk and overwhelmed to acknowledge me, to do anything but stare. And their stares seemed scary because they were scared.
And then I was scared.
Saturday, April 13, 2013
HEY Y'ALL: THIS SCHEDULE IS NO LONGER UP TO DATE. PLEASE CHECK MY GOOGLE CALENDAR FOR AN UP TO DATE TRACEY-FINDER.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
The other day I was feeling kind of 90's nostalgic. I'm thirty-six, so the 90's were my teenage years, and even though I had all the usual angst (and then some), what I remember now is that the music was good and the people I hung out with were fun and super supportive. To add a little musical score to memory lane, I decided to look up an old favorite song.
In case you don't feel like watching, it's "Killing In The Name Of," by Rage Against The Machine.
Not exactly a rare cut, but a fine moment for the still young rap rock genre.
Bam! There they were, the 90's in all their flannel-clad be-Doc Marten-ed ecstasy, complete with terrible white boy dreadlocks. Actually, though, I was blown away. Not by my split attraction-revulsion to the whole scene, but by the very visceral memory of the sea of dudes that attended every single punk/ska/hardcore/metal show I went to. They looked something like this (although stillness does them no justice):
Granted, this was a big, festival-like show and nothing like most of the tiny venues that most of the bands I saw played in, but you get the picture. Or do you? See this seemingly endless mass of writhing bodies? It's all (mostly) men. Some of them are drunk. All of them are worked up into an incredible frenzy, moshing and crowd-surfing, and oh, just being boys. Great, right?
Monday, April 8, 2013
Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
We have funny ideas about courage. To most of us, it seems somehow synonymous with physical daring. We think of soldiers as courageous, and people who lay down their bodies in front of bulldozers in acts of protest. Somewhere along the line, we have conflated the concept of courage with physical risk. We think you’ve got to have guts to be courageous.
But, actually, the root of the word courage is cor, which means heart. So, the central idea behind courage isn’t guts at all. It’s heart. In yoga and Ayurveda, the anahata chakra is commonly referred to as the heart chakra. It is the balancing point between the lower three chakras and the upper three chakras. It is the mid-way point between the very root of our being and pure ether.
The word anahata translates as unstruck, unhurt, or unbeaten. The anahata chakra is the origin for mystically or celestially arising sound that can only be heard within the realm of pure consciousness.
Consciousness, in this case, does not belong to one individual. It is a fluid multiplicity. The opening of the anahata chakra, then, connects us with the consciousness of others and makes a sound that reverberates across creation. This openness allows the individual to be united with the social, with other consciousness-es.
Courage, then, requires not physical fortitude, but psycho-spiritual vulnerability. And of all the virtues, vulnerability seems to be the most difficult to cultivate. Brené Brown, a researcher who has been studying vulnerability for years, characterizes vulnerability as the ability to be authentic, to present ourselves to others truthfully instead of representing who we think we should be.
Vulnerability, at its heart, means keeping the heart open, no matter what the consequences are. Brené Brown says:
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
I think it’s really good for bands to go out when they’re not ready. Because then, as you do get a grasp on your instruments, people see you in a continuum, as opposed to you just jumped out of nowhere, which is what I always thought: The boy comes out of the womb with a screaming Led Zeppelin guitar, and I feel like I’ll never be able to do that.
-Molly Neuman, Bratmobile (from Sara Marcus’ Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution)
One of the coolest things about being part of a punk scene is getting to watch the bands evolve over time. Band members meet one Saturday at a party, practice together for the first time on Tuesday, and then play a show the next Saturday night.
Needless to say, you can’t always get your sound right in a week, so that first show might be a big fat question mark, but if the band sticks together and the audience sticks around, the kinks get worked out and you get to watch everything fall into place.
This kind of process orientation is characteristic of punk’s DIY ethic. Bands aren’t there for you to just look up to, they’re there to inspire you to start your own band. Being able to see the process makes it seem doable, like self-expression isn’t just for the talented few.
Pop music has basically the opposite approach. An artist appears overnight, fully formed with a readymade mythology and a meat dress. Her talent is magical and untouchable. If you happen to find any early videos of her playing to small audiences at dimly lit bars, they seem somewhat disconcerting and a little embarrassing.
Too many yoga teachers feel pressured to take the pop music approach to yoga. And for good reason: when people are looking to you to be an expert on something, you want to be that for them. As a culture, we want idols. And we want them to be basically perfect.
We want yoga teachers to look like yoga teachers. We want them to act like yoga teachers. In effect, we want them to represent perfect yoga values, perfect yoga form, and perfect yoga bodies. AND we want it to look effortless. We want to think that there’s a shiny yoga pill somewhere that we can take so that we can have perfect yoga lives, too.
We don’t want to see the long-term struggle that goes into the (seemingly) effortless demonstration of pincha mayurasana (forearm stand). We don’t want our yoga teachers to smoke, to eat fast food, have casual sex, or to need anti-depressants. We want them to sell us the yoga that we want buy and package it in their own bodies.
But it’s not real, y’all.
The reality is that yoga teachers are fat. They smoke. They take drugs, have affairs, get divorced, and sometimes aren’t nice to children or old people. And, what’s worse, sometimes they couldn’t make it into bakasana (crow pose) if their life depended on it.
I know this, because I am a yoga teacher and all of the above statements are true about me. Sure, I’m a sober, vegan, well-adjusted lesbian yogini with a strong practice today, but I’m 36 years old and I’ve been practicing yoga since 1996. And even today I’d say that almost half of my students have far more physical prowess than I will ever hope to achieve.
So what the hell kind of yoga teacher am I?
Monday, April 1, 2013
To prepare for my classes this week, I’ve spent the past few days researching ahimsa. The first thing I should say is that I’m not going to define it for you. Not yet, anyways. So, if you don’t know what it means, you’re just going to have to wade through this sea of ideas with me until we come to a conclusion. Or, at least, an endpoint.
Ok, I lied. It’s too hard to proceed without a working idea of what the word means. Ahimsa is usually translated simply as “non-violence,” or “non-harming.” Some translators, perhaps seeking to focus on the deeper causes of violence, translate ahimsa as “the absence of the desire to harm or kill.” In the eightfold path of yoga (per Patanjali), it is listed as a yama, a restraint.
If you do a quick search, you will find roughly a million articles on the internet about yoga and ahimsa. 902,000 in 27 seconds to be exact. That’s a lot of people out there thinking about yoga and non-violence, which is great. Right? Right. Of course. I love the idea that yogis are out there thinking hard about philosophical concepts.
But the problem is that they’re not. Not actually thinking hard, I mean. The main gist of most of the missives out there seems to be something like, “just don’t hurt anyone, mmmkay?” Interspersed with this sort of impotent attitude towards ahimsa are a lot of conversations/arguments/apologies about why “doing no harm” does or does not include vegetarianism and is or is not compatible with capitalism.
Peppered in there are a few articles about how mean yoga girls can be and why we should protect the environment. In short, most discussions of ahimsa seem to equate not harming with being nice: being nice to ourselves, being nice to each other, being nice to the planet. But if we can’t bring ourselves to be nice, it’s enough for our intentions to be good. It’s sort of the, “If you don’t have something nice to say…” school of philosophy, as far as I can tell.
And it’s not good enough.
It’s not good enough because violence, intolerance, and oppression are real things in this world and they must be met with real action. And real action means taking what you learn off of your mat and into your community. It means not just, “not harming,” but actively doing good. It means that having good intentions isn’t good enough.
“But that’s not what it says in The Yoga Sutras.”