Monday, September 24, 2012

First Birthday Without My Dad

Today's the first birthday I've had since my father died. In the past I would sometimes talk to my dad on my birthday but lots of times I wouldn't hear from him. That was pretty normal. Sometimes at Christmas or at the following birthday, I'd get a present that was for my birthday and Christmas, or for a couple of years in a row as the case was once in a while.

My dad in recent years was a little more organized and I'd get a card near my birthday with a check in it, which was always appreciated. I loved seeing his handwriting on the card, which was often one he'd printed out on his computer. Seeing his handwriting reminded me of crossword puzzles he'd leave behind from his few visits to Ottawa. Or of keeping score for Scrabble, which we liked to play together.

When I went to his place in Texas right after he died, I collected just a few things, but some of the most precious were things that had his handwriting on them. He took lots of notes and kept them around. I do that too, although less and less, as I have integrated using a computer for most of my journalling and note-taking.

So this year I notice I'm sort of waiting for something to come in the mail from him. But I know nothing will come. Not even late. Makes me miss him and feel sad that he's gone.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Training for Nothing

I didn't start "training" (personal training, working out with a trainer) until about 8 years ago. My sister was doing it and after I'd lost my job and was feeling disillusioned and sad I started tagging along with her. I was never a workout person. I did well at school. I liked yoga for the stretching part and the meditation and the learning, but the physical benefits were like a side-effect.

Even doing plenty of yoga asana, I'd get a sore back after carrying my daughter from the car into her bed, or I couldn't open jars or little things like that. But after I started training, doing weights in particular, I got stronger and the little aches and pains went away. That's not totally true, because training itself caused new aches and pains but they were "productive."

Being physical was not something I was raised with. My family didn't work out. We didn't run races, go on hikes, nothing like that. Head transportation machines. We're still like that sometimes. We take our heads around places and then eat. But not that often anymore.

Anyways, I started training and I got stronger. And then I stopped training and I would get sore and flabby. And then I'd start training again and I'd feel better. But working out seemed like something I should be able to do on my own; a discipline that surely I should be able to do on my own. On my own I don't though. I just don't.

Over the past few years especially, I've started to notice when my body is more comfortable and when it's less comfortable. It gets less comfortable more regularly now that I'm in my mid-40s. Maybe having a fibroid and not being able to run and being anemic and then being on medication that made me old temporarily was all part of it. Probably it was. I stopped training this time last year. I wasn't feeling well, I was busy, it costs money, and I didn't do it.

This time last year was a tough time. Getting ready for surgery, taking strong medication that was painful, then I had my operation, then my dad died, I was dealing with a difficult work situation, and what I should have been doing all along was training. But I had stopped.

How to start again? Talk to my trainer. Hmm. Should I call him? Text him? What's the protocol? Will he have time for me? Can I afford it? I decided a couple of months ago that I couldn't afford not to. I don't like being uncomfortable in my body. I have seen people get old and I know it's coming for me too if I'm lucky, and I want to feel good in my body for as long as I can.

I want to run and walk and play and do yoga poses and be strong. Left up to my own devices, I won't always do what's best for my body. I'm lazy that way. But when I make an appointment to meet my trainer, I go. And when I pay him every time, I don't miss the money.

A couple of weeks ago I bought new running shoes. For myself. I buy lots of running shoes for someone else (ahem, 13-year old daughter), but I haven't done that for myself in many years. I love my new shoes. They're bright - it's like a party to wear them! And a pain that I used to have in my knee whenever I ran isn't there anymore. So now I'm back to running as well. At least I've started. My daughter's teacher told her she'd get an automatic extra 5% on her mark if she runs a 10K. I've agreed to do it with her.

Sometimes it's helpful to train for a race or a competition - having a goal is really useful and it can make it fun. I'm at the place where I'm training for nothing other than the equilibrium I've found. I like how my body feels. I sleep well. I digest well. I'm in a good place. I'm lucky to have a trainer who has stuck around. I value my relationship with him. He pushes me but respects me. He encourages me and helps me be moderate. He fits me into his schedule when it's convenient for me and texts me in between with reminders or other things.

Training just to feel good feels like a good long-term goal for me. I want to feel good in my body for a long time.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Why it's not okay to have sex with your students

Why it's not okay to have sex with your students. Hmm. Seems to me by now that this is so obviously wrong in so many ways, but I had forgotten that I didn't always believe it was true.

I remember where I was sitting back in October 1994 when I got the phone call from a friend with the news that our guru, Amrit Desai, had been sleeping with some of his students (disciples) over the years. Even from my office at Omega Institute I heard myself say, "well, he's human. He had sex. Big deal." I'm embarrassed now at my naiveté to think that even for a moment this could have been no big deal. It was a huge deal. And not just because of the sex part...

I had been on a trip earlier that year with Amrit and a bunch of disciples and other students in India. I was there for a 3-month stint taking workshops with Amrit's guru-brother, Rajarshi Muni and his crew. I wasn't senior enough during my stay at Kripalu to have been deep into the inner circles but I absolutely was acquainted with the people who flew in to talk to Gurudev. Rumours were flying. Maybe he would go on a 6-month silent retreat he mentioned. He was trying to dodge the bullets. In the end, he couldn't. There was the sexual stuff and there was the money stuff. He knew how to divide and conquer his people so as I recall, the group that knew about the double books didn't know about the group of sexually abused and vice versa. That has all come to light, but it wasn't until after he basically had a gun to his head that he was willing to admit it.

All along the way he could have been forgiven. (In truth, lots of people have forgiven him and flock to his new yoga place in Florida.) But forgiveness aside, what he did was wrong not just because he had sex with some of his students. If he had been responsible enough to admit it, he could have been dealt with at the time and might still be living next door to Kripalu today, however, that's not what happened. While he was hiding his escapades, he discredited the people who spoke up. In fact, he ruined families by making family members believe the women who came forward were crazy. Everybody wanted to believe him, so they did, and shunned the people who spoke up.

I remember being at a retreat with him when we were all offering full-on, drop-down pranams to the guy, and he said, "if you knew some of what I've done, you wouldn't love me anymore." There was nothing that guy could do that if he admitted it, he wouldn't still be loved for. Except what he did. Lying like an un-remorseful psychopath would be the thing to bring the house down. And it did.

I heard about the transgressions and then the details started coming out about what he had done to cover up his lies. The people he lied to and blamed. The people he put down who were telling the truth so he could keep up his dirty tricks. I was safely housed at Omega in my new job on the core staff there so I only heard about the pictures being pulled off the walls, of the screaming and crying in the halls, from my sad friends who were still there, who had invested more years than I had in serving a community that was based on lies.

I was in the room when Amrit read his resignation letter to the community. I remember people saying, "Gurudev, is there anything else you need to tell us? Anyone else?" And he would just say, "no." Later it was pointed out that there had been one other person and he'd admit it under duress. "Okay. Her too." And another, and that's how that one rolled out. He paid his large fines, moved away, and you can go down and meet him today. Lots and lots more to that story.

That still doesn't answer why you shouldn't have sex with your students as a yoga teacher.

Naturally, there will be an imbalance of power. Presumably the yoga teacher is leading the class. She's the one people are looking at, looking to for answers. In a big drop-in class, maybe this isn't even really a big deal anymore than it would be for a fitness instructor to get involved with her students. Two adults, who cares. It's only awkward for the other students while it's awkward. Maybe awkward for the teacher if that student continues to come to the class once the liaison is over. It's still not usually recommended.

In a traditional classroom setting, it's a rule that the teacher not sleep with the students as there could be favouritism shown; the student would have access to information the other students wouldn't have, giving them an unfair advantage on tests, etc. In workshops I've attended, it's recommended that the leaders wait a certain amount of time after the workshop is over before getting involved with participants due to the emotional connection that's formed artificially when there's someone delivering charged content and the other one participating and opening up.

In addition, in the traditional teachings of yoga, practising celibacy is likely discussed, if not recommended, to allow for the flow of energy, likely energy that Westerners aren't used to restraining. Teachings are given to open the students up emotionally and spiritually. Space is created on purpose to allow yoga students to be open and vulnerable and to feel safe, sometimes for the first time in a long time. Simply put, sleeping with a yoga student, especially during a training is unethical at the very least, especially when it's been declared from the beginning that those boundaries won't be crossed. Even if that relationship was out in the open, it would be unrecommended for these reasons - there's a clear imbalance of power and potential for awkwardness in the group. (A decent move might be for the teacher to step down, at least from teaching the ethics section of the course, or for the couple to leave the group, but that move would take courage.) So what tends to happen, is more the story above with my guru - there are lies told to try and hide the transgression. People are made to seem untrustworthy who speak up as the cheating teacher will be trying to maintain their reputation - what better way than to put down others around them especially as they are the one controlling the secret information?

What happens in that training when one of the teachers is secretly sleeping with one of the students? In some cases things get awkward. There's unnecessary tension. There's underlying drama. Eventually there are people who are in the know and people who don't have a clue what's going on. Peoples' feelings get hurt. Favourites are made and given special attention so they don't make waves. It's not the kind of group I would want to pay thousands of dollars to be sitting in.

Ask questions. Find out what the policies are of the course you're taking. Check references. Even then you can't always be sure as deception can run very deep. That doesn't mean what I learned from my guru wasn't true. It doesn't mean that I didn't get quality teachings. But he should have known better and should have done better, sparing me and thousands of his followers the pain of betrayal that hypocrisy inflicts.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Teaching with Two

As a yoga teacher, I am normally working solo. I drive to places on my own, teach on my own, plan on my own, interact on my own, debrief in my head, and it's like that. Sometimes I get to co-teach, and that's my favourite. It changes everything when I have a co-teacher.

This year I've had the privilege of having at least 3 co-teachers!

  • My daughter led a Mother-Daughter Yoga weekend with me at Omega (our pictures are right there) this summer (and we will be doing it again next year - August 9-11, 2013) and we lead that in September at Rama Lotus for a 90-minute session as well.
  • My friend, Virginia Miller, co-led a 3-half-day Shiatsu/Thai Massage/Partner Yoga "dabbler" during Family Week with me (and we hope to do it again next season).
  • And the wonderful Kat Mills, who has co-led all sorts of yoga experiences with me over the past few years at Rama Lotus and other places around Ottawa, continues to lead Living Your Yoga modules with me at her house for weeks at a time.
Leading classes with two people doesn't always work out money-wise, which is why a lot of people wouldn't do it. However, when there's enough money, or money's not the issue, leading with someone you work well with is the BEST. 

Having someone to share the responsibility with is nice, but the process of collaboration is special. New ideas form, conversations are ignited, and there's a richness that isn't found when there's one-on-one teaching. There's also the spontaneity of what can happen when there are two teachers that doesn't always happen when there's one.

Tuesday night begins a new session of Living Your Yoga in the Makata Yoga Living Room (Kat's empty house - it's hilarious - she really has no furniture just so groups can take over the floor space). We love teaching the yamas and niyamas together so much that we're doing it again. Why do we love it so much? Partly because we get to collaborate, but it's also about the content and what happens to a group when we examine our lives. Being with people as they look at their lives is a great privilege and a special "space" gets created that is unusual in our everyday lives. So we put our arms around a space and hold it and put people in the middle and bounce them up and down gently and get to be there for the giggles and ahas that happen along the way.

If you're coming to this module of the Yamas and Niyamas, don't bother bringing your yoga mat - you won't be using it. Bring an open mind and a clear head so you can consider some of what yoga has to offer. It's not new or trendy - we're going to use the ancient texts as our references. Whoohoo!

(This video was not made for this blogpost. We were fooling around for a different project...)