I’ve Never Practiced Yoga

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Email sent on May 29th, 2018:

I’ve never practiced yoga.

I'm writing this email today to tell you about how I've arrived at the realization that I've never practiced yoga and am not intent on starting. Where I stand today isn't the result of one big Aha! moment. Rather, many small and big questions have been nagging on my scrambled mind and pain-riddled body for over a decade. I've tried to cram yoga's ideologies (uncomfortably) into my life, and its modern poses (uncomfortably) into my body. It just doesn't fit. 

I've spent the past 8 years leading teacher trainings in a curriculum not my own. This curriculum is built on the methods of two prominent yoga lineages, Ashtanga and Iyengar. The philosophical text included in these trainings is The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali which presents a practice of restraining thought and sidestepping negativity. Sensory feedback from one's environment and physical body are expressed as obstacles to be overcome in pursuit of transcendence. 

Now, I've never been much a fan of eggplant. It's a texture thing. I'm also not thrilled with heavy creamy sauces. Fruits mixed into in savory foods are rarely a turn on (get outta here with the pineapple on pizza!) and butternut squash is typically much too sweet. Imagine me sitting with a large pizza in front of me. A creamy white pie covered in eggplant, pineapple and butternut squash. This is the yoga sutras! If I pull the pineapple off and eat it alone, it's okay. The crust is safe—I will always eat bread. Maybe there's a smattering of red bell peppers which I love an will happily peel off and devour. But I just can't eat the whole damn thing no matter how hard I try. You get me?

I've already moved past much of the physical practice of asana. Maybe first in, first out works in this respect? If you missed my last email you can read all about that here. Also, no longer being tied to a training curriculum is super freeing.

So then I ask myself, what about the practice of yoga do I identify with? 

What I practice and teach is observation—an opportunity to check-in, inquire, and discover new things. This is practiced in relationship with environment and others. This answer, I've discovered, isn't actually a part of yoga's aims at all. 

Sure, there's some cool stuff in the sutras about commitment and contentment, skillfully relating to others and doing no harm. I can eat the crust and bell peppers, but at the end of the day the whole pizza pie is transcendence of environment, others, body and mind. 

I'm rather enjoying being a human in this human body with this human mind, in the world with all of you fine folks. I'm not seeking transcendence.

I'm done hearing about how a top-down lineage or “tradition” can or should influence the way I see myself in our modern and ever-evolving world. I no longer believe that a senior yoga teacher knows what my body should do better than I know myself. The pseudo-science upheld by the lineage narrative is sketchy at best and injurious at worst. The roots of modern yoga asana are in performance, not embodiment. I'm explicitly standing up against abuse. I'm saying bye-bye to a system that deconstructs personal agency and independent thought in the name of “maintaining undisturbed calm.”

I've spent some time attempting to concoct the perfect recipe for arguing that what I’m practicing and teaching is yoga. I’m letting go of all that now and it’s liberating AF.

I'm exploring interdisciplinary movement and feeling empowered by strength training. I'm embracing a horizontal student/teacher model where information is shared on the basis of mutual trust and consent. I strive to help students move and live better as humans. My dive into PT school will further define my boundaries around appropriate scope of practice. I see the human body as a biological masterpiece with the power to heal, rebuild, and adapt. 

I know I'll have more thoughts to share on this topic and would love to hear yours! 

I've stripped the word yoga from my website and social media. The exception is my “yoga cross-training” class but that's not a yoga class. It’s a class to balance your body if you practice yoga, or to help you live and move better if you practice human. My venture into PT school has provided a path for me to move on. Without it, I don't know if I'd have the courage to make this shift. I honestly don't know what to call the things I'm teaching, or what to call myself besides student and teacher. Getting this out there to you today is good enough for now.

More soon,

Caitlin