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People often ask why I travel so much to teach yoga. The long plane rides push my body’s limits: 23 hours to Hong Kong, anyone? Nutritional challenges come up as well: why can’t I find cooked greens in Copenhagen in October? And luck can turn in a moment, bringing mishaps that make me want to go home: I still recall a bathroom flooding, foretold by me and ignored by the concierge, that had me perched for hours on the lumpy bed in a quaint Paris hotel). It’s difficult to explain why I travel. Yet something compels me to do so, as though I’m trying to learn a lesson that remains tantalizingly out of reach. Last November, I finished my travel year in Israel: first at the Moa Oasis just north of the southern port of Eilat, where the dry heat was intense. Dust infiltrated the filaments of my bronchial tubes,
Recently, during a therapeutic vinyasa practice at The Yoga Conference in Toronto, the class and I encountered a pivotal learning moment. As we reviewed the transition from Downward Dog into Lunge, a participant asked about speed. “Intuitively, I get that slow is good,” she said. “But how slow? And is it O.K., sometimes, to practice the old and fast flow?” Her question gave rise to a passionate dialogue about how we use momentum in yoga and in life, and what the consequences are of doing so. Momentum refers to the building up of forward movement that takes us from one well-defined place to the next. It turns out that we use momentum in times of discomfort. We use it in transitions, for instance, when we’re caught between an old place or way of being and a new one. And we do so when the pressure to perform well lends emphasis to
In recent weeks, I’ve been struck by the number of healthy, strong yogis in our community that are in the throes of emotional crisis, experiencing panic attacks, anxiety, depression, and grief. At this time, we have more stress and emotional imbalance than ever before. Yet it wasn’t the number of yogis or the nature of their crises that affected me the most. Rather, it was something deeper and more disheartening: their responses to their own pain. Most of my yogis in crisis shared with me some version of a story that they shouldn’t be feeling what they’re feeling. Laced with barely disguised self-contempt, I heard, “Panic attacks–seriously?” Another said, “I thought I was past that.” “Why am I going backwards emotionally?” asked another. “With all the therapy, yoga, and meditation I’ve put in, I should be well beyond this,” proclaimed a fourth. Why are we so quick to be down
I had a list of things I wanted to write about, including the art of watching and its relation to being present, and the relationship between neuroscience and magic. And I will, later. But something important got in the way. This week, I returned from a memorable teaching trip to Vancouver to find several members of my yoga community in the throes of an emotional crisis that took varied forms: panic attacks, PTSD, depression, acute grief. As I talked with each of them, several themes emerged that were so powerful, so universal, I had to share them with you. As you read these words, you might think something like “Why isn’t yoga taking care of all that?” or “Why can’t these yogis deal with a little stress—many people have it really tough.” If you think these things, you’re not alone; each person I talked with had the same inner dialogue