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Netflix & The Paradox of Bikram

The Paradox of Bikram:
A Response to Netflix’s “Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator”

by Maureen Bakis

My yoga class is that sweltering day. It’s one long, hot meditation. We put incredible pressure on you to teach you to break your attachment to external things and go within. Instead of blaming others for your own weakness, fear and depression, you will learn to take responsibility for your own life. You’ve got to face yourself in the mirror, every part you don’t like, every mistake you make, every excuse your mind creates to limit your potential liberationthere’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. No escape from reality (my italics). With these kinds of demands on your abilities and attention, you will soon forget that there is anyone on the next mat in the classroom, much less notice what they are wearing. After you learn to discipline your body and mind under these conditions, you will truly be able to concentrate; no external will be able to break your powerful focus. That’s why I say the darkest place in the world is under the brightest lamp. In the Torture Chamber of my class, you will find a beautiful light, and the source of that light is within you.
—BIKRAM CHOUDHURY

Perhaps it’s never been more heated and challenging to be a Bikram yogi, and that’s exactly why I and thousands more people continue to practice Bikram’s original yoga series without stopping and without intermission.

I began practicing Bikram Choudhury’s yoga series seven years ago, a kind of practice that is defined by coming into direct, embodied, conscious contact with my own unique suffering–– mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. In Bikram’s class, I receive an education in pain, challenge, surrender, self-inquiry, conscious awareness, radical honesty, compassion, learning, distress tolerance, flexibility, humility, and better, more balanced parenting skills on my path toward becoming a more autonomous, fully actualized, healthy human person. Yes– a long sentence listing loads of benefits. Each time I practice, I learn about the value of continuously observing who I am and what I am like, positively transforming my relationship with myself on the inside and improving my relationships with others on the outside. It’s a form of social justice.

Because of Bikram’s yoga practice, both inner and outer landscapes of my life take on much higher resolution and greater salience. And my attitude toward pain, suffering, limitation, possibility, comparison, achievement, and outcomes has transformed, a radical and overwhelming shift in perspective to process-living. I am joyful in the high heat and pressure of the present moment including all of its challenges from within myself and from the uncontrollable external world to which I am always exposed, naked, and vulnerable. Sounds positive but it’s often an ugly process. Most people have been conditioned to avoid challenge, exposure, and ugliness. We just don’t go there.

When I entered Bikram’s Torture Chamber at my local studio and years later when I left home in Massachusetts to attended Bikram’s Teacher Training in Thailand for 9 weeks, I  left a world in which I expended all of my precious attention and energy toward constructing a static, certain, and safe environment; the kind of approach to living that was focused on fulfilling my desires, gratifying my expectations, and meeting my “needs” that I was conditioned to believe would help me “win” at modern American life.  I entered into a present-moment awareness, process-oriented, fluid and flexible space, unexplored territory beyond my comfort zone, a place of uncertainty and adventure, of risk and doubt, of unknowing (and of stink, sweat, profanity, and grit). Therein, I was encouraged to “trust the process.” I soon recognized that Bikram’s torture chamber is the same metaphorical place where heroes from the great stories of antiquity enter, so really not Bikram’s place per se, but my own and every human person’s confrontation with suffering. Again, who is encouraged to look directly at their limitations and pain?

I was a well-educated, intelligent, high school humanities teacher and single mother of four who consciously and voluntarily chose to be at Bikram’s Training, to learn directly from the source––the person in the mirror looking back at me. Bikram was merely the facilitator, one example of the best and worst of our human nature,  who provided the conditions for my growth, just as we Bikram teachers do for others at our studios. I was not sent to training by my intelligent, wise, and powerful female studio owner as a pawn for Bikram to sexually exploit, as the misguided attorney so incorrectly and unfairly proposed in the Netflix documentary film about Bikram, the man and his hatha yoga series. I was sent to learn how to be a compassionate presence for myself so that I could provide that for others. As readers are already likely predisposed to interpret any language related to Bikram and his yoga as extreme, cult-like, or dangerous––and now “predatory,” the latest negative association being propagated through the media, I won’t describe my personal transformation during teacher training using cliche metaphors of “I was blind and now I can see” or “I died and went to heaven” or “I was asleep and now am awake.” However, precisely because of what I learned from Bikram, I am fully aware that I cannot control how other people interpret the meaning I am attempting to convey here, but that I can only do my very best to describe my experience.

At my Teacher Training,  Bikram lectured often about birth and death where he transmitted ancient wisdom to his students that to die is to be continuously reborn; it’s to shed parts of the (small, ego) self that are no longer useful to make room for one’s human potential to actualize (and allow the higher Self to shine forth). This process of actualization is a continual loss and painful, i.e. “torture” and obviously challenging, and Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn also teaches, “no mud, no lotus” about the path to liberation and vitality. This is only one of many important aspects of Bikram’s brand of yoga that many people don’t quite understand, his “torture” chamber metaphor often criticized or interpreted inaccurately to serve more twisted purposes. Bikram’s disciplined brand of yoga is simply too distasteful, too hard, too hot, to people who don’t like the idea of being solely responsible for their individual change and growth. It’s much easier to blame, and to blame someone like Bikram is quite convenient.

Bikram did not invent the self-realization and self-actualization process, but his prescription for vitality “works” because of the Dialogue, high heat, and gestalt-like methods that occur in a mirror-based, self-relational framework that is unique and uniquely misunderstood, especially by Western-conditioned minds that are surface-concerned, outcome-obsessed, and pleasure-based.  The Western egocentric mindset interprets yoga practice (and the meaning of life) narrowly, in surface, shallow, materialist ways, as the stereotypical image of the thin, hyper-feminized body, glistening with perspiration in her expensive leggings “posturing” in the mirror, and the even more sensationalized version that includes these type of women “posing” for Bikram Choudhury (and any other hyper-masculine, read “toxic,” man in the room) and inviting them to salivate over them as alluring prey, and hasn’t Bikram purposely shaped his yoginis to satisfy his personal appetite? Um, no. This picture is extreme and absurd, but undeniably convenient and effective for click-bait, attention-getting, and money-making.Labeling or creating such an exaggerated story about this healing modality of Bikram yoga using such a narrow, limited lens essentially closes its therapeutic possibilities to people, rather than opening up a future to those who might access the wisdom and wellness that comes from this practice.

Thankfully, another great aspect of Bikram’s yoga is that people don’t need to intellectually understand its intrinsic wisdom to reap its benefits; they only need show up and try the hatha practice, even for stress-reduction or physical activity, and it will work its magic on body, mind, and spirit. One only need have a slightly open mind, a crack, to allow the light  to shine through. Unfortunately, our media tends to feed people’s intrinsic fear of change, vulnerability, and anxiety through its use of limited camera angles and by constructing  narratives that promote dichotomous thinking and close-mindedness which causes more polarity both within individuals and among them. Ironically, a man came to the studio last week to try Bikram yoga because his interest was piqued after having watch the Netflix documentary about Bikram. I would encourage anyone who is interested in truth to come discover it, for themselves, within themselves, and in that mirror in Bikram’s “Torture Chamber.”

As one of Bikram’s yogis, I am happy for the heat of the hotroom, that is––my suffering, even the disillusionment and disappointment that results from something beyond my control in the form of a negative depiction of our yoga; Bikram taught me at training, through his intentional antics among other lessons, not to wait or waste time trying to control what I cannot or to allow anything or anyone to steal my peace. If I do, that’s lazy and that’s on me. I have learned through direct visceral experience in my yoga practice and at teacher training to welcome everything and push nothing away, whether good/pleasant or bad/unpleasant, so I can be alive in all of my life not just when it’s easy or convenient or preferable.

The purpose of the practice is to discover one’s human nature and not to deny any of it, to be fully, uniquely, wholly oneself––thus thriving, more healthy and alive.  It requires discipline and honesty– two things that don’t happen immediately or as easily as say, taking a pill to feel better. We don’t get rid of stress and difficulty; we don’t build walls to keep all illness or negativity that comes from a Netflix documentary out; we don’t fix other people or reactively and blindly fight against evil; we don’t help people “get into postures” or modify them for comfort; we integrate both negative and positive energy into ourselves and transform it to become more actualized and fully alive—a responsibility and heavy burden that makes us whole, wise, and well.

I am proud and humble to say that I am a product of Bikram’s yoga, a practice and environment that at first seemed foreign to me, smelly, uncomfortable, insane, abnormal, extreme, cruel, uninviting, strange, and something to resist and run from when viewed from my previous world where mainstream conventional thinking shaped my perceptions of myself and others. I observe this same resistance––the desire to run, push-away, or lash-out-at, and/or to “fix” in the name of virtue and social justice exhibiting itself in people’s reactivity to Bikram Choudhury and his failings, his corruption, and his tragic fall.

In the beginning of my practice, I, too, had a lot of resistance and aversion; loads of neediness for comfort and security. I wasn’t sure of yoga’s purpose, my purpose. I struggled to make rational sense of this yoga practice, then the practice taught me that the mental stories I created and paradigms I’d inherited and cultivated through repeated habit over time were insufficient and inaccurately labeling reality; I noticed I was closed and resistant, clinging to what I knew (or thought I knew). I thought I was my thoughts. I thought I was my feelings. When I could see, with more honest vision, I realized my own deeply ingrained, unhelpful, and undiscerning habits and my craving for sameness and stability out of fear, and then I saw the possibilities beyond my limits and a future opened up. Remaining in the present moment, concentrating, and realizing limits, however, were the necessary and painful first steps, part of a steady dose of gradual exposure therapy for better distress tolerance and a better life.

Bikram says, 30 days for a better body, 90 days for a better life. I, like many others, went to the studio to do yoga as exercise ––for the better, more attractive body––and discovered much later that Bikram yoga changed my life. Hundreds of other people can report the same. People, most often studio owners and lovers of the Bikram series often purport to, “Separate the man from the yoga” to justify a sort of permission to practice the hatha series without unsympathetically dismissing the pain and suffering of alleged victims of Bikram, the individual, flawed man. And I get that. I’ve often said it myself. And if this rationale for continuing to teach and practice Bikram’s original series with its implicit philosophy of self-study for self-realization with its grounding in Hinduism works for sustaining a modern business model and helping more people with this specific and uniquely designed practice, then it’s a practical and pragmatic solution to the branding and other problems Bikram himself has caused.

The yoga and Bikram have taught me to become, through challenging practice, less resistant and more forgiving. To accept everything and push nothing away, even when painful, evil, uncomfortable or undesirable. Accordingly, it seems dismissive to me to reflexively rely on “separate the man from the yoga” to quickly change an uncomfortable or embarrassing or hard conversation, to retreat back into a cognitive and affective comfort zone due to one’s desire for stability, to feel “right” or “justified” or to end the painful challenge that comes with human vulnerability and the subtle complexities of being human. To me, this is the opposite of what can be learned and has been learned by so many already from Bikram’s specific practice. Therein lies the paradox of Bikram and his yoga.

Observing my own psychological, physical and spiritual transformation encourages me to continue practicing, to allow Bikram’s magic yoga medicine to flow through me to be wise, well, humble, happy. I continue to share my story, the story of Bikram and his yoga, with others on and off the podium. So, when my guru is under fire for his bad behavior, choices, and human faults, so, too, is the yoga, and so, too, am I as a dedicated Bikram yogi. This makes me sad and uncomfortable and also happy and grateful for this opportunity to learn more from its challenge. Bikram taught me that.

Bikram yoga is an environment, a practice, a mindset, a space for action and contemplation in which peak experiences, self-realization, and self-actualization are fostered consciously, systematically, deliberately, that is–– mindfully. As a Bikram yogi, I am not merely more physically flexible or strong from stretching in a hot room for 90 minutes at a go, I’m deeply in love with my own life, all of my life––its wholeness and integration–– not only when everything is as I want or hope or desire it to be; not just when it’s good, comfortable, or happy and all my needs are met; not when the conditions are some version of perfect that my mind might conjure up based on my social and educational conditioning over time–– again, the paradox of Bikram and his yoga.

I say to the documentary filmmakers and their fans, rather than criticizing Bikram’s yoga by sensationalizing it and attempting to destroy the livelihood of studio owners and their students to capitalize financially on the residual audiences of the me-too movement, I urge you to practice Bikram’s yoga so you can truly understand it and simultaneously embark on a path toward wholeness and wellness both for yourself and others as a more positive form of social justice.

 

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A Video Message from LFL!

LFL’s Simple Practices: Listening

So Simple. So Powerful. So Healthy.

Make time to PRACTICE listening!

NEW FEATURE: Simple Practices on the Landscape for Learning for Wisdom & Wellness

SUBSCRIBE BELOW FOR SIMPLE PRACTICES FROM LFL

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Same Song, Slightly Different Lyrics

I loved this conversation between Rich Roll and Dr. Jud Brewer on the Rich Roll Podcast. My book, Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self-Study Guide for Wellness (2019, Amazon) overlaps with so many of the concepts and ideas Dr. Brewer talks about. I feel like my own life experience (especially in practicing mindfulness intrinsic to Bikram Yoga) is evidence for what Dr. Jud has been studying for a very long time. We are singing the same song with slightly different lyrics!

 

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Connection Begins with Self-Study

“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self” —-the Bhagavad Gita

 

 

When you observe your self— your own life— to see where and how your attention and energy is being directed (or not), you may notice it’s either stolen, spent properly, conserved, or regularly replenished etc… You can assess the situation on your inner landscape, and make some choices: continue with what’s healthy and utilizing your assets; take responsibility for what’s not healthy and figure out how make change (rather than blaming, projecting, and staying stuck in your “comfort zone” or “safe space” ) and start to learn about the possibilities of becoming, instead of staying stuck in a fixed “static” identity. Pay attention to yourself; Listen within (to your gut, as Gabor Mate discusses) learn, and eventually, find that you are love—this is reconnection to self and it is how you recover trust within you. The more you can connect with your own sense of self and begin to trust yourself, your relationship with your self transforms, and relationships with others transform (some may wither and end because they need to, some may blossom more fully as they should).

My book, Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self Study Guide for Wellness (Amazon,2019) provides you with ideas to consider and practices/tools to begin your travels on your inner landscape for wellness.

Attending to yourself is a choice and your responsibility. No excuses.

Namaste.

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October Workshop!

Want to be better, kinder, and more understanding to yourself?

Come Learn About

Self-Study for Self-Realization

at

Bikram Yoga Danvers

October 19th, 2019

Noon-1:00 p.m.

Signed copies of the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide (2019) will be available for purchase!

Hosted by

Landscapes for Learning, LLC

 

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WHAT is Self-Study for Self-Realization?

Q & A

WHAT the hell is Self-Study for Self-Realization?

WHY to Self-Study to Self-Realize?

HOW to Self-Study to Self-Realize?

 

This little gem below attempts to give answers to the questions in detail and provides you with directions and activities to get your started knowing yourself better, but you can take a look at my answers below while you wait for your book to be delivered to your home or your Kindle!

Here are MY answers (not necessarily “the” answers):

1A. Self-study is slowing down enough to look inside yourself and answer: who am I? What am I like? What’s my body like? How does my mind work? What’s my personality? Disposition? What are my interests? What sort of choices do I make? What do I pay attention to on a daily/monthly/yearly basis and are those things good for me? What’s my relationship to learning? Do I see opportunities for growth or complain that life is unfair?

*I learned about attention through Bikram Yoga and through reflective journal writing. Perhaps these might also work for you. You will have to study yourself to know what will work for you and what will not. It’s your life.

1B. Self-realization: is ongoing realizations about who you are; seeing yourself as an ever-changing being full of limits and possibilities for becoming. A realization isn’t always in your control. Often having an “ah-ha” moment or making a crazy-amazing discovery about yourself “just happens” for you from beyond your control. A realization can come from “the other side” and outside your comfort zone.

*When I stopped forcing myself to achieve; when I stopped focusing on outcomes and started enjoying the process of being me; when I let go of expectations (mostly of others) and trying to control everything and everyone outside myself all the time; and when I started observing myself with curiosity, love, compassion, understanding, and acceptance (through yoga, reflective writing, introspection), I started taking the best care of myself because I saw my own value (despite all my horrible flaws) and that, still, my life is a gift. I am responsible for expressing the best of myself and for managing the worst.  The lies I had been telling myself about who I thought I was (“my identity” as this type of person or that) burned away and the truth, through realizations, start pouring in! Inspiration and creativity rushed through me, thus this blog and book etc…

2. Each person should study themselves (what I call the “inner landscape”) at least as often as they study the world around them (what I call the “external landscape”) to continually grow in wisdom which I am convinced is what makes a person healthy and thrive. The problem is that our modern culture conditions us to focus our attention on what’s on the “external landscape” to the detriment and neglect of the “inner landscape.” Why do you think people are trying to get more people to meditate? Why do you think mental health counselors are in such demand? Modern life is so overwhelmingly full of noise, material clutter, busyness, and excessive stress that most people are entirely distracted away from their interior life. They are disconnected from the inner place of wisdom and peace. It’s simple: SLOW THE FUCK DOWN and give yourself the loving attention and care that you deserve and are responsible for doing FOR YOURSELF throughout your life. That’s an opportunity and a responsibility. The dangers and challenges of the world aren’t going anywhere– you need to make yourself courageous enough, flexible enough, and strong enough to surf the waves of your life. When you study yourself and realize your whole self, you’ll be well and you’ll make others well in the process.

*I slowed my life down by practicing stopping and living in the moment in my yoga classes; I started practicing yoga outside the studio in my everyday life.  Loads of those moments were painful and uncomfortable (in and out of the studio), but when I explored my pain and suffering to understand it (not judge it), I learned to let it come (without pushing it away) and let it go. I got used to suffering and learned how to suffer better. I also learned how to fully savor all the joyful moments that I had rarely taken time to “be with” before I had slowed down. I cry more, laugh more, am more intimately connected to what and whom I value. Life is fucking good, not because I am rich materially (I am not), but because I am grounded in the truth of my own presence. I am in love with life. I am lively!

3. I propose that five things comprise a helpful self-study program for self-realization: 1. ATTENTION: start understanding what attention is, its value for health and wellness, practice strengthening your attention. You can do this in various ways that I explain in my book. 2. SELF-AWARENESS: Turn your attention inward to knowing who you are and becoming more aware of yourself. Study the workings of your mind and body so can provide optimal care for them. 3. CHALLENGE: Practice facing fear rather than running from it or distracting yourself from it; learn about pain and suffering– they aren’t going anywhere so you may as well learn to make friends with them. Part 3 of the Self-Study Guide can show you how. 4. CHOICE: Study your choices and learn more about the empowerment that comes from choice and mindful response to stress in your environment and within you. We life to blame things in the “external landscape” rather than taking personal responsibility for managing our responses to those stresses from the “inner landscape”or a central locus of control. You can practice getting better at making conscious choices for your wellness. 5. LEARNING: School-learning lives under the umbrella and a much broader definition of learning as a way of living. Learning is embracing a landscapes for learning mindset– to choose to see your life experiences (all of them) as opportunities for growing, expanding who you are, and to expressing your uniqueness. Learning is about the walking the line between what is known (mastery) and what is unknown– and the unknown is both scary and exciting. Get curious about what’s on the other side of your comfort zone and remain open to the possibilities of transcending your limits to thrive.

* Self-Study for Self-Realization is about slowing down, attending to yourself, and discovering what’s true about you and what’s false. It’s an ongoing life-time journey to live the truth to thrive! My book suggests looking at life as a landscape for learning and offers directions to follow to explore the landscape of you!

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In Memory of a Bikram Yogi

These are words I prepared to memorialize the passing of one of the members of our Bikram Yoga community, Ray Chasse. Rest in peace, Ray.

Thanks for being here in our very special community to honor and remember Ray.

I am going to read something I put together for this occasion drawn from some notes I wrote back in 2012 when Ray and I talked about writing his life story together. The main theme is that we—all of us—are not as different from one another as we like to think. In fact, we are more the same because of our suffering and our humanity—It’s hard to be human. We all have problems…it’s simply a matter of degree. Pain is pain, suffering is suffering, recovery is recovery. No comparison. No judgment. Only compassion—which literally means “to suffer with.”

The title of our book was to be “Living the Dream” and it was to be both a comedy and a tragedy—a funny and lively story of struggle and hope– the full range of drama that was Ray’s life. Joy, wild and wacky, full of energy, and pain – the yin and yang that is a life of meaning. Ray’s life meant something important. He was full of love, especially for his boys, his friends, many of whom are here today, and his yoga—intense and challenging, just like his journey.

So, this is a bit of what I drafted several years ago….

“This is a story about my friend, Ray Chasse, a guy who I thought was nothing like me. For sure, he is like nobody I’d ever known. He wasn’t the kind of guy I’d come across in my sheltered, small suburban world—“my world” as if I have ownership over any part of anything. As if the boundaries and territories that we set up – our comfort zones that make us feel secure and protect us from the “other” “the unknown,” “the mysterious” are actually real. It’s all in our head. One of the many lies our culture has taught us and used to pit us against each other, that which categorizes us as better and worse, having more value and worth or less. Silly. We have way more in common than we have been trained to believe, and sadly our perceived or learned differences are what alienate us from one another and cause so much disconnection and loneliness. I love this Bikram Yoga community because although each of us is unique and on our separate mats, we are all in this life right here right now, together. It’s more than just a work out.

Ray and I met at Bikram Yoga shortly before Mother’s Day in 2011. I was the beginner in the hot room that day.

The teacher said, “Maureen? Where are you? Your goal today is only to stay in the room. If you feel overwhelmed at all, just try to breathe and lay on your towel. Just try the best you can. We begin with Pranayama breathing… And, Maureen, we do everything here twice, so just look around at your neighbors and the people at the front of the room if you need to. Let’s begin.

Shit, I think to myself. What did I get myself into? It’s fucking HOT in here! And everyone is half naked. I don’t know what I’m doing. There’s a man standing next to me, sweat pouring off his body, an oversized silver crucifix dangling from a chain on his very tanned neck. He looks familiar. Wait…That’s my daughter’s friend, Ryan’s dad…oh God, I remember him. That’s Ray Chasse.”

Isn’t timing everything.

I think about WHY Ray and I happened to cross paths at this time in his life, at this time in my life, in this place—Bikram yoga? Why would God put a 40-something English teacher and writer with a semi-literate, ex-addict in a hot room to stretch for 90 minutes and hold poses in stillness?

I believe the universe has a certain way of tilting itself so that special, influential people enter my life and alter my view of myself and the world. It’s happened many times—this time the angel is Ray. The earth tilted this way and that until Ray and I ended up on route 1 in Danvers in a 105 degree room with 30 other profusely sweaty people and one yogini instructing us ever so calmly to hold ourselves still in a pose —to hold ourselves— like we are actually someone we care about, and isn’t that the greatest challenge? What the hell is going on? How is it that I am upside down and backwards, vulnerable, uncomfortable, and euphoric all at once? Why is it that I feel so much more alive after these excruciating difficult classes? Is this what it means to live the dream?

As every person who meets Ray at the studio learns, he is living the dream. He had a sticker on his truck that proclaimed the same. But what did it mean to live the dream according to Ray Chasse? For him, it meant he had lived through the present day without a syringe hanging out of his arm and a bottle of booze by his side. His words, not mine. Sounds simple, but not easy for Ray, as all of us have our special challenges—some greater than others.

Speaking of something greater.

A power much greater than Ray was directing the drama of his life, just as it directs all of our lives whether we choose to believe it or not. That’s the ironic lesson I learned about this yoga—we are trying to learn self-control in this room, trying realize who we are—and what I found at the bottom of this practice is that I am way more than just what I THINK. There’s something at work that is greater than little old me and my silly ego with all its desires and attachments—which is what Ray was telling me in the first place. Ask for help, he’d say. And he always said, “I’m praying for you, Maureen.” We can’t  copy Ray and find his faith or obtain grace—We have to figure it out for ourselves—the hard way, through showing up to practice and doing the best we can with what we’ve been given for however long we are destined to be alive.

And give the rest to God.

So here’s how I wasn’t any different from Ray or anyone else who suffers: we are not who we think we are because we all have stinkin’ thinkin’ mostly from how we have been raised and conditioned by our experiences—some traumatic, others just painful, sad, or heart-breaking. So how to suffer better? Suffering together helps—at least you know you aren’t alone in this fight, although each of us has to do “our work” one step at a time, one day at a time, the best we can and by asking for help from a source far greater than ourselves. Ray taught me that.

As it turns out, Ray taught me the same things the yoga taught me—that the serenity prayer is embodied, literally, in this yoga practice. God grant me the serenity to Accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. We need lots of humility, forgiveness, compassion, and love to get by— and a little help from our friends.

Yes, I was Ray’s yoga teacher, but who was teaching whom? Ray tried to teach me to just try to let go and let God. He talked about surrender. He showed me the challenge of living one day at a time. I saw him struggle terribly with that. He taught me the value of a smile, the importance of outstretched arms that demand a big giant hug, and the need for all of us to express our unconditional love for one another, by trying the best we can. I saw him do those things too.

We need to have compassion for ourselves when we fail, and for others, because to fail is to be human, and there’s just no other way to learn. And just like our yoga practice, every day our life presents us with challenges.  All we can do is show up, look in the mirror, concentrate, meditate, and begin—breathing in and out nice and slow, each one of us, together.

Thanks for showing up today. Ray would be so happy to see all of these smiling happy faces!

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Limits & Possibilities

Understanding your own human nature through paying attention to learn about yourself in particular ways using the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self-Study Guide for Wellness will teach you (among other things) about your limitations, your amazing potential, and the myriad of possibilities for transcending those limits to fully self-realize and self-actualize.

You are pure potential

You have incredible potential just waiting to be actualized, passions to be uncovered, and many weaknesses that are likely suppressed that could surface at any time and cause unwanted or unintended damage.

Consider: How many times have you been alternately either pleasantly surprised by your own talents or prowess and horrified at your own weakness and unintended bad behavior?

Make your daily life better

Rather than deny our weaknesses and animal nature, pretend they don’t exist, or repress them, we ought to study them, understand them, and manage them as productively as possible.

We all need to intentionally and very deliberately learn more about who we are and understand what it means to be human—both rational and animal— so we can express our very best and manage our very worst.  

Putting our truth under a spotlight is the path to freedom, and it is the most responsible work a person can do for themselves and for others (which is also why so many people don’t want to do it! Freedom requires responsibility and that’s work!)

Warning:

The process may not be pretty, for self realization is not about happiness per se but the struggle to be the fully-expressed YOU, and it is exactly how the meaning of your life is to be found.

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Yoga is Union

“You don’t know who you are!”

When Bikram Choudhury, the author of the specific type of yoga I practice, said, “You don’t know who you are” to me and my fellow prospective Bikram Yoga Teachers on our first day of Teacher Training, I immediately got defensive. I balked, “What does he mean that I don’t know who I am? Of course I do! I know exactly who I am!” And then I silently recited to myself  a reassuring list of labels and titles: mother, divorcée, girlfriend, college graduate, professional educator, published author, in addition to an endless list of personal preferences, skills, physical descriptors, and other mental images I lived according to and that I believed defined “me.” Soon, I would add Bikram Yoga Teacher to this list which would make me… who exactly? 

Self Image or Truth?

I had heard the many criticisms about this controversial guru and his antics, so I chalked up his statement to his notorious reputation. I focused on psyching myself up for “getting through” the physical challenge his rigorous nine-week training would bring, yet my own resistance to long held notions about who I thought I was would become the real challenge. Studying my long held conception of my “self” would be the impetus for major transformation of my perspective of reality and about the meaning of my very own life. Bikram was 100% right, of course: I had no clue about who I really was. But I was about to learn, continuously, without interruption and without intermission, that this yoga I was practicing and hoping to teach wasn’t only about physical fitness and wellness. For me, Bikram Yoga is about the wisdom that comes from self study for self realization. The toughest part of it, for me, is that it requires radical honesty. It is about facing and accepting reality as it is, not abandoning suffering or pain, learning, and change. Funny to look back now at my fairly random choice to just try a little yoga for a good workout. 

Values & Wellness

Understandably, it seems a bit crazy for anyone to suggest that you don’t know who you are. But the truth is, most people really don’t know who they are, likely because they have been raised in a fast and furious Western culture with values and priorities that not only fail to include introspection and self understanding but that in many ways condition us for un-wellness.  Yes, our values are directly related to our health and wellbeing. 

Time on Learning

In addition to my own lifelong, personal educational experiences, I saw while working as public school teacher how American students are taught to focus primarily on and value what is external—by that, I mean, we value “time on learning” practical skills and content knowledge in order to compete in an economic landscape, one filled with comparison and a race to some “top” or “end” where we are told we will find our happiness and fulfillment— the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We are schooled to achieve— to find happiness and satisfaction once the prize, award, grade, salary, acceptance, or fame is gotten…and then the next and the next and the next, and if we die too soon, the tragedy is that we did not achieve our full potential. Although hard skills and economic survival are critically important, of course, it isn’t the entire preparation required for being a good, healthy, whole human being and living a fulfilling and meaningful life— no matter how short or long we are fated to be here.

Wholeness

Our education system pays lip service to the development of the “whole child,” while in reality, the  institutionalized approach to teaching and learning neglects character development, creative expression, and soft skills. The imbalance in where we pay our attention—outward more often than inward is clear when we look at the results: increasing mental illness, anxiety, obesity, addiction, and other forms of unnecessary suffering that permeate our society. We really don’t know who we are. 

We teach kids about what to do with their “outer lives” and how to shape their “self” image rather than showing them how to cultivate who they are as human beings by exploring their “inner lives.” 

It’s Not About the Grades

I saw firsthand as a teacher and parent of four how school administrators, guidance counselors, and parents were more interested in the achievement of grades and prestigious college admission than time spent learning what it means to become oneself as a human being– it’s simply not our priority. We don’t value integration and wholeness perhaps because pain, problems, suffering, and sacrifice are involved with the process of becoming a true person— a person of integrity, authenticity and uniqueness. And we wonder why even the most successful and highest achievers in our society are unfulfilled or ill. We’ve simply not dedicated enough attention and energy to wholeness, being rather than doing, truth, and love. Instead, we have conditioned our children to live by primarily relying on their thinking minds and the frantic acquisition of knowledge for material gain rather than remaining open to listening to and following their heart and soul for wisdom and wellness. 

Yoga is Union: Antidote to Disconnection

We are, indeed, products of our environment, our modern lives defined by information overwhelm, artificial intelligence, excess, avoiding discomfort and pain at all costs, loneliness and disconnection, and illness rooted in chronic stress. It’s more challenging than ever to find balance, connection, peace, and wellbeing in a place where we are continually bombarded to consume empty values, treated for symptoms rather than causes, and continually manipulated to look outside of ourselves (to diets, fitness regimens, the Self Help industry, and other perceived authorities) for answers rather than within—one’s own body, mind, and spirit— for loving acceptance and connection.   

We’ve been conditioned to not know ourselves by being taught to play roles, wear masks, and pretend rather than to be who we truly are (Singh, 2019). Thus, we become alien to ourselves because we are so distracted and manipulated to focus our attention on everything and everyone else but our true inner being. As a result, many of us fail to observe and understand our own feelings, behaviors, and thoughts, (there’s simply no time in the day to meditate!) never mind learn how to accept, cope with, and leverage them for wellness and a good life. Because we are so busy competing on the external landscapes of life, we simply aren’t taught how to travel our inner landscapes to learn about who we really are and express our true nature and uniqueness.

Classic Wisdom for Modern Humans: “Know Thyself”

I, too, am a product of such cultural conditioning, living most of my life according to and amidst comparison and competition to achieve goals I was encouraged to pursue by others. Because I was “a good kid” for the most part doing as I was expected, avoiding mistakes, and was successful in “my” endeavors, such outward focus and attention to external pursuits kept me disconnected from following my heart, loving myself, and living according to my true nature. Thankfully, two forms of introspection, or self study, guided me inward towards a reconnection and reunion: Bikram Yoga and daily journal writing. I’ve decided to share my personal tools for “knowing thyself” in the form of a Self Study Guide. 

           When I discovered Bikram Yoga, or should I say, when Bikram’s yoga found me, by accident, I found a prescription for personal transformation and wellness that I think all modern people could use, and, as it turns out, it’s the same wisdom the great sages have recommended since ancient times: “know thyself.” 

If you could use a little help answering the question, who am I, to become the person you really are and thus become more wise and well, this Self Study Guidefor Wellness can show you how to engage with reflective practices and healing modalities including Bikram Yoga, meditation, journal writing, and more. You can teach yourself: 

  1. about your own attention and how to turn it inward 
  2. to become more introspective to increase your self awareness; 
  3. about the purpose and value of facing challenges and fear (a little bit at a time!);
  4. about how making more informed and mindful choices from a central locus of control are keys to wellness; and 
  5. about how adopting a landscapes for learning mindset will help you become far more open to experience, curious, humble, and flexible.

Be Your Own Guru

No guru or guide can provide answers, cure you, give you self realization, awaken you, define your identity, or give you a secret for lasting contentment– not me, not Bikram Choudhury, nobody. A teacher can certainly open a door for learning for you, but only you, the student, can learn through your own conscious and deliberate application of the knowledge gained through learning and through your own direct experience of yourself and your life. You have to be your own guru. Only you can answer who you are and become the person you are meant to be.

“Look in the Mirror, Concentrate, Meditate and Begin…”

My most important teacher in my Bikram Yoga class is not the individual on the podium supplying me with the words to move and pose for ninety minutes. My teacher is in the mirror looking back at me— applying the prescription for wisdom and wellness, struggling to be honest, as she continually changes and reveals that she is always more than who she may think she is. 

 It’s not selfishness to study yourself to know who you are. It’s a process of self acceptance and self love so you can love others. People often talk about radical empathy as the impetus for creativity and healing (Heller, 2019), but our empathy and compassion for others must begin with showing ourselves empathy and compassion first. To truly serve others and share one’s gifts with the world is to be whole as oneself— to discover and live one’s truth. The entire process is a tremendous challenge which is exactly why you should do it. 

So, if you are curious about what it means to become the real you; if you are open and willing to learn about living in this time of rapid change as the true being that you are; and if you are interested in expressing your unique nature to live with more love, integrity, and vitality, then the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A (Bikram Yoga Teacher’s) Self Study Guide for Wellness provides five directions and tools you might find useful to access your own wisdom as you travel your own unique path of self discovery for self realization.

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95 Thousand Words

I spent a large portion of the last twelve months writing. I wrote for many hours almost every day. It seemed natural and normal.

Waves of creative expression passed through me into written form, and I tried to not obstruct the process. I really don’t know what to do with the content that came out, but something tells me that it’s time to stop creating and start sharing (as intimidating and uncomfortable as this seems).

Perfectly Imperfect

Neither collection of words I created (or scribed?) —49K and 46K words respectively— qualifies as anything that would fit into a particular genre. One lump of words is sort-of-a-memoir-but-not- really, and the other is a sort of soft skills curriculum I call a Self Study Guide for self realization, but in its current form, it’s a beast inaccessible to even the most devout self analyst. Neither manuscript has a specifically defined audience. Neither are of publishable quality. Neither has been revised nor professionally edited.

No Answers

I am not an idiot. I have written and published a book before. I know how it works. But this past year’s writing marathon has been a different kind of creative experience. I was not in charge. I was not the leader who set the goals and disciplined herself to attain them. None of this was exactly my idea. The 95 thousand words just tumbled out and are here for some apparent reason, but I am not 100 % sure what that reason is. And that’s cool.

Another Kind of Currency

I felt confident writing both manuscripts. I felt creative and happy and enjoyed sitting for hours writing, thinking, reading, and re-reading for one full year. It was work I felt inspired and compelled to do, thus it wasn’t work in the usual sense at all. It’s what I was supposed to be doing. I felt grateful to be doing it. I still feel grateful that I got to do it. The process granted me many opportunities to face fear and be vulnerable. I wrote and shared intimate feelings and thoughts; I shared my writing style and my most authentic voice. I shared the truth about myself with myself and others. I think that this type of currency is enough– that such intrinsic payoff is enough– to have been so fully engaged in so many vital moments, remaining open to receiving rather than employing the usual control and manipulation for some urgent, self-indulgent end or achievement. For an identity.

Weirdness and Woo-Woo

Despite all the weirdness and woo-woo that I am describing about my creative process, both manuscripts are entirely complete, share the common theme of expressing and living one’s truth, and their common purpose is that they were written to inspire and motivate people to actively pursue self realization, to know oneself and to actualize, because much of the illness pervading our modern world is rooted in ignorance about our selves– our true human nature and our uniqueness. We don’t know who we are. This truism is apparent to me, within my own experience, and I observe it and have been following other people who discuss it at length and address this phenomenon. So, what you’ll be getting in the future here at Landscapes for Learning will point you to those people and their work, as it is deeply embedded in mine.

Lost & Found

Like those I have learned from, in much of my writing, I urge people to become fully alive and well (before its too late) by engaging in the difficult process of becoming more of who they really are rather than who they are prescriptively taught to be by others. The not-really-a-memoir tells tries to tell about how we get lost (through our formal education system) and stay lost in our very own lives by disconnecting from ourselves, while the gargantuan and intimidating Self Study Guide provides ancient and modern wisdom to help us find ourselves, to reconnect to bring ourselves back to life, actual life, not a fake, conventionally prescribed one. As it turns out, it takes lots of time, willingness, courage, and attention to be alive and well as an actual human being, that is— to know who we are. It seems so simple to be oneself, yet it is not so easy at all.

Process & Product?

I don’t know if I am supposed to have merely had the experience of writing and creating for no other reason that to practice surrender, to practice not resisting, to do it as another step in the process of my personal development, or if I am supposed to make something else, some final product, out of the 95 thousand words that is silently resting in my Google Docs. I have no clear idea, but the same source that had me creating tells me I am supposed to give it all away now, as imperfect and as incomplete as it is, and to do so without any expectation of return. It also tells me that the 95 thousand words are not to become books, at least not now, so instead, you’ll find them here in this blog in various forms, perhaps within podcasts, and maybe even in the form of videos.

Let it Be & Be Led

As imperfect as my work surely is and as I surely am, I will let be what is meant to be. I’m going to stay with this process, trust intuition, and hope for the best, as I have been doing all along. I hope the 95 thousand words can do some good.

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Self Realization

Over the past couple of years, I have written about everything I have directly experienced in my own life as well as the wisdom I have received from great mentors both ancient and modern, from East and West, about the interesting process of self realization, self actualization, and wellness.

Much of my personal evolution has come from direct experience practicing Bikram Yoga. When I discovered Bikram Yoga, or shall I say when it found me, I found the existentialism, spiritualism, mysticism, and theories about consciousness and the unconscious I had studied in one form or another in my formal education, what I had only ever experienced intellectually, embodied in a wholly physical experience.

I became far more aware of who I am and what it means to be human in a 90 minute heated yoga class. I fell into self realization by accident. I discovered my true self (in distinct contrast to the social roles I’d been conditioned to adopt and adhere to for a sense of belonging, approval, and currency– that is– who I thought I was). I became aware of awareness, the conscious witness, the observer of my “small” self, by chance, and without expectation, and without complicated academic preparation and study. I know exactly where my mat was in the room when I experienced more awareness and insight. It was not intellectual. Lucky me.

I continue to look in the mirror each day and face my suffering only to be with it, and for no other reason. That is a process. There’s no product, no goal, no achievement, no desire for a better waistline. The mirror is not about vanity, and I am not looking for answers. It’s a simple process, though not easy. It’s become my meditation, my inward bound journey to freedom.

So, I figure, why not share my experience of transformation through Bikram yoga in order to invite others to stumble into more conscious awareness of their truth too? Pay it forward. It is likely that Bikram Yoga, since it is less esoteric, makes self realization more accessible, as it is far more realistic for everyday Westerners to drop by a local studio to practice each day than it is for them to sojourn to India or do a 500 day silent meditation retreat or something stereotypically more “spiritually rigorous.” You don’t have to perform the rituals of a priest or monk to know who you really are. No, you can “be free where you are,” as Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn says, no matter who or where you are. The path to freedom is within the inner landscape, not on the outer one with specific conditions meant for your transformation.

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2018 In Hindsight

If 2017 was a year of travel for me, then 2018 was the year of writing about my various journeys across the landscapes for learning, inside and out.

Much of what I have written in my life is based on observation and reflection about learning—my own, or others’, as well as learning in the broadest sense.

Sometimes I share my “professional” learning with others publicly as I did when I published The Graphic Novel Classroom (Corwin Press, 2011) for educators. Most times I don’t share my “personal” learning that I’ve been recording almost daily in paper-bound journals over the last two and one half decades. A hybrid of both professional and personal writing is this blog and the soon-to- be-completed Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide. 

In hindsight, I am glad I have consistently written about my life both professionally and personally because I can revisit my history and see its value, especially in terms of learning. I can see how far I have come and how I have grown. I can see “mistakes” and “wrong” turns that were responsible for such growth and now inform my future direction. I know where some of the potholes are and am better at avoiding them. As Louise May Alcott wrote, “I am less afraid because I am learning how to steer my ship.”

Because I have recorded my learning in writing, I can see the personal strength and flexibility I’ve built over time through the trial and error process and this motivates and inspires me to keep struggling forward. It reminds me that the current pain will be worth the health, integrity, and satisfaction of my future self.

I can rely on myself in the future as a result of my attention to the work of being me in the past, and for taking on the responsibility for knowing who I am. Without self-study, without writing about my learning experiences throughout my life, I’d be useless to others, unable to connect with them, serve, or teach.

By looking back on my personally recorded history, I can have faith that life will happen for me exactly as it should because it always has, and that I don’t need to try to force things to happen or control the future. I can see how my attempts at control merely postponed acceptance of truth. I can also stay more open to the mysteries that will inevitably unfold (like a flower petal blooming) and cultivate an attitude of curiosity about the unknown– the potential that will actualize– instead of being afraid of it or resisting it. Surrender is powerful.

I have also learned that my current pain and suffering, whatever it may be whether self-induced anxiety or from external “accidents” beyond my control, shall pass, as these always have and always will. I have the stories of my past, in writing, as proof of the truths of what it means to be human and what it means to be specifically and uniquely me.

If I continue to approach all of my experiences as opportunities to learn, to observe my life as it unfolds organically, then I can enjoy it, be grateful and appreciative, and use what I have already learned to continue to be healthy, secure, and well and help others do the same.

I am not a Pollyanna nor am I wearing rose-colored glasses.

It’s not that everything works out the way I want it to or that everything always turns out well; it’s not that I don’t make the same mistakes twice (or more). It’s simply that, for me, using writing for reflection has been an incredibly useful tool for becoming more wise over time and more well. And as I keep becoming more of who I am, well, it just so happens that that’s the meaning and joy of my one, short, precious life. If I am reflective and continually witness the unfolding of my true self, and accept that truth, especially when it’s difficult, I can love my life even more and resist its discomforts less!

As I age and become even more experienced, more keenly reflective, and more honest in my writing, the more alive and robust I feel, yet at the same time, I feel less rigid, less anxious, and more humble about all there is still yet to be discovered. I continue to see how much I really don’t know. Now, at almost 50, I am surely not the same person as I was at 40 or 20. Who will I be at 60 or 80?

My life, as I record it through writing, has taught me that a sense of security is not the same thing as permanence, and trying to control and cling to safety is not the way to live well. Just because my life has been constant change, that the world is constantly changing (faster and faster most recently), it doesn’t mean I am not secure and safe. The one thing that has remained consistent is the entity called “me”– the experiencer, this reflective, evolving being who writes. Writing has been a critical tool for my self-knowledge. And knowing myself better is foundational for my good health and wellbeing.

I write to articulate my life to myself, not as self indulgence, not as self-obsessive or selfish, but as self-care, as therapy. I also can share who I am with others, if I choose, certainly not to give prescriptive advice about how to be or do life (I don’t recommend anyone be like me! and I don’t have the answers for you!) but to let others know they aren’t alone on this journey of figuring out how to become a person (Rogers). I can share my struggles and successes with others, but like any diet or recipe, what “works” for me may not apply to others’ unique constitutions. We are all so specific which is why we have to understand ourselves as well as possible to apply the exact prescriptions for our individual selves.

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide is my newest way of publicly sharing my learning from a life of writing, teaching, and yoga practice. I outline a few insights, practices, and techniques I have learned along my travels, both professionally and personally, on the outer and inner landscapes of life, to help me be wiser and more well.

These insights, practices, and techniques are not a secret, nor are they original. They’ve been in the toolbox of humanity for a very long time. They are recorded in the literature and history of the ages, rooted in the wisdom traditions from both East and West. I’ve discovered them, applied and tested them over time, and found they work very well for a meaningful trek to knowing oneself in our modern world. I hope you discover that they can work for you as well, in your own way, to meet your own individual and unique needs to know who you are and express that truth.

I hope next year when I reflect in writing about 2019 that I will be able to report that the personal learning I chose to share publicly in the form of the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide has helped propel my life and others’ lives in the direction it’s meant to go. I trust that it will.

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Adventures in Learning Familiar & Foreign

I have heard Joe Rogan interview Jordan Peterson many times, so often that I was reluctant to listen to them talk again.  As I plugged in my headphones and headed out the door on my usual morning walk with my fantastic dog, Finn, I asked myself, what else can I possibly learn from these guys? Should I get out of this rabbit hole? Are they going to talk about the same things they always do? It’s all so familiar to me. Then I started thinking about the nature of the word “familiar” and all its associations: family, sense of security, home, contentment, but also complacency and boredom.

I noticed that once I think I “know” a thing really well, I like to switch the focus of my attention elsewhere, to what’s novel. I like constant stimulation. I like newness and challenge. But, on further reflection, I also know I like and need stability, order, and sameness for a sense of security, a base from which I can take new risks, handle new stimulation, and build more insight and experience. I am describing the yin and yang of authentic learning (which is an entirely different thing from schooling and academic achievement.)  Broadly speaking, learning is a psychological balance between a sense of permanence and novelty.

Personally, I am conscious of the value of the learning process in my own life, and am working hard here at Landscapes for Learning to make this process available to others in the form of a more complete and ongoing education for personal development and wellness. My way of keeping my wheel of self-study turning and rolling forward is to share my love for learning with others.

Sometimes I cling too tightly to security and resist change; sometimes I roll to the other extreme and risk too much and fail a bunch. The process is a balancing act on the landscapes for learning, but as long as I am active and consciously aware of my own learning, that wheel rolls. I believe that if more people can become consciously aware of this process of learning and understand themselves better, they’ll manage the balance most effectively for a happier and more fulfilling human experience.

Landscapes for Learning’s Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide contains motivation, tools, and practices to help people become new kinds of learners for a modern world that requires balance and change management more than ever before. It’s my way of sharing my personal tools and practices for wellness developed through my life as a humanities teacher, writer, Bikram yogi, and student of many amazing teachers (including the two men in the podcast embedded in this post). Knowing thyself is the key to self-realization and unlocking one’s potential and therefore wellness and wellbeing, especially now, in modern times. An attitude of openness to learning, flexible mindset, and humility– the realization that there’s always more to learn to grow— is essential for thriving with vitality in this new age. We cannot afford to stay stuck clinging to security and permanence which aren’t real but rather we must learn to find the balance between the familiar and foreign.

The landscapes of life are for learning– always —because we (and everything else) are always changing. Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson are always changing and learning; the interaction between them will always give birth to something new and include what’s stable between them. I can learn from them. I can learn more about myself because I am different from the last time I heard their previous conversations. Because we are alternately familiar to ourselves and foreign to ourselves, as the yin and yang of who we are, we can always know and learn more.

There’s no such thing as mastery when it comes to learning. You can never know it all, ever.  Jordan Peterson would say the process of learning is to walk the edge between chaos and order, and he is only restating in his own terms what the greatest minds over the course of human history of the East and West have discovered and said already; it’s the wisdom of humanity.

Jordan Peterson is only one of many who articulates the wisdom of humanity in interesting ways that make it particularly accessible to people struggling to find meaning in their lives. He’s made ancient wisdom modern self help. I am trying to do the same  through my Landscapes for Learning mission and the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide. which is curriculum that empowers people to figure out who they are.

Lots of people inform others about the keys to wellness or the wisdom of the past; my work in the Self Study Guide is about “the how” to inspire people and give them the motivation, support, tools, and practices to implement today, in their everyday lives, for wellness.

The video above is purposely cued for you to begin at the end of their almost three hour conversation because it is when they talk about how finding meaning in life is more about ATTENTION than it is about INTELLIGENCE. A meaningful life is more about DISCOVERY than it is about CONTROL.  (Listen to them talk about the antidote to moral relativism and the danger of intelligence from 2:09-2:19…)

Around the 2:20 point in the podcast, JRE and JBP talk about how much we don’t know about who we are and how you have to watch yourself and learn as YOU and life are constantly coming into being, as a series of continual births and deaths, as JBP says. Reflection is key. That, and honesty, are the foundational principles of the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide. Honest self reflection and writing go hand in hand to know what you think and feel in order to grow and learn, and to grow and learn is to be more alive and vital in the world. You provide yourself with your own therapy when you use the tools in the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide.

“Logos” is an interesting concept Jordan Peterson often talks about which is about how we articulate our selves through speech. Reading or observing ourselves and our experiences and articulating them by writing them down or talking about them is the crux of self-reflection and introspection that is necessary to know who we are. The Self-Study Guide I have created is designed for people to do just that– articulate who they are to themselves. Like my Bikram Yoga practice has been for me, introspective writing is another tool for self-realization, for unlocking one’s potential. As Peterson says in the interview with Rogan, personal reflection is essential for understanding how to get back into the place of FLOW, where you want to be– where meaning lives and where you are connected to the core of your being. Yes and Yes!

I have made it my job at Landscapes for Learning to help people discover themselves, who they really are to unlock their potential, find their “flow,” and be the best and most unique individual they were born to be. Through providing inspiring examples, motivation, various forms of education and curriculum, and coaching, I hope to empower people to self-actualize which is a lifetime process requiring tremendous honesty and effort. This is more than another self-help endeavor. Knowing who you are is your life’s work and totally worth the time and effort for the meaning and purpose it provides.

I didn’t think I could learn more from JRE and JBP because I am so familiar with them, but I always learn more both from what’s familiar or secure and from what’s novel or foreign. There’s always more potential waiting to be actualized if you intentionally engage with the path that lays itself out for you keeping that attitude of discovery Peterson talks about. Life is an adventure story and you are its hero.

Follow what you are drawn to as the way forward on your path, consciously choosing to approach all of your life as landscapes for learning. And if you pay careful attention to yourself to learn more about your own nature and who you are, that is– if you travel the inner landscapes with the attitude of a curious learner, you’ll never be stunted, bored, or complacent. The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide will show you how and give you concrete activities and exercises to do to learn to navigate the interior of you for a life of meaning and vitality.

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Classic Wisdom for Modern Humans: A WORK IN PROGRESS

The soon-to-be-completed Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide contains the why and how to “know thyself” for wellness. It is a collection of tools and practices for you to know yourself better so you can express your uniqueness for a lifetime of wellness and wellbeing. The ancient  dictum, “know thyself” from the Oracle at Delphi is the very definition of “classic” wisdom because it is archetypal, definitive, remarkable, and judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality. Living according the dictum can help you pursue truth and thereby wellness in our modern world.

 

LANDSCAPES FOR LEARNING

I believe so strongly that dedicating more time and energy to understanding oneself is the foundation for balance and wellness in this day and age of speed and data overwhelm that I left the security of my long career as a high school teacher to create Landscapes for Learning, this online classroom where my mission is to inspire, motivate, and foster the growth of individual uniqueness and encourage individual expression through a life time of learning.

BALANCE IS WELLNESS

I had been grappling with the increasing anxiety and unwellness among my students and observing it throughout the school’s culture, while at the same time I was helping people to grow in healthy self-realization as a Bikram yoga teacher. The principles and philosophy of Bikram’s brand of yoga seemed to be the exact antidote needed to address many of the problems pervading not only school culture but also the problems in modern American life in general. I wondered how I could possibly bring the principles and philosophy of the yoga into schools to improve  wellness and promote balance, if I could not get students (and their parents and my co-workers) to visit the studio to actually practice the physical postures of the hatha series. So, I did what I love to do most, I wrote curriculum and called it the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide. Its five central tenets (or learning units) are derived from my professional experiences teaching the Humanities and my personal Bikra yoga practice, a combination of the wisdom traditions of West and East, and are meant to help you– teens and adults– pursue optimal wellness through self study. 

FRIEND YOURSELF

Everyone needs to be their own best friend, parent, partner, counselor, and teacher– the person who knows you best, you can trust the most, and always has your back, no matter what. I became that person for myself by discovering the real value of following the classic advice to “know thyself” through my own deep self-study. By traveling the landscapes of my life– both inbound to my core through practicing yoga and writing and outbound across the outer landscapes of the world as a student, traveler, and teacher, I learned to express my uniqueness, to “do me,” with integrity and purpose. Becoming a better version of myself, overcoming fear and limits, and managing constant change took conscious effort and lots of trial and error, and it continues to be an ongoing journey toward wholeness. We should never stop learning, moving, or growing. 

I was inspired and motivated by prominent writers, podcasters, yoga enthusiasts, and many other teachers in various fields who were all both working to become whole and healthy individual human beings and promoting this same journey toward integration and wholeness through knowing oneself.

I heard over and over again that many of the problems and illnesses of our modern day are due to lack of knowing who we really are and that we are disconnected from our truth. I agreed because I was witnessing this reality in my own life- my own personal experience and in my role as mother, high school teacher, teacher of teachers, and yoga teacher.  I also knew that learning was the answer along with yoga and journal writing, as these were my practical, everyday tools for my own self study, growth, and wellness.

I am hopeful that the almost completed Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide, based on my insight gained from a deep work approach to self study, will improve your relationship with yourself (and others) as it did my own and continues to do. I am currently trying to walk the walk as I talk the talk, and this website is evidence of my own journey forward to expressing the truest me possible.  As you may have noticed, there are “WORK IN PROGRESS” images on almost every page! Our work to live as our truest selves is never done!

HONEST PRACTICE

The pursuit of classic wisdom, to “know thyself,” is to be a traveler with no final destination but the means to live authentically. In other words, the landscapes of your life are for learning– forever. Unlike schooling, learning is a journey of trial and error where trying and failing is the point— it’s the meaning and purpose of your one, unique life. So you ought to expect messy, to get a little bit dirty, and be bumped around a bit as you fail forward in your effort to know yourself and find your truest expression. As we say in the Bikram yoga community, when it comes to self-realization, there is no perfect— only practice. We are all, always, a work in progress!

Subscribe now to be first to receive the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide and discounts on products and services at LandscapesForLearning.com!

 

 

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Listen to Your Nudges

Listen to your nudges, bitches. They’re never wrong. When you ignore them or you are too afraid to do what they ask, they usually show up as aches and pains in your body, or in your mind, or both. Denial, distraction, and ignorance will make you sick and suffer-– maybe not in the short term but definitely in the long term. 

HOW TO LISTEN TO YOUR NUDGES

Practicing Bikram Yoga gives you the opportunity to listen to your nudges and to face them to find the truth. This is hard. Lots of people would rather live in denial, distracted, and avoid the challenge of the hot room which serves as a crucible of honesty.

If you practice Bikram Yoga consistently and study yourself, by turning your attention inward instead of focusing on the distractions around you, you will start to notice patterns: you’ll notice, with curiosity rather than judgment, those subtle aches and pains in your body and in your mind. Noticing and learning about your mind-body connection will enable you to take a step toward putting the pieces of the puzzle of your true self together. 

The underlying truth of your life is the source of those nudges. The truth will surface with time and consistent practice as you courageously face the nudges and deal with them– explore them. If you ignore them, as Jo Simpson says in her TedTalk, (or you expect someone else to “fix” them for you and act as a victim) they’ll slap you across the face or steam roll you later in the form of greater suffering or poor health or tragedy. Best to listen now rather than later.

PRACTICE PAYING ATTENTION

Bikram Yoga is an incredibly helpful tool for strengthening your attention, practicing listening, and gaining the strength of character and grit to take responsibility for the hard truths of your life when they come. You will be prepared to face whatever life throws at you because you will have learned how to manage your suffering. You’ll have prepared through disciplined PRACTICE. (And here you are thinking yoga is about posing in spandex and posting self-indulgent photos on Instagram!)

If you build your strength and flexibility by doing what’s difficult in your practice, of staying in the room and trying, you’ll be right there, open enough, paying attention enough to receive your TRUTH!

STAY OPEN & VULNERABLE

That’s why I always include the line in the dialogue, “Mama, give me money!” when I am teaching. That’s why I reinforce keeping your eyes OPEN and your palms open in savasana– just in case that truth arrives, you’ll be ready to receive it. Show up, focus inward, and listen– to the nudges that will guide you to truth.

You may not like the nudges or understand them because usually they aren’t rational, and vulnerability is uncomfortable and scary, but you’ll be building the courage to accept the nudges as important signs to do as you should to be healthy. 

And those pains in your mind and body will magically dissolve, not really by magic at all, but rather through your attention and hard work, that is– discipline. This is why it’s YOUR practice and we ask you to look at yourself in the mirror, not at your teacher. There’s nothing special about us on the podium. We give you the conditions of the room and the words; you do the rest. It’s not about the teacher and how much “energy” or “entertainment” they bring to the class– if the teacher and their antics are your focus, then you won’t hear what your inner world needs to tell you. You might not notice the nudges. Your yoga isn’t about anybody else but YOU. 

BE YOUR OWN BEST WINGMAN

Knowing yourself by listening, paying yourself some loving, compassionate, and honest attention for 90 minutes– as if you came to spend some time with someone you really want to be with, someone you really care about— is your homemade, unique prescription for wellness.

As Navy SEAL, Jocko Willink always says, freedom comes from DISCIPLINE. Bikram yoga is a form of very effective discipline– of showing up on your mat and PAYING ATTENTION— of heading inward bound to know the real you, to your truth and its source. 

You want more answers about what the hell is happening for you in your life? Want more wisdom? More wellness? Listen to the nudges, bitches.

SEE YOU IN THE HOT ROOM!❤️🔥

STAY TUNED FOR SELF STUDY for WISDOM AND WELLNESSWORKSHOPS COMING SOON TO A BIKRAM YOGA STUDIO
NEAR YOU!

 

 

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Podcast 015: Future of Education: Learning Beyond Schooling

“I hope to help dismantle traditional schooling and its unhelpful,

outdated, damaging values and persuade teachers, school leaders, parents, and students

to focus their attention on better, more important ways of learning.

My goal is to support ALL parties in this transformation

with their humanity and a love for our shared humanity in tact.”

 

Reflections on Education, Yoga, Humanity and Change

This podcast episode is about my own learning about kids, yoga, and self-knowledge over my years teaching high school and raising my own kids. I talk about the future of constant change and how we need to radically alter education to help kids find and live their unique truth. I talk about interpreting images in a text, soft skills, values, the grading system, rescuing and preserving our humanity, and the differences between the usual business of traditional schooling and authentic learning, and much more.

 

The Landscapes for Learning Mission is to help kids thrive and flourish using tools they already own within them to navigate a future that will require them to surf the waves of change on novel landscapes.

I hope to help dismantle traditional schooling and its unhelpful, outdated, and damaging values and persuade teachers, schools, and students to focus their attention on better, more important ways of learning.  My goal is to support all parties in this transformation (and especially through loving and caring for our most valuable asset—our teachers) with their humanity and love for shared humanity in tact.

015 PODCAST DIRECT DOWNLOAD

Show Notes/References:

Johnathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff’s The Coddling of the American Mind

More Tough Love, Less Coddling

 

Help the Landscapes for Learning Mission catch fire! Please share!

Please “Like” on Itunes.

Follow Landscapes for Learning: @ LandscapesforLearning.com

Twitter @Landscps4learn

Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/landscapesforlearning/

Instagram: LandscapesforLearning27

Podcast Music: Creative Commons License for “Political Lunatics” by Earthling (intro and outro music)
“Political Lunatics” by Earthling

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It’s Not About the Grades: Landscapes for Learning Beyond Schooling

The heart of my story, “It’s Not About the Grades: Landscapes for Learning Beyond Schooling” is about living with integrity, authentically, as the true me who I was born to be. It’s about how my essential nature was co-opted by society’s values of competition and comparison. It’s about my long journey of loss and recovery. It’s about living from my soul, from love, from the inside-out, not from the outside-in in order to please the world and its egocentric values (Plotkin). It’s about my story being common, maybe a little too familiar.

“Doing You” is the best and most efficient and effective way to truly serve others. When you know who you are, you can understand how to take care of yourself. It’s an ongoing process of awakening and awareness. You are your own best teacher for life across the landscapes that are here for your trials and errors, transformation, and transcendence– your learning.

If we look at our life experiences as opportunities for learning, we are empowered rather than victims.  Ironically, by exposing ourselves and being vulnerable and afraid we become courageous, strong, and flexible. We learn and change and grow. And that is who we are– constant change, growth, becoming, like a flower-petal blooming (Choudhury). Beneath that gorgeous blossom is all of the hard work of waking up–the mud: the practice of brutal honesty required, the struggle, the doubt, the resistance, and the failure that is intrinsic to the beautiful reality of being human and being truly alive,flourishing. What is flourishing? It’s meaning, purpose, passion, and vitality. No mud, no lotus (Hahn).

My story is unique, but not unusual. I see lots of others traveling the same path I was on– unaware, disconnected from their core self, and not knowing how or where they might find the tools to awaken and live truthfully, despite appearing “normal” and “successful.”  The details differ but the journey is the same. I see that we are educating and raising kids the same way I was raised–to the detriment of the true self and the unnecessary suffering that results from such disconnection.

Teachers (including parents), by explicitly promoting approaching life as a learner, not just an academic achieverwill provide kids with a more complete education–one of character not just career, wisdom not just knowledge and information, in order to live, love, and appreciate (gratefully) each moment– the present moment, instead of focusing so much on what kids are going to be “when they grow up”. Kids need to be here, now (Ram Dass). We all do.

I wish I had such an education earlier in my life, awoken to this truth about building the courage to stay connected to my essential self and gaining the tools to practice living my truth.

I wish someone told me there was this thing–” truth,” that existed within my inner landscape waiting as potential to be actualized and that it was my responsibility to “do the real me” instead of merely copying models or crafting myself into something valid and legitimate in the estimation and judgement of others.

I wish I had a warning that I would suffer because I am human, and then also be taught that to lean into, explore, and learn from that suffering would be the exact antidote to the type of worse suffering that would persist if I ran away– which I did and so many of us do without even realizing it.

Is learning by direct experience about one’s own human nature and character too spiritual? Is becoming authentic, truthful, and true the humanities education for the 21st century we need to quell the postmodern relativism that prevails?

We should encourage students to trust teachers less and trust themselves more.

We should guide them to go inward to travel their inner landscape, beyond the eyes and judgment of schooling, to see clearly their pure essence which is love, allow it to unfold as their witness, and then stay out of the way of such unfolding. Instead, we interfere with narrow expectations and an obsession with grades, measurement, comparison, and competition. We co-opt authentic learning with too much schooling.

We should not steal their suffering, but rather show them how suffering is done better so they can suffer less or at least not unnecessarily.

We should educate them such that unconditional love of oneself is the norm rather than the exception.

We should teach them more yoga.

References

Dass, Ram. Be Here Now. (1971).

Choudhury, Bikram. Bikram Yoga Teacher Dialogue. (2002).

Hahn, Thich Naht. No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering. (2014).

Plotkin, Bill. Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World. (2007).

Definitions

Self-realization (Wikipedia, Merriam Webster’s Dictionary)

Self-realization is an expression used in Western psychologyphilosophy, and spirituality; and in Indian religions. In the Western, psychological understanding it may be defined as the “fulfillment by oneself of the possibilities of one’s character or personality.” In the Indian understanding, Self-realization is liberating knowledge of the true Self, either as the permanent undying Atman, or as the absence (sunyata) of such a permanent Self.

Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines self-realization as: Fulfillment by oneself of the possibilities of one’s character or personality.In the Western world “self-realization” has gained great popularity. Influential in this popularity were psycho-analysis, humanistic psychology, the growing acquaintance with Eastern religions, and the growing popularity of Western esotericism.

In Hinduism, self-realization (atma-jnana or atmabodha) is knowledge of the true self beyond both delusion and identification with material phenomena. It refers to self-identification and not mere ego identification

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Podcast 011: Teri Almquist

 

“Every student deserves a good teacher,

every teacher deserves the opportunity to be a great teacher” 

-Teri Almquist

 

 

Building an inner connection with yourself isn’t easy. This union, or yoga, is hard work. It’s about  trust–first in a teacher when you don’t yet know how to trust yourself and you are overwhelmed by pain, fear, or self-doubt, and then little by little you begin to believe in yourself, then you begin to trust yourself, then you have genuine faith in yourself. You become stronger and more flexible, more balanced through this process. Your teacher is your trusted witness on your unique journey into your inner landscape. It’s important that every student has a good teacher and that every teacher has the opportunity to become a great teacher.

This enormously important teacher-student relationship built on trust can be transformative, life-changing. Teri’s first teacher, Diane Duscharme believed in her and supported her from the very first moment she entered the yoga studio with a badly injured neck and a pack a day smoking habit, and since then Teri has been paying her transformation forward– first by becoming a Bikram Yoga Teacher, then opening her own studio, and now providing continuing education for Bikram yoga teachers around the world.

A Bikram yoga class is an opportunity to focus in the mirror and concentrate on oneself– to travel one’s inner landscape. It’s practicing over and over again, consistently, in order to learn more about oneself.  It’s a chance to find that quiet space within us where our truest, most loving self lives— that place from which we can learn how to mindfully respond to life and all its challenges. It’s a landscape for learning.

Please enjoy my conversation with Teri Almquist, “Like” the podcast on iTunes, and feel free to comment!  You can find Teri and her work using the links below:

The Toolbox: Tools for Teaching Bikram Yoga by Teri Almquist available HERE (Amazon)

Visit Teri’s Studio at Bikram Yoga Merrimack Valley, North Andover, Massachusetts at https://www.bikramyogamv.com/

For more information about teaching seminars, webinars, and professional development visit: https://www.teachfromlove.yoga/

Webinars for teaching yoga at http://webinars.teachfromlove.yoga/

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Podcast 010: Nick Filth

Nick Filth grew up in an abusive home, dropped out of high school after ninth grade, was homeless for a time, and addicted to drugs, but ironically his experiences with THC and psychedelics sent him out of this world then back to his own life– his truth, which is a place and point of view way more expansive and stunningly beautiful and loving than ever. As soon as I connected with Nick at the Bikram yoga studio where I teach and he practices, we engaged in rich, interesting conversation right away, so naturally we had to record this podcast.

So what could a middle-aged, suburban mom, yoga teacher, and former high school teacher share in common with a tattoo artist with a 9th grade education and a proclivity for psychoactive experiences? Find out by listening to a long and winding conversation, and perhaps you’ll learn what you, too, share in common with both of us!

I am grateful to Nick for this podcast because his real and raw story about his life’s journey helped me re-think my current memoir about growing up with typical suburban American values of social comparison, competition, and where my pure, essential self, my true nature, was overpowered by and neglected because of the conditions and demands of my environment.

photo credit: Jenna Antonageli

I am also indebted to him as my teacher because I learned a ton, not only about him and his perspective but also because through the opportunity to dialogue, I can learn more about my own thinking and the ways I connect and communicate with other living beings who are so much more than just bodies controlled by brains. (See list of take-aways below).

In this podcast, we discuss psychedelics, the contrast between schooling and authentic learning; conditional and unconditional love; nature versus nurture; truth and expression; the value of balance as it applies to limits and structure and change; Nick’s visit to an ashram, his music, tattoos, meditation & yoga, my writing, and much more. My favourite part is near the end when Nick talks about how he responds to novelty and discomfort. He lives as if the landscapes are FOR his personal learning!  Yes!!

This is our contribution to the new long form media and podcasting trend. Please Enjoy! If you could “like” the podcast on iTunes, that’d be helpful and much appreciated.

You can find out more about Nick here:

His webpage:  http://www.nickfilthtattoos.com/

His Tattoo Shop: http://www.hiddenhistorytattoos.com/

His podcast: http://www.nickfilthtattoos.com/polishingtheblackstone/

His record label: https://deafeningassembly.com/

*blog post black and white photo credit: Ryan Eyestone
Take-Aways: Learning by Doing (Podcasting)
1. I learned from participation in the dialogue that you learn about yourself and your limited understanding through talking with others.
2. I still need to work on better listening.
3. Listen with my heart and my head. It is the nature of the beast to want to finish your thoughts and express earnestly, in a quest for understanding, but I ought to really be more centered on a quest for connection through the heart than acquiring more insight through knowing/knowledge. Listening with my heart, as Nick said, not so much with the ears. This is a non-intellectual approach to connection and love which is how I want to “be” in the world, not just “know” everything.
4. I’m happy to continually be learning and share this example with people— to face my fears and be vulnerable and open hearted to the world, to my guests and by publishing it, all people. I continue to stop comparing and judging, and I am okay with being judged by others. It’s “no big deal” as Pema Chodron might say, as long as I check my aims and they are good– focused on learning and love and truth.
5. Be authentic. This includes being limited and flawed and searching and floundering  around in the dark, in ambiguity because this is the learning process and the nature of being human (brains trying to order chaos as Nick said)
6. I am getting more and more comfortable with my discomfort and exposure of my true self and my limitations.
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Tools FOR Inner Landscape Learning

I write a lot about how we need to encourage young people to travel the inner landscape FOR learning.

Here’s one way (Vipassana/meditation)

And another way: 

 

And, of course, my favourite way: 

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Becoming a Teacher

On Becoming a Teacher

When you find out who you are, you find out you are limited: by rules, norms, laws, other people, physically, mentally, psychologically, intellectually. Your mind limits you as does your body; your birth limits you, as does your environment– all that is external to you, nature, and internal, by nature.

Limits are twofold: they can be restraints that save your life and nurture you, or they can be obstacles to overcome.They can preserve your life or keep you from flourishing. Limits can be imposed from the external landscape or from within your own inner landscape. They’re everywhere, always.

Limits are the teachers in your life who will always be ready with lessons. If you approach life as if you were perennial a student, then you will continually learn from limits. This won’t be an easy curriculum, but the more engaged you are with this kind of learning, the more you participate, ask thoughtful and sincere questions, and work hard with honesty and integrity to understand, the more you’ll grow and flourish as a the best you possible. You will be alive and well.

You will be a teacher.

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Podcast Redux with Grace Tempany

Traveling Landscapes for Learning, Inside and Out, with Grace Tempany

“One is never afraid of the unknown; one is afraid of the known coming to an end.”

—-Jiddu Krishnamurti

Traveling the landscapes for learning is a challenge for so many of us human beings, but Grace Tempany’s personality, disposition, and training in self-inquiry makes her unusually well-suited for riding the waves of change and challenge. She fluidly balances between both the comfort of home and job and the security and order they provide as well as following her restlessness and desire for exploring new landscapes– the novelty of new people, places, and cultures. She is a dynamic warrior-yogini on the hero’s journey! 

Grace is self-described “full of contradictions”– equally at home with one foot in such formal, structured academic settings like education as well as the other foot in the Yin Yoga and Bikram Yoga communities. Grace refers to both Jiddhu Krishnamurti about holding opposing ideas simultaneously rather than feverishly defending an idea and Pema Chodron who teaches about staying with pain and discomfort rather than running from it and to not give up on this struggle. Grace believes that the people who shy away from discomfort will not only die with regret but miss out on their very own life. She urges people to become aware that an important life-learning process exists, and with methods and practices like meditation and yoga you can become fully alive and present for your own life.

In this podcast episode, she talks with me about her tools for introspection and contemplation as well as how understanding the ways that her mind works is a key component in her increased self-awareness and therefore indispensable to being fully awake which enables her to live with vitality and appreciation.

Grace also talks with me about traveling beyond one’s literal geographical and internally-prescribed boundaries and limits and being comfortable with that very often uncomfortable process, and how this type of travel is the journey of authentic learning which is going from the known, familiar, and secure to the unknown, unfamiliar, and disorienting place beyond, a process that is anxiety-provoking for many people and requires training. Alas, there are ways to make yourself more open and vulnerable to the unknown, one step at a time!

I hope you enjoy this discussion about landscapes, learning, and our shared humanity.

Visit: http://www.gracetempany.com

To Listen to Previous Podcast with Grace 

Grace Tempany Podcast #1 Below:

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Who am I?

My previous “Calling a Spade a Spade” post is about telling the truth– something our world desperately needs at this exact moment in time. Each of us has to talk about the truth, within our seemingly small and insignificant spheres of life, however uncomfortable or however much it may threaten our reputations.  Our integrity and identity need to be taken seriously.  It matters. But apparently there was a bit of confusion over the topic of that post, so I would like to clarify what in the world yoga has to do with the problems I am seeing within education today.

Who Am I?

The central topic of this post, then, is about the question, Who am I? or even perhaps more specifically, Who am I trying to be in my life vs. What am I trying to do in my life? One is about values, meaning and purpose, while the other is about practical goals to achieve “success.” Figuring out the answer to this question over the past two years in my own life generated this very Landscapes for Learning project. It turns out that I discovered my goals weren’t in line with my values, so I chose authentic living over and above expedience. YOLO, and I could no longer compromise my own values about learning which conflicted too often with my employer’s. If I cannot teach with integrity then who am I?

My Bikram yoga practice has led me, and continues to lead me, to the truth of who I am through a continual rediscovery of self, a continuous reconnection with authenticity.  I am trying to express myself here, on this blog, honestly and candidly  as part of  an ongoing, life-long process of learning across the landscapes. I am not necessarily trying to make friends here (although that would be great!) nor am I trying to make enemies or alienate people! I am simply trying to voice my truth and invite people into a dialogue about the things I care about.

At home with my four grown children, in high school, and in the Bikram yoga community– these are the spaces in which I live; this is my tiny sphere of influence; this is where my reputation matters. Because these places are where I both learn and teach,  obviously they shape my perspective. I have also been influenced by a number of intellectuals, writers, poets, psychologists, yogis, and podcasters from whom I have learned a tremendous amount about the nature of what it means to be human, therefore informing what it means to be me (see list below). Writers write about what they know. I am simply sharing the overlaps and interplay between both worlds of learning, which I discovered in my observations, experiences, and personal research. I am writing about what matters to me.

Jungquote1

It turns out that the principles I learned for myself, by myself, through my Bikram yoga practice are the very same principles that I believe are needed in contemporary parenting and public schooling. If we applied such character-building principles to the education process, it might help parents to parent better and kids to learn more authentically. Schools might be able to create a more balanced curriculum based on an updated value system that focuses on exploring inner landscapes as well as the external landscapes for learning.  And perhaps, I hope, this shift and rebalancing, would help address some part of the mental health crisis among teens. Bikram yoga is, afterall, a healing process. Although a focus on self-understanding, wisdom, and self-actualization is missing in lots of other areas throughout our culture, my focus is on my own limited range of experience which is within the world of teaching high school English, parenting, and Bikram yoga. This is my unique path, my niche, my angle.

The Landscapes for Learning mission is to revive authentic forms of learning and rebalance it with the aims of schooling– “balance” being the key term. Like yoga, my writing is about integration, connection to self, wholeness, and the kind of learning that comes from traveling both inward and across the varied landscapes of life, not just limited to within school or the academic realm.

Facing Discomfort as the New Normal 

passionsjung

To understand oneself, to answer “who am I?” requires a deep and consistent exploration of one’s inner landscape.  This question arises (sometimes subconsciously and later may or may not surface to consciousness) when a person steps into the Bikram yoga room and looks into their own eyes in the mirror in front of them, under very bright lights. The mirror and lights are a spotlight on the self, and the conditions for the practice are meant to challenge the practitioner with discomfort. This crucial experience is what we have stolen away from kids by overly-focusing on achievement. Individuals in the yoga room are confronted with the question, Who is that person looking back at me? It is a very difficult question for many people to grapple with; some who try Bikram yoga might not come back because the discomfort is too much– it’s simply too hard. Those who remain learn to face their own pain and suffering. Over time, with effort and grit, they become more agile and flexible in body and mind. They wrestle with their inner world- their emotional bodies and their monkey-minds. They learn through an often difficult and painful process of trial and error. They grow. Adolescents and teenagers are asking this same “who am I,” question often– whether subconsciously or intentionally. They begin to grapple with the notion of identity and experiment with their own. Their bodies are changing, hormones are raging, the limbic system is still trying to figure out how to work better with the pre-frontal cortex that continues to grow into their early twenties (Sapolsky). They likely spend lots of time either in front of mirrors or avoiding them. They need teachers and parents to guide them through this very important period of their development, but not take away their struggles— their opportunities for authentic growth however painful. We damage them through over-protection.

This deep and difficult exploration of one’s inner landscape to answer the question of who am I should be something we teach our children early on, at home and in school, so they can become more consciously aware of the existence of their inner world rather than carried away entirely or unconsciously manipulated by the outer world that will most certainly define their identity without their conscious consent. They don’t have to practice the physical asanas of yoga per se (but they could and should because the body and mind work together), but they really ought to embrace raja yoga in combination with exercise and a commitment to physical health.

Search Inside Yourself

terrorjung

Unfortunately we can never be another person, no matter how close we are or how much we love them; we can empathize with them, but only to the degree that we first understand ourselves; everyone has to travel their own path and shoulder the responsibility of knowing oneself. Talking about identity as a theme in English class can help; great stories, especially archetypal or universally applicable ones can be great models; however, an academic exercise isn’t the only kind of learning kids need. They need explicit instruction, including regular practice and failure, to learn how to become the hero of their own lives which has to take place in their real, live journey to the self, not just within some artificially constructed simulation.  It’s a solo mission for each of us, but parents and teachers have to be competent examples and guides through their own deep, inner work. And they can’t help kids too much. Less is more.

Attention, Concentration, Meditation

payattention

The external world is a enormous sea of information that contains messages about who kids should be, how they should feel and act, what they should think or buy— a level of manipulation and influence like nothing we have ever seen in our world before. The world online is persistent, relentless, insidious–that is,  if we allow it to dominate our attention. Is it really no wonder the levels of depression and anxiety are out of control? Is it really so surprising that so many undergraduates get swept away with identity politics? One of the more positive attempts to address this phenomenon is the Mindfulness movement which has arrived in many schools. I am glad to see this happening, unfortunately I witnessed how such attempts at teaching kids meditation get co-opted in service to external goals rather than values rooted within the inner landscape. If a teen is using meditation to relax and escape their thoughts, clear their minds so that they can perform better on a quiz the next period, that isn’t really helpful. I know we can do better in guiding kids to be connected to themselves, to become grounded in being, not merely in service to doing. Maybe kids will learn that they are “enough” and loved just as they are, not just for what they can appear to be, complete, do, or achieve.

Schools don’t focus enough, in my estimation, on the inner world of kids; perhaps because parents don’t demand it. For whatever the reasons, it does not appear to be an important value that is lived out on a daily basis. What is the focus of attention, what is at the forefront for parents and schools are grades-–the symbol of academic achievement, mastery of content knowledge and skills which is revered over and above any notion of developing inner wisdom or nurturing the process of self-actualization. But if kids can easily acquire content knowledge and skills online, a new discussion about values and answering the “why” of mandatory public education are in order.  Should we take a closer look at exploring the inner landscapes and discovering the value of and within that landscape? Or should we continue with the status quo of schooling? Perhaps we can create a balance.

Love, not Fear

Unfortunately, it seems as though some schools and parents create their values from a place of fear rather than love– afraid their kids won’t survive in a knowledge-economy; fear they’ll suffer from a life of hard work; fear of losing to the competition. Fear their children will not recover from failure. Such motives seem to crowd out the desperate need for more love– a love of self, a love of authentic forms of learning.

If we, adults, continue our over-emphasis on conducting school as a business, encouraging kids to focus their attention primarily on the external landscapes; if we continue to over-value such focus on and attention to achieving goals that lack foundation in real values built within the inner landscapes; if we continue to neglect teaching kids that an inner world exists within them that is ripe for discovery and that is essential to attend to for their vitality, wholeness, and wellness, then we will continue to see our kids suffer with mental health problems like anxiety, depression, addiction, suicide, eating disorders, and senseless violence.

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Too Good, No Good

Kids are malleable and easily manipulated. Most kids are good kids! But what does “good” in this context of school mean? Our definition of “good” in formal schooling appears to be limited to academic achievement and performance. Nobody gets a trophy or an A for noticing that they have an inner guide or that they developed courage because they faced a fear. They don’t get a reward for taking time for themselves to just “be.” It’s all about the “doing”– the resume building; the homework completion and consistency; the degree to which they are able to find answers; how well they score on tests, rather than to muse, reflect inward or meta-cognitively; rather than to imagine, play, or focus on observing and understanding emotions and thoughts in order to know what it means to be a human being not just a human-doing. We don’t celebrate or talk about those things– they are private, unspoken victories (if one even recognizes that this is a good thing!). Inner landscapes are none of our school business; they’re too intimate–  too emotional, messy, tangled in confusion– too human. For every STEM lab there ought also be a Humanities Lab, each being valued equally! Students and teachers are in the business of school, not in the business of raising human beings. Such inner-world accomplishments and authentic growth and development aren’t tangible or measurable– so therefore within the narrow confines of school, they don’t hold real value. If they aren’t on the transcript, they just don’t count.

As well, because we adults jump in and do everything for our kids and over-protect, because we manipulate their environments and pad them for safety and sanitize them, because we insist kids remain within the safety of the indoors, because we hardly ever leave them to their own devices among their peers (because we are, again, working from fear) without constant adult supervision or cheerleading from the sidelines, we ultimately rob kids of the crucial and necessary opportunities to explore their inner landscapes in authentic ways (Haidt). We don’t afford them the opportunity to learn authentically—that is, to be uncomfortable through the process of trial and error so that they can develop self-knowledge, wisdom, deep trust and faith in themselves and their personalities and abilities, along with the coping skills to thrive— to feel physically and be psychologically alive and well. Instead, we are raising half-dead zombies addicted to their phones or whatever else they decide to pay attention to rather than themselves.

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Teenagers who are disengaged, those who are disconnected from their inner lives are weak, which makes them far more vulnerable to manipulation. They remain unaware of the existence of their Jungian shadow or what to make of it or how to respond to it when it rears its ugly head. They develop addictions to phones, to porn, and drugs and alcohol and develop co-dependencies on authority, needing protection and rescuing from the smallest of micro-aggressions that invade their safe spaces. Their narrative becomes one of victimhood and they find others who live the same story. The world within and without appear to be places to fear rather than to love and engage with. These are kids with serious problems; these are kids who are more vulnerable to manipulation by extreme ideas and violent people.

Disconnection and Reconnection 

Another problematic observation about the kids I taught in my fourteen-year tenure as a high school teacher was how many of them were passive, did as they were told, and copied the models they saw in their school culture. And many of them wound up sick. We are responsible for teaching kids where to put their attention– and it has to stop being overly-focused on external achievement. They need to value their inner lives as much as, or if not more than, they value the life of the external world. I am not arguing for no grades or no accountability or no skills and knowledge growth. I am lobbying for correcting what I see as an imbalance resulting from skewed values. Once kids are focused on everything outside of themselves, they  can very easily remain disconnected from their inner guide, their inner sense of themselves. If they aren’t taught earlier about how their bodies and minds work (how to recognize, feel, and manage emotions and thoughts), if they remain unaware that they can be an active and conscious participant in their own becoming, or that a self-actualization process exists for them, tragedy will continue in the form of addiction and illness.

Friend Yourself

Exploring the inner landscape is akin to becoming your own best friend– getting to know what makes you tick, your human nature, and discovering that you are a story-teller. These are the same things we learn as we practice Bikram yoga. You have thoughts and feelings that exist that are data to mine, not necessarily directives to live by (Davis). Kids will remain unaware of their own inner landscapes unless we reinforce their own discovery of it. Some kids are more intuitive than others– so we need to encourage these intuitive kids to honor their inner-knowing and actively, consciously, and consistently develop it.  An active transfer from receiving guidance from adults in their environment about their inner landscape to them taking full responsibility for it should happen throughout adolescence and adulthood. We all need to mentor children by exemplifying such attention to the inner landscapes of our own lives. An exploration of the inner landscape will help inform and re-contextualize kids understanding of the gazillion influences from the external world that are upon them. Just think of the simple notion of comparing oneself to another that teens have the tendency to do. Perhaps more enlightened, self-grounded, and inner-connected teens can say, “well that’s nice for that person, but that’s not what I am all about.” You cannot say that if you don’t actually know what you are all about! We must all do our own yoga practice. More conscious  judgement, discrimination, and therefore wise, informed choices can be made if a person has a better understanding of who they are at their core.

So how do you figure out who you are at your core? Well, when, in yoga, you stay with your discomfort, whether physical or mental or both, you create a space (the same one Victor Frankl is so famous for describing in his, Man’s Search for Meaning) — the space between stimulus and response, rather than automatic, unaware reactivity. You notice how you think and how you feel. You identify and name such thoughts and feelings and become familiar with them. You notice that some of the labels you apply to your thoughts and feelings may not be true! You recognize that not all the stories you tell yourself are true! You learn why you may have told those stories and that they no longer serve you,  and then you have the glorious opportunity to change them.  With repetition and regular practice, you become friends with your self and the inner world isn’t so foreign or scary as it once was. You know your own suffering and you develop responses to cope. This is not happiness, or high self-esteem, this is wholeness and wellness. This is a prescription for good health. It’s often a painful journey requiring lots of attention and honesty and grit, but one that is absolutely foundational to real happiness. This is the hero’s journey! (Campbell; Peterson)

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Values can be and should be rooted in such self-understanding that you have actively culled with attention, time, and great effort whether through yoga, journal writing, mindfulness practices, meditation, or other therapeutic techniques that are uniquely helpful to you. This must be an honest process, a difficult, uncomfortable process at times, and it is challenging for most. But there is so much value in doing something hard; in facing your fears — doing the exact thing you do not want to do (Jung; Peterson; Davis; Haidt). Once you begin to know yourself in a really deep, intimate, and loving way, you are better suited to realize the highest good for yourself and what promotes your best and highest self (Peterson). This will benefit the world. This is the path to social justice.

Strength, Flexibility, and Balance

My mission with Landscapes for Learning is to draw attention to and start a conversation with parents, kids, and schools about how this exploration of inner landscapes is the foundational value to better navigating the external landscapes (content knowledge, skills, practical forms of education, achievement and goal-setting that schools and parents over-value in my estimation) and seeing how the interplay and interconnectedness between the internal and external is essential for being with purpose and authenticity in the world. Rather than a teenager’s self-development focused primarily on ego-driven goals (Plotkin) he or she must achieve according to social norms, set by parents, schools, other institutions of influence and authority— external achievement and financial success, the focus should be on the intrinsic values that motivate a person to be their authentic selves.  In the process of self-actualization, the Bikram principles apply: balance between strength and flexibility,  proper alignment, and trying the right way— which is the hard way.

Setting Intentions for Your Practice

I don’t believe the problems we are seeing among kids today in schools result  from malicious intent— far from it. If anything, I think parents and schools are trying too hard and are too present and too helpful to the detriment of their kids’ independence and level of engagement with their own lives. Less might be more. I also don’t believe parents and schools are fully conscious about how their values and goals are so terribly misaligned. I think we’ve all simply lost our way in a sea of information, misinformation, and complete overwhelm and busy-ness due to economic, technological, and other forces that have happened upon us in the past few decades. Understandably, with so much rapid change, we struggle to find our balance, and this is exactly why yoga may be the antidote in shepherding us back home to ourselves.

 

Here is A Terribly Disorganized and Incomplete List of Influences, Resources, References, and inspirations cited improperly and according to no style manual. (I will professionalize it shortly…)

Tony Robbins, I am Not Your Guru netflix special

Dr. Susan Davis, her Ted Talk, appearance on Rich Roll Podcast, Emotional Agility

George Carlin (standup acts online, youtube)

The Rich Roll podcast

Rich Roll, Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, becoming one of the world’s most fittest men and discovering myself

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Lectures, Interviews, Maps of Meaning, podcasts

The Joe Rogan Experience (podcast); personal conversation with Joe Rogan

Bret Weinstein (interviews with Dave Rubin and Joe Rogan)

Eric Weinstein (interviews with Sam Harris, Joe Rogan, Dave Rubin on The Rubin Report)

Alan Watts,  lectures, The Way of Zen, The Wisdom of Insecurity, In my Own way: an autobiography

B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, inner peace and ultimate freedom

Duncan Trussell Family podcast

Sam Harris, Waking Up with Sam Harris Podcast (#121, telling the truth)

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way: 25th Anniversary Edition

Stephen Pressfield, The War of Art

Jon Kabat-Zinn: Full Catastrophe Living, Coming to Our Senses:Healing Ourselves and Our World through Mindfulness

Anne Lamott, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovery Mercy

Ken Robinson, Ph.D. The Element: How Finding your passion changes everything, videos about education system

Pema Chodron, Meditation: How to Meditate: A practical Guide, The Places that Scare you, 

Jack Kornfield, interview with Tim Ferriss; audio meditations and talks, The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings

Carl Jung: Modern Man in Search of Soul and other writings

Mary Oliver: Upstream, and other poems

Ally Hamilton,  Yoga’s Healing Power: Looking Inward for Change, Growth, and Peace

Bill Plotkin Nature and The Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World

Steven Pinker, videos and interviews with Sam Harris, Joe Rogan; A Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st century, The Blank Slate, and Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

David Hawkins, Letting Go The Path to Surrender

Tori Hicks-Glogowski (Views from the Podium blog)

Rumi: The Book of Love (Coleman Barks); the essential Rumi

Rilks’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God (Anita Barrows)

Writings in ecopsychology.

Writings of the Transcendentalists (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance, Henry David Thoreau, Walden, other writings)

On the Ragged Edge of Silence John Francis

John Muir, writings

Daniel Goleman, A force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World

Shakti Gawain, Living in the Light

Thich Naht Hahn, Silence. The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise, list other books

Joss Sheldon, The Little Voice: A rebellious novel

John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

Wayne Dyer, Change your thoughts, change you life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

Zachary Slayback: The End of School: Reclaiming Education

Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

Mary Karr, The Liars’ Club:A Memoir, Lit, The Art of Memoir

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Parker Palmer: The Courage to Teach, online videos

Kevin Griffin, Recovering Joy: A mindful life after addiction, One Breath at a time: Buddhism and the 12 steps

Tommy Rosen (online Recovery 2.0)

The Mindfulness Summit Online Conference (the mindfulnesssummit.com)

Gabor Mate (videos, and podcasts with Tim Ferriss)

Benjamin Lorr, Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for???

Chade-Meng Tan and Dan Goleman, Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to

Tim Ferriss, Tribe of Mentors, blog, The Tim Ferriss Show (podcast)

Behave, Robert Sapolsky and other online appearances and speeches; lectures on Youtube

 

 

 

 

 

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Podcast: Grace Tempany, Multi-potentialite and teacher-extraordinaire

Grace and I discuss our desire to begin a conversation about teaching as moral and teaching with courage and integrity. We discuss the need for more authentic forms of teaching and learning in school, so that kids can embark on their individual journeys toward the self rather than just trying to find the right answer for an A on a test or college admission. Enjoy!

Check out Grace’s wonderful work at GraceTempany.com 

 

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The Pain and Hurt of Yoga

One fine morning after teaching a Bikram yoga class, a student charged out into the lobby to ask me why I used the word “pain” and “hurt” repeatedly throughout class with regard to the postures.  She clearly didn’t like it.

You know how sometimes some people begin an oncoming verbal attack with a seemingly polite question? You know, they’re “just curious” about something? This was one of those times. I wasn’t surprised by the question as much as I was shocked by her obvious fury, though I shouldn’t have been, as I have dealt with similar people and complaints in my job as a high school teacher.

“…push your head back until your neck hurts a little bit…”

“…you’re back is going to hurt don’t be scared…”

“…creating a tremendous stretching feeling, pain sensation…”

“…your back is supposed to hurt…”

“…elbows are supposed to hurt…”

“…make sure your back hurt…”

“…make sure your shoulders hurt…”

“…neck might hurt a little bit…”

Clearly, she wanted to engage me in an argument. She wanted justice done — for me to eliminate saying the words “pain” and “hurt,” as she believed the terms were misleading at best and flat out wrong at worst; to be telling people they should feel pain during a yoga posture seemed heretical to her. The notion of feeling pain, hurt, or any sort of discomfort seemed counter to her notions about yoga as healing and serene, among her other perhaps stereotypical perceptions about yoga practice— you know, namaste and all that shit.

This interaction presented me with a wonderful opportunity to think about the role of pain and hurt in the process of yoga practice, and more generally, to life and learning. Such thinking has led me to articulate for myself what makes my life as a teacher meaningful.

I don’t recall providing her with a fully articulated response at the time, but upon reflection, this is what I would have liked to have said. The first answer about pain comes from B.K.S. Iyengar who writes in Light on Life:

“…pain is an unavoidable part of asana practice…The pain is there as a teacher, because life is filled with pain. In the struggle alone, there is knowledge. Only when there is pain will you see the light. Pain is your guru. As we experience pleasures happily, we must also learn not to lose our happiness when pain comes. As we see good in pleasure, we should learn to see good in pain. Learn to find comfort even in discomfort. We must not try to run from the pain but to move through and beyond it. This is the cultivation of tenacity and perseverance, which is a spiritual attitude toward yoga. This is also the spiritual attitude toward life. Just as the ethical codes of yoga purify our actions in the world, the asanas and pranayama purify our inner world. We use these practices to help us learn to bear and overcome the inevitable pains and afflictions of life.”  (Iyengar, 871-877)

Iyengar’s words suggest that we remain humble and curious, respectful toward pain, as it is our teacher, our guru. This takes discipline and practice to learn, to get better at, to master, so the repeated reminders about “hurt” and “pain” within the Bikram yoga dialogue seem not only merely warranted or justified but appropriate and absolutely necessary.

Perhaps some yoga teachers will disagree with me (or Iyengar) on this point about pain, and that’s to be expected, but as a high school teacher, I have additional experience with resistance to such assertions.

I have many students and parents (and ,occasionally, other educators) who, like the questioning woman in my yoga class, object quite vociferously to the appropriate and necessary pain involved in the learning process that typically results from failure not only to learn but to achieve desired grades (and, by the way, yes, there’s a very important distinction between the two- a post for another day.)

The pain my students might experience and the variety of suffering they learn to cope with and manage in my classroom is healthy and paramount to their success and authentic growth as human beings, just as it is among the yogis within the asanas in the hot room. However, in today’s cultural climate of “everybody is a winner!” and “snowflake” parenting, such proclamations about pain are considered subversive.

People don’t like pain. They run from it, avoid it, and believe everyone else does the same which justifies such behavior and group think. Nevertheless, as a yogi who has developed an unconventional relationship with pain, I often seem to walk on thin ice, as my attitudes and approach to teaching and learning run counter to local cultural norms and expectations. I do not encourage risk-aversion, and that makes people uncomfortable– which is the point and the thing to practice.  

Adherence to the notion that real learning involves pain and sometimes hurt and a little to a lot of suffering is grounded in what it means to be human. I know this to be true through study of human nature and as witness to the amazing success of my colleagues over many years teaching and being a student of great teachers myself. This boldness and bravery is what enables me to be a perennial learner and therefore to walk the walk,  as teacher, without becoming completely discouraged. Such an attitude and disposition is exactly what is required to be effective within the institution of education today– that is, to get people to actually learn about themselves and their own humanity rather than merely achieve high grades or other unrelated objectives that have become fashionable. 

I am with Iyengar, all the way, on pain being the guru, whether it comes to learning math, writing, chemistry, dealing with romantic breakups, social phobias or anxiety, or whatever other dragons people or potential heroes may need to slay in their individual lives. No true growth and change happen without the presence of pain. The sooner you change your mind about it and make friends with it, the better. 

Living out the belief about teaching and learning as painful is difficult, as I am sure many teachers can understand. It would be easier to eliminate the words from the yoga dialogue to appease that woman and anyone else like her, or tell my students’ parents what they want to hear about their child, or inflate a grade to avoid problems with a supervisor. I have to defend my practical philosophy with steadfastness, on a regular basis, and that takes rationality, discipline, energy, and confidence; I am consistently making critical judgments and trusting my gut about when to spare the rod, apply tough love, or witness additional struggling of students. I am always trying to figure out whether to listen or speak, jump in and help, or allow the person to flounder and suffer more to reach their ultimate destination. Sometimes teaching is like sitting next to a terminally ill person and watching them die— because, in fact, sometimes people have to burn up and destroy themselves altogether before they can put themselves back together or be reborn. It’s painful to do, and painful to watch. 

It’s physically and emotionally challenging to be a part of so many people’s pain-filled journeys each day, over the course of many years, in the classroom and in the yoga studio. There’s a lot of energy that a teacher both gives and receives from collections of students each day, each class. There’s a lot of resistance. But, just like our students, we continue to engage with our own pain, learn how to resist it less, and try to be the model of learning our students need. 

Setting limits that cause a student to “hurt a little bit,” like saying no as a parent, or rejecting one good cause to enact a great and far more beneficial cause is something for which teachers need understanding. They don’t necessarily need your blessing or agreement, but fewer obstacles and objections would be nice, so they can continue to “be there” for students, to remain present as the steady witness to the learner on their unique, individual journey. Empathy is all. Suffering, as best we can, together is compassion.

Explaining this process to teenagers (and their parents and other staff) who struggle with the notion of the inevitable pain and hurt of learning— stewarding them through their “school yoga” is an enormous challenge, but one I still believe is worth taking on, even though on many days, the resistance to this process seems overwhelming. 

Life is a series of continual states of brief comfort alternating with disruption, disorientation, and discomfort, yes, including pain and hurt. We are constantly mapping out our lives, and re-mapping when obstacles arise, as they inevitably will. In this constant tooling and re-tooling process, theorizing, or what others have called mental masturbation, does nothing to prepare you for the real, practical challenges you will face in your life.

So the yoga practice? the life learning? Yes, it has to hurt a little bit, it has to be real, it has to be acted out, and even cause a “pain sensation,” because “tremendous stretching” hurts, whether you like it or not, think it’s unfair or not. Bikram’s dialogue is precise and accurate, carefully construed. Eliminating the words of “pain” or “supposed to hurt” robs students of important learning and the potential for authentic mental physical and spiritual growth.

As Iyengar says, “…the practices of yoga show us how much pain the body can bear and how much affliction the mind can tolerate. Since pain is inevitable, asana is a laboratory in which we discover how to tolerate the pain that cannot be avoided and how to transform the pain that can.”

Gaining such wisdom might hurt a little bit, but there’s no better process to dedicate yourself to than mining your own suffering for meaning and truth. And there is no better profession than teaching to witness such beautiful transformation.

*Bikram Yoga Beginning Yoga Practice, Teacher’s Dialogue

**Iyengar, B.K.S.. Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom (Kindle Locations 877-879). Rodale. Kindle Edition.