Raw, adjective: 8. brutally harsh or unfair: a raw deal
There are mornings, there are moments, when I'd like to chuck the whole "teaching yoga" thing forever.
This is one of them.
I spent breakfast catching up on the latest press about John Friend. New York Magazine just covered the whole Anusara sitch, along with a few new sexy tidbits from The Daily Beast. Over coffee and pineapple, I lost the morning to talk of covens and trademarks and infidelity and remorse.
I read, and felt disenchanted.
I love teaching yoga. It feels like my dharma, that thing, that calling, that "sacred duty" (if you wanna get all grandiose up in there), that my life has been leading toward, even in the moments that felt quite misdirected. The people closest to me know how much I adore it, how much it lights my life, how it keeps me up into the wee hours and gets me out again early, the nerdiness of it all, this yoga-loving.
It's my heart. And it cranks me, fills me, fuels me with the kind of mad prana I never realized could come from a "job."
But I am damn sick of yoga being that "job." I am very, very lucky to have other "jobs" that pay my bills, that allow my yoga-teaching to be largely free from any profit-motive beyond the joy of it. And if there's one piece of advice I could give all y'all aspiring teachers out there, it's this: never, ever, ever let teaching yoga become your job. Never let filling a yoga studio be what pays your rent. Never rely upon teaching yoga to pay your bills. Always have another source of income that can breathe space and ease into your teaching, that can keep the release valve perpetually open, so that you can do it for love alone, and not for money. Because when you don't, your art becomes your vocation, your spirit becomes your salary, your passion becomes your product.
Well — it sucks.
Last night I was at the studio to practice. Monday nights are a highlight of my week, such a treat; they're really sacred. They're that one rare evening all week when I don't tell anybody what to do or where to put their right foot or how to find their breath in Vrksasana. I just get to shut my mouth and hang out in the back row and breathe and sweat and listen, and get lost in my body and the opening and the stretching and the moving and the chant, and remember why I love this practice so much.
Mondays are a gift. They're like crack for my soul. I look quietly forward to them all week. They're that crucial opportunity to refill the gas tank, to stoke the spirit, to strengthen the silence within. I am light all afternoon looking forward to sinking into the practice as a student, the way I first fell in love with it.
It would've been back in 2004 or so, some 8 years ago, stretching alone in the back of the room after a Bikram class, when one of the teachers, Mel, I think was her name, came up to me and said: "Hey you, have you ever thought about teaching? Haven't you sat through classes and thought to yourself, 'Man, I could do that?' You're here, quietly, regularly, every day, by yourself, lost in this practice. It's so clear you love it."
And I thought to myself: HELL NO.
Then I told her that.
I knew, even then, there, lying in Upavistha Konasana on the sweaty carpeted Bikram floor, that teaching would mean giving up my practice, giving up my sanctuary, imposing structure and vocation upon this sacred space that had held me through so many beautiful and difficult moments of my life, imposing obligation and socialization upon the one rare precious space where I felt totally free to be me.
And I wanted to protect that, enjoy that, savor that, hold that divine space and time close to me with everything I had.
It was too dear to risk compromising.
But, as life goes, well, things changed. After spending several years as an egghead studying theology and philosophy, I stumbled into a teacher training, really, with utilitarian purposes alone, thinking that if I wanted a career as a philosophy writer, I'd need to have that "Registered Yoga Teacher" credential following my name on the byline.
I still remember that first day of training. I was sure I was in the wrong place. I was going to leave and never come back. It wasn't for me, this perky asana-teaching, aerobics-cheerleader gig.
But I stayed, as y'all have figured out. And quickly enough (more quickly than I ever expected), I realized I was in the right place after all — a place more "right" than I could have imagined, a place that felt real and whole and grounded and perfect and strong.
And I do it now, even though sometimes I hate the feeling of veering dangerously close to approximating an aerobics teacher, not because I give a shit how stretchy your hamstrings are, or whether you can hold Pincha Mayurasana for days. I know your stretchy hamstrings and your strong upper body are just tools for watching your mind. I know they'll pass, if you're lucky enough to live into an old age that looks like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis.
But I also know that the yoga practice has given me the most grace of anything in my life. It has been my dearest teacher and it has been my sweetest gift and it has given me the strength and the peace and the balance to muddle through some of the most unimaginably difficult moments of being human in a body that any of us will have to go through. It has given me the ability to slow down and watch my thoughts and choose how to react. It has taught me to be kind when I'd rather freak out, and to step back and breathe and chill out when I'd rather get pissed and slam the door and say "fuck it all."
And because of all that: I teach. Because I know what it's like to be in a body, to struggle, to have pain, to suffer, to experience loss — because, as the Buddha taught us, we all struggle, we all have pain, we all suffer, we all lose. And I stand there in the front of the room not because I want to brand my own Manduka mat or make a bazillion dollars off Rachel Meyer mala beads; I stand up there and offer myself, my art, really, vulnerably, honestly, because I see how the yoga practice has made it easier for me to be alive, given me peace when I sat in chaos, given me the tools to stay calm when life seemed to hard to bear, and I wish I could gift you all some of those skills, those tools, those ideas, too.
Because what's the point of learning how to find ease or strength or balance in a body that feels hard and weak and unbalanced if you don't share it?
And because maybe the ancient, simple techniques that have helped me — watching the breath, sitting in Hero, folding forward in Padahastasana — might help you, too.
That's it, really.
But there are moments — there are these moments — when I want to chuck it all away. When I see how the practice has become a scene, an industry, the yoga has become a commodity to be sold at the hands of yoga teachers who are so concerned with doing photo shoots and branding products and networking with the right powerful people that the practice itself has gotten lost in ego and hubris and self-marketing. And that makes me sick to my stomach. And it's a reality that is really, really, increasingly hard to associate with.
And last night was one of those moments.
So I was standing there at the studio — a bumping, already-humid, sweaty room, ready to rock and roll — and a friend came up, clearly eager to speak with me. I was so happy to be home, in the midst of all those bodies, ready to get my yoga on, ready to celebrate being alive on a beautiful, productive, well-rested Monday evening. And this sweet friend, well, he was really well-intentioned, I promise — but in the course of our conversation, it became clear that he came to talk to me because he'd heard something cruel and unkind that a stranger had spoken about me — something I'd had no awareness, no knowledge of, to that point — and he wanted to defend me, to share it with me in the interests of making me feel better, to reassure me that even if someone else thought I sucked, he thought I wasn't so bad.
(It was a well-intentioned moment, I promise.)
My heart sank. Shattered. My belly cracked open and dropped out of me.
In an instant, my mind shifted, my energy drained. I tried to keep a placid, balanced, kind face, while my insides crumbled. I wanted to crawl out of the room and curl up in a ball and quit the world.
(I've never been good at being unliked. Or at being criticized. I mean, who of us is?)
I tried to stay patient and reasonable and unaffected, at least superficially, and luckily, saved by the bell, we had to cut the conversation short to head to our mats as class began.
I sat there on the mat and felt my mind explode in a thousand achy directions, felt every difficult unresolved feeling I'd ever felt burble up in that ostensibly simple, quiet, peaceful moment there in Half-Lotus.
It felt like hell.
I sat.It kind of worked. A little. For a second.
I sat and watched the mind.
I sat and reminded myself that I am not my thoughts; I am not someone else's projected issues; I am not someone else's lack of love; I am not someone else's negativity; I am not someone else's inability to see Krishna in all.
I am clear blue sky.
Let it go, Rach. Let it go.
Be here now. In this moment, everything is perfect.
You have breath and heartbeat and life and you are about to practice on an orchid-colored mat in the most radiant studio in the most beautiful city in America.
It is enough.It worked. A little more. For a second.
And then we moved into Down Dog and I started shaking a little, and crying a little, and my tears dripped on the mat between my hands, and I wanted to get up and leave.
So I took a deep breath and stopped thinking and, inhaling, moved into High Plank, and left it there, and the shaking stopped.
Ninety minutes later, there I was again, seated, searching for stillness, this time in a loose-hipped Full Lotus, and things were different.
My heart still felt heavy, but it also felt empty, and soft, and strong.
And I knew it would be ok.
And it was.
I've gotta say: god bless the yoga, the meditation, for teaching me how to watch the thoughts — the easy ones, the difficult ones, the compassionate ones, the painful ones. For teaching me that we are none of these and all of these at once, and that they will all pass, and soon we'll have something else to fear or worry about, and that those, too, will pass.
Such is the nature of things.
Such is the nature of impermanence.
But I will also say: moments like that, people like that, unkindness like that, cruelties like this particular one spoken by some stranger who just didn't take a liking to me or to my class — well, they make me wanna give up the whole thing.
Because I'm not here to make you like me. I'm not here to sell myself. I got nothin' to sell.
I just got me. I have the ways in which this yoga has helped me sit with struggle and sorrow and pain, and I have a few simple words and a few simple postures (not rocket science here, kids), and I have a few tunes that sometimes make me feel alternately fired up and at peace, and I've read a few books that have lent me a few nuggets of ancient wisdom from here and there. And because of these few, humble tools in my pocket, the combination of which has given my life a little more grace and ease and strength, I'm hoping to share them.
And that's it. It's just like writing a book or painting a canvas or crafting a ballet or weaving a mosaic. It's an art borne of my own experience; nothing more, nothing less.
It's not a chintzy product for you to review on Amazon.com or a restaurant for you to recommend with 3 stars because the cutlery was a little spotty or the water glasses weren't quite filled on time.
It's not a commodity to be sold. It's not a car with iffy brakes or a new iPhone model. It's service. It's an offering of self. It's a simple, humble attempt to share the things that have made it easier, more elegant, more sweet, more bearable for me to be alive in a body.
So be kind, ok?
Because if the yoga world continues to move in this direction — a review-driven, product-guided, commodity-focused industry centered on making money and branding oneself — then I don't want any part of it.
Teaching yoga's not about making money. It's not about getting famous. It's not about endorsement deals, and it's not about good reviews.
It's about watching the breath.
It's about bowing to this life, held in this body, that will be ours for just a flash.
It's about finding a measure of ease when everything around us is tumultuous and uncertain.