“There is a great deal of difference between loss, change, and transformation. A loss is a step backward; a change is an opportunity; transformation is a step forward. The common denominator in these three realities is the fact that one must give up something. It is possible for both loss and change to lead to transformation, but it is not possible for transformation to occur unless something is lost and something is changed.” –Anthony Padovano
For awhile now, I have felt the pull to have a little more of a voice in the public forum outside of teaching yoga, but have held back for reasons that may feel familiar to many of us; fear of putting myself out there with truth and vulnerability, fear of public scrutiny, concern that my offering will be rejected, and so on. But withholding our gifts comes with its own set of uncertainties, and sometimes you just have to shut up and do it. So, I am stepping forward into blog-land with this first offering from my heart as a resource to the community: a space of sharing, openness, discomfort and mutual humanity. I have no idea where it will lead, but I am grateful to have a place for sharing growth, my own thoughts and possible Saturday morning "sermons" as many of you call them, and resources for practical yoga wisdom and life in written form. Some of you know that I have been writing essays privately about yoga, dealing with cancer, and surviving the twisty-turny complexity of a creative spiritual life for the past several years (as well as hosting this amazing retreat with my award-winning husband-writer Justin Hocking to Breitenbush to steep in yoga and creative non-fiction writing each February.) This may serve as a forum for some of that writing, too; we'll see how brave I feel. I hope to also feature the smart, thoughtful voices of many of our teachers here as well as other guest posters, so that we all have a clear place to speak more directly about what moves and motivates us on the path of practice. My hope is that it will help to motivate you, too.
Why Practice Yoga Together?
Over the years, my commitment to teaching yoga has evolved into and often represented a place to allow for my own vulnerability; to say the difficult, unspeakable things that many of us are thinking but don't want to say or can't say out loud about the price of humanity, and a real, honest forum for our collective growth. We gather to practice together year after year, lifting our hearts and hands up after mass shootings and horrific acts of violence reported in our own home state, during wild and viscous election years where the vitriol of the media douses the airwaves with acidic discord, through catastrophic natural disasters that cost lives and homes by the thousands, and small tragedies by the dozen in our own homes and hearts, all hoping that somehow that our small contribution of love and hope will collectively add up. I speak openly about these difficulties, losses and stumbling blocks in class, hoping to open the door to unearthing something like meaning for us all in the middle of the sometimes searing pain that makes my voice shake right in front of you all.
Over the years this has often also meant outing myself in various unflattering ways in public, expressing my flaws through owning my own stories and teaching lessons, and in general as a sort of public servant, allowing my life to be just a little more open to public scrutiny that I might otherwise be comfortable with. I feel the need to share very deeply, to offer my own foibles and mistakes and truths openly, all for the sake of maybe just one person nodding their head as if to say "Really? Me too." If I see just one of those in the midst of a story, I know that for at least one of us, something has been lost, but that also, something is changing. Connection made. Our collective losses, our real-life changes; in whatever way my failures and hardscrabble lessons have been of service to your own humanity I offer them up. For all the times you have listened, thank you. For giving both me and all of our other warm-hearted teachers a place to speak from their hearts and mean it, thank you.
What's Next For The Bhaktishop?
By now you probably know that The Bhaktishop is staying right here on SE 26th and Division St., where we were (sortof) born more than eight years ago. Our doors opened on SE 10th and Burnside in September of 2007, and we moved here to Division in April of 2008, so I have no clear "anniversary date" to celebrate with you all, except the one that brings you back to your mat, to your mindfulness, every day. If you count the first date, we are moving into our 9th year serving the community, and I am proud as hell of that. It has been such an evolution, as many of you that have been with me since the old Yoga Shala days know, and I want to honor some of that evolution here as I share more about the choice to stay in our current space and what that means for us as a community.
I started practicing yoga when I was 17 years old in the NYU gym in 1990, and it has had a firm hold on me, even at times when I had no firm hold on myself. I was fascinated that by changing my shape, I could also change my state of mind. From the start I deeply loved yoga philosophy (I was a Philosophy and Religious Studies major at NYU after all) and I loved all the deities, the history of a wisdom tradition that was so different than my own, the mystery of it all. I would love to romanticize it and say that yoga changed my life, but that isn't exactly what happened. Somehow I was swept up into a steady stream of practice, alongside other people that were asking hard questions about the nature of the Self, the soul, and Source, and I was moved and inspired by that, though often kicking and spitting. I have always known God, loved God, been fascinated and compelled by the many representations of God throughout culture and human history, and yoga gave that love some roots and substance, and though they were oftentimes confusing, I never felt more at home than in that primary house of God on my mat; inside my own human heart.
In my first teacher training I was way too young and because of that I started teaching yoga way too young, and thus made a long list of (now) shocking and embarrassing yoga teacher mistakes along the way. I had good teachers but I was a poor student. I am now entering my twentieth year of teaching in some format, and this "yoga-versary" has also given me pause. Like any of you that have some yoga history in their bag, I have seen the yoga world change exponentially over the course of my 25 years of practice and I could write a good, long diatribe about all the ways that is has gone off the rails, but currently that isn't very productive and I am not feeling particularly humorous at the moment, which is sometimes the only way to stomach what has/is happening to yoga; with a good dose of humor. But rather I am feeling quite a bit more nostalgic right now at remembering what brought me to this crossroads in both my studentship, my teaching life, and my business world as a studio owner.
The Bhaktishop Building Project (yes, that's me in camo pants...)
When I came to Portland in 2002, yoga was pretty isolated and young here, save for a few venerable teachers like Julie Lawrence and Julie Gudmestad, The Movement Center and Portland Yoga Arts. Vinyasa was still an infant here, and the classes/studios that you could find were pretty style-specific; Iyengar, Astanga, Bikram. While that is still the case, the hybrids and vinyasa-inspired yoga that is so much more familiar now was scarce. Outside of Iyengar classes, "alignment" was also to be the lingo of the future. Having moved from NYC at that time and stamped with a pretty good pedigree of Iyengar, Astanga and Vinyasa teachers and trainings, I felt very alone here, like I knew and loved a style of vinyasa yoga that was foreign to Portlanders, and because I wasn't qualified to teach Iyengar (nor did I aspire to at that time) and so I started teaching Ashtanga again, which was a short, weird, wild ride.
I finally landed at a studio and taught my New York roots-style vinyasa classes, though I often had only one or two students, or none at all. Sometimes after a no-show I would just nap in the studio while I waited for the class I taught immediately after my no-show class. In classes even then I chanted and talked about the Bhagavad Gita, and was actually fired from my first teaching job here in Portland for it, which is kind of hilarious now, but at the time, it felt significant and telling. My love for kirtan, community, philosophy and all the aspects of yoga that brought out the best in people was what kept me showing up, because I knew my people were out there. I also knew that I had a voice to contribute, and at that point in my life, I really started to value speaking to people who were listening. I have always loved preaching to the choir because as it turns out, the choir needs the sermon, too.
In 2007 I opened The Bhaktishop with a dear friend and business partner at the time (see awesome building photos above!) and we shared a joyful, enlivening few years of launching a new possibility for yoga in Portland. It was so well-received and so well-loved that we were often completely shocked every day that this was our actual job. We brought together a loving family of teachers and friends to share the practices that they loved, that moved them every day, and it was an absolute delight to get to make no money every day doing what we wanted to do, resonating in our own vision, and feeling so free. But like all good things, this era passed with the dissolution of that business partnership in a somewhat difficult and public way and sadly, the friendship that accompanied it. Sometimes people grow enormously in very short periods of time, are handed huge life lessons all at once, and must make difficult decisions. I know this parting was bitter for a lot of our students at the time, as well as for both of us, and while we tried to do it as consciously as possible, it shook the foundation of The Bhaktishop for awhile afterwards as I regained my energy and refined the mission. I continue to refine that vision and be informed by those choices and my part in that split, as well as by the changing needs and disposition of this larger community. This event was the first real indication that as a public servant in this capacity, our lives were also somewhat public, and our "split" caused some waves in the community that were difficult for us both to reconcile, as this was a very personal decision that required us both to separate both from each other and our creation, and move on. One of the plagues of the modern yoga teacher is social media, and the fact that private no longer means private. And when you foster a community, often if you are lucky, a community is built. And that community can suffer feelings of betrayal or disappointment over the loss of one of the dear ones that it was grateful to have as a teacher in a space they loved. I definitely hold my own responsibility in the dissolving of that partnership tenderly, and the sheer humanity of it is overwhelming sometimes. There was much in those days that I wanted to share with the public about what was happening, but it was better to keep the hard parts private and let the firestorm pass us all by.
Spiritual evolution being what is is, around 2007, a friend handed me a book, a copy of The Bhagavad Gita. I said to her, "I have read this book, a dozen translations. I love it." She asked if I have ever read this particular translation. It was dense, huge, intimidating. No, I hadn't. It was by Swami B.V. Tripurari, a teacher from the bhakti tradition, which obviously I had some interest in (what with the name of the joint being The Bhaktishop and all...) so I took it. I can't say that the book changed my life exactly; if anything it made me more confused about my spiritual life since it gave commentary that posited differing ideas about the nature of reality than I understood at the time. I would say however that my life changed when the same friend then introduced me to the author personally, and we invited him to come and speak at The Bhaktishop. His face and eyes held such compassion, and I could feel his fire for service and for helping people that longed to know love of God directly. And that was before we even spoke. My heart immediately softened and a transformation began in my life that is still huge and ongoing. This presence of substance and true wisdom coming into me through my teacher has permeated my ability to teach and share and articulate on the path of yoga practice here at The Bhaktishop over these past years, and for that I am overwhelmingly grateful.
I deepened my spiritual commitments over time and over many years under his guidance, and his kindness and generosity as well as that of the community which he fostered has altered my heart and way of being in the world. It has also softened my teaching, my sense of need for recognition, and allowed more space into the practice room for everyone's experience. Something was indeed lost, and it seems like it was my selfishness, and something definitely has changed, though the real transformation is inside and thus more difficult to articulate in words. Being associated with this wise and gentle teacher has brought forgiveness, compassion, grace and empathy to my life, and created a foundation upon which I can rest my head and my heart every day.
Just to be clear here: I have been involved in several spiritual communities over the years in my 25-year-long exposure to what I call "project wisdom," and none were without complication, misbehavior, and misrepresentation. Human beings are infinitely complex and as it turns out, not immune from weird psychological shit-storms and revisitation by ghosts of their past, even (actually especially) in spiritual life. So by that same token, in my precious times spent with my teacher and the company of his kind and loving community, I have seen other students and human beings behave really, really badly. I have seen psychological issues come up and become huge barriers to a person's progress and connection. I have seen people do and say things that are decidedly not kind or loving, what to speak of "spiritual." I have seen some students commit themselves fully to a lifetime of practice and path only to suddenly leave both for unsaid reasons and also by burning the very bridges that they walked across to get there.
But I have also witnessed deep forgiveness of the highest order. I have seen relationships grow and blossom and become marriages and friendships that are high and holy examples of how to be in relationship with another person. I have seen people swoop in to help someone very very ill or dying with the most compassionate eyes and hands. I have seen hard-hearted people like myself melt in the light of truth and love. I have seen my teacher accept and encourage and guide students of all stripes; fucked-up misfits, the wandering lost, all socio-economic levels, every manner of LGBTQ folk, disabled and mentally ill people, people from wildly differing cultures, and pretty much whatever marginalized and under-represented population you might think of. All are welcomed to eat at this buffet of love and acceptance, and this lack of bigotry was part of what drew me to this teacher and tradition of bhakti. And so I am reminded that it can be raining buckets in one part of town and be perfectly dry at home, and that both can be truly, validly happening. There is no possibility of misrepresentation without something real to represent, and I am grateful that the foundational teachings of bhakti have found me and given me a home to be able to hold both truths. Bhakti, the yoga of love, belongs to everyone. And the future is love.
What's In It For You?
I suppose I am sharing this because by the creation of that home in my heart for myself that is safe and grounded, in turn I get the enormous privilege of offering a home to you in the form of a sweet, safe, and grounded place for those interested in deeper investigations of the Self, the dichotomy and confusion of conscious living, and the longing for the awakened company of others having similar complicated conversations about their humanity. Over the years a stellar collection of teachers has curated themselves and gravitated here, all dedicated to both their amazing other careers that inform both their yoga and their ability to be relational with regard to connection to students (please check out the incredible skills of this staff of teachers here!) as well as to their own ongoing yoga study, deep practice, and commitment to bringing you their best, most human facets each and every day. I am proud as hell of these teachers and this place you all have built, and we are all excited and thrilled to continue on to the next incarnation of The Bhaktishop as we renew our lease here for (at least) five more years and spiff up the place for you.
Part of this "something lost, something changed" work is understanding how old, stagnant energy holds me back. How it is time to freshen up the place, get rid of some old stuck energy and inspire some soft, clear new ways forward for us all. So! Onward to some beautiful new renovations as I spend long nights at the shop supervising, painting, lighting, and in general changing the flow and feel of the place while you sleep, and then a quiet re-opening this Saturday the 21st with a visit from my teacher, Swami Tripurari, for a lovely, lively kirtan and satsang to celebrate the new space. In December, look for some new membership options to make things more accessible for you, but in the meantime please know that you are sincerely welcomed, loved and cared for in this community, and though we have had our ups and downs over the years, we are all growing together in that messy, beautiful complexity that is truth. I hope that you, too, have found some actual healing, some honest growth, and a deeper pathway to your precious inner life through yoga, even in the presence of your own "something lost, something changed." May we all take that transformational step forward together as we continue to sink our roots deeper. I am grateful to each and every one of you.
Hands to my heart in service,