Last month on the first day of a six day yoga training, I entered with a heavy heart. I was reeling from the news of the executions by police of two innocent black men and the resulting mass shootings of police. I felt torn. What was I doing at a training that I had spent thousands of dollars on, flown across the country for, and was now attending with an all white crowd in an extremely safe setting? It felt like not just a privilege, but a luxury. The first day I struggled with being there. Was this really the best use of my time? How was being in this training helping those who are oppressed in our country? I spent most of the day crying. Afterwards, I spoke with the teacher who encouraged me to use the time to nourish myself so that I could go back home and do the good work I do in the world.
Teaching yoga does feel like important work. When we move into the body and address the habitual patterns stored there, we open pathways for healing that allow us to enter the world with more energy. From the Buddhist perspective, we work first with ourselves, then our families, then our communities, then our nation and then our world. Working with ourselves is in fact the foundation for all of the work that we do in the world. As a teacher, I have a responsibility to stay committed to doing my own work, which is plentiful and always changing.
The body stores our individual past, our cultural conditioning, and even the experiences we inherited from our ancestors. Getting into the body through yoga and meditation literally changes what lives there. This extends outwards and ultimately changes our view of the world. At this point, I am gathering information with the intention to spread yoga beyond the walls of the studio. I am interested in learning from others’ experiences. What is it like to live in a different body? How does yoga meet us all where we are? What does growth look like? As I search for the answers to these questions and explore ways to expand my teaching, I have found one practice that can directly and immediately create a positive current in the world. The practice of kindness.
The practice of kindness, also called Maitri or Metta, requires me to look at my actions and ask “How am I treating myself?”, “How am I treating others?”. I will never forget when Sharon Salzburg asked a group of us to walk down the hallway at Kripalu and, when we saw a person, to silently repeat “May she be safe. May she be happy. May she be healthy. May she be at ease.” It completely transformed my relationship with each of the strangers I walked by and they had no idea it was even happening! The practice can be simple. Offer a smile to a stranger. Retrieve a prop for a fellow student. Listen rather than talk. Play with a child. Commit to a daily meditation practice. Then, observe how the practice affects the way you feel. You can also notice when kindness feels inaccessible or out of reach. Those are the times where it is most important to do something that nourishes you, whether it’s taking a nap, going for a walk, attending a yoga class or repeating to yourself “May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be at ease.”