Practice, Community, and Metaphorical Learning

Precursor: The below post is about my yoga practice and how that metaphorically translates to existing in the world. I write and I share the personal in hopes that it is useful for others and their own experiences. Also, it is very different than the rest of the blogs on this site. Since the racial justice uprisings began, I have not – to any degree- wanted to fill up space discussing the various media I was consuming. This post *is* inadequate to this moment. However, it is what I wrote today and am sharing. It is my dipping my toe back into the waters of writing. I have a feeling that future posts may be quite different than what I originally intended for the purpose of this blog.

Mayurasana and I

Practice. It is many things to me— but the most critical is that it teaches me about myself and is a training ground for grappling with what I believe.

For the past couple years I’ve been almost exclusively home practicing; which has had its merits. I am absolutely an introvert and because I am easily overstimulated, I often need to retreat into my own little cave and make sense of things without others’ eyes and energy.

However, I stayed in that cave too long. I was upset with myself for not having figured things out yet; that for x,y, and z reason – I felt that I should have already done so. And that before I returned to practice in Mysore rooms (community ashtanga practice rooms) — I needed to fucking figure things out on my own. Needless to say, I interact this way with many aspects of my life (which I won’t bore you with the details of – however seeing this tendency in my practice makes me reckon with it elsewhere). I doubt I need to tell you that this mindset is the opposite of useful.

At the start of the year, I was some degree of peace with the fact that I needed support. Then the pandemic hit. The pandemic is an absolute tragedy of profound proportions; of which I won’t elucidate here. However, knowing how socially alone I was going to be for months – particularly since I live alone – has bit-by-bit made me look for more places of support to endure this thing; critically in my practice — seeking out practice support from my teachers: Heather Hax and Jen Rene. And then I got injured and was told that I have recurring SI Joint Dysfunction — which felt immobilizing and like confirmation that I’m “bad” at practice (which I realize injuries are not that — but the brain is good at bullying). But both Heather and Jen immediately rallied around and supported me in figuring out how to make my practice work. Having that support has shifted a giant weight, that I didn’t exactly realize I was carrying. I felt that weight, but couldn’t name it as my disempowering expectations that I have to figure everything out alone and that I couldn’t fully be in community until I did so.

Earlier I said that I’m an introvert. And I am. As in almost everything, introversion and extroversion exist upon a scale and look different for different people. Reading books like “Quiet The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by: Susan Cain (which I recommend for everyone) has helped me understand different aspects of myself. I am rarely a quick thinker. Yet, I am  a deep thinker; which is common for introverts. I say none of this from being full of myself; I have mostly been pissed off with myself for not picking things up faster. Learning that I may not pick things up quickly, but that I do think deeply, as been a way of understanding and empowering my own learning habits. I need time to mull over things and parse them apart. My body is similar – and even more so  – due to spending the majority of my lifetime working to disassociate from this physical form. (Many people have come to yoga as a healing modality from eating disorders, myself included.) I am not one of those practitioners that “gets” poses immediately; it normally takes me awhile to figure it out and integrate the practice. I’m working to see this not as a deficit in my practice, and in other aspects of my life — but to see it as one of my strengths. That it is okay –and important that I acknowledge what I am –  that I’m a deep learner rather than a fast learner, in this thing called life.

This being said, part of what the yoga practice is doing is teaching us about ourselves, in order to make peace with ourselves. A different part of what yoga is doing is helping us identify and strengthen our weaker areas. There are many times where I almost leap to make a decision in life, that I ache to make, but then I thought spiral out of it and remain immobilized and stagnant — not making any decision one way or the other, and instead tread water — because I think too much about all the different ways it could go —  or what else should be done — and would be lost if I make the certain choice. There have been quite a good chunk of times in my yoga practice, where the first time I try a pose, my body gets into it without much trouble. Buuutttt, then I get into my head about it and lose the ability to do the pose for long stretches of time. As I said previously, yoga can help us realize some truths about ourselves, and hopefully not only make peace with them – but also embrace them. However, on the flip-side/same token, the practice asks us to realize the aspects of those truths that are holding us back from our own evolution. It is my strength that I’m a deep learner rather than a fast learner (though I envy the fast learners). But, sometimes I also simply need to trust my instincts, grasping of a concept — even if it is immediate, and jump/make a decision, or otherwise I’ll always be standing still.

And, vitally, I think that all of these lessons are more easily learned in community. As an introvert (again I say!), I will probably always want personal practice alone time whether through yoga, or reading, or writing, or just lying on my bed listening to music — in order to make sense of things without outside stimulation and opinions. Yet, I don’t think I would’ve wrapped my head around many of these specific lessons without support from Heather and Jen. A couple of the new poses I’ve been given, I think will take me quite awhile to understand and integrate; and there is power in asking them for help, rather than trying to figure out what I don’t know (in practice and in everything). But, for two of the poses, Heather and Jen were telling me that I was picking them up quickly. In those moments, I heard my inner monologue saying “no, you’re not – that isn’t what you do.” And I’ve had to continuously tell that inner monologue to shut up , trust my teachers’ voices, and go with it. Jump. And that feels liberating – to just trust that I can do it. Which is not a feeling that I think I often have — I don’t think I would’ve identified that reality without working in community and having people I trust tell me something that they were seeing. I trust Heather and Jen as smart teachers that know what they’re saying. My bully ego refuting their observations clashed with my beliefs of truth (that they are wise and to trust them). I couldn’t both trust them as teachers to say wise things *and* think I was terrible at everything new. Something had to give. This is of course why practices like therapy can be beneficial, we need others to hold mirrors up to ourselves for that which we can’t see in isolation. 

Even while we’re so distanced in this pandemic, we need community in order to grow. We cannot evolve in utter solitude. This is why education is so important. Why books and art are critical. We need other people’s experiences, thoughts, and observations in order to expand our awareness; we cannot learn with only our own thoughts as guides. Together we learn what we cannot know on our own.

This is also what I believe politically — in the social being much more powerful than the individual. Nothing is just one thing. We are individuals, yet we exist within the context of the whole — and when we think and work in terms of the whole, that’s where we create change that lasts — when we allow ourselves to exist in community/rather than just esoterically believe in community and support systems (community with a respect for solitude breaks; again in yoga we are anti-all or nothing thinking), that’s when we thrive. 

Again and again we say, “The personal is political.” I’m learning about how living in an individualistic society has warped my own thinking, in that I have to figure everything out myself — that I’m only worthy if I do. And that when I throw that aside and let myself exist with others, when it is important to do so (nothing has to be all or nothing), not only do I grow (and I believe society will grow if we extrapolate all of this for larger thinking), but also practice and life are so much more enjoyable.

I don’t need to tell you that it is a wild time to be alive; with a pandemic, a direly needed racial justice uprising, and the beginning of the next recession/economic depression — it is a lot to make sense of, to say the least. I’m not going to attempt to elucidate on what I’m struggling every day in understanding. However, I can say — I believe fully that we need each other to get through this, to hopefully — and I want to believe John Lewis’s statement that we must be optimistic — build new worlds from these extreme moments of rupture. This is why I read, write, aim to listen to others that know what I do not, and practice. I must always remind myself that I do none of these things to balance on my forearms (though that can be fun!) or for personal glory — but to understand myself more fully, then understand how I and others exist in that context, and how it communicates with the larger whole. This is all to understand, to know, and then hopefully to use that knowledge to build a better self, a better community, and a better world. 

I’m grateful to my teachers, Heather and Jen, and all other teachers that I learn from — which includes my students — as well as books, articles, events, etc., all those which teach me what I cannot learn on my own. And to remember that this is not a personal failing — that I cannot self-reproduce knowledges — that I need others to learn what I do not know; but rather a lesson in the strength of community and learning. In and through each other, that it is where the greatest power resides.

———

  • Note: All of this is to also say: white people – read books and consumer other media by BIPOC creators. We can only learn how to be anti-racist via learning from those who experience racism — so, y’know, not from other white people.
  • Note: None of this is to say that having a home personal practice is “wrong”. Home personal practice is a beautiful thing — that can be a tool for deep meditation and empowerment. I’m saying that even with that — finding how we build community, learn from others, and accept help is important. *And* we need to make sure we are practicing alone because it serves us; rather than because we don’t want anyone to see what we do in our practices; i.e. we have shame surrounding our practice/feel like we need to figure things out on our own. I think this is just as important as making sure we aren’t solely always practicing with a teacher because we feel like we aren’t allowed to practice on our own/that the practice belongs more to the teacher than to us. Having community is critical. Thinking about how power exists within community is also critical in building a new world. Thinking critically about how we interact with our practice and why how we interact is an important part of the growth of the practice and metaphorically teaching us how we interact with the larger world… I do humbly believe.

Published by Corey Reidy

I write about books and things. I also teach yoga. Stuff and stuff.

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