“You Have Come Here To Find What You Already Know”
(attributed to the Buddha)
I am closer to 66 than 65 and with that realization I quail sometimes at the challenges I have set for myself. Those old nagging questions come up like, “Who do you think you are?” Readers of Canadian fiction may recall Alice Munro’s fourth book of short stories with that title. She was recounting the deliberate stunting of young women who wondered if they could exceed their parents’ expectations of themselves and their children.
Women continue to doubt their capacities and ambitions, myself included. Gloria Steinem in her autobiographical account, Revolution From Within, said that she had once had doubts about her abilities, lacked self esteem, and generally fell into depression when she retreated from the challenges of equity and celebration of women’s lives. If Gloria Steinem doubted herself and undervalued her capacities, is it any wonder women of lesser fame and influence do so too?
But back to the current sweaty palms challenge I have set for myself. I am a certified Iyengar yoga teacher. That means I studied for three years with a certified teacher, then entered a teacher training program and eventually took a national assessment followed by receiving my Certificate. It was one of the most rigorous periods of study and training in my life. I have a University degree and post grad work but that was a walk in the park compared to the Iyengar assessment. And my first assessment was over a decade ago.
After establishing our little studio, training new teachers and a few zig-zags and distractions, I am once more attempting a national assessment for an intermediate certificate. Whew. Just saying that makes my hair follicles tingle and my eyeballs get a bit hard.
Here’s the process: More study, more training, more workshops and an intensive period of training with one of Canada’s primo mentor Iyengar teachers, herself 79 years old and at the top of her game. On top of that, there is daily practice, plus a teaching workload that sometimes consumes every neuron and synapse.
The daily practice consists of the asanas (pose work), of anatomy, philosophy, practical applications, therapeutic safe keeping of those with skeletal or muscular disabilities and pranayama (breath work). Also included is svadyaya (self study) which is one of the Niyamas (a set of behaviours that comprise the “shall-do” in our dealings with the inner world) outlined by the yogi Patanjali in his sutras. It is our responsibility to know our own short comings as teachers and students; our blind spots, our imbalances and our natural tendencies. Patanjali says yogis come in three sorts: mild, medium or intense. And most of us are all three but not at the same time or in the same arenas of study. What do I approach with mildness? With a medium effort? Intensely? Do I need to heat up the mild effort? Maintain the middle effort? Further intensify some efforts? And when a pose is difficult, what is my response? Do I seek assistance from my mentor? Grind away day after day praying for illumination? Or trust the process? Is there merely vibrancy but no illumination as Iyengar once said of a student who was muscling his way through the pose work? Or is light shining on the yoga of the body-mind-Spirit?
A public examination in front of one’s peers is a moment of vulnerability. We rarely have such focused attention from the senior teachers who make up the assessment team. During the assessment, four pairs of eyes are laser like and turned on us. The results are made public too.
There is one thing though that I am certain about. I have learned so much in the process that I am grateful to BKS Iyengar for his forethought in demanding we train and certify to preserve the integrity of his work, keeping it fresh for ourselves and our students. And at a certain point, the outcome becomes secondary. The final Niyama in Patanjali’s sutras is isvara pranidhana. Some translate that to mean “surrender to God.” In my current challenge, I have taken it to mean letting go into the devotional with sincerity. And that is how I know.
All will be well. And all manner of things will be well.
So said Julian of Norwich almost a thousand years ago. The truth of that faith echoes down the tunnel of the years for all of us to hear and to know for ourselves.
PS: Steinem’s book was “inspired by women whose self-esteem is making the deepest revolution.”
Kelly Murphy is owner of a yoga studio in Nanaimo.