A Month with Richard and MarySep 12, 2022
This past summer I experienced the joy of participating in Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor’s month-long Yoga Teachers’ Intensive. At a time when the yoga community is rebuilding and its popularity seems to have declined after more than two years of ZOOM classes, to be in person with these iconic teachers and in a room full of like-minded practitioners was pure joy.
I want to share with you some of my favorite takeaways. This is the second time that I had the opportunity to do Richard and Mary’s month-long teachers’ intensive. I’ve changed since the first time, my takeaways changed, and of course Richard and Mary’s teaching has also changed.
That is really part of the beauty of it — the transformation that happens on our mat and through our yoga practice over the course of weeks, months, years, and decades. The constant reminder that nothing is permanent, least of all our bodies.
Here’s my list of the lessons learned.
Yoga is an experiential practice. What you learn from a teacher is limited to their own experience either from their practice or their teaching. The only way to know what will work for you is to go have your own experience. This means you must practice, consistently, with effort, for a long time. Experience your practice, your body, your cycles. Observe yourself. Get firmly rooted in your own experience of yoga — because it’s something that no one else can show you. You must see it for yourself.
The subtleties of yoga are infinitesimal. Details matter. Details can make an old posture new again. Subtleties in asana take us into deeper mystical states, they pull our focus to the internal, and they lead us to subtleties of the mind. By cultivating awareness of the subtle we are better able to recognize the internal forms of the posture, breath, bandhas, and drishti. Our work in practice is never done, we peel off layers and find more underneath.
Yoga has a ripple effect. The practice of yoga is not a selfish endeavor. Rather, it yoga is fundamentally intertwined with our relationship to other beings. As we practice, we plant seeds of goodness. Yoga is about practice. You show up fully, you absorb fully, you act with good intention and the action leaves seeds. The karma that comes from our action scatters seeds to our direct environment and beyond. Through practice we can tap into a sense of interconnectedness. Yoga makes us more human.
Sit with the residue of the practice. The residue is the best part. It’s easy to gloss over and run off to the business of our lives after practice. But it’s invaluable to pause and be with the residue. The pleasure we experience through yoga isn’t from the action of putting our foot behind our head or catching our heels. Truthfully, many of us just want those parts to be over with as soon as possible. Nevertheless, we devote more time to hard yoga poses than we do to appreciating the stillness at the end of our practice. So, the next time you want to rush off to the rest of your day, pause instead and just be. Appreciate the moments when the yoga has stopped. All that is leftover, all that the mind has not processed appears in the form of sensation in the body.
Be Gentle. A recurring theme of Richard and Mary’s teachings was to be gentle, both in your approach to practice, in what you expect from your body, and what you expect from your students. To practice for your entire life, we must all be gentle in practicing asana, reducing intensity when needed, giving ourselves permission to accommodate our practice to our being every day, rather than the opposite. As teachers, be gentle with your students. Strong adjustments are rarely beneficial, keeping your students safe – physically and mentally – is your priority.
Look Again, and again, and again. Whether it’s a breath pattern, posture, or sensation. Keep looking more deeply and see new things. That’s where the gems lie — not in the obtuseness of practice, but in the minuteness. This is the difference between practicing and practicing habitually. One of the goals of yoga is to wake us up. This could be waking up to our own body, our own patterns, our very existence. Have you ever had the experiences when the same messages keep presenting themselves to you, whether in your yoga practice or in the rest of your life? Why does this happen? Because you need to look again. Keep looking until your last breath. (Thanks to Dean for help on this one).
The month with Richard and Mary reminded me of how we all need help along this path. We need teachers and community to support us, inspire us, and show us the way. Truly accomplished teachers are rare and important in guiding us on the way.
Join the waitlist for the Beyond Yoga Teacher Training. This continuing education program begins in October.
Thanks to Sean Ambrose for the amazing photos of the training.
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