Top Lessons Learned from Richard and Mary

The journey of yoga begins when we acknowledge our humanity. Yoga should make us feel more ordinary, less extraordinary. It should make us kinder, more tolerant, peaceful, happy and humble. The practice of yoga connects us more deeply to the web of life. And once we realize this the practice begins.

Old patterns die hard – if they die at all. We continue to suffer because we don’t remember correctly. We make the same mistakes, do the same things, repeat the same patterns. Our samskaras, habitual patterns that cause us pain, show up in our actions on and off the mat. The mind works with memory and our minds are tricky – they try to keep us from practicing because when we are practicing well the mind begins to dissolve. So practice slowing down, being present and aware and maybe you’ll be able to break some of your patterns on and off the mat.

You need a solid foundation. Over the course of the intensive we spent more time on sun salutations and standing poses than we did on seated poses, backbends and the closing sequence combined. One of the main focuses on the standing poses was the legs. As in using them – a lot. As in setting a solid foundation – something that supports you, something that roots you, something that you can grow from. Yes, this is true in the practice of asana – the fundamentals show up again and again through the series. But it’s also true in life – you want a foundation that will hold you up.

The place to start and the place to finish is with the breath. Practice should be a meditation and breath is the base of everything. With breath the practice becomes transformative. The practice keeps waking us up over and over again. Through breath the practice of asana becomes a true meditation. The asanas will come and go through the years – the practice will evolve – and the breath should be something we do until we die.

Teachers are the conduit of yoga. A teacher is there to serve, guide, support, and assist the student – they should be in the background. A teacher should accept the role of bodhisattva and practice pure compassion. Compassion towards students, the self, everyone. Teachers do what they can to wake the student up and meet the student where he or she is. A good teacher will trust the student and teach them to trust themselves.

Show Up. The practice of yoga is about showing up more in your life. Showing up on your mat. Showing up on your cushion. Showing up in your work. In your relationships. Yoga isn’t just something you do with your body. It is a FULL commitment to what is true. Richard and Mary demonstrated this perfectly – they resonated joy in their teachings, their relationship with each other, and in their practice.

Fearlessness is feeling your fears. Fearlessness isn’t not having any fears. We are human and as humans we are going to have fears. So be fearless and feel your fears. Acknowledge them. Face them. Ask yourself what lies behind those fears. And then sit with them and deal with the discomfort that they bring up. After all, isn’t all of this asana teaching us to deal with feeling uncomfortable?

A sangha is a powerful thing. Something powerful happens when people are practicing together in a sangha or community. You are able to process and grow at a faster rate because you are supported in an energetic field. Richard and Mary are real practitioners and there are a mandala of people around them who want what they are having. The community has an impact – you feel supported and and able to burn through the part of you that is scared – because being scared doesn’t work with this practice.

We are blessed to have a human life. The cadaver lab wasn’t only about learning anatomy – it was about acknowledging the fragility and preciousness of life. The most important lesson I learned from the cadaver lab didn’t have to do with the human body, as fascinating as it is. My greatest takeaway is a deep appreciation for the magnificence of our simple existence and a realization of how spectacular this life is. The cadaver lab made evident that you can’t take the material stuff with you when you go, but you can live now.

Finish strong (and long). Don’t rush the finishing sequence. Richard and Mary would save at least 20 minutes for the finishing postures and another 10 for savasana. Slowing down and savoring the end of the practice allows for the energy of the practice to assimilate correctly so that you feel at peace and happy – it creates more balance in your body. Save time to let all the work you did in your practice integrate fully into your body. If you ever feel like the practice isn’t working – if you feel irritated or jolted after yoga – consider that perhaps you need to slow down the finish and spend more time letting all the work you did on your mat sink in.

Find the line(s). During the intensive Richard and Mary talked a lot about alignment in asana. Their teachings included action and counteraction, leg spirals, kidney wings, oblique twists, and toned low bellies. We stood in samasthiti with dowels placed along our spine as we tried to find a straight line. The awesome experience that I needed to have wasn’t about the poses – it was bringing my head and my heart into better alignment. The brain and the heart interact and getting them on the same page will likely always be a struggle. But the glimpses of greater alignment I experienced during the course have allowed me to begin to resolve internal conflict that I have felt for years. 

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