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Taking the Seat of the Student

Spirit House YogaSpirit House Yoga began a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Certification program earlier this year. Our first of ten weekend modules last February started with, The Seat of the Teacher. We hear this phrase often in yoga, but what does it mean to take the seat of the student? On many different occasions, I’ve had the honor to witness some of my yoga teachers being students. Perhaps the most memorable was in Park City, Utah in 2009. Martha and I went to a training taught by John Friend, and on one of the mornings, my primary teacher, Baron Baptiste (who lives in Park City) showed up as a student. Baron placed his mat in the back of the room and became one of the many students in the room. At one point during our practice, John honored Baron by having him come to the front of the room to demonstrate a beautiful pose with John assisting, on my mat! It was something I’ll never forget.

Another example happened in Estes Park, Colorado in 2008. My teacher, Desiree Rumbaugh was teaching a backbend class and one of my other teachers, Todd Norian was in the back of the room writing down everything Desiree said and taught – two amazing examples of two great yoga teachers modeling to the rest of us how to take the seat of the student.

Martha and I just finished hosting the great Betsey Downing, combining her visit with our eighth teacher training module. The focus for this particular module was on sequencing. As a teacher, owner of the studio, and host for an important guest, I’m well aware of how every word and action is observed by our teacher trainees. Martha and I wear many hats during such an event and it’s important to model how to take the seat of the student. Betsey did an amazing job modeling how to take the seat of the teacher. Her 40 plus years as a yoga teacher set the standard for all in attendance to be inspired by and emulate.

The Sunday session of Betsey’s visit was primarily on sequencing and we opened up and promoted this session in particular to local yoga teachers. Many teachers were in attendance and they also modeled how to be a student. After my Monday night class, the day after the event, one of our trainees asked me about one of the teachers who showed up on Sunday morning, but she didn’t return for the afternoon session. She noticed this teacher being unengaged and not taking notes like everyone else. In every moment of our lives, we are presenting ourselves as a yes or a no. It’s just that simple. This one particular teacher presented herself as a no and everyone in the room knew it.

We can only hope that other yoga teachers coming to class can be a positive influence on the rest of the class – much like Baron and Todd. Too often this isn’t the case and these lessons will be learned the hard way. While some teachers like Baron and Todd set positive examples of being a yes in taking the seat of the student, other teachers set an example of being a no. These moments can serve as a reminder for us all as to whether we show up for our lives as a yes or a no. Which do you want to be?

Is Teaching Yoga Your Dharma?

004The word dharma is often translated as truth, duty and purpose. We all have a purpose in life and it’s our duty to figure out what our purpose is. In Oklahoma City where I live, yoga has exploded over the past four years. We seem to have yoga studio on top of yoga studio, which means we have also had an explosion of people teaching yoga. The studio my wife and I own offers a teacher training program. One of the questions we ask on our application is why do you want to teach yoga? People discover yoga, fall in love with the practice and often have a desire to share what they’ve discovered for themselves. There is nothing wrong with wanting to share what you yourself love, but does that mean you should become a yoga teacher? Pursuing our desires often keeps us from discovering our dharma, our purpose in life. For example, I enjoy cooking and sharing good food with friends, but being a professional chef is not my dharma.

     If you’ve been around yoga long enough, you’ve most likely heard of or even read the Bhagavad Gita. The answers to some of life’s most important questions can be found within this text, including who should teach yoga and who should not. One of my favorite quotes is by Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” This one sentence summarizes the entire Bhagavad Gita, the greatest book on yoga, written in 500 – 200 BCE. Emerson first read the Bhagavad Gita in 1843, writing, “It was as if an empire spoke to us—nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of old intelligence.”

     “To be yourself” is a Pandu quality, the side of the war our hero Arjuna is on in the Bhagavad Gita. “Something else” reflects the opposing side of the conflict, the Kuru family. The “greatest accomplishment” is winning an internal conflict – I am this versus I should be that. Not only is the world constantly trying to define who we should be, we also impose such judgment on ourselves. Why is it so hard to be ourselves, completely open, honest and without pretense?

     “I am this – I should be that” comes from our lack of self-worth, desperately trying anything and everything to be accepted by our family, friends and society. The Bhagavad Gita is a how-to book on transformation—which can be understood as letting go of who we used to be—our Kuru-self. Renunciation is a main theme throughout the Bhagavad Gita. Renunciation means motiveless action. My favorite definition for renunciation is dropping the outside reflections for the reality within. The Kurus represent the outside reflections, our selfishness, desires and attachments. The Pandus are the reality within, our truth, purpose and dharma—one of the central concepts in the Bhagavad Gita.

     The Bhagavad Gita can be summarized in to three words – DharmaActions – Destiny. However, there is a huge difference between actions originating from desire or from dharma. One of the first major teachings in the Bhagavad Gita comes in Chapter 2, Verse 47: Never think about personal gain or impressing others. Perform all your actions without being attached to the outcome, whether of success or failure. Verse 49: An ordinary action performed with desire is greatly inferior to an action coming from the guidance of wisdom (dharma). The question we have to ask ourselves, is whether or not our actions originate from our desires or from our dharma?

     The Kurus represent desire and the Pandus represent dharma. The primary message of the Bhagavad Gita is to align our actions on the side of dharma. Actions performed with desire are often a means of projecting, enhancing or conforming to a false image. By aligning our actions with our dharma, our actions are performed for their own sake—not trying to appear greater than we actually are. In Chapter 2, Verse 50, Krishna tells us that yoga is the art of proper action. When I stated earlier that renunciation means motiveless action, this is to what I was referring—actions originating from dharma, not desire.

     Joseph Campbell said, “We must let go of the life we have planned so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.” This one sentence is yet another way of approaching the Bhagavad Gita. Within this one sentence, we have the teaching of renunciation – we must let go. We also have the teaching of desire versus dharmathe life we have planned versus the life that is waiting for us – our destiny.

     Another important teaching from the Bhagavad Gita concerns maya, the power of illusion that veils one’s true nature – I am. This is the source of our low self-worth, making us feel unworthy, inadequate, unappreciated, unwanted, unheard, unloved and undervalued. This illusion of a lack of self-worth is so powerful—we believe it to be true. When we try to make ourselves appear greater than we actually are, it’s because of our own self-worth issues. We don’t think we’re enough as we are. We don’t need anyone or anything outside ourselves to validate our existence. What we’ve been seeking our entire lives is simply to be who we are.

     Yoga studios and teachers come and go. No one opens a yoga studio thinking they will fail and I doubt many people start teaching yoga thinking they would not be very good instructors. People are successful when they perform without any personal desires (motiveless action). The underlying desire is to feel worthy, appreciated, wanted, heard, seen, loved and valued. Looking outside ourselves for validation, trying to make ourselves look better than someone else, pretending to be someone we are not, lying and trying to prove ourselves is all connected to a lack of self-worth.

     Your desires are not your dharma. If you teach yoga to somehow make yourself look better than others, you are a Kuru, and Kurus shouldn’t teach yoga. This is the metaphorical war represented in the Bhagavad Gita: learning to be yourself, without pretense—the greatest accomplishment.

 

Ted Cox is the author of Warrior Self – Unlocking the Promise of the Bhagavad Gita.
Ted is also the owner of Spirit House Yoga in Oklahoma City. www.spirithouseyoga.com
Follow Ted on twitter @warriorself

Ross Rayburn to visit Spirit House Yoga!

High Res Headshot

     When Martha and I began Spirit House Yoga nine years ago, part of our vision for our studio was to offer workshops and bring in the very best guest teachers who represented our overall vision.  We’ve hosted around twenty events with eight different teachers, bringing popular teachers back and inviting new teachers to teach weekend workshops.  Such is the case now.  We just hosted Todd Norian, who has visited our studio the most and is very well received by our yoga community these past many years.  In just a few weeks, we host a new teacher, Ross Rayburn.  The dates for Ross’s visit are June 14 – 16.  Although these dates are a little soon after Todd, we have to book teachers when they’re available.

     Martha and I don’t “blindly” invite people to teach at our studio that we don’t know or have worked with personally.  Martha and I travelled down to Dallas a year ago this month to meet and work with Ross.  I had attended a lecture Ross gave in Estes Park, Colorado a couple of years ago and was very impressed by his knowledge and presentation.  Martha and I jumped at the chance to work with him in Dallas and we are both extremely excited to have him find time in his schedule to come teach in Oklahoma City.

     I realize it sounds like I’m trying to hype our event and to some degree I admit that I am.  However, you do not want to miss this opportunity.  We don’t offer too many workshops during the span of a year so it may be a while before we’re able to have Ross come back.  2014 is booked and we’re beginning to book 2015.  Martha and I are extremely discriminating on who we invite to teach at our studio.

     What Martha and I have observed is that people talk themselves out of coming to workshops, believing they won’t be good enough or whatever other excuse they can create to not step into something unfamiliar.  If you have doubts about coming, forget about it; Ross is the teacher you want to experience firsthand, especially if you’ve never attended a workshop event.  When I introduced myself to Ross, I felt like I had known him forever.  He’s that kind of rare individual you wish you had as a best friend. Personally, Ross may be one of the best teachers I have ever worked with; I find Ross to be extremely grounded, open and genuine.  This workshop will be a huge learning opportunity for everyone in Oklahoma City.

     I trust I’ve made my point so I’ll close.  There’s not too much I get excited about, but I’m really looking forward to Ross’s visit.  I fully expect it to sell out, so don’t let this opportunity pass you by.  We’ll have the registration for Ross open as soon as possible. We’ll send a newsletter out when we get more information.  Don’t talk yourself out of this opportunity!

Ted

Welcome

Ted Santa FeWell, we finally have our new web site up. We hope you like it. With any project, it was a little more involved than we imagined and it took a little longer than we hoped. An element of our new site is this blog. I’ve never “blogged” before, so be patient, I’ll do my best to write something you might find interesting to read.

Martha and I are about to step into our tenth year of Spirit House Yoga. One of the great joys of owning Spirit House Yoga is the people we meet. Had we continued solely in our music professions, we would not have met all of you!

I taught music at the University of Oklahoma for ten years prior to opening our studio. At some point during my tenure at O.U., I asked the question, “Is this it, is this all there is, is this what my life is going to look like until I retire?” Be careful in asking a question like that, the universe will respond.

At the core of what I wanted to do with my life was to be in the service to others, but I wasn’t sure how I could manifest that into a new career. One of the qualities I seem to naturally possess is being able to teach, but teaching music was no longer an option for me. Nine years ago at this time of year, an opportunity presented itself to Martha and I which turned into Spirit House Yoga. Teaching yoga became my way to serve others.

I was ready for change; I was ready to start living on a much higher level, and the practice of yoga gave me all of that and much more. Yoga gives us the life we have yearned to live. This is what Spirit House Yoga wishes to support in all of your lives. The life you yearn to live is waiting for you too; all that’s necessary is a little courage and faith to make that step of commitment.
We invite you to step deeper into your practice, deeper into yourself, and to start making those positive changes in your life so you too can live a happier life. We promise we’ll be there to support all of you on your path, every step of the way.

Ted