From Pawn to Queen

My partner loves chess and when he first asked me if I play I felt I disappointed him by saying no. I said I’d be willing to try, but that I really like backgammon. I’ve never had any interest in chess. It seems too complicated—too many things to keep track of and too many possibilities. I like the mix of math, chance and skill that backgammon requires. And it plays out pretty quickly.

However, I really like this guy and he was inadvertently pointing out a flaw in my being—that I was resistant to learning new things. So I sat down with him and he explained the name of each piece and where it could move. It was tedious and I was still resistant. I kept forgetting the names of the pieces and how they moved, much less getting to a point of developing any strategies and even farther removed from actually having fun.

But I heard him when he said he’d played the computer on its lowest setting when he first started learning. I noticed less competition anxiety in me when I played the computer. I didn’t feel judged by the computer! Unless I told someone, no one would know how many games I lost while I figured out where each piece went, learned the key opening moves and discovered you could create a new queen from a pawn… And it quickly became an addiction. Instead of dropping into sleep at the time of night I’d planned, I’d play game after game until I finally won one. And then 3. And then I changed the settings on the computer so I could shift my level of learning.

And this is how I see myogafreedom.com, my online yoga school.

It’s progressive. You can determine which setting you start on, for the most part. I still insist that you “win a few games” before you go to the advanced settings, because this is your body–your health–you’re playing with here so it pays to trust the longer journey.

That’s a phrase I say quite a bit in my teaching—trust the longer journey—mostly because it’s what I’ve had to learn and what I am still learning—as evidenced by my recent resistance to chess!

I have a tendency to make things harder than they need to be, even when they aren’t hard to begin with!

Lately I’ve experienced a less hectic schedule and yet I’ve watched my default mode set in by making myself late, even though that’s an anxious and uncomfortable place. At least it’s familiar. All this space? Hoowee! That’s disorienting. Being on time? Craziness. Leaving open gaps in my day with nothing planned in them? Absurd.

Anyway, what I’m saying here is that by seeing this tendency, and ONLY by seeing it, can I make a different choice. I say this in classes—you can’t release your shoulders until you know you’re clenching them in the first place. Ok, sure, it might happen (though I doubt it), but it won’t be conscious and isn’t the point of this particular yoga-game to wake up to who you really are? Well, that’s my view anyway. MYOGA’s motto is freedom to unfold and when it became clear that holding down a commercial studio lease was not leaving me financially free to visit dying relatives overseas (not to mention living relatives, or for that matter to take a weekend away or intensify my own personal practice and continued learning), I realized I was not modeling my mission on the deepest or highest levels.

So I began the process of putting most of my teachings online so that both my students and I could have freedom to unfold. My approach was simple—do it well. What I found I couldn’t do was to look at what anyone else was doing in this online yoga realm because it would distract me from what I could do. And this is another advantage of self-practice—

By practicing alone you develop your self-inquiry and discernment at the same time that you starve any anxiety-creating competition monsters in you.

If you’re really determined to compete, then yes I’m sure you’ll find a way, but practicing alone inherently focuses you on the only vehicle you have in this lifetime—yours! My approach to this online business, as Martha Graham put it, was to keep it mine, to do what only I could do. It has been my dissertation for my PhD, which no one is giving me, but that’s how I’ve been viewing it. I asked myself, “If you could create a platform where people could access virtually everything you know and have gathered about yoga in your 15+ years of teaching others and your 20+ years of self-practice, what would it look like?”

You can find anything and everything out there—that’s just the nature of the internet these days. Which is brilliant. It can also be overwhelming. You can start anywhere and do anything with online yoga, so where do you start? No, I thought, I’m going to stick to my values that say the foundations of practice never go out of style. Basics are like brushing your teeth—you don’t need fancy ways of doing it. You just need to do it regularly. I’d love to see more people remembering their animal natures—for the sake of their poor bodies—and stretching each time they get up from a bed, chair or car. Not just on Tuesdays at 5:30. We can recognize that yoga means union, and that being unified means not being separate from the body. (At the same time, somewhat esoterically, yoga also means not identifying with this transient body…but that’s discussion for another time.) For most of us and for most of the week, however, we are heads carting bodies around, so then spending an hour or so a week re-member-ing ourselves means we stay in maintenance mode.

So I say, let the maintenance begin at home. Just like you go to the dentist to have a thorough clean and get a few toys, learn a few tricks and perhaps fix some broken things, go to a good teacher for the same sort of purposes. But take care of yourSelf the rest of the time—

take responsibility for your precious person by getting to know it.

Dedicate time and energy to releasing the tensions that constrict blood and energy flow. Strengthen the areas that can more readily support you, like legs and core, instead of relying on your poor shoulders to cart you around like an errant kitten. Learn to breathe into each moment, whatever its flavor. You can brush your own teeth. You can know, maintain and develop your own self. What I offer you online is a guide for that process of inquiry, online community and conversation around each practice, as well as support in trusting the longer journey—in developing your love affair with yourSelf.

Call it a process for progressing from Pawn to Queen.

Just like me with chess—you might feel like it’s all too much to take on yourself. You might say,

“What if I’m doing it wrong?” or,

“I know I won’t do it unless it’s a public class.”

But it’s never too late to learn a new game and it may simply be a matter of breaking it down into smaller chunks that you can more fully integrate. And while you’re making your choice, why not choose one that strengthens your vision, sharpens your ingenuity within constraints, creates new pathways in your brain and develops abilities you may have never known you could have—like staying calm in tight situations, feeling centred in the midst of mayhem, being so strong you are willing to feel the precariousness of life without armouring, and learning to lighten life through laughter.

Or, more simply, you can breathe freely, move freely, be free. You have freedom to unfold.

Yes, let the live teacher be a jumpstart for you, but keep your own engine running. How? Learn what fuels you and what level of maintenance works best for you. What time of day is best to practice? How long? What do you enjoy? What do you resist? How do you feel afterwards? Your body is the only vehicle you’re going to get in this lifetime. It could run like a smooth and powerful river. Or you could neglect it and have to jumpstart it every time you want to get somewhere. The choice is yours to make.

No one can do this work for you. You’re the only one in there! And half the time even you have wandered off!

Come home to yourSelf.

Back Banana foliage

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