The Island of a Misfit Yogi

(Note: When I created this blog, I wanted it to be not only a place to share my strengths, but most importantly, a place to share my struggles. It’s easy to think that the teacher has it all together, that he/she is living the Yoga without any inner conflict whatsoever. Part of my path as a teacher is to be honest and share my struggles, so that it will hopefully help someone else who is wrestling with all of this, too. It would have been a huge help for me to read of others’ processes as they move through this work of deep transformation, rather than reading only the strengths or only the insights that came from the conflict. In this light, I’m sharing an experience I had yesterday. Love and peace, Carie)

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Today was the worst morning I have had in quite a long time. I arrived for my third Saturday morning class at the new yoga studio, excited to share my love of Freedom Style Yoga, and looking forward to a spirit-filled experience of being in a room full of people courageously following their inner guidance. Ah, it’s such an exquisite feeling to be immersed in a room full of that. It’s inspiring, renewing, and deeply healing. As the minutes ticked down toward 9:30, no one walked through the door of Studio 1 where I was. 9:35…nobody. Zero people showed up to my class. There were 20 in the studio on the other side of the wall, and there were 18 in the class after mine. For me? Absolutely zero.

And an absolute zero is exactly what I felt like. My autopilot pattern is to spin something like this into evidence of my worth as a teacher: I suck and nobody on the planet is interested in what I have to share. I closed the door and sat on my mat, looking out through the frosted window walls as silhouettes with mat bags made their way toward the building, for another class besides mine, and just let the tears flow. I’ve learned over the years that this work of living the Yoga isn’t work I do alone and in moments like these I have a choice: I can thrash around in an eddy of this or I can reach out for a lifeline to help get myself back into calm waters. So, I texted one of my closest friends in Virginia for help in getting out of this quickly spinning whirlpool. Thank God for my friends, who remind me who I am when I so easily forget.

I got a Kleenex and began rolling up my mat when the image hit me: The Island of Misfit Toys. This was a scene from that old children’s TV Christmas classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The Island of Misfit Toys was an island where all the toys nobody wanted went; toys that were not perfect, toys that were discarded in favor of newer and fancier ones, toys that didn’t fit in, toys that other people didn’t understand…like a cowboy who rides an ostrich instead of a horse, and a “Charlie-in the-box” instead of the usual “Jack-in-the-box.”

I feel like a toy on that island. More accurately, I feel like a yogi on the island of misfit yogis, except it seems that I’m the only yogi on the island. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me what Freedom Style Yoga was; very few people in this region, except my already-established students, have even heard of it. Someone even suggested to me a couple of weeks ago that I change the name of my class to vinyasa flow, since nobody knows what Freedom Style Yoga is.

Today I seriously wondered about that. What else would I call it, anyway? FSY is what it is. And why should I call it something else – or worse, a something else that it’s not even remotely close to what I do? Freedom Style Yoga is what I do. It’s who I am. This style of yoga in which you cultivate the skill of inner listening and let yourself look for the feelings of rightness in the pose is all that I know. It’s a practice of giving expression to your deepest impulses and inner nudgings on the mat, so that it translates into living your life that way. Because we let the energy of Creation move through us and animate us, it’s a highly creative practice.This is what I have studied and practiced, and this is what I teach and how I live.  I am definitely a “Carie-out-of the-box” and if I were a cowgirl, I think riding an eagle would be pretty cool.

Maybe this is the curse of being a creative person: that mantra of “nobody gets me.” It’s definitely my mantra on a day like today when zero people come to my class. Because what I’m teaching is new and different, it’s so easy to let “nobody gets me” be the banner over me as I eddy in the whirlpool of isolation. But I know it’s not true and I know I’m really not a misfit yogi on my own island. My friends get me. My regular students in already-established classes at another studio love practicing in a way that gives expression to their Truth. When I’m blessed enough to teach in different cities or states, those folks get it, too. The idea of Freedom Style Yoga is completely new to lots of people, I’m discovering; but it’s growing. 50 people or zero people in these new classes, I’m pressing on and I’m pioneering forward, come what may. I’m blessed to share what I am so passionate about with anyone who is interested, whenever they’re interested.

Time for this cowgirl to get back on her…eagle…and fly. Yee haw!

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Freedom Style Yoga: Meditation in Motion

Meditation, or inner listening, is the most important aspect in the practice of Yoga; it’s the basic, fundamental idea of what the practice is about. Yoga is the mental and spiritual re-orientation of moving from a muddled mindstate that feels separate from God into a clear mindstate that knows, through direct experience, that it’s the unique expression of IMG_0702God and there’s no way it could ever possibly be separate. This “mind switch” is the actual act of Yoga itself, and feels much like flicking on a light switch. The practice of Yoga is not just about flicking the switch on from time to time during your practice sessions, but keeping it on all the time, as you live your life, 24/7. It’s that simple.

However, it’s not that simple. The practice of Yoga calls us to use our minds in a new way and, as we all know, doing something in a new involves a learning curve. It takes time and practice to learn a new skill. It also takes discipline, patience, and above all else, the willingness to let yourself be taught anew. Meditation is the easiest, most effective way that I’ve found to make the mind switch and consciously enter into the state of Yoga. It’s all about learning to quiet your mind, skillfully feel the infinite energy of yourself, and deeply listen. And it all starts with motionless sitting meditation practice, where it’s easy, where there aren’t a lot of external distractions.

There are many different techniques to learn how to sit in meditation but the important thing to remember is that meditation is not about technique only; it’s about the experience into which the technique takes you. In other words, meditation isn’t just about repeating a mantra, or breathing in certain ways, or having the textbook perfect sitting posture with your hands always in a certain shape. Each technique is a tool, a means, to help you immerse yourself in the Yoga: the actual experience of inseparable union with God, Source, Infinite Love, Higher Power…whatever words resonate with you that describe your own understanding of the Creative Life Force that is being Itself as you. Therefore, meditation isn’t about simply becoming a better meditator, in terms of getting better at replicating the various techniques. It’s about getting better at fully immersing yourself in the feeling of the infinite truth of you, in a still and distraction-free environment, and beginning to abide in a state of communion and communication with the Life Force as it comes up through you.

Basically, what all of this means is that with the practice of motionless sitting and feeling the truth of yourself, you’ll begin to tap into the well of your infinite guidance and wisdom. You’ll start being able to hear the nudging and promptings of The Universe. You’ll begin to intuit inner guidance about what to do or not do; what to say or not say, for example. You’ll begin to receive spiritual insights and specific directions, teachings from your Inner Teacher, on how to move and have your being; how to live your life.

Interestingly, with increased motionless sitting meditation practice you’ll start to find that you won’t be able to be still and motionless for very long. When you get quiet and still and tap into the energy of Creation as it comes up through your very presence, you will find yourself smack in the middle of Universal Flow; alive, creative, morphing and moving. When you align yourself with this, you’ll be aligning yourself with your truth and authenticity, infinite possibilities, healing, rejuvenation, love, and joy. You’ll be moved to move and will be inspired to live and, therefore, will be an inspiration for others. This is what the practice is about: extending what you experience on the meditation cushion into your life by actually living the inner listening, living the Yoga mindstate, living “Thy Will be done” all the time, rather than just during your formal sits every day or every once in a while. So the next step, then, is being able to continue meditating, i.e. inner listening and communication, while you move through all the things you do in your daily life. The next step is letting the meditation move you.

Freedom Style Yoga is an excellent way to begin to do this. The practice serves as a way to bridge motionless meditation in formal sits with moving meditation in normal life. Freedom Style Yoga is an intuitive approach to living that involves not deciding in advance about what to do or not do. Instead of making up your own mind about things, the practice is about listening inwardly for guidance about what to do or not do, trusting into what you find yourself knowing, and being brave enough to let yourself give expression to it in the world.

In terms of the Freedom Style asana practice, we start where it’s easy. We learn how to let the meditation find movement right on the mat, a microcosm of life, where it’s simpler than jumping straight out into the highway of daily life. The mat becomes a laboratory on which to safely explore the skill of an important merger: listening while you’re moving and moving while you’re listening. With practice, the two become a seamless, unified singularity.

Now, just as meditation isn’t about technique only, neither is asana just about technique only. It’s all about the meditative experience into which the technique takes you: the experience of Yoga, not just about the experience of an asana technique. Once you get into the actual Yoga experience, you can begin to surf the experience technique-free by following the feeling of rightness, wherever it takes you. In the practice of asana, this translates into letting go of what you think you’re supposed to do in the poses and, instead of making up your own mind in advance about what to do, meditate…listen…and be brave enough and trusting enough to give the IMG_0728guidance expression in the poses. The resulting feeling is a powerful and transformational sense of freedom to be You; to do your Yoga; to listen to your Inner Teacher. Instead of coloring inside of already-determined lines, we give ourselves permission to color outside of them. Sometimes that might look like exploring options and choices in traditional poses; it might look like inventing your own poses or unique variations to classical poses; it might look like a full-out freeform practice where you do exactly what you feel like doing. I’ve taken the freeform practice a step further, off the mat, into a moving meditation dance fusion called Bhakti Moves, which I wrote about in an earlier blog.

The more you practice the art of Freedom Style Yoga, the more it floods directly into your life off the mat into the practice of Freedom Style Living. You get better and better at inner listening all the time, while you’re moving through your life, doing all the things you do every day. You learn to flow with the perfect current of life, rather than against it. You begin to follow your inner guidance and live your life with courage and trust, just like in the practice sessions. You begin to expand outside of your ordinary comfort zones into the beautiful territory of freedom and growth. You begin to be a yogi living the Yoga in the world, helping others find the bravery to do the same. It’s deeply healing for you, for everyone else, and for the entirety of Creation. And you start where it’s easy: on the cushion and on the mat.