It’s one of the ways we’ve grown accustomed to interacting, particularly in online spaces: A casual conversation or a post about some interesting tidbit degrades (rather quickly) into aggressive accusations, misunderstandings, agitation, personal attacks, and a generally shitty feeling about the whole encounter. After a decade of social media staining every facet of our (modernized and technologically privileged) lives, we’ve likely all gotten sucked into the mire at some point. Some suffer it more, and more intensely than others – and the overall effect is that we’re left feeling less safe, less happy, less respected … we’re left with a lot LESS.

There aren’t good signs that this situation is improving anytime soon. Political poles repel people into their corners, gender/race/economic/social/religious topics are like dry grass just *waiting* for the hot fire of one incendiary comment to be made or misunderstood. Hell, even in the yoga “community” space, allegedly full of free and loving folk, there are oft-devolving threads dripping with a vitriol that seems downright unnecessary. We’re really not good at being gentle with each other.

It all makes me feel sad … and old. I find myself responding with sentences that start with, “In my day …” Which of course isn’t true. Bullying is actually the oldest human profession, shrouded in some vacuous subconscious mess of craving for parental approval/discipline, a drastically misguided striving for alleged “alpha” status, or perhaps just the basic primal urge to distance ourselves from the weak in the pack by acting like aggressors to signal relative strength. Or none of that, who the fuck knows. What’s clear is that humans have an embarrassingly short fuse when it comes to anger, insecurity, and aggression.

So what’s a yogi to do?

Well, I have no real idea. I haven’t found anyone who does. There are likely better ways of being a good person, but is there an actual “yogic protocol” for how to handle all of this suffering? NOPE. There’s so little consensus on what yoga even is, never mind how to subscribe to it as a system by which to live, I say good luck to anyone who tries to do so in any formal way.

So … what’s a yogi to do?

Here’s what I think (since this is my space to share my thoughts; you’re free to have your own thoughts that you can express in your own space, of course): Anything can be used as a tool to support our greater intention(s). Whether or not what I’m doing is considered (by whom?) to be the “right” (by what standards?) “yogic” approach (what’s that?), is it actually helping me be the person I want to be in the world? I’m tired of trying to do battle in the world of titles and constructed categories intended to calcify organic adaptation. As well, people have used the titles of “yoga” and “yogic” to hurt as well as help, so there’s no magic in the water, y’all. In that vein, I think “what’s a yogi to do?” is the wrong question. Here’s a better one:

What do YOU/I WANT to do?

Behind this question is, I think, an even more piercing and insightful one, from the world’s Jann-Arden-of-life-guides, Danielle LaPorte: How do you/I want to FEEL?

Roll with me for a bit here. I recently became unintentionally embroiled in one of these innocuous-turned-unnecessarily-aggressive online comment thread blatherings. You know the ones: It starts with a posting about some thing, then is followed by people spouting opinions, unearthing a feast of conflict, and then promptly devouring it with fierce rigour. I got caught in the gravity of the comment event horizon and was half a dozen retorts in before I pulled myself back from the adrenaline rush and race for the last word. Two egos duking it out, looking for that conciliatory moment that never NEVER comes, punching the commentary shit out of each other until indeterminate defeat declares the winner to be … exactly no one.

I don’t know what that guy was feeling, but I know I had to consciously detach. I was hurt because the attack was (seemingly purposely?) done in a public thread meant to shame me in front of my peers and elevate (?) this person to a status of “greater know-it-all”. I was confused because the accusations seemed unfounded. I was angry. I wanted vengeance. I wanted to put this guy in his place. I wanted …

WHAT THE ACTUAL F. How did I go from being someone who adores being professionally passionate about freedom from suffering to some yogi Gollum in under a dozen back-and-forths here? My sense of calm and balance was shot, my energy was zapped, and I was feeling deflated. I was failing at being who I wanted to be. Big time.

I went to bed. And I woke up with a jolt at 3:30am. My mind was still chewing that bone, adrenaline still leaking into my body. I felt agitated. I felt like I’d missed an opportunity to be gentle, and had been self-protective instead.

So, I got up and had a glass of water, did a few stretches, and settled back into bed with a different approach: metta.

I laid in bed and sent this dude good vibes. And I felt better.

Who do you/I want to BE?

I don’t know if I’m being a good or bad “yogi”. I don’t even know anymore if I’m allowed to be a yogi, based on everything from where I was (and wasn’t) born, whether my position on forward folding in the mornings (I don’t do it, I don’t teach it) makes me worthy of basic respect from other yogis, right through to my stance (or lack thereof) on Hindu nationalism. I do, however, know what I wanted to do, feel, and be in this situation. Rather than angry, vicious, and vindictive, I wanted to be strong, gentle, and compassionate. I wanted to stop myself from feeling violence towards someone I didn’t know who seemed to mean me harm for no good reason. I wanted to stop feeling unsafe, at the mercy of his actions in an online space where I spend time. I wanted to be the change I was seeking from that encounter.

I set aside as secondary the semantics about labeling, definitions, ownership of titles, critiques, and abstract positions. I just repositioned myself as a person who could be gentle with another person.

What did I lose? Well, the anxiety, tension, and maybe that argument in his eyes. Who gives a righteous F.

What did I gain? Honestly, what I wanted to gain was my own sense of happiness and connection again. It’s tough to be gentle these days. It’s tough to generate a sense of optimism. It’s tough to stay centred amidst the storms of criticism and biting sarcasm, actual horrifying violence and aggression. But that’s who I want to be: gentle, optimistic, and unshakeable. This may be a strange statement from a person who calls herself a yoga teacher and yoga teacher trainer, but I don’t care that much about the title of “yogi”. I see yoga as another (rather excellent) set of tools to support our intentions. It’s my intention to be strong, free, gentle, bold, useful, successful … which all really boils down to how I want to FEEL. Every situation can be a tool to feel more free, or to fuel our suffering. I’m not really trying to be a “good yogi”; I’m doing my best to feel more free, to make gentler choices.

Set yourself 10 minutes to be undisturbed. Be comfortable. Turn your attention to your breath without needing to change it in any way; simply watch it flow in and out of you.

Imagine you are sitting across from yourself. Take a moment to look into your own eyes. When you’re ready, say to yourself:

May you be at ease in the world.

May you feel safe and strong.

May you forgive, and be forgiven.

May you love, and be loved.

Rest in that moment. In a few breaths, imagine now that someone you love deeply has sat down across from you, where you yourself just sat. Gaze into her/his eyes and make a connection. When you’re ready, say to this person:

May you be at ease in the world.

May you feel safe and strong.

May you forgive, and be forgiven.

May you love, and be loved.

Enjoy the feeling. In a few breaths more, imagine that someone who casually crosses your path (a teacher, a barista, the cashier at your local grocery) has sat down across from you. Make eye contact and settle into that space. When you’re ready, say to this person:

May you be at ease in the world.

May you feel safe and strong.

May you forgive, and be forgiven.

May you love, and be loved.

Allow the image of that person to leave, and take a few breaths to feel centred again. Now, bring to mind someone who is difficult to love. You don’t have to go for the jugular here; just someone with whom you struggle. Feel as though that person has taken a seat across from you. Look them in the eye. Allow feelings to come and go while you stay rooted in the movement of your breath and the safety of your own space. When you’re ready, say to this person:

May you be at ease in the world.

May you feel safe and strong.

May you forgive, and be forgiven.

May you love, and be loved.

Sit with the thoughts and feelings that come and go for as long as you need. Then, let that person go and return to the movement of your breath. Feel yourself safe, and perhaps repeat the metta practice for yourself again.

Gently inhale, exhale.

Metta meditation with Pranalife Yoga May you be at ease in the world/ may you feel safe and strong; may you forgive and be forgiven; may you love and be loved.

I took a spontaneous trip to Antigua, Guatemala last week and it was this kind of beautiful:

It started with a cool opportunity: My former biz coach Rebecca Tracey and I were chatting when she mentioned that she and a few other women entrepreneurs were getting a villa in Antigua and there was room for one more and did I want to go. Hells yes I want to go. So, I chatted with my partner about the idea (who was, of course, pumped for me to have a cool adventure), got my classes covered, found a cheap flight, packed two bags and then re-packed down to one reasonably-sized bag, and off I went.

It was a working vacation for everyone, spent in cafes with Guatemalan dark roast, brainstorming with smart women making their dream life a real thing, eating the BEST guacamole, and wrapping in the evenings with wine and “la bomba” – the super-hot hot tub in our courtyard – listening to the volcano rumble and swapping our Rogue One personal stories. Lots of laughs and learning and new friendships forged.

There was one key thing I observed during this trip:

The main difference between people who are living their dream and people who aren’t is what each wakes up expecting. Every morning, we all got up and expected that we’d create the life we’d imagined for ourselves, and that it would work. And we did, and it did. That doesn’t mean we weren’t working through challenges, but we were also working to get where we wanted to be.

In yoga we call this kind of practice “vinyasa krama”: Not simply moving, but taking certain steps in a certain way, towards a certain goal. Moving with intention.

Over the years I’ve learned to trust that kind of intention-driven movement. It’s what’s made my life as kickass as it is. It takes vision, trust in one’s self, and the simple (not always easy) commitment to keep moving in the right direction. It works better if it’s responsive rather than rigid: I haven’t always known what my next move would be, and the flow of life is rarely linear, so I’ve learned to stay focused on where I want to end up and to just keep lining up my toes with the end goal.

“To climb a mountain (or a volcano if you’re in Guatemala), aim your feet in it’s direction, and keep putting one foot in front of the other until you arrive.”

Pranalife Yoga Teacher Training with Advanced Instructor Asia Nelson, workshop Diane Bruni Kitchener | Waterloo | Toronto

This past weekend was the (G)rad Party for the 2016 Pranalife Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) crew and it was a night – a year, really – of celebration and gratitude for the experience of a lifetime. Every year, this training produces great yoga teachers and changes people’s lives, and it’s inspiring as F for me to watch people show up at different stages to seize the opportunities this course creates.

This accomplishment requires the same kind of focus that was evident with my Antigua crew: people committing to the lives they want to create, and then actually creating it.

Pranalife Yoga Teacher Training generates success because we do two key things:

  • We study the best skills to succeed as yoga teachers. It’s a good gig; this course makes people great at it.
  • We create a safe space and constant opportunities for people to make the changes they want in their lives.

My approach with this training is rooted in yoga’s philosophy of “Namaste”. Namaste is how you say “hello” or “goodbye” in India, but its origins come from a belief that we are all free, strong, capable beings at our core. When we greet someone with “namaste” we’re saying, “My strong, free self sees your strong, free self.” In this training, I see people as already free, strong, and capable, and my job is to greet them with a space and opportunities to practice living as such.

In other words, I wake up each day expecting that the people in my training will succeed at creating what they’re envisioning, and then we get on doing it. In the process, we develop what BKS Iyengar called a “deep-seated trust in oneself.” That, to me, is true yoga.

About Pranalife Yoga Teacher Training

If you’ve been wanting to explore this kind of growth and change, check out Pranalife Yoga Teacher Training (YTT).

Lots of people take this training for personal interest. Come to strengthen your yoga practice and study the art of living with more freedom. Give yourself a new way to approach your life.

LEARN MORE ABOUT 2017 PRANALIFE YOGA TEACHER TRAINING

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“I will never forget YTT. It has contributed to massive changes in my life.
You bridged this gap between my regular life to something beyond that.”

~ Kimmi Luu, Pranalife YTT 2010

“Is this real life?! Biggest thank you to Asia … you have pushed me to break free of countless boundaries.
Thank you for being a bad ass yogi.”

~ Sarah Kraatz, Pranalife YTT 2015

“More and more every day I am grateful for the amazing teacher training you provided me.
Completely changed the way I view so much in my life.”

~ Aaron Friesen, Pranalife YTT 2013

SEE WHAT MORE OF OUR YOGA TEACHER TRAINING GRADS HAVE TO SAY