LAND OF A THOUSAND MINI-VANS
I arrived at the Midwest Yoga Conference in time to attend Lilias Folan's informal early morning workshop, "Greeting the Day in a Sacred Way." You may know her from the long-running public televison program, "Lilias, Yoga And You," which was excerpted in the film "Being There." Anyway she showed us her portable altar, led us in a native chant that went "Wah Tah Hay Tah Ho!" and had us (50 women and four men) dancing around in circles and chanting. She's so sweet, even I did it. She also told us to inahle through the mouth before saying "Om," because it's more powerful that way. At least that's what her guru told her.
She was a fellow attendee at Rama Berch's workshop, called "Knots in Your Neck." According to Rama (who is the founder of the Yoga Alliance, the group that came into being after I started teaching and registers and polices yoga teachers), all spinal issues can be traced to the tailbone. That was good news to me since my back, neck and tailbone have been killing me since I spent two hours on the hard bamboo floor chanting along with Bhagavan Das last week. We got rid of the sticky mats (she doesn't have much use for them; they're not environmentally responsible, they allow the body to go further into poses than it should, and they insulate you from the earth) and did a bunch of her Swaroopa (TM) poses on blankets. They including lying on the back with legs crossed, and are meant to release the tailbone and sacrum. I wanted it to work. I really did. And it did for a few minutes.
But I was in pain when I walked into Paulie Zink's workshop on "The Yin and Yang of Taoist Yoga." He's incredibly humble, considering he's a martial arts champion (monkey kung fu). I also liked that he wore his Chinese slippers throughout. We didn't really need mats in his class, either. He led us through a sequence of very easy poses with names like Frog and Stump that released the back and spine like nothing else I've ever done. A lot of the things we did were twists to one side and then the other, with the movement linked to the breath. It was really refreshing and my back felt amazing. My hamstring stopped hurting and for awhile I forgot I even had a tailbone.
Someone asked him if the order of the poses was important. "No," he said. "It's important to do them in a random order. If you do it the same way every time, it make the body and mind get stuck in a rigid pattern. The most important thing is that you flow spontaneously through your heart. I never teach two classes the same. In my own practice I always flow differently. I try to cover everything, but the order is different. This is a lifelong practice." (He's been teaching for 30 years, practicing for 35). "The softer and more gentle you are, the better. Using more effort makes you tighter. You want to be like a glass of water being poured."
Later he said, "People are like hoses with kinks in them. You start to remove the kinks, the water begins to flow." Suzie Grilley (Paul's wife) also took the workshop. In fact we were wearing the same (purple) top. It looked better on her.
Then I went to Chris Kilham's workshop on "Yoga, Sex and Ecstasy." According to the Bhagavad Gita, the three biggest obstacles to enlightenment are lust, anger and greed -- so I went in with preconceived notions. Plus he is good-looking, smart and charming -- which always makes me wonder. But he was highly recommended.
Of course he won me over. He was quite funny, and led us through sequences that reminded me a bit of what Paulie Zink had us doing; simple twists and other moving poses that you don't hold but repeat over and over. He also had us do some Tibetan yoga, where you hold the breath and move and then let it out through the mouth, which is shaped like a tube. It heats the body, and he explained that in South India the focus in yoga is on flexiblity because it's hot there, but in the Himalayas it's on creating heat. (He's author of the exercise book The Five Tibetans, which is published in 20 languages, plus many many other books). He said that none of it really matters though, because when we get to a certain age we'll stop doing asana altogether and all we'll be able to do is meditate. He also said a lot more about the connection between yoga and sex -- you must give up your ego to go meditate / go more deeply into yoga, which is what you must also do if you really want to connect to another person and forget where you end and they begin, both give a lot of pleasure, etc. etc). He also gave the keynote speech, where he told many stories about his travels as a researcher into and purveyor of medicinal plants. Apparently the only time he teaches yoga these days is at this conference.
The juxtoposition of this sign with the one above explains it all....