Thinking About Gurus with Hari-Kirtana

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 5.44.22 PMSo, I’ve been fairly quiet this month. It’s been busy. Every time that I sit down to write a post or share a recipe, something else crops up. Sorry about that!

But, I have been writing and thinking, in part as a response to taking some advanced yoga training at Yogawood with Hari-kirtana das. As part of our homework from last month, we responded to his post In Defense of Gurus. What follows is my response (primarily to part one).

Philosopher and communication scholar Kenneth Burke once defined man as “the symbol-using (symbol-making, symbol-misusing) animal, inventor of the negative (or moralized by the negative), separated from his natural condition by instruments of his own making, goaded by the spirit of hierarchy (or moved by the sense of order), and rotten with perfection.”  I’ve always found this an apt description.

As humans, we can envision, in a way that (we assume) other animals can’t, what it would be like to be a perfect ______. We can also understand the concept of the negative (a dog does not think, “I am not a cat”). These two things together, along with a tendency to create hierarchy, drive us to want to be more, to achieve some pinnacle of success. What that success looks like is driven by the culture(s) that we inhabit, but it is generally linked with power.

The idea of a guru is a neutral idea; that is, it is not inherently bad or inherently good. We need teachers, regardless of what arena of life we are speaking of. Sometimes we call them mentors; sometimes we call them parents; sometimes we call them gurus. These individuals have more knowledge about something(s) than we do, which grants them a form of power. And power is not bad. All relationships have power differentials and all individuals in relationships have forms of power that they can draw on, whether it is informational power or formalized power or reward power, etc.

Today, sometimes the relationship between teacher and student is one driven by commerce. For example, school teachers must be paid in order to live to teach another day. But, we know that there are teachers (whether that is their formal title or not) who teach not primarily from the reason of making a living, but from a different driver – the wellbeing, growth, enlightenment, and progress of the student.

A guru, including but not limited to a yoga guru, who is acting from the motivation of contributing positively to the progress of the disciple can be a positive force in the individual’s life. I think this can be true even if that guru is not him/herself fully “enlightened,” but is still working on it (I get a little antsy about claims of enlightenment).

However, because we are so intelligent and complex, we also have the ability to misuse power.  Gurus who take that title (formally or relationally) for the purpose of self-aggrandizement, material gain, social/sexual power, etc. are not operating from a motivation of helping the disciple in his/her growth. And that is where things go wrong.

We – society – spend a lot of time worrying about whether XYZ has the potential to be used negatively (for example, if we inoculate teens against STDs, they will have more sex). The truth is, everything can be used in ways that promote the welfare of others or not. Even a toaster can become a murder weapon. We can’t just dismiss all the things/concepts that can be used negatively (because I like toast). We have to, instead, be aware of the positive and negative potentials.

Like for any other successful relationship, the relationship with a guru should be entered with an assumption of positive motives on the part of the other, with commitment to giving the relationship the attention and devotion it requires, and with an open-mind, yet with eyes open. Even then, it may not work out, but then again it may.



Being Not Ok With It – or – Where Is My Equanimity?

Long time readers, if there are any of you left, have probably noticed my horrible lack of posting, and that almost no posts about yoga have happened for months (there have been a lot of posts about cookies, though, so that counts for something). The reason for my yoga silence is that I’m not in a good place in my own practice, and I don’t know what to say.

Starting in the spring, some medical problems beyond my usual rheumatoid arthritis began happening. They included a significant amount of pain and pretty much ground my asana practice to a halt. At the end of May, this culminated in surgery, and then almost 10 weeks of no-yoga restrictions.

By the end of the imposed restrictions, I had very little stamina and still had a good amount of discomfort, plus the surgical after-effects that had boosted the arthritis into high gear. But, I started slowly back into my practice.

And here we are in November. I expected that my practice would be fully back on track now, but it is not. I had to eliminate a major part of my RA medications after surgery due to some liver issues (yes, I am a mess, thanks for asking), so the arthritis won’t calm down and most weeks, there is one or more parts of my body that just won’t cooperate. This has been compounded by daily headaches – maybe sinus, maybe migraine, maybe cluster, maybe gremlins – that I often have at this time of year, but that have been particularly bad and hard to deal with on top of the RA pain.

And, even the act of writing this makes me feel like a crazy woman. When I go to practice and have to sit out poses again, I am sure I look lazy or like a hypochondriac. When I realize that I haven’t attempted wheel, and only rarely inversions, in months, I wonder if I am lazy or a hypochondriac. When I don’t go to practice because something hurts, I am sure I AM lazy or a hypochondriac.

This morning, I got up with a nasty headache. It hurt to open my eyes or breathe. Yoga class was right out. But, it was a class that I really really wanted to go to – the last class in the studio that has been my yoga home for as long as I’ve been doing yoga. I’m so very sad right now to have missed it. I feel like I let myself, my yoga mentor, and my community down.

I know that yoga isn’t just about asana. I know that practice doesn’t have to happen in a vigorous class. I know that I should let go of attachment to a certain schedule or particular poses. I do. I say these things often to students in my gentle class (and I’m not even going to go into my feelings about not deserving to teach when my own practice is such a mess). I know them, but I’m having much trouble feeling them.

I can’t find my equanimity about this. It’s in there, somewhere. But, I can’t access it.

So, yeah, I don’t have a big point to make here. I guess I am writing this partly because I’ve spoken to many people over the years who say that they can’t seem to get started in a yoga practice, or can’t seem to maintain one, or are so busy fighting their body demons that they can’t find the space for it. And, they look at me with guilt and shame in their eyes when they say it. But, they don’t have to – if it’s you, you don’t have to – because I understand.

I’m writing this partly to also explain why the blog has been quiet and focused on, well, cookies. I’m a little too mired down in my own yoga funk to have much good that I can add to anyone else’s contemplation of yoga. So, if you have hung in there waiting to read something interesting about yoga, I still hope it will be back, but I don’t know when. And, I thank you.



Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi – Review and Giveaway

Recently, I was asked to review the newest book by Brian Leaf, Misadventures of a Parenting YogiI have previously reviewed his other book, Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi, on this site. Brian nicely sent me a copy to review. It took only one afternoon to read and was an enjoyable, light, summer read. My review, and a chance to own this copy follow the break.

If you are looking for a book that takes a theoretical approach to examining how yoga impacts parenting, this is not it. There are mentions of meditation, yoga practice, and the occasional connection made between parenting and yoga, but they are particularly brief.

If you are looking for a book that will help you to parent across the span of childhood (including preteen and teen years), this is not it. While it does include some parenting advice, it’s fairly restricted to a certain stance and is limited in scope, due to the young ages of the author’s children. For a parent with older children or one who has not always chosen the paths suggested here (or someone with training in family research), this could be sometimes frustrating.

If you are looking for light, easy, funny reading to do in small bits (some chapters are 2 pages), this could be the perfect thing. While there isn’t really anything in the intro to tell you that the book is somewhat tongue in cheek, and I think there should have been, it is. It’s an enjoyable read on one dad’s experience with pregnancy and early childhood.

The book is available on (see link above) for a reasonable price, but you could get it free! While I enjoyed reading the book, I don’t anticipate reading it again and like to pass on my free for review items to readers. So, I shall!

Enter the giveaway by posting 1 comment below regarding connections you see between yoga and parenting. A winner will be drawn on June 15th. Please be sure to either be sure you commenting profile is linked to an email address or check back after that date to see if you won and get me a mailing address.