Updogs, Downdogs, No Dogma
Thought it appropriate to revisit our tagline as the new year and a new chapter of O2 begins. Some of it might seem obvious. We do a lot of updogs and downdogs in O2’s unique style of yoga based on the Astanga system. There is also my clear love of dogs in general, up, down and otherwise. What is not so obvious is the dogma part.
In the Beginning
My introduction to yoga began in the early 90s. I spent a lot of time roaming the east village going to yoga classes and checking out studios and different teachers. I remember feeling enlivened by the practice but a bit fuzzy on the fundamentals and technique. There seemed to be a bit of a smoke and mirrors vibe. There was a lot of deep stuff that was eluded to but not a lot of concrete language.
Remember the teacher who kept not showing up? Well, it was at his studio, early on, that I saw a flyer for a week workshop on astanga yoga by a guy named David Swenson. I wasn’t quite sure what astanga yoga was but I craved a deeper understanding of the practice so I signed up and off I went to Lake Tahoe for a week with a bunch of strangers, David Swenson, and his brother Doug. This was in 1997. As you can imagine, it was an awesome and wild ride. I loved every minute of it but what I especially loved was the way that David presented the Astanga system in such a clear and focused way. Now David is old-school, well westerner old-school anyway. He was amongst the first westerners to learn the Astanga system from Patabi Jois, in Mysore, India in the early 70s. I consider David to be my first teacher and will always be filled with gratitude and respect for all he has brought to my life.
Beryl Bender Birch and a Lesson in Humility
Another real-deal old-school teacher. Here is my story about Beryl. I met Beryl at a workshop she was teaching with her husband, Tom, to a 150 students in Cambridge in 1998. Now, I was hot off of a week of training with David. I had been doing the primary series for a few months at least. I was an expert. I couldn’t help but notice that some of the people in the workshop looked like they were struggling, or had poor form. I decided I would help out. During the break, I went up to Beryl and introduced myself. I told her that there seemed to be a lot of people who needed help and I offered to adjust for her. She looked me up and down and calmly said, “Mimi, I think you need to get back on your own mat and focus there”. Back then I didn’t know how much there was to learn. I have since had the honor to teach along Beryl and to adjust for her when she comes to O2. The irony is, now, I would rather be on my mat being her student. Beryl taught me so much about what real yogic philosophy was. Not esoteric concepts and unpronounceable words but the application of Patanjali’s path to the real world. She has said many things that have stuck with me but one comes to mind now,
“there is time early on to shop around. Then there is the time to focus your time and energy on who you are and who you wish to be, then find a teacher that will help you get there”.
Dogma vs. Empowerment
Now anyone that knows me will say that I am honest and have very strong opinions. Being dogmatic means telling others what to do. Empowering means giving people information and letting them decide what they should do with it. I believe people should think for themselves. In teacher training I always say to students, when someone asked you why you teach something like you do, you should be able to give them a good reason, not because Mimi says too. This is about owning your own path and speaking your own truth. Following another’s path is like wearing clothes that don’t fit. You won’t be comfortable and that will show.
Making Others Happy
I learned long ago that it is impossible to make another person happy. Only they can make themselves happy. Following your own path allows others to do the same. Dogma means there is only one path. I believe there are billions. Each of us has something unique to share with the world. As a yoga teacher, mother, wife, citizen, social activist, I hope to inspire and encourage others to fulfill their dreams. I can only be a good example to others if I live my life with joy, honesty, and great passion. I believe that empowerment is expansive while dogma limits. Why not follow your own path, and expand your possibilities? Peace, Mimi