Craft by Karin Burke

Karin Burke on Yoga as art

I often think of this practice as a call. Or, more rightly, as something that calls. More right still: this is the state of feeling something is there, calling to us. We feel it, and hear in our deepest recesses. Everyone has some version of this.  Everyone wants, in some way, to be better. When we stop to feel our breath before we move, or open our voices in sound, or open our ears to the sound of the bell, we are listening for the call. Of course, sometimes, what we feel when we most deeply listen isn’t a clarion bell or a lightening bolt or a wash of serenity. Sometimes we feel doubt, or pain.  Sometimes, all that comes back is silence.

It’s so hard to know what to do with silence.

Yoga is an art. A science of experience. The last time trainees gathered, I had them write for ten minutes in silence: what is the experience of yoga and meditation, like? Then, I had them write across the bottom, hopefully in bold, heavy handed, graffiti text: How do you teach, that? A few sneered. One laughed out loud. One looked at me like I’d just taken her toys away.

I think the experience is a kind of nakedness, a sudden sincerity.

We mistake posing for sincerity. This gets worse, when we think of ‘teaching’ or ‘advancing’ or ‘going further’: Posing becomes outright contortion. It becomes a game of props, plots, plays. We begin to suffer an intolerable sense of faking it, the misery of being an imposter.

This is a human ailment. It’s an outright cancer amongst yoga teachers.

Somewhere we’ve developed the misconception that teaching involves demonstrating a skill we’ve learned or expressing knowledge we’ve gained. As though wisdom or experience or accomplishment is so packed under our skin it leaks when we open our mouths. An enlightened, drool.

And we’ve somehow taken on the misconception that yoga practice is yoga, class.

And so we cram: we binge on podcasts, blogs, and google; we horde and wish list training and certificates; we despair in thinking the really heavy, substantial knowledge is in the distant and time consuming experience we can’t have. We’re uncomfortable with the way different techniques clash or seem to contradict one another.

Mostly, we hide. We hide what’s really going on with us.

As in, we stop practicing, because we’re ‘teaching’, or because the classes raised an issue you didn’t know how to deal with, or because they suddenly didn’t seem to ‘work’.

So many people lose the sincerity of their experience in trying to go deeper. So many people leave yoga altogether after going through RYT 200, with a kind of heartbreak.

Craft: as in, artistry, skill, worksmanship.  Elegance, efficiency, something that looks effortless. Artists in any genre or trade would tell you: there’s the beginning, which is kinda wild and full of discovery and deeply emotional, often messy.  But that’s not ‘art’. Art is what happens with refinement, the slow and steady ability to direct the emotion and power and material we generate, to stop wasting time, to bring something to fruition. Any artists or craftsman would tell you: there are tools.

Art is more than self-expression: in fact, art is finally finding freedom from self-expression to something that matters in the world, something that isn’t limited by your limitations, something that is more.


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Karin was an anthropologist, a barmaid, and a journalist before she bottomed out. Yoga saved her; she figures it might help others.  Karin’s teaching in jails, crisis centers, and church basements became a non-profit in 2007. In 2013, Return Yoga became an actual non-profit studio in St. Cloud, MN. More can be found at returnyoga.org.

Want to practice online yoga with Karin? Check out her yoga collections with Gather: A Practice of Moments and The Speed of Trust.

 


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