The other day I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and came across a FB ad that stopped me in my tracks. It was for Buti Yoga, which is a hybrid movement form that focuses on cultivating “juicy booties.” In the text of the ad, it said something about becoming a “buti-sattva.” A WHAT?!?! That word sounds a lot like bodhisattva, which from my own experiences with Buddhism and meditation, is such a sacred word — for which I can think of no context in which having a nicer ass really makes sense or does it justice.
The Wikipedia definition of a bodhisattva: “Bodhisattva is the Sanskrit term for anyone who, motivated by great compassion, has generated bodhicitta, which is a spontaneous wish and a compassionate mind to attend Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.
Wow. So this Buti Yoga is using the word Buti-Sattva as a tongue-in-cheek play on the word Bodhisattva… but for WHAT reason? How does this booty-focused movement fusion mirror the act of compassion that would be great enough to surrender one’s own enlightenment for the good of humanity, as did Gautama Buddha?
On their website, Buti Yoga is described: This calorie-scorching workout fuses power yoga with cardio-intensive tribal dance + body sculpting primal movement. Created by Celebrity Trainer Bizzie Gold, Buti Yoga utilizes the Spiral Structure Technique to sculpt + tone the deep abdominal muscles that stabilize and strengthen the body. Instead of linear movements, Gold favors movements that challenge the body along all planes of motion – THE RESULT – long, lean muscle with sexy feminine curves. I see photos and videos of women in tiny shorts, looking at themselves in mirrors, shaking their asses, and doing yoga-ish moves super duper fast…
Hmmm. So here I am thinking, this doesn’t sound much like the yoga I know and love. In the meantime, my teacher Shiva Rea commented on the post, and said so much of what I was feeling so exactly. And then the Facebook world did what the Facebook world does.
And here I am so stirred and moved and grateful for knowing what yoga IS for ME, and what it means TO ME. And also EVEN MORE grateful, that this style of “buti yoga” didn’t exist when I was new on my yoga path, because I would have fell for it hook, line and sinker, and here’s why.
I’m hardwired for movement, and not just movement for it’s own sake, but moving that gets you somewhere — gets you something — achievement, external physical appearance, you name it. I grew up as the daughter of an avid football and basketball player/weight lifter and a group fitness instructor, playing with my Strawberry Shortcake dolls under the bleachers of basketball courts, and helping my mom choreograph hip hop step aerobic routines when I was in junior high. And, as is the case for so many of us born in the 70s and 80s, we were left to our own devices quite a bit as children, and as a result COULD find any amount of trouble if we wanted to. The good news is, I liked endorphin rushes way more than the mindless buzz of slamming wine coolers as a teenager — and yes, even more than the happy numbness of smoking ditch weed out of a toilet paper tube. Movement — and athletic movement in particular — was my medicine. It’s how I worked off stress, it’s how I escaped, it’s where I could focus so much fucking anger in a mostly useful way. Track, Soccer and Cheerleading (yes, it CAN be a sport, and in the early 90s it most certainly WAS!) were my main outlets, and I spent many hours lifting weights in the garage with my dad, and making up my own silly cardio and core workouts in my basement to improve my cheerleading jumps.
And then, the other part. When I was in high school, I did the usual things that girls do to get attention from boys — what to wear, how to dance, what to say… I learned one way or another that my body was an amazing tool to get attention, and even though I didn’t FEEL good when I got the attention, I figured the attention was better than nothing at all. It took me a LONG long time to learn that I was MORE than a body. That there was MORE to me than washboard flat abs, or a juicy ass, or a tight body. It also took me a longer long time to understand that my sensuality and sexuality weren’t directly related to my physical body, or my abs, or my ass, or anything else. And even LONGER than that was to discover that my worthiness of being loved had even LESS to do with perfect abs, or ass, or otherwise. So when I see photos where women appear to be so desperately cultivating the very stereotype that I have worked so hard to HEAL from, I’ll be honest, I get nervous as hell.
The first time I tried yoga (I know I’ve told this story before) I was in college. It was a VHS tape, and the guy was in a purple leotard jumpsuit, and I HATED IT. IT HURT. IT WAS CONFUSING + FRUSTRATING. The second time I tried yoga, it was through a colleague that showed me how fun it could be (Kripalu’s breath of joy is still one of my faves!), but it was short-lived because I got pregnant and nauseous. The THIRD time I tried yoga was at the Rochester YMCA. I was a new mom, I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and bored as hell all at the same time. I had started playing soccer 5 weeks post partum. I pushed myself hard to lose the baby weight and “get my body back.” And I did. I lost it fast. I stumbled into a yoga class — I honestly don’t even know why, and I was hooked by the CHALLENGE of it, and the way I felt when I got done. And, it was a great “cool down” to my aggressive workouts.
The teacher was loosely teaching ashtanga, and I fell in LOVE. I loved the system of it. The fact it stayed the SAME, CONSTANT in a world that was so uncertain with sleepless nights and missed naps and just trying to shower and shit. And there was something athletic about it — when you practice the same poses over and over again every week you can really FEEL and KNOW the changes as they happen. But if at that time, I had instead discovered Buti Yoga, which is more cardio-based, quick paced, and physically focused, it would have felt even MORE like home to me, than this practice that drove me so fucking crazy with curiosity and frustration that I couldn’t stop going back. As I dove in deeper, I ended up becoming a teacher. And as my teaching path evolved, by serendipitous accident, I discovered Prana Vinyasa yoga.
The first week of my 200 hour Prana Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training, I was completely OVERWHELMED by how very OUT OF MY LEAGUE I felt. Here I was in a room of 100 or so yogis, so many of which were thinner than me, stronger than me, had way way way cooler yoga clothes than me, spoke in a language that I didn’t understand, and made that all look EASY. I watched in awe of my teacher Shiva Rea, as she moved — like a tigress — as she talked — so much wisdom that my brain would literally just stop/shut down — as she carried herself — like a benevolent queen. And I thought “there is no fucking way I can ever be like that.” And simultaneously “Oh my god, I want to be JUST. LIKE. HER.” I spent the first 2 or 3 years in my teaching community trying with all my might, will and ego to FIGURE IT OUT. To FIT IN. I tried SO FUCKING HARD to be GOOD at yoga. I felt so unworthy. I felt like an imposter, the outsider who would never fit in.
And yet, as I kept coming back, as the teachings settled in, as my practice evolved, I would hearing Shiva’s voice, calling me OUT of my physical body and INTO my heart. “Lose your mind, perceive your heart.” This is a quote from an ancient tantric text (The Vijnanabhairava) that called to me over and over again. And as I would watch the effortlessness with which she and others in the room would embody these challenging yoga asanas, I began to understand with humility and so much RELIEF that yoga really ISN’T about the BODY. The body is surely a sacred temple, a vehicle from which we can discover and digest the practice, but it isn’t the POINT. Because if it is, I am a fucking loser at it who still can’t do any of the important fancy shit. And I just couldn’t believe that about myself, despite the inner dialogue.
I began to listen more deeply to the teachings, as my capacity to digest the wisdom expanded, and I was able to understand more fully that every moment of my struggle within finding the “perfect” form of the asana was actually THE PRACTICE. Could I be mentally and emotionally at peace in the very first stage of a handstand or an arm balance, still so close to the earth, rather than striving for something that wasn’t yet mine (the full expression). Could I focus my attention on the feedback inside my body — what it was asking for — where the healing — the empowerment — the holding — the resistance — needed more breath, more kindness, more compassion, and yep, sometimes more suck it up buttercup discernment and tapas. Could I enjoy being just RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW? And the answer more and more often, became YES. YES. yes.
Anyone who attended my yoga classes in my earliest years of teaching will tell you just how outcome/externally focused I was. I tried to teach sequences that were so difficult that hardly anyone in the room could embody them — including myself. I thought that’s what the people wanted. I thought they wanted someone who knew how to do all the difficult fancy things. And, to be fair to myself, I was teaching yoga in a state of the art athletic club, where just generally speaking, the focus on THE BODY was THE FOCUS.
As I evolved in my practice, and my teaching, I began making a shift in the message and sequences I taught. I literally had people WALK OUT of my classes. They would roll up their mat, walk out of the class, and walk right into my Director’s office to complain. I adapted. I pushed the limits. I tested the boundaries, and eventually I knew that I needed a bigger, wider space to spread my wings.
Now as a studio owner, and teacher of yoga teachers, it is even more important to me to know what yoga IS to ME, and the message that I want not only my students — but especially my teacher students to know — is that in times like these, when the word yoga can get combined with all kinds of crazy things (glow in the dark, goats, dogs, beer) — when we see Instagram selfie photos of super fit yogis in swimsuits on beaches doing the fancy poses — when we get the impression that burning 800 calories in a dynamic power yoga class is the POINT of yoga — we need to slow the fuck down and take a big old breath, and then another one, and then another one, and then another one, and then another one — and hopefully somewhere in those sweet breaths, we will remember this amazing mystery of being. We will return to the experience of the divine discovering itself through US, marveling in our suffering and our triumphs with equal wonder and gratitude. We will be humbled by this gift of THIS LIFE, THIS MOMENT, and we will FORGET the stories of unworthiness, of proving, or striving, of disconnection, of un-belonging, of un-loveable, or impossible perfection, and return again and again into the sweet union of divine recognition from within.
In her master’s thesis “Hatha Yoga as a Practice of Embodiment,” Shiva explains: “In contrast to the fitness-oriented approach to hatha yoga, I am presenting a practice of embodiment which emphasizes the process of knowing oneself intimately and experientially through one’s body. In this thesis, embodiment is understood as more than just a physical technique; to reiterate, it is defined as a deepening of interior awareness, sensation, feeling, and kinesthetic consciousness as a way of knowing how all of the dimensions of the self -physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual -are expressed through the body interdependently.”
THIS is what yoga IS to me. Yoga is a practice which continues to help me deepen my awareness through all the layers of my being in an intimate and experiential way. It isn’t about my ass. Or my abs. Or the fucking asana. I remember some great advice I received once from one of my meditation teachers. I explained to her the sensations I was having in meditation, and she nodded and said yes, yes… and I asked her “What should I do” And she said “Keep going deeper.”
So even if what brought you to yoga initially was a desire to lose weight, or get stronger — even if you have been called to style or format of yoga that even focuses on a singular, physical experience, keep going DEEPER. Move outside your comfort zone. Get curious. Because there is a whole UNIVERSE to discover. Imagine the tiger in the circus, circling in tiny cage and thinking that this was all there was to life, and then being brought back to the vastness of the jungle. Your soul is waiting for you. And you my dear are so beautiful, and so loved, and so amazing, and have so much to offer just. as. you. are.
This is what my teacher taught me to embody through her own magnificent and humble path, this is what yoga is to me, and what I want to share with all of YOU, and the world.
Om. Amen. Hallelujah.