beyond yoga

full copy of Greta Thunberg's speech to US Congress

On this day (and every day) I stand with millions of people all over the world in solidarity to do everything we can to combat the climate crisis. I am moved by the words of Greta Thunberg, so I share them here.

"My name is Greta Thunberg, I am 16 years old and I’m from Sweden. I am grateful for being with you here in the USA. A nation that, to many people, is the country of dreams.

I also have a dream: that governments, political parties and corporations grasp the urgency of the climate and ecological crisis and come together despite their differences – as you would in an emergency – and take the measures required to safeguard the conditions for a dignified life for everybody on earth.

Because then – we millions of school striking youth – could go back to school.

I have a dream that the people in power, as well as the media, start treating this crisis like the existential emergency it is. So that I could go home to my sister and my dogs. Because I miss them.

In fact I have many dreams. But this is the year 2019. This is not the time and place for dreams. This is the time to wake up. This is the moment in history when we need to be wide awake.

And yes, we need dreams, we can not live without dreams. But there’s a time and place for everything. And dreams can not stand in the way of telling it like it is.

And yet, wherever I go I seem to be surrounded by fairytales. Business leaders, elected officials all across the political spectrum spending their time making up and telling bedtime stories that soothe us, that make us go back to sleep.

These are “feel-good” stories about how we are going to fix everything. How wonderful everything is going to be when we have “solved” everything. But the problem we are facing is not that we lack the ability to dream, or to imagine a better world. The problem now is that we need to wake up. It’s time to face the reality, the facts, the science.

And the science doesn’t mainly speak of “great opportunities to create the society we always wanted”. It tells of unspoken human sufferings, which will get worse and worse the longer we delay action – unless we start to act now. And yes, of course a sustainable transformed world will include lots of new benefits. But you have to understand. This is not primarily an opportunity to create new green jobs, new businesses or green economic growth. This is above all an emergency, and not just any emergency. This is the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced.

And we need to treat it accordingly so that people can understand and grasp the urgency. Because you can not solve a crisis without treating it as one. Stop telling people that everything will be fine when in fact, as it looks now, it won’t be very fine. This is not something you can package and sell or ”like” on social media.

Stop pretending that you, your business idea, your political party or plan will solve everything. We must realise that we don’t have all the solutions yet. Far from it. Unless those solutions mean that we simply stop doing certain things.

Changing one disastrous energy source for a slightly less disastrous one is not progress. Exporting our emissions overseas is not reducing our emission. Creative accounting will not help us. In fact, it’s the very heart of the problem.

Some of you may have heard that we have 12 years as from 1 January 2018 to cut our emissions of carbon dioxide in half. But I guess that hardly any of you have heard that there is a 50 per cent chance of staying below a 1.5 degree Celsius of global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels. Fifty per cent chance.

And these current, best available scientific calculations do not include non linear tipping points as well as most unforeseen feedback loops like the extremely powerful methane gas escaping from rapidly thawing arctic permafrost. Or already locked in warming hidden by toxic air pollution. Or the aspect of equity; climate justice.

So a 50 per cent chance – a statistical flip of a coin – will most definitely not be enough. That would be impossible to morally defend. Would anyone of you step onto a plane if you knew it had more than a 50 per cent chance of crashing? More to the point: would you put your children on that flight?

And why is it so important to stay below the 1.5 degree limit? Because that is what the united science calls for, to avoid destabilising the climate, so that we stay clear of setting off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control. Even at 1 degree of warming we are seeing an unacceptable loss of life and livelihoods.

So where do we begin? Well I would suggest that we start looking at chapter 2, on page 108 in the IPCC report that came out last year. Right there it says that if we are to have a 67 per cent chance of limiting the global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, we had, on 1 January 2018, about 420 Gtonnes of CO2 left to emit in that carbon dioxide budget. And of course that number is much lower today. As we emit about 42 Gtonnes of CO2 every year, if you include land use.

With today’s emissions levels, that remaining budget is gone within less than 8 and a half years. These numbers are not my opinions. They aren’t anyone’s opinions or political views. This is the current best available science. Though a great number of scientists suggest even these figures are too moderate, these are the ones that have been accepted by all nations through the IPCC.

And please note that these figures are global and therefore do not say anything about the aspect of equity, clearly stated throughout the Paris Agreement, which is absolutely necessary to make it work on a global scale. That means that richer countries need to do their fair share and get down to zero emissions much faster, so that people in poorer countries can heighten their standard of living, by building some of the infrastructure that we have already built. Such as roads, hospitals, schools, clean drinking water and electricity.

The USA is the biggest carbon polluter in history. It is also the world’s number one producer of oil. And yet, you are also the only nation in the world that has signalled your strong intention to leave the Paris Agreement. Because quote “it was a bad deal for the USA”.

Four-hundred and twenty Gt of CO2 left to emit on 1 January 2018 to have a 67 per cent chance of staying below a 1.5 degrees of global temperature rise. Now that figure is already down to less than 360 Gt.

These numbers are very uncomfortable. But people have the right to know. And the vast majority of us have no idea these numbers even exist. In fact not even the journalists that I meet seem to know that they even exist. Not to mention the politicians. And yet they all seem so certain that their political plan will solve the entire crisis.

But how can we solve a problem that we don’t even fully understand? How can we leave out the full picture and the current best available science?

I believe there is a huge danger in doing so. And no matter how political the background to this crisis may be, we must not allow this to continue to be a partisan political question. The climate and ecological crisis is beyond party politics. And our main enemy right now is not our political opponents. Our main enemy now is physics. And we can not make “deals” with physics.

Everybody says that making sacrifices for the survival of the biosphere – and to secure the living conditions for future and present generations – is an impossible thing to do.

Americans have indeed made great sacrifices to overcome terrible odds before.

Think of the brave soldiers that rushed ashore in that first wave on Omaha Beach on D Day. Think of Martin Luther King and the 600 other civil rights leaders who risked everything to march from Selma to Montgomery. Think of President John F. Kennedy announcing in 1962 that America would “choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…

But you must not spend all of your time dreaming, or see this as some political fight to win.

And you must not gamble your children’s future on the flip of a coin.

Instead, you must unite behind the science.

You must take action.

You must do the impossible.

Because giving up can never ever be an option."

radical acceptance

About five weeks ago, while I was in Italy studying with my yoga teacher, I got a phone call from my brother. My biological father, who I hadn’t spoken to in three years, was dying of cancer. He had never met my daughter, his only grandchild, and I had not seen him in about ten years. I did not meet him or know where he was until I was 10 years old. There is, as you can imagine, much more to this story.

I hung up with my brother and wept.

Two days later, Peter, my father, heard the voice of my daughter, his granddaughter, for the very first time. I asked him if he wanted to meet her. Through tears, over the phone, he expressed how wonderful that could be.

~

I have decided to start being more honest about my life in writing. Before I was a mother and a wife, I was fairly open about the challenges I faced, and wrote about much of it freely. Since moving to Switzerland, which places quite a premium on privacy and silence, my writing and public sharing has become increasingly scarce and hushed. Certainly, that has been affected also by the privacy I wish for my daughter and family, as well as the very real strains on time that I have found in motherhood. However, as I review the past three years, it is clear that my silence has been largely dominated by my immigration to a place that has, despite my best efforts, never felt like home.

Maybe it is because I turn 40 this week. Maybe it is because I am faced with the mortality of my own father, and have come face to face once again with the fleeting, wondrous and unapologetic nature of life. Maybe it is because I have finally simultaneously accepted and reached my limit in the struggles I have borne quietly here in beautiful, idyllic Switzerland. Or that I have both accepted and reached my limit on the abuses I bear from certain family members or colleagues. For all of these reasons, I feel called to share; as a purge, as a potential connection to others who might read, as a basic trait of my own humanity… and most importantly for me at this time, as a clear mark of my process of acceptance and forgiveness.

These two active states of being, acceptance and forgiveness, go hand in hand, as they are deeply connected with the process of loosening our grip on what we want now and what we wanted in the past. They radically alter our need to be right or to be safe. They shift our perception from dream-state to pure presence. Acceptance moves us from fear and clinging. Forgiveness places us in the seat of our heart and out of our stranglehold on the past.

~

Within two weeks of my brother’s phone call, I was sitting at my father’s bedside, holding his hand and tenderly laying aside years of my own suffering to share in what has always amounted to a profound connection. It was maybe the most intense and radical process of acceptance and forgiveness I have ever encountered. He met my my daughter, his granddaughter. We wept and laughed and shared our hearts.

This process continues to tenderize my heart and break me wide open. It has proven to me how strong and resilient I am, as much as it has brought me to my knees.

My old anger sifts through my heart like sand in a sieve, and I am left with the shells and beach glass of grief and sadness… but also those of joy and wonder and connection.

I wade in the tides and collect the beauties, only to set them free to the ocean again.

navigating, resurfacing

navigating, resurfacing

Yoga is not a practice of navigating the light. It is a practice of life, which means that it cocoons us in as much presence as we can handle, whether we are soaring in the skies or are so wrought with sorrow that we cannot move off of the floor. It gives us tools, should we choose to use them, to look directly at our joy and suffering, and to attempt to make choices that give us the opportunity to let go and let in whatever it is we are experiencing. Yoga and movement and breath and meditation have, throughout these last years, given me the space to see myself clearly, even when that vision was painful to witness. And in the depths of the dark waters in which I often found myself, that space and insight ultimately gave me permission to keep moving forward and to do what was necessary to take care of my self, my spirit, and therefore my family and all that I love. 

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the eruption of truth

the eruption of truth

For a period of my life, the yoga postures served me well. I grew through them and they offered healing to my wrecked dancer's body for a time. But then, as many of us do, I allowed the postures to guide my physicality and I ultimately suffered because of that. You could see photos of me in postures or practice next to me in class and think, "wow she is strong and flexible". The problem was that I unwittingly pushed myself to be strong and flexible only in the places the poses required and in the end this was not balanced or wholesome, no matter how much alignment and breath and safe sequencing I applied.

When I was in my final months of pregnancy and just afterward, my body was pulled apart where it was weak and disconnected. I am not alone in this experience and it definitely doesn't just happen to pregnant yoga practitioners, although the elevated levels of relaxin in the body along with the increased abdominal pressure certainly enabled this to worsen quickly. Through the process of reconstructing myself in the last two years and working with many other students who I believe have been harmed by yoga, I have realized how insufficient the posturing, and more specifically how insufficient so much of the instruction in this work is. 

I am not saying the postures do not contain insights, for they do, endlessly. I am simply saying that they are not enough by themselves. We have to keep looking beyond, beneath, inside and through them. The postures are patterns we set into bodies that already contain their own patterns, imbalances, incongruencies, imperfections and deeply individual insights. How can we not take the individual into consideration as we apply them? Alignment, as we may witness in some forms of yoga, takes us only so far on a personal level before it causes us to become rigid. Geometry certainly has its merits and beauty in certain yoga styles, but it doesn't break down or build up everything; it doesn't give space for all of the organic nuance and multitudes of asymmetry, in my experience. Flow is wonderful for moving without overthinking but it falls short in the realm of detail and precision, no matter how clear instructions may be. Breath work and opening pranic pathways means nothing if the physical structures are not addressed with integrity and after all, what ARE pranic pathways? What does that actually mean? 

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