Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found. ~Pema Chödrön
I’ve been guiding yoga classes at David Barton Gyms in New York for a while now. David Barton Gym has been a fixture in New York for years; first in a rather unglamorous downstairs of an apartment building on 15th and 6th avenue and now expanded to numerous locations around New York and other cities. These gyms aren’t just boxes with workout equipment. They’re chic spaces, with dj’s, awesome equipment, and the hottest trainers in town, more akin to stylish nightclubs or sexy boutique hotel lobby lounges and are as much about community as they are about working out.
I was honored to have been asked to guide classes at the gym, but having only ever taught classes in small intimate yoga studio settings, I feared it was going to require an adjustment on my part to appeal to the “gym” culture. Was I going to find myself guiding yoga classes in an environment that was seemingly only about the physicality…the artifice? I mean, my job as a teacher, as a guide to the practice, is to assist in creating the awareness of those things…to assist in breaking that shit down…and is that possible in an environment that promotes the purely physical? I mean, David Barton’s tagline is Look Better Naked! You can’t miss it and as a slogan, it’s effective. It’s short and simple, it’s clear, and tells you exactly what you’re going to get…or does it?
What I quickly learned after starting at David Barton is that the yoga program has an incredibly loyal and dedicated following. Not just to the asana…but to all of the limbs. While certainly some may be coming to class, as in any environment, to develop “Madge” arms…the majority of the students come looking for a respite from their busy and extraordinary lives. They are looking for the quiet, the awareness, the centering, and the grounding that our practice offers. In short…no adjustments, on my part, required!
Sometimes we read (or see…or hear) things and think they mean one thing…the overt thing…but when we study them and ourselves….we realize they could mean something completely different. While my niece, a Professor of English specializing in Deliberative Rhetoric and Writing Studies might argue my parsing of the tagline, I began to think about it differently. What if the “Look” in “Look Better Naked” is meant to communicate the idea of directing our gaze towards or send our attention in a particular direction, to SEE better, rather than the obvious interpretation of having a particular appearance that is suitable for something or another?
Pema Chödrön’s quote at the beginning of this post speaks to exposing ourselves to annihilation. We must be continually willing to expose our self to the hurt in order to find that place that can’t be broken. Each time we step onto our mat…when we sit on our cushion, we have the opportunity to become aware of those chronic patterns…the judgement, the anger, the impatience, the need for control…and begin to strip them away to reveal the nakedness of what underlies them and begin to find the root cause, the hurt…and, ultimately, see things better.
It’s been said that the thing is never the thing…to clarify with a quote attributed (questionably) to Anaïs Nin, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” The brain is an amazing organ…storing a lifetime of thoughts and experiences. We find ourselves in a present situation and the brain in a nano-second, like fingers rifling through tab folders in a file drawer, finds an experience, a hurt, a trauma, quickly formulates a reaction to attribute the present moment based on our past experiences. Until we get in touch with those past experience, we’ll never see things as they truly are.
When we strip away the anger, resentment, judgement…when we’re simply naked and raw with the hurt, we remove the suit of armor we wear…the walls we’ve erected, barriers created, layers we’ve added and we begin to “Look Better”…we begin to SEE things CLEARLY…no longer prejudiced by past experiences.
Jack Kornfield in A Path with Heart speaks to the idea that our spiritual work requires sustained practice and commitment to looking deeply into ourselves and the world around us. He says, “We must look at ourselves over and over again in order to learn to love, to discover what has kept our hearts closed, and what it means to allow our hearts to open.”
So here’s to David Barton’s “Look Better Naked” after all our bodies ARE our temple and we should keep them in tip-top form…but here’s to our awareness practices that help us to look better naked…see things more clearly…again and again…and to continue on our journey ourselves.