Just The Facts Please: Laurie McKinnon has been practicing and teaching yoga since 2003. She has had 4 intense Teacher Training Bootcamps with the awesome Baron Baptiste (affectionately known in our studio as “The Baron”), has attended workshops all over the country, and has trained extensively with the inspiring teachers of LIVE LOVE TEACH, Philip Urso and Stacy Dockins. “I love yoga” is her mantra. In fact, so much so that she turned her guesthouse into a hospitable yoga studio. Though she’s logged enough hours of training to be certified several times over, she hasn’t sought certifications. Experience and Love are her credentials.
Laurie is also certified by Jennifer Reis to Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra, a deep relaxation practice designed to heal your whole being.
(Update: In order to assimilate with the growing popularity of yoga practice she is now certified through Yoga Alliance as a 500 hour certified yoga teacher.)
The Inside Scoop – The REAL Story:
I started practicing yoga in 2003, age 42, after a friend said to me, “Hey, we ought to do yoga.” (Thank you Mary Ann. I always say that Mary Ann has the best ideas!) At the time, I was looking for a new form of exercise. Staying fit has always been a “thing” for me. (Notice fit, not necessarily healthy.) I’d find one exercise program, stay with it for while, get bored, then move on to something else. Yoga was a new thing to try. With zero exposure to yoga I began to check it out. Of course, all the research indicates that yoga is good for you. Lengthening, strengthening, toning muscles, opening and lubricating joints, massaging internal organs, relieving stress, and on and on. A great way to stay fit over a whole lifetime. But as I dug deeper I discovered that there’s much more to yoga practice than just the physical aspect. It’s the “much more” that drew me in...
My other “thing” (that at the time seemed to be a separate subject altogether) is an intense, maybe over the top, spiritual search for Truth. (“I’m obsessed, thank you very much” – Emilio Estevez in Saint Elmo’s Fire) Since my early twenties I’ve studied, read about, went to all kinds of lectures and workshops on, spent time in monasteries so I could feel like a monk in search of, taught and tried to do spiritual formation. All from a Christian perspective. A seminary master’s degree “just for the fun of it” and literally TONS of books on the topic. My pursuit was never for the purpose of a career. I was searching for Truth. It was a quest. I admit, it was an obsession.
I found in yoga a way to bring my two obsessions together! Yoga literally means “union – bringing together; to unite; to join.” Tada!!! Yoga is not just a way to be in shape, it is a way to be healthy, whole – body, mind and spirit. Now, I’ve told you about my body and spirit obsession, but what about the mind part? Well, that has been a huge epiphany. Mind isn’t intellect as much as it is perspective, thought processes. Before yoga I didn’t realize I was obsessed with my mind. Maybe it wasn’t an obsession as much as a possession. I was possessed by my thoughts, slave to my skewed perception, governed by a conditioned mind. I had eyes that could not see the reality of who I am, who we all are. (“You have eyes that do not see.” – Jesus)
For me, yoga, the union of body, mind, spirit has opened my eyes and shown me the Truth that I didn’t even know I was searching for. Early on I thought I was searching for answers to my theological questions. I thought I was searching for God. Come to find out, I was searching for Truth. The truth of my very own heart. The Truth of who I am…and who we all are. Love.
But on to the story: Since there was no yoga in town, I bought a bunch of books and DVD’s and started “practicing” with a group in our episcopal church’s parish hall. I had no idea what I was doing. I spent my days in Barnes and Noble, sipping coffee and sitting in front of the yoga section for hours on end, until I finally picked up Baron Baptiste’s book. I’d seen it – and avoided it – on many a B&N visit. I didn’t like its title, or its cover – JOURNEY INTO POWER: “How To Sculpt Your Ideal Body, Free Your True Self And Transform Your Life With Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga”. Sounded like a tall order to me, not to mention a little self-improvement-ish. (“How To Win Friends and Influence People”) The cover had a picture of the big, buff author in crow pose waiting to pounce. He looked like a bouncer. The “ideal body”? Uh, yeah. And the term “Power Yoga” seemed like an oxymoron to me. It seemed like an appeal to the ego, and I sure didn’t need that, I’d had way more than enough of that. But upon flipping through the pages of that muscle-bound book I immediately resonated with what I found. (What do they say about judging a book by its cover?)
I learned that the “power” Baron spoke of was not about being buff and intimidating, or winning friends and influencing people. It wasn’t even really about being physically strong. It was about finding TRUE power through surrendering the ego to the Divine Power of Love. It meant personal transformation, NOT self-improvement. It meant a centered power, the power to be, the power that comes from a body, mind and spirit aligned with a loving God.
I didn’t know what “vinyasa” meant. But listen to this: it means “removing blocks to flow.” Blocks are seen as those attitudes and ways of being that we use to protect ourselves from the world but have kept us from knowing and being our true selves. Removing these blocks will restore flow of the True Self. (“Free Your True Self”) Well, I knew I had plenty of blocks to flow! Just didn’t know what they were. It said that these blocks actually reside in our bodies and our minds, and that yoga, practiced regularly and intentionally, gently eases those blocks to the surface in order to be removed. Mind, Body, Spirit – all involved in taking a person home, back to their true selves. But all this through physical exercise? There had to be more to yoga than just exercise. I liked everything I discovered. It jived somewhere deep inside me. I’d been led to the next step in this quest. I had no idea what I was getting myself into!
I felt a connection with Baron’s story: I liked the fact that yoga was not just some passing fad for him. He had been birthed into the yoga world in the ‘60’s with yogis for parents who dragged him all over the world studying with the major gurus of the time. If I was going to do yoga I wanted it to be the real deal, I wanted it to have deep, authentic roots. (Celebrity fitness guru turned yogi? No thank you. “Christian” yoga? Not interested.) Having been steeped in the yoga world, seeing its uses and abuses, Baron came to a place as an adult where he had to sort through it all, tossing what was not really true in order to find what really worked.
For years I had been in the process of doing the same thing with my own evangelical Christian background. I had been dragged all over our world (west Texas) during the charismatic movement studying with its version of the major gurus: prophets that scared the pants off of me; teachers that told me to submit to my parents or the devil would get me; healers that made people fall over; and prayers that were prayed in other “tongues”. It was fairly early in my adulthood that I began sorting through all of that, trying to toss out what was not really true in order to find what really worked. It was confusing though. That stuff really had a hold on me. I just wanted to be free. I just wanted to love and be loved.
Over the years I began to see the “sin” talked about so much in my childhood, not so much as all the bad stuff I do all the time, but as those things that keep me from being me, the person I was before I was born, the person I was intended to be. By the time I found Baron and read about those “blocks to flow” I was experiencing blocks like crazy, yet had no experience of freedom, nor had I found a real way to freedom. I’d been taught that Jesus is “The only Way” and that if I believe in Jesus and do my best to follow him, I’ll be “saved.” I didn’t want salvation from sin and hell. I wanted transformation of the very core of my being. I wanted to be free to love. I felt so blocked from love and my own ability to give and receive love. I felt trapped by my own ego need to be on the “right” team, following “The Only Way”. You’d think that knowing I was on the right team would have given me a sense of security but instead it gave me a sick, perverted sense of self-righteousness that was totally insecure. It also gave me a false sense of belonging. I belonged to the Body of Christ but by virtue of that belonging I was separated from others who believe and act differently. It drew lines in the sand, even among those who were going the “right way”. All this right and wrong, in and out, black and white stuff, this need to be separate, felt like fear and didn’t look a thing like Love. I knew it, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I was caught by it.
I wholeheartedly believed Jesus’ saying that the greatest commandment is to love God with everything you have and to love others as you love yourself. For one thing, I knew I wanted more than anything to be able to live that way. For another thing, I sensed that it was possible or Jesus wouldn’t have put it out there. (“It is possible or I wouldn’t have told you.” – Buddha) But it seemed so out of reach. An intuition slowly started rising to my consciousness. I sensed that there was more going on in Jesus’ commandment. I began to sense that there was a code hidden in it. A code telling us who we really are. I sensed that THAT was why Jesus commanded it, NOT because we are supposed to love and then feel guilty because we really can’t do it all the time, if ever, and therefore need a savior, which just so happened to be him, to forgive our lack of love so we can feel some relief from our sinful selves and so we can go to heaven in the end. NO. I sensed that he was showing us that by living in Love we are living in the truth of who we really are! We silly humans have forgotten the truth of our own Divine Nature – Love. Jesus wasn’t saying that believing in him was the way to that Truth. He was saying that the way back to our true nature of Love is through Love. We simply love our way back to ourselves, our true selves. Love heals us. Love IS us. That is salvation. “The Way” Jesus spoke of was not a belief in him as God. “The Way” was the Love that he lived.
I saw in Jesus a person who embodied Love. He was completely himself. At ease in the world. Free to love. Free to be loved. Free to heal. Free to play. Free to express. Free to be quiet. Free to party. Free to bring life-giving energy everywhere he went. Free to feel and honestly struggle and wrestle and agonize over very human predicaments. He was free. Free to be. And he was humble and courageous enough to follow his very radical vision for humanity, a vision that all can live in that same freedom and Love (what he called The Kingdom of God). He bravely followed that vision all the way to his own death, because he knew it was true. Somehow I knew that nothing less than our own embodiment of that exact same Love could be our true identity, our true salvation.
But I found no way in my evangelical Christian world. In fact, I found in it a hindrance to Love because of its need for right and wrong, black and white, in and out. I wasn’t ready to give up Christianity but I needed a different way of doing it. I needed something real. No amount of reading and studying and knowing the right things and praying and trying and acting and doing things right had enabled me to really love. Jesus said to love, but I found no way to Love. Just a carrot dangling out there for me to chase after. What kind of way was that? I was sick and tired of myself, and my anger at a system that promised transformation but reinforced my ego, that spoke of Love but operated from fear. There was so much of “me” in the way. Then I found yoga. Or, what I believe is really the case, yoga found me.
I read every book on the topic I could get my hands on (Remember? “I’m obsessed thank you very much”). I couldn’t help but mesh my former studies and experiences in Christianity, the ones that I didn’t throw out, the ones that were real, with what I was learning about yoga. There were too many similarities. It seemed that yoga offered a “way”, a practice. I was beginning to feel what Baron meant by power. “The Way” was finally becoming accessible.
An aside: This is a conversation I had with Baron at the most recent Bootcamp I’ve been to: He had been teaching on the Hindu principle of Samadhi and the Zen Buddhist principle of Satori – Nothingness, Emptiness. Coming to a place of emptiness in order to be filled. It jived with me. I went up to him after the talk and asked if he thought Jesus had taught anything about Nothing. He said, “Oh yes. Jesus lived from Nothing. He said, ‘Of myself I can do nothing. It is the Father in Heaven who lives and gives life through me.’” Then he said, “You know, I didn’t really get yoga until I discovered the teachings and person of Jesus.” I said, “Well, I didn’t really get Christianity until I found yoga.” He smiled and said, “Looks like we’ve been on the same path coming from different directions.” Exactly.
Anyway, back to the story: When I first found yoga I practiced to Baron’s DVD every day and began teaching others twice a week at the church, still having no idea what I was doing but loving every minute of it. After a year I decided I had better get some training. Got on Baron’s website, found a Level 1 Teacher Training Bootcamp in Tulum, Mexico, filled out the application, waited anxiously to be accepted, was, got my passport and went. I was scared to death. Didn’t know a soul and I’d never even been in an official yoga class! But I knew this was my next step, not just toward teaching, but toward the transformation we are all destined for. Turned out to be true. By the 8th day I’d experienced a significant shift. It was a physical shift in my body, my left hip to be exact, but it brought with it an opening to Love. I can’t explain it at all. All I knew was that I experienced Love in that moment and it totally bypassed my brain. That shift set me firmly on this yogic path of transformation. That shift would radically change my life, change me, to the core. At that time I had no idea where that shift would take me. Nor what it would take me through. (“There’s a tunnel that leads to Rivers of Love. It’s sides make you bleed ‘til you’re white as a dove. Don’t bother to bring all the baggage you cling to. The porter will free you before you come through.” – Sarah McLachlan) All I knew was that it was trustworthy and I had to follow it, no matter the cost.
Thus began my yogic journey. A year later I went to Level 2 Bootcamp where Baron told me in order to become a good teacher I just need to get out there and teach a lot. Teaching at the church limited how often I could teach so I began looking for a studio space, not thinking of looking literally in my own back yard! Finally it made perfect sense to turn our guesthouse into a yoga studio. I began teaching more often and having morning prayer (sun salutations and meditation) every weekday. Just this morning, after 8 years or so, I was flooded with gratefulness for these people who show up every morning and meditate with me. I remember when I first started learning to meditate, it felt like a taboo in my evangelical Christian world. Something I had to keep to myself. In fact, ten years prior to the Bootcamp experience of Love, I’d had the same exact experience of Love meditating all alone at my kitchen table. That’s how I knew to trust it. I’d experienced it before. (I remember Baron saying, “What you believe about God holds no interest for me. I am interested in your experience of God. Your belief isn’t going to change you. Your experience is.”)
I say sometimes that yoga will f*#k you up! And it will do just that – to your ego. Practiced intentionally and mindfully it will have the effect of bringing up all kinds of unhealthy patterns and attachments that you’d rather not know about – all those blocks that keep you from your truest, deepest self. But it doesn’t just bring them up and leave you there to suffer with them. Through the physical practice of yoga you find the tools to deal with life in a healthy and life-giving way. It trains you to find the courage to allow feelings to come up. It helps you to find the patience to stay with those feelings even if they scare, threaten, intimidate, or sadden you. It teaches you to find the strength to break through unhealthy habits and patterns. It shows you that you have the wisdom to replace old ways with new ways of being and relating that are all about freedom, truth, love, joy, health and ease. It will expose everything in you that is not of those ways. It will reveal layers of protection and slowly peel them away. It will point out every inauthentic way of being and make you real. In short, it will heal your body, mind and spirit. It will take you home, back to your True Self. Best of all, it will allow you to really love by slowly removing everything in you that is not of Love. How does it do it? I don’t know. I just know that it is a trustworthy and reliable process. Maybe it’s that we are all meant to come home to our True Selves and that when we align ourselves with a process that aims to take you there, things happen.
Warning: Coming into these new ways can be excruciating (“My God, my God! Why hast Thou forsaken me?”) and can generate all kinds of fear and resistance inside yourself, not to mention in those you love. But it reveals your deepest desires for healing and wholeness and gives you the guts to follow through. It gives you the courage to stay in the process no matter what arises because you experience the process as good and healing and all about giving Life. As painful as tearing off layers can be, oh! it feels so good to get them off!
Solution: To undergo this process alone is impossible. It just won’t happen. That’s why yoga brings community. Yoga will place you right smack dab in the middle of a community that is going to love the heck out of you just as you are. We come together with the common intention to align ourselves with Love (“OM”); we work stuck, negative energy through our bodies and minds and hearts together; we land in corpse pose as a symbol of dying to our old ways; we roll over into fetal position as a symbol of being born into new ways; we sit up and open our eyes and see the Divine, the Love that is within us all (“Namaste”); and we leave with a shift in perspective and a little more freedom to be Love in our worlds.
Yoga practice is changing my mind, my attitude, my body, my ego, my emotions, my energy, my eating habits, my sleeping habits, my caffeine intake, my relationships, my commitments and loyalties, all of it! It has enriched my faith in the God who is Love.
The journey continues, leading me into places unknown. It will continue even after this body is no longer needed. But for now I will use this body of mine as a vehicle for experiencing and communicating that only Love is real, fear is not, and that every human being is Love in flesh and bones.
Oh, by the way, yoga is an amazing way to get in great physical shape, maybe even get a bit buff like The Baron!