“I tend, of course, to put down the things that interest me, and then to look for connections between and among these things. I try to cast a wide net into the ocean of consciousness!” – Randall Buskirk
(It’s always a treat to take one of Randall Buskirk’s yoga classes. He’s one of Sarasota’s most thoughtful teachers, always making unexpected connections and bringing new ideas to the mat. He was kind enough to chat with me about keeping a practice journal, and I hope you’ll enjoy the insights that he shared on the practice of yoga and writing.)
Bruce: Even though I’ve kept lots of journals, it didn’t occur to me to write about yoga until Rita Knorr, one of my yoga teachers, gave me a blank journal and suggested that I use its pages to deepen my yoga practice. That was maybe a dozen years ago. I’m wondering what might have compelled you to start keeping a practice journal?
Randall: I began yoga about 14 years ago. I had been keeping journals for years, off and on, before that. Writing Down the Bones may have been one of those early influences on developing a writing practice. Even before then, I was writing down little snippets of song lyrics, a sentence here, a paragraph there, really since I was in high school.
So jotting things down in a notebook was a practice, and what might have changed over the years were the kinds of things I noted. I’m sure that when I first started yoga, I made note of that as a matter for the record. I went through a phase or two, and still come back to it from time to time, of doing morning pages, a la Julia Cameron, but I found that what I was writing in that way was not very interesting to me after awhile. It didn’t seem to lead me anywhere, because I seemed to be recording all this negative stuff just because I thought I should record everything “as is.” Rather than clearing my mind of it, writing it down just seemed to produce more of it.
Bruce: Isn’t it interesting how sometimes keeping a journal can offer an outlet for negative stuff? I’ve kept journals that have led down that road, too, which ultimately reached a dead end. So I was pleasantly surprised at how combining the journaling with practicing yoga created a different result—a different energy, shall we say?—a way of looking at the world with awe and gratitude rather than with negativity and with a newfound appreciation for the gifts that life brings us every day. It sounds like you found something similar.
Randall: Within a year or so of starting yoga, I began going to workshops, so I kept notes from those. Sanskrit words and concepts. Quotes from texts or the teacher. Notes on asana, mainly hints on techniques and actions in the poses. Mainly on the physical aspects of the poses, not so much on the subtle aspects, as I recall.
But along with the physical aspect of practice, many of the workshops and classes delved into the historical, psychological, and philosophical aspect of yoga, and that very much engaged me. So reading, writing, contemplating, and learning have very much been part of yoga practice for me since near the beginning.
Bruce: I am always amazed at the deep knowledge that you bring to your classes and share with your students, often from so many different perspectives. I’ve read some books on yoga—books by Charlotte Bell, Donna Farhi, Judith Lasater, and Stephen Cope are my favorites—but I haven’t delved into the deeper historical and philosophical texts, the ancient texts, although for a while I was reading Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and using the sutras as writing prompts and as a way to deepen my understanding of yoga. So, I can see how your deep engagement with yoga’s history and philosophy might lead you to teaching.
Randall: After a few years of practice, I began to go down the path of becoming a teacher. That naturally involved more writing and recording. I think for me, journaling about yoga has been more about remembering, about recording the things I wanted to remember, rather than a process for understanding and working out things through writing, although they aren’t separate.
Bruce: Can you explain what you mean when you say the process of journaling about yoga is more about remembering?
Randall: Yoga has always been about remembering, about the act and art of memory. The doing-it-again part, the doing-it-anew part of life, the connecting and reconnecting of things that might have become separated or undone, as well as un-doing them to form new combinations of past and present. Remembering aspects of myself, of others, of the world.
So I record things I might not yet understand or might understand another way at another time. Practicing yoga creates the space for that to happen, whether on the mat or on the page or anywhere else sufficiently impressionable.
Bruce: And these discoveries came about as a result of the path you followed to become a teacher?
Randall: As part of the teacher training, we did a lot of journaling, of contemplating questions based on our readings, and also observing our own daily asana practice, finding what worked and didn’t work for us and exploring the whys of that, observing our tendencies and patterns, which seems like a kind of mindfulness itself.
That also included a lot of observation of other classes, of listening to instructions and writing down words and actions and pose sequences. All the ways you could try to get a handle on teaching a class and helping the students.
Bruce: For me, too, yoga has led to a greater sense of mindfulness, and I attribute this greater sense of mindfulness to the way the asanas, along with keeping a journal, cultivate a certain awareness, a certain way of observing the world. Each pose offers us a chance to become more mindful of our body, or a part of our body that we might have overlooked or failed to pay attention to. Thanks to my journal, I’m inspired to look more closely at the world, and at the way I experience the world. Also, the pages of my journal have helped me understand the world as much more expansive, welcoming, and loving than I used to assume. It reminds me that we are all connected. Has keeping a practice journal brought you that sense of connection, too?
Randall: Over the years, I’ve filled several notebooks with notes and quotes and observations and pose sequences. These might come from anywhere, any thing that I think might be useful either personally or for a class. I always have my eyes and ears attuned for material, whether from the radio, newspaper, books, video, or just about anywhere else in life. I tend, of course, to put down the things that interest me, and then to look for connections between and among these things. I try to cast a wide net into the ocean of consciousness!
In the past couple of years, I have probably used my notebooks less for reflection and turned more to social media, or at least as a complement. I often use Facebook now as a way of putting down ideas. Little aphorisms and connections that I find in my daily life and practice, definitions, jokes, observations, contemplations—I enjoy these opportunities to make my own sutra-like offerings. Threads that feed into the fabric of the ether. They are in some ways quite effervescent, but because I have put them out there, they sometimes come back to me in surprising ways, or I see or hear them reflected and refracted and expanded upon in ways beyond my own imagining. So it is less a private record, for sure, and feels vulnerable, but I enjoy this little metaphoric balancing act out in the arena, up on the high wire. I often fall flat, but I know I will get back up for the next pose, the next post. Flat on the ground, after all, is a familiar place for all who practice yoga.
Bruce: I love your Facebook postings—snippets of insight, brief observations offering a new perspective or gentle wisdom—and, in many ways, feel as if you’re sharing a page from your journal with readers, less as a private record, as you say, than as a way of letting readers share your experience. A public journal, I guess, a little like street art.
Randall Buskirk teaches yoga in Sarasota, FL at Garden of the Heart Yoga Center, Prana Yoga and Healing Center, and MandalaMedSpa and Yoga Shala. You can join him on a yoga retreat to Bali that he’s leading with Anthony Bogart on March 25 – April 6, 2017. For more information about the retreat, visit: http://www.retreatours.com/bali2017/. And if you’d like to follow him on Facebook, visit his page: https://www.facebook.com/randall.buskirk