Hello yogi/ni's! I had the chance to sit down and talk with the Libby Bailey Cox about yoga philosophy and her upcoming workshop at EYS. You have two opportunities to practice with Libby in person at EYS.
Friday only option 4/26 6-9p or Friday + Saturday and Sunday 1-7p.
This workshop is for EveryOne and yoga teachers you can earn 13 hours of CEU's with Yoga Alliance.
I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did!
Mandy: Hi again Libby! Here we are, doing this again, because I forgot to hit record the first time…
Libby: Case in point—that Tantra is for householders!
M: Yes, what would we do without it! Thank you for coming back online and spending more of your precious time with us.
M: We have to start by pointing out that we’ve known each other since 2005. That’s so long! It was when we were yoga teachers, before you were a mother and before you considered yourself a philosophy teacher. From 2005 till now you’ve made a lot of transitions and I’d love to hear about your journey from going to yoga teacher to yoga philosophy teacher.
L:Alright! Well, long story short, I found yoga through dance. My favorite dance professor in college was a yoga teacher and yogini. The philosophy aspect came right on the heels of the physical practice, partly because I’ve always been a person who feels strange being person! Almost like I’m an alien trying on a human body, and there’s always been a certain amount of awe around the shape of us, and how we move and how we are beings in the world. When I took my first yoga class with my dance professor, one of the things that really stood out for me was how different I felt from practicing yoga asana versus moving for dance or for an art form or as a performance. The mental and emotional shifts that happened with the yoga were among some of the first questions I had for my teacher and they were always kind of in the forefront.
When I was studying to become a yoga teacher, I was also studying to become a Waldorf high school art teacher, and I was particularly interested in Waldorf education because of the philosophical component that Rudolf Steiner, the founder, had. He had a unique way of looking at the world, and of thinking about how we are as beings, as creatures on planet earth.
When I started teaching yoga, I already had a teaching background from dance and art, and with my performance background, it’s always been pretty easy for me to speak in public. And when I did my 500-hour yoga teacher training I studied with Dr. Ellen Stansell, and we did a 50-hour independent study together on the Bhagavad Gita. I spent some wonderful time with her—she had just had a baby and I went to her house and we sat together in this sweet and intimate way learning about philosophy and so I got to give a presentation around the Bhagavad Gita and that kind of got the ball rolling in terms of just having the space to be in conversation about philosophy.
Not long after that, Yoga Yoga in Austin asked me to start teaching the philosophy modules for their teacher training and ever since then it’s really been by request that I continue to teach philosophy. It sort of fell into my lap in that way. And now it’s a beautiful ferocious feedback loop that I keep teaching, and people keep having more questions, and I keep having more questions and keep learning and so here we are, ten or fifteen years later, teaching yoga philosophy.
M: You still teach yoga asana, and now you’ve integrated yoga philosophy and yoga asana. Something I really appreciate about being in conversation with you about yoga or being in a training with you as your student, is knowing your journey. Everything is always very embodied. We have fans of Ellen here in Tulsa—I’m a big fan of Ellen as well, and both of you have this way of taking the teachings and making them accessible, down to earth, and approachable but also like these teachings are already alive in our life already. Like we don’t even have to do anything, they’re already there. It’s just kind of like you open our eyes. Like you say, you give us a new set of eyes to see with.
I wanted to ask you about the teachings that you present in the 200-hour teacher training. You’re a yoga philosophy teacher and I think you’re most known for being a Tantric yoga philosopher teacher, and the 200-hour students from Everyone Yoga School know that you’ve got a deep appreciation for the classical texts. But people who haven’t been your student yet might not understand that you’re also studying and teaching these classical texts that show up in teacher trainings, like Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. And you still have the same way with them, as you do with the Tantric teachings, of helping your students connect to and to relate to these ancient texts. Some of the language can be archaic and the context can seem like you’re on a whole other planet. Talk about feeling like an alien! Reading some of these yoga philosophy texts can feel that way. But sitting with you, it’s different, it’s a more embodied, real approach. Can you talk a little bit about why you’ve chosen to invest in learning about a broad philosophical foundation and why it’s so important for not only yoga teachers but for yoga practitioners to invest that same time and dedication to both?
L: I love this question, in the sense that I think I’m also very much my teacher’s student. The other person I’ve also spent a great deal of time studying philosophy with is Dr. Douglas Brooks and I really appreciate the way he defines the word yoga, that it’s the process of engaging in a relationship, or deepening a relationship. Becoming more intimately connected. And we do that as humans through our conversation, through our interaction with each other, listening to each other’s stories and trying to picture ourselves in each other’s stories. With respect to classical yoga and Tantra, I think that one of the ways that I’ve really come to learn each one better is by putting them in the context of a conversation, comparing them and contrasting them. I think that both are immensely valuable.
Classical yoga, summed up as a bumper sticker, might be this idea of really setting ourselves apart or taking time away, outside the context of society in a process of engaging in meditations. Sometimes they’re called “cave-dweller practices.” I think that’s so valuable, as I learned from Douglas Brooks studying the Bhagavad Gita. One of the teachings inside that text basically says the world will tell you who you are if you let it, and we need to be careful about that sometimes, especially with the amount of sensory stimulus that we are bombarded with on a daily basis, the amount of time that we may invest in social media or looking a certain way, acting a certain way in order to be part of a larger context. It can be a real breath of fresh air to literally—but also metaphorically—take a step away, turn inside, and in essence have that sort of renunciate life practice that we learn about from classical yoga.
At the same time, the time that we spend studying and practicing classical yoga can also become infused in our daily lives, and that’s something that continues to draw me into Tantra. Tantra means to weave or to weave together, and we might even call those teachings “householder teachings.” As much as we might like to have that time away so that we get this feeling that everything is calm and relaxed and under control, and we find that sweet vibration, the rest of the time for me it’s more like, “AAAAAAH!”
And there we are. You’re in this context of being in a family situation, or in friendships or in a job or in social engagement that requires you to be a being in the world with worldly obligations, and sometimes the classical yoga model can feel too far outside of that context. Tantra becomes an invitation to go deeper and deeper into the world so that the circumstances or feelings of enlightenment don’t have to be specific. This is something I learned from Ellen—that we have all of our worldly obligations and they’re not less than anything else just because they’re worldly. They are in fact a way for us to experience enlightenment in the everyday. I have this bumper sticker that someone gave me that says “Motherhood is the shortest and steepest path to enlightenment.”
M: I need that bumper sticker!
So the everyday gifts of embodied experience can also be a path to enlightenment. To have those two in conversation, that we take the time that we can, when we can to step away, so that when we step back in, we have the tools to engage deeply with whatever happens next.
M: I love that. I feel like on one hand the philosophy gives us opportunities to experience life in a different way, especially if we feel like life is really hard, which is why a lot of us come to yoga, so those inward practices are incredibly transformative. And then at some point, it’s almost like Tantra takes the pressure off. It’s like you don’t have to change anything about yourself or your life to achieve whatever it is you want to achieve. In other words, to feel an okayness with what is, or receive life just as it is. So I also appreciate both, thanks to you and what you’ve taught me.
So last question—this is for the students who are considering coming to your training this year, as well as those who came last year. For the ones that were there with us last year, there was this sense of an initiation of sorts. It was a yoga experience that at first, a lot of us didn’t really know what to expect. But what ended up happening was really beautiful, and the teachings really came to life. It wasn’t just an intellectual experience where we’re sitting around talking about these things; the way in which the Tantric practices were given and the way that you teach, it was as if the training was happening the whole weekend. Even when we went home at night or had conversations with our families. In between the sessions, the teachings just kept coming alive and it really was quite magical! So for those who are considering coming to the training, could you share with us the importance of actually being there and what that’s like? It would be helpful. And for those that already took the training and know and remember what it was like, what is going to be this year’s theme? How are they going to bring Ganesha into their life?
L: Well I appreciate what you said about the value of being present in the room. In my understanding from going to India and getting a chance to be in the temples there, I almost want to use the word theatrical to describe it. You can’t take a picture of it, or a video, because it just doesn’t capture the beauty and feeling of being immersed and surrounded in the space. In the temples in India it’s often actually forbidden to take a photograph because they want you to have the experience there and then.
And there’s a richness to it that comes from studying philosophy with lots of minds and voices in the room that’s different from reading a book or watching something online. The community conversation has a mind of its own, and we get a chance to layer upon our own experiences. So that’s what I would offer to folks who have taken the training before, is this idea of layering and re-layering the teachings just like you would a posture practice. The practice deepens as a result of doing it again and again and again.
And even though I’ve given this talk on intro to Tantra a handful of times now, we’re going to do it again, and those of you who haven’t sat with those ideas will get a chance to get up to speed and those who have, it’s really different each time and the people in the room change the conversation.
In terms of Ganesha, this is honestly one of the first times with respect to Tantra that I’ve received the gift of an invitation to not be an inch deep and a mile wide—which I do very well because I’m interested in so many different things, and I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, and so I try it all! But to be able to go deeply into one theme and into Ganesha, is a real gift. I think what we’ll also discover is that when we have that tether point, we are able to go deeply into the different aspects of the teaching.
We’ll look at the imagery of Ganesha, almost from an art history perspective. We’ll look at slides and images and learn the anatomy of Ganesha, and what all the different elements of his being have to tell us, and the stories that are held in the form. We’ll learn how to unpack those stories in terms of yoga practice, but we’ll also dive a little bit into the conversation of putting Ganesha back into context, and looking at the context coming from India. I think Ganesha is one of those images that, if I may be so bold, is one of the most common images that comes with Western postural yoga practice. But do we really know what it means, or what it means to have a relationship with this image? Is it cultural appreciation or cultural appropriation? Why is there another white lady talking about this?
I’m hoping we get a chance to use the conversation as a mirror and consider the approach that we have when we’re looking at this imagery that comes in the context of Hinduism as a religion, in the context of the artistry and imagery that brings us the narratives that help us learn to practice yoga.
M: It sounds like a typical yoga teacher training where there’s body practice, lecture, and anatomy lessons!
L: Ha! Right. Except it’s about having an elephant trunk and a big belly.
M: (looking for her Ganesha murti)
I thought I had the one you brought me from India right here…
L: (pulls out a small brass Ganesha)
Look, I’ve got one right here! We’ll look at murtis, we’ll look at sculptures and paintings, and you mentioned in our first conversation the question of whether we’ll do puja, and we’ll absolutely do puja!
To the best of my abilities, and to my best understanding of what it means in the context of our yoga practice and what puja can do in terms of helping us build a community experience, but it’ll also be a chance to bring some of the ritual practice home as a meditaton and it will be literally and metaphorically sweet. Because there’s a sweet element to studying Ganesha.
M: I can’t wait! And I didn’t mention this before but puja is almost feels like a posture practice because you’re gathering the supplies for the puja, and it takes the whole community to put the puja together, to go through the ritual, and to break it down. And when you’re done you almost feel like you’ve done a really long posture practice with a good meditation and savasana. There’s a similar feeling that’s left behind in my experience, so that’s something to look forward to.
Thank you Libby!
L: Namaste across the ethers!
M: Namaste Libby!
about our Authors
The Everyone Yoga School blog is written by guest authors who are former students, instructors, and passionate yogis with the sole purpose of sharing the yoga experience in the live and hearts of everyone.