Know Your Teachers: Sean Shelton
Sean Shelton is a one of a kind man, teacher, father, and all around human. He truly is a wealth of knowledge and his passion for living a grounded yogic life is infectious. As his fiancé, I’m lucky enough to witness his uplifting and compassionate spirit on the daily, and am so excited for the opportunity to share his words with all the Yoga Pulse blog readers! Enjoy!
Emily: What does yoga mean to you?
Sean: I think yoga is a technology for understanding the fears or the agitations that are happening in your mind. How to work with them, understand them, control them. So really it's about honing and toning the relationship we have with our mind.
E: Is that why you practice?
S: Yeah, to understand my mind's relationship with the world.
E: We all need to hone our minds.
S: Yeah. I think people should all take up a practice that helps them understand their relationship with their mind. I don't necessarily think that should be a flow class or even Ashtanga, I think people need to seek out and find their own path.
E: You mean like that could be sewing or writing or woodwork or anything? Or does it need to be more of a physical practice?
S: I think a physical aspect should be present. Because our nervous system reaches out to our fingertips and toes, the mind occupies the body, and if you're gonna try to understand this thing you're in, I think you need to move your body mindfully. Sitting in silence long enough can become a yoga practice though. So I think anything with patience and devotion and time can become a yoga practice. I just think we should be engaged in whatever we do. Everything should be a yoga practice, but there's an isolation in the purpose and the intent of getting up at whatever time--6am--and making the first thing you do a dedicated practice. Whatever that is for some-body.
E: Is first thing in the morning important, in particular?
S: That's an important period in our daily cycle. We have a special relationship with our mind first thing in the morning.
E: I feel like mornings are a very sacred time.
S: I agree. And that relationship our mind has with the first few hours of being awake, that's the optimal time for whatever the practice. And if we're talking about a physical practice, at night it becomes a more externalized experience instead of honing and toning the relationship with mind, so we miss out on some of the benefits of an early morning practice. But that being said I don't think it's an entirely lost experience. It's important people make it to their mat whenever they can. I don't remember who said it, but there's a saying that basically says, don't give up your sanctity or sacredness in the morning. Allow that time to be your practice. Because once we go out into the world and become bogged down by distractions it's very hard to get that head space back until the next morning.
E: Do you think that being a male has influenced your classes or students in any way?
S: Yeah I think humans react differently to masculine versus feminine energy regardless of sex. So whether it's a male teacher approaching class with more feminine energy or a female with masculine, or vice versa. Of course that effects the students. Being a man and approaching my class with more masculine energy carries a certain weight to it. Some students will be attracted to it and some repulsed by it because they feed off a different kind of energy. And that's fine. I think being a man in the yoga industry comes with certain challenges and certain benefits just like being a woman does. It's just about operating with as much integrity and honesty as you can. I think it's the only way to approach teaching and practice. From there if they don't like what you're offering they can go to someone else. And that's not a big deal if you don't make it one. Allow people to find the teacher they resonate with. To me the man/woman thing... within the context of yoga-- and life-- I think we should keep ourselves in check regardless, and remember that what it comes down to is the persons character and integrity."
E: To look at people as people instead of whichever sex they are.
E: So you have a son now.
How has that affected your spiritual yoga practice?
S: An aspect of practice is dedicating yourself to something greater than you. A large part of yoga is understanding fear and ego and your mind's relationship to the world. In order to take on that kind of practice you have to have a lot of dedication because it's going to drudge up a lot of things about you and your character that you have to be confronted with. And it can be really easy to walk away. Or just take a very superficial approach to the practice. I think having a kid brings about more motivation and dedication to something greater than you. So I think it helps.
E: It has deepened your practice then, on some sort of level...?
S: Yeah I would say so. It's certainly more challenging to come to the mat without the distraction of Connor or whatever. He obviously needs a lot of energy and attention right now. That means the time I do spend on the mat I feel like there's a quality to it that wasn't there before.
E: Like you're more grateful for the ability to even get a Sun Salutation in.
S: Yeah and more connection to the movement and the breath and the whole practice in a way that I haven't really experienced before. It definitely has changed me. And I don't know if I would have felt that if I had started practicing only after he was born or not. But he is an extension of us. He has become a part of my sense of self and my ego and my self preservation. Because he has to be protected. So I've noticed certain challenges in my practice, that my nervous system is being taxed so to speak. So in a lot of ways I feel I've become more connected with different aspects of my ego and understanding how they function.
E: You believe yoga is a spiritual practice, not just getting on your mat and exercising. Do you think if someone's intention is to come to yoga to work out that it will inevitably blossom into something deeper for them in due time?
S: Depends on the person. I don't want to say that it always does or it always doesn't. That's one reason why I personally got into yoga. I was already heavily involved in the study of Psychology. I got my degree from ASU and found yoga afterward then realized so much of what
I'd been seeing and reading and hearing from teachers was this ancient school of understanding the mind. The psychology of being alive on this planet. One way or another, whether you're awake or asleep, whatever you do, as long as you are alive you are interacting with the world. You don't have a choice. Your mind picks up patterns no matter what. So I do think that regardless of your yoga practice, at some point in your life you're gonna come to certain revelations that are probably very wise, yogic-minded ideas. I don't think everybody experiences that on the mat but it happens quite often and applies to someone who has come to their mat purely for physical purpose... I think they do start coming to those revelations. But when you come with that intent the result can be negative too. It can go the other way because maybe you're catering to fear and it holds you back on a multitude of levels. So even though you're willing to come to your mat often you could be facilitating a stronger relationship to a fear- based practice and that can be very dangerous for the individual.
E: Do you see that a lot in your classes?
S: I don't necessarily see that a lot in my classes, but in interactions with students that will come to my class once and never come back. I think I challenge their way of thinking. It goes back to that masculine energy and feminine energy. I come off more confrontational and it can be hard for them to have that mirror shown in their face. And in some ways that's just a truth of the practice of Ashtanga. It shines a pretty strong mirror back at the practitioner. And when that happens they feel like they need to take a step back.
E: Does it affect you personally when people don't come back to your class?
S: No. If that was their first experience and they don't come back, I don't ever take that personally. And that is just a part of being true to yourself. If you built a relationship with a student and they stop coming that can be different; a lot of times the communication isn't there. As a teacher, it's an indication that I need to do better establishing connection with students and helping them feel like I'm someone they can trust to talk to about their experiences. So it's important we foster relationships with our students that allow them to feel comfortable to come talk about injuries or anything else.
E: If they open up to their teacher they can keep growing.
S: I think that's important for the development of a space that allows a student to feel safe enough to challenge their fears.
S: And that's what yoga is.
E: Mhm. Eventually a student needs to move on from the teacher. They have the technology and the intent. They've been given the tools and they have the power to do it. There's a certain point where you can challenge your fears in a safe space, but how do you know if you are truly overcoming them if you never apply that practice outside the safe space? So I think you need to see what it's like to not be in that space and see what you can do. Yoga is a technology for understanding the mind, but it has the power to make them a super hero. If you have the ability to understand your mind and relationship to fear and you can keep it calm, there's nothing you can't accomplish. If you truly master the agitations of your mind there's nothing you can't do in this world. And there's no challenge that could come your way that you wouldn't have an advantage in. So it gives you a power to be in this world and make a difference if you wanted to. But it comes down to a willingness to take that off your mat, eventually your practice has to expand outside your teacher, your mat.
E: Would you say the poses are just a tool with which to practice the true concept of yoga?
S: They are a bottle that contains our nervous system. You change the shape of the bottle and think: How is this affecting my nervous system? What do I feel, what do I think, what is my experience? Where am I shaking? Why am I shaking? You create this inquiry behind that asana, that particular container, and then you change the shape of the container and ask the same questions again. Over and over you do that with the intent to look deep inside. Not just doing the movement. You use it as a method of studying yourself and the experience inside and out. And then it yields magical results that are more than just the ability to do the pose.
E: Is there anything else you would like to close with, for your students or future readers?
S: Whatever your practice is, try to make it playful. The seriousness should be the fact that you're doing it everyday and you're applying yourself to the study of it everyday. Playfulness is just an idea, a framework for your nervous system. If you move playfully and make it a game for yourself, it takes away some of that agitation and fear. If we can move our body with that kind of playful, childlike attitude, the nervous system gets freed up and it learns more. Keep your practice playful so that you can learn more.
(Sean is currently teaching Ashtanga Yoga at Yoga Pulse Studio on Tuesdays & Thursdays from 6:30pm-8:00pm. Your First Class is Always Free @ Yoga Pulse Studio!)