Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Afternoon in Austin

After a lovely morning dog walk and yoga practice Kelly and I ate a bowl of soup and headed into Austin to meet Anne there. We went to look at the Omni Hotel as a possible venue for John's visit here and then we went to REI, Book People and Whole Foods. (YUM- gelato!) After that Anne and I went to Westgate for the 4:30 flow class while Kelly walked the dogs at Town Lake. (Yes, the pups got to come to Austin for the afternoon. They were so excited to be included.) At 6:00Kelly came to Westgate for the advanced class and then we all went to dinner and Central Market.

We worked on deep hip openers at 4:30 and almost everyone in the room did lotus at the end which was great to see. At 6:00 we worked on backbends and drop-backs to urdhva danurasana from standing. It went pretty well. No panic attacks, no one fell on their head. All in all a grand success! Anne, Susan and Jeremiah all double-dipped. (Although I swear when I asked in the 4:30 class who was staying for both classes more people raised their hands! Nothing like those deep hip openers to make you change your mind, huh?)

Another highlight was a delicious box of organic chocolates that Ann gave me for Christmas. I brought it into Central Market with me and we all had some for dessert. Kelly and I each had two pieces. Anne exhibited yogic restraint and had only one. (Those of you interested in the differences between Classical Yoga and Tantra - there it is... Kidding.)

Actually, to me that is the biggest of all difference between Iyengar Yoga and Anusara Yoga. (This questions has come up a lot lately. Lots of people ak me, lots of people ask Anne and she tells me about it.) To me the difference isn't in the alignment and all of that. (In terms of alignment, I think the methods agree completely on all points except on how to open the hips in the externally rotated positions. Like in Anusara Yoga we emphasize inner spiral in external rotation and in an Iyengar class you would not be told in baddha konasana to roll your thighs in. Well, I have never been told that and when I asked Anne, she said she has never been told that either. I have most definitely been told to roll them out strongly. We do that too in Anusara Yoga just after the strong inner spiral and maintaining the strong inner spiral.)

So the real difference is one of context. One of philosophy. The reasons why you practice and also what one's yogic aims are. Everything follows from there. Teaching methods, emphasis on broad strokes of alignment v. very detailed instructions, calming the mind v. moving with shakti, praising the student v. not praising the student, looking for the good v. looking for what is not happening well, etc. All those things are content. The biggest difference in my opinion (and since it is my blog I am not striving for political correctness here) is context.

In Classical Yoga, which informs Iyengar Yoga, there is a greater emphasis on Self-effort and on self-cultivation. In Anusara Yoga, the yogic aim is to align with grace in such a way that the transmission of grace cultivates you. Think about the Yoga Sutras. God is hardly mentioned, nor is Grace at the forefront of the discussion. The yogi is told about an 8-limbed path and the obstacles along the way. It is a path of cultivating oneself so that they become able to perceive the stainless purity of the soul.

And in texts like the Kularnava Tantra which informs Anusara Yoga, the whole path is one that is said to be impossible without grace, without the blessing of the guru. Certainly they point to discipline and self-cultivation quite clearly but the emphasis is on "shaktipat" a "descent of grace that makes you able (anugraha) to experience its blessings.

I talked to John about this last weekend. I told him this story about being in India and Geeta Iyengar was helping everyone refine their seated posture and was talking about how realization of the self would be impossible without refined posture. She said, "Don't think that God will just come to you in your meditation just because you ask him to! " (Now I think that what she was trying to impress upon us was that by sitting well and lifting the chest and aligning the structure our prana would move better and therefore the direct experience of samadhi would be more likely because we had "set the stage")

But when I heard this I was so sad for her. Because for me, God has done just that and more. Literally, my direct experience is that the miraculous has happened and continues to happen simply because I ask. Now, I am not saying that I have "Stilled the mindstuff" which is really what she is teaching being that her yoga is is informed by The Yoga Sutras. No my monkey mind is definitely not stilled. Not by a long shot. But I have experienced the miraculous, I have experienced God coming to me because I asked Him to. Repeatedly.

So John and I talked about this as the underlying principle of Anusara Yoga. We are a shaktipat tradition, not a tradition of self-cultivation. We are not necessarily trying to still the mind, although if that did happen along the way that would be great also. We are trying to line ourselves up in such a way that we experience the presence of the Divine in all things and at all times. And the underlying principle is that we cannot do that ourselves. We must rely not only on our efforts but on the assistance of the Divine. Like that.

So I love both methods (and I actually find them so complimentary that I think it is weird how people try to put them at odds with one another) but I am philosophically more at home with Anusara Yoga. Literally, with my life story I would have been dead if I had to wait to "get it right" before God came to help me. Truly. I am not exaggerating- read it in the book- that is where I was headed. So the idea "that perfection is required" is just counter my direct experience. Plus I am not really interested one bit in samadhi. The Yogic Confession Extraordinaire. What, not samadhi? Nope. Not at all. What I am interested in is discipleship. In living a life that is dedicated to a prayerful, grateful remembrance of Grace, my Teacher and my Heart. I am intersted in the Miraculous.)

But back to the original discussion. Context. Not content. To me that is where the differences are. I do love the Iyengar emphasis on practice and discipline because you cannot line up with grace without it. The pull of the habitual self is just too strong most of the time. Anyway- I could go on but well, there is a whole book to be written about this!

Off to practice asana.


Austin said...

My understanding of God is described as the "Reformed" tradition of Christianity - dating back to Martin Luthor nailing his list of problems with the organized church of the day to the door of one of those churches.

Our understanding of God is similar to the shaktipat tradition. We see God's will as a river flowing down through history, with the streams of God-seekers mingling in and forming a mighty river.

We believe that people are not even able to perceive/understand/love God personally until God touches them with his love and opens their eyes. We think of grace as a gift of God, freely given to us. That initial grace of opening our eyes is only the beginning. Every step that we take toward becoming more like God is only accomplished by his grace. We think ourselved incapable of becoming more like God by ourselves - we are basically no more able to become persue God on our own now thatn we were in the beginning.

So the wise path to God is to seek his grace, and to act in accordance with that grace - in John's terms, to seek to understand God's will - the direction that his grace is flowing - and then to dive into that stream with delight, gusto, discipleship, and profound gratitude. To take two chocolates and help two times.

We believe that this life is a training ground for helping us become people who not only love God, but who are his disciples.

Outward disciplines are useful at some times, and God's grace may call us to some discipline - asana, charity, fasting, studying - but the discipling is not the heart of the practice of God's children - it is the passionate persuit of God that is the heart of the practice.

And so our practice is seeking to know the father's heart, to think his thoughts after him, to play as he plays, to love with his ferocity, and always, always, always to seek his grace.

Then physical fasting becomes a spiritual feast; asana becomes a dance with the Beloved, giving to the poor becomes more satisfying than spending, and serving others becomes the ecstasy of washing God's feet.

I think that the comparisons between the two religions are wonderful.


Christina Sell said...

Amen. Hallelujah. Praise the Lord. Truly. Thank you so much for these inspiring, heart-felt words this morning.

And I miss practicing with you, ya big lug... Love.