Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sunday Morning

The great thing about frustration is that it can motivate you to clarify and improve. Like Imentioned in the previous post I was a bit frustrated- not by the students but by my answer that I felt fell a bit short of great and useful. So the frustration spurred me to get very clear at explaining the components of teaching Anusara Yoga and applying those components to different levels and populations and then demonstrating experientially what I meant.

Manouso Manos, a Senior Iyengar Teacher (they really do have a Senior Teacher designation, unlike Anusara Yoga who has only "Self-proclaimed Senior Teachers" but many of you know this rant already and if you do not know it, it isn't pretty, let me tell you...) once told the group that he and a handful of his peers once asked Mr. Iyengar to teach them as though they were beginners. BKS evidently replied that that was impossible, he could only teach them as they were- he teaches to what is in front of him. He then told the teachers to go out into the street and get him some raw beginners. Then he taught those people right off the street to demonstrate exactly how he would teach Iyengar Yoga to a raw beginner. (And of course, he hit it out of the park.)

So trying to tell and show experienced students how I would teach beginners without beginners there is a bit false but I think it went really well in general. But now I am ahead of myself. First we had a talk about YOGA IS LIKE BAKING. Anusara Yoga is baking a cake. Level One teacher training is making a pound cake. Your certification video is a pound cake with chocolate chips. Teaching Pregnant Ladies is a german chocolate cake. Teaching Seniors is a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Teaching Beginners is devil's food cake. Now it is all cake and therefore, it all has to have the essential ingredients in a certain proportion- some kind of fat, a sweetener, flour and a leavening agent and so on. At a certain point, not enough flour and you have cookies, which is another kind of yoga all together. (Still yummy. Still sweet. Still worthwhile. Still enjoyable.) Leave out the sweetener and you have crackers. (Still yummy, still nourishing. etc. but a different kind of yoga because we are making cake.)

So TT can teach trainees how what the necessary ingredients are for pound cake, we can help trainees assemble the ingredients, we can give folks a chance to practice creaming the butter and sugar together or sifting the flour, salt, sugar and baking soda together and we can even discuss optimal batter consistency and so on. But in TT we do not even put the pound cake in the oven!

The cool thing is that all of the "Principles of Baking a Pound Cake" can be applied to "making a pound cake with chocolate chips" and "Making a chocolate cake" and so on. That application process is really something that is the fun of teaching Anusara Yoga. I can give suggestions, I can certainly share what I have learned but what we most want as teacher trainers is to give you the ingredients, the principles and the permission to confidently and humbly go forth and make cake. If we make it too narrow in terms of "What is Anusara Yoga" we would limit your creative potential and expression and even the growth of the method. If there are not guidelines and it is too wide open people will be out there calling cookies cake and confusing people.

So- it has to be cake to be Anusara Yoga. And even though you might be making a certification video kind of cake never discount that chocolate cake can also be damn fine eating. I think there is more that I covered but mostly we worked with the art of humbly making a cake.

I walked everybody through the "mind of Christina Sell when planning a class" using the Class Planning Worksheet I developed as our guide. I took the same theme (HUMILITY), the same UPA (KIDNEY LOOP), the same set of poses (Basic standing poses) with a few additions and exceptions and taught two sample classes. One class was geared to Carrot Cake- an experienced yoga student who does not know Anusara Yoga. The other one geared to chocolate cake- the new yoga student who is new to yoga and also new to Ansuara Yoga. Then we compared and contrasted the difference.

The permutations are endless but the point is that as long as you are making cake it is Anusara Yoga. The type of cake is going to depend on who is actually in front of you, where you are teaching, etc. and so forth. And regardless you need the same basic ingredients, cake baking skills, an oven, a timer (!!) and so on.

We ended the class with a class planing exercise and some practice teaching. This group has some really great teachers and really awesome wisdom among it. No train wrecks. Lots of progress. Great confidence. Great humility. More later.


Dale said...

Very insightful. Which is to be expected, of course :-).

I have a thought to add to the mix, gained from much personal pain & struggle, and much thought upon the struggles of others:

Each one of us is different & unique.

Well, duh. But wait - there's more! I believe that the most beneficial yoga experience comes from doing beneficial work, & understanding that the work that I am doing is beneficial and effective. I believe that Anusara is uniquely suited to this approach.

I super-enjoy Ashtanga and the other schools of flow that I practice, but apparently inevitably, the yogi's focus becomes "getting into" a pose, or being able to do a particular transition. And these goals make for great play! There are few things that are as much fun as being in a group of strong people who are playing strongly :-). But this play can only be fully enjoyed by some yogis - others let themselves be frustrated by their physical limitations.

Please note that the "true" Ashtanga teaching is that we sould not strive greatly with the practice, but only use 80% (+/-) of our strength&etc, because if we are only faithful to practice, all will come. But in practice, that isn't what happens...

Similarly, in other "hatha" yoga classes, there is strong emphasis on "getting into" the pose. We even have modifications that we can use until we can "get into" the pose.

I'm studying Baron Baptiste power yoga, and one of his main goals is to transform the mind and body by overcoming obstacles by strong, dedicated practice.

Now... folks who know me know that I love the sweaty, athletic, challenging aspects of yoga, and that I find huge value in Ashtanga and vinyassa practices. But that's because I totally do not care about "getting into the pose," or being able to do the transition - what I care about is the work.

And that is why, to me, Anusara is the best yoga, and the most applicable yoga.

Now, I remember Jessica Montgomery making me sweat in dandasana, and my hugely uninformed opinion is that Iyengar also lets yogi's of any capability do the work in any pose, because they teach mods & props that add to the ability of the student, so that she can do the work that the pose offers, even if she cannot achieve the outward form of the pose.

And I remember watching Jessica prop & instruct a guy who just had ACL surgery. Best I remember, he came to class 3 days a week, & she taught him & propped him (this was fun for an engineer to watch, as she built structures out of blocks & bolsters :-) for weeks. He was doing the work every practice, and he healed very strongly.

Anne or other Iyengar folks, please correct my Iyengar ramblings :-). But back to my Anusara spiel...

So, I contend that we can teach anyone with almost any set of physical or mental challenges how to do the work that a pose offers, even if they cannot get anywhere near the outward form of the pose.

In fact, I bet you can get a guy in a full body cast doing yoga in the Anusara style.

Because it isn't "getting the pose" that is important, and it isn't what the pose looks like from the outside that is important, nor the precise alignment of the bones & joints. The important thing is that the energetics are happening.

IMHO - and possibly mine only - one can perfectly implement the Universal Principles of Alignment by doing profound work on the inside of the body - work that may not result in any actual change in the outward form of the pose. Now that is a little strongly worded, but the point is that the yoga happens on the inside, not the outside.

Now I wiggle all over the place as I'm cycling through the Principles, but I've watched folks apply them much more stealthily, and in a more smooth manner, so that if you weren't looking for them, you might not see anythng happen.

So if someone were to apply all of the principles to a pose, it might not result in any net movement of the limbs at all.

I don't want to get off too far on that tangent - back to the main topic.

A guy like me, who has a physical limitation on bending forward with legs together, can still perfectly apply the Principles to such a pose (not that I have _ever_ perfectly applied the Principles to anything :-), without ever "getting the pose." Folks with blown out disks can perfectly apply the Principles to forward or backbends without moving into poses or ranges of motion that threaten them, because you can perfectly apply the Principles at any angle or depth of the pose.

I like one of Desiree's mantras from her recent visit - "make the pose work for you." I understand that statement from the Anusara point of view - wherever you are in your ability to "get the pose," you can do the work that the pose offers perfectly, because you can perfectly apply the Principles.

So, dragging this back to the cake analogy, if the grain is the UPoA, then the grain is the One True Cake. Any other manifestations of the grain - mixed with oil & water, baked, iced (mmmmm), and decorated, are wonderful extensions of the grain, but the grain is the thing. As students, I think that one of biggest cognitive breakthoughs is when we realize that the grain is the heart of the cake. And a huge heart breakthrough is really accepting that the grain is the heart of the cake.

I havn't spoken of the philosophical principles of Anusara, but the same thoughts apply...

If we love the practice in this way, nothing can take the heart of the practice from us - neither age nor physical infirmity nor emotional stress nor mental decline will deprive us of our cake, because we can do the practice in all of these conditions.

So if we teach the grain, then we teach the heart of the practice, and the heart never fails.

Cake, anyone :-).

Christina Sell said...

Lovely, you master cake baker, you. I was thinking at some point i am going to have to say which things are the grain (UPA), the sweetener (Heart language), the heat (the breath? The intention?) Too much for tonight, though.