Thursday, August 14, 2008

Thursday Morning

I went in to town yesterday and took Jenn Wooten's 4:30 Flow class and Matt's Ashtanga class at 6:00. Ashtanga is so much easier after warming up in a flow class. And it was interesting to see what Jenn is up to these days. Matt, Hannah and I had a great talk about Muscluar Energy which I should probably relay here for public record but perhpas in another post. I had something else in mind for this morning's entry.

A week or so ago, I got an email from a friend of mine who has been a long-time Ashtanga Yoga practitioner at a studio that has been shifting its focus to Anusara Yoga. She asked me for some yoga advice but I decided to answer her question on my blog since it has issues that might be relevant in some way to us all as teachers, students and practitioners.

The emial went something like this-

"My dilemma is w/ashtanga - it's injuring me. My hamstring will not heal unless I stop it completely, or ignore all fwd bends. My right S.I. always goes out whenever I backbend which is frustrating as you may imagine. However, I really enjoy the workout I get from primary, particularly the vinyasa flow. Can I get the same degree of physical exertion from Anusara yoga?

So far my personal issue w/Anusara is that there is not enough workout, the practice is different every practice thus negating postural advancement through repetition so I don't feel like I progress. Without question - the few classes of yours I have attended kicked my butt. My body needs that to be happy. Any thoughts?"

And so of course, as we all know- I do have lots of thoughts and opinions on such matters. SO my answer goes something like this:

First, there is the issue of injury. (My personal opinion is that Ashtanga Yoga does not injure people. People injure themselves practicing Ashtanga Yoga. Same with any yoga, in fact.)When we are injured the only way for the body to heal is to abstain from what aggravates the injury and replace it with what heals. In this case, in order for the hamstring to heal, some rest, PT or bodywork and therapeutic application of the alignment principles is the only answer. (With major emphasis on the lateral broadening of Inner Spiral.) Left unattended, hamstring tears do not go away on their own, they only get worse. Much worse. Therapeutic yoga is super intense, tedious and slow and will in no way be gratifying in the way that Ashtanga Vinyasa is gratifying. Do not expect it to be.

This calls us into one of John Friend's great teachings about satisfaction and gratification. What may be immediately gratifying- the sweat and workout you get from today's ashtanga practice - may work against the long term satisfaction of being injury free and being able to walk and practice without pain. This is the law of it. No way around it. There is going to be a sacrifice. Like it or not, that is how it works. (But it doesn't mean that you cannot go to a spinning class and sweat your ass off or go swimming until your lungs are ready to burst.)

Now my personal pet peeve is when anybody says something about Anusara Yoga as a system when what they are really doing is talking about their experience with the classes they are taking. Many times people think the problem with Anusara Yoga is the method itself when sometimes it is just with a new teacher or a not very good teacher or the nature of the certain studio. Studio to studio, class level and intensity varies depending on the teachers and the clientele. In all likelihood, you are practicing Anusara Yoga at a studio where the intensity for the rest of the group will never be what you are looking for because 90% of the people who are paying to be there need a slower pace. One of the distinguishing features of Anusara Yoga is that it can be adapted to all levels, abilities and so on. So whether it is an intense workout or not is not what makes it Anusara Yoga. It is defined by different parameters.

When Anusara Yoga is practiced well and taught well, you should find that all categories of your poses are improving whether you are working on them or not. This is my experience of the method as a teacher and as a practitioner. A forward bending class is improving your back bends ideally. (And certainly we do get better at the things we repeat regularly but the principle remains the same.) For instance, I recently started practicing Ashtanga Yoga some again and after not doing the primary sequence for like 5 years and practicing Anusara Yoga with an occasional foray into Iyengar Yoga, I was way better at Ashtanga. I hadn't visited M-D for years and was able to clasp after a few honest attempts at it. It improved through other means than repeating the pose itself. This is particularly true about poses like lotus. The best way to work on your lotus pose is out of lotus. But I digress.

(And, of course, there are exceptions- like only doing Ashtanga without a few good back bending practices will not improve your back bends. That is obvious to me. But that is a different story. But it will improve your strength so that when you do go after your backbends you have some endurance to really go deeper.)

In fact, progress in practice is what we are all about in Anusara Yoga. It is one of the main criteria John gives us to evaluate the efficacy of our teaching. One thing I know for sure is that my regular students- not students I see once a month when it is convenient to their schedule to drop into my class- but my regular students who are committed, get better. WAY BETTER. They do things in two years they never dreamed they could do. Within one year, in fact. This is my consistent experience of our method. (Anyone reading out there want to testify on this one?)
And I hardly repeat a sequence.

So the other thing is that for me I am really clear about the distinction about practice and about class. The great thing about Ashtanga is that you know exactly what you are going to get in every class- a good sweaty practice. But that is not our exclusive aim in Anusara Yoga. We a trying to accomplish more than that. I want to teach people tools to open and strengthen themselves so that they can generate intensity for themselves in their own practice. In general, best is to go to class to learn and go to your own mat to practice. That way if you want intense, you are in charge of it, not the teacher. However, I rarely get a complaint that my classes are not intense. Someone once told me that I am able to make holding your arms over your head into a grueling experience. (Of course she said this affectionately. And you should see what she can do now.)

So whether or not the Anusara Yoga classes in your area will ever feel intense enough is hard to know, but can you practice Anusara Yoga in a way that makes you drip in sweat, progress in your practice and makes your body happy? Of course, the method can provide that. The certified teachers that I came up in the method with have some of the most intense and deep practices I have ever encountered. We practice really hard. A lot. Do not mistake the fun for a lack of focus and drive. Ours is not a casual path. We believe in bring supreme effort to grace in order to change and transform. On the mat. Off the mat. It is our way.

SO there is my tough love answer for the morning. Anyone else out there have a question?


Meg said...

OOOoohhh I love this! I definitely had the same experience coming back to Ashtanga after years of practicing Anusara Yoga, way more possible, way less strain and push. I just had the conversation today actually about injury and Ashtanga and I love your answer. It is the practitioner, not the method. Which, interestingly enough from this seat, is a major credit to Anusara because it really teaches you how to practice. How interesting that the seriousness of that can get lost in the fun and love... For me I always have more fun AND learn to love more deeply when I am working hard and things are intense.
All that said, I just had a private with an Iyengar teacher to help deal a little with the persistent nausea and headache (read: pregagony) and really the height of intensity for me right now are things like baddha konasana, super supported supta virasana, supported purvotannasana, and vipariti Karani with like 40lbs of weight on my head. But I digress....
Love you super mucho.

Jeremiah Wallace said...

So... this is not a question, but rather a testimony for your friend who e-mailed you. I've practiced yoga for over 4 years now, and I've been practicing Anusara for just over a year. In the amount of time I've practiced Anusara, I've completely healed an old lower back injury, completely healed my sciatica (it doesn't even act up if I stop practicing for long periods of time), I can now do a handstand in the middle of the room any time of day, and my practice has progressed ridiculously well on many levels (This tight hamstring poster child can do a pretty decent Visvamitrasana now). And any injury I've gotten since I've practiced Anusara has been from me thinking "Oh, I don't really have to listen to that principle" and then injuring myself. But the thing that's been so inspiring about that for me is that I now know that I can go into any class I want and keep myself safe, no matter what we're doing. I know how to work my body even in a completely new and unfamiliar practice. And Christina is right about all your poses support your other poses. I hadn't even attempted Eka Pada Rajakapotasana I in months until this last weekend. I twice managed to just brush my foot with my fingertips a long time ago in that pose with help, but this weekend, I not only grabbed my foot, but I got my foot to my head and HELD it. And personally, I think what helped me with that pose that day was the amount of Outter spiral I've developed in my legs over the past year. So not just my backbends, but my hip openers have opened my backbends. And I've just learned how my body works so that if I know we're doing, say, backbends today, I can also work on the areas I personally need to open first in order to ready my own body for those backbends. It's just been very impowering to find how I am perfectly capable of taking care of my body- Thanks to Anusara and Christina. And I'm not even going to go into all the ways that it's helped my psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually...

Pamela said...

I'm just gonna say, WOW! You say so much. You really articulate my experience of Anusara Yoga (and you as a teacher) so beautifully. I will have to find a place to keep this for future reference when I want to explain "our way" to someone else.

Wait, Wait!!! New thought ~ I started a personal FAVORITES page on my blog ~ from movies to songs to my own favorite posts. It's a work in progress, but this message gives me an idea for a whole NEW section ~ favorite entries about Anusara Yoga and such OPB (Other People's Blogs! This one will lead it off.

Bye for now, going to go update my blog ...