Friday, September 12, 2008


Well, let's see, I just cannot get enough of this Ben Harper album so here I am again, listening to it and drinking tea and updating my blog. Just like yesterday morning...

I had a lot of fun teaching classes last night. I have been telling this story all week and so I might as well record it in blog-land. I have been thinking a lot about what makes an advanced student and what constitutes "advanced practice." What I am about to say is not the whole ball of wax, but just a certain aspect that is a very important part of it to me. To me, one hallmark of an advanced practitioner has to do with precision and clarity in action and movement which, in the advanced student, is a function of awareness and intention more than physical ability.

What does this mean? Take Surya Namaskar A or B for instance. The average advanced student would be a millionaire if they had a dollar for every sun salutation they have done. Most "Advanced" students have invested so many hours and so many dollars in learning and practicing these basic flows. So why, oh why, does that student still allow their arm bones to drop in chataranga, their chest to stay closed in up dog, their hands to lift up in the transitions, their arms to bend in down dog, their back leg to bend in vira 1 and so on? Clearly, most advanced students are physically capable of these basic actions (and if they are not able then they should not be in an advanced class with me because they are not ready for harder things.. and I mean that with the utmost compassion. Really.)

And generally speaking, most advanced students do know proper the form. Which is why I say it is a function of awareness and intention. If we know what is optimal form, and we have the capacity to do it as well as the knowledge of how to achieve said form, the reason why we are not doing it is a function of attention and desire. We have to want to do it and attend to doing it. (These are the 3 A's of Anusara, right?) Now, why people might want to do it is varied and worthy of a post all of itself.

But the story I have been telling about this all week has to do with The Blues. I have a friend who is a talented Blues musician and devoted fan of of the blues. One time he told me about going to a big Blues festival where there were all kinds of folks playing. He said that there was a newer musician on stage who was really good. He played these magnificent riffs and impressive solos and went all over the map, out to the cosmos and back. My friend was super impressed. And then-

And then Buddy Guy got on stage. And he played one note. My friend said that Buddy Guy's one note almost brought him to tears because that one note communicated a lifetime of practice and attention to the art and skill of blues music. Buddy Guy communicated the essence of the Blues and a lifetime of practice in one note. That is an advanced practitioner.

In asana it could be the same way for us. To me advanced practice is not about harder poses, faster flows, more sweat and tears, and fancier tricks. (Those of you who know me know that I love all that stuff so that is not what I am saying. I love chasing poses and all that. However you also know that my greatest pet peeves is sloppy asana. Hate it, cannot, will not, have no desire to tolerate it in my regular students. Not one bit. But I digress.) In my opinion, advanced practice is first and foremost about answering the question "What do my simplest gestures communicate?" If the arms are supposed to be straight in the given form we are practicing, do we know whether our arms are straight or not? Do we make sure to attend to straightening them? Does each posture communicate the depth of our commitment to this path, how much we love it, how much we know, how much we care? Is each pose our one note?

So I posed these questions throughout the week to my classes and the response was so outstanding. Such beauty people brought to their practice. Such clarity. Such precision. It was very cool. Chasing tricks is fun, like I said, but making the simple gestures beautiful when it is so easy to tune out to "yet another surya namaskar" is answering the High Calling of Advanced Practice. It is bringing meaning to the little things and in some ways, God can be found in the details. (Another case, obviously could be made that God can also be found in the Big Picture and another day I will post on that!)

Attending to the way we do the basics trains us to step off our mat and attend to the basics of daily life with clarity, precision and care and so we start to discover that such attention sanctifies even the most mundane of endeavors. If basic asana forms are made "advanced" by the fusion of our attitude, alignment and action then so to are things like listening to a friend, bathing a child, washing the dishes, preparing a meal and so on.

Now also as a side note- attending to the basics with clarity and precision also safeguards the body so the practice is less injurious. This approach also opens and strengthens the body because it moves us toward the optimal blueprint which, when the body senses, it releases old patterns more readily. So not only are we safer but we are going to be more able to do the tricks! It is an ultimate win-win. You get to "play your one note", while creating a safer practice, while advancing and doing the tricks. (Oh, how benevolent the Lords of Yoga are!)

Okay, more could be said but that is enough for this morning. We had a blast last night. The Advanced class worked on visvamitarasana to great resounding success. (and even got a ten minute savasasna- who is this teacher and what have you done with Christina?) And at 6:00 we rocked out in flow with a "dancing with the breath" theme and a musical soundtrack that I thought was pretty darn good.

Terry, Mike, Susan, Anne, Pamela, Tabitha, Brigitte, and Catherine all double dipped. I forgot to write down names so if I missed you, chime in!

And if you have made it this far along in the post- you are invited to come down and practice at 4 and go with us to Marcia Ball at 8:30 if you want. She is playing at an awesome local venue- Cheatham Street Warehouse.At some point we will scare up some food and you can take a shower at my house. (That is unless 20 people accept this invitation, in which case we will all go to the activity center, pay 3 dollars and shower there!) You can actually participate in either part of the evening plans. Practice or music.

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