Monday, September 8, 2008

Monday Morning Musings

Sometimes I go about in pity for myself,

and all the while a great wind is bearing me across the sky.

-Ojibwa Saying

I was watching The Sopranos last night and this quote was pinned to Tony Sopranos bulletin board in his hospital room where he was recovering from surgery. I liked it a lot. It is not so much that it speaks to my current state- I have not, for instance, been in a mire of self-pity as of late. However, it is a great reminder of the ever-present nature of Grace. So I like it. And really, we could insert any temporal relative state of the psychology, right? Sometimes I go about angry, sad, happy, opinionated, forgiving, hostile, resentful, etc. and all the while.... This is like the last line of our chant- niralamba tejase- independent of circumstance, not tied to the temporal world, existing just as it is, Grace shines forth as the essence of spiritual light. Lovely.
Yesterday I spent the day at home. I was going to go to Matt's Ashtanga class but I was tired of driving. Being at home gave me a chance to do a really long practice and to clean my house and spend some time at the river. (I spent too much time at the river, however, and managed to get my skin a bit too pink! OOPS.) I compiled a bunch of my favorite music and practiced to that, inspired by Johnny's soundtrack over the weekend. I go through phases with music in practice. I like it a lot and it has certain value and, like anything, it has certain liabilities. I am however, considering using more of it in my flow classes and beginning my flow classes with a "THIS IS NOT AN ANUSARA YOGA CLASS" disclaimer.
It is not that we do not use music in Anusara Yoga. John loves music and when and if you ever get to practice with him privately or in a small group, do not expect soft angelic choirs to be playing in the background. Expect pretty hard classic rock. And do not chime in about your musical preferences or offer suggestions for different music during the time you are practicing with him.(Or about the temperature in the room for that matter.) He has invited you to his practice, he gets to pick the music, the temperature, the sequence. That is just the way it goes.
Although a funny side story on that is when I was in The Woodlands with John last year practicing at Vicki's studio she had some kind of soft yoga music playing in the 5-CD changer on all 5 CDs. We were well into our back bends at this point and I was right next to John. At about the same time, we looked at each other said, "We need different music."
I remarked, "This soft stuff..."
He finished my sentence saying, " totally pitta aggravating."
We are, evidently, of the same mind and temperament on the music issue.
And sometime John even has live musical accompaniment at workshops and that is fun also. Music can be motivating, help us create a particular mood or bhava to practice, it can get you out of head and into your body, it can help you feel rather than think,etc. It is a great tool.
And like any great tool, there is a cost, a downside. With music, it is easy to let the external rhythm dominate one's practice and not one's own rhythm. It is easy, in such an altered state, to become imprecise in one's actions and "forget yourself" a little. Not thinking in asana is not always a good thing. There is a tendency to move with the music and not with one's own breath.
In class, it is difficult as a student to listen to alignment instructions AND music. Now if all students need are a few reminders- fine- but students are not going to have an easy time actually learning anything if rockin' music is playing or trancey-spacey music is playing, for that matter. In class- flow or not- demos, details and techniques aimed at helping students learn concepts ask the student to go back and forth between their body and their mind, particularly between their analytical mind that understands the lesson (or is grappling to understand the lesson) and the sensing body. This is a skill set that very few people come to yoga with.
Because this skill set is difficult and requires time to gain facility at, debates about its value ensue. These debates take the form of what I consider very boring conversations from the people dispositioned toward flow about "Well, I just like to move" or "I hate all that detail because it takes me out of my flow" or "Why don't they talk about the breath?" and so forth. .
Equally boring conversations from the people dispositioned toward alignment counter back with "If you do not have good alignment you are going to get hurt" and "The alignment is a way to focus the mind and without that it is dance or fun exercise, not yoga" and "That is all well and good but that is not the 'right way' to do the pose" and so forth.
I say these conversations are boring because I have been having them for over 15 years now. I am bored with the whole conversation because I think both approaches have yogic value. Why chose just one way? We are aligning with the Great Winds of Grace which are carrying us across the sky no matter what is happening, why make yoga so damned narrow?
And that is what I love about Anusara Yoga. Rarely does John ever draw a line in the sand and say anything is absolutely one way or the other. He is famous for the "it depends" answer. (Hint- if you are ever in a class with John and he asks you a question that you do not know answer to then confidently say 'chit-ananda' or 'it depends'.) The thing we want to know is the cost and benefits, the utility and the downside, to any option that life presents us and to choose what best serves the moment.
For instance, I love learning details in class, I love rockin' out, I love the disciplined containment of Ashtanga, I love the freedom of a class with Johnny Kest, I love the play of Anusara Yoga and I love the intensity and rigor of Iyengar Yoga. And actually, all those qualities of different methods can be found in Ansuara Yoga, just not always at the same time. We are a crazy method in some ways. We have a pretty good list of defined parameters of what constitues an Anusara Yoga class , but we have a very short list of "absolutely nots". We are not defined by what we are not. It is very cool.
And each one of us have preferences toward one way or the other, obviously. This is another reason the whole conversation bores me. Most people are not debating Yogic Value, they are debating personal preference. Personal preference is the domain of the ego so that debate goes on forever. As yogi's, "What I like best" is not the consideration that takes us to recognition of The Highest. "What Serves me best" is a more productive line of inquiry.
Okay- now this post is picking up speed and there are a few directions to take it but I am going to go turn on some music and practice! (So for me, music right now is fantastic because I am upping my fun quotient. Too much containment everywhere and I start seeking relief in ways that have much more harmful consequences than the downside of music in an asana practice.)


The Frosolono Patriarch said...

In terms of your defining the most appropriate questions to ask, you might be interested in this draft copy of the Introduction to Through The Wilderness. When I complete drafts for Chapter 1, I'll it and the Introduction on my blog.

The signed lease on the Sun City duplex is in the return mail as I write.

Love and blessings,



For many Judeo-Christians, modern society has become much like the wilderness through which our Hebrew theological foreparents traveled during their Exodus journey from Egypt to the Promised Land of Israel. “Wilderness” in the ancient Hebrew context referred to a disorderly and dangerous place where demons existed beyond the limits of human settlement and government control. Similarly, the original English meaning of “wilderness” was a terrifying wasteland where travelers became confused and disoriented. The competing interests, differing claims on our religious and political affiliations, and rapid technological advances of our present society often bewilder and perplex us. Our modern wilderness journeys, therefore, require that we, like our Hebrew foreparents, follow valid pillars of cloud and fire to keep us on the correct path. We must travel with the same clear headedness, courage, and trust as did the ancient Hebrews, once they understood what God expected of them. In this way, we can exhibit a defining Judeo-Christian characteristic: We can be at our best when times are at their worst.

Through The Wilderness attempts to provide insights into obtaining relevant answers to important questions dividing and causing animosity within the Community of Believers in Jesus Christ. This division comes about because we frequently do not frame our questions properly. Importantly, the nature of the questions we ask determines the answers we receive. For instance, asking the question, “Is abortion equivalent to murder or simply a legitimate outcome of a woman’s reproductive freedom?” does not yield helpful answers. Focusing exclusively on the question, “Who created all that exists, seen and unseen?” precludes any profound exploration and understanding of how creation came to be, that is, the mechanism by which God created and maintains the cosmos and all therein.

Judeo-Christians who are neither “professional” theologians nor scientists, but who have open minds about theology and science, make up the primary target audience for Through The Wilderness. I hope theologians and scientists might find this book interesting and useful; however, I have purposefully tried to minimize the “jargon” associated with these disciplines. I do not flatter myself by assuming any non-Judeo-Christians readers will be converted to the faith. This book presupposes at least a familiarity with the principles of the Judeo-Christian faith and the concepts embedded in the Community of Believers.

Through The Wilderness should not be viewed as scholarly work; hence, the text is not extensively footnoted. The Bibliography contains a list of books I have found helpful in my faith journey. Additionally, any reader wishing more information to support what I have written or who desires to discuss the thoughts expressed in Through The Wilderness may contact me directly:
Mike Frosolono
197 Rue Chalet
Lavonia, GA 30553

mandy said...

I loved this post....lots of great morning musings:)

When I first started teaching yoga I played music all the time. However shortly after I stopped because I was struggling with finding "my voice". By turning of the music I challenged myself to know when to speak, how much to speak, and then when to be silent......and most importantly be comfortable with the silence. So for me turning off the music was teacher training and I have to say that it was quite effective. But yes I still love to practice to music and when it's feels appropritate to play it in class.

On a sidenote I have had countless students actually thank me for not playing music in class. Music has such a variety and a lot of peoples tastes don't always match up with "yoga music". Sometimes the choice of music and leave just as bad of a taste in someones mouth as the over usage of flowerly language. Also we are in town with a lot of musicians and it's very easy for them to get a beat or melody stuck in there heads.....this has also been brought up by students before and these students prefer the gong or bells or drone type music in Svasana.
Thanks for letting me share.

Leanne said...

great post.

Dale said...

In the "for what it's worth" column, a request (after alot of opinion :-)...

My theology is something that I study in class, but the theology guides and lights my whole life. The ways of thought that I have learned "thinking God's thoughts after him" are the ways that I try to think as I live my life, whether I am doing overtly "religious" things or not.

I learned engineering in classes and from mentors, but I practice engineering at work, at home, at play, in the yoga studio, & everywhere - it is a practice of my life - the way that I understand, modify, and address the physical world.

Similarly, as a yogi, I love to bring my practice to all of my activities, whatever they are. When I gratefully say that I practice in the Anusara way, I mean that the core of my understanding of the way that my body/breathing/mind works is enlightened by the Universal Principles of Alignment & such that are distinctly Anusara.

Anusara is a Way for me. As Christianity is my spiritual Way and engineering is my earth Way, Anusara is my mind/body Way.

I'm just sure that if I was Navaho, I could explain this better :-).

So I lift weights in the Anusara way, and I walk in the Anusara way (because I have foot problems), and I try to address stress and anxiety in the Anusara way. And of course, the engineering way and the Christian way guide me in many of these activities or circumstances.

And I practice Ashtanga in the Anusara way - and Baron Baptiste flow & Shiva Rea flow and whatever other yoga activity or class or workshop I find myself performing, my yoga is that of the Anusara way.

And I'm not claiming that I am very skillful or consistent in this intention - I'm just pointing out that I think that my highest & best intention is (to paraphrase a guy named Paul who I respect very much) to be who I am :-). Part of who I am is a yoga practice that does not change from class to class or activity to activity.

So... this is all pretty obvious - we can do different kinds of practices & classes in the Anusara way.

I understand and applaud that John wants Anusara classes to be rich in teaching. It is a beautiful thing.

But now here's a thought. How do you learn how to do flow in the Anusara way? I don't think that John wants us to not do flow or Ashtanga or whatever. On the contrary, I think that he intends to equip us for a magnificent freedom to do any yoga activity, using the UPoA, and flowing in the path of grace.

I would like to spare folks some of the mistakes that I made while learning to practice flow correctly (in the Anusara way). I did not have access to a class that taught how to do transitions with proper alignment and energetics. So I took my UPoA to Ashtanga & Mike's Freestyle Vinyasa, & promptly started injuring myself in improbable ways. Of course some of this was my own lack of good sense, but I think that the main problem was that I had to figure this stuff out as I went, because I had no teacher.

My breakthroughs came after a couple years of thinking about movement, how the goals of a vinyasa are different from the goals of asana. I eventually set the UPoA aside & learned the Ashtanga way of understanding vinyasa. But ya know, Universal principles aren't very universal if they only apply when you aren't moving :-).

So I wound up working 1 on 1 with an extraordinarily gifted Ashtanga teacher, learning her ways of thinking and talking about alignment & energetics during vinyasa, and then translating into the UPoA.

And I think that I have the start of a good Anusara understanding of vinyasa, but I must admit that the concept of "udiyanna bandha" is alot more on my mind than "kidney loop" :-).

Soooo - I think that it would be a super-groovy-funtime goodness to have an Anusara class that teaches vinyassa. Not just offers an opportunity to do alot of jump-thoughs or whatevr, but actually teaches the techniques - breath, biomechanics, & energetics - for moving from one pose to another.