Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Personal Day

I looked at the calendar yesterday and realized I have been "on duty" for 21 days straight. "Well," I thought to myself, "that explains a lot- the fatigue, the crankiness, the general feeling of overwhelm. Perhaps a day off is in order. Maybe Anne will teach for you on Tuesday night." (She did say "yes" and now I am looking at a day to myself stretching out before me in a luxurious way. Oh, joy. Oh, delight of delights. I will be at 7th street tomorrow night and at YY on Thursday night, refreshed, clear and ready to rock. Count on it.)

Yesterday was a day off of sorts. I went to Austin and took Matt's noon Ashtanga class which was fantastic. I almost didn't go because I was so tired and I thought, Maybe Ashtanga will further fatigue me but I went ahead with my plan to go to class and it was the perfect thing to do. The mood was mellow and soft yet my practice was so deep and revitalizing. I got into poses with ease and Matt gave me some wonderful assists and a great pointer about jumping through from dandasana to chataranga and from adho mukha svanasana to dandasana.

Being in the T-rex club (having short arms, that is) I usually compensate on those jump through's by coming up on my ridge tops. I was able yesterday to break from that strategy going from adho mukha svanasana to dandasana. After class Matt gave me some pointers to apply in reverse. The whole thing is really in the angle of the upper body and the height in the hips. I did it several times and now I know more about "how" and so "hope is out of the equation." How fun.

The other thing I discovered in practice yesterday is how to make urdhva danurasana workable in the Ashtanga Vinyasa sequence. Normally, my back bends in that sequence feel lousy because after all the forward bending and chataranga's my upper back isn't opened sufficiently to get a good upper back back bend like I am used to. So- yesterday I used all the work we have been doing lately to keep the legs active and to stabilize the position of the pelvis on the way up and lo and behold--FREEDOM. Makes sense. After all that forward bending one must release the psoas before the thoracic spine is going to open up. So my new strategy is to stop asking for the usual upper back back bend, get my legs to root more dynamically and go from there.

It was a glorious practice and I left refreshed, not fatigued. In fact, I barely broke a sweat- just a nice layer of moisture over my skin. Ashtanga was really the perfect thing to do yesterday.

This also beings me to a small rant I have about Anusara Yoga teachers out there I have been hearing about who shame Ashtanga practitioners who come to their classes. I have been hearing about this with alarming frequency lately in fact, all over the country. All I want to say about that, is that if someone comes to your Ansuara Yoga class from another method, stop trying to convert them to Anusara Yoga by criticizing their method of practice and stop trying to demand they convert solely to practice Anusara Yoga. Just show them how our principles can make them better at what they want to do. We really welcome everyone, we really do. We do not need everyone to "sign up" 100%. We really can endeavor to help people as much as we can relative to their level of interest.

Now having said that, if someone is not doing what we are saying we cannot be of help so we do need to educate people in "our way" in order to help them. But, for instance, there should be no conflict for us as teachers or for our students that someone wants to come to Anusara Yoga twice a week just to learn how to keep themselves safer in Ashtanga or to learn how to do some of the tricks that are in the second and third series. We are really good at breaking all of that stuff down which is hard to do in the average Asthanga practice. Plus, our sequencing methods can open certain poses a little faster than the sequencing of Ashtanga. Then you take the opening back to Ashtanga, and voila- breakthroughs abound.

Also, I love going to Iyengar classes for the same reason. They break things down so far that I gain even more clarity from them about our method and the UPA's. Then with that clarity and precision from "going slow" I can go back to Anusara's more medium-paced practice and be better and stronger and more skillful. I have never watched a demo in an Iyengar class and been unable to hang their details on our framework. Always, I am like- "Oh right, that is a subtle aspect of Inner Spiral." Or "Oh wow, organic energy." etc.

Yoga traditions have always had lots of collaboration and influence on one another. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. A lot of the seemingly separate yoga traditions are actually distinctions that have been applied after the fact. Historically, the Buddhists were talking with the Hindus and the Jains and there was lots of cross pollination and synthesis and so forth. (You can see this very clearly in Patanjali's sutras when he talks about maitri, karuna, upekshanam and mudita) And when the Tantric traditions were emerging they were not calling themselves tantrikas. The academics came along after the fact and assigned that designation to the schools who had certain similar characteristics in their approach. And so on.

I have actually begun to wonder if our zeal to be so exclusive has to do with a Christian "only one God, only one way" kind of cultural bias. We tend, it seems to me, as Western practitioners to be either fundamental zealots-- loyal to and defending one way-- or rebelling from any one method and combining things with no discrimination and commitment to tradition. (Obviously, this is a generalization that may or may not apply to the members of my very educated, discerning and skillful readership. Really, this is not a personal indictment, just a thought based on some conversations I have been having out there in the world of teaching yoga on the road.)

Now, having said all of that, I do believe that if you really want to learn something, a period of Immersion into it can be helpful. When I really wanted to learn Anusara Yoga, I dedicated myself to it very whole-heartedly and exclusively. Once I became really anchored in its practices and principles I branched back out. I avoided a lot of confusion this way and I also learned fist hand of Anusara Yoga's efficacy's and shortcomings. And, for instance, while I love visiting Ashtanga Vinyasa Land, I am under no delusion that I really understand it because I am not really committed to it. I am visitor- an enthusiastic guest- who enjoys the sharing in the love of practice, the rigor, the consistency and so forth of people who practice in that style.

I could go on but enough already. My sincere wish is that we, as people who love Anusara Yoga, are not, in our enthusiasm for "our way" creating environments that are closed to people who do not want to drink the kool aid. I mean, really, if someone ever feels like they have to hide who they really are in our classes (For instance, they feel like they have to pretend they have a primary allegiance with our style when they really do not or they feel like they have to pretend to believe in Shiva rather than Jesus and so on) then we are creating a less-than-optimal atmosphere.

And one more impassioned plea to Anusara Yoga teachers everywhere. Stop telling the Ashtanga Vinyasa people that if they do not do it "our way" they are going to injure themselves. (Really. I mean it. Stop it.) Committed, dedicated Ashtanga Yoga practitioners have the highest pain threshold of any group of practitioners out there. Look at their practice! You tell them they might get hurt if they do it "wrong" and they are like, "Whatever... I can take it, you wimpy person who cannot even do 108 chataranga jump through's! What the hell do you know?" (I am smiling here and teasing us all- so relax!) But really, do consider changing your tactics. Show the Ashtanga Yoga practitioner how the UPA's can advance their practice and how alignment will not slow them down but will actually take them further over time and "take hope out of the equation." Show them how it is worth the investment.

Okay, enough said- off to practice.


josie said...

Thank you for the rant, it is much needed! One thing I love about Anusara, is that the practitioners are so accepting of other types of yoga, as long as they're practicing! :) I have seen some biased opinions from some teachers, but I think that's their personal unacceptance shining through. I just finished a lovely workshop with Sianna Sherman recently, and the group was a mixed group of anusara, iyengar and hot yoga students, and she was so accepting of everyone, and I felt the Anusara concept of Kula shine through so strongly. Most definitely everyone can benefit from the UPA's, but depending on dosha type, etc., your favourite type of practice may differ. Thank you for being so vocal, it was refreshing!! Namaste, Josie :)

Yoga for Inspired Living said...

The Indian philosophical traditions certainly cross-pollinated, but they did so through years of quarelling. As I understand it they were very concerned with who was "right". But that is what happens when people don't recognize that they themselves, by their own wills, construct meaning through subscribing to ideas floating in the cultural context or describing their experience based on observation.

It seems the problem of everyone wanting to be "right", at least in the realm of ideas, is a product of thinking that meaning comes from a transcendent realm and not from our subscriptions and descriptions. But just because we create our meaning doesn't mean there aren't better ideas to subscribe to or better ways to describe our observations. There certainly are more accurate ways to talk about and orient to things. And this is philosophy.

When it comes to the body it may be less like this because the body works according to a biomechanical principles. That is, it is more or less set, while ideas are less concrete because there are so many people experiencing their lives trying to conceptualize their experience accurately/put it into language. Our experience is nebulous and difficult to fit into ideas and words. Nevertheless we still have to try because what else are we supposed to do?

That's what I think, currently at least. not that you were asking for that. Anyway...

Mark F

Christina Sell said...

Implied in my posting is the inquiry and invititation to share what is on my dear reader's mind. As Douglas Brooks says, "The point of all of this is "to have a great conversation."

Yoga for Inspired Living said...

Cool. I thought it was welcome, but sometimes I annoy people when I offer myself without an explicit invitiation. Thanks for making the implicit explicit. That is a nice quote.

Deirdra Harris Glover said...

Thanks for that: I came to Anusara from a hodgepodge Vinyasa background, and I found that Anusara informed and opened my teaching/practice in ways that 5 years of a steady Vinyasa practice hadn't. I learn so much from every yogi/ni I meet, not only teachers!

I'm sorry I missed you in Hattiesburg; I'm part of the Jackson crew in the midst of teacher training, so funds have been tight this year.

Pamela said...

"I have actually begun to wonder if our zeal to be so exclusive has to do with a Christian "only one God, only one way" kind of cultural bias. We tend, it seems to me, as Western practitioners to be either fundamental zealots-- loyal to and defending one way-- or rebelling from any one method and combining things with no discrimination and commitment to tradition."

I think you are right on target here, and truly, this is something that I have been pondering in my own life.

Here is another angle on it which takes the "religiosity" completely out of it. (This is my core belief that I have about defensiveness in general!) When people are comfortable and/or confidant in what they believe or what they are doing, they do not feel threatened or argumentative by those who are different or question them. They are comfortable in "their own skin" so to speak.

But if there is any part of them that feels uncertain or insecure, then their defensive-o-meter goes crazy: "I MUST CONVERT YOU TO MY WAY! (Read: because if you don't buy in well, perhaps I might be wrong!)

Here's my non-yoga example from the world of motherhood.(Remember that book idea you had for me?!) When you have small children (like even from your pregnant days on) you are constantly subjected to other (random) people's comments ~ from the lady behind you in the grocery store lane, to the clerk at the post office, not to mention the relatives!

People will barrage you with unsolicited suggestions, feedback, & advice about everything from breast feeding to pacifiers to walkers to baby schedules to NAMES! In my own experience, I was most upset and rattled and angered when people "questioned" me or made suggestions about stuff I wasn't feeling completely sure about.

For example, my oldest son LOVED his pacifier. We'd be out and about and someone would say, "Pacifiers are bad for their teeth, you know?" If I didn't have any concerns about it, I would just be "whatever" and go on about my merry way. But, it would REALLY get under my skin if I was having my own stuff going on about pacifiers. "How DARE they question ME about my OWN son?! Some nerve they have!"

In general, I think people get dogmatic and bent out of shape due to FEAR. I think that's pretty much where all prejudice stems from: I am being "threatened" (And the extension, what if I'm wrong? What would THAT mean about me as a parent, person, yogi, whatever!)

When we are really okay with what we're doing, we are comfortable letting other people do their own thing too, have their own beliefs (as long as it doesn't interfere with us and "the greater good"!)

Now in the context of yoga traditions and yoga classes in particular, I DO there is a call to good studentship. (Adikara???) I think there is some understandable frustration that yoga teachers of ANY tradition have when a student blatantly does NOT do what the teacher asks. There IS a reaction: "Hello?? Why are you even in my class?!"

But there is also the flip of that for teachers (and students too) which kind of stems from the convert experience: "I gave up smoking and my life is SO much better ... you should follow suit!" Many of us get caught in that "I want to share the light" mentality. It truly comes from an honest place, I think, it's just can be SO offensive to others.

Really, the greatest sales pitch we can make for ANYTHING ~ be it parenting, diets, religion, marriage and YOGA traditions ~ may perhaps be the old Dr. Phil litmus test, "How's that workin' for you?" When we live a life that "works" other people are naturally attracted to it ... they want to know, "what's the secret" It becomes totally unnecessary to shove it down their throat.

"And that's all I have to say about that" My $100 and two cents worth!!! ;-)

Interesting stuff, my dear!


Pamela said...

Okay, I wrote and then posted and then SAW how I went on (and on). My apologies that my comment turned into an essay .... 'er RANT!

Just look at the thoughts and dialogue you inspire, my girl!


Leanne said...

I loved your rant Pam- I agree whole heartedly with your observations. My favorite line when a student says, not in a nice way, something like, " Well in (my other yoga form)we don't do that ...or we do this..". I just say "Cool." They just look at me and we all carry on- end of conversation.