Tuesday, September 30, 2008

To Chant or Not To Chant- what was the question?

I got a text message from Craig yesterday telling me that he had read my blog and that he hoped I did not think that he only ranted when he was teaching. I think he was kidding but in the medium of text messages some subtle nuances of tone, inflection and so forth often get lost. So maybe he didn't realize that I was teasing him a bit in my blog to begin with. I mean really, I personally have a whole blog dedicated to the intelligent,compassionate and dare I say, insightful rant. I have now written two books because I have so many opinions to express. I seem to be making a living at intelligent, compassionate and insightful ranting, in fact! (Okay I teach some damn fine asana as well but, well, that seems to be becoming just a platform for other ideas...) But I digress.

Craig has agreed to be a guest writer on my blog and so I will be including some of his writing on this blog over the next few weeks. I was going to post an article of his today but I got a pressing question posed to me from one of my favorite students and so I am going to answer it here today in case some of what have to say on the topic is useful for others. In general, when you ask me a question via email, Facebook, and/or phone call, you are pretty much agreeing for me to answer it on my blog. Just so you know. Forewarned is forearmed, so to speak.

So the email I got went like this:
Dear Christina-
I know this is super basic and I seem to remember John talking about this over the years but Why do we chant? I need to explain this to a bunch of cynical beginners who think chanting is just plain weird. I am waiting for divine inspiration to hit me but so far nothing.

A few things come to mind for me. But before answering the question about why we chant we have to address the insecurities that arise for us as yoga teachers that take the form of assuming that we know what our students are thinking because that is between the lines of this question.

One of my favorite teachings from John Friend about teaching yoga is that we should all "stop focusing on what our students think about us and our teaching and start focusing on our love of the practice, the tradition and on serving our students." If we place our attention on sharing our love of yoga and on serving who is front of us then our self-centered concern about what our students are thinking about us will be put in a more proper perspective. It may not go away entirely but it will certainly shift in a positive direction. So there is that.

Along these lines, one thing to keep in mind is that, chances are, YOUR STUDENTS ALREADY THINK YOU ARE WEIRD. You are their yoga teacher. You believe in this stuff, you have dedicated your life to these practices and your idea of a good time on Saturday afternoon is a 4-hour grueling asana practice with a few good friends and some Sanskrit chanting playing in the background. Face it- that is kind of weird by any conventional standard and so are you! So, really, change your name, tattoo yourself, run off to India for a few months, get a guru- do whatever turns you on- you are the flaky yoga teacher in your student's lives. Realize this and you have immense freedom to say and do whatever you want. Believe me--they like you-- but chances are they hardly think you are normal. So relax, already.

And continuing on along the"weird thing", someone can think chanting is weird the whole time they do it and that will not interfere with its efficacy. You do not have to "believe" in it to benefit from it. That is yoga's great gift to us. Its technology is more powerful than what we think about it. Ever start an asana practice feeling like shit and within one adho mukha svanasana you are thinking more clearly? Ever get surprised that "once again, it worked"? Think about it. (I happen to believe that yoga is more powerful when we have faith in it but that is a matter of degrees and is another topic all together.)

And more on the weird thing-As a yoga teacher we have to cultivate detachment about whether or not people join in the chant. We should be 100% fine with the fact that we might chant all alone. Be 100% unattached as to whether someone likes to chant or doesn't like it. So there is that. A little detachment goes a long way.

Now, that I addressed the question within the question, we can return to the question itself--WHY DO WE CHANT? Oh, but wait! One other thing is that there is certainly the question of "Why we chant in Anusara Yoga" which we can answer and outline in great detail. But there is also the question of "Why do you chant personally?" which is worth exploring. (Those of you in the Teacher Training process can relate to these two questions as the Universal Reason v. The Personal Reason.) I suggest that we all should have facility at answering these kinds of questions and at teaching yoga from each perspective. Sometimes if you give the teaching from the perspective of the tradition it is very helpful. For instance, you say, "The tradition says.... and that is why we do it." This gives solid, credible, historical reference points for what we are doing in class.

Sometimes, however, that sounds too rigid, dogmatic or conversionistic and you can bring the teaching more down to earth by adding a personal commentary. For instance, teaching beginners by saying, "This is what the tradition says about chanting..blah, blah, blah..." and then telling them, "but you know, when I first was introduced to chanting I thought it was really odd and foreign and I felt really stupid doing it. But I have noticed that whenever I begin my practice this way I am more settled, more in touch with myself, more in my heart and so I have come to really enjoy and benefit from the practice" might make it more accessible and less weird. Share with your students why you do something and they can take it or leave it. Try to convert someone to something and you will encounter either blind adherence or rebellion. Just a piece of free teacher training advice. (Although truthfully, nothing is free- you had to "pay" for that by reading this far into my post!)

Additionally, I never assume that because someone is new to yoga and has a stiff body that they have no inner life. We just do not know. It is a "beginner mistake" to assume that a new yoga student has no connection to themselves or to God. It is also irresponsible to keep such awesome tools (like chanting) from someone because of our projection on said person about what they may or may not be thinking and feeling. We need to give people enough credit that we assume that they can deal with their own discomforts along the path and stop attempting to rescue them in advance from what may or may not even be an issue for them.

For instance, think about your own life's journey. Have you agreed with everything you have been told right away? Aren't your deepest and most useful guiding ideals the ones you have struggled with, chewed on, deliberated over and allowed yourself to challenge and to be challenged by? Yoga is full of confrontation and intensity. It may be intense sensation in asana or it may be that we have to confront the religiosity that informs the practice of yoga or something else entirely. It depends. But if it is always comfortable then you better believe you are not doing yoga and you are certainly not in the game of transformation if you are never burning. So why keep people from asking difficult questions, from dealing directly with their conflicts?

This takes us back to the original idea from John Friend about serving people. What really serves? Generic, white-bread ideas that are devoid of nutrition, have no fiber for digestion but are easy to eat or do we want to provide our students with hearty, whole grain ideas that require time to chew but still have nutrition to offer?

Tomorrow I will actually answer the question about why we chant so stay tuned for that. (I have a great quote from Geeta Iyengar in mind and I have asked Craig to give his two cents about the importance of invocational prayer although he has a busy day and might not get to it.) But now, I am going to practice asana.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Monday Morning

The fabulous Ari Stiles came and took a few pictures at the asana practice yesterday and that is the link to them. Enjoy... We had a great a practice, which focused on honoring the Cycles of Creation and on clarifying the Seven Loops. So we are 3 weekends into the 9-weekend Immersion and we have covered the 5 UPA's and the 7 Loops. Now what is great is that we have 6 weekends, to clarify, apply to harder poses and to refine. Wow- I love this method. You can outline the basics of it pretty simply and easily and then spend a lifetime deepening your understanding of it and skill with it. It is very cool that way.

Craig Williams came and gave a talk in the afternoon. I asked him to give an overview of the Yoga Tradition and also gave him persmission to talk about whatever he felt like adressing. I have heard Craig talk a few times and so I do know that no matter what the topic he has certain points he always makes. (Craig's rant #1 about following tradition, Craig's rant #2 about yoga therapy, Craig's rant #3 about vegetarianism and so forth. I am teasing him here and have told him as much and being that I am someone with the same list of rants, I can really appreciate the phenomena. Many of you know of what I speak: Christina's rant #1 about flow v. alignment, Christina's rant #2 about studentship, and so forth!) I think the talk went really well- he is fun to listen to and from what I could tell the group got a lot out of it.

I am off to practice, to get some accupuncture, meet Kelly for lunch, meet Anne for Mani/Pedis and then go with her to Peggy's advanced class this afternoon. Big day off. Fun stuff.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Immersion Weekend

We had a great day at the Immersion yesterday. It is always so amazing to me how different every group is. This group has a lot of seasoned practitioners and teachers and the level of studentship is really high.

Yesterday's theme was, in fact, studentship. Whenever John talks about studentship in Anusara Yoga he almost always talks about it in the scope of The Five Elements. I love this approach because it helps us understand that good studentship is not any one thing or any one quality but is instead a dynamic blend of many attributes and virtues. What is also cool is that each element corresponds to one of the Five UPA's. So we used the elements to talk about studentship and to do a rockin' standing pose practice in which we reviewed the Five Principles.

The Ether Element is the element out of which all the other elements arise. It is the Highest Possibility, grand openness and full potentiality. It corresponds to the First Principle- Open to Grace. Everything arises out of the field of Grace in this tradition- Grace is our Highest Possibility, our Fullest Potential. Like that. As students we have to be wide open and open to possibility or nothing will happen in our learning and practice.

The Earth Element is the densest element. The earth is solid, long-enduring, steady and reliable. As students we have to be the same way: In place, reliable, long-standing and steady in order to progress. Muscle Energy creates this steadiness in our bodies, bringing solidity, boundaries, and firmness to our form.

The Water Element is, well, fluid. Water is yielding, it is reflective and is said to be a receptive element. If it runs into a block, it knows how to go around the obstacle. Water flows. So must our studentship and our relationship to life's challenges and circumstances. The Water element corresponds to Expanding Spiral as it expands naturally when unboundaried. And water will flow downward, like what happens energetically in the pelvis when we do Inner Spiral.

The Fire Element is hot, upward rising, dynamic and creates the necessary friction to grow, change and practice. This Fire in the Belly is our will to walk the path, to persist, to overcome and to challenge ourselves or to rise to the challenges put before us. Fire rises upward like the effect of Contracting Spiral.

The Air Element relates to our intellectual and mental dexterity. Air is changeable and quick moving and teaches us that we need not hold onto old ideas, opinions and outlooks. We can change like the wind when appropriate. It corresponds to Organic Energy which creates freedom in our joints, like a breath of fresh air creates an experience of greater freedom.

The Five Element View of Studentship is so great because it shows us that we need more than just openness, we need more than just steadiness, more than the ability to flow, more that fiery will, more than intellectual curiosity and so forth. We need all of these traits in a dynamic ever- expanding and skillful relationship to each other, to our personality and to our unique situation. It is really a great thing to consider.

So- more could be said, more certainly has been said on the topic but for me, time to go practice before I head out to teach. We do the loops today and then Craig is coming to give a talk. What fun.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Home Again

Well, I am home from Estes Park and back in Blog Land. I was staying in a cabin away from Internet access and whenever I was away from the cabin I was so busy that I just could not manage to keep up the blog from Estes Park.

The Grand Gathering was, well, Grand. Just so fantastic in so many ways. The scope of the event was staggering and the ease with which all the logistics were managed were certainly impressive. I spent every morning assisting John on the floor in his Master Classes, all of which were fantastic. Occasionally I would look up at the sea of 800 people all practicing beautiful Anusara Yoga and it was just staggering and almost dizzying.

Interestingly enough, the highlights of the week for me were really not connected so much to the asana classes or workshops but were oriented more around the personal time I got to spend with my friends and fellow presenters. I am just continually amazed at this community. You cannot find a group of people more fun-loving and more ready to party at a drop of a hat who also can instantly give you personal advice that is solid, grounded, compassionate and that challenges you to really step into your truth at new levels. It is a stunning configuration of people. It really is.

Please check out Pamela's Blog for the scoop and the play-by-play of Estes. She is now our famous Blogger and she deserves it given her zeal for communication and the written word.

I am off to go practice before my Immersion meets today. I anticipate traffic being somewhat hellish given ACL festival and the football game so I will need to leave early.

All right then. More later.

A few pics-

Me and Naime on the limo up to Estes PArk, which is a story all in itself.

Brent and Shelley.
Me and Noah and Naime on our drive to the mountains.

The Goddesses go hiking...Me, Sarah, Rachel, Kelly and Christy on a hike. Me at Dream Lake. WOW.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thursday Morning

Well, it has been a few days since I have written. I have been busy and just haven't made the time. Yesterday I spent the day in Austin. I met Kelly for lunch and then we went to Costco and then out to the Crossings for the Yoga Month event. It was a pretty mellow scene all things told but enjoyable none-the-less. About 35 people came to my class and it was difficult teaching situation in a lot of ways. The level of practitioner in the room was a very broad spectrum of ability and experience. I always try to "teach to the middle" but in that situation that still made a lot of things way too hard for some and way too easy for others. I think I did a good job though and lots of people told me they enjoyed the class, so that is good. (Although I have never encountered such resistance to moving mats into row as as I did there. Really, they sat in dead, silent refusal until it became obvious I was not going to teach the class until it was set up how I wanted it. Funny. That sort of thing used to really get to me- yesterday, not so much. I know I give a better class in an organized room. It is a pretty simple thing really.)

The topic I taught on was "Yoga for Self-Esteem." When the event organizer and I discussed what I would teach he said, "anything health-related." And I hardly think about yoga in terms of physical health so I was a bit stymied for a while. Then I thought about how, no matter what we want to do for our health, whatever positive change we want to implement or personal care regime we want to follow, we have to feel like we are worthy of the change and worthy of greater health, happiness and well-being in order to make lasting efforts over time. And yoga can helps us establish ourselves in a place of self-worth. What, after all, makes us more worthy than recognizing that we are part of the Flow of Grace?

A cool thing is that when I talked once about self-worth to Douglas Brooks he said that the line in the Kularnava Tantra where we get the name Anusara Yoga is sometime translated as "When the seeker steps into the flow they become capable of receiving grace" and sometimes it is translated as "When the seeker steps into the flow they become worthy of receiving grace." He said it is the same word. He told me--I think it was 6 years ago or more- that it is the degree to which we feel worthy of the Flow that makes us able to receive and experience It. How cool is that? So there is very little room or need to indulge our self-hatred and self-criticism on this path. It is at cross purposes with the very guiding intention of Our Way.

And so yoga is really a matter of practicing the art and skill of self-love, self-regard and self-worth. I went straight to 7th Street Yoga to teach. We worked on Inner and Outer Spiral in a pretty dynamic hip opening flow that moved through visvamitrasana and culminated with a foray into eka pada sirasana (Leg behind the head). Good stuff. I am really enjoying the class at 7th street Yoga. It is a great scene over there.

All right... Now I am going to spend some time practicing before I head into town for the Thursday night fun.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Monday Morning

We had a really full day at the Immersion yesterday.

We began with a review of Mark's Anatomy lecture and reviewed the shoulder principles. Then we made a pretty technical foray into Inner and Outer Spiral in the hips. We finished the day with a video on The Upanishads and some writing/sharing on studentship. All in all a great day. The group is super smart, insightful, hard working and dedicated. We have covered a lot of material in a short amount of time.

Here are some pictures. They really did not turn out very well. I am getting used to a new camera and it is not so great. I am going to return it, but that is another topic.

Valerie Gundega Suzanne and Brenda
Margaret and Winter
Shins in- Thighs Out Ann
Like I said the pictures are not stellar. Next week though, Ari The Great will be there to snap away!

Okay- Kelly is home so we were up late talking last night and that was good. I am now going to practice and then go to the store because there is nothing to eat in the house!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Immersion Weekend #2

We had a good day today in our Immersion.

I was pretty tired this morning when I woke up from our night on the town last night. (Marcia Ball was FANTASTIC by the way.) I felt pretty good by the time I got up to Northwest and really excited about diving into the material today. We started off with a brief recap of the History of Yoga philosophy and then we worked with the shoulder principles during the asana class. Mark came from 4-6 for an anatomy lesson on the shoulders and hips. His lesson on the shoulders nicely re-inforced the work we did in asana and tomorrow we will work with Inner and Outer spiral in the legs in the asana class to integrate the hip lesson.

It was a good day that seems to just move right along. I was really hungry by the end of the day so I sped home and had some of our pasta leftovers from last night. Now I am watching one of my favorite movies of all time "Pretty Woman". What a great movie.

Anyway- here are some pics from the day... (Thanks, Lisa)

See everyone tomorrow!

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.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Thursday Morning

Sitting here drinking tea and listening to a new Ben Harper album. It is great. I love it.

I am pretty darn sore this morning. I did a practice here yesterday and then met my Iyengar Yoga friends for a practice in Austin. Me, Anne, Heide and Gillian (Who just moved here from California) all did a rockin' arm balance and back bend practice. I must say I was kind of in the zone. WE used one of Patricia's sequences from Feathered Pipe for the back bends and at some point early in the proceedings threw in what they call "the birds". No, this is not me, in a fit of rebellion against the Iyengar system, throwing my middle fingers in the air... "The birds" are the arm balances named after birds-- bakasana (Crane), parsva bakasna, kukkutasna (rooster) , parsva kukutasana (Which I did on one side from sirsasana 2 for the very first time ever!), hummingbird (although they did not know it since it is not 'in the book"), tittibasana (which is a firefly and therefore an insect not a bird, but which made the cut anyway for being a winged creature that flies), kapinjasalana (partridge), mayurasana (peacock), padma mayurasana, pinca mayurasana... I think that covers the birds. We also did eka pada galavasana although Galava was a sage and not a bird.

And those of you who come to class, expect a class theme on "the birds" at some point. And those of you out there teaching, isn't that a great theme? Use it shamelessly! Birds- wings of grace, shoulders the wings of the heart kidneys the vastness of the sky, lightness, eagle vision, all kinds of things could work with it... connect to the earth firmly (rooting) to sail freely like a bird (rising), our inner nature is free like a bird... Wow, I could teach a month of classes on this alone. (Of course people would not keep coming to class if all I was teaching was these poses!) You can throw in garudasana (Eagle)... Have at it!

Then Anne and I got a kombucha and went over to 7th Street Yoga with enough time to go shopping. (I definitely worked for clothes last night!) Mikki had a new order of Hard Tail clothes in and I could not resist 2 of the tank tops.

The class went so well. We had a few less people last night but the group in attendance was really stellar. We worked with the 5 principles of the shoulders (which are, repeat after me- 1.inner body bright/side body long, 2. head of the armboneback/throat back, 3. shoulder loop, 4. spirals of the arms, 5. laterally broaden.) and did a basic back bending class. My intention is that this class be doing the eka pada rajakapotasana back bends by the end of our series. I think we will get there.Most folks anyway! I worked with the theme of the Ocean of the Heart. It was great fun.

All right then, time to go but I must direct you to anew link on my blog roll. www.virayoga.blogspot.com is my friend Elena's new blog. She is awesome and so follow that. As she gets going with it there is no doubt it is going to pick up some steam. She is one of favorite people in the world. And if you are ever in New York, hers is the studio to go to. (And wherever Marjorie is teaching whose blog is also on the blog roll!)

Okay, enjoy your day. I am going to try to get tickets for Marcia Ball's concert down here on Friday night. I have always wanted to see her and she is playing right down the street at my favorite local venue. Yippee.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Book Excerpt

Yesterday, Dad posted some of his writing in the comments and I thought I would post a brief section from my manuscript on the topic of asking questions.
The working title of the book is My Body is a Temple, My Heart is the Shrine: Using the Principles of Ansuara Yoga to Build a Temple of the Body, A Life of Practice and a Personal Connection to Grace. This section is well into the book so when you read it you are mising some introductory coments and explanations. However, the basic story is about a visit I made to a particular ashram in India (Yogi Ramsuratkumar 's ashram. He is the my teacher's teacher) that inspired a consideration regarding building a temple. Temple of the body. Life of practice. That sort of thing. Hope you enjoy.
Asking the Right Questions

"I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."—Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, 1903

Yogi Ramsuratkumar knew clearly why he wanted to build his temple. Although his inspiration and intention were set, still he needed land, building plans, permits. He needed a project supervisor and people for work crews before he could commence building. Similarly, those of us who are building a temple of the body, if we desire a successful endeavor, will benefit from planning and from clarifying our agenda. For instance, we will need assistance; we will need to know what the “lay of the land” is before we get going. We can use three basic questions to guide our planning: Why? How? and What? These three questions correspond to the three A’s of Anusara Yoga, which are not only present in every asana, but are present in any endeavor. The three A’s are Attitude, Alignment and Action.

Attitude addresses the domain of intention and willpower—the domain of meaning. It answers the question Why. Alignment is the domain of knowledge, of “know-how.” Having set an intention, having become clear about why we want to apply ourselves to any given endeavor, we must educate ourselves in the techniques that will bring our vision to life. We must learn a skill set, so to speak. And “action is the physical manifestation of will power.”(1) Action refers to those things that we actually do in our lives, in the domain of activity and agency. Obviously, this book is aimed, not at answering these questions for you, but in assisting you in answering them for yourself.

The Problem With Answers
Werner Erhard, the founder of est seminars, is famous for saying that “Understanding is the booby prize.” On a similar note, yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar says that, “Yoga is not an intellectual game, it is a sharing of real experience.” Both of these teachers are pointing to the same idea, I believe, reminding us that simply understanding something is not the same as experiencing the truth firsthand.

Like many of us, when I am too quick to satisfy my intellect, I often truncate the process of real self-inquiry. As soon as my mind “figures something out” or “has an answer,” I stop actively exploring the idea. My mind actually convinces me I know, even though my behaviors and my heart may not be demonstrating that knowledge.
For instance, you have heard, “The body is a temple and therefore we should treat it with love and respect.” Obviously, this statement rings a bell of truth and you may think to yourself, “Yes, that is true. That explains it exactly! I should take better care of myself.” But then in the next hour, or over the next few days, you overeat, you over-consume alcohol, you smoke cigarettes, you ignore your body’s signals of pain in asana practice, you drink too much caffeine, you fail to sleep adequately, you eat foods that are full of chemicals and proven carcinogens, and so on. While the mind “knew the answer” of why you should take care of yourself, the questioning of how to bring that truth to life had ended before the knowledge was integrated into reliable, disciplined action. That deeper inquiry had stopped, and therefore the higher perspective was not realized.
So, while we can see that the intellect is satisfied by answers, the heart is only satisfied by soul searching, trial and error, and by the oftentimes painstaking process of refining oneself. We must be careful not to allow the intellect’s initial satisfaction with answers to seduce us into living only in the fascinating realm of thoughts and ideas. We must continue exploring the questions of the heart, even if the questioning process grows uncomfortable as it asks us to confront unexplored regions within ourselves, or to change our behaviors that no longer serve our movement toward truth.
As we practice, as we build a temple of the body, we must learn to ask meaningful, useful questions about our endeavors. Best is that we do not ask things like, “Why is it so hard?” Instead, we might ask, “How can I keep at the forefront of my mind why this hard work is necessary?” Best that we do not ask, “How can I make this easier?” when we might instead ask, “Is this worth it?” Answers are a function of the questions we ask. If we ask questions about how to grow as practitioners, we will get answers that assist us in deepening our sadhana. If we ask questions about how to be more comfortable along the way, those are the answers we will receive.
Hope to see everyone at 7th Street tonight. We will build on all the basics we started with last week and move into some deeper work wit the shoulders. That is my plan anyway.

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, "...is 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.)

Monday Morning

So- here are a few pictures from the weekend. First, we have Me and Anne getting our mani pedis on Saturday at the Tips and Toes Salon at Westgate. The color balance in the photo is off- I am still learning how to use my new camera, but I think it gets the mood across. And you will all be happy to know that my toenails made it though yesterdays class reasonably well.

Which takes us to he other pics- a few from class with Johnny that Laura took and some of me and Anne.

Anne, soaking her feet, wishing the water was warmer. (She later took matters into her own hands and added more hot water when the manicurist was not there.)

Christina, sweating, because the water she was soaking in was boiling hot.
Anne, getting the back massage prior to her manicure which is more like a beating than it is a massage but, oh well...
Anne, soaking.

Sweatfest! Laura's camera was fogging up. But that is me in ekapada rajakapotasana (With a sickled foot- oh well.. we had about one breath to get into it so I figure this is not terrible!) Me and Anne, post sweatfest... Look at the glow...
With Mr. Kest.

Yesterday was anther fun class. I had a great time. I think perhaps that was the sweatiest I have ever been in a yoga class. I am nowhere near as sore as I should be considering the last two days of practice. I really enjoyed the weekend. One thing I love about visiting teachers is getting to be a student in the classroom with many of the people I usually am teaching and I really enjoy my students when I am in the capacity of teaching but being with them as a student is a certain kind of delicious. I can let go in a certain way. I love that.

Oh- other big news is that my friend Noah is a Dad. I got a text message at around 6:00 yesterday morning that Tracy had gone into labor and he was heading home from Philadelphia. Later that day I checked in with him- Tracy gave birth to a baby girl, both ladies are doing great.

So that is a wrap for this mornig. I am going to practice and clean my house today. It is has slowly become way messier than I like.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Fun Day

So- I took class this morning with Johnny Kest. What a rockin' practice that was. I was in such a good mood this morning- perfectly sore and open from my practice yesterday and fueled with my green super powder (see, Lisa, it is part of the formula- my breakfast of champions- whole milk and honey in tea, green powder and the vita synergy pills. Gotta take the herbs with honey and fat so that the vitamins that are fat-soluble get delivered into the system and the honey helps transfer the herbs directly into the tissues without pasing through the digestive track, according to Ayurveda. The green powder has fiber so it stabilizes my blood sugar nicely as well, along with the fat of the milk and the handful of nuts I sometimes eat as well, which Craig has me eat to cultivate kapha. All in all, its a winning combo and has been for some time now. And it digests easily which is what you want early in the morning anyway. Okay, enough about that.) And I was well-rested. I had a great night of sleep.

I was so happy to be in class where someone was going to lead the practice and manage the space. So I just parked my mat next to my friend Dale and went for it. I mean, how often does an opportunity like that come along for me? Not that often. As I practiced I realized that one of the things that I love about Anusara Yoga is that I can practice it in any class. I have spent so many hours learning the different actions to safeguard myself in practice and to open my body within various poses that when presented with a class like today's it is sheer delight. It is just utterly delightful to move, to breathe, to flow, to feel and just to "take the ride", so to speak.

Johnny has a really great teaching presence- he was warm, thoughtful, challenging, insightful and while it was a strong practice it wasn't loaded with a lot of ego crap. It was a fantastic flow practice. He had interesting flows, super fun music--(and he likes it how I like it-LOUD)-- and it was just a blast. If you did not go today and are on the fence about tomorrow, then I cannot say strongly enough that you should go tomorrow. It was fantastic. I really had a great practice. I am going to shamelessly steal some of his flow sequences- or at least some of them anyway- so that is something for everyone to look forward to! Now, other things could be debated about it from a teacher training perspective, but it was exactly--to the tee, except I would have liked it longer-- what I personally want out of a flow class.

After that I took a shower and ate some fruit at Anne's house and attempted to hydrate. (I was so sweaty it took almost a gallon of water to get my level back up!) and then we went to get mani-pedi's which was fun. (Class tomorrow will most like trash my pedicure but, oh well. Those jump back chautarangas are tough on pedicures!) Then we sampled one of Jeff's home made beer and then I came home to my dogs who were desperate to see me, having been alone all day.

There is more to write but it is time to do other things. What a great class- it left me in a great mood all day. Can't wait for tomorrow.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Friday Morning

I have a great day planned for myself. I am going to pretend that I am in a yoga intensive. I am going to do a 3-hour back bend practice this morning, take a break, eat a light lunch and then do a long inversion and forward bending practice this afternoon. I cannot wait. Well, actually I am waiting because I just had breakfast and so I need to wait a bit,which is why I am going to update my blog as my tea, milk, green powder and walnuts digest.

So last night was our first night of Thursday classes at Westgate. We had a lot of new faces in the 4:30 class, which I realized I had not really planned on when I planned what I was going to present in class. So next week, I will be better prepared for the 4:30 class with a more structured class that will help people integrate into "Advanced Anusara Yoga with Christina Sell at 4:30." That is not to say that people did not do well- they really did- it just wasn't as much of a "teaching class" in a step-by-step way that people new to our advanced class would really benefit from. Okay- so live and learn. We did a long forward bend and hip-opening sequence and I talked about "asana as establishing your seat- your connection the earth, your posture and attitude and your connection to the vital energy within you." Like that.

The 6:00 Flow class was pretty darn sweaty and also pretty darn fun. I kept a lot of the postures pretty basic and worked with moving with the breath and introducing the primary flows, primarily muscle energy. I felt good about it in that there were so many new faces and by the end everyone had radically improved bhujangasana, vira 1 and vira 2 without any big demos or heavy-handed threats about potential injury and so forth. Flow classes presents a unique challenge for teaching rather than just leading a class so it is the best when in the scope of a flow class, people are receptive to refinement and learning. It asks a lot of the student, really. Last night, people worked hard and yet the mood wasn't brutal or over-the-top. (at least to me!) It was really cool that people were very internally focused yet in sync with my teaching. We worked with chit- consciousness and spanda- pulsation- bringing consciousness to the pulsations of the breath, the poses, the principles, etc. It was, I thought, a solid class.

Tabitha, Mark, Brigitte, Anne, Jesse, Valerie and Susan all double dipped.

Okay- so digestion is now underway, I am making my way to my yoga studio for round 1.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Thursday Morning

Well, so much for intimate- we had 20 people in the 7th Street class last night, which is pretty darn good for my first night at a studio where I know no one and for the first time something like this is offered. (About half of the people I did know and the other half were new faces. It was really a delightful blend of practitioners here.) Given that it was the first night of a series about Anusara Yoga I talked about Opening to Grace and Grace being a flow-a dynamic pulsation. We used the pulsation of the breath and the basic pulsation of expanding and contracting in our flow-based practice. The group at 7th Street is really well-trained (Go Mark, Hannah, and Elizabeth- the Anusara Yoga teachers there!) and really fit and strong. If people keep coming to the class, we are going to be in some really fun poses by the end of the time together.

7th Street Yoga is a really nice facility with a really lovely atmosphere. (Not to mention a lovely little clothing boutique. We all know how much I like that. I did manage to not buy anything last night, however, in case you were wondering how my "will teach yoga for clothes" approach to my job held up!) The students in attendance last night were really open, receptive and hard working. It was a pleasure to teach them and to be there.

One of the funny discussions that popped up after class was with one of the guys who was pretty new to yoga. He said while some of it was brutal, he liked the workout and the challenge. He said, "It is probably like skiing- lots of people go once and hate it but if they go back the second day it starts to come together and if they make it a third day then they are hooked."

I said, "That is true for a lot of people in yoga. Although in my husband's case, it was a two year process of starting to actually like yoga. But now he is kicking ass."

So several of us had a fun time talking about that. I think some people come to yoga and find their "home" right away. But for others, it is a different process of "coming home" that takes a lot longer and is less enjoyable along the way. Like Kelly says, "A lot of it is just hard and hurts really bad!"

Some people love the physicality of yoga right away, some people love the philosophy right away, some people love the community right away. Some people do not like any of it right away but have some vague sense that yoga is "right" or "good for them to do" that sustains them until enjoyment comes in. At any rate, I love hearing about that process and all its variations. And this guy ended up buying a 10-class package and so he is at least going to give a few more tries! Mission accomplished.

This morning we are up early. Kelly is taking a personal retreat in California to do some work for himself and so I took him to the airport this morning. He will be gone about 10 days. I stopped on the way home and got a latte and once I finish this post I am going to take advantage of the caffeine boost and do my practice. Then I have an acupuncture appointment, a therapy appointment and my classes to teach. A fun day all in all.

Please remember that the Thursday night classes are now at Westgate not at South. 4:30 is advanced still but the 6:00 class is a flow class now. And do not worry- I will not try to kill you if you double dip. (I will actively try not to kill you, in fact!) Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wednesday Morning

We started a new schedule at YogaYoga last night. Like I shared in the 4:30 class, I love new schedules, new months, new years and so forth as somewhat arbitrary, yet oftentimes helpful, demarcations of time and as opportunities for renewal. What was the 4:30 flow class is now a hatha class which I think is good news for the 6:00 advanced class. It will help double dippers prepare for advanced work without getting them as tired as the flow class did. I highly recommend this as an option for folks who can, in any way, make both classes.

So-at 4:30, we did a lot of work in the hips to prepare for what turned out to be awesome Vira 2 poses. That pose is such a different pose as a peak pose than as a warm up-type pose. So much better executed at the end of class than in the beginning. It was great fun to meet some new folks and to start a new class. I really hope that people will commit to that class with some regularity. Tabatha was there and she has a tweaked elbow but missed being in class so much she came to see everyone and I told her that if she stayed I wouldn't do any thing weight bearing in the arms for the class. So we did a whole class with not one downward facing dog. Crazy, huh?

We were reduced in numbers at the Advanced class and the room was really damn hot. We worked on arm balances and standing poses. I think it went pretty well, although people were really battling the heat and the sweat! We haven't really done a whole arm balancing class in a long time and so that was kind of a fun thing to return to. I used the theme of "Naked Raw and Ready"- inspired by Charlie Lewellin taking off his shirt (and later Jess G!) and a story about Patrica Walden.

When we were at Feathered Pipe, she and John Schumacher were talking about their experiences with BKS Iyengar over the last 30 years. At one point Patricia said, "He is a very tough teacher. And you must be a tough student to work with him. You must check your ego at the door. You must come naked, raw and ready." While we all laughed at that at the time I have thought about it a lot and how it applies to studentship, to practice, and to teaching.

Naked to me is about being without the "clothing" of pretense and defense. To be naked is to be vulnerable to your teacher, to your self, to the flow of grace in any given moment. In that vulnerability we are raw, we are beginners, we are not some polished, finished product. And in the vulnerable open raw state, we are ready to learn. So we worked with that theme last night at 6:00. It was great because the group that was there was almost entirely "old-timers." Really, after a few years practicing regularly with each other we should be pretty comfortable with falling in front of each other, getting adjustments and corrections and laughing at our strengths and weaknesses together- being naked. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves- "You know, I know these people and they know me and the strength of what we have together is not so fragile that it will be destroyed by me falling over in a pose in front of them." I know it kind of sounds silly but defending ourselves can be such a habit that we forget it is not always needed!

Kelly, Anne, Susan, Terry, Mike, Susan, Tabitha, Pammy and Jesse all double dipped. Yippee.

Tonight is the first night of a series at Seventh Street. I think it will be a fun and intimate setting. I hope you guys can make it. And you do not have to sign up for the whole series to participate.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Tuesday Morning

Well, we had a most excellent practice yesterday. We had a nice small group- several last minute cancellations due to illness and family obligations. But we really went for it. I personally was in the back bending zone. I love when that coincides with the opportunity for deep back bends. Sometime we have a practice and I just cannot get open and sometime I will feel really open but I am in a practice where I do not have time to go deeper or in a class that things are not going to go beyond ustrasana, etc. Anyway- not a lot of profound things to say about it other than it was super joyful for me to be with everyone. Here are some shots from practice. (Imagine Pammy's Anusara Yoga mix blaring in the background- funky town, neil diamond, stand by me, another one bites the dust, etc. Very festive indeed.)

Jeremiah, rocking eka pada rajakapotasana Jesse in dwi pada viparita dandasana
Kelly in eka pada raja kapotasana
Again, from another angle - what a stud!
Jesse and Meg
Jason in the one-legged royal king pigeon pose

Jason, scorpion attempt
Jeff, looking up at Annzy
Jeff, reaching for his foot working toward chakra bandasana
So close...

Anne, dropping over

Christina in chakra bandasana
Deborah in scorpion attempt
Me, in eka pada raja kapotasana variation
Me, in eka pada viparita dandasana variation- (My leg, however should be vertical and it is too far in. Oh well, I am over achieving again... what's new?)
After practice Jeff and Anne stayed for a little while and we ate roasted potatoes which were yummy. Then Kelly and I cleaned up and went up to Austin. We swung by REI to check out their Labor Day sale and then we headed to Westgate for me to teach a class for Free Day of Yoga. It was a pretty big class- almost 50 people came- all levels and experiences. I thought it went really well. I focused on good strong work in the basics and people were so open, receptive and engaged it was a pleasure to teach.
I have a meeting in Austin this morning and then Anne and I are going to sojourn up to Breath And Body Yoga to take a class with Desirae, the owner. She invited me to teach a class in her teacher training program in September and I thought it would be fun to see what they are up to before I do that. SO today is that day- good sweaty lunch time flow. Hope to see everyone at 4:30 or 6:00. 4:30 is now a hatha class and 6:00 is still advanced. both at Westgate. Come check it out. Perfect double-dip scenario. (Natalie, a double dipper is someone who takes two classes back to back.)
Have a good day!

Monday Morning

So the first Immersion weekend went so well. We have 25 people in the group, most of whom are signed up for the whole shebang. So excellent. Here are a few pics that we took but since we have no photographer on staff for the event (Ari, WE NEED YOU!) there are just a few to share. But do note the good form everyone has. A few bent arms and so forth but such incredible execution for weekend #1. Plus thanks to Laura F's inspiration we are doing this immersion in a much more condensed format which I think will help us move more quickly as a group. I think that by meeting every other week instead of spreading it out over so much time will help reinforce the teachings and create a momentum. You lose the integration time in a condensed format but because so many participants do not have access to a local Anusara Yoga teacher I think the benefit of momentum that we will gain will outweigh the loss of integration time.

As usual we didn't cover all of what I had planned but we did manage two long practices, a two hour anatomy lecture, a video with Carlos, a pranayama class and some good technical review of
of the Primary Flows and a good handful of very practical application type questions.

I came home and had dinner and spent the evening relaxing with Kelly and I even got to bed before 10:00 which was great Since now I am well rested for our group practice this morning. I am really looking forward to it. Last year we did a Labor Day practice that was a pretty big hooh-hah. I think this will be a pretty small gathering which is just fine by me.

I am working with great diligence on viparita chakrasana (urdhva danurasana to handstand) and all the work of getting the weight of urdhva danurasana into my legs is bearing great fruit in that pose, which is quite interesting since that pose is essentially about getting the focal point to shift from the pelvis into the heart. But what I am finding is that if I really load the legs first and then shift into the heart the pose comes a lot more easily. I have decided to make 5 viparita chakrasana attempts every time I practice urdhva danurasana. I should have it nailed within 6 months with that approach.

I am also teaching in Austin for Free Day of Yoga tonight so that should be fun. 6:00 at Westgate. Hope to see you here or there.