Tuesday, June 30, 2009
I had a pretty mellow weekend. I did a great back bend practice on Sunday and worked my way to kapotasana which was fun. I needed some help in the heat of it to really get a hold of my heels but I did a good job on my own. I also played around with a fun backbend variation from the level 3 syllabus which is called kapinjalasana in urdhva danurasana. It is a one-legged urdhva danurasana and the other side of you is doing natrajasana or kapinjalasana. I had never tried it but had seen it demoed a few times.
As I was practicing I found that I could do it so long as I turned my bottom foot out. I kept finding that was the only way to maintain my balance. So I texted both Noah and Darren to find out if that was okay. They both said, "It's the only way." In fact, Darren said, "Remember, f it affords access, then its alignment."
I thought this was so cool because it really made mee think deeply about what it means to access a pose. Not just the shell of the pose, not just the outer form but an intelligent alignment with the mechanics exteriorly and interiorly. When we first learn alignment it can seem like it actually denies access. For instance we say things like, "Only lift your leg as high as you can keep the hips square" and many times people feel like we have denied them a full expression with that injunction.
But here is the cool thing that we see over and over again. If we really engage those boundaries and practice within them then the body lines up over time with the optimal blueprint and the boundary or the imposed limitation that initially seemed to deny access, begins to afford an access that is healthier, more therapeutic and eventually a greater freedom in and expression of the pose arises. It is very cool. Then you get to the advanced poses and the you work within a form that is trickier and trickier.
So, it is an interesting inquiry into what access really means and the consideration of "if it grants access then it is alignment." For us in Anusara Yoga what we want is access to the profound and deep flow of Grace that is our true Self. So what grants access to that?
Surely, there are access points at every level of our being from the outer shell do the deepest sheath. But if we are stuck in the outer "how to" of asana or sadhana we may forget that the how to is only there to serve as access points to the Infinite. So really, we practice poses, and figure them out and explore them simply (and not so simply) as a means by which we might explore the finite mechanism of the body to experience and express the infinite Grace within.
So really, what grants you access? Think about it.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
At any rate, I love Saturday morning yoga classes. For years I taught every Saturday morning. Well, I still teach almost every Saturday but I have not taught a regular, old-fashioned Saturday morning yoga class since I left Arizona. And they are just the best. It's the weekend, peoplehave made time to practice, there is a sense of relaxation since the work week is over for people, etc. Saturday morning has always been one of my favorite times to teach or to take a yoga class. Anyway- yesterday was fun- I worked with the theme of Enjoyment becoming yoga and what the source of our deepest enjoyment really is. Fun flows, hot room, sweaty people, great music, good times.
I then met up with Juan and Jon Dollar for a shceming meeting about a workshop on the Bandhas we may collaborate on. That was fun. One thing I love about being here in Austin is the depth of collegial relationships I am developing. Lunch at The Screaming Goat, talking about Ahstanga Vinyasa Yoga, Dynamic Yoga, and Anusara Yoga and how we perceive, teach and practice the bandhas is my idea of fun. (yes, I know. I am a geek. I admit it.)
Jon is probably one of the few teachers of Dynamic Yoga which is another of the Krishnamacharya lineages. Jon's teacher, Godfrey Devereux, was a long time student of BKS Iyengar and took those teachings and his experiences into an expression that is now called Dynamic Yoga. It sounds fascinating. Jon teaches at Castle Hill on Mondays at noon. I plan to check it out soon as I found him so knowledgeable, passionate, funny and insightful- just what you would want in a yoga teacher. Also he is finishing his studies at AOMA and so he also has that to offer.
I spent the afternoon in a major frenzy of house cleaning and rearranging and Kelly and I went out for a bite to eat late in the afternoon. All in all a good day.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Then we went to Daily Juice for Smoothies and made our way to Dharma Yoga. I had never been to Dharma Yoga before and it is a beautiful studio. It has such an intentional mood there and the Sanieh did a really great job. She took a nice and somewhat gentle journey through some twisting postures towards what she called Yogi Dandanasa arm balance. We call it something else like hummingbird. No wait. We have had this discussion and now I cannot remember how it is listed on our syllabus. But no matter... long story short, or perhaps a short story made long by now... my hips were nice and open and wow, were my quads tired from A LOT of time in those warrior poses. Also fun was that Terra was there as was Charlie L. who is an Ansuara Yoga teacher who now teaches at Dharma. Nice small yoga world, eh?
Both Sanieh and Salena have lovely teaching presences, beautiful practices and very open warm hearts that shine through in their classes. It was a fun morning.
After that I got my hair trimmed, had a phone conference with Noah, and then with Christy about my book. We made it all the way through the edits and so now I ought to be able to knock them out this weekend and send the manuscript to Juan Amigo for his review. Then I implement his suggestions and back and forth until- voila!- a book one day will appear in our hot little hands!
It is a funny thing writing a book because there is a huge birthing process that takes place. There is definitely the gestation period where I am kind of antsy with the ideas as they are circulating around in me. Then there is the process of just sitting down and writing and writing and writing. As an author this is the most potent and thrilling part of the creative process for me. This is, as an author, "the push." But to make that "push" become a product, so much else is actually involved and so many other people are involved. So what is weird is that once my "push" has been made, so to speak, a certain amount of my enthusiasm has waned and in many ways the momentum is in other people's hands. And then there are little nitty gritty things that have to get done that are tedious and made even more so because my enthusiasm is a different volume.
For instance, with my first book, I had the experiences I wrote about in 2000, I wrote the book in 2001, it was completed in 2002 and was published in 2003. By the time it came out, I was sort of well on the other side of "the push" and all the juiciness of that particular process.
In the case of this book I turned in the original manuscript a year ago and now we are midway through the editing process and so what was interesting was reading what I wrote now that it is no longer so fresh. And yet, reading it,I was like, "Wow, this is good!"
I remember one time going to hear Robert Bly speak. He had a book that had just come out and it was a talk that was supposed to be about that book. A few minutes into his talk, he told the group that he was not interested in talking about this recently published book, he wanted to talk about the book he was currently working on. I remember thinking that was weird and I was disappointed, but now I totally get it. He was birthing another book and the one that was "in process" was where the juice was.
Anyway- since many people have been asking me "What is up with the book" that is what is up. And it is about yoga. The only thing I really care much about. Working Title: My Body is a Temple, My Heart is the Shrine: Using the Principles of Anusara Yoga to Build a Life of Practice, a Temple of the Body and a Personal Connection With Grace.
Time to bathe. Teaching at Bodhi at 10.
Friday, June 26, 2009
I went to Castle Hill to give a private yoga lesson and then taught my class there at 4:30 and then went up to Breath and Body for the 6:30 practice. We worked with a variation of the back bend sequence I have been teaching all week. I really had a nice practice and from what I could tell other folks did too. (We got to witness Dale standing up from urdhva danurasana for the first time by himself!) The sequence thoroughly prepared me for the back bends with no fanfare just good intelligent work. Many people remarked they felt really good (and even Casey admitted to the back bends feeling "less bad" than usual!)and interestingly enough while we were all prepared for deep work there were no big puddles of sweat. hmmmmm.... very interesting.....
Here is the sequence if you want to try at home:
- Surya Namaskar A
- Surya Namaskar B 5 x
- Supta Virasana 5 minutes
- Headstand- 5 minutes
- Vira One, Parsvottanasana, parivritta trikonasana- 1 minute each, same side with back heel at wall
- Handstand- 5 minutes
- Parsvakonasana (clasped),anjaneyasana, parivritta parsvakonasana (clasped)- 1 minute each, same side back foot at wall
- pinca mayurasana- different variations but back bended pushing feet into the wall.
- quad stretches with back knee/shin/foot on wall and torso up against wall, ekapada rajakapotasana with back leg at wall and forward bended to stretch spine
- paryankasana with knees at wall and block in upper back
- urdhva danurasana keeping knees at wall and walking hands in - stay in legs- 5 X
- urdhva danurasana- ustrasana to urdhva danurasana- stay in legs
- drop backs- stay in legs
- parsvottanasana, back foot turned in
- urdva prasarita eka padasana at wall 2 x
Another thing that was cool about the practice was that Krisha was there who I have not seen in like year since she had a baby, Ari was there who has been MIA ( not a criticism, just saying...), Mark and Hannah have been coming more often, as has Ed. And so I say this- not because I wasn't happy to see all the regular attendees who have been there since the beginning, but because I had recently been looking through my photos and saw pics from old group practices and I kept thinking- now where is that person? and where is that person? and so forth.
Teaching is interesting because groups seem to stay constant but really they change quite a bit- but in many cases its changing just one person a time. The time of a class changes, people's schedules changes, what any given student wants and needs changes, what a teacher is providing changes and these different changes mean that one by one, someone is no longer coming to class and another person finds their way and in a few years you realize it has become a different group. I had just been contemplating that phenomena this week when lo and behold several people who I hadn't seen in a long time were there again. (Of course Ari told me it was summer and to draw no conclusions about attendance until the fall. Ah, Ari.... always the voice of reason...)
Today I am going on a yoga field trip with Gioconda. We are going to Scott's class at Yoga Vida and Sanieh's class at Dharma with perhaps a shopping trip or coffee break in between. I am really looking forward to it. First it's a great girl date and second I love seeing what other teachers are up to.
Okay tea, finsished, green drink ingested, and now... onward...
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Anyhoo-so much to re-cap but the thing that is really on my mind today day is what I taught my class at Bodhi Yoga about last night. I was planning to have a date with Zoe between my 4:30 class and my 7:30 class but she called and had to cancel due to surprise conflict. But she left me this really cool message that said she had been really excited to talk with me becasue she had been really feeling a kind of expansive enthusiasm about yoga, teaching, life, being a woman and so on. I am paraphrasing here a bit but the force of her message was quite strong. It was strong enough, in fact, to shift my mindset away from some circumstantial details I had been caught in and been ruminating about.
And as I felt my state of mind shift I was hit with a huge, "BAM! That's right...Remember the Highest!" I had been caught in the lowest and in one instant, my outlook changed. It was very cool. Then I remembered the importance of community. Really, the thing is we cannot always Remember on our own. We forget. We get veiled. And one of the functions of the community is to remind us, to testify, to call us to the Highest. And it can happen on a voice mail.
I guess modern technology really can make our life easier. Go figure.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The weekend was really great. Viroqua is a really amazing place. It is the heart of what is known as The Organic Valley in Wisconsin and so the land is fertile and the people are very connected to the land and its cycles and also there is a huge enclave of dedicated Waldorf educators and Steiner students/practitioners there and so it makes for an incredible rich, wholesome and expansive kind of experience there.
I worked with the theme of Light all weekend, given that it was the Summer Solstice weekend. Very fun. Also fun is that Kelly came along and our hosts were some very long time friends of ours so it was a great mix of business and pleasure. Meg and Chris have a new member of their family so it was fun to see how much Maple, their first child has grown but also to meet Eider who is a very cuddly and chubby baby boy of only a few months.
All right, well, I meditated, my coffee is consumed, my green powder has been downed, this blog has been briefly updated and now I must bathe before heading out.
OH- I have switched hosting sites for my email and so any email that came in to firstname.lastname@example.org over the weekend is lost- so if you do not hear from me I am not ignoring you. Email me on email@example.com instead.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Thursday, June 18, 2009
So as I was looking through some Facebook status updates yesterday- something that due to the number of Facebook Friends I have I rarely do because it is so time consuming- I saw that some one's status had the above quote. I thought it was so great because I was getting ready to go teach the Focus on Form class at Castle Hill. So I got to thinking about how, in order for intimacy to be present, we have to really know them well. And so, when we focus on the forms of the asana and our own form in relationship to the asana, we get invited into a deeper realm of knowledge which can become the foundation of a greater intimacy. And if enlightenment is intimacy with all things, as the quote suggests, even the study of what our legs are doing relative to our pelvis in Vira 2 begins to serve a Higher Purpose.
It is a rich theme and I worked with it all day. Because really there is a superficial relationship with asana where we learn the outside form, where to put our hands, where to look and a handful of "rules to keep your safe" and so forth. But a lot of that is just a surface way to relate to the poses. As we progress there is more- there is action within form, there are micro movements that open energy channels considerably, there is the delicate movement of the breath as well as the sometimes not so delicate movement of the breath when we are pushing a bit, and there are infinite ways to explore poses by shifting emphasis, order, foundations,exploring variations and understanding the discrete points of an asana in relationship to one another as opposed to in isolation.
The yoga path being one of relationship is really central to the ideology that informs Anusara Yoga Philosophy. Ours is not a renunciate path, not a "go to the mountaintop" Way but a path of community, involvement and participation- of intimacy.
And of course, we cannot forget that there is an idea in Anusara Yoga philosophy that this whole world is an expression of a Divine intimacy between spirit and matter that is sometimes described as the Divine Marriage of Shiva and Shakti.
And Dr. Phillips added to the conversation after my 4:30 class, suggesting that even karma yoga- our actions- when referenced in love and dedicated to intimacy- would be beautiful offerings of the heart because wouldn't you want to do your best for your Beloved?
So the metaphor is pretty rich. I taught three classes with it yesterday and barely scratched the surface. We worked with the relationship of the legs, pelvis and low belly in trikonasana and Vira 2 in Focus on Form. We sorted out the relationship of the inner back thigh and the back heel ink in Vira 1 and some mechanics of balancing in handstands at 4:30 and we went to eka pada rajakpaotasana at Bodhi last night which was great fun. Carrie asked for the pose, did the demo and got her toes for the first time. How is that for results? Great fun. I wish I took a picture because it was a great moment.
So many other things stand out about that class at Bodhi last night like Andrew, one of the teachers at Bodhi came for the second week in a row, Zoe M. (recently featured in Austin Fit Magazine and recently made a Lulu ambassador!!!) came, Valerie came and I hadn't seen her in a long time, Marie an Anusara Yoga teacher transplanted here from LA came and I had not seen in a while. I met several new folks like Joe and Deja and several people are becoming regulars in that class and so I felt something really gel there last night that was cool.
Oh- and the Beginning Series is at Bodhi Bee Caves- 4 mondays- from 5:30-7 starting July 13. $50 by July 1/$60 after- Tell your family, tell your friends, tell your students, tell yourself! Everybody is welcome.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
My afternoon classes went well. My 4:30 Castle Hill class was really awesome. I had a lot of returning folks and a few new faces which was good to see. We did what I call a "75-minute fast-track to back bends" class. What that means is from pose #1 we back bend and we just keep deepening and keep deepening in various preparatory poses until we are in drop backs. The approach, while not a balanced practice, while perhaps not the best thing even for one's nervous system if regularly implemented, is fun and effective. There are these strange bars on the back wall at Castle Hill but I have found they can be put to great use for back bends and so really, a good time was had by all. And since it was Level 2-4, not everyone dropped back, some people did it with help, others worked on them alone, while others stayed in the more preparatory stages.
At Breath and Body I taught a slow, focused, hip-opening flow with seated forward bends at the end with the intention being cooling. It was so hot outside by that point, the room was still so hot from the previous class, and people seemed pretty wiped out so I kept things on the softer side. For the most part, I think it was a perfect complimentary practice to what the majority of folks were experiencing.
I worked all day with muscle energy and the theme of "The Inner Journey" as muscle energy takes us from the outside in. I got going on this because in the two morning classes different people had forgotten to take off their shoes and I was talking about the reason why we do that. Surely it is practical, as it keeps the studio floor cleaner and so forth. But also it is symbolic. It is a way we remind ourselves that we are leaving "the dust of the outside world" outside and we are going on an inward journey, away from our mundane concerns. Even the alignment instructions are like that- what seems like a bunch of rules, a bunch of do's and don'ts and so on are just class to go inward in specific ways. And to the extent that we answer the call, we are taken inward, we are given a break, if you will, from whatever mundane concern may be competing for our attention and energy.
There is a yoga maxim that says "prana follows attention" and so what we pay attention to is pretty important. If we pay attention to our psychological stories, projections and neurosis, well, our life force will go there. If we use those things as doorways to deeper contemplations, our prana will move in deeper. So, really alignment is a dharana practice ultimately- it is a practice of training our focus and concentration so that we have choice about where we place our attention, where our prana goes and what aspect of ourselves we feed.
I was up late last night working with Anusara Press on some edit which was fun. We have a few more things to sort out and the project moves one step closer to completion. But don't ask me when. It will be a grand surprise for all of us. And what is the book about? YOGA!
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
I got up and went to practice Mysore in the morning. (What fun... we added danurasana and parsva danurasana today!) Then, after a shower at The Castle and a spelt muffin from their cafe, I made my way to Bodhi Bee Caves for my Tuesday morning classes. The classes went very well. I had a few returning students from last week, which is always great in the first few weeks of a class. While I made some plans I kept myself very fluid to repsond to whoever showed up because a lot of the folks coming to classes there are new to yoga.
And so that gave me an idea- I am going to offer a Beginning Yoga Series at Bodhi Bee Caves in July. I will be ironing out the details of it soon so stay tuned. I mention it because many of you in Teacher Training have asked me when I might do another one and the time is soon. Ever wonder "How would I teach all of this to a beginner?" Well, you can sign up and come to class and see for yourself! Also- this would be a perfect time to recruit a friend or mate or loved one to the practice. (I promise I will be very nice to them.) Bodhi Bee Caves is a beautiful, fully-equipped studio where almost any type of person would feel comfortable. So stay tuned for those details. And since Beginning Series are like my favorite things to teach I am very excited about it.
Also- I want to tell everyone that the Workshop with Desiree Rumbaugh is open for registration. Desiree Rumbaugh was the person who introduced me to Anusara Yoga in 1998 and later to John Friend. She travels tirelessly teaching groups all over the globe about how to use asana as a means of self-discovery, empowerment and awakening. And she is coming to teach us again this year in September. We all had a lot of fun on her visit her last year and this year will be no doubt be fantastic. If you want information or to register, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
By the way, email@example.com is my preferred email address these days, please. It is the easiest one to access no matter I am. Thanks.
In more immediate news, Juan and Craig and Mark U. are teaming up for what appears to be an information-packed weekend of teaching and inspiring yogic contemplation called Yoga and the Individual. I highly recommend attending and now- given that I have postponed my weekend workshop at Bodhi that I had scheduled, you can be completely unconflicted in going to Castle Hill to study with these teachers! Kidding. But seriously, I did postpone the weekend workshop for a future date.
And speaking of future dates- put this in your date book- those of you far and wide who want to study with me and learn more about anatomy and as it relates to the UPA's and are ready to plan what you are doing in March 2010, that is. It's a Costa Rica Retreat with Inner Harmony that is going to be awesome. You will get to do Asana Class with me in the mornings (or of course you could come and take asana with one of the other teachers although I would be devastated. Not really, actually. It's a great line-up and you cannot go wrong.) and Anatomy Class is in the afternoons with Martin Kirk and then we all do kirtan in the evenings with Benjy and Heather. Does it get any better than that? I do not think so! So get your yoga geek on in Costa Rica- it will be a blast. I cannot wait.
All right- next thing. Off to teach Level 2-4 at Castle Hill at 4:30 and at Breath and Body Yoga at 6:00. It's a busy day indeed.
Monday, June 15, 2009
The Immersion was a great success in my book. We covered a lot of ground- we really did. And that was just the first 12 hours. Yesterday I gave a lecture about a general overview of Tantric Philosophy and we made a foray into Anusara Yoga Philosophy from there focusing on the Six Attributes of the Absolute. Always talking about non dual philosophy, or talking about The Absolute is a problem because we are doing it from a perspective of dualism, using the relative means of language. So, inherent in any discussion is the guarantee that the words we use will fall short of the concept and certainly of the experience. Be that as it may, I think we laid a decent ground work for further contemplation.
We did a pretty long and involved asana class. Like I have been saying, in the initial stages of the Immersion, asana is definitely more of a class than a practice. On the first night I told everyone that if they would be antsy without a sweaty-flow-based-lose-yourself-in-the-breath-and-music kind of practice, then to come to class before the Immersion because we wouldn't be doing asana that way during the weekend. What is fantastic about our schedule and the schedule at Breath and Body is on both Saturday and Sunday mornings there is a class right before we start and on Sunday there is a class right when we get done so this is easily accomplished.
I love sweaty-flow-based-lose-yourself-in-the-breath-and-music kinds of practices. I really do. They are awesome. And I think I teach a pretty good version of that kind of class and practice. And I am reasonably clear that you cannot trouble-shoot asana, work therapeutically and really get an intellectual understanding of what is going on with that kind of approach. They are for practice and not for study, so to speak. At least in general. Not criticizing at all. I just think it plugs us into a different kind of intelligence and experience, that is all.
So I figure, given that I teach 9 public classes a week right now in Austin, most of which are pretty practice-based, the Immersion time is really for unpacking the technique, not for working out. Later in the Immersion Series, once the group has the technique and understanding down, we will move more and more away from start and stop, "come look" approach.
And from what I could tell the group was super receptive to the information and the technique and each of the demonstrations and partner exercises bore so much fruit. I could see immediate improvement in the form and small lights going off and so that was really cool.
As I was thinking about the day on my way home I got to thinking about my perspective as a teacher. When I look at someone who is "not doing the pose" or is consistently practicing a modification or a misalignment, my first thought is not that they cannot do the pose. My first thought is that they do not know how to do the pose. It is not, for instance, in my mind, that they do not know that trikonasana has straight legs, I just figure that they do not know how to get their own legs straight in the pose.
So I am the kind of teacher who first tries to educate her students in the how of the pose. Okay, actually, I teach the what of the pose- "Hey everybody, this pose has straight legs- that is what the pose looks like. Here is the vision." Then I am interested in teaching the how of the pose. "And this is how you get your legs straight with the UPA's." Then, if the what and the first level of how doesn't work, I dive into modifications, props and so forth- "Oh, your hamstrings are super tight, your balance needs work, you are pregnant, overweight, elderly, scared, or whatever your special situation is... well work like this and you will be working toward the pose in a skillful aligned manner..."
And hopefully, if I am doing my job well, the whole discussion of what and how exists in the context of the greater question of "Why?" Why work hard, why study the forms, why expand our ability and capacity? Well, because that process can be deeply meaningful and dedicated to self-inquiry, self-study, self-observation and our longing for the most profound kind of self-knowledge. And when we deepen those aspects of our practice and experience we can learn skillful ways to express ourselves more fully.
Many people confuse my approach with being insensitive, with being "anti-prop" or "anti- modifications" and so forth. Really, I have gotten these kinds of comments a lot over the years. And admittedly I am not exactly a gentle teacher. But to me these poses are like rooms with hidden locks and keys and not one of them came naturally for me and very few of them did I figure out alone. My teachers got in my personal world and showed me where the keys were hidden, where the locks were located and gave me instructions for how to use the keys in the different locks. And I love teachers who do that- who give me instructions about how to unlock a pose or an aspect of a pose and send me from a class or a workshop with a set of instructions to work with at home.
So that is my perspective. I generally assume that we are capable of so much more than we think. And I generally assume that people in my class want to expand their capacity and grow at the boundary as opposed to stay the safety zone of comfort. And the truth is that students who do not want to do that do not spend much time around me in my yoga classes. Usually, once is enough for them!
But I digress. More could certainly be said but it is time to go unlock some poses. Mysore with Juan.
Have a great day.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
I started the Immersion with a pop quiz that covered some of the material we addressed on Friday night. I wanted to get a sense of how much information people gleaned from the introductory class. Here is an interesting thing about taking an Immersion. As a student you have to have your ears peeled the whole time because so much information is coming your way. Not only are you doing the asana, you are getting philosophy lessons directly and indirectly, you are getting anatomy lessons, you are processing your own experience, you are part of a group dynamic and you are also if you are a teacher, watching the teaching method at work in yourself and others. So many aspects of learning are going on. It is a tall order and there is a lot to digest.
After the quiz and review, I asked the group for questions and what came out was a list of poses in which people were in pain or major discomfort. We spent the rest of the afternoon trouble-shooting the asanas on the list. I have never began an Immersion like that but I found it an interesting way to download a lot of information about the poses and to set the stage for teaching the principles more directly. And in general, we found ways in the different poses to get more relief and to move toward greater physical freedom in the postures.
Today I plan to finish the list of "troublesome poses" but more in the scope of a long practice-based session. The thing is that it is not such a hard thing to provide a group with a yoga workout and to intersperse the teachings in the midst of the strong work. That is not hard at all. But an Immersion practice is a different thing- especially in the beginning. The Immersion practices are a time not just to practice strong asana, but to learn the system that informs the practice and to take the time to sort out that theory in our practice so that we gain clarity and insight.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
After a somewhat long preamble of "How to Take and Immersion from Christina Sell and other housekeeping details" we talked about the Power of Intention and how longing for freedom is the very basis of asana as a creative expression. It is really an interesting thing to consider.
I know for me personally, really allowing myself to long for something, to really admit to myself the depth of my wanting or need (I am not talking here about wanting a new outfit from Lululemon- I am talking about the deeper kind of longing- for connection, for meaning, for excellence, etc.) is a very vulnerable state. Doubt and insecurity arises- What happens if I do not get it? What if that is just too big to wish for? What if I cannot make that happen? And so forth. And really, the truth is I may not get what I most long for. There is no guarantee. But, lately, I think, why not risk the wanting anyway and spend my time, energy and attention dedicated to those things that might point me in that direction. At least then there is a chance. Why take the safe-seeming road of not admitting to myself what I want, not applying myself toward that end and thus guaranteeing that I won't get it?
And what is "getting it" anyway? It may not be what we think it is. HTe process of moving from the longing, being guided and inspired form it and engaging our practice with such intentionality is actually "it" as much as anything else. I am reminded of a poem by Rumi about longing. I mentioned it last night in class and thought I might include it here.
One night a man was crying Allah! Allah!
His lips grew sweet with the praising,
until a cynic said, "So I have heard you calling out,
but have you ever
gotten any response?"
The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidir, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.
"Why did you stop praising?"
"Because I've never heard anything back."
"This longing you express is the return message."
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.
Give your life
to be one of them.
Then we did an asan practice: (This is actually John's sequence from his notes that he shared with me.)
Adho Mukha Svanasana
eka pada raja kapotasana prep
eka pada raja kapotasana prep with thigh stretch
We have a great group. I could not be more thrilled. It will be a great year together.
Friday, June 12, 2009
I got up early to go to the Mysore practice, which was great. Juan gave me a fantastic teaching on the Ashtanga Vinyasa view of teaching and practicing ardha badha padmottasana and a correction that as it registered I realized, "Right, of course. It's Inner Spiral!" Interestingly enough it was exactly the instructions I give for eka pada raja kapotasanaa in my endless attempt to eradicate lazy pigeons everywhere. At the risk of sounding like a newly converted zealot, I must say that the majesty and integrity of that system is really best communicated through Mysore-style approach. I am finding it quite illuminating.
I went back to The Castle at 4:30 for my Level 2-4 class. We worked in deep hip opening and press handstands variations and eventually got to some work with getting our legs behind our heads. I got to make some use of the insight I had gotten in practice that morning and so that was fun.
The Group Practice at Breath and Body was great. I worked again with longer holds and less flow-based combinations so that the strong work would stay grounded. We did a fairly well-rounded practice and worked to keep the back bends in our legs. We did some work with drop backs and standing up. Right now, I am really into helping people sort out the mechanics of urdhva danurasana in preparation for the deeper bends. To me urdhva danurasana is a gateway back bend. It makes no sense to go much further in the back bend syllabus until that pose is free and clear. If we are enduring pain in that bend we are going to be guaranteed of pain when we get to kapotasana. We have to sort it out or we are just asking for trouble later. And when you ask for trouble, well, you tend get it!
Okay then- I have some time today to go swimming and practice before THE IMMERSION STARTS TONIGHT!!! Now that is exciting and worth a whole entry of its own.
Oh- and check out my new website. www.christinasell.com Desirae did it for me.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Yesterday was a good day of teaching. I taught three very different classes. I really enjoy the Focus on Form class at Castle Hill. With their ample prop supply, and with the intention there to create a class specifically for the "focus on form," I feel kind of like I am returning to my roots. These classes remind me a lot of how I taught in San Marcos and in Prescott before that. I really enjoy breaking the different poses down, explaining things specifically and working on fewer poses in a class. And it is nice teaching a group of people specifically there for such purposes. So fun. we worked on straightening the legs with inner and outer spiral in uttanasana, prasarita paddottanasana, and trikonasana. It went very well.
The 4:30 class at Breath and Body Yoga was a steady, methodical and slow foray to eka pada raja kapotasana. I minimized the flowing aspects of postures and I minimized the standing poses and focused on hips opening and quad stretching poses while also doing work on getting the arm bones back and the upper back to bend. Everyone did so well and many people got their foot for the first time so that was exciting, as it always is. It was cool because now that I have been teaching there for a while I can see that certain pieces are really taking root and coming alive in people's bodies.
At 7:30 I went to teach at Bodhi Yoga and I did something I really rarely do- I asked for requests. Janelle asked for Handstand and Sheldon asked for visvamitrasana. And so we did both. We had a great time- again, less surya namaskar, lots of explanation and lots of work. The students there were so open and receptive and eager to learn and implement my suggestions. Almost everyone ended up in the final pose and so that was quite fun. Kelly surprised me and showed up for class and he said, it was the best class of mine he has been to in a long time. So that was high praise. He said, "You know I really like flow classes but I also like working on fewer poses to just get a chance to really get better at them." So that was a cool thing to hear.
I have been going on as of late about how I like many formats for classes and practice and I really do. And I really see how they all have their pros and cons relative to what you are trying to accomplish. In terms of wanting to get a practice in and getting stronger in a range of basic poses, nothing really beats a good flow class. But in terms of understanding and applying basic technique to advanced postures and really understanding how best to approach new poses safely and effectively, nothing beats taking some time out to study, learn through demo and repetition. (My opinion, obviously.)
Okay- that is the summary of yesterday. Today I have some prep work to do for this weekend's immersion, an acupuncture appointment and then class and practice. Fun stuff.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
That is a really empowering thing to me about physicality- our bodies will respond to whatever we ask them to do repeatedly. If all we ask our bodies to do is eat Cheeto's on the couch while we watch TV, then that is what it will be able to do well. If, however, we keep asking, in an intelligent way, for it to grow strong, flexible and integrated, it will adapt to those demands. I love that.
Yesterday was a big day of teaching. My two classes at the new Bodhi Yoga were interesting and not what I expected. I had expected the morning class to be more basic and the lunch to be more advanced and quite the opposite ended up being the case given who showed up to each class. So that is an interesting with a new studio- class personalities are still malleable and forming.
My 4:30 Level 2-4 class at Castle Hill as a twisting foray into arm balances and that was fun. I had a lovely visit from the luluemon crew and they were a lot of fun.
The 6:00 Breath and Body class worked on rooting their legs in order to really open up urdhva danurasana. It was fantastic. I had several people comment or ask about back pain in back bends during our last group practice and I realized that many people, although they are pushing up and look great in the pose, are suffering needlessly. So I taught a class with a them of being mindful, skillful and integrated and we worked with partners and with longer holds as opposed to flows. Everyone did so well and really seemed to benefit from the specialized work.
My sister reminded me on the way from Castle Hill to Breath and Body about something that happened once in a workshop with Patricia Walden. She was having me demonstrate something from urdhva danurasana. She looked at me, I looked at her and I asked, "Just go up?" She said, "There is no just."
I think in the beginning there is JUST DO IT. But over time, as we advance, as we want to go deeper, we get called to this idea that there is no just. What there are are opportunities to invest in ourselves, to practice skillful, mindful and integrated action within each pose so that our yoga is something that reflects these very qualities. For many of us, yoga is very deeply linked to our passion for growth, transformation and spiritual expression. If that is the case then really, think about it-- how there ever be "just doing a pose?"
Anyway, I told that story at the beginning of class and taught my 6:00 class from that theme. I think it went well.
Okay, time now for Focus on Form.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Subbing classes is such an interesting thing. You get a chance to meet people who you might never get a chance to meet and to teach people who have probably been learning in a different way and so it is a fun challenge, for the most part. Generally I do not like to teach much on Mondays as it is a day I often take as a weekend but yesterday was pretty fun. I must say I do find myself a little tired this morning.
This morning begins my Tuesday morning class at Bodhi Bee Caves. I think there is a lot of potential for that space to grow and prosper out there in the hills. Sean and Anna did such a nice job on it and they have even more plans for its growth and development. It is pretty exciting to be a part of it all.
So, I was thinking, "What shall I teach?" and then I thought, "Wow, new studio, first class you have ever taught there and who even knows if someone will come! You just cannot make much of a plan, Christina!" But I have a few ideas and a few contingency plans and at this point in my life as a yoga teacher I am pretty confident I can teach to who shows up.
It has been interesting to be branching out to teach at so many new places after 3 years of my public classes at the same place. It is a learning process, for sure. My style is pretty versatile, I think. I can effectively teach all ages, levels and abilities. I can teach in start and stop with tons of technique and I can teach technique in flow and a great breath-based vinyasa with a good soundtrack and so on. But what I cannot do, and probably have no interest in doing, is teach a class that doesn't demand work and doesn't demand the student's pay attention. I do , however, know how to get people to work. And so students who want that tend to love my classes. Students who do not want that, think I am a yoga Nazi. Funny, but true. Oh well, I am what I am!
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Teaching at Presoctt Yoga is one of my favorite teaching opportunities I have all year. It is a homecoming for me in so many ways. I have talked about this before but when I go to a new area to teach a workshp to people I do not know, the first part of the workshop is "getting ot know you." I am learning about how they learn and what they can do what they need and and part of what the studentts are "getting to know" is my teaching style how to best get from me what I have to offer. One thing that we actually have to do as visiting teachers is help people learn how to take our yoga class. However, Prescott Yoga is a community of people who helped me develop my teaching style for many years, many of them I "learned on" and so they are very well trained in "how to take my yoga class". Rachel Peters who is now the director and Cheryl Walters who is the other main teacher there were both long time students of mine and so the studnets there have been taking yoga classes from me and my studnets now for 10 years. That makes for an incerdible, almost unheard of weekend workshop teaching opportunity.
So that is just part of it that makes my job easy and fun. But, really, it's way more than that. In the Saturday afternoon class I looked up and saw Sunny, who was in the first yoga class I ever taught in Prescott. At least six people in the room studied with me in my first year of teaching and then became the founding members of Prescott Yoga. Probably another 6 people I taught for at least 3-5 years have now completed a local 200-hour teacher training program and have begun teaching yoga themselves. BJ Galvan, a certified teacher from Scottsdale came up with a car load of her crew and Stephanie Lindsay, and Anusara-Inspired teacher and her friend came down from from Flagstaff. I met Stephanie at a John Friend workshop but got to know ehre when she came to my Imerison with Darren in Tucson and in fact, she now teaches a good friend and former student of mine who was also the guy who hired Kelly at the coffee shop we eventually bought! I could go on and on because the web of relationships was stunning and inspiring.
That really is the thing about Anusara Yoga that I love. It is such an amazing and fulfilling thing to be part of this web of dedicated, creative and sincere people who find their way to this yoga. And while so many different reasons seem to draw us to the practice I find that simliar things seem to keep us practicing, not the least of which is the blessing that it is to be woven into the fabric of a grand community.
the only down side of the whole weekend is that my flgiht to Austin is delayed. I was supposed ot gethome at midnight and now it loks like 2am. Ugh. And I will be subbing Focus on Form tomorrow for Clayton and so that should be interesting. (I will get to test the theory and pompous claim I recently made that I could probably teach a yoga class with my eyes closed! No really, I will totally rally and it will be great. I am not at all worried so if you are free at 9:30 in the morning come join me...)
Friday, June 5, 2009
But first, the blog!
I went to Mysore practice with Juan at noon which was really fun. One thing that I am really enjoying learning from Juan is the logic behind the Ashtanga Vinyasa system. I have done that sequence off and on for years- (more off than on) and I have always appreciated it but I have not had any real access to its depth. Something in Juan's approach, expertise and teaching style- and his willingness to share all of these things intelligently, compassionately without compromise- has given me great insight into the sequence and the reasoning behind it. I find it hilarious people criticize that method for not having alignment. They are totally into precision and alignment. Granted, it is through a slightly different doorway but still, Ashtanga Vinyasa is a strict, precise, thoughtful and brilliant method of practice. I am really enjoying learning it and practicing it.
I taught my second Level 2-4 class at Castle Hill and we worked with so many silly themes although the "real theme" was a midline approach toward eka pada raja kapotasana. But happy hour, summer camp, yoga competition, goal setting, and yelling yoga teachers was more in the air as themes which was kind of hilarious. I love classes like yesterday's 4:30 class- everyone wanted to work, everyone respectfully challenged themselves, everyone was relaxed and in relationship with me and one another, and I got the sense people were ready to practice and learn. Level 2-4 is a great way to explore all the steps along the way to a pose because level 2 students can do preliminary work and level 4 students can do the advanced variations and everyone is learning and benefiting.
The group practice at Breath and Body was well attended and fun. I decided to teach the sequence more "old school" with less flow and longer holds. We did minute-long timings in the standing poses and managed to get headstand, handstand, pinca and shoulderstand in as well as urdhva danurasana, dwi pada viparita dandasana and headstand dropovers! It was a great time.
It is always amazing to me to work with a timer. When I first did it I set the timer for a minute and then I would do a pose and I would be ready to come out of the pose after 10 seconds! What it taught me was that the poses are not only physical acts, they are actually much more about consciousness. (Of course it is consciousness that takes form in the first place... but I digress.) It is not only what is going on in our bodies that makes us want out of a pose, it is often our inability to cope with what comes up mentally and emotionally that makes us say "Enough, I am done here." Working with a timer taught me a lot about that aspect of asana.
On the flip side, just as there is a skill in learning how to stay, there is a skill to be developed through the 5-breath approach of "give it a go, get what you can get done, move on, let go and ride the moving river to the next pose." I personally love and value both approaches. Again, there is no one way to do it.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
That is really the thing as far as Anusara Yoga Philosophy goes. The Great Formless Energy takes form as this world, as us and all that we see and everything in between and so by studyingf form we can gain insight and access to that formless aspect of reality as we are made of it. Details, once again are invititations to deeper expereince not perfectionistic demands.
At 4:30 I taught a class at Breath and Body Yoga. We worked a lot on opening the shoulders up- in a variety of ways- and took that into some backbends and worked specifically with flipping the dog to urdhva danurasana and then back to one legged down dog. I told a story about an experience I had once in an Iyengar Yoga workshop. The teacher was teaching backbends in a slow and methodical way and there was an ashtanga vinyasa practitioner in the room who kept adding vinyasa into the routine. The teacher explained in a reasonably patient manner that she was carefully preparing us for backbends without creating heat in our bodies. She had helped us stretch our spines, open our shoulders, hips and front groins and she was interested in us not getting hot as we got to the bends. (It was, after all August in Texas and we were doing a 3hour backbend class so it was a hot context.) I got to thinking about how the ashtanga person was trained to do just the opposite- to create heat in order to bend and as a means of purification. S0 the yogic thought on heat is really varied and it depends on the aim and its use.
And as always, Anusara Yoga is a middle road. We believe in some heat and in some cases more or less is appropriate. We consider a lot of variables: season, temperament, location, the type of practice, the type of practitioner, the dosha or constitution of the practitioner, the aim of the practice- detox or building, flexibility or strength, etc. This inquiry into what is appropriate defines Anusara Yoga more than the choice itself. That you choose skillfully and intelligently and that you are learning a process by which to evaluate these variables for yourself is what makes Anusara Yoga Anusara Yoga- not whether you do vinyasa, uses start and stop approach with a bunch of technical demos, a hot room, a non hot room, slow, vigorous, therapeutic, detoxifying, building, restorative, and so forth. Anusara Yoga is all those things and all those things can be Anusara Yoga. We are decidedly hard to pin down. The process of learning choice is really more of what we are up to, I think.
One time I was in class with Desiree Rumbaugh and she looked at me and said, I think Ansuara Yoga is more of an attitude than anything else, don't you? I agreed and the longer I go about it, the more that is how it seems to me also.
Anyway- we worked with that attitude at 7:30 at Bodhi with a midline practice that kept breinign us to center and to the source of reasons for practice. There was a small groupfor class- I think I have scared them all away- but everyone was so avid and ready to learn so I had a good time. I would rather teach a small group of keen students any day over a large group of folks asleep at the wheel. But that is me. I am just that way.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Well it was a fun afternoon of classes yesterday. I practiced with Juan at noon which was great although I must say ashtanga two days in a row is a whole different thing. I can barely lift my arms today!
My first 4:30 class at Castle Hill went well. It was a mix of folks I know and new people. I really like the space there and the class went well. We worked with Stability and freedom- creating stability in the tailbone and freedom in the spine and chest. It was a potpourri of sorts with some stnading poses, sirsasana, gomukhasana and some urdhva danurasana and then shoulderstand.
At 6:00 at Breath and Body Yoga we worked with a similar sequence only without urdhva danurasana and spent some time working on how to go from shoulder stand to setu bandhasana. It went very well. We worked with the union of acceptance and aspiration. Rooting with acceptance, lifting with aspiration.
I was really pleased with how the Breath and Body students responded to the slower, more methodical work without the heat on. It is a big challenging yoga pose to switch one's learning and practice mode. It can be hard for start and stop people to embrace flow, hard for flow people to embrace technique, demos and precision. When you are used to heated practice, finding your way to opening is challenging without it, used to working without heat and the heat is its own challenge to work with. Really, there is no one way.
So just a short note to update everyone on my public class schedule here this summer. I am teaching a lot here this summer and my travel schedule picks back up in the fall. I hope to see as many of you as possible in class.
So- organized by day of the week as opposed to studio:
9:30-11:00 Bodhi Bee Caves
12-1 Bodhi Bee Caves- flow
4:30-5:45 Castle Hill Level 2-4
6:30-8:00 Breath and Body
9:30- 11:00 Castle Hill- Focus on Form
4:30-6:00 Breath and Body
4:30-5:45 Castle Hill- Level 2-4
6:30-8:30 Breath and Body-Group Practice
In general, although not exclusively, the Breath and Body Classes and the Bodhi classes are more flow-based. The Castle Hill Focus on Form class will not be so much flow. And the Castle Hill Level 2-4 class will certainly move right along with some vinyasa but think handstand, headstand and shoulderstand rather than lots of chataranga.
And on side note, Now is the perfect time for those of you in the Teacher Training process who always ask me "how would you introduce this to a new group?" to come to classes as I am introducing our method to lots of new groups right now.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Anyway- after a great night's sleep and a lovely pranayama, mantra and meditation practice this morning I am finishing up a cup of chai and looking ahead into this lovely day. On the agenda is the first day of my new class at Castle Hill at 4:30. I am pretty excited about that. Level 2-4 is how the class is listed on the schedule and that is a kind of interesting span of levels, really. Especially for a 75 minute class because it gives less time to build the poses is stages.
Also level distinctions really mean something different studio to studio and regionally. The hardest public class I ever went to was back 1999-2001 when I used to drive to Phoenix for Desiree Rumbaugh's Level 2 class. That class was really just 2 hours of strong standing poses, lots of arm balances, deep back bends, deep forward bends, long inversions and was, well, shall we say, a huge leap from her level 1. She used to say, "Level 1 means feet on the floor. Level 2 mean feet in the air." And that was pretty much it. It was a "hanging around upside down" kind of class. Oh, but what fun.
She told me one time that the inspiration behind that class was that when she was a student the only time she got to work on advanced poses was at workshops and so she wanted a public class where she could teach people those things and they would have the opportunity to learn how to do them in class not just at workshops. And she did. And we did. And it was so fun. So, in this case, that stuff is the Level 4 aspect of the class. But the level 2 aspect of the class is the bridge between "feet on the floor" and "feet in the air." Somewhere you have to learn how to get them off the floor, it seems.
And at Breath and Body Yoga, while those classes are all called "open level classes" their practice is so strong and powerful, there is no way I would call the average class there "level 1" or "beginner friendly". Although I have to say that I went to Desirae's Saturday morning class over the weekend and she did a remarkable job managing the room while I was practicing, her teacher trainees were practicing and her long time bad-ass students were practicing and so were 3 brand new students. Really, it was quite impressive. And she was super friendly and all of us felt worked and inspired, so it can certainly be done!
The truth is no matter what every class is a mixed level class and we have to educate ourselves, and if we teach we have to educate our students, how to skillfully manage our self in class. There are always modifications and substitutions that can be made. There really are. But at a certain point if we are in a "feet off the floor" class and our skill level is "feet on the floor" probably, a different class is going to be more enjoyable and beneficial. Or if we have have a wrist or shoulder injury and we always going to flow classes, well, it's just going to be counter productive at best, injurious more likely.
It is such an obvious yet elusive thing about yoga practice to embrace. That is, that we benefit the most from the level of practice that we are truly at- not the level we want to be at, not the level we think we should be at, not the level other people think we are at, not the level we were at a year ago or will be at a year from now. The level we are truly at is where our biggest potential for growth exists.
My spiritual teacher says The Path is like a maze of rooms. The key to the next room is hidden somewhere in the room we are in and the key to the room after that is in the next room and so on. So we cannot skip a room. We have to really cover the territory of the current room, find the key, find the lock, understand how they work together and then enter the new room. And then we are a beginner to that room. Not un-practiced, not without transferable skills, but still, in a whole new room.
Same with asana, each of the basic asanas is like a key to the asanas that follow on the syllabus. We can "skip" and use props and assists and neglect the alignment principles and so on, but at some point, if we have done that (And we all do it, so don't feel bad here) we find our self in a room lacking the skills to find that particular room's key. (Many times this is called injury.) It is not the end of the world, we just have to back track and revisit the other rooms and find some key that we had overlooked.
I like this about the practice. There is always something we are mastering and there is always something to which we are a beginner. Really its never dull.
Anyway, the Castle Hill 4:30 class is both- feet on and off the floor- so come and join me. Breath and Body Yoga 6:30 class tonight is a forward bend and hip opening emphasis. We back bended like crazy up there last week. (Must... work.... for balance...)
Monday, June 1, 2009
I plan to go practice ashtanga with Juan at Castle Hill today at noon. Although the news on that front is that Juan is no longer teaching Mysore at noon after this week. Instead the very lovely and talented Selena will be teaching so I can go early in the morning for Juan's expertise and at lunch for Selena's. So many fantastic options. (I would link to all of this but Castle Hill's new schedule changes are not up yet. ) Then I am going to go to Gioconda's class at Bodhi Yoga this evening and she and I have a girl date which I am really looking forward to. Some swimming and a bite to eat is pretty much the plan. Somewhere in all of that I have a few business-oriented tasks to accomplish but mostly I am hoping to stay away from too much of that today.
The weekend at Castle Hill went very well. We had a small but expert group assembled for the workshops and the talk. I was so thrilled to see so many familiar faces in the room. In fact, it was kind of like family in a way. In a good way, for sure. We worked on forward bends, hips and arm balances in the first class and twisting arm balances and back bends on the second day.
Craig's talk was interesting as always. He talked about how we might engage certain practices and adopt certain perspectives so that the earth plane might be a plane of opportunity rather than limitation. As always, he posed interesting things to ponder, consider and put into practice. I particularly like the suggestions he made relative to pranayama and mantra as well as the straightforward way he suggested evaluating our progress on the path.
He said, as a medical practitioner, it is a very easy thing to evaluate something like digestion. In fact, we do not even have to be medical practitioners to do it. For instance, we can ask ourselves if we have lots of gas; if we are burping and/or farting a lot? Do we have a regular, daily bowel movement at the same time? Is it runny or hard? Are we constantly hungry? Are we never hungry? And so forth. All of these things tell us whether or not our digestive fire is optimal. It is a very straightforward diagnostic process.
But when it comes to our emotional well-being, our emotional and psychic digestion, so to speak, many of us lose that kind of objectivity and we are stymied as to whether or not we are happy and whether or not we are satisfied. He suggested there is diagnostic criteria for that as well. We can evaluate whether or not we sleep easily, soundly, and wake up refreshed?Do we have dreams and aspirations? Are we inspired? Do we have the energy and will to work for those things? Are we surrounded by people we love and respect? Do we have patience? Can we sit with ourselves quietly? And so forth. We really can, without some big perfectionist nightmare taking hold of us, evaluate our emotional digestion much in the same way we do our physical digestion.
But ultimately, his talk pointed to the idea that even being happy, while preferable to being unhappy and miserable, is still only the psychological sheath and is a limited reality. Yoga is asking much bigger questions than those of personal happiness. Yoga is inviting us to a place inside that is much larger (and perhaps much smaller because it is inviting us to experience the place where those distinctions and qualities are dissolved) than "What do I want? and What makes me happy?" So yes, we can endeavor to make ourselves happy but we can also keep going. We can ask "Who is this I who wants to be happy?"