Monday, November 30, 2009

Well, Good Morning Everyone!

What a day it was yesterday.

Kelly and I had a chance to go for a walk in the morning and get the house somewhat clean and then we went to The Love Yoga Coop to meet up with everyone. We had about 40 people come to practice together. As people kept walking in I was thinking, "Wow, this really is the Gathering of The Tribe." I was so pleased because almost everyone in the room was a regular student of our local Anusara Yoga classes, many of them have done an Immersion or part of one, and so there was very little need to review a lot of the basic "how-to's" of the arm balances and so forth. Many of the people in the room have put in a lot of time to learn the how-to in classes and workshops and so practice was, well, just that.

We did a rockin' back bend practice which took us to scorpion. It was not my original plan. IT was much bolder than I had anticipated, not knowing who exactly would show up. But when when we were done with surya namaskar and into handstands and pinca mayurasana all these people started moving toward scorpion. So I gave a few tips about how to prep for it and changed gears just a bit to say, "let's go there today..."

Here is a clip of said tips:
video



So when we finally did get to the back bends G'Nell rocked the scorpion demo.
video

And here are some more scenes from the practice:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BX_Qmmw1n0U

After the practice, a few of us had dinner together at my house to talk about what it means to have a Common Vision for Anusara Yoga in Austin, Texas and how we might support a vision and how a common vision might support one another. It was a neat gathering with people from "several generations" of Anusara Yoga. I am completely convinced that if we are organized around Anusara Yoga and its teachings then no one gets left behind. But if, as teachers, we are trying to promote ourselves over and above the method, then we are in a competition and the likelihood of unity is slim.

Ever since I have moved to Austin, my "on the record" vision has been to grow Anusara Yoga here. To me that means more certified and inspired teachers, more Anusara Yoga classes for all levels throughout town, and more exposure in general. Most importantly, I want that growth to be a result of a commitment to excellence, a passion for practice, a dedication to teaching and serving and an unrelenting willingness to do the Work necessary to manifest the highest expression of community. So we talked about that which was somewhat enlightening and very powerful for me. I think for all of us.

Anyway, the discussion will continue and will expand to include more people I am sure. One thing I know is that we have an amazing group of people here who love this method, who love one another and who share in the calling that it is to teach yoga. So- from the High Vision to the nitty gritty actions steps like making videos, getting feedback, going to classes and trainings, getting on the mat and learning to trust one another.

All right. Speaking of the nitty gritty. Time for me to get down to it.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

So I must say I am thoroughly enjoying having a weekend off.
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Yesterday I went to Gioconda's yoga class at Bodhi and then she and I met up with Kelly for lunch at Whole Foods, a visit to Whole Earth Provision Company and a walk around Town Lake. All in all a very fun day. Here are some pictures:



The Fabulous and Sassy Gioconda at Whole Foods

Christina at Whole Foods

Hat Shopping At Whole Earth

Pull ups at Town Lake. I did 2 1/2 and then Kelly spotted me.Gioconda's pull ups. I figure if this yoga teaching thing ever falls through for me I could go back to personal training... kidding.
And here we are on the end of the walk in the lovely fall colors.

So after our day about town, Kelly and I came home, cleaned the house, made some food and Anne and Jeff came over for dinner. All in all, a great day.
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I woke up thinking about the Group Practice this afternoon. I am really looking forward to it. It seems like it has been a while since we did something like this. And practicing at the holidays is one of my favorite things to do. Plus I have some poses I want to work on and group energy is usually helpful to go past places where I am stuck.
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I do have some other things on my mind that are percolating a bit. I expect they will come flooding out at the first of the week.
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Also- just so everyone knows, I am here this week but gone from teaching public classes from December 4 until December 21st. I teach in Corpus Christi, then Tucson, Arizona with Darren, then I have an Anusara Yoga Curriculum Development Committee meeting in The Woodlands and then I am here teaching an Immersion at Breath and Body. Then I will teach the week before Christmas and then I am gone again until after the new year. I will be in town January 4-6 and then out of town again for a week. So, come to class this week! Don't wait.
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And I have great subs- Mark, Hannah and Mandy, Dido and Maricarmen are all filling in for me while I am gone so please support the classes, the subs, your classmates, your practice by continuing to attend your weekly classes.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday

Well, I had a great day of Thanksgiving. We got up, met up with Shannon, Celeste, Paul, Brandon and Raul for a mellow 20 mile ride up around Shoal Creek. The day was crisp and it was a most excellent way to be together. Kelly rides with these folks a lot and so it was fun for me to ride with the gang and meet his friends. I really love riding bikes but really hate what it does to my body so I do not do it very often. Yesterday was a fantastic time though and I am not overly sore today so, a little time in supta virasana and supta padangusthasana with some weight on my legs ought to even everything out nicely.

After we rode, Kelly and I hung out at Shannon and Celeste's for a while and had a lovely meal together. It was a great way to spend Thanksgiving. Kelly and I came home, and as planned, worked in the yard a little and then made a light dinner of roasted veggie sandwiches on olive foccacia bread and read for the evening. Mellow, relaxing and very sweet. The whole day. Loved it.
I was going to go with Kelly down to San Marcos today for a white water kaying expedition but it is just too cold for me so I will do an asana practice instead and baby go to the club for a soak in the hot tub. Too soon to know exactly how the day will progress.

Here are some scenes from our weekend so far:
The bike riding yogi
Celeste

Brandon, Shannon and Raul
Hiking on the Greenbelt

Weighting my thighs (with help from the feline contingent)

OKay- and remember- Love Yoga Coop on Sunday. 3:00-5:30. Be there!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thursday

I had such a great day yesterday. The Focus on Form Class had 23 people there to explore the component parts of krouncasana and contemplate the meaning of gratitude. I looked it up in the dictionary and guess what? When you look down in the etymologies guess what word pops up? GRACE! Evidently, gratitude and grace are linked etymologically from a root that means to lift up in song, to praise. How cool is that?

So we worked with that in all the forward bends- creating a concave spine to lift up in praise and thanksgiving before bending forward. And in the basic standing forward bends like uttanasana, padangusthasana, and padan hastasana we worked on concave spine and then getting the shoulder blade on the back and lkkeping them there in the convex stage. We did a lot for the quads and perpared the virasana leg and we did a great foray into deep, one-legged hamstring stretches. I just love teaching that class. I feel an immeasurable amount of freedom walking through the door to a class knowing that people are there to focus on technique. But in addition to that the group is so deep and practiced that the bhava (Mood or feeling) of the group is in no way dry due to technology. It is when it is so good. When technique meets the heart, the work is just so good.

After class Kelly and I walked on the green belt, ate lunch and then joined the throngs of holiday shoppers yesterday. At 6 we went back to Castle Hill for class which was a fun time also. I was so pleased that 17 people showed up on the night before Thanksgiving. (Maybe it was all the threats I made when I interviewed people about "if we have class, will you come because I do not want to be here alone...") I did a potpourri flow practice, complete with music and so on and we had a really good time. Same theme, different poses- lift up in praise.

Kelly and I came home, made a great meal and watched Star Trek. Today we are going to go on a bike ride with Celeste and Shannon , plant some things in our yard and eat some food. I think we are roasting potatoes or something like that. I am not really a person who feels very obligated to traditional thanksgiving fare or festivities although I love the holiday. I just do not I think that overeating is a joyful or celebratory thing to do to myself, as that particular endeavor (Overeating to the point of discomfort) has not been such a good thing for me historically. After so many years of being trapped in the cycles of bulimia, I give thanks for the freedom from that cycle not by acting half of it out. I give thanks by pretty much eating on this day like I would on any other day. Just me, not trying to convert anyone here away from the culturally-endorsed gorge that is the Thanksgiving meal. Really, I am not. Just for me, self-destructive behavior is just not my idea of the best way to give thanks. Self-loving behavior is the best expression of gratitude that I know.

And this year, I do feel so grateful. For my friends, my family, my marriage, my work, the community of Anusara Yoga, my teachers, my students, my health, as well as both my easy and difficult experiences. Thanks to you all.

Oh and remember- I am leading a group practice on Sunday at the Love Yoga Coop from 3:00-5:30. Please come.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tuesday Morning

So, here is a fun thing. My blog won a non-contest. I just found out yesterday.
Check it out: www.cirkla.com/newsletters/112209.htm. I kind of laughed at the review- "At first glance, this appears to be just another yoga blog...." (hmmm... meaning, what, exactly?) But the review gets much better after that. I am teasing. Sort of...

And speaking of blogs, I wiped the former blog roll clean and have added folks back who told me they would like to be linked to my blog. So if you would like to be linked here, just let me know, happy to add a link even if your blog is "just another yoga blog..." (Kidding. Totally kidding.)

Anne and I spent some time together yesterday, I did a bunch of work on my computer, had a phone conference with a woman I am mentoring through the final stages of certification and then went to Peggy's class, which was wonderful as always. I had dinner at Guerro's with a lovely troupe of yogini's who are organizing a Texas Yoga Conference, a Texas Yoga Association response to the increase in legislation we are all facing with Teacher Training Programs and one of whom is beginning a Yoga Teacher Talent Management company. Very interesting evening indeed.

So it is Thanksgiving week which means I suppose it is time to ponder gratitude out loud.(In fact, someone wrote to me suggesting this as a topic of consideration and while normally I do not take requests I thought it might be a good topic. Actually that is a lie. I totally take requests. Well, that is a lie also. Sometimes I take requests.) Anyway, I think about gratitude a lot because I find it is a virtue that when I cultivate creates a lot more happiness in my life.

Recently I was walking with Gioconda and was kind of in a complaining mood which she was patiently and indulgently listening to and toward the end of the conversation she told me, "You know, you might find that as you focus on the stuff that is going well for you, the things you are dissatisfied with may seem less important." Ahh... such a wise and skillful way to say, "Stop bitching and be grateful!"

Manorama spoke to this a bit in Corpus Christi. She said that "The mind always wants what it does not have and has what it does not want. The yogi reverses the paradigm and learns to want what they have and to have what they want." Yes, another example of the radical nature of the path. The mind of our biological machine is not necessarily set up to be grateful. It would seem that if the mind is set up like Manorama suggests- to want what it does not have and to have what it does not want- then we need to waste no time feeling bad about ourselves when we find ourselves in that particular orientation. We are simply being true to that aspect of the mind.

So on one level, it would seem complaining, perceiving lack, longing for something other than what is, is somewhat "natural." But like Laurie Blakeney taught us all those years ago, "Yoga is about being super natural." (Oh and save the date- she will be teaching in Austin in June 25-27) Maybe gratitude is a yoga siddhi, a super power of some kind that we can cultivate and learn to incorporate as a primary outlook.

That is the thing. It may be perfectly natural to complain and to want to corral others into telling us we are justified in our very natural outlook and our very understandable perceptions that stem from "wanting what we do not have and having what we do not want." But just because that outlook is natural does not mean it is optimal or that it is the Highest level of natural. Really, we can do better. And the yogi is being called to do better.

I was thinking about this recently with my work. I was on the phone with someone who really wanted to talk about the many ways the work I do must be so stressful and so forth. I got off the phone, having followed that particular thread in the conversation, feeling like I really sold myself out. The thing is, sure it is difficult. (Truth be told I have never had a job I enjoyed that wasn't, on some level, difficult. One time I had an "easy" job- I had to sit behind a counter at a health club and hand out towels and locker keys. That job almost killed me it was so "easy.") So sure, there are some challenges in the way that I have organized my life but there are so many more amazing things about it.

I got off the phone and realized I did not say one thing about the fact I am deeply, profoundly grateful to get to do the work I do. I get to be part of an incredible community of like-minded people all over over the world who are exploring what I consider to be some of the most profound teachings ever. We are not doing it perfectly, we are not doing it not without mishap, not without challenges internally and externally, but really... we are in an incredible game together, all of us.

I didn't say that I am probably happiest in those moments when I am teaching yoga- when I am being used in that particular way to share what I have learned and to share in what others are learning.

I didn't say that even though I may get tired from sitting on a plane, switching times zones, talking so much and so forth that never do I step in front of a group of people to teach and wish I was doing anything else in the entire world in that moment. When I am in the act of teaching, I want what I have.

I didn't say that I wouldn't want it any other way. I didn't say that I consider what I do a dream job. In that conversation I slipped into the lowest common denominator of complaint and what I was left with was not the remorse of "I should have been more positive" from some outside standard. What I felt was a deeper remorse from not having taken a stand for the High Vision I actually hold for what I do which revolves around a deep sense of gratitude for this path and its teachings.

Asserting a perspective of gratitude and standing for it in this world where to be savvy, discerning and cultured often involves fault-finding is an act that requires great courage and vulnerability in a way. The intellect complains. The heart experiences gratitude. To feel grateful we have to allow a kind of tenderness in and to share what it is that we feel grateful for definitely exposes a place of raw tenderness in us. Sharing from a tender heart requires a much different level of intimacy than simply revealing oneself at an intellectual level.

So those are my musings for today. There is more so perhaps more tomorrow.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday Morning

Well, we had a very productive weekend at the Immersion.

Yesterday. I gave a talk on the introduction to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and so when next we get together at least some of the groundwork will have been laid for a discussion of the actual text. An Immersion, while much deeper than a public class is still only designed to be an introduction (albeit a very thorough one) to the practices and principles that inform Anusara Yoga. We just cannot do justice to the majesty and enormity of the philosophy but I do think we can glimpse some of its beauty and we can certainly get ourselves pointed in a direction for further study down the road. So like that.


I am really enjoying this Immersion group a lot. We have a very cohesive group with lots of strong practitioners, deep thinkers and passionate people. After the talk we spent the afternoon practicing arm balances, hip openers and we ended with some pranayama and meditation before savasana. All in all a great day.


After dinner I met Gioconda and Sabia for a trip to see New Moon which was thoroughly enjoyable and more than a little painfully overacted. We had fun though.


One of the ideas that came up in our discussions over the weekend was the difference between a model of spirituality that is essentially conversionistic and a model that is not.


I got to thinking about this because of the notion of darshana we have been discussing and what it really means to see several viewpoints as equally valid. All of the images of the yoga saints and sages are that they are seated on top of the mountain and the seeker climbs the mountain to go get the teaching, to get a new way of seeing. Inherent in the formula, at the core of the context is that the seeker is looking for a new perspective. They want help. The sage is not walking through the streets with a bullhorn saying "I have a new vision for you and you need it even if you do not think you do."


In fact, one time in India one of my teachers looked at us and said, "All of you are so fascinated with our culture and religion. You do know that you cannot convert to Hinduism, don't you? You have to be born into it!" But that is part of another story, I suppose.


Anyhoo-in the day and age of the commercialism of yoga we may find ourselves roaming through the streets selling our yogic wares and certainly a certain amount of promotion is wise in the world of business. I mean really, if you have something great to offer, well, people need to know about what it is and where they can find you to get it. But, converting people is really something to watch for. How easy it is to try to "give people yoga whether they want it or not" or make yoga a reason why we are no longer able to be in relationship with someone. (Like Manorama said, "Yoga is always the unifying force. It should not be what is making it harder for you to love someone. If that is happening do not blame yoga, because that is not what yoga does. Yoga unifies.")


The roots of conversionist mentality can run very deep and are often hidden in our own biases and wounds. For instance, someone recently complained to me about how hard they thought it was to teach yoga to Christians and how closed off the Christians she knew were to yoga philosophy. I asked her how open she felt to Christianity. The truth was, not very. She had been very hurt by the religion of her childhood and this affected her ability to accept that darshana as valid.


So anyway- I think what all good teachers I have worked with over the years have in common is a kind of generosity with their knowledge and yet they also have a wisdom with how they share it. It seems that when they have a good student in front of them the jewels just pour forth. And while they will keep offering nuggets to someone less open, they do not waste a lot of time or energy planting seeds in soil that is not fertile. One of the teachings John Friend always gives us as teachers is to answer the student's question and to wait until the student asks for our help. He generally advises us not to force our wisdom on anyone else.


Timing is critical and waiting for the "teachable moment" can make all the difference in the world. I think there is lots of inner work to be done as teachers so we are able to clearly see the receptivity or lack thereof that exists in our students. And also students "ask" for help in different ways and we need to know that. The teacher has to be free enough of their own projections and baggage to see the student accurately.


And also, as students we have to be willing to see what the teacher's terms are. Not every teacher wants the same thing from their students. Protocol varies, what is deemed "readiness" varies and if we want to learn from a certain teacher, while yes, their job is to, in some way, come to us, our job is also to come to them on their terms as much as we can. (Remember, the sage is on the mountain top, not roaming the streets. The seeker has to go to great lengths to climb the mountain to get the teaching!)

So again we see the inextricable link between teacher and student. How intimately tied we are together and how fascinating the dynamic is.

And in terms of converting others I think the 12-step programs have it right when they say, "It is a program of attraction not promotion." I mean really, if the people we love do not see evidence in our own lives and attitudes about the efficacy of yoga, if we are not examples of the fruits of the practice, all the proselytizing in the world will not convince them to engage the practice. So best that we stop trying to convert them and simply practice the principles and be the change.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Saturday Morning

We had a great day at the Immersion yesterday. We spent the first part of class talking about the 25 tattvas of the Relative World, the gunas, optimal balance, the center, the notion of dharma and contemplating "What is Your Highest Vision?" One of the reasons we talk so much about having a High Vision in Anusara Yoga is that the idea of balance and optimal has to exist in relationship to something other than just personal opinion, preference and habit. That is the whole thing about yoga. It is aimed well beyond those concepts and is about taking us to what is highest and deepest within us.

Now, do not get me wrong- I think as healthy, psychologically sound human beings we should know what we like, do not like and have opinions, preferences and so forth and be able to express them in a mature and responsible way. I really do. But yoga has always been about going beyond that level of experience into something else.

We were laughing a bit about that as we talked abut gunas and doshas because many times a state of balance does not feel "normal" and therefore we may not immediately recognize it as desirable. And many times we crave and prefer those things that actually take us further away frm balance, not closer! For instance, one of Manorama's teachings was that "we are all more than a little addicted to our drama." So, if we are addicted to a state of high drama and we let go of that, the more optimal state may seem a bit boring for a while.

If in asana, we are used to a very rajasic (fiery) practice full of flow, standing postures and back bends, we might find that a forward bend practice feels wrong but not because it actually is wrong for us but because it is not what we are used to or what we have come to prefer. And vice versa- those used to a slower practice will often internally rebel when faced with a fiery practice.

So what is optimal is best considered in light of the deeper inquiry of our true purpose and our heart's vision rather than what we like best, what we feel like today and what we are used to. We have to know which part of us are we consulting for the information that will guide our decisions. If we do not spend time learning to listen to the higher and deeper voices inside us then we will always pick things from a more superficial place because, let's face it, it is easier.

Like with drama-addiction, for instance. How much easier is it to go down that road of "he said, and then I said and then can you believe this happened...." Instead of unplugging from all of that and looking squarely at the situation, our part in it and choosing a response that is sane, tempered and measured? And so on. Pick any domain- usually the thing that comes easily is the habitual response, not the optimal one.

Although here is the cool thing- we can and do mature and change and our preferences can really line up with our heart's longing, with the very best part of us. We can learn to recognize and prefer the relaxed yet keen awareness of balance over and above the more charged and "exciting" state of stress. We can learn to prefer being accountable over and above blaming even though it is ever-so-humbling at times to really own up to our part in things. We can learn to prefer a good honest cry over and above acting out our emotions in various destructive ways. And so on.

Paul Mueller-Ortega once said that "The truth of tantric practice is that you get to have anything you want. It is, after all, a path of fulfillment. The fine print, however, is that the practice will change what you want. You will come to want a life of service, a life of contemplation, a life that is subtle and deep." Our preferences cease to be a problem when they are aligned with our Highest. That is what is so cool and why we need to know what our highest is so we can recognize where they match up with our highest and when and where they are misaligned and at cross purposes.

Also this takes us out of a big "Yoga says" rule-based thing about what is yogic and what is not yogic and puts the decisions we make on a daily basis in our own hands. Our choices are not relative to some outside standard of right and wrong, of good and bad but are about aligning us with what we want for ourselves. This is the nitty gritty part of having a high vision and is a very practice way we begin answering the next questions which is "How will we get there from here?"

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Saturday

"Don't stick the landing."
- Manorama

Manorama gave this teaching early in her first evening with us. She spoke about how that, as a teacher, she notices students trying to pin down yoga teachings and "put it them their pocket," so to speak, and then move onto the next idea and so on. She said it is important not to stick the landing because what we are dealing with in yoga are big ideas and big concepts and they are multi-faceted with many sides of truth depending on how we look at them on any given day. If we pin the teaching down to only one thing, if we try to stick the landing, we actually miss the point entirely because the point is more about engaging the totality of the teaching with its many contradictions, paradoxes and challenges than it is about narrowing it all down into only one thing.

I mentioned this last night in our Immersion because we spent the evening talking abut the elements, the doshas, the tattvas, the malas and as always, the journey down that particular rabbit hole tends to be full of such big ideas that the mind can go a little crazy. (Like Jason said,"This makes me want to tear my face off!") As always we are up against the most fundamental challenge in talking yoga philosophy and that is using language- which separates, divides and draws distinctions to talk about something that is unified, undivided and without distinctions. We use a relative means (language) to discuss the Absolute. So, well, we are going to miss something and we have to know that from the git-go.

Additionally, yoga philosophy is never really supposed to be separated from the practices that embody it. So when we get int he mental constructs and talk about things we haven't directly experienced it (Like unified Supreme Consciousness) the mind can grow a little desperate to stick the landing. It is just how the mind is.

Life is like that, right? How often do we long for a state when everything is balanced and it is all going right all at the same time? "When I just lose this weight then I will be happy..." or "If I could just be in a relationship then, things would be good..." or "If I got that promotion then I'd feel secure..." or "If my child actually gets to college I will be able to relax..." and so on. But the truth is life is more dynamic than that. Our marriage may be on the rocks but our career is going great. We have gained 10 pounds but we are having a lot of fun. Or, we have lost 10 pounds and we are still terribly lonely. We may hate our job but love our kids. We may be frustrated with our kids but love our yoga practice. And so on. Life is a moving river and will resist our efforts to "stick the landing" at every turn.

We see this all the time in asana also. Some times we emphasize the back bending aspect of forward bends. Some times we emphasize the straight leg aspect. Sometimes we are working to curve the spine and create convexity. Each of these windows into forward bends are right, valid and correct but they might be given a different priority depending on the sequence, the group, the overall aim of the teaching that day. So even in asana, we can will try to stick the landing rather than try to live in the sometimes ambiguous exploration of the asana and learn from the different ways to approach it.
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This idea of looking at something from different view points is central to Indian Philosophy. They call philosophy "darshana" which means "a way of seeing." (Again to remember Carlos Pomeda's words from a few entries ago- "If we accept the idea that Reality is to big to be contained in one view, then it opens the door to accept different darshanas as valid.) The idea in Indian philosophy is that philosophy is not speculative. The darshana was a report back from the front, an explanation of Reality from those who had Been There that was accepted as a valid way of seeing. As a student you would adopt that way of seeing until it became your own. The whole thing was to try to see the world the way the sages and saints saw it. It is a faith-based endeavor, not a doubt-based endeavor.
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The Immersion group did amazingly well with these concepts, with the ambiguity, with the journey down the rabbit hole and the session was a real pleasure to teach. As always, I know the lecture-based session are hard for the hatha yogi's. For me, 3 hours of asana is no big deal but 3 hours of sitting takes me to my edge. But oh well, we were there, the train was moving so I just rode it out and people really stayed with it in an impressive way. Sometimes that is just the way that it goes.

And on a personal note, I had a very fun day prior to teaching. Gia and I met for a long practice, then I went to the club for a soak and a steam and Anne and I got our nails done. Here is picture from practice. My second attempt was even better but that one did not get captured on film. Oh well. We had a good time.



Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Morning

Another teaching Manorama gave from her teacher was: "The degree to which you draw in is the degree of force you will have in your outer life." She talked at length about how the contemplative practices of yoga are designed to draw us inward and while one might worry that so much introspective focus might weaken one's ability to function well in the outer world, it is actually the opposite. Drawing in gives us the force to extend out.

It is not that yogi's are opposed to the idea of extending out and functioning well in the outer world. But the thing to understand is that energy flowing down and out is the way f the world. It is going to happen naturally, without any involvement or effort; our senses are designed to involve and direct our attention outward. And the yogi says "Well everyone is doing that, we should go inside, we should do the "super natural" thing and instead of gazing outward all the time, let's go in. Then established inside at our source, we can get involved in the outer world." And the way it works is that connection to our inner life yields force in the outer life. It does not weaken us.

So this is our primary flows f energy, is it not? Muscle energy draws in, organic energy extends out and the amount of force we have to expand is directly related to the amount of force we generate by drawing in. So we worked with this last night in class with back bends and it was a fantastic class. We had a great turn out with new folks, returning students and many regular attendees and yet the energy was 100%cohesive. Everyone did their best to bring the force of the attention to the practice, no one was on their own agenda or doing their own thing. We had people working very hard, asking great questions and if I do say so myself, we generated some Force. It just does not get much better than that to me.

This drawing in is also the whole idea of gravitas. When we say that about someone we are talking about a kind of force or weight a person has. Manorama gave the example of how some yoga teachers say things like "You are not your body and mind" and it sounds like New Age drivel. (My words not hers, she was kinder!) And when a sage or an awakened teacher says the very same words, you feel the weight of truth because they have realized it and their offering back out is seated in a place of deep knowing, not speculation or rhetoric. The words of the sage are not empty, they have weight, gravity. And what is gravity but that force that is always drawing us into the core? I mean, really, you have got to love this stuff.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday Morning

Wow, yesterday was a very good day. Both classes were really strong- bth in asana and in mood. I feel like we are going to a new level lately. It is very cool.

In bth classes, I worked with an idea that Paul Mueller Ortega taught last December in Tucson. He said, as yogis, it is not so helpful to contrast right and wrong or good and bad. Better, he suggested, is to contrast superficial and deep. That, to me, is what the specificity of alignment is about- creating a deep relationship with the asana and with ourselves. It is about creating an intimacy with ourselves and a deep knowledge regarding our practice.

Think about love, about intimacy and relate it to yoga practice. (This was a metaphor Manorama used all weekend as well.) How, she asked, do you really know you are falling for someone? Well, you start noticing the nuances in their facial expressions, in their voice, in the way they carry themselves and you find you are fascinated, intrigued and enthralled by these details. You begin to notice what they like, what they do not like, you understand what they will think is funny, what they will find inspiring. You move away from the superficial, you go into the deep water.

Yoga is about the deep water. It is not that we deny or reject the delights that live on the surface, but yoga suggests that the real meaning in life is to be found underneath the surface, down in the depths and our practices are aimed at directing our attention to this level of awareness. And the coolest thing is that in this scenario we are both the Lover and the Beloved. We turn our attention on ourselves in a way that is deep, everlasting and loving. We get to be that person who knows us 100%. We get to be that person to ourselves who loves us unconditionally. We get to be that person from whom we do not have to hide.

Another thing Manorama pointed out- in another blinding and inspiring flash of the obvious- was that "You are the only person going all the way with you." People will come and go out of our lives but we are the only ones who will be there with us for the whole journey. Best that we learn who we are so that we do not get to the end of our lives and realize we missed the opportunity to know who we have been travelling with all this time. I found this both inspiring and a bit sobering.

The truth is, intimacy is a hot fire. It demands a lot. It is not some lovey-dovey state of chocolates, great sex and always getting along. It is NOT sweet nothings. It is most definitely something. It demands that we pay attention, that we learn, that we stay the course, that we develop the capacity to endure the discomfort of growth so that we do not "quit 5 minutes before the miracle," so to speak. We are not going to like everything we uncover on the way down to the deep water. We will pass through currents of doubt, judgement, jealousy, competition, grief, rage, and fear. But think about it- our other option is a life of not knowing our travelling companion, of walking through every situation in life without ourselves.

I laughed in class that alignment methods like us get critiqued in generally one of two ways. Some say- "well, it is so detail-oriented and so 'on the surface of the pose'- all that talk about where your foot goes, and what your arm bone is doing and so forth. I am more interested in what is going on inside." The other criticism that comes our way is just the opposite- "Oh god, all those details, I don't want to pay attention that deeply, I just want to space out and do my yoga..." Funny, both ends of the spectrum get tossed out there -from "I do not want to pay attention deeply" to "alignment is superficial." But I think both criticisms reflect a fundamental misunderstanding about what we are actually up to.

To me the details are about creating an intimacy with ourselves so that no part of us is forgotten or unattended to when we practice. It is about taking a stand for the reality that we are worth our own loving attention. It is a High Friendship. It is a Deep Love and it is decidedly different than living on the surface. Like I said yesterday, its all about access. Superficial approaches are fine. Deep approaches are fine. But they do not provide the same access. Period.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Showing Up

"Showing up is the most crucial piece. But just because you have the most crucial piece doesn't mean that you don't try to understand deeper. For instance, in asana, you use movement but what you want to understand is what propels the movement. You have to get specific because you want the access that specificity affords."
- Manorama
So continuing on in my effort to debrief some of the nuggets of wisdom that Manorama shared with us over the weekend. Early into her talk on Friday night she said this thing about showing up which I thought was really great. The thing is we do have to show up. We cannot win if we do not play. We won't get the benefits of practice if, well, we do not practice. Like that. I believe 100% in the power of showing up and, as Manorama pointed out, its the most important thing.

I also think we need to show up repeatedly until we are no longer in question about whether or not we are going to show up. In the sutras Patanjali refers to this as "being established in practice." (The firm ground is tended to over a long period of time with consistency and reverence.) So going to class only when the time is convenient is not being established, rolling our our mats on the days it is easy and we want to is not being established, and we know we are not established in practice if we find that every personal upset, disappointment and stress knocks us out of our life of practice. (I am not only talking about asana practice here. Carlos Pomeda said it this way: "Real Practice is an internal outlook that you maintain." So like that. )

But what I love about this teaching is the Manorama didn't stop with "just showing up" or let anyone rest in a state of complacency that just because they had "shown up" that meant their work was done for the night. That is the thing with the yoga path. There is always more required. There is always deeper to penetrate. And what allows us to do that is specificity.

For instance, approaching asana in a general way affords the general practitioner one level of access- a general level. And the cool thing is that if general satisfies you, then stay on that level. It is perfectly fine.

My opinion and experience is that approaching asana in a specific way affords us a deeper level of access- one that is nuanced, mature, and mindful and so that is the thing with alignment- it affords access. So often I cringe when I hear new Anusara Yoga teachers teach alignment from a "Right and wrong" approach. ("chautaranga is wrong if you let your arm bones drop forward") or from a fear-based approach ("you will injure yourself if you do not do it the way I am telling you") And these levels of inspiration really are just fine and we all use them some.

But I remember "back in the day" (Love saying that!) John more often than not, taught us alignment from the point of view of access. Get the shoulder principles, your cobra is deeper with no pain, access that and see what happens to up dog, let that access take you to raja kapotasana, to drop backs and and then look where you are for scorpion pose. Like that. True alignment never denies access to a pose.

And that is just the physical access. The heart based themes are all about gaining access to the Heart and the emotional body so the physical movement is fueled with the Highest meaning.

So Manorama was quite insistent that we use movement to get under the movement to stillness and in Sanskrit we use the sound to get after the deeper levels of quiet. And just like alignment in asana changes the pose, so too, in Sanskrit, does the alignment of our mouth affects the sounds we make and then in turn affects the way those sounds work on our consciousness.

So, what we are actually after as yogis- stillness through movement, quiet through sound. And while it is fine to approach things in a general way, there is an access that can only be found in specificity. The real question becomes do we want "in" to that level of access and will we pay the price required?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Best to Stay

So on Friday night Manorama's lecture was to begin at 6:30 but she was there around 6:10 and a large majority of the group was already there and so she was trying not to start. She was asking a few gentle questions and The Teaching was beginning to pour forth from her and several times she said, "I guess we should wait..." And she really did try to wait. She really did. But it had already started. She knew, we knew it and so by 6:20 or so she announced, "I am just going to go ahead and start...people who come in can just join us where we are. I must keep moving. It is my nature. Best to stay with one's nature."

So that was a great teaching really. She didn't spend a lot of time going into it or giving a commentary about it but this is a big consideration for me. She said, yes, we should study our nature and learn about it but really, we are not going to be able to stray too far from it nor should we spend a lot of energy trying. I love this teaching.

I think The New Age/Modern Cultural Paradigm overlay on yoga gives a lot of us the impression that yoga will make us somehow different that who we are. One day, we unconsciously assume, we will morph into some kind of saint. We will be some wise person in white flowing robes who exudes compassion, love, sweetness, never hurts another person's feelings and never spills tea on themselves or comes late to an appointment and so on. "Being yogic" is somehow synonymous with this idea of psychological/personality perfection and innocuous goodness that even gets thrown around and used against ourselves and one another. ("Wow, that yoga teacher asked me to pay for the classes I owe, not very yogic..." or "Oh, well, she sure is intense, not very yogic....." or "Wow, well doesn't he have a temper I guess he is not very yogic...." or "that class was hard, not very yogic or relaxing"... or "I am not very patient, I am so un-yogic..." or whatever....)

And my point is the whatever because it is an ever-changing stream because this is not really a true or examined yogic standard it is the voice of the downward spiral of self criticism dressing up and using un-examined, unrealistic and inaccurate yogic ideals to further its case.

Now, the truth is, yoga has made some of us "different". But that difference, I think, is actually the clearing away of those things that are other than our nature. (And of course there is the burning away of the seeds of samskaras but that is a slightly different discussion for another time.)

So, for instance, yoga can help us clear away our anger so we are more compassionate but our true nature was compassionate to begin with. But if we are intense, yoga will probably not make us less so. It could helps us channel it well and toward the Highest. If we are clear and precise, it will not make us otherwise. If we are passionate and dynamic we will not "yoga" ourselves out of those traits. If we like pretty, shiny things, we are probably always going to like pretty, shiny things but we can learn to see them for what they are. If we like delicious food and drink, yoga will not decrease our enjoyment of those things in life- it will actually open the door to greater enjoyment- but we might learn that sensory gratification is only what it is and we might become less dependent on it. And if we are sweet-tempered and patient, well lucky for us, these qualities, too, get to stay!

And yoga can help us develop skills and practices and outlooks in areas that can bolster aspects of our nature that do not serve our hearts highest aims. For instance, certain types will simply not be inclined toward activity. The type will not fundamentally change but appreciation for the benefits of movement can be cultivated and become established in our practice. Those of us who love movement can learn to appreciate the benefits of those practices that balance us and quiet us and in that way we can appear to change but one must ask if that is really a change of one's nature or a good set of skills.

Carlos Pomeda mentioned this in his talk in Tucson about the history of yoga in India and the fact that there have always been many valid approaches in that culture. ("If we begin with the assumption that Reality is too vast to be captured by any one system, then it clears the way to different darshans (viewpoints)." Something like that.) He said that the idea of types is central to the Indian way of thinking and so one would engage a spiritual path that was compatible with one's nature. If you are a devotional type find a bhakti path not an intellectual one. And so on. Really, we do not have to push the river to practice yoga or turn it into some huge self-improvement project. We can align with where we fit, ride the ride and allow that path to cultivate us and to align us optimally.

Several times Manorama mentioned her Guru's definition of yoga- "Yoga is that state where you are missing nothing." Yoga practices, then are those practices that help us gain access to that state. "Being yogic" is not about an ongoing litany of ways we are not being enough- "good enough, smart enough, skilled enough, flexible enough, strong enough, disciplined enough, compassionate enough, insightful enough, etc etc. etc. (blah, blah, blah.) Being Yogic is the recognition and expereince of Fullness. Of Enough. It is being established in our nature.

Enough already. Have a good one.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday Morning

So the weekend with Manorama was pretty much a highlight for the year. She was fantastic on so many levels and I think I will be musing about the many many many nuggets of wisdom she shared as the next month goes on. (She calls them "pearls" or even "spiritual bullets", depending.) Anyway- too much to download all at once but perfect things to chew on over time.

I love teaching but not as much as love learning from an excellent teacher so I was very happy all weekend to sit and be a student. I love how there are so many levels to teachings. There is the exoteric level- the level of what is being said. There is the esoteric level- those teaching within the outer form and that exist a bit in between the lines. I am not talking here about adding words and unconscious projections to what a teacher is saying and calling that esoteric! I am talking about the many levels of teaching that exist in just watching someone present information to a group and the many ways who we are, as we teach, is communicated. I find that fascinating.

So I enjoyed Manorama's teaching style immensely. She has a very wide range and ability and she provided plenty for the intellect and the Heart and the emotions to work with. I particularly found a lot of meaning in the fact that she is clearly upholding a tradition. This is not Manorama's yoga. She is teaching yoga as she learned it from her Guru (Sri Brahmananda Saravati) and she is doing so with a fair amount of explanation but without one shred of apology. She did not morph the teachings to make them easier, more palatable, or more popular. She did not set it to fancy music (although she is a fantastic singer but I mean metaphorically in this case) or dress it up in a costume or combine it with wine and chocolate (yes, I could not resist a small jab there). Nor she did not reduce everything down to simple psychological feel good statements or ideas. She delivered the hard truth- the yogi's path is radical- with passion, understanding, love and clarity. It does not get much better than that in my book.

The yoga path, while it will generally help us to function better in the world, is not designed to match up to conventional standards and may or may not conform to such ideals. The yogi's path says- without apology- you must do something different and approach life differently than what is common and normal. You must go inward, you must "get off" the outside triggers and distractions and find your Self inside. Blame has no place on this path. Being "right" will not serve one's awakening. There is no "getting away with." There is only the pursuit and practice of stark, loving clarity. Fantastic. Love. It.

Okay- well, more on all that as the week progresses. We ended the weekend with a 3-hour practice which was super fun. I hardly got any pictures but if anyone in the group sends me some I will post them. I was either practicing or helping others and so I was lax on any photographic contribution. But it was super fun to just move, sweat and play and bring the teachings into our bodies after a weekend of lots of sitting.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Morning

Well it is off to Corpus Christi I go this weekend. We have a big weekend planned with special guest visitor Manorma there to teach Sanskrit and spend some time on the Bhagavad Gita. We will end the weekend with an Eye of the Tiger (or Gaze of the Tabby) practice. As some of you know, I am somewhat of a traditionalist and while I am not a purist I do have a purist streak. (I relate a lot to Sally Kempton on this. She described her philosophical leanings by saying that she vacillates "between a Tantric "Its all Divine" kind of perspective and a tight-assed Vedantic scene.") And like I said, I am not a purist, but I have a purist streak.

So I want to go on record that "back in the day" the Eye of the Tiger was a 6-hour version of a full spectrum practice and we called the 3-hour version simply The Practice. There was a back bend day and a forward bend and inversion day and when you put them together it was Eye of the Tiger. And it took a good 5 or 6 hours to get through depending on how far down the list of poses you could actually go due to your ability. So how the 3-hour format ever got confused with the Eye of the Tiger is beyond me because it is a different animal all together! (One time Jesse- where are you Jesse?--suggested we call it The Glance of the Ocelot but it never did catch on. Oh well.) Anyway, not criticizing, just sayin'. 3 hours is plenty of fun and plenty of work it is just in my world it is not The Eye of the Tiger!

All right, other than that, I had a great day yesterday with some scheming with Mandy for future projects to collaborate on and then the 4:30 class was a ton of fun. We spent a lot of time prepping for revolved parvakonasana and since it was our peak pose, we explored the challenge of its classic form- back heel down, front thigh to 90 degrees and the outside edge of the front thigh parallel to the side edge of the mat. Brutal. Fun, but brutal. We worked a lot with thigh stretches, hip openers, maricyasana 3 and variations, made a foray into eka pada koundinyasana along the way. We even had time to practice parivritta sirsasana and parsva halasana.

Had we had more time, we would have been set up perfectly to clasp in pasasana as well. In fact I mentioned that in class and Gioconda went ahead and tried it (She is so delightfully hard core and enthusiastic. I love that. It is a delightful combination in a practitioner.) and she got the clasp for the first time. I got the clasp easily on my own several times after the same sequence in my practice before class which is how I knew people would be set up perfectly!

I stayed after and took Gia's class which was fun and then she and enjoyed a meal together at Whole Foods, which was delightful.

All right so- off for the weekend to see the good folks of Corpus Christi and what is really fun is I get to be a student for a lot of the weekend. YAY.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thursday

I woke up early this morning and got to work on a big long list of things that have been slowing piling up. I am trying t handle them so as to clear up a little of my bandwidth, so to speak, before the next stint of travel resumes along with some new projects.

All right- well, yesterday, like most Wednesdays was a busy day. I taught Focu on Form at 9:30. Right as we were getting ready to start I loked at Mandy and said, "Wow, the powerful women are here in frce today...Mandy, Jen W,. Brigitte, Jess G, Anne, Liz Shri, Deja, Tabitha, Sarah, Denise, Alexis, Alice, Faith and the list just goes on. In addition to the amazing assembly of women we had Paolo, Alex, Steve and Kelly holding the bass line which is always great.

As it is standing pose week we worked with the classic form parsvottanasana as the peak pose and it went very well. That pose, in its classic form just has so much involved that it was fun to break it down to component parts rather than "just doing" it. (remember there is no "just"!)

After that, I met with Jess G to review some feedback abut her class. Jess is not only a great teacher but she is an excellent mentee. She asked smart questions, she took feedback without flinching, she thoughtfully discussed her strengths, weaknesses and goals and was able to straddle the practical and the theoretical domains of improving one's teaching, preparing a video and diving into the certification process in a formal and focused way. It was really a pleasure to sit down and "talk shop" with her. The same passion and care she has for her students she has for her own studentship and that is quite admirable. It really is. She has so much to offer.

After that, Kelly and I went for a walk and then had lunch and then filmed Lesson #6 for the Online Mentor Group- Refining Articulation Skills. After that, I prepped for the Local mentor group, did a 90 minute practice and headed out to teach at Castle Hill.

I have been on a thing all week about compassion and about avoiding the Downward Spiral. And it really began to dawn on me that the Downward Spiral is a manifestation of the malas- the covering and film on the mirror of the heart. The malas have three primary voices-"You are unworthy", "You are separate" and "You are unable". And really those are the primary voices of the Downward Spiral when it hits.

There you are, in yoga class, ready for some words of inspiration and you look next to you and the person next to you is super able and the Downward Spiral decides to get involved in your practice by saying "You are not capable, you are not able. You suck. You, in fact, are so stiff that you are not even worthy of being here. You are stiffer than everyone and no one even wants you here..." And so the descent into the abyss of neurotic hell has begun. Just like that.

One of the teachings that John gives us is that sadhana is not just about awareness of "What is going on with us" but also involves asserting the Highest in the midst of the current crisis, conflict, or turmoil we are facing. His teaching is that it is not just enough to acknowledge "What is" we must also assert our deeper intention, our higher context, the more profound truth. He gave me this lesson a few years ago in Costa Rica when I was sharing abut how important the contemplative practices are to understanding what is going on with us.

He very clearly said to me that yes, that is true AND you have to take it the next step, and teach people to take the next step, which is to assert the higher perspective. When the downward spiritual says "You are unworthy" we have to assert our Intrinsic Worth. When we feel unable we must recognize that we are Intrinsically Able. Maybe we are not able to do everything the person next to us can do but we can choose to focus on what we can do rather than what we cannot do and everyone in yoga can do something. And when we feel separate and alone we can look into some one's eyes, consciously connect, reach out and confront the untruth of being apart from. We can connect to that place within us that is not isolated but is Intrinsically Connected.

So I talked about that in class while we worked toward vira 3, and eka pada koundinyasana 2. What was so cool is that by the time we got to the peak pose of vira 3 we only had to do it once it was so on the money. All the lessons in component parts and relevant actions paved the way for a fairly pristine rendition of the pose. LOVE IT.

So after that we had the mentor group and covered a fair amount of ground in a very easeful way and then I came home, answered some email and went to bed pretty darn tired. I have some other things I want to share about but enough for now. Must continue to work on the stack of things I have building up.

Have a good day.

Also, if you are tuning in just now- let me know if you want your blog listed on my blog roll as I am revising it and wiped it clean the other day and I am adding those people back who want to be included.

And also Novemebr 29 3:00-5:30 is a Group Practice at The Love Shack.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wednesday Morning

Again, just a reminder that I am updating my blog roll, so if you would like me to link to your blog, please just drop me a line and let me know.

I had a great day yesterday- I had to time to cook, which must mean I am really "back home." I made dal, Cream of Green soup and banana nut muffins. YUM! And I caught up on some things, took a walk, did a practice and taught class at 4:30.

It is a standing pose week in my classes. So we worked on poses that help Vira 2, which incidentally also help padmasana. I used compassion as my theme. After my rant yesterday about the downward spiral I thought I would at least speak to the need to be compassionate with oneself in practice. Really, however, I cannot stress enough that I believe it is an inside job and that we, as students, are responsible for loving ourselves and for not giving extra momentum to the downward spiral when it hits. Anyway. It was a great class. I love how many people are regularly attending this very odd-timed class. I feel like we are really building something. It is awesome.

So, like this:
Surya Namaksar A
Surya Namaskar B
baddha konasana
variations on baddha konasana with block between feet
sirsasana- with uppavistha koansana, badhha konasana and virasana variations
vira 2
Anjaneyasana- 2X
Vira 1
hip opening maricyasana variation- (too hard to explain here- Anne and I learned it in Pune)
Same variation, revolved
vira 2- which was now an excellent rendition of classic form with all that prep
seated baby cradle
padmasana
reclined babay cradle
revclined padmasana
sarvangasana with parsvaikapada and padmasana
twisting sukhasana
savasana

I am thoroughly enjoying having a category of pose as an emphasis each week. I also love teaching much fewer classes that are basically a mad dash toward urdhva danurasana. (kidding. sort of!)

All right, time to shower and get ready for class.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Blogroll

So... If you look down on the side bar you may notice that I wiped off a bunch of blog links. There were several blogs there that were not current and I also realized that many people who keep a blog without a link there. So- if you have a blog, and you would like me to link to your blog on this site, please send me your blog address this week as I am going to be re-constructing the blog roll soon and I would like it to be somewhat current.

Yesterday was a mellow day, for the most part. Anne and I walked around Town Lake and went to the club for a soak and a steam. I ate lunch, worked on a bunch of projects, had a lovely talk with my friend and colleague, Emma Magenta up in New Jersey then went to Peggy Kelly's Iyengar Yoga class and then went to Jess G.'s class to review it.

Kelly and I used to live in Austin when we were first married and I used to go to Peggy's class then- like in 1997 when she and Devon had studios above what was then Whole Foods but what is now REI. What was fun is seeing some of those same people in class still. Longevity. Dedication. Commitment. These things inspire me.

Jess G. is one of our many fine soon-to-be-certified teachers here in Austin. Her class was sweet, funny, soulful. She has a great rapport with her students and is knowledgeable about and committed to the method. Her theme was authentic and easy to relate to. And it is obvious her students enjoy her class. So that was fun.

I got to thinking that the folks who live here who really want to take their teaching to the next level should form a group and work together. (Or actually, people who live anywhere, this is a good idea!) There is a tremendous amount of wisdom and knowledge among a group of seasoned practitioners and I literally do not have the time to individually walk people through the process and fine tune videos, as much as I would like to. (Which is why I started the online mentor program so that I can have the conversation one time rather than 20 different times. That is my goal for 2010- work smarter, not harder.)

Someone asked me recently about what they need to know about what the assessors are looking for and after we talked I realized that the thing is, none of it is hidden. The form and the standard we use is available on www.anusara.com (Go to curriculum, go to certification curriculum, download the packet) and what is SO COOL is that there is no secret form or secret standard that we do not tell you about.

I love that about Anusara Yoga. We want you to succeed. Your success is the success of the method and the method's success will create your individual success and so on. Teacher Training and Certification Assessment is about helping you understand and meet the criteria not a way to identify or "catch you" on the many ways you fall short of it. Again, its a new paradigm.

All right well, time to cook some dal for lunch and some Cream of Green soup for dinner. I am brimming with ideas these days but I am still working out some of the logistics so stay tuned.

AND reserve the date- November 29. Group Practice. Love Shack. 3:00-5:30. All are welcome but be ready to work and make sure you know "when to get off the bus" because I plan to go for it.

(Just sayin'- really, I do not mean it to be a threat or anything harsh. Just if having to back out of advanced postures makes you feel bad about yourself then shift that mindset or do a different practice that day. Sounds harsh but I totally mean it nicely- it breaks my heart when people come to group practices or classes and other people's ability to bend negatively affects them rather than inspires them. It is unnecessary. It really is. It is a waste of time and it is a violence toward one's self. Keep in mind people like me can do scorpion pose on a good day but I cannot program a computer, speak a foreign language, parent a child, fix a flat tire, make crepes, change a lightbulb- okay I can do that- but you get my point, I hope.) And we will have lots of "professionals" there so we can help each other a lot. Whew.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Monday Morning

The Immersion students did really great yesterday. Since we talked on Saturday about studentship, it was only appropriate to talk about The Guru on Sunday. Think about it, we have to understand studentship in relationship to teachers, teachings, and so forth.

I think a lot about these ideas for a variety of reasons. But one aspect of this on my mind these days is about how the function "guru" is revelation and it can come from within and from without. Gioconda and I talked abut it one time on a walk a while back , I think. The translation for "Gurave" in our invocation is "the true teacher within and without" and I think, like anything in yoga, this is one of those razor's edges of which you can fall off either side.

For instance, fall off the side of "the inner teacher" and you cannot avail yourself of the help and expertise of those people who have travelled the path before you. As you "go it alone", you will tend to ignore feedback, you run the risk of narcissism, your view of reality will never be challenged as to whether it is accurate or not. You will spend lots of time figuring something out for yourself that has already been figured out before by others. Fall of the side of "the outer teacher" and you disregard your own wisdom and experience, you will fail to develop discernment, your intuition won't blossom, and the empowered state of adult spirituality that is the point of all of this will be thwarted.

Those of us who teach asana see this all the time. We all have the "you're not the boss of me" students who come to class but are almost impossible to help. We also have the "I aim to please students" and the "tell me if I am okay" students who depend on the teacher's approval over and above their own. And each one of us, in our own studentship, tends to have a primary mode of approaching this ever-challenging dynamic. (And here we are only talking about asana class , not even the big stuff like spiritual teachers, etc.) Also, some methods seem to foster "Do only what the teacher says" and "you cannot trust yourself" and some methods foster "listen to your inner guide because you know more about you than anyone else."

What I love about John's teaching and about Anusara Yoga is that we are a middle path that as far as teachers (and guru's) go, encourages a soft heart, a sharp mind, a vibrant body, a sense of humor, compassion, commitment, the desire to serve the Highest, and a respect for individuality and personal freedom. And as studentship we encourage openness, steadiness, commitment, zeal, fluidity, discernment as well as deference, devotion, and respect for our teachers. When these ideals come together in a balanced way, the result is that the grace of the teacher and the grace of the student lifts both parties up. We literally carry one another along the way.

Anyway- lots more could be said on the topic but that's a wrap for now.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Morning

We had a great time at the Immersion. We spent the first hour in a general discussion about shoulder anatomy and a detailed exploration of shoulder principles with a lovely discussion n the spirals of the arms. Either I am getting better at explaining it or people were lying to me that they understand, because that particular talk went more easily than ever with very few people expressing frustration, confusion, or despair like "the arm discussion" has had had in the past. hmmm...Then we did a shoulder principles class working on standing poses like prasarita padottanasana variation 2, parsvakonasana, parsvottanasana with hands in pascima namaskarasana. We gave some attention to two different forms of parighasana and made a great foray to visvamitrasana. Then we had some fun with ardha bhekasana, ardha bhekasana in setu bandhasana and full bhekasana with eka pada rajakaptasana being the grand finale. I think just about everyone in the room touched their foot behind their head- many for the first time- which is always fun.

After class Kelly and I walked on the greenbelt, came home and made dinner and I watched a Star Trek episode while working on some projects online. All in all it was a very lovely day.

As much as I love travelling and visiting other communities, I must say it is a special treat to teach in Austin on the weekend and to be part of this lovely community. The Austin Anusara Yoga community is much on my mind these days. How it seems to me is that there are a lot of great people, practitioners and teachers being attracted to the method and to one another. There are awesome folks in the stream of certification- anywhere from taking tests and preparing videos for assessment to honing one's skills as an Inspired teacher and offering great classes and workshops to preparing to apply for Inspired status to diving in to the Immersion process with the goal of becoming an Anusara Inspired teacher.

I feel like we are on the brink of great possibility around here but truth be told, it could go either way, really. Lots of seeds have been planted- some have sprouted, some have grown, many have born fruit; others, left unattended have withered. So anyway- I think the real thing on my mind is how we can really join together to create a common vision that will take us forward together. I tell people that all the time in the different areas that I have supported in developing Anusara Yoga programs and communities. With a common vision we can apply our individual efforts to something that in turn will support us all. But without a common vision, what happens is teachers are unconsciously competing with one another. (Or sometimes it is not unconscious at all... but I digress.)

I think that is why Anusara Yoga is such a unique paradigm of yoga. Way beyond the loops and spirals is the invitation to function in a positive way as part of a community. And because so many of us are making a living at this (or want to) we are called to function positively in community where money- and therefore issues of security and so forth- are involved. But the thing about community is that it has to be cultivated and it has to be prioritized and people have to give to it. We have to come together-- as interested in learning from one another as we are in supporting one another-- and seriously, it is a tall order. And it makes us really strong when we do it. We will always be more powerful as a group than we are as individuals.

Just to be clear, I am not saying it is not happening. Just musing about how there is always a new level, a new challenge a new growing edge that calls us to expand in order to rise to the occasion. Maybe the expansion is internal, maybe it is about outward actions, but for sure, growth on the path requires expansion.

All right- enough musing. Time for asana practice before teaching.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Saturday Morning

Just a brief check in- We had a great night at the Immersion Phase 2 at Breath and Body Yoga last night. It was fun to reconnect with the group and to hear a bit about how the teachings from Phase 1 had filtered into everyone's life and practice. There is something really great about Phase 2 Immersions. Usually the group is smaller than Phase 1 because of schedules, finances, and also many people take Phase 1 "to check it out" and decide it is not for them, which is totally fine. But what is so cool about Phase 2 is that everyone who signs up for Phase 2 knows it is going to be intense, knows that it is not a gentle or easy process and yet they are ready to go deeper. It is a pretty incredible thing, really. It means that a deep level of commitment is present, a deep desire for learning is there and because the ground gets prepared in Phase One the students are really ready on so many levels. It is a kind of jumping in with eyes open sort of experience. I love it.

So last night we did some sharing, some review and went to work on some forward bends with strong emphasis on the loops of the legs. The studentship was really high.

For those of you in town over Thanksgiving, I am going to lead a practice at The Love Yoga Coop on Sunday so save the date. Sunday, November 29, 3:00-5:30. Suggested donation is $15. Come ready to work and to play- think full spectrum practice with a back bend emphasis. Email me at christinasell108@gmail.com if you plan on coming so I know who to expect.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Morning

So, Friday morning- I woke up early on my own, (thanks, in part to the acupuncture treatment Kelly gave me before bed) and then did my morning practices and now I am attempting to catch up on some email and correspondences while I drink my chai. Hmmm....

I had a very productive day yesterday- I managed to do some writing and practice asana before teaching at 4:30. We worked on forward bends in class last night and we even managed to get headstand, shoulder stand and savasana in. It was a quiet, more introspective type of class with a theme of focus and commitment to focus. Folks made lots of progress on janu sirsasana as we changed positions for the back leg to release the groins and gain access to greater freedom. Again, for the most part the students in the room were well-practiced and well-schooled in the basic postures so we were free to dive into more subtle refinements.

So- I have been really chewing on this idea that "having to think" is somehow counter to yoga. I just do not get it. I try. I really do. But I just do not see "spacing out" in any way part of the yoga practice. Yoga is about attention and the fundamental precept of yoga is "prana follows attention." And the whole idea in yoga is prana. So- if we are spaced-out, tuned-out, inattentive, etc. we are not in a cooperative, creative or conscious relationship with the prana, with the flow of Life itself.

I am not saying that being spaced-out and going through the motions in asana with a great sound track will not help you feel better. I am not saying that it is un-enjoyable or without value. I am not suggesting that paying attention (and being called to attention) is easy, natural, comfortable or relaxing. I am not suggesting any of that but I do not think all that is the point of the practice. I think the point of the practice is consciousness. And the only way to be conscious is well, to be conscious- meaning attentive, tuned-in, precise, aware, mindful, focused.

And the practice of attention is multi-layered. In asana practice we have the chance to attend to the details of our physical placement and actions within the placement, to our breath, to our mind, our attitude, our emotions, and eventually to the increasingly more subtle levels of who we are. And at every level, our attention carries prana itself with it and really, that is how the yoga works. How yoga ever got identified with spacing-out or checking-out stymies me. It really does. I get it but I think it is a gross misunderstanding. I really do. (My opinion.) As far as I can tell, all yoga has ever been about is harnessing attention, about managing energy and about consciously choosing what we are going to do with our energy, with our vital force, once we gain access to it. Yoga has never been a haphazard, anything-goes, let-it-all-hang-out kind of endeavor. (Ranting now. Yes, I know. I am, in fact, AWARE of myself ranting as I write..lol)

And the real thing I cannot get way from in this whole discussion (Be it a one-sided discussion at this point, mind you-- but it is my blog after all!) is that one of the most immediate and accessible ways to show someone that we care about them is to pay attention to them. Think about it- when we love someone we ask how their day was, we listen as they tell us the details, we listen to what is said as well as what isn't said so that we can really know the person and glimpse their experience and this kind of attention helps us make the most optimal and loving response, whether the response is in words or in actions. Paying attention in asana is the same way. It is about having a loving and respectful relationship with ourselves- about really getting to know who we are- down to the nitty gritty of knowing what our pinky toe is doing and how its action relates to our knees, hips, and heart and so on.

In fact, pulling on this thread a bit more I cannot think of much that won't respond well to attention. Injuries heal when we pay attention to what they are telling us and respond well, our psyche can heal when we really listen to ourselves, our asana will improve when we are attentive to it and so on. I said it in class yesterday but the only thing I think we do not need to pay attention to in asana is the voice of the downward spiral and the litany of "not enough messages" that may come our way. Fine with me (better in fact) if you go ahead and tune those out as they are of little use. But that is another post for another time.

Years ago I asked John Friend about this same issue because I was teaching yoga in a climate where a softer, less-detailed approach permeated the culture and classes and I was worried I was giving Anusara Yoga a bad name. He said, "Christina, don't worry about that. We call that "flow and glow yoga" and we do not do that. You tell those people that you do not care if they have been in a cubicle since 1976, it is Wednesday night , it is your yoga class, so wake up and pay attention!"

So there you go. (He was nice about it when he said it -just so we are clear- please do not add a mean or judgemental inflection to that story. John has always taught us that paying attention is about a Supreme expression of self-honor.)

Enjoy your day!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thursday Morning

Well, let's see.

Yesterday was busy- as most Wednesdays are these days. Focus on Form at 9:30, a walk on the greenbelt, lunch with Kelly, filming my online mentor group, prepping for my local mentor group, an inversion practice, Level 2/3 at 6 and local mentor group at 7:30 and then I came home to do upload this weeks online lesson. I finally got to bed around 11:30, happy to hit the hay.

But it was a good day. We did padmasana in Focus on Form and did lot of forward bends and claspy things leading to kurmasana at 6:00. (J-Man with the Inner Spiral breakthroughs made my night as did seeing Noelle back in class after so many moons.)

Here is the 6:00 class sequence. Major emphasis was shin stability with both shin loop and shins in and hip opening with fine tuned and specific applications of inner spiral.

Child's pose
AMS
uttanasana
prasarita padottanasana-C
anjaneyasana
virabhadrasana 1
Clasped parsvakonasana
Parsva utthita hasta padangusthasana
Bird of Paradise sequence
Supta padangusthasana
Maricyasana 1
Uppavistha konasana
Parsva uppavistha konasana
revolved, clasped uttanasana
clasped uttanasana
tittibasana
malasana
bakasana
clasped uttanasana-kurmasana
uttanasana with shoulder stretch
savasana- (Mark it on your calendar folks, we did a full ten minutes! Of course class went 10 mintues late but oh well!)

The cool thing about class as far as teaching it went was that the students were so well trained in basic form that we were able to work in a more refined way than we often are. For instance, so often in class we are dealing with the "How to's of basic form" like getting a wide stance or squaring your hips in Vira1. Last night's group had such good basic form and were so strong that we were able to work on the back leg shin in the standing poses which is a bit more obscure yet very potent in terms of affording access to the hips.

Two funny things happened this week relative to teaching yoga here in Austin:

I told this story in class on Tuesday but someone came to my class on Thursday and said, "You know, I find the fact that you laugh in class a distraction from the potency of your spiritual message." (So I am thinking, "Dude, the laughter is the spiritual message... sigh.)

And then yesterday as Kelly was coming into class he held the door open for someone who thought their class was in the Chakras Room. Upon realizing it was my class they told him, "I can't go to her class this morning. I do not want to have to think. I want to space out and move and sweat." So, I am thinking, "Well, she made the right choice for herself- had she walked through the door, I definitely would have asked her to think and spacing out would not have been an option." Oh well.)

Neither person was being critical (Or at least I did not take it that way.) What made it funny was that they were right on in terms of their observations- we do laugh and explore deep concepts in a light-hearted way and I absolutely consider yoga class a strong call to attention not a time for spacing out so I can hardly argue with what they said. Anyhoo- another day in the life.

And in the world of shameless promotions-
  • Immersion Phase 2 starts this weekend at Breath and Body. Still room so join the fun. www.breathandbodyyoga.com
  • December 9-14 is Phase 3 Immersion in Tucson with me and Darren and a special weekend with Paul Mueller Ortega. www.yogaoasis.com
  • January 8-13 Phase 1 Immersion in Tucson with me and Darren!
  • February 4 begins a new 12-week cycle for Online Mentoring. If you want information about that please email me at christinasell108@gmail.com.
  • February 12-20 is a retreat in Mexico. www.milagroretreats.com
  • March 13-20 is a retreat in Costa Rica. The format on this one has been changed to a conference style approach s check it out. www.innerharmonyretreat.com
  • And for those of you planning ahead and wanting teacher training we start 100-hours of Teacher Training at Breath and Body Yoga in April.

All right then. Have a great day.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wednesday Morning

I had a very nice day back. After catching up on some work in the morning I went swimming, met mom for lunch and did some grocery shopping, hung out for a bit with Dad and then did a yoga practice and taught my class. I really enjoyed having everyone in class- we seem to be developing some regular attendees in class and that makes all the difference in the world.

It is a forward bending/hip opening week so we worked with the following sequence:

Child's pose
AMS (some of you have asked- AMS= Adho Mukha Svanasana, down dog)
uttanasana
prasarita paddottanasana
sirsasana with eka pada sirsasasana and parsvaikapada sirsasna variations
anjanyeasana
virabhadrasana
eka pada supta virasana and variations at wall
parighasana at wall- 3X
ustrasana
triang mukaipada pascimottanasna
krouncasana, stage one
supta padanguthasana
krouncasana, stage two
uppavistha konasana
revolved, clasped uttanasana
clasped uttanasana
tittibasana
visvamitrasana prep
uttanasana with shoulder stretch
sarvangasana with halasana, eka pada and parsvaikapada sarvangasana variations
savasana (yes we really did it!)

The class went well. It is definitely a different kind of hard work to work in the seated postures and to be in the long holds of supta virasana variations and the repeated parighasana attempts for people who are not used to that kind of work. But the after effects of the sequence were quite nice- people were bright shiny and relaxed which is the lovely thing.

All right. Enough for now. Must go teach Focus on Form.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tuesday Morning

Well, what a great weekend in Idaho. Karen and her students are so great. We had 30-something people there all weekend for a workshop that was about Taking Refuge in the Basics. It was really inspiring to me to spend the weekend considering the topic of Refuge- what is it, how do we create it, what supports it and how our basic practices and the simple things we do can serve as a refuge in turbulent times. It is a timeless topic, really.

So we worked with basic actions and basic building block poses and stayed somewhat squarely on the Level 1 syllabus, except for a few forays into poses like parighasana, gomukhasana and clasped parsvakonasana and such. The studentship among the group was top notch (another clue that Karen's dedication and passion is present) and wow- did we laugh a lot together. Really, it does not get much better than that. Focus and Fun.

It has been a busy few months for me and since September I have had the opportunity to visit some really stellar Anusara Yoga communities across the country like Portland, OR where Allison has opened Abhaya Yoga, Spirit House Yoga in Oklahoma City, OK under the guidance of Martha and Ted McQuaid, South Mountain Yoga in South Orange, NJ under the leadership of Emma and Chris Magenta, Yoga East in Louisville, KY (Not strictly an Anusara Community but an inspiringly seasoned community of practitioners with Laura Spaulding's passion as a beacon), Yoga Oasis in Tucson, AZ which continues to thrive as a pillar of the Anusara Yoga vision with Darren and his ever-so-dedicated posse of teachers, and Couer d'lene, ID this last weekend. And of course, I made a few trips to the Yoga Studio of Corpus Christi where Michelle Acebo is tirelessly expanding the South Texas yoga horizons with Anusara Yoga, Jivamukti Yoga, and even kids yoga in Spanish with Beth!

And in other news during this time we have had a local mentor group in place, I started an online program that has 20 folks in it from far and wide and my parents bought a house down the street!

So- I have had an incredible journey of learning, sharing and teaching these last two months in both new and familiar places. As I write this morning I am full of gratitude for the opportunity to have such a broad community in which to participate. Again I am reminded of how John Friend, when he shares his vision of Anusara Yoga, always shares it as a worldwide network of tight local communities. Getting to participate- as a visiting teacher- in so many tight knit communities over the last two months was just fantastic and reminded me so much of what is really best about Anusara Yoga. It gave me lots of food for thought relative to Anusara Yoga in Austin and how best to spend my energy. More on that later as none of my thoughts were at all conclusive.

This month I am more settled with two weekends in Austin for Immersion Part 2 at Breath and Body Yoga and a weekend trip to Corpus. (So no planes in November!) Part of my goal for this month is to get through the current round of edits for my book. Last time I talked with John he assured me that we are close and so now that I am home I can turn some attention that way. It is a must. It is now really grating on me that I have been lax on the task! (Although I have been a bit busy with other things...)

So anyway- time to get to work. Last week was back bend week so this week is a hip opening and forward bend week. Should be fun.