Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday Morning Musings

Scenes from group practice yesterday:

Catherine and Brigitte saying Hello!
Tearson, rockin it.
Melt, Brienne, melt. More than you can imagine!
Ah, the after glow.
Pammy in the house with J-Man. Ordered restored to the fabric of Anusara Yoga Austin.
Tearson, dropping over from headstand.
Catherine and Brigitte sorting out the shoulders.
Catherine standing up UNASSISTED.

More love.

So I had a great time at the group practice yesterday. I personally enjoyed the gathering of folks in attendance which represented a good cross-section of several generations of Anusara Yoga practitioners- from people who have been teaching and practicing Anusara Yoga in Austin for over a decade and folks newer to the method and a bunch of people in between. It is always fun for me when the community gathers for practice.

You know, community is such a central aspect of what we are doing in Anusara Yoga. The three defining aspects of our method are our non-dual Tantric Philosophy and Heart Based themes, The Universal Principles of Alignment, and that we practice the principles within a like-minded community.

I have been in a personal inquiry since I moved to Austin, Texas about how all of that actually looks in its optimal form here. We have a very unique kind of yoga scene in Austin and it is taking me some time to get a handle on that and feel into what our place here is without comparing it to how Anusara Yoga Community looks in other cities or how it has been for me where I have lived before.

For instance, I started teaching Anusara Yoga in a small town in Arizona. At the time I started teaching there was only one yoga studio and I taught yoga there from the day it opened. A year or so after that, I opened Prescott Yoga and so then there were two studios. And sure, there was yoga at the health clubs and the community college and so forth but in general, there were more limited options than what we have in Austin. We were the Anusara Yoga studio and the other studio offered a variety of yoga styles. Also the town did not have a big night life/entertainment scene nor was there an endless list of fun things to do or at any given moment of the day. Because of that and for a lot of other reasons, the yoga community was very tight-knit, very centrally located and very integrated into our daily life. So we did A LOT of yoga and a lot of our social life revolved around each other.

Without realizing it, that was kind of a standard in my mind that I was measuring things against but really, it is like comparing apples to oranges. Something has really shifted for me recently and I actually feel a lot more relaxed about the whole thing than I ever have. Lately, my feeling is that the Anusara Yoga Community here is all just fine how it is and it requires nothing of me other than my very occasional presence.

From what I can tell- and this is only an impression and is not documented by hard, cold facts- we have a small and devout group of people who practice Anusara Yoga as their primary practice. And what we have a lot of is people who practice other methods and styles as their primary practice and then augment what they are doing with Anusara Yoga technology and who are lovely, fun, dynamic members of the community. I have some ideas about why that is the case but none of that really matters, it is more of an observation of what seems to be happening and not a criticism of the situation in any way.

And truth be told, we do not have a central location that is "The Home of Anusara Yoga in Austin, TX.” What we do have is a handful of studios who are welcoming us, our teachers, our teachings and our community and offering us opportunities to grow and contribute in some very fantastic ways. (And because there is always something fun to do in Austin, Texas, yoga potlucks may never be the fun thing here that they were in Prescott, Arizona! Think about it- in the early days of Anusara Yoga that town had no-or maybe like one or two- good restaurants and so when we gathered together for a potluck, it really was the best meal in town. Not the case here. But I digress.)

So anyway, all that has been on my mind lately and the truth is there is no one way to have a community. There is no one way that the ideal of “practicing the principles in a community” has to express itself among a group of people. Not at all. So when I say I have relaxed a bit about it, what I mean is I have stopped wanting the community to be what I want it to be and have started recognizing the beauty of what it actually is. (Ah, another lesson in expectations as opposed to seeing clearly “What Is.”)

Also, there are tons of pros and cons to consider no matter what. Have a very tight-knit community with a “home base studio” and you have some very great things going on. But also, you have all the down sides as well-- there are only so many teaching slots one studio can provide so you have more competition. There are only so many personalities that can work together well, so you get in-fighting and gossip. You run the risk of your kula becoming a clique that is so tight, others do not feel welcome. The diversity of who we can be as a method often gets compromised in such cases and the unique flavor of the studio can interfere with the range of flavors we are as a method.

And spread out all over a town with no home base there are pros and cons as well. It can be harder to perceive the unity that is present. The potency and majesty of the method doesn’t always come through when the Anusara Yoga class is just one class on a schedule of many other styles or many other classes of one style. But there are pros as well to being more diversified. Many people have many more opportunities to teach. Our teachings get exposed and offered to a very large community of people who might not otherwise learn about us. We participate in a yoga community and not an Anusara Yoga Community and so we get to learn, grow and benefit more readily form the wisdom of other traditions and perspectives. We have to get very skilled as teachers to present our method clearly, intelligently and cogently in an ecumenical situation as opposed to a situation where everyone speaks “Anusara Yoga”.

Anyway- it was a super fun time yesterday and I enjoyed stepping into sub for Mandy while she takes care of herself and allows her body to heal.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thursday Morning

Last week I posted this picture here and I also posted it on Facebook, wondering how to get closer to the classic form for this pose with the arms straight. And then I got a message from Desiree Rumbaugh who was in Israel and she said the only way she can ever get her arms straight is to take her arm bones back more than seems humanly possible. (my words, but she did say, there is a fair amount of grunting groaning and grimacing involved many times!) So, on Tuesday I wrote a sequence to head into the pose again and when Gioconda and I practiced I was in a pose a lot like the pose above and then I buckled down, sucked my arm bones back as hard as I could and kicked my feet as hard as I could into my hands and lo and behold, I got my arms straight by the third try.
So that was a very exciting thing on Tuesday afternoon. After that I came home, made dinner and then The Other Desirae came over. (Sometimes we call her "Little D" as opposed to "Big D" but that is another story.) So we sat outside and ate roasted veggies and had a lovely talk about life, yoga, business, and such.

She and her mom and Omar and his wife are all in the Kombucha making business now. Their product Kosmic Kombucha is really fantastic. It has great flavor, awesome effervescence and a very low sugar content. Seriously it is very good AND it is available for sale even as we speak! Call Desirae at 512-917-2234 or stop by Breath and Body Yoga for yours.

Yesterday was Focus on Form day in the morning. We worked on back bends and twists which went well. We spent a lot of time on the belly down back bends and getting all the different parts f the pose to come together in unity. (I started telling a story about how, as a community, we need all parts to work together, etc. and it is much easier said than done once you add in the business element of teaching yoga and so on.)

I met a friend for lunch and then met up with Gioconda again for a practice. We did lots of hipwork and twists (to work out some of the residual soreness from Tuesdays back bends!) and that resulted in a nice foray into padmasana, simhasana, and parsva kukkutasana, which is big pose for me. Lotus does not come naturally for me, twists are not my strong suit and with a long torso getting my leg high up on my arm is a major undertaking. Anyway, after several attempts I did it on both sides and Gia, bless her I-phone once again, captured it on film.

So after a short break, I taught the 6:00 Level 2-4 class which was a really fun time. Last week, Miranda requested some help into how to get her leg behind her head and so we worked on that last night in class and celebrated Jeremiah's 26th Birthday! Yippee.

Here's our sequence:
surya namkasar variation lunges and with no long holds- 5 minutes
malasana -2X
pasasana -2X
maricyasana 1- 2X
maricyasana 3- 2X
Virabhadrasana 1
parivritta parsvakonasana- 2X
deep lunge with forearms down
lunge with shoulder under front knee
parighasana variation
visvamitrasana prep with back knee down
visvamitrasana- 2 X
omega pose
eka pada raja kapotasana prep- moving back and back until the front leg looks like omega pose
laying on back with one knee down to floor by arm pit
supine babay cradle
eka pada sirsasana- 2X
setu bandhasana
windshield wipers
setu bandhasana

Once again, we had a really great turn out for class, with lots of folks working really hard. (And I was happy to see I didn't totally freak everyone out last week with my empowerment rant! Or if I did freak them out, they did at least come back for the most part.) I will be out of the Wednesday classes for the next 3 Wednesdays but Hannah will be holding down the fort for me so please support her, please support the class, please support the other students and please stay connected to your practice on Wednesdays. I will be back teaching Wednesdays on May 26.

I am planning a practice for May 15 before I head out of town to the Certified Teacher's Gathering. I am just deciding on a place. I am very tempted to have it down in San Marcos with swim in the river afterwards just like old times. The space is revamped, it would be a nice way way to initiate the space and so stay tuned for details.

So, that's the update for today. I have an appointment and then some work to do all morning and then I am subbing the Group Practice for Mandy-ji this afternoon and The Love Yoga Coop. We have requests for headstand and variations, twists and back bends, a specific request for standing up from urdhva danurasana and so it should be a pretty fun time. Come ready to work and to play.

All right then- onward with the day.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tuesday Morning

Kelly and I took a lovely trip down to San Marcos yesterday. We organized the props in the studio and then we went boating.

The San Marcos School of Yoga is going to open in May with a lovely group of teachers offering a variety of classes- from Trigger Point Yoga to Restorative Yoga to Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and I think a happy-hour flow class is on deck as well. The space will be open as a cooperative so if anyone is looking for a place to rent for classes, send me an email ( or call me (512-665-3743) and I can talk to you about it. I am not doing any teaching there right now since I am not in town enough to keep a class alive without a team of substitute teachers in tow but it is an awesome space and a great group of folks to get involved with. More on that as it evolves so stay tuned.

The boating was fun. We spent close to two hours on the water and it was perfect day to be out. It was warm sunny and the water was fast but manageable. I am bit sore across my chest and shoulders but it was totally worth it. We had a great time.

I made it back ion time to get to Peggy's class which was an interesting foray into some restoratives and pranayama. I got some great insight into vamadevasana and how it is going to help me with some other poses. She only taught a few poses, we did a lot of long holds and I felt fantastic afterwards. Anne and I were talking about how a class like that really shows how potent the advanced postures are. When 10 postures in two hours can shift your state of consciousness that dramatically and open your body that profoundly you just gotta be wowed. Anyway, I left feeling centered, soft and yet alert. Love it.

We did:
half baddha konasana/virasana
rope 1
rope 2
supine twist which reminded me of parivritta ardha chandra chapasana but on the floor
eka pada raja kapotasana with back leg in ardha bhekhasana
ardha baddha padma pascimottasana
sirsasana- eka pada, parsvaikapada and padmasana

So this Thursday I am subbing the Group Practice for Mandy-ji at The Love Yoga Coop. So show up at 4:00-6:00 with $10 and come play. I have asked for pose requests so if there is something you want to work on, drop me a line and I will see if we can incorporate it into the session.

Also- I am teaching Teacher Training all weekend at Breath and Body Yoga again so I will be teaching the public classes there on: Friday from 4:30-6:00, Saturday from 10:00-11:30 and Sunday from 10:00-11:30.

Then I am out of town from May 3- May 13 and again from May 16-May 24. I am toying with the idea of a group practice on Saturday, May 14 since my Dallas gig is cancelled. Anyone interested?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Monday Morning

Okay well, it was a good weekend of Teacher Training. We covered a lot of very basic aspects of teaching Anusara Yoga which will provide us with a foundation on which we can keep building. We have a very high caliber of teacher and student in the group- most of them are experienced and well trained in other traditions so we are not spending a lot of time sorting out basic issues. We covered some basics of anatomy, overview of methodology and central teaching elements, developing heart based themes, basics of sequencing and instructing with the breath.

Several themes kept coming up which are very familiar to me in terms of common questions with teacher trainees. One theme that we addressed is that age-old issue of"keeping the customer happy" and "teaching people in a balanced, holistic and appropriate way." There is always this balancing act when teaching yoga between "What are my students ready for?", "What are my students open to?" "What are my students looking for?" "What are my students expecting when they come to class?" and"What do my students actually need?", "What is it I want to teach?" "What do I think is appropriate, safe, beneficial?" and so on. (For instance a student may like to flow continually through class without stopping to learn appropriate form. But does that mean that is good for them or good for the long term health of their body and practice? Or, a student may hate sweating and may hate flow-based practice and prefer a more start and stop approach or a class that has less hard work. However, that student might need the strength, determination and focus that learning to stay in a flow can yield. And so on.)

A long time ago I was in a workshop with Manouso Manos, a Senior Iyengar teacher and he was conducting a Q&A. Someone asked a question about one of their clients. And he interrupted her and posed a question of his own. "Why is it," he asked, "that you have clients and I only have students?" He went on to talk about what he saw as the distinctions between the two categories. The conversation has stayed with me a long time and I think about it often and the concept always arises in teacher training. In fact, that question in some form, is lurking behind the scenes of many questions that trainees ask--If I ask people to do something they do not want to do, what will happen to my business? It is not a business issue for everyone. For some it is worrying about their students not liking them, or worrying they will make their students feel bad about themselves or something like that.

Of course, its a balancing act. John has always said, we have to give people enough of what they want so that they stick around long enough for us to give them what they need. And I think that's a good perspective to keep in mind. We may "cater to the client" in the name of "waiting for a teachable moment" but that is a different thing than letting the student's preferences and comfort zone dictate the terms of our teaching. Think about it- put 30 people in a room and try to keep them all happy and satisfied and so forth and you will be a crazy person because 30 people have 30 different ideas, quirks, opinions, preferences, likes, dislikes, etc and so forth.

And as always, it depends on circumstance, personality of the teacher and student and it will always be relevant to what it is we are hoping to accomplish or offer as a teacher.

So that is another point of constant inquiry- why teach yoga? It is so important that we as teachers know why we are in front of the room so that we have a sense of our own standard of what we are up to and why. I can teach the Anusara Yoga Standard but how I express that standard is going to be in relationship to my agenda as a teacher. I may be a teacher who wants to provide a nurturing space, I may be a teacher who wants to provide opportunities for challenge as a means of self-empowerment and so on. I actually think there are a lot of great reasons to teach yoga but I think it is good to know what our unique reasons are.

There are some other things that are on my mind from the weekend but thats what I have time to write about today.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Saturday Morning

We had a our first night of Teacher Training last night at Breath and Body. We started with a public class that I taught, followed by debriefing of the class, and then an anatomy class. One thing I am really psyched about about this particular training is that we are starting every day with a public asana class. What this means is that the Teacher Trainees get a chance to practice asana (which is sometimes sadly absent in Teacher Trainings) but also they get the opportunity to see how the techniques and principles they are learning in Teacher Training translate into a real-life situation.

So often in Teacher Training I am asked,"Yes, but how would you really do it in class?" or some variation on that line of questioning. I mean, let's face it, teacher training drills are not always going to match up to the classroom experience on any given day. So for this training, built into the program is an opportunity to see and be part of real-life application. This weekend the public asana classes will all center around Open To Grace themes. We worked with passive rooting, inner body brightening and moving into kidney loop yesterday to cultivate "support and confidence" (When we know grace supports us we can act with that.) Today I will play with a "Setting the Foundation" theme. And I think a foray into a front body/back body/personal/universal kind of thing is on deck for Sunday.

SO anyway, its a good group of very committed and enthusiastic folks and I think we will be able to go very deep into the art of teaching Anusara Yoga. I am focusing on the very basics of teaching the method- like learning the scales. See the thing is the standard that gets written down is a great standard but it is also important to remember that there are other ways to get the job done that are not written down but are also perfectly valid.

Here is an example of what I mean. So we say a warm up is "simple repetitive and in coordination with the breath and done primarily in the sagital plane." That is what is written down. the basic idea is to get the student up, moving with their breath, to emphasize movement more than action, breath and attitude more than technique, etc. But if done well, supta padangusthasana can be a great first pose. So can a nice long down dog. I personally have taught two classes in which John Friend was a student. In both classes I taught the first three poses as Child's pose (1 minute), Down Dog (1 minute) and uttanasana (1 minute) and he had no problem with that. I even asked him about it specifically once and he said, "That is a great way to start."

But that opening sequence is not what is written down as "the way we do it" or even as "a way we can do it." So its a tricky thing that happens anytime we write down a standard because it is impossible to write down EVERYTHING THAT CAN WORK so we write down the one thing that will always work. And when learning how to teach the method I think it is best to learn the one way that will always work, to get really good at that and then explore other creative applications and options once you have mastered the basic standard.

I also, however, want us all to be clear that what is written down is not the definitive "only way standard. What is written down is simply a very reliable way to be effective. To me these distinctions are just a mature way to look at it. So many things can work. We cannot write them all down. And the more we are writing down, the harder, not easier it is getting! But that is another story.

All right then- off to the races.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Train Your Dragon

I spent the afternoon practicing asana with Gioconda which was fun. We made another foray into back bends- going in the direction of her very hard dream pose gherandasana 2. We got as far along the journey as padangustha danurasana (see above) with lots of fun along the way. We spent a lot of time on the belly down back bends which are certainly not the sexy, immediately gratifying group of back bends, as far as I am concerned. But as we practiced and explored BKS's words of wisdom on them, I began to see on a whole new level just how important the belly down back bends are to a lot of then advanced postures.

Once again, cobra has to come, danurasana has to come in its classic form- (which by the way has only the belly down- his instructions are ribs off the floor AND pelvic bones off the floor), full bhekasana has to come for poses like padangustha danurasana to come to their full expression and certainly for gherandasana to come. It is almost always helpful when lusting after a pose to see where it is in Light on Yoga- to see what poses are grouped before and after it because usually those poses are the gateway to the one you want to do.

All right- so after that Kelly and I had dinner and then went to the movies with mom and Dad. We had a lovely time at How to Train Your Dragon. I highly recommend the movie. It gets bleak in a few moments but Kelly kept reminding me it was a cartoon and they were probably not going to end it horribly. (They didn't- it has a very sweet ending.)

And for those of us wanting to train our own inner dragons, once again we get the message from this movie that compassion is a key component. See, the dragons who were wreaking havoc in the village were acting violently, largely because they were defending themselves, not because they were bad by nature. So, they calmed right down when given love, compassion and understanding. (Making a long story short.)

So too, with the inner dragons of our negative coping strategies. They usually got but in place as a defense against some actual or perceived threat and usually when we violently try to purge ourselves of these demons, they just get stronger, more violent, more volatile. For me the best strategy is to get underneath the outer violence of the patterned behavior and trace that dragon's history back to the point of the original threat and then give it (and me) some compassion and care, which was what was needed originally anyway. It is a much more healing approach.

Anyway- today is a big day. We have a staff meeting at Castle Hill at 2 and then from 4:30-9:00 tonight is Teacher Training at Breath and Body. And remember, 4:30-6:00 is a public class so please come! So I have a few things I want to do for myself before the day of work begins.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

on fire these days

All right well, a good morning it is!

I went to bed in such a good mood after yesterday. I had such a great time teaching last night. I had thought I would go into class and keep working with my Bondage Theme but I got launched into a theme about Empowerment instead. We had a super-full house last night and there were lots of people I did not know in class. So I gave a little rap about "this is a level 2-4 class which means that you need to make sure you practice at the right level for you and do not compare yourself to others, etc.'' Then I had everyone close their eyes and then I said, "You know, open your eyes again." And I launched into a whole story about John Friend.

The thing is I have been studying with him for well over ten years now and I have never once in all of that time ever heard him say anything like that. Never does he give a preamble that is about, "Take care of yourself, take a child's pose when you need to, go easy on yourself, your yoga is fine just as it and so do not compare yourself to someone else, blah, blah, blah." Never. Not once. More often than not, he starts class and saying something like, "Everyone here is going to shift. Everyone here is going to go to a new level. Now. Let go of your preconceptions about what you can and cannot do. Open to something Bigger than your doubt and let's go for it."

So like that.

I have pondered this a lot over the years and I think part of the reason is that he assumes that by the time you get to him, you have that basic rap down for yourself. If you walk through the door of one of his workshops, you have to be able to deal with that negative self-talk/downward spiral for yourself because he is not going deal with it for you. If you need that level of pep-talk, that is not the environment for you. (This is Christina Sell's opinion. This is not an Anusara-endorsed perspective. AND I am not saying it is bad to need that level of pep-talk. Not at all, I am just saying, if you need that, seek out a place where you are likely to get it, don't hang out in places that are about shifting if you want support in staying the same! And I must include here that I personally find him and his workshops to be very supportive and compassionate but not in that gentle-take- it- easy sort of way.)

So moving on through the disclaimers here, I told my class, that on Wednesday night, when they walk through the door of the yoga studio into my class, I want them to empower themselves to practice fully. I am going to assume that each one of them is a high-functioning, self-affirming, self-actualizing adult who does not need me to talk down to them as though they need my permission to take care of themselves or as though they need my permission to be great. I urged, implored, begged and invited them to empower themselves.

See, one of my least favorite new-agey yoga terms is empower. I find it particularly distasteful when someone says, "You did not empower me" or "Your class was not an empowering. I personally even get a little prickly when someone says that they teach yoga because they want "to empower others." See, to me that is missing the point of empowerment all together. (Or at least in large part.)

Personally, I want to practice, work, and live within a community where we empower ourselves. I want each one of us to know that we have to claim our own greatness. And claim it in a big way. I am not sure someone else can empower us. Because if they are empowering us, then they hold the power as though the truth of who we are can be dispensed like some commodity. And seriously, if you wait for me to empower you, then what are you gonna do on the day I forget to do it? Seriously. I am very passionate on this point. ( I have a lot on my mind as a teacher, I may forget on any given night to explicitly empower you! Or I might be saying the words that I think would mean "I empower you" but you were waiting for a different set of words. See how tricky it can get? Seriously, do not, under any circumstance, leave your empowerment in my hands.)

Also- this relates to the certification process. So many times I hear people from all across the globe speak as though "they can't do x, y, or z" according to the standard because they are not certified. It is as though they hold some kind of unconscious idea that this stuff will somehow get easier to teach once they are certified. Or that people will start listening to them once they are certified. Or that once they are certified their classes will get bigger or the phone will ring with exotic teaching opportunities, etc. It just doesn't happen that way.

At least it did not happen that way for me. The day I got certified, not one thing was different. Not one. I was still good at what I was good at. I still had the same weaknesses to work on. I had the very same people in my class as I did the previous week. My students did not come to class because I was certified and because Anusara Yoga had finally endorsed my validity as a yoga teacher. My students had already endorsed the validity of what I was doing for themselves. My students (bless them) had already found value in what we were doing together. When the certificate came, they were like, "That's cool. So... what's the plan for today?" It was, on one level, NO BIG DEAL. It had already happened, is my point. The certificate was an afterthought.

So if any of this sounds harsh, I do not mean it to. I really don't. I am just on fire about the idea of empowerment this morning. (Think of this little section as a shot of tough love this morning!)
Because the thing is, you have to be teaching at the level of a certified teacher, BEFORE you get certified. The empowerment comes first, then the piece of paper documents the attainment you already have. It does not work the other way around. The paper cannot give you permission that you have not already given yourself. Nor can the lack of paper discredit you if you do not empower it in that way. All of that is secondary.

(Having said all that, don't stop-- do finish the process, do get your piece of paper, be completely totally and utterly proud of all that the certificate represents and who knows, a few doors may open for you you had not dreamed of. But generally those doors open when we are firmly rooted in the work right in front of us, not when we are looking for it. But I digress into a good topic for another post.)

So I got on this whole kick last night and the class was very strong, very demanding and very focused yet also fun and dare I say, inspiring. We got into hip openers and back bends which, well, we needed a little more time for, truth be told. Ah well, I need a two-hour class. What can I say?

Also, I made this point in class about how exactly empowerment occurs through asana. So often we talk about yoga in terms of empowerment. And Anusara Yoga is very empowering, I think because it is a yoga that takes you to your edge and keeps you there and demands so much of you that you grow very strong in the process of practicing it. Anusara Yoga is empowering because those of us who practice it as ask so much of ourselves and those of us who teach it ask so much of our students.

For instance, it is one thing to tell someone in a gentle voice, "You are stronger than you know. You are so powerful. Now gently, relax into your strong nature while you drape yourself over this bolster and I burn the incense and we listen to the angels sing." It is quite another thing to say, "Hold this pose for one full minute and do not come down even when you arms are on fire."

It is one thing to be told by your teacher "you are strong." It is another thing to be able to do something today you could not last month because day after day you went through the fire and built your capacity and strength. Strength like this is no longer an idea. It is a tangible, real and felt experience. And that direct experience is something that depends on no outer authority to validate. And that is what I am into.

Truth be told, I do not want to empower anyone. I want people around me to empower themselves. I want people around me to claim their own Light. And the thing is, the more of us who are shining brightly, the easier it becomes for others to shine. Seriously, there is no Light Scarcity Situation. Me shining brightly in no way hampers or hinders your Light. Nor does you, shining brightly, interfere with my Light.

Remember: We do not need to live in anyone's shadow. We live in each other's Light.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Exquisite Bondage

I am not bound to win,
I am bound to be true.
I am not bound to succeed
but I abound to lie up to the Light I have.
-Abraham Lincoln

Yoga is not a path of Freedom.
Yoga is a path of Exquisite Bondage.
-Douglas Brooks

So Maggie posted the Abraham Lincoln quote up on her Facebook update the other day and I loved it. In fact, it reminded me of the other quopte from Professor Douglas Brooks.So I got to wondering...what does the word bondage mean and so I looked it up.

From www. your, which by the way is a resource that EVERY Anusara Yoga or aspiring Anusara Yoga teacher should, in my opinion, know about.

bond·age (bändij)


1. serfdom or slavery

2. subjection to some force, compulsion, or influence; specif., physical restraint as a sadomasochistic technique


Okay at first glance the definition does not actually look so promising in terms of a class theme. (Or it looks very promising to some, but in a way I want to encourage...) But it gets interesting down in the etymology of the word...

Etymology: ME <>bondagium <>bonda <>bonde, orig. prp. of bua, to prepare, inhabit, akin to Ger bauen, to build <>bheu-, to grow, develop > be, Sans bhū-, earth, Gr phyein, to grow

Think about this- you get all the way to a Sanskrit word that means earth and Greek word that means to grow. So we can look at those choices that bind us, those choices in which we are rooted, as those circumstances that create a means through which we can grow and develop ourselves and in the case of the Lincoln quote, our Light.

So we worked with actions that bind us to our Light to create an corresponding freedom primarily working with setting the foundation (binding ourselves to the earth) and stabilizing our shins to open (free) our hips. We took a slow, deliberate journey that went something like this:
  • AMV
  • AMS
  • uttanasana
  • surya namaskar variation
  • deep lunges forearms down
  • deep lunge arms extended to stretch the psoas
  • uttasasana
  • baddha konasana variations with blocks
  • janu sirsasana variation with block
  • revolved lunge
  • supta padangusthasana 2
  • ardha padmasana
  • ardha baddha padmotasana
  • uttanasana
  • ardha matsyendrasana 2
  • baddha ardha padmasana into simhasana 2 variation
  • full padmasana into simhasana 2
  • uttasana
  • AMS
  • AMV
  • savasana

Although to be honest, it was only the briefest nod to savasana this morning.

Anyway, as esoteric as some of this can sound, the very practical application is, hopefully apparent. Have you ever noticed how much harder it is to do something- like practice asana, go to class, eat well, stay monogamous, keep to your budget, etc. when you give yourself a little wiggle room compared to on those days when you are fully committed to the optimal choice?

The difference we feel is because that commitment is a binding, and when we are truly bound to our commitments, many times the "Should I?, Should I not?, I do not really want to but I think it would be good for me but happy hour would be so much more fun, _____________________ (fill in any of your weaseling-out-of-what-you-know-to-be Light Affirming excuses or reasons here) litany just doesn't carry the same weight. We have a freedom to chose otherwise due to the binding choice that we made.

Again, this is not a binding to external should's, expectations and or cultural imperatives- even yoga culture imperatives. I am talking about binding ourselves to our own Light through our choices and through our skillful action. For what is practice but those methods, techniques, behaviors and attitudes that Bind us to our Light? That is the whole thing. That is bringing effort to Grace. And the teachings tell us then we do that, then Grace carries us, Grace showers its blessing on us.

I personally think that many times the Blessing of Grace with which we are showered is the ability to practice more. We become blessed with the ability to bind ourselves to our Light more intelligently, more skillfully, in deeper and more profound ways, in harder circumstances, for longer periods of time. It is the most amazing positive reinforcement cycle there is.

So when Douglas gave that teaching about Exquisite Bondage he did say its paradoxical. Once bound, we do experience a greater freedom but its often not what we imagined it would be nor is the cost quite as cheap as we might have hoped it would be.

Which makes me think of another book I should write. It could be called "The Fine Print of Yoga." It would have little teachings in it like-

Chapter One: The Teachings on Ultimate Freedom-
Each one of us is connected to the Source of Freedom Itself. In fact, that is our true nature. You are nothing other than that Essential Unbounded Freedom.
  • The Fine Print- "Oh sure, you can have Ultimate Freedom, but first, you will be a slave to the Path."
Chapter Two- The Teachings on Equanimity-
By living in the Flow of Grace you can live in the direct experience of the truth that exists beyond the rise and fall of circumstances. You will know that place of dynamic stillness that is your very essence.
  • The Fine Print- "Sure you can have equanimity, but only after directly experiencing the heights and depths of your psyche."
Chapter Three- The Teachings of Immortality
Your soul never dies. You are the Immortal, the Changeless, That which was never born and will never die.
  • The Fine Print-Oh sure, you will know you are immortal, but along the way you will think death seems like a very good option."
See, it go on like that... And I think we would also need to have another section called"The Price You will Pay." Like meditation, diet, asana, surrender, service, loss of interest in many things you used to enjoy, etc.

All right, enough already...although indulging my sarcastic side like that was kind of cathartic.

Have a good day!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Anatomy, Laundry, TT preparations

So Kelly has been gone all weekend which has been a lovely opportunity for me to have some alone time, so long practices and get a ton of work done. I have refined my Immersion trainings, I have created an anatomy workbook for Immersions and TT's and I refined my TT outlines and created more structure, learning aids and experiential aspects. It must be the Saraswati tattoo because I have been feeling totally inspired and creative lately.

Along those lines, a Vedic astrologer once told me that most people invoke Lakshmi looking for blessing of prosperity wealth and abundance. He said that the smart thing to do is to invoke Saraswati instead. His reasoning was that if you have inspiration and creativity you have the means to manifest abundance. Also if you have money but no inspiration or connection to your creativity you are a rich yet unfulfilled person. (And rich is that, really? Having lots of money but no juice?)

Along those same lines, my spiritual teacher gave a talk about money once and he said, the solution to being worried about money is not having more money per se- it is having confidence in your ability to earn money. For instance if you are broke today but know how to earn money (and you are willing to work) your current state won't seem so desperate.

I suppose we should not forget Kali. We cannot afford to have her upset or feeling ignored. Kali is that seed of potential in us, our power in its raw form that slashes away at all standing in the way of Reality. Like Shiva, her masculine counterpart, she destroys our illusions and kills off what is no longer necessary without regard for how we are going to feel about it! But keep in mind- when something is really painful and it ends, we feel happy. That, too, is Kali.

Kali is goddess of raw power, of destruction who destroys time itself and the potentiality of Life.
Saraswati is the goddess of the arts, music, writing, creativity, inspiration.

Lakshmi is the goddess of abundance, wealth, refined beauty

So I hadn't planned to write anything about the goddesses today but as I am writing, I am reminded about how useful these archetypes are to keep in mind. Each one of us tends to operate under a certain archetype more than others and also we may find that we draw inspiration from these ideas differently as we go through the different cycles of our lives.

So I have been in a period of great inspiration these days, I really have...I am in the zone of Saraswati. I am having some of the most amazing conversations with people and some of the most inspiring experiences in my teaching work and my inner life feels rich and full. (See -- inspiration leads to the abundance of Spirit, which is really Lakshmi's gift anyway. The richness of spirit, that is.)

So anyway- today I am finishing up on my preparations for the next two weekends of Teacher Training, doing A LOT of laundry and I will practice some asana this afternoon. Tomorrow we have Focus on Form and Level 2/3 on deck so please come if you can.

ALSO- a reminder- this weekend I am teaching three public classes at Breath and Body Yoga:
Friday 4:30-6:00
Saturday 10:00-11:30
Sunday 10:00-11:30

So, please come join the fun. The room will not be heated. Also, keep in mind that Desirae offers a discount to yoga teachers so you can come to class for $10 if you are a yoga teacher.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday Morning

Admittedly, this could be all the back bends talking, but I must say that I have been feeling extremely happy and inspired these last few weeks. Not that I have not had my share of upsets and personal bumps in the road but I was coming home from a lovely practice yesterday afternoon with Gioconda and Hannah and I felt such a deep sense of well-being and happiness.

By the way we rocked out yesterday. I woke up yesterday feeling the kind of soreness from the Shakti Shop that spells "open but not tight" and so I know from past experience that when I feel that way and I go deeper in the same direction the result is usually good. And it was. I worked out a sequence that was inspired by what Peggy taught in her advanced class last week with a few embellishments, side trips and additions and voila- we went very deep.

It was very fun to have friends there and to have a camera because we would photograph our poses and then examine what was and was not happening and try it again. I think this was the 3rd or 4th scorpion and the balls of my feet are on my head and not just my tippy toes, because I kept looking at the photos Gia took on the way in and the way out and could see where I lost my melt, where I lost inner spiral and so forth.
This may have been the easiest and best feeling pigeon that I have ever done and I am happy with it. (However, next time, I need to bring my legs in closer. They are running a bit amuck with outer spiral! Still, I am happy about this pose.) And compare it to the one over in the right column of this blog and you will see I have made some progress in getting my chest more vertical and open. And getting my hands in was not a big war. Like I said, I am totally happy with this and I have lots of things to work on. How anyone EVER gets bored with asana is beyond me. Seriously, there is always something to be working with and some way to be improving and going deeper.

And the sequence was a radically different approach to the bends than we used in the Shakti Shop. On Saturday we used lots of movement, more flow, lots of standing poses and quad stretches and so forth. Yesterday we got there with long timings, no standing postures, more props and a twist between each preparatory back bend. So many roads.....

Here is yesterdays plan we worked from:
  • 10 minutes chair backbend
  • chair bharadvajasana (1 minute each side)
  • Chandra Namkaskar (10 minutes)
  • Urdhva Mukha Swanasana (1 minute)
  • parivritta trikonasana (1minute each side)
  • rope 1 -20X
  • bharadvajasana 1, on blanket, at wall, with rope (1 minute each side)
  • parayankasana over a block (5 minutes)
  • standing maricyasana- at wall,with a chair and rope
  • pinca variation with feet on wall, legs parallel to the floor
  • jathara parivarttonasana- straight legs- (1 minute each side)
  • ustrasana- legs apart- (1 minute)
  • ustrasana- feet and legs together- (1 minute)
  • maricyasana 1, twist only
  • danurasana (1 minute)
  • pasrva danurasana
  • twisted lunge
  • urdhva danruasana
  • dwi pada viparita dandasana- head down.
  • scoprion prep on chair
  • scorpion pose
  • kapotasana
  • AMS
  • hips stretches
  • uttanasana
  • parsva uttanasana

okay- onward through the day. Oh, I also have to say I have been working really hard these days refining TT curriculum and I am 100% confident that these upcoming Immersions and TT's I am offering will be the best ever. I have been combing through all my notes from past trainings and consulting with colleagues and putting it into the most organized presentation ever. I am so excited about it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Morning

So we had a most excellent time at The Shakti Shop yesterday. I was going to take some pictures but then I got so into the practice and to teaching a bit throughout that I didn't take any pictures at all. We went through about 15 minutes of sun salutations, handstands, pinca, headstand and then into some standing poses in flow followed by a great foray into urdhva danurasana, dwi pada viparita dandasana, standing up from urdhva danurasana, dropping back from tadasana to urdhva danurasana and then into hip stretches, twists and forward bends. We had time for a brief shoulder stand and then a lovely savasana serenade by Wendy (who, by the way, has a voice like an angel.)

It was a really fun time. Gioconda and I were talking about it a bit at the end and I was telling her that really, so much of the advanced asanas I learned came through these kinds of practices either with John, Desiree or leading them myself. There is something really potent to me about Group Practice and there is a particular way, as a leader of one, that I lend my energy to the endeavor that is decidedly different than either workshops or classes. There is something about being in the mix in that particular way that I really enjoy and think opens a different door for everybody. I know I benefit a lot from the energy of the group and the shared focus and intention.

It was certainly the case yesterday- we had lots of people stand up from Urdhva Danurasana for the first time alone, many people try drop backs for the first time. We had first time padmasanas and even a few tears were shed. ( I always say, its not an Ansuara Yoga workshop till some cries! Kidding. Sort of.)

But really, the emotional body does get a big workout in advanced practice. The physical work is only one aspect of what is going on. Our emotions go through a full-spectrum practice also. We go from heights of joy to depths of despair to frustration to delight through grief through self-confidence to fear, to gratitude and back to resentment and around again to relief and so on and so forth. I mean really, long timings on one leg are kind of the least of what the challenge can be in just one class or practice! Make it a 3-hour endeavor and rest assured you get to go on a ride of epic proportion.

So anyway- thanks to the folks who could make it yesterday. You all inspired me in a big way.

more tomorrow. I have work I want to do.

Here is a short clip of Wendy blessing us with her lovely voice.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Saturday- SHAKTI SHOP today

Okay- well, I think I must go for brevity today since the last few posts I have written have been really long. I got so many wonderful emails from yesterday's post. So, thanks for checking in with me and letting me know the intimate aspects of your journey. It is really a very sweet thing.

I had a very fun and productive day yesterday. I spent a lot of time writing and catching up on emails and making plans for 2011 with Darren and Noah- (Stay tuned- we are cooking up something VERY fun and not-to-be-missed)- and then I met up with Gia for a practice before we went and had our nails done. We had a fun time practicing- we just traded off leading flow sequences back and forth as we worked our way into some back bends. It was really fun to share, create, explore and shoot some ideas back and forth. Like- hey, love that transition but do you think people could do it? or, love that sequence but my leg is DYING so maybe we should switch sides, etc. Anyway, good times.

Then we went to have our nails done. It has been months since I had a manicure or a pedicure so that was fun. It was also very funny because I usually go to a salon in South Austin right by YogaYoga Westgate. I started going there with Anne when I taught at YY Westgate. And so this time we went to a salon in Tarrytown. At some point, I looked over at Gia and said, "So the demographic at this salon is more than a little different than down south!" Ah, the difference a zip code can make sometimes. (Not on the inside, more on the outside expression of things. It is the difference between visible tattoos, body piercings, T-shirts with old jeans and Brighton belts, fancy handbags, ironed oxford cloth shirts, styled hair and big diamond rings! But I digress.)

After eating dinner I went over to Mom and Dad's house to watch a movie with them. While we watched the movie I turned the anatomy document I have been working on into a power point presentation I can use in Teacher Training so that was good to complete. The movie was sweet and then we caught part of Gladiator which has to be one of my very favorite movies of all time.

All right- so today is SHAKTI-SHOP at 3:30-6:30 with me and Gia at The Love Yoga Coop. I am excited about it. I always love these group practices because to me, it is the gathering of the tribe. One thing about Yoga in Austin, TX is that- while people certainly have "home studios" and "primary method allegiances and alliances" and all that- there are times when we all come together to just be with each other and share the love of the practice. These are times that our decidedly ecumenical Yoga community with its fierce independence that has always informed this city (I mean think about it- this is the capital of a state that used to be its own country! The karma of this town is something fascinating to consider relative to the culture of our yoga community. But once again, I digress.) comes together with the Austin ethos of friendship, good times and deep purpose. Expect sun salutations, inversions, standing pose flows, arm balances, back bends, forward bends and even a chance to rest!

All right- that's it for today. I have some other thoughts brewing but I need to write a letter and so I will save my creative juice for that.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Practice is not an Outside-In Kind of Thing

Several people this week have asked me, "Do you practice every day?" And the answer, I suppose, is both Yes and No.

Also, keep in mind that when I use the word practice I am not using to refer only to asana. For me practice involves an approach to life that is anchored in a commitment to see clearly and to act from that vision. Practice, for me, includes but is not limited to asana, pranayama, meditation, what I eat, how I eat, why I eat, observing myself, may thoughts, my actions, my reactions, my responses, the cultivation of compassion for myself and others, study, serving, being a friend, a mate, a daughter, a sister and so on.

Do I do any one of those things every day- sure. Do I do every one of them every day? No. Do I try to remember to remember what guides my life every day? Yes. Do I succeed every day to live from my Highest Vision? No.

But , I really hate that question because it seems to assume a context for practice that is not my context. I mean I might practice asana everyday but not because I have some rule or admonition or idea that I am supposed to. Or I might not practice everyday but its not because I am blowing off my commitments or because I am not inspired to practice or anything like that. Its a much more fluid conversation than that for me.

A long time ago I was in a workshop with a Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher named Manouso Manos when someone asked him about how much they should practice. And he asked them if they were a parent. And the person said, "Yes." So he says, "Do you play with your kids because you are supposed to or do you play with your kids because you love them and love to be with them? That is how practice can be. Don't do it because you have to or because you think you should. Do it because you love to."

See, the things is, I love to practice asana. I am rarely bored because there is always something to work on, improve, try out and explore. Being on my mat is one of my favorite places to be. I love the way the each bend, each stretch and each breath wakes me up, brings me home, and calls me inward. When I feel strong I love to practice strong asanas. I love that asana can restore me when I am tired. Its got everything- static, dynamic, lyrical, staccato, etc. I might not be on my mat every day- I might need rest, I might have a day of travel, I might have a relationship that needs tending, I might have work that has a deadline. Life is happening all the time all time. To make it into a rigid, "have to" is not the point for me AT ALL.

Same with meditation and pranayama. I sit most mornings. But again, not because I have to or because I think I should. And I do not feel bad about myself on the days I choose sleep over sitting and so forth. The things is I love the way it feels to sit at my puja in the morning. I love the way pranayama clears the clouds in my brain and wakes me up in the most magical of ways. I really do. I feel it with each cycle of each technique, my brain gets cleared, my energy begins to flow and once again, I come inward to me. It is a very cool thing to do for myself. It is an act of the Highest Love to greet the day like this.

I love the repetition of mantra and how it moves me toward meditation. Repeating the names of God and filling my cells with the messages of Divinity is not some kind of "have to" thing at all for me.

And I love the practice of meditation- not always because it is so easy or so delightful to observe the endless machinations of my mind but simply because the practice of it, even on the noisy days, opens me to something decidedly Real. The practice of meditation seems somehow intrinsically meaningful to me. In the crazy world of outward focus, noise and distraction the quite contemplative mood of meditation- even for a few moments, is an act of love.

I could go on like this in most domains.

Like food also. People say, "Are you really strict with your diet?" and I always say, "No." I am really do not feel strict at all with my diet. It is a very expansive thing with me. In general I eat whatever I want. But truth be told, in general what I want falls within a pretty wholesome range of choices. I could never do it otherwise. If my diet required a iron grip to make happen, well, I would never last. I just wouldn't. I do not have that kind of will power.

So practice to me is about a different kind of will power. It is about creating enough boundaries over a long enough period of time that a shift happens and we want this life and its practices. One time Paul Muller Ortega suggested to us that sadhana should move in a direction where Grace was pulling us along and we were in its slipstream as opposed to trying to push against the wind in some heroic attempt to effort our way into alignment.

So, like everything this is a multi-faceted issue. Certainly, I am big on applying will forcefully at times. For certain purposes. To achieve a certain aim. Just not as a way of life. I think forcefully manhandling ourselves into "good behavior" is really dysfunctional and only sets up a pattern of comply-rebel that is at its essence quite childish. We are adults on the path. This is a path of skillful and informed choice. There is no Yoga Police. There is no "Mean Yoga Mommy in the Sky" or "Mean Yoga Daddy in the Sky" passing judgement on whether or not we are "good enough yogis". There is just the cry from our Self to come home. There is just the ever-present longing buried deep in the heart of each of us asking us to step into Our Truth. Practice is not an outside-in proposition to please some outside Force. It is an inside-out process of aligning with what is best within us and removing the obstacles to our Light so we can shine brightly.

I have tired it the other way. It is no way for me to live. As I was reflecting on these themes this morning, I actually recalled a scene from my early recovery from bulimia. I must have been 5 or so years into the recovery process at this time. Keep in mind that my early recovery was pretty strict, rigid and full of dogma of all kinds. In order to gain some control over myself and my life I weighed and measured my food, abstained from sugar, caffeine, ate only 3 times a day, called my sponsor every day to give her a food plan, and was at 12-step meetings daily. So- extrapolate from there and you see it was a pretty authoritarian regime.

Now that structure had been necessary for a time. It seriously helped me. I mean the situation was drastic and I needed to take some drastic measures. And because I did, I am alive today. No regrets there. So, like I said, for period of time, I get that kind of approach, but I was in early- intervention mode still after 5 years. So anyway, I was at a therapy workshop and we were doing pretty major emotional catharsis work. We had a debriefing session and were asked to share how were feeling and all I could think about what how badly I wanted to kill myself. I literally felt suicidal.

Well, lucky for me, I had a world-renowned Jungian Analyst facilitating the group that day named Jeremiah Abrams. He listened to my story and then began to speak. He told me,"Well, from the Jungian perspective the desire to commit suicide is simply the desire for a radical transformation. Your psyche wants and needs something to change so badly and in such a total and complete way that some aspect of you- and I propose to you that it is your inner child, not your mature adult- has come up with this idea of suicide as a logical solution to the situation. That urge is your psyche telling you that you need a big change and you need it right now."

So at this point I get kind of interested. Not just kind of interested. At this point I am riveted by this man. (He was actually a visiting therapist that day and not the primary facilitator but that is another story.) I am still crying while he is speaking, but it was the kind of crying that we do when someone is speaking our truth with better words than we have for ourselves at the moment. It was a crying that came out of recognition, from being heard, from being seen and of hope because those words actually began to shine light on my path. They began to show me a way out of my darkness.

"So," he asked me, "Christina, what about your life right now...what about your relationship with yourself right now... needs to change? Dramatically and completely and immediately?"

So, to make a long story short, what needed to change and change quickly was a whole way of living and responding and being with myself that was rigid, authoritarian, rule-based and with no possible chance of ever being good enough. It was as though my boundaries and guidelines had become a prison of my own making that trapped me in a life that was called "recovery" but was devoid of any pleasure, joy of delight that would make recovery even worthwhile! And so long story short, I left the workshop, did not kill myself, lightened up, found I could eat chocolate without going to hell and could take a day off from exercise and still feel self-worth and so on.

So we fast forward now into Yoga Land where the opportunities for rigidity abound and where the do's and don'ts of the path are ever-present and so on and I get a little prickly when I around a lot preaching like that or when I get questions that assume a certain context of "should", "have-to" and so on and if we are not careful we can re-play out all kinds of childhood samskaras within yoga. (actually, we can assume we will do just that. Its not such a bad thing because once we do it, we see we are doing it, we can purify it and so on but I digress.)

I am really passionate about this idea of why we practice because I do not want a prison of rules to be the only place I feel safe or to be from what I draw my worth. I want the freedom to move, to play to explore, veer from the straight and narrow of convention and to still trust that my Heart is my very best compass. My Heart has never failed to call me home. My Heart has never failed to nudge me back toward my best whether I did down dog that day or not.

So I could go on but it is time for the day. Lots of fun things I want to go do!