Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thursday After Lunch

So, I am sitting outside after a lovely lunch and feeling just about every muscle in my body a bit sore. Patricia Walden taught a great back bend class today with lots of work in the chairs and lots of repetition in the poses . We did tons of chair back bends, lots of urdhva danurasana, a lot of dwi pada viparita dandasana, eka pada viparita dandasana, and finished the morning with a rousing foray into kapotasana. I got my heels several times with help which was great and she gave me some lovely tips on how to work on it so that was fun. And now, I am pretty darn tired.

I don't have much to write about. I am enjoying the time here on retreat to just be a little unplugged and little introspective. One thing I find so impressive and inspiring about both Patricia and John is the quality of presence they both bring to their teaching. I think they are both incredible examples of what a lifetime of dedicated practice yields in a person. They are compassionate, funny, disciplined, clear, generous and also very centered in themselves. I find it very inspiring and I feel very grateful to be on the receiving end of their very gracious teaching.

So, I keep wanting to write something about how that personal presence is the real reason to yoga, not the poses, but every time I start to type that, something stops me. Here is the the thing that keep occurring to me-- the path of the poses has been their path and still is. Every day, while one of them is teaching the large group, the other one is in the back doing their personal practice and, let's be clear-- they are very impressive practitioners. They are pursuing and practicing with great result, very difficult postures. So it seems to me somewhat impossible to separate out the poses from the effect of the poses, the approach from the outcome, the Light in their eyes from the clarity and excellence of their postures. Its merged. Its just so obvious that one feeds the other.

So, I find their commitment to practice so compelling and taking the time to receive their teaching and the accumulated wisdom of their journey is quite a treat.

more soon.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tuesday Afternoon

Well, it's a rainy day here in Montana where I am attending a week-long yoga retreat with Senior Iyengar Yoga teachers Patricia Walden and John Schumaker. I came to this retreat two years ago and it is really great to be back. Anne, my sister, is a certified Iyengar teacher who more than occasionally visits Ansuara yoga Land and so it is fun to be visiting Iyengar Yoga Land with her and Jeff and also my friend Rachel Peters from Prescott, Arizona. All in all its been a great week so far.

We had a very epic time getting here on Saturday. We ended up with a 7-hour layover in Denver due to flight crew delays and weather and so forth and got to Helena at midnight instead of 1:30 which was our original plan. But we made it and other than being a little road weary, no harm was really done. Travelling is always such a lesson in acceptance for me. Rarely does losing one's temper or giving into frustration ever help the situation. So much in the course of travel is really out of my hands. Almost everything except my attitude, that is!

The retreat-ants are divided into two groups- a beginning group and an intermediate advanced group. John teaches the beginners one day and Patrica teaches the int/adv. group and then they switch the following day and alternate, etc. It is great to get exposure to two different teachers that way. We had class with Patricia that morning for a lot of padmasana work andpadmasanain inversion work which was awesome after travel. Then we had John yesterday who taught a rousing and dynamic back bend practice. We got to drop backs and once everyone who needed help got help he had those of us who could do it on our own work alone. After we had worked a while, he said, "Okay, did everyone do their 108?" He walked by me and I said, "Well I got to 40... He said okay, get to 54 and then stop for the day." (the rest of the group was in down dog at this point.) And he coached me through some very useful refinements and suggestions for practicing them in a new way. So that was fun.

Today Patrica taught a 4-hour twist class which was super intense and deep. Lots of good insights from that. You know, I am pretty good at making myself work on things in my practice and really going for something without a teacher guiding me, but I would never have repeated those twists that much in my own practice. She really held the space for us in a profound way. So that is kind of thought provoking in terms of knowing now what I need to ask of myself in practice and being reminded that as a teacher, we need to hold a space for people to work beyond their comfort zone without apologizing for it.

As always I am delighting in the seat of the student and getting a lot of good help with my practice. Both John and Patricia have near x-ray vision with their observation skills and they show their love with lots of adjustments and refinements. Good times for sure.

A few commercials and announcements- Remember the Wonder of Meditation with Carlos Pomeda is August 1 in San Marcos. For more information about that, please email me and I can send you a flyer. Oh, actually, there is a pdf posted on my website. If you have wanted to meditate but was unsure about how to get started or if you have a practice and want to get some additional guidance, this is for you. Carlos will talks some about the different approaches to meditation throughout yoga history and focus mostly on tantric meditation. So, its a chance to learn some more philosophy and apply it directly to the practice of meditation.

Also, a reminder that Salutation Nation is coming up! August 7th at 9:00 on Festival Beach we are gathering as a city-wide yoga community to practice asana outside. I am leading the all-levels class- think fun flows, good music, great people and lots of good snacks and party favors to enjoy!

All right, then, time to take a hike through the woods. I think there is a small break in the rain.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Guru Purnima

Well "my two cents" morphed into a great chunk of change by the end of the day. I want to thank everyone for participating in such a rich and meaningful discussion- from the comments on the blog to the comments on Facebook and so forth. I even some pretty thought- provoking personal emails that people sent in response to my entry. I know it takes a lot of time to sit down a craft a letter or even a concise paragraph and so I really do want to thank everyone for joining in the conversation and adding so much texture to the fabric of this particular issue.

I got one email from someone encouraging me to "chill out" which was kind of funny because as passionate as I am on the topic of this method, my teacher , the integrity and intelligence of my colleagues and the dedication and sincerity of my students, I am not in anyway confused or personally troubled by the article. I have been around a while, right? I am a pretty perceptive person, right? And better yet, John is pretty much a guy whose sins are on the surface. That is a phrase that GI Gurdjeiff used to describe himself. (He was a pretty radical mystical teacher who founded the school of spiritual work called The Fourth Way. A few Google searches and you ought to be able to find out more about this amazing darsana pretty easily, if you chose.) But anyway, Gurdjeiff was making the point that if you are who you are-especially as a spiritually teacher- then its not some big shock when people learn about your faults.

So I have known John for over a decade and I have had the fortune to be with him in personal settings and in large group settings and one-on-one driving down the highway and sitting at meals with Great Masters and on the phone about business and discussing various heart-breaks and disappointments and I have seen him teaching 800 people in one room and I gotta tell you- it's always the same John. He is who he is.

And really, that has always been his message to each of us: Be who you are. A long time ago he told me it was the foundation of his teaching style. He said, "If everyone thinks they have to impress me in order to win my approval I am going to spend years getting through all that crap before I can actually teach them yoga. So I figure, why not just accept people as they are, give them the love and approval they want (consciously or unconsciously) and not make them "earn it" and we can get down to business a whole lot sooner."

So-- my point is that after over a decade, being a perceptive person AND being in the company of someone who is pretty transparent, well, nothing in the article shocked or upset me in a personal way- I mean all that the reporter said is there to be seen, right? And I am not blinded by my passion and love in such a way I can't see how someone might see things the way this reporter did, etc. John invited this person (an outsider) into the inner world and workings of Anusara Yoga and she wrote a sensationalist article. Big shock. I get it. I am not confused about how such a thing happens. I am, if anything, a realist. So I certainly do not need help with perspective on such matters. I am fully aware that people surround John and have a "Cult of John" for varying degrees of time until they realize what he is really up to is helping them love themselves, and it's not about him but about who we are together and how we might make each other great. All that's just part of the process. I am a teacher, too- I know how it works. And I am fully aware that Anusara Yoga has a marketing plan and thank god they do as my livelihood is hooked into that stream! No issue there.

So really my concern and passion isn't very personal in a sense. I was doing Anusara Yoga long before it was popular and I am going to be doing it whether or not it keeps growing and whether or not I am able to keep making a living at it. So I am solid. Partly, I am solid in my stance because I have watched with great clarity over the years what is positive and negative and so very little shocks or concerns me. And my relationship to the method has grown way beyond a fascination with the outside manifestation of our growth. Frankly, I am just so busy pouring myself into my practice, into my work and into the Teachings that have meaning for me (and not all of them turn me on or make my heart sing or anything wide-eyed like that) that I have little energy left to worry much about the rest of it.

But see, I am blessed to be on a team of people John has trusted with shaping the future of our method by creating standardized curriculum. I am fortunate to serve on several other leadership committees within our organization. And I consider it my great good luck that I was around in the early days of our method when we thought 40 people in a room with John was crowded. So for me, telling these stories is important as a way I can pay back what he so freely gave and gives me. I know today that people practice this method who have no direct personal connection to John and no direct knowledge of his commitment and sacrifices. Part of my purpose in writing yesterday was to help people who see him now as a "yoga rockstar" or "marketing genius" see that phenomenon in the light of a much larger sadhana and in the light of a long-standing and long- enduring commitment to Serve that had very humble roots.

Those roots are part of our method-- to me, much more than the world-wide growth we are experiencing now. And it seems appropriate to speak to some of that so that what we are today is placed in context. (Back to my love of context!) It's true, yoga has the ability now- like at no other point in its history- to elevate people to positions of fame and influence and so sure, ambition lurks around in yoga shalas in ways in didn't used to. Years ago it was some thin hippie lady with long braids and no make-up teaching yoga in the basement of a community center or a church a few nights a week and yoga was seen as more-than-a-bit-weird. Now, yoga studios abound on every corner and yoga teachers have tours and blah, blah, blah... I do not have to tell you all about that-- just open up the Yoga Journal and its self-evident.

But really, when we all begun with John, we had all been practicing for a while. Most of the people around then had come from Iyengar Yoga or from Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and it was a very dedicated crowd. We were super-intense and John asked for a lot from us. And we loved it. If we saw him in June and he told us to work on getting more strength in our legs, for instance, when we saw him in August, he was like, "Hey, I told you to work on that!" or he would be like, "Great job, now get your thighs back for real this time." And there was love and there was laughter but I have to tell you we worked our asses off around him because he had so much intensity and we were being pulled in his wake. It was a very high time, but it was no party!

I told him at the first of the year that, in my opinion, our community grew from the love of the practice. We were joined through our zeal and passion to grow, change and serve. We were so into it and all the while John was training us to love ourselves and each other better and after many years, this massive community had formed. Such a massive community had formed, in fact, that even people not-so-intense could now find a way to experience the magic of the method. And fast forward today to Anusara Yoga on the world-wide stage and plenty of people only know John in the role he is playing now and think that the growth was planned in some strategic way. (And sure, yes, I am aware there was some planning along the way but having been in those planning sessions myself, honestly more often than not, they are trying to keep up with growth, not trying to make it happen!)

So I write all this on the full moon of July which in the Hindu tradition is when the teacher is celebrated in what they call Guru Purnima. I am not writing so much for me, Christina Sell, but simply to honor my yoga teacher, John Friend, and to tell a story (of sorts) about how- in part- we got to where we are now. One of the very thoughtful letters I got encouraged me to tell more of these kind of stories because she felt that they were important for people new to the method to hear.

And really, again and always, this method is in our hands in a lot of ways. I think each one of us is its integrity. I think that each one of us is its majesty. And in my heart I know that each one of us is its future. The stories we tell today about yesterday will shape our present. Today's stories will become the story for future generations and the Power of the Word to give birth to reality will continue on. And so I think its worth considering, what story are we telling?

Friday, July 23, 2010

My Two Cents on The Yoga Mogul and His Method

Best to read the article above before reading my entry:

Well, I suppose I might as well jump into the conversation about the New York Times Magazine article. This 5-page spread, from what I have been told, is the largest article on yoga ever printed in their magazine. So that is cool. And really, being featured in The New York Times is a pretty prestigious situation in which to find oneself as a person and as a method. So that, too is cool.

But there are, in my opinion, some un-cool things about the article. I am really not a person who likes to go point by point through such a thing to set right to wrong and to delineate fact from fiction. Although I must say, in this case, there are a fair amount of inaccuracies listed like:
  • hotel room keys being pressed into John's hand (which I have NEVER seen happen or heard of happening),
  • there being a cult of John (which there isn't since he is the biggest advocate of community over individuals that I know),
  • John being secretive about his personal history (which he isn't. He is open about that-- its just not usually very relevant to 300 people in a room learning to teach yoga),
  • John being easily distracted (he isn't- I have been in the back corner of room before while he is helping someone in the front row and he has given a personal adjustment to me),
  • how John has his teachers proselytize and so forth (he doesn't) and
  • that money drives his decisions. (which it doesn't--So much of the business has grown as a result of outreach and service, not profit.)
I could go on. I mean seriously, there are a fair amount of things that are worth exposing point by point in the article. But I am more of a context person when you get right down to it. I am more of person who cringes-- not at individual points-- but at the mood of something when that is off. See, I figure if the general mood of something is accurate, then the details are less important and more likely to be understood within the larger context. So, in general, I am more interested in context than content.

And that is what rubs me the wrong way about the article- the context of it isn't right. Well, let me at least own that statement a bit more personally than that. The context of that article doesn't match my personal experience of John or the method or the wonderful people I call my colleagues, students and friends. See, the thing for me, when I remember back to the early days of Anusara Yoga and what hooked me so deeply, was a very simple thing--John cared about me and I could tell he cared about his students. And no matter how big the organization has gotten, no matter how many countries we now have certified teachers in, no matter how many ancillary businesses have sprung up around John and the method, no matter what kind of car John drives or what kind of artistic expression he is into, that has remained the same in my experience. And no one, no matter how crafty, slick or hip their position or writing style is, no one will convince me that his care was (or is) part of some marketing plan for creating a yoga empire.

I remember one year after I had first met John he and I were talking about all the changes I had experienced over the previous year. He looked at me- I remember it like it was yesterday- he had been teaching all day and he was putting his mala on after he had changed clothes- and he said to me with very deep sincerity, "I am going to support you. I am going to help you in your practice, I am going to help you be a great teacher and I will always be here for you." You know the thing is, he kept that promise to me. He returned his end of the bargain a hundred fold in my book.

Have I had issues along the way? Sure. Do I think John Friend is perfect person? No way. Who is? Do I think the growth of our method has been challenging for our community at times? Absolutely. Do I think at any point in over 10 years since I have known him that he has ever wavered in that promise he made to me? Nope. Never. Ever. Not once. He has unfailingly supported me and helped me with things from big life issues to the technical details of hand placement in a pose to dealing with difficult students to refining my speech to rehabbing more than one injury. Again, no one will ever convince that was calculated in anyway.

And the thing is, I know I am not the only one he made (and kept) such a promise with.

You know, at the risk of sounded like I am drinking the kool-aid or like I am some kind of reformed "true believer", I must say that the majesty of the method just can't be understood from outside. From the outside, all that many people will let themselves see are the reasons that give them an excuse to doubt. I mean sure, John is not a conventional yoga teacher and he has a very "rock-star" kind of life, in a way. It doesn't take a genius to see that. But anybody who has ever been on the road with him knows its not exactly very glamorous. He is constantly changing time zones, keeping odd hours, teaching long days, answering his email and taking phone calls from his students at the end of a day when he might rather be doing something else. Why anyone who begrudge him financial compensation for the kind of work he does is really beyond me. But I digress.

So from the outside you will see the ways the method is pushing certain boundaries of expectations, of long-cherished biases of "what yoga is" and so forth and you can find reasons galore to discount it. Fine- a bunch of people in tie-dyed pants who say the word shakti a lot can seem a bit weird to the outsider. I get that... I really do. But those of us who have stepped into the current of the method and its teachings have found something quite extraordinary in doing so. We found inspiration, we found support, we found ways to bring these exquisite teachings to life and to practice them and to, in sometimes small and large ways, embody them. (And that someone who heard John give teachings about philosophy without "any real way to practice them" missed the entire context that he gave them in- a yoga class- was how you practice them is kind of ironic. I mean, we practice the teachings of spanda for instance EVERY time we enegage muscle energy and organic energy. We practice the teachings of trusting in the Source, every time we root our foundation or draw to the midline or move into the back body and so on. Our practice, at its highest, embodies the teachings. But I digress into content once again.)

See, I am passionate about this because I think we live in a time of darkness and doubt. I think it has become too easy to doubt and too easy to assume the worst and we are lauded in society for being distant, discerning, critical and so forth. And sure, things can go wrong in all kinds of ways but I think believing in something and trusting in something is a daring act and one that can engage our deepest self for our highest healing. How different that article might have read had the author interviewed those of us who have been changed directly from involvement with Anusara Yoga. How might the content of how its growing have faded within the context that radical shifts occur everyday because we are helping each other line up with Grace.

That's it. That's the thing. It works. And not only is Anusara Yoga bigger than John Friend but it is most certainly bigger than life on the road with John Friend. John has always said that Anusara Yoga is primarily about what each one of us is doing in our local communities and his work on the road is to travel and support our local work. When our local work is strong, when we are doing our best to grow together, to work together, to honestly confront our darkness together and to affirm our Light together we are in the current of Anusara. The outer forms are going to change. Count on it. This is a moving stream. But the essence is and always has been caring for ourselves and each other as the highest expression of Grace that there is.

Like that.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tuesday Morning

Well, let's see what to write about today. One thing I am pondering lately is the learning process. In part this inquiry got stirred up because I got an email from a student in Los Angeles signing up from my online mentor group. She was excited about the opportunity to learn more and to go deeper into her studies and then at the end of our exchange she posed an interesting question. She asked me if one ever stops chasing after knowledge. If one ever just settles into what they know and feels confident and satisfied with that.

So I have been thinking about it and of course, like everything I think about for a while, it seems to me there are many sides to the consideration and a whole lot of yes and no and it depends involved. Also her heart felt question had me reflecting on my own journey in Anusara Yoga. In the beginning of learning this method I think the learning curve is very steep. It is fast and furious and every workshop and every class yields some great ah-hah, some great insight or some new way of working more effectively. My experience is that after a while that rate of learning slows a bit- we start to grasp the philosophical precepts, we start to understand and feel the UPA's and we glimpse the logic of our sequencing strategies and so forth. So, while we still (hopefully) have ah-hah moments and so forth, the reality is what we have in front of us to do at that point is practice. We are charges with the task of bringing to life what we know, day after day, class after class, practice after class. This can actually be boring to some and even frustrating at time when the answer, for instance, is NOT something new but is the continual task of actually getting our thighbones back!

So in this way, I do think the chase ends. Or at least it slows down. So yes, we eventually stop chasing.

And yet, my experience has also been that I am always learning and I have ceased to be bored with the acquisition of knowledge. I find the process of learning to be one of the best things in life. And, I am happiest as a student of a great teacher. And while every situation can teach us and we can learn from everybody and all of that, in truth, that perspective is not what I am talking about. I am talking about the sheer delight in my Heart of Hearts, the rightness I feel inside when I am sitting at the feet of someone who is truly great, someone who is a master at what they do. I love nothing more, than being around someone who knows so much more than I do that I am happy to just hang out in case their cup runneth over in my direction and I can drink just a little bit from their wellspring. I have to say, in those times, I am in my deepest flow. Nothing beats it for me. Not teaching, not practicing, not reading about it, no movie, no hot-fudge sundae, no fine wine. Nothing compares. So in this way, no, it never ends. Why would I want it to?

Also as I have chewed on this question a lot I also though about the context of what it means to chase after knowledge. And I think a relevant aspect to explore is what is motivating the chase. Is there some seed of emptiness in our psychology that consciously or unconsciously believes that "more knowledge" will fill us u? Like are we in the grip of anava mala with feelings of lack and self-hatred and think that if just "knew more" then we would prove ourselves worthy? Or is the chase motivated by a burning zeal to expand out Light inside and to serve from a deeper place of wisdom?

There are variations on the theme of those questions for sure but the real thing to ask ourselves is: are we chasing knowledge from emptiness trying to get full or are we chasing knowledge from fullness in attempt to glorify and expand what is already great within us? There is no right answer to the question but the truth of that answer determines the answer to our opening question, right? And there are shades of gray here also.

If we are chasing knowledge from emptiness then we have to know that the cure for that kind of emptiness is never "knowing more stuff." But how do we learn that? Many times we pursue the outside answers long enough to realize they don't fill the emptiness. Then we look inside. Depending on our type, temperament and so forth we might never actually get off the outside search and actually get to the real inner work of sorting through the true reasons why we feel unworthy, separate or alone inside. It is hard work to do- it is much easier to think organic food, acupuncture, drugs, a better diet, the perfect herbal supplement, a different asana method, a new partner, a better job, a fancier car, cuter clothes, bigger boobs, thinner thighs, some advanced posture, fame, fortune, babies, etc. will do it this time. Seriously, all the different approaches out there to "fix it" can and do consume a lifetime.

I am not of the belief that "everyone is eventually going to turn inward and find themselves." Not by a long shot do I believe that. I think it is rare that anyone would engage the painstaking process of really getting to know themselves and rooting this stuff out. And I think those of us in the process should remember that it is a rare thing to do in this life and no matter how ugly it gets in the inner world at times, no matter how scary and dark it may feel as one approaches the inner regions of their shame-based beliefs, there is Dignity in the work, there is Necessity and there is intrinsic value.

So, if the outer journey fails us and we turn inward and we find, even glimpses, of our Great Light inside, then I think that the process heals us. The sense of emptiness is alleviated. And I think, in that way, the chase ends. When the chase from emptiness ends, well, we can, from our Fullness, listen to ourselves to hear how best to continue to walk the path. I know for me, the desire to learn and grow has not ceased. And its lands pretty squarely in the world of yoga for me. And I am happy to chasing it, in a sense. (Although I wouldn't actually use that word.)

But seriously, I know a lot of people who were chasing the yoga path and what they realized, as yoga helped them listen to themselves, was that yoga wasn't actually "it" for them. Parenting was. Environmental Action was. Writing was. Dancing was. Gardening was. Asana fell to the wayside for a meditation practice. And so on. And so the chase from fullness didn't take them in the same direction, it led them down different roads and into other experiences of learning and growing. I am not of the belief that everyone should do yoga and everyone should teach yoga or anything like that, for instance.

So there are many more facets to the question and to the answers but that's what's on my mind at the moment. I know in my case that I am an experiential learner. I tend to plow directly into experiences, totally go for them, spend a ton of money on them and sort all the other stuff out as I go along. It is not always a pretty path but generally when I am done with something I am done. I knew it. I learned it from the inside out. And if I stick with something, same thing. I am not casual about it. I believe we have to take things to their natural conclusions in order to complete the experience. I do know, however, that as I have grown older and wiser the natural conclusion is often less extreme than it was in my youth. I seem to complete things without as many dire consequences!

But you know, come to think of it, I have yet to find the conclusion of this particular path called yoga so I am still very interested in it and happily chasing after great teachers and great teachings. And as far as throwing all our money at our yoga studies, well, there are worse things that that, if you ask me! Its pretty much where all my money goes. (And to Lululemon clothes.)

So speaking of more ways to spend your money and more knowledge and experiences to chase after, I got a note in my email yesterday from Rachel at Yoga Oasis telling me that there is still some room in the upcoming Teacher Training that Darren and I are offering. This is Part One of a 3-part training program and even if you have done Level 1 Teacher Training before, I think that this program will be full of fresh perspectives, new approaches and effective techniques to grow and expand as a teacher. If you want some information about it, please email me directly at or call Rachel at Yoga Oasis at 520.322.6142.

Have a great day.

Monday Morning

I had a busy day yesterday. Seems like I am writing that a lot these days! But anyway, I woke up early, did my asana practice, ate and went to teach the 10am class at Breath and Body Yoga. We did a great back bends sequence which culminated in eka pada urdhva danurasana and I think it went very well. I am endeavoring to show the Teacher Trainees of that group of a variety of approached to teaching Anusara Yoga other than a flow-based approach so this weekend I used very little vinyasa. Still not the same as how an ongoing class of mine runs but a good representation of the method, none the less.

We backed up a few steps in our observation training to great affect. We ended the day with much less confusion, upset and anxiety. the more I teach Ansuara Yoga to different groups in different regions the more I am convinced that learning this method just cannot be rushed. It jsut takes time to get it in one;s body, to translate that experience into our verbal instructions as teachers and then for the loop to be completed with our students actually understanding and doing what we are asking them to do. Something is kind of cool about that because at every step of the way, the process seems to thwart over zealous ambition. Yet, one has to have a fair amount of drive to engage and follow through on the process. So its a spanda, as always.

And the more I teach this method and the more i help people learn how to teach it, I find that extra pressure rarely helps anyone learn better or grow more. Some time the intensity of the teacher creates a feeling of pressure, sometimes our own tendencies toward perfectionism create the pressure, sometimes people seem to have a time frame goal in mind that makes sense but is somewhat arbitrary based on what needs to happen (like they vow they will be certified within the year but (A) they are not ready and (b) the process is not all within their control) and then that external time frame creates a feeling of pressure and of "having to get this by a certain time" which then generally creates the opposite outcome.

I think we have to be with these teaching a long time before they work on us enough to really be ready to teach Anusara Yoga well. the cool thing is it happens little by little. Weirdly, though, we get Teacher Training material in a huge download and then we think, "oh, I have to go home and do all of that tomorrow" which is just not true and just adds more of the above mentioned pressure. Really, as we learn these new teacher training skills, we simply have the opportunity/challenge/invitation to incorporate more and more of them into our teaching. And we can do it in manageable chunks. For instance, work on breath-based instructions for a few weeks. Then weed out indirect commands and excess -ing words and incomplete phrases that just dangle in the air like, "coming to the front of your mat" or "Stretching up." then refine your sequencing. then hone in on observation for a while. And so on. Don't leave Teacher Training and think you have to do it all tomorrow and be good at it right away. Chances are you can't and you won't.


I came home from the day of teaching and got ready for Anne's bridal shower which I hosted at my house. We had a fun turn out of folks- I am sure we missed several of you in the invitation process as it was somewhat rushed getting it all together due to my schedule- so I apologize if you weren't invited. It was kind of a last minute thing. Most of the people there we know from yoga so it was fun to hang out together socially as opposed to being in class. Anne got great gifts and seemed to enjoy herself and the celebration a lot.

Today I have no public work scheduled, just a day of some email, some meetings and some asana which I am looking forward to. And I just got an email from Darren with the flyer for our New Year's workshop! I am pretty darn excited about this event- Me, Noah and Darren in Tucson for New Year's Eve weekend with 54 of our closest friends. (Seriously- space is limited so sign up now- We are purposely keeping this small so we can really help people grow their advanced postures and so we can have an intimate, soulful gathering.) What better way to ring in a new year?

All right, that is about it for now. More soon.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday Morning

Well, we had a full day with Teacher Training yesterday. I taught the 10:00am class at Breath and Body which was fun. It is a very interesting thing to teach the public classes at Breath and Body because when I am not teaching them, they are Baptiste classes. So, once a month I come in for a weekend, along with a handful of people who regularly study with me and I teach the classes. I have a good time and I think I do a good job but it's an interesting expression of Anusara Yoga for a few reasons.

One reason is that while the two methods share a lot in common, there are plenty that is different so there are times when the Baptiste people are asked to go way outside their familiar zone of practice, which sometimes goes well and sometimes not so much. I always remember how Manouso Manos used to give this teaching about change: He would ask the group, "Know how to make a young person go crazy in yoga? Ask them to do the same thing every class. Know how to make an older person go crazy? Ask them to do something different every class."

As I contemplate the teaching he gave on the subject, I think its not so much an age issue (although that may be part of it) I think it is a temperament issue. Some people are drawn to those practices that have a high degree of routine involved and for a variety of reasons they like that and grow within that structure. Others are drawn to those practices and methods that have a lot of variety in how the asana is practiced, sequenced and performed and those people learn to grow and change within that situation. All that seems to go well until a super-structured sort of person lands in a variety situation or when a variety person lands in a structured situation. When that happens one has to go beyond the first rung of preferences determined by basic temperament. And seriously, this is not easy for most folks.

Another reason that it is an interesting kind of gig is that it is just not my class. I step in to teach an ongoing class that the people at that studio love and adore so they have a substitute teacher (And would rather have their usual teacher!) and so I have a group of people getting used to "me and my ways" which is markedly different than stepping into a class I have taught for years and have grown in a certain way and in which I have established a certain culture and way of working and rapport.

So teaching these weekends always gives me a lot to reflect on and work with which is kind of cool. Truth be told, I think that is at the essence of teaching- this sort of reflection. My sister told me about being at a workshop with Patricia Walden, senior Iyengar teacher who is one of my yoga heroes to be sure. Anne told me how at a certain point, Patricia reflected out loud on what was happening with her teaching in the class. She said something to the effect of:"I probably should have stopped with that pose... everyone was feeling so good at that point in the class and now you are deflated... I was so excited to get to the more advanced posture that I had planned for today that I may have missed the fact you were not quite ready... and now we leave with you not feeling so great..."

Both Anne and I discussed that the impressive thing about her teaching is not just her presence, her brilliant sequencing and her totally bad-ass practice and x-ray like vision with her observation. The real impressive thing is that this far into her teaching career, she is so reflective about what she is doing and so transparent about it and just without a big ego attachment. She is still refining herself. From her example, I think that, as teachers, we may never advance to a point where we are always, 100% of the time pitching the perfect thing to the group without any misses. Nope, that is not seasoned teaching. I think seasoned teaching is more about the willingness to constantly reflect on our teaching- to courageously confront our misses, to analyze how we might improve, to acknowledge and validate our successes and triumphs and so forth.

I think John Friend is brilliant in this domain also. I remember years ago, he taught a partner exercise in a weekend workshop. I had been with him before when the exercise worked really well- it had been a group very well-practiced in Ansuara Yoga and they took to the exercise like a fish to water, so to speak. A few months later he tried the same thing in an area where people were less experienced in his classes and it just didn't work well. He looked at me with a gleam in his eye and said, "Well, that was a train wreck!" And then he backed up, did a more basic approach to the posture and the assist and the group was totally successful. What was remarkable was not that he did it "perfectly," but that he had no problem acknowledging it didn't work and making an immediate shift and adaptation for the group. In fact, so often in teacher training he says things like, "I am a good teacher because I have made more mistakes than anyone else." I love that about him.

So we worked a lot yesterday with observation skills and that was difficult for many of the trainees. In reflecting on the day, I have come up with some things to try today to back us up a few steps earlier into the process to see if we can have a bit more success today and build a little more confidence and clarity. We are really into the thick of the Teacher Training process now where we are breaking long standing habits and I am holding the students to a higher standard and where they have more than one ball in the air to juggle. It is not easy. Teaching Ansuara Yoga is not easy.

Like John so often says, we have a lot to manage at any one time and keeping it all going in an effective way takes a lot of practice. And we can bet we are going to miss the mark a lot. So that's the thing- Are we reflecting? Are we sorting out where we are off-track and how to get better? So once again we get to see that having a high standard is not an easy thing but better to fall short of a high standard than to achieve mediocrity without flaw. just sayin.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saturday Morning

Everyday I have been wanting to get some time to sit down and write but this has been a super busy week. (I did manage to get to the river once and do my practices but no time for writing and reflecting with all the email, video reviews, classes, podcasts, meetings, etc. (Speaking of which last week's podcasts are up- Live Form the Castle 7, 8, and 9 were the classes I taught this week. Check them out. Remember- these are live classes- raw, uncut, not trying to meet every mark for certification, just trying to give a good solid class! So enjoy with that in mind. The sequences and dates are listed if you click on the title of the podcast. Print that out and you have a guide to use as you practice.

It is a Teacher Training weekend at Breath and Body Yoga and so far it is going really well. Zoe M (one of the fabulous luminary yoga teachers in Austin) came to take class last night to celebrate her birthday. Desirae gives a free class on your birthday so keep that in mind. It's one of the many generous things she does at that studio- along with a $10 yoga-teacher-drop-in-rate to support yoga teachers in coming to class.) SO we worked on some back bends with the theme of beauty and courage- two qualities I think really describe Ms. Z.

I have several ideas percolating in my mind that I want to write about one is really about how yoga- regardless of what kind you do- seems to facilitate deep growth and change in the people who practice it. I have had several profound conversations with yogis lately telling me how their involvement with yoga- all different styles, mind you!- has helped them overcome personal challenges, deepen the quality of their relationship and truly provide a lifeline of sanity and support in dark times.

So I think its worthy to consider in a day and age where methods compete and try to assert their "rightness" in the market place. I think, the direct evidence I see, is that it is all working pretty well. Different emphasis perhaps, different expressions fo the same principles and certainly different practices abound. But at the end of the day I really think we hgae more in common with each other than we have in opposition. I really wish as a larger community we would drop the whole 'use music or not use music" discussion and the 'to flow or not to flow" discussion, and the "right place for the drishti" and the righteousness around the bandhas (or lack thereof) and instead, anchor ourselves in our practice, open our hearts to others and their practices and instead spend our time talking about how this practice is helping us grow, change and evolve into who we most truly are and can be. I wish we would testify more about the deepening of our relationship with ourselves and the loosening of the bonds of self-hatred that come to practitioners of every style. I wish we would talk more, and feel more, how connected we are to ourselves, to nature and to those we love as a result of our yoga and stop using yoga-style conventions to create one more wedge between us and someone else.

All right -- enough said on that for now.

Along those line, I did get the most wonderful testimony from a student and friend , Lauran Janes who shared with me a piece of her writing. Lauran is a great teacher here and is owner and founder of Love Yoga Coop and she said she would be happy for me to share her writing on the blog. I hope it moves you as it did me. Seriously, I think we live in the presence of greatness around here.

Woman, Finally

Time warp.

Highschool’s long over.

Crows feet now decorate your smiling face. You are dreaming of babies, babies, babies. You are ‘over’ having to be that all-powerful-famous-rich person and have moved on to being honest, living with integrity, devoted to love-based values and loyal to your family.

Loud music seems a lot louder than it used to. Stilettos seem like an overall bad idea.

You don’t cancel plans with friends any more because you intentionally make half as many plans.

You’ve forgiven all the major criminals in your life.

You’ve forgiven yourself.

You’ve accepted yourself.

You respect yourself.

You still make mistakes, but they are no longer held up as evidence as to why you’re ‘not enough’.

You don’t pounce on your ringing cell phone anymore.

You canceled your ‘text’ plan.

You schedule email ‘hours’ a couple times a week and hike, play, make love, work, relax, teach, cook and enjoy life in the moments between.

You prefer reading to watching television.

You have a sharp discerning eye.

You’re not angry anymore.

You don’t speed when you drive.

You kindly let others into your lane. Why not? What’s the rush?

You make time for your friends.

You cook for your friends.

You listen to your friends.

You laugh a lot.

You are relaxed and you help others relax.

You stop eating long before you’re full.

You mostly choose colorful fruits and vegetables... and dark chocolate, the expensive kind.

You can afford a $5 chocolate bar - you’re all grown up now. And though you rarely drink, you can tell the difference between a Shiraz and a Cabernet.

Your husband loves you with a hug, not a cage.

He admires who you are and how you are.

He kisses you on the tip of your nose.

He kisses you everywhere.

Getting into bed with him is like landing softly in Love’s tender arms.

He’s your best friend.

Other women no longer scare you.

You cheer on the hot-bodied 19 year-old who bubbles over with gleeful enthusiasm for every subject under the sun. “You go girl,” you whisper to her. (And you send her a silent prayer of protection as you watch her sexuality spill unconsciously onto every passer by. She’ll learn.)

As for those women who glare with jealousy, who roll their eyes, who still’re heart goes out to them.

You’ve learned to meet female cruelty with indifference. This was not easy.

You no longer strive to meet the demands of society or race to match society’s pace.

You take up yoga or move to another country to remember your natural cadence.

You discover space and quiet within you.

You discover a deep Peace - a Peace that words can not touch but that deeply touches those around you.

You embody Love.

People experience you as Love.

And this is enough.

You are Woman, finally.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wednesday Night

Well, I had a great day of teaching today. I started the day with Focus on Form at 9:30. We had a really full class. Kim Schaefer had requested shoulder stand and so we worked a lot on preparing for that today. We made a strong foray into cobra and then worked on trikonasana and then made it to halasana and sarvangasana. It was a great class and people worked with such strength and dedication. It was really fun to have so many new and familiar faces in the room. I feel like we really covered some ground.

I met Kelly at home for lunch, did some work on the computer and then did my asana practice and planned my evening class. There was a lot of cross over today between my practice and the 6:00 advanced class. I worked a lot with Inner body Bright-- like in the biggest way ever- to see if that could be the primary prep for back bends. It went very well in my practice and it seemed to help people open up well this evening. More on this idea later but I am really into exploring this-- like how can we really use the inner body more and the muscles a bit less, in a sense. How can we, by lining up internally, create a kind of set and setting for the natural capacity of the body to arise more optimally.

We did ustrasana, urdhva danurasana, dwi pada viparita dandasana, urdhva danurasana to ustrasana and back to Urdhva danurasana and then we worked on drop backs and standing up. It was a full experience. At one point I got a little worried that I was just giving orders- I came in so focused with such a big agenda that I was absorbed in the teaching and then began to wonder if I was even smiling. (hopefully the students know by now that that is just how I show my love-- by being super-focused so we get to a very cool pose, with our body and mind prepared and honed.) And wow- the students in that class are so dedicated and they are getting so skillful that it was really great fun.

vajrasana, fingers interlaced, arms overhead stretching
childs pose
down dog
repeat first three poses with non dominant clasp
urdhva namaskar, palms flat together, no cheating
utkatasana X3
vira 1 X2
trikonasana with heel on wall, take hands to urdhva namaskarasana to vira 2 to prasarita paddottansana with hands clasped
classic parsvottanasana
thigh stretches at wall
urdhva danurasana, dwi pada viparita dandasana, urdhva danurasana
urdhva danurasana to ustrasana to urdhva danurasana to ustrasana
drop backs and standing up at wall
drop backs and standing up with partner or alone
Down dog
adho mukha parsva vajrasana
uttansana , buttocks on wall
parsva uttanasana, buttocks on wall
legs up the wall

All right- I suppose that's the main thing up right now- I am really just feeling a most wonderful flow of energy right now. I feel busy but so very inspired by the direction my life is moving. Equally inspiring is watching how our Austin community is evolving and maturing and how many fertile seeds and blooming flowers there are here. Mandy has an application in for certification, Jess Goulding is about to apply, Hannah has a video for me to watch and so all that is really cool. Mark and Hannah will be moving to Boston but Chris Muchow a-soon-to-be-certified teacher from Denver is moving here and Jason from Dallas is planning to move here. Jeremiah is going to step into some of Mark's classes at The Castle and we are over halfway through a cycle of teacher training at Breath and Body so a new flock of Anusara-trained teachers are coming up. I know more is going on than all that, those are just the things that come to my mind immediately. So we find ourselves in a vital community of growth and change and its a fun thing to be part of.

All right, more tomorrow. I need to stop writing this and start writing a workshop description for Valerie over at Sundance in Friendswood, TX. I am going to be teaching there the last weekend in August so, if you want to make a trip, check it out. I always have a good time there with her students- they are so open-hearted and sincere and Valerie has been practicing and teaching Ansuara Yoga since the very early days with John. She as one of the first people to invite me to give a workshop here in Texas when I first moved here so I always feel so happy to go there and so supported by her. It can be a daunting thing to move somewhere new (it was for me) and any helping hand can be like a lifeline. So Valerie was kind of like that for me. Great lady. Heart of Gold, to be sure.

I think, once again, that is what is part of my inspiration these days. I work with amazing people- as students, as colleagues, as my teachers and as my friends. And while it is often bumpy and filled with trials and tribulations, we keep going and find a way to grow together, learn together, laugh together and share the ride in the most authentic way we know how. I feel very lucky in this regard.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Home Again

Well, I made it home from Los Angeles in one piece. I was more than a little tired because me and Noah and Tracy (Noah-ji's lovely wife) were up late into the night talking and then my taxi came at 5:30 am. But the inspiration of the weekend carried me quite nicely and I was very happy to arrive home and see Kelly, the dogs and a lovely a batch of correspondences to catch up on.

After lunch I did some work on my computer for a while and then went to Peggy's class. She taught a somewhat unusual sequence with A LOT of supta padangusthasana work and went into simhasana in lotus (which I covered in Sunday's session in LA-- the planets must be in alignment or something) and which was totally perfect after a day of traveling to release apana vayu and settle my nervous system a bit. Good stuff.

Kelly and I ate dinner and sdid some work last night and then this morning I met up with Gioconda, Zoe and Jenn W. for Gioconda's flow class this morning. And guess what she started with? Supta padangusthasna and guess where she went with it? Padmasana. See, I am telling you, it comes in waves like that.

After class I had some bodywork with Will and then mett Gia and Kelly fgor some food in the cafe and then Gia went to teach a private and Kelly and I went to Lululemon where they were having a sale. Lots of great deals and LOTS of cool new things in the store also. It was great because I got a chance to talk to the girls there about the upcoming Salutation Nation on August 7th at 9am. Think about it- almost every Lulu store in the country is sponsoring one of these events on that day. Salutation Nation- get your asana outside! We will have a great outdoor venue, lots of people, snacks and music and Christina Sell (yep, that's right, ME!) teaching the class from 9:00-10:00. So please plan to attend. I am super psyched about it and really honored to be asked to teach. I can't wait. Please come.

After that I came home and Anne came over and we did a practice. More work in the hips with some cool sorting out of akarna danurasana. Not an easy pose for me but I got some good insight about it, thanks to Light on Yoga. So look forward to that work in one of the advanced classes this week.

Other than that, I am just filled with a lot of inspiration and gratitude for the weekend in Los Angeles. Maria Cristina did a great write-up, I think some details of the weekend can be found there. The thing I am left with- over and above the content of the weekend, which I must say was pretty great (And you will actually be able to purchase it on Yoga Glo soon so stay tuned for that announcement.) -- is the profundity of the love that was present in the room and amongst the group of people assembled. Anusara Yoga is so well established in Los Angeles that the group was dedicated, sincere, well-trained, well-practiced, curious, open and ready to work very hard. I received such a warm-hearted welcome and such tremendous receptivity to my teaching that I was blown away again and again by the group. There was really something special happening.

Noah and I talked about it a little bit. One thing he said is that because there is so much yoga in Los Angeles-- yoga of every kind, with well-known and skillful teachers-- anyone who is doing Anusara Yoga is doing it because they really want to be doing it. There is every other choice imaginable there and so when a person finds Ansuara Yoga and its a fit for the,, it is easy to find lots of classes, to immersion oneself in it and the students are not there wishing it was flow because flow is right down the road in abundance! As is Iyengar Yoga. As is Ashtanga Vinyasa. It makes sense and whatever the reason, it made for a fantastic environment in which to teach and the community assembled there was a picture to me of some of the best of what we have to offer as a method.

Add to that, teaching with Noah was fantastic as always. Noah is smart, creative and potent as a teacher. I always learn a lot from him both in the classroom and in our conversations when we are "off duty", so to speak. He has been one of my best friends in Anusara Yoga since the very beginning of my involvement when I went to workshops with John. We had an immediate connection because we both went to the same college. That may not sound like a big deal on the surface but Prescott College is a very unique learning environment that only appeals to a very few people (there were like 15 people in my graduating class) and so generally those of us grads who meet each other have an immediate bond and affinity for one another. That was how it was with me and Noah and we have been friends ever since.

I think having a good teaching partner is a lot like having any good partner in life. If affords both security and freedom and as many people told us after the weekend, " 1+1, in this case, equalled 5." Also of note, I very much felt my other favorite teaching partner, Darren Rhodes, in the room throughout the weekend as I shared so many of the nuggets of wisdom and asana refinements I have learned from him in the time we have worked together. This part of my teaching work I find very inspiring these days because as John is travelling so much and is teaching so much of the Shiva Shakti Tantra to large groups in distant lands, I am still learning from his great teachers!

It reminds me of one of our central philosophical tenets in Ansuara Yoga and that is that the seat of the teacher is held by the group, it is held by the community. Rather than one person being responsible for 100% of the information, the idea is that the kula holds the teaching as a group. Don't get me wrong, John is the leader of this grand and beautiful art project we call Ansuara Yoga but he has trained so many people so well that there is an abundance of talent, insight, and knowledge in the people I call my friends that I keep feeling inspired to this very day. So that is fun.

So, here's a picture of me and Noah at the end of a long weekend but very much lit up from all the love. (Noah will be coming here Halloween weekend so don't miss that!)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Thursday Morning

I had a full day of yoga fun yesterday. I woke up, did my sitting practices, ate breakfast and taught Focus on Form at 9:30. We had a strong class but it was deep and technical. I worked a lot with instructions about how to create stability- specifically, how to tone the backs of the legs in standing poses and how to stabilize the shins in standing postures. We took that work into twists and made it to ardha matsyendrasana. IF we had more time we would have gotten up after that and looked at parivirtta trinkonasana but, well., I think the point was made. That class is a fun class to teach. It is a mix of levels in terms of bendability but it is a very mature group of practitioners in terms of awareness and refinement. People come to that class wanting to "Focus on Form" which makes for a fun time for me. Instead of having to "sell people alignment" as is the case in some situations, this group of people comes in the door wanting it. So that certainly makes my job easy and enjoyable.

It is much the same way at 6:00. that is such a bad-ass group of people. So hard working and so dedicated. We have a very regular group of folks who attend that class now and I feel like we are really building something right now which is amazing. Last night we worked with the theme of creating unity and connection and friendship with ourselves and we work in the forward bend and twist genre of poses culminating the work with a quick foray into krouncasana, for Jeremiah. (its his goal pose this year so I am doing my part to help out!)
The sequence:
  • centering
  • invocation
  • Child's Pose
  • Down Dog
  • uttanasana
  • malasana
  • uttanasana
  • malasana
  • uttanasana
  • deep lunge forearms down
  • deep lunge, quad stretch and twist
  • parsva vajrasana
  • parsva uppa vistha konasana
  • agnisthambasana
  • parsva agnisthambasana
  • parsva uppavistha konasana
  • janu sirsasana
  • anjaneyasana
  • parivritta parsvakonasana
  • urdhva prasarita eka padasana
  • utthita hasta padangusthasana
  • maricyasana 4, variation
  • krouncasana
  • uttanasana
  • sarvangasana
  • supta badha konasana
  • savasana
And if that sounds good to you, you can purchase the audio of class from

After Focus on Form I met Bekah for Matt's Flow class at Kula Yoga. That was fun. I hadn't seen Matt in like a year since we both stopped teaching at Yoga Yoga so that was great. His class is as supportive, nurturing, and challenging (the squats and lunges were really something!) as ever and you get all that wrapped up with his compassionate, dry sense of humor. Not a bad deal!

I had lunch at Wheatsville, answered some email and then met Gioconda and Chris Rossbach at Bodhi for a practice together. That was fun. We worked in a similar vein to the Fourth of July Practice which as a lot of fun. We got into drop backs, the 4 eka pada rajakpaotasanas and natrajasanas. I was still sore from Sunday so I figured the best thing to do was do it all again! Good times.

So after a snack at the Food For Life Cafe, I taught the 6:00 class. (See above.) Kelly and I came home from that, ate some food, posted the podcast on the store and went to bed. It was a pretty full day, doing what I love most- practicing yoga with friends and teaching yoga to great people.

I must say on a closing note that I was filled with delight at the end of class yesterday when I looked in the prop closet and the blankets were all stacked neatly and in good alignment and I hadn't even mentioned a thing about it. I felt like some kind of proud mama or something. Silly, in a way but I swear, its really those kinds of things that tell me the yoga is happening.

It's like I mentioned in class last night. The hallmark of advanced practice, in my opinion, is not how deeply we bend or how strong we are although those things have relevance in the asana practice, obviously. The hallmark of advanced practice, to me, is in how deeply aware of ourselves and our actions we become. Advanced practice has more to do with the number of details of alignment we can manage in any given pose, the depth of our heart that we express and the care we give ourselves and the kindness and honesty we extend to others.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love to work on poses. I really do. Come on, I am somewhat obsessed with it at times, truth be told. (As evidenced by all the time and pictures and commentary, etc.) But really, I think advanced practice is more about how the poses are working on us. How they are cultivating our attention and how we are placing that attention on what matters most in our lives. And at the end of the day, its not getting my feet to my head in scorpion or grabbing my knees in Bhujangasana 2 (although Brigette, I am working on it!) but it is a matter of how deeply I connected to myself and how deeply was I able to connect with someone else and share, even for a moment, the world of the heart and spirit with another human being.

like that.

Oh, another cool thing is a project a Facebook Friend of mine is doing for teenage girls called The Kali Club. It is designed to be a resource for teenage girls to have positive role models and they interviewed me recently. Here is the interview