Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tuesday Morning

Well, good morning.

Kelly and I got up yesterday and went down to San Marcos to play boat on the river. As always, it was a great time- the river was beautiful, the weather was perfect and I absolutely love being on the water. After lunch I did a little work on my computer, went up for a visit at Lulu and then to The Castle for my practice. I did a back bend practice working in long inversions to prepare with lots of hip opening and the worked with a chair to get into my upper back. I tried to avoid lots of vinyasa and standing poses yesterday as it is so freakin' hot right now. Also, in my personal practice I am pretty interested in the consideration- what is the softest way into the deepest pose? Anyway, I made some good progress into urdhva danurasana, dwi pada viparita dandasana, headstand drop-overs and kapotasana. A few pictures below.

Kelly and I came home, made dinner and then I worked the rest of the evening. I had chance to review a certification video and write up the assessment so that was good. It's such an exciting part of the certification process, watching videos and discussing the various ways a candidate can improve and reach more of their potential as a teacher. It is a great thing to be part of.

I have been pondering a question someone wrote to me a while back. A few entires ago I wrote about how impressive I found both John Schumaker and Patricia Walden and how inspiring it is to see 60+ year-old practitioners of their caliber. I was writing about impressive I found them on all levels and I was musing about how the path of the poses yields more than poses but seems utterly dependent on the somewhat dogged pursuit of asana, in this case advanced asana.

I got this letter from a student:

I read your blog this morning and have a question. So let me start with this, I practice on my own 4 days a week from anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour before I teach. I do some yoga everyday but just like D dog and hip openers but that is not a time-set-aside sort of practice. The classes I teach are Basics, (2) Intro and an hour-long flow class. Anyway, in general, I tend to practice what I will teach in that class. In the process of practicing,though, if I do not have a clear idea of what I am going to teach on that day, I get inspired while moving and the class rises up within me.

Okay, so the point of all this information and the question behind it is: Since I do not necessarily practice really advanced, intense postures, does this mean that I am missing a quality of depth within myself? I teach from mostly the Basics syllabus and do also venture into the Expanding syllabus depending on my group, but I stay within those realms.

I guess, I don't see myself as an 'intense' practitioner but I am dedicated. I know and see many of my kula mates are intense pracititioners and sometimes wonder if I am not giving enough. Of course, I always leave my practice feeling good and am definitely more clam, centered and steady when I practice before I teach. That certainly goes along with what you wrote in your blog. I also know that I have a family and so that changes the amount of free time I have, so I take what I can get.

So if I am understanding this right, what you mean by 'clarity and excellence in the postures' is about the connection you keep with yourself and the understanding of the pose in your body, which is what yields the light of understanding and the essential beauty of the expression in the pose. Is this right? In that case, I feel I am on the right track.

So-I hear this question a lot from practitioners, or variations on the theme at any rate, and I am not really sure how to answer it because I always worry about how my answer is going to sound. But I might as well take a stab at it this morning. Or at least, at part of it.

One think I know for sure is that we are all different. I was talking about this in class the other day and this is something Carlos Pomeda is always insistent about when he teaches yoga philosophy. He says that at the heart of the Indian tradition is the recognition of types. I think about this a lot because traditional Indian medicine, Ayurveda, is organized around this idea also. We have different constitutions, different capacities, different needs and different limitations and liabilities. What is good for one person may be detrimental to someone else.

Think about this because it is important. In the Ayurvedic world view I might have a stomach ache and my sister might have a stomach ache but because we are different types, we might have similar symptoms for different reasons and we would respond best to different treatments. Chinese Medicine is the same way. Two people can have a dry cough for different reasons and need different herb, etc. But remember, in general, Western medicine says, "Oh, you have a stomach ache...take this medicine" without as much consideration of underlying cause and the temperament/constitution of the patient. So those of us raised in the one size fits all approach to health and well-being have an unconscious carryover that one size fits all in other areas also and this is reinforced throughout our culture- one model of success, one model of beauty, etc. and perhaps we unconsciously take that idea into yoga and say to ourselves or think about others "one way to practice right."

Spiritually, Indian traditions are also founded on the idea of dharma- that each one of us has a unique role to play, a duty to uphold and a Work to do in the world. It might be the dharma of motherhood, the dharma of the monk, the dharma of the merchant, the dharma of the healer, etc and the idea is to do one's own dharma well. Those of us who study the Bhagavad Gita can remember the teaching Krishna gives Arjuna, instructing him that: "It is better to do one's own dharma poorly than another's dharma well." So again we see that yoga is not a one size fits all approach to life or spirituality.

So that is a very fundamental context to keep in mind when we ask ourselves or our teacher about our practice because while comparison can be useful at times, a lot of times we are comparing apples to oranges. I think we can, without realizing it start looking at the outside forms- like how much asana and what type and is mine intense enough- without considering personal dharma and individual constitution and a person's time of life. And maybe we are considering those things but not truly, deep in our heart of hearts validating ourselves, our choices and our approach to the path because this One-size-fits-all context is subconsciously determining how we feel about ourselves and others. That can be a real challenge to deal with because intellectually we may have the rap down- "Oh yeah," we say, "everyone is different, I know that. I even believe it." But emotionally, we can still be driven by a feeling of not measuring up or by a feeling that we really should be more like the person next door, etc. who somehow seems shinier, better, happier, more famous, etc. Brining the head and the heart together in such matters is not easy and is probably another post for another time.

Having said that- I think most approaches to asana yield positive results. I really do. Kundalini Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Power Vinyasa, Prana Vinyasa, Ashtanga Vinyasa, Iyengar Yoga, Sivananda Yoga, Ansuara Yoga and even any kind of stretching in Sanskrit seems to do a body, mind and heart good from what I can tell. Vigorous practice seems to yield some positive results, softer practice seems effective, flow yoga, bolster yoga and so on. Seriously, I see the good in it all.

But stay with me here- I do not think it all yields the same result. (And before we worry about that last statement too much, please refresh the previous conversation in your mind- it is not supposed to yield the same result because we are not all the same.) I think everything can be ONE and I think everything shares the same Heart of Goodness and all that, I really do. But I am not of the belief that everything is the same or that everything is equal. So when I look at the quality of personal presence that Patricia Walden has and the quality of personal presence John Schumaker has and I see them at 60+ doing poses I am struggling with with ease, I think to myself, I want both. I want a posture like that- inner attitude and outer form --and I think in their case, one built the other throughout their life of sadhana. So for me, I am still going for intense, deep postures.

Now- just because I am looking at them as an inspiration for me on the path doesn't mean I might not turn my gaze to someone else who at 60+ never did difficult poses and still has a very profound Light they cultivated through asana. I think there are a lot of examples for that also. Well, actually, I don't think there are a lot of examples of either- hard poses with lots of Light, easier poses with lots of Light because I think people are inspirational because they are rare and because it does't happen in lots of cases but that is another story. (And yes, I know that easy and hard is a relative term and I know standing in tadasana is infinitely complex and advanced is not a state of body but a state of awareness but I am talking here that Patricia does 108 drop backs once week and she is in her 60s and John is still arm balancing and back bending with grace and power. So I am calling that advanced for the purpose of this discussion.)

My main point is that I think it all depends on what we want from asana and the question is more about finding that out for ourselves and begin anchored in our own dharma. I think the letter writer answered her own question in the end, I really do. Also, I would not want anyone of us to pursue advanced poses for fear of missing out on something like inner depth. Yoga, as defined by Shri Brahmananda Saraswati is "that state where you are missing nothing." If we purse its practices from the context of "I might miss out on something" we are gonna be a bit off from the get go. I think best is that we follow the thread of our Heart's passion and the thread of our immediate life and its demands and obligations and we weave a tapestry of those threads that honors our unique dharma and is in the weaving itself, an act of creative exploration and expression.

That to me, is the Art and Culture of Anusara Yoga.

I could say a lot more on the topic, but, this is enough for today.


Olga Rasmussen said...

I so resonated with the letter sent to you - and the excellent points you made in response Christina. I think, as teachers, we are generally good about conveying such wisdom to our students - but as teachers - we may struggle with embodying this ourselves. As someone who has been dealing with a lot of physical issues the last few years, I've had to let go of a lot of what I used to practice very easily, and work with accepting where I am, especially when I am in community with my peers. This is not always easy, but your insights have given me greater clarity! On the other hand, I am blessed to be part of this Anusara community which is so accepting, supportive, and encouraging.

Thanks and blessings,

Jeremiah Wallace said...

I think this is important to point out to people. The difference in paths. Even in class the other day, you pointed out my dedication to the practice, but most people also don't know what else goes on in my life (let's say very little). But of course, no one can go on in a huge lecture about every facet of the idea of dedication in class. And everyone, students, teachers, observers- anyone needs to bear in mind that all they're seeing is the surface. I may have a dedication to practice and poses that are hard for me, but there are a lot of consequences that people probably don't see. I see very little result, very slowly, over a long period of time. And I also have NO obligations except to my roommate and my landlord to pay the rent. I have no kids, no partner, and in all honesty, I know that my personal life DOES suffer to a great extent from my practice. The moods and mental states that nearly constant forward folding puts me into is honestly not that enjoyable. Not to me, nor the people around me. Backbending is more fun, but it's also easier for me. Forward folding makes me more scared, hyper-sensitive, and introverted (as many know, that's not typical of me), and like I said, many other facets of my life have suffered for it. I just know that it's a choice I made for the year and I know I need to do it for myself. So really, I think it's important to see that kind of thing before people want to judge themselves for not having a certain intensity of practice. I think that they might realize how good they have it, just in ways outside of asana. So there's what I have to say about it.

Christina Sell said...

Thanks so much both of you, for adding such insight, clarity and confirmation to the discussion. It is a very multi-faceted consideration to be sure.

Mary S said...

I am so stealing "stretching in Sanskrit"

Christina Sell said...


子怡谷怡谷怡谷翔 said...


Emma Magenta Blog said...

This is particularly pertinent for me right now. Love.