Tuesday, May 31, 2011
I have been thinking a bit about the thread of comments that came out of my last post on community. I know for me that community has not always been an easy part of this experiment. I have had wonderful, enriching and profoundly rewarding experiences in community. I have had frustrating, maddening, disappointing and painful experiences as well. I have been excluded, misunderstood, misrepresented, and taken for granted. I have been included, welcomed, seen, valued and appreciated as well. It's been a full spectrum experience for sure.
One of the hardest transitions for me was leaving Arizona after having a studio for many years and being at the helm of a very close-knit yoga community and being actively involved in the life of my teacher's ashram and deeply involved in that sangha. When Kelly and I moved to Austin I had to adjust to a completely different ethos all together and it was brutal at times. And not just for me. Some of the most difficult teaching experiences of my entire career came in the months and years following that transition and perhaps some of my greatest mistakes as well. Of course, all of that is a different story for a different day, my point is that while I value community a lot and take great refuge in it, community is a complex thing and it's blessings have not always come easily nor in the ways that I have expected.
I wonder sometimes about how, when as a yoga method, we express and claim high ideals like community we might actually be contributing to some people feeling like they are missing out on something or a feeling of lack regarding community in a way that might otherwise go unnoticed had nothing been said about community at all. Like, now people think they are supposed to have this thing called "community" and if they don't have what they feel like that must mean, they feel disappointed, frustrated and so on. Perhaps, by having community stated as such a high ideal, we exaggerate an expectation for community that is hard to live up to.
And honestly, no one gets through high school without some kind of samskara to deal with about fitting in and belonging even if it is just a strong stance on "none of the BS matters to me" and community can trigger those patterns, reactions and feelings in a heartbeat. I can not tell you how many letters I get in a year from people who feel slightly (or not-so-slightly) on the outside of the "in crowd" of Anusara yoga whether it is in our larger national venues or in their local studios. It seems that community can quickly become code for "clique" and intimacy and familiarity can easily feel exclusive to others. And for a lot of reasons.
And while I am thinking out loud here about the downside of our high ideals, I might as well also confess that I also sometimes wish that we didn't claim, as Anusara teachers to "inspire, uplift and make everyone feel better about themselves" (it is not the exact quote but the teacher manual says something to that effect) because it is impossible to do. I have had more than one student over the years throw that line in my face when they didn't like something I said or did. Truly, while it's a wonderful ideal, it's an impossible standard to live up to. Not every situation we encounter in a yoga class is going to feel empowering and elevating. Sometimes, remorse is required for growth. Sometimes frustration is the fuel we need for moving forward and sometimes, as teachers, we simply can not spare our students from what is difficult.
So, not every class is going to be inspiring and uplifting and not every community is going to be warm and welcoming. (wow- and not every blog entry is going to have good news!)
So, what is my point?
The point is that I think it is important to acknowledge some of the challenges inherent in such a high vision and to get real about the fact that, try as we might, this stuff is not easy and we are not going to get it right all the time. Pretending difficulty doesn't exist is no way to go through life nor will it aid us in creatively working with our challenges as an opportunities for expansion. I also think perspective is huge because what may seem like a roadblock today is tomorrow's breakthrough.
I definitely think that having these high aims is worthwhile, I just think we have to be very refined with high aims to not tip into a expectation-based consciousness that robs us of our joy and base-level acceptance of the way things are and the gifts that come from our current circumstances. I am reminded of some 12-step teaching about how "serenity is inversely proportional to expectations."
I know for me, as I adjusted to my new yoga community after moving, a lot of what I battled were expectations that I brought over from my previous circumstance. It took a long time for me to see the situation as it was without wishing it was different. I began to realize that my community had shifted and instead of seeing where it wasn't, I began (more often) to see where it was. I learned to recognize where the friendships that fed me were and how to focus less on the ones that were draining. I found that I had rich community resources but they weren't where I thought they "should be" and so I was failing to be nourished by them. I think this kind of awareness work is even more difficult if we are living in the hazy, undefined place of "I should somehow have this elusive community that everyone is talking about is so great but I don't think I have that thing they are talking about."
For me, community is not really a big, sprawling thing. Seriously, having a few good friends I can be myself with is major. Life changing. Deeply important. Vital.
And while I do operate in a fairly big sphere of interaction due to my job, and my life is increasingly full of amazing people around the world who practice yoga, the truth is community may not mean that for everyone. I think to say "community is important" is fair but I think each one of us needs to explore what community means for us individually and what we would like it to be and then get clear with ourselves if we are doing what we can to cultivate it, like being vulnerable, available and taking risks. And if we are, and we still don't have what we long for, it may be that seeds we have planted have not had time to germinate and sprout yet and some patience and faith is required.
Again, I do not think any of this is easy but I do think it is worthwhile. And I know experiences vary and so many people experience deep, meaningful community connections where they practice yoga. For me, its a multi-faceted diamond and the process of finding ones way in and through community and its challenges and triumphs is kind of like a treasure hunt of sorts. Some days, you strike out. Other days, you strike gold.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
My week back home has been super busy and since I am dealing a 2-hour time difference it adds another component of challenge to the formuala- sleeping till I wake up puts me two hours behind Texas time since my body is on Arizona and California time still! Anyway the time home has been productive for me- I am making some headway on my to-do list (although I am still a bit behind on video watching and correspondences that require thoughtful responses!) Oh well, I have a long plane ride to Hawaii on Monday and plan to watch certification videos then.
We began the Part Two Immersion last night at Breath and Body Yoga. It is great to have some many people continuing on with the program from Part One and also I am enjoying meeting some of the new folks who have joined us. One thing that is awesome about this group is that they came to the Immersion with good habits in place and with good training so we were able to begin the program with a high level of knowledge, expertise and focus. Every group is different and enjoyable in unique ways for sure but its a great delight to teach an Immersion to people who are not brand new to Anusara Yoga because we can move quickly through the basics and into the refinements of the practice.
And so Part Two is fun in that way. Instead of the huge bulk of introductory material that we cover in Part One Immersion, we move into refinement and artistry a bit more with both the asana and the philosophy. This is the third Part 2 immersion I have taught in 4 months and so the material and how it fits into the whole program is really familiar and enjoyable for me. We spent a lot of last night talking about the three goddesses and about Shri and it is really a great contemplation. The more I ponder and teach about these archetypes and ideas, the more interesting and relevant they become to me.
I talked about this last night a bit. It is not so much the teaching about Shri that I find so interesting when I teach an Immersion. What I find interesting is what the teaching of Shri means to me at any given time in my life, in what it means to the students in the group and what we do with the teaching relative to our own experience and viewpoints. So as an Anusara Immersion teacher I am responsible for presenting what I affectionately call "The Doctrine" but what brings the doctrine to life in an interesting way is when the students in the group chew on the teaching and work to make it come alive within themselves. That is what I am into. That process is why I love to teach yoga.
I think the process of making things real and personally relevant is super important in any community and especially important in spiritually-oriented communities or else we run the risk of being in blind following mode or in a mode of keeping our true thoughts to ourselves for fear of not being accepted or we rebel internally or externally from the group in order to preserve our own sense of autonomy. Being part of a group, to me, is not about agreeing with everything or having to mimic certain group affectations or traits as way of appearing to belong. I don't know about you, but I had plenty of that in jr.high and high school and am not so interested in it as an adult. I work hard to keep any kind of "scene" out of the work I am doing.
To me being part of a group is not about joining a scene or anything like that, it is about aligning with the big picture and vision of said group and slowly, deliberately proceeding deeper into the experience, all the while making sure I can be me as I continue. It is like any relationship, really- it takes a long time to know someone and for them to get to know us. I think being part of a yoga community is the same way. There is initial resonance (or not) and then there is the process of understanding the different levels of intimacy we can operate at within a group and that work just takes time. And obviously, like in any relationship we are going to make mistakes, bump up against our issues, have our feelings hurt, be misunderstood and reach limits and roadblocks. That is just the way that it works and it is not a sign that anything is going wrong, in my opinion. Of course it may be a signal that deeper inquiry is required, but that is a different story.
Well, maybe its the same story but for a different day! Time for asana practice.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Monday, May 23, 2011
Monday, May 16, 2011
The Summer Day
Friday, May 13, 2011
This was a pretty big day for me. I wrote this book in 2008 and it has been a long process of bringing it into the "finished" product. And the thing is that while I could talk about the external challenges and road blocks involved in the project, really, the thing is that the time it took was really for me. The last three years have involved some of the deepest, richest and most profound sadhana and personal work I have ever done and I think it was necessary in order to feel in alignment with the subject matter of this book.
The book is inspired by Yogi Ramusratkumar who is my guru's guru. He was a saint who lived and taught in Southern India in Tamil Nadu. Toward the end of his life he orchestrated the building of a huge temple that he intended to be a place of refuge, sanctuary and blessings for anyone who visited. It would, in effect, be his body when he had passed his physical sheath.
I love visiting this ashram and have always enjoyed the stories of how it was built and given my own struggle to inhabit the temple of my body in a joyful and peaceful way I was inspired to use the stories of his temple building project as a template for my own continued work in this domain. The book also goes further than that and outlines principles we can use to build a "body of work" or a "body of practice" that glorifies The Highest and becomes a place of inner sanctuary and refuge. I give suggestions, ask the readers to explore their own ideas and to engage a Temple Building Project of their own.
It's a cool book. I am told it reads well and is meaningful without being too heavy or technical. It is not meant to be academic or definitive relative to Anusara Yoga philosophy but you will certainly get some commentary on some of our guiding principles along with some teachings from Lee and stories from Yogi Ramsuratkumar devotees. Since the topic is about crafting a temple, the "delay" in publication gave me some much needed time to do some work on my own body of practice and shore up some of the weaker walls and freshen up some stagnant rooms.
It really is an amazing process to write a book. Lee used to say that we generally write books like these beyond where we actually are in terms of realization and actualization and that this is no problem at all. He said it is the boon of writing because once it is written, the book becomes a tool that can draw us forward into the truth that we already know on one level but have yet to become on another level. That is how it has been for me for sure.
So, if you want to buy my book, you can go directly to www.hohmpress.com and buy it this week. Soon it will be for sale on Anusara's website. They have been super supportive of the project. It's really quite a blessing.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
One thing I learned while I was at the ashram is the power of a good question. I have a team of advisors who I met with while I was there. And without going into a whole lot of detail I have to say that when I got down to what was really on my mind and asked an honest question of them, I was showered with a kind of help and Regard that was staggeringly wonderful. I told the story in class today as an example of how we determine the qualities of lives in many ways by the kinds of conversations that we have.
In our training we had posed a question to the group about devotion. After some writing and small group sharing, Darren asked how many people had juicy conversations and how many people had somewhat neutral or uninspired conversations. We gave the "juicy conversation" people a chance to share with the bigger group and then I offered my own recent experience as an example of how we can actually make the conversations of our lives more interesting.
When I first sat down to tea with my mentors, I was staying on a superficial level in our conversation. It was funny, interesting and pleasant, don't get me wrong. I mean we are all smart, well-educated and well-informed people so we can be quite entertaining. But as the tea party began to draw to a close I began feeling anxious because I had been sitting on a question and a request for some feedback and help and I wasn't entirely sure I was going to ask my question or not. As my anxious feeling increased, I decided to go for it and what resulted was an hour-long download of some pretty amazing wisdom, support and clarity that was in no way superficial, boring or mundane.
So the point of the story is that interesting conversations sometimes require that we be vulnerable, take risks and face our fears and anxieties about exposing ourselves, our shortcomings and our desires. And there are certain windows that open and opportunities that present themselves, but we have to step up to them in order to benefit from the opportunity. For instance, the tea party was almost over and had I not asked within five minutes of when I did, that window would've closed for a while.
Its a great way to move deeper into accountability in our relationships, I think. I mean, if we are bored in a conversation with someone, maybe its because we are being superficial or we are not risking vulnerability. Of course, its not always appropriate to dive deep. We certainly need to know when it is appropriate to have the "news, weather and sports" conversations in life, but that is a different issue. I am talking about when we are bored in relationships, or when we are not interested in what we are learning and so forth.
It kind of reminds of a time I was talking to Darren about some challenges Kelly and I were having in our marriage at the time. I was complaining that I was bored and Darren looked over at me, stared me right in the eyes and said, "Well, Christina, if you were telling the truth there is no way you would be bored. I have talked to him and I have talked to you and all I can say is that if you were telling each other the truth it would yield some pretty interesting conversations!"
So like that.
(And Darren was right. The truth got pretty darn interesting for a while!)
Sunday, May 8, 2011
Here I am now in the airport getting ready to go to Arizona. Darren and I start Part Three Immersion on Wednesday and so I am meeting up with Kelly in Phoenix and we are gonna head up to Prescott for a few days of R&R with my friends at the ashram there.
The week of Immersion was amazing and inspiring. Noah and I set a very high set of expectations for the group and asked for a very high standard of studentship and participation from everyone. It was amazing to see the students rally and rise to the occasion with flying colors. The group was diverse in experience and knowledge but very unified in the longing to go deeper, to improve their practice, to learn the method and to explore their inner landscape. They were a pleasure to be with and to teach. I feel like I learned a lot along the way, as always.
At the end Jen told me, "I know you do these all the time and tis is like your every day life but this was truly life changing for me." I told her that each group changes my life also. I have to become bored with Immersion, yet to feel uninspired by the process or untouched by the depth of who we become when we are all together in the field of consciousness that is Anusara Yoga. Truly, every group moves into. My heart in both predictable and completely unprecedented ways.
In one of the group shares, one of the students, Jerry, who teaches dance, was talking about his work training dancers. He said that while you can train people in technique and you can help them learn the forms relevant to the dance, dance is essentially an art form of expression and what you cannot do for anyone else is determine how deeply they feel the need to express themselves. He was interestingly unequivocal on this point that not everyone feels the need for expression to the same degree. Dancers who have "it", who have that certain something that makes them stand out, that makes them more likely than others to succeed than others, do not necessarily have more talent. What they have is a hotter fire, a stronger need, a deeper impulse toward expression. He said in his experience, dancers have that or they don't and he has not had much much luck in helping someone who does not have a need to express, develop it.
It made me think about a story my parents always tell about me as a toddler. I was trying to talk before my vocal chords were even developed. My parents always laugh as they tell this story and it is often told a bit at my expense- I mean, let's face it, "being at a shortage of words" is rarely a way I am described! But I think this story illustrates Jerry's point quite well. I came into the world with an strong urge to express. What I lacked was the vehicle of expression and a set of communication skills. I needed my physical body to mature, my vocal chords and mouth muscles to get stronger. I needed to learn the language and gain skill at "using my words" and so forth. But to Jerry's point, I have never been at a loss in terms of creative impulse or expressive need.
Even as I was in addictive cycles and dysfunctional psychological patterns at different times throughout my life, I can now see that those things, too, were driven by a deep impulse to express myself. Certainly, the mechanism of communication was unhealthy, even life-threatening at times and most often painful for me and others, but still, from a certain vantage point, I can see it was essentially an attempt to communicate the intensity of my inner experience.
Jerry was saying that in dance, by the time he is working with people they either have "it" or they don't. And so we got to talking about that idea in terms of studentship and in terms of the responsibility of the teacher and the responsibility of the student. It's an interesting concept to consider. I think I have always unconsciously assumed that people have the same degree of impulse to express and my job is to give them skills, perhaps a kind of permission, and the inspiration to bring "it" out. It's odd to think I would assume that people have the same need for expression because I absolutely think people have different aims, desires, paths and capacities so it does make sense that the innate urge for expression would vary in degree and intensity as well.
So perhaps as a teacher I need to add in a clarifying point for myself that the skills, the permission and the inspiration provided would be to serve the student relative to their urge, their need and their aim. It may sound like a small distinction but I think it is important. In Anusara we call this urge to creation and expression ananda and it is considered one of the primary reasons we practice. (the other reason being... immersion grads, repeat after me... Chit. Self knowledge.)
I read one time in some of the writing BKS Iyengar did about yoga and dance that he defined dance as "the expression of the emotions" and yoga as "the sublimation of the emotions". In Anusara I think it is both. We both express and sublimate the emotions through the asana, which is a unique paradigm of yoga in a lot of ways. Like Jerry said, you have to have "it" to dance, you have to have some degree of "it" to be happy on the mat in Land Anusara.
Seriously, we are going to tell you to move with a feeling, to tap into your inner experience and create a posture attitudinally, emotionally, physically and technically. We are also going to implore you to make those feelings an offering. We will ask you to transform and sublimate the gross level of posture,the psychological level of emotion toward the more subtle aspects of the Spirit in an integrated, unified and often ass-kicking way. If you don't have an urge, a fire or an impulse toward expression, this yoga is not for you! (Just so we are clear, this statement is not officially endorsed by Anusara Yoga. Its just my opinion. And seriously, everyone is welcome. I am just saying, you might not like it unless you have this kind of fire.)
It's kind of like having a pebble in your shoe, I think. The urge to express is a kind of discontent a lot of times, for me. It's certainly not always easy. For me it's more like an irritant, a disturbance of sorts, an inner unsettling that doesn't go away until the words get down on paper, until the speech is made, until the letter gets written, the class is taught, the asana is performed, the meal is made, or the cake is baked. I guess sure, at the non-dual level the expressive aspect is "blissful" (ananda) but for me in the relative domain, in the refracted, more contracted form called me, it's more often a feeling of frustration that exists on a scale of mild to severe.
But what's cool, is that it is divine discontent because it is the frustration that overrides procrastination. The pain of the discontent eventually outweighs the pain and discomforts of the various sacrifices involved in creation and expression- and let's face it discipline is required to create- time, money, comfort on multiple levels, recreation, sleep, etc. get sacrificed- and the discontent drives us on toward the Divine- toward our higher aspects- though the art and what it requires of us to bring it forward.
And sure, I also enjoy the creative process and the making of the art is often satisfying and delightful so its not all discontent. But its not all chocolate cake either just so we are clear.
So like that.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
We spent the morning on orientation and welcome with a lovely Open to Grace class. We had a long lunch break and I even had a chance to walk along the beach with Noah. Then the afternoon we covered some introductory ideas about Anusara and it's philosophy as well as the basics of headstand and shoulder stand and an introduction to meditation. It was a super full day of teaching topped off with a visit to Kathryn Budig's class and dinner with April.
I really enjoy being here and teaching with Noah. I am also really riding a lovely full feeling after this last weekend in Austin. Each segment of my last weekend - working with Ross, my immersion, my class at Lululemon and the Origin Release party was filled with such awesomeness that when the event on the Whole Foods rooftop was done, I said to Kelly, "That was one of my favorite weekends in a long time." I think it was such a good weekend for me because I really felt like a part of Austin and involved in the community in an authentic and joyful way all weekend. I got to seem so many people I know well and love a lot as well as meet some new friends and make some new connections. All in all, pretty great.
I wanted to check in here but I don't have time or energy to articulate anything super insightful or meaningful tonight. Sleep beckons and we are back in action immersing at 8am tomorrow.
Monday, May 2, 2011
Sunday, May 1, 2011
Thursday afternoon I did a nice long back bend practice before meeting up with Ross at Castle Hill for our class. We had a fun time together and I so enjoyed seeing everyone and getting a chance to work with Ross. Team teaching can be really fun because with a lot of us, we were all coming up in the certification process together and have been students together for over 12 years. We are used to rolling out a mat together but not so much seeing each other teach and so its super fun to see how that domain of everyone's lives have grown, evolved and manifested over the years. We taught a strong class with a back bend emphasis. Good times. Not conducive of sleep, mind you, but fun nonetheless.
Friday morning Ross and I led a practice with strong vinyasa, arm balances and more backbends. (Different back bends, of course.) we had some new folks who didn't come Thursday night as well as several people who came to both sessions. All in all, it was a fun, joyful and delightful time with lots of work, sweat and laughter.
Ross took off to go teach in Dallas and Kelly and I had a visit to Luluemon, lunch with my parents and then we made it home. I did some work and the headed up to Breath and Body for the Immersion. I can't say enough about this group of immersion students. The level of studentship is very high and we are covering a lot of ground. We worked on Expanding and Contracting Spirals in the legs as well as some philosophy about the Six Attributes of the Absolute and it was a great night.
I got up Saturday to go teach at Luluemon. There was a lovely group of yogis there, most of whom I have never met and had never done Anusara Yoga so that was fun. We worked up to a few arm balances with some basic alignment strategies and if I do say so myself the class was inspiring and I managed to teach and not just lead a practice. I felt really good about the class and the students.
Kelly and I went to Whole Foods after that to get groceries, then walked around Town Lake and then came home for lunch. After a few moments of pause at home, I went up to Breath and Body for the Immersion. Again, by the end of the day, I was stunned by all we had covered- back bend practice with lots of alignment and refinement, a brief history of yoga and the three main schools and a introduction to the axial and appendicular skeleton.
This morning we head back up to Breath and body for the last day of Part One. Its been an amazing process, as always and I am always intrigued by how different every group is, how different every training is and how the "same" information is never the same. My teaching is always shifting, the students are different and interested in different shades and nuanaces from group to group. Also, weekend formats are so different than the weeklong format. Each have their pros and each have their cons, which of course, is nothing new.
All right, after Immersion today I am teaching on the rooftop of Whole Goods for the Origin Magazine release party. It's gonna be a fun event, so please show up if you can and add your presence to the fun.
Tomorrow I head out to Los Angeles to teach an Immersion with Noah.
On another exctiing note, I heard from my editor that we should be getting my book back from the printers within the week. Yippee. Although that means I have to step up a lot of my planning since I was gearing up to be ready by June for a June 1 release. But it also means I will have it for sale in Tucson this month so those of you coming for Immersion 3 and for Magnificence with me, Amy and D will get a chance to buy it!
I am planning release parties in Austin in June, Los Angeles in July, Boulder in August and New York in September, so stay tuned for details about how to help get the word out and celebrate as a community.
So wow. I must say when I write it all out like this I feel a bit amazed. Life right now for me is in a very expansive time and I am enjoying it. If I think too much about my schedule and "to do" list it can be a bit overwhelming. But when I just do the next thing in front of me, it's a very fun ride. And really, I am so deeply grateful to the many people who are supporting me in this journey in various ways.