Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Los Angeles

Well, we finished day two of Part Two Immersion this morning. I was thinking about my year today and I realized this is the 5th Part Two Immersion I have taught so far! I went to Copenhagen in February, Costa Rica in March, Tucson in March with Darren, we started part two Austin in June and now here is is late June/early July and I am teaching Part Two again in Los Angeles. That's a lot of Part Two Immersion! You would think I'd be an expert at it by now.

But the thing about Immersions is that every group is different. No matter how standard the curriculum remains, every group goes through the process in a unique way. Perhaps expertise in facilitating Immersions is more about trusting the uncertainty of the process as much as it is being certain about the material. One thing I am always certain about when it comes to Immersion studies- they are intense in some way for everyone. If the asana isn't the intense part, then the philosophy is. If the those things don't get to you, the contemplations do. If that is fine for you, then its gonna be the sharing that kicks your ass. And so on. They rub. Not so much on purpose but simply because they are what they are- underlying the intention to provide an education into the practices and principles of Anusara Yoga, these intensives are intended to assist the participants in deepening their studentship and sadhana and one just does not deepen without some friction. Set an intention to shift and you better believe some discomfort is going to be part of the process.

We had some interesting discussions this afternoon which I have been reflecting on. In the lecture on The History of Yoga Philosophy, we spent some time talking about Anusara Yoga and whether or not  it is a lineage. We considered if it is a religion, a spiritual path, or a public asana method, and in what ways does it ask us to believe a doctrine and in what ways can we engage its teachings with discernment, authenticity and courageous inquiry. We pondered when  blind following might dress up as studentship and how resistant rebellion might masquerade  as self-empowerment.

At one point I made a bold statement and said that for the record,  "I am not an Anusara Yogi and Anusara Yoga is not my spiritual path" which drew a shocked response from some folks. (What, how could Christina Sell say such a thing?!! Egads. What does it all mean?!!)  I mean, come on, ya'll- I love Anusara Yoga. I am very aligned with it. I spend a lot of my time serving its vision and supporting its evolution in formal and not-so-formal ways. I am into it- from thighs back to Putting the Highest First and almost  everything in between. So hopefully, no one hears me say such a thing and thinks to themselves I am not totally into it. For the record, I am totally into Anusara Yoga. Way.

Its  just that I do not identify as an "Anusara yogi". I never say that about myself and when someone says it about me I always bristle a bit. It is just not me to say that about myself. I don't resonate with that statement. It feels too small and a bit limited. John Friend is not only my yoga teacher, he is my mentor, my guide, my ally and my comrade on the path of awakening. He has my love, respect and trust and I know he holds me in great regard as well. I am also the committed, somewhat ardent devotee of Lee Lozowick and this is no conflict for me, Lee or John.   I am part of a spiritual school with a guru and a lineage of gurus  that is at the source of my sadhana and spiritual path and Anusara has always moved me deeper in that work and complemented my efforts beautifully. Anusara is part of what I do to remember who I am and what matters to me and it is an incredible tool, expression, mechanism and means to deepen my relationship with myself as a practitioner and teacher but it is not my religion.

 I practice, study and teach Anusara Yoga and I believe in its vision of like-minded community devoted to one another and to a common set of principles. And I love other styles of yoga and practice them as well at times. And this is no conflict for me and never has been for John. If I go to a retreat in another method he always says, "I am so happy to know that your studentship there will reflect so highly on all of us."

So perhaps its a language thing that gets me hung up here  but the larger point I am attempting to make in all that is that my truth has a home here in Anusara yoga. Ansuara has never dictated to me what I should believe nor have I ever found it necessary to have John's permission to have my own ideas and opinions nor has he ever threatened to kick me out for seeing things the way I do. John and the people I care about in this community have never required me to be someone I am not. I have been asked to grow more sensitive, compassionate, forgiving and yielding than my psychological patterns have dictated at different times, but that invitation is not an invitation to become someone I am not, it is, in truth the invitation to be more of what I truly am.

I think that as Anusara Yoga grows and people engage the method now as somewhat of a "formed thing" it may be different for them then it was for me and for a lot of us who were around in the earlier years. We were a small band of people, practicing very directly and intimately with John and each other. The method, the culture, and the the vision was being created right in front of our eyes, moment to moment. We didn't have a major curriculum to learn or to teach or even standards for how to make a heart-based theme. Back then it was mostly, "Make every pose an offering" and "bring meaning to your practice" not Shiva-Shakti Tantra, Tattvas, adhikara and so on. As each piece got added we adapted to it, incorporated it into what we were doing in a really natural way or we didn't. Mostly, as  I remember it, we were practicing really hard and having major shifts in our lives and crying, learning, laughing and growing. It was very experiential and not academic at all. All that came later.

As I write I can imagine what it must be like to be coming around now with 100-hours of defined, curricular-based Immersion studies, an Immersion manual, and so much deep and complex philosophy to master. Meeting the academic side first instead of the embodied experience of the practice and its efficacy could easily lead one to think there was a doctrine to "believe" in. But that is not why we teach Immersions. They are not a conversion experience by design, but an educational opportunity and an exposure to the method and in come cases and explanation of means based on philosophical tenets.  And beyond that they are hopefully helping us begin to engage the teachings in a personal way to see if they fit for us.

And if they fit, if we try them on and they fit, then we get to go deeper into Anusara Yoga if we want to. If we try them on and they don't fit for us, we should ask some intelligent, probing questions about why they do not fit and then depending on those answers, we should feel free and empowered  to engage another approach. Or to take what we can use and leave the rest. The truth is that some people will be drawn to our philosophy and others will love our alignment and still others will love the community. Still others will love the atmosphere of creativity that is growing around Anusara these days. Some people's relationship to the yoga will be be recreational. Some will be scholarly. Some will be artistic and some will be religious about it. None of that is a problem because the teachings are inclusive enough and broad enough to welcome diversity even in how we engage the teachings themselves.

Belonging in Anusara yoga is not an outside-in proposition and does not require any kind of blind allegiance. The allegiance I feel with Anusara yoga is built on recognition and resonance; with alignment, not imposition or conversion. This does not have to be some weird adult-version of high school cliques or a new iteration of some negative church experience. The real variable has very little to do with Anusara yoga and more to do with our own willingness to be real with ourselves and each other and to live our truth courageously and sensitively. And we don't and honestly, we can't,  define what's real for you in Anusara. That is what is so cool about it.

I suppose I could go on as each statement seems to beg another question and consideration, but its time I get to bed and rest.

More soon.


Audra said...

I found this post to be extremely interesting, and hope that you will continue to write more. But I did want to say that I think that the worth in any deep spiritual philosophy or community-based principles is exactly when it does not demand that you "believe" it. Religion = doctrine and imposition to many people these days, whereas spirituality seems to imply something more personal, more intimate, at least to me (semantics!) I do think that it is because our trust in the practice of Anusara is built on experience, and "alignment," rather than imposition, that it is emerging as an intricate part of the spiritual path and personal sadhana for so many people, especially with John bringing so many scholars and teachers to us, and publishing books that make their commentary and wisdom more widely available. It seems that the age of the guru is fading, with many of the great spiritual teachers & their lineages fading out or "falling apart" through some scandal or another... Not everyone is blessed to be able to have a lineage, and for those of us who don't, Anusara, its philosophy, and those scholars help us transform asana into a doorway in to our deepest selves, help give us tools and practices to connect to the Absolute, and so on...

Christina Sell said...


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Amy Cronise-Mead said...

Christina. Thank YOU.
You speak here to some things I have been brewing since I completed my Anusara Immersions and first TT in 2007 -
I am a student of Geshe Michael Roach. He is my lama and buddhism is clearly my spiritual path. I am also a yoga teacher/practitioner with a great love and respect for Anusara and the many brilliant teachers within the system.
As I have considered a more formal pursuit of Anusara cert (in whatever degree), I have questioned - is there room for a Buddhist Anusari?
You speak to this issue so clearly, and I am happy to hear that you have not experienced a conflict... but rather a synergistic effect between the method and your lineage.
Much gratitude for helping to shed some light on my internal conversation!