Monday, September 26, 2011

small rant

I am home this week, which feels like an abundance of time with the amount I have been gone lately. Kelly and I spent the morning working on some photos for my new website (stay tuned for a new look soon! Milo is working on it for me and so far its looking great!) I met Anne for some yoga, had an afternoon in front of the computer and then spent the evening with Kelly, Mom and Dad. All in all a good and productive day.

I had a great weekend at Spirit House Yoga with Martha and Ted and their gang. Martha and Ted have had a studio for over 8 years and have been building a wonderful community of people in Oklahoma with great dedication. I taught there 2 years ago and it was really amazing to see the depth and maturity that has manifested among the group since the last time I was there. Many of the students participated in Todd and Anne Norian's Immersion at Spirit House and have been attending workshops and seminars and ongoing classes. All the work has really paid off- the community seems solid, deeper and unified at a new level. I had a great time. And we had a lot of folks there for whom this was their very first weekend workshop ever! (YAY!)

One thing that is cool about Spirit House Yoga is that Martha is an about-to-be-certified Anusara yoga teacher. (She is currently deep in the video assessment process) and Ted is a certified Baptiste teacher. And so the studio offers great vinyasa classes and awesome Anusara instruction and the two methods live happily together in one studio and the studentship is stellar. I have certainly taught a room full of more bendable people than were there in Oklahoma but I have not taught a room of better students. The group was attentive, real, eager, and hardworking so whatever Ted and Martha are doing is working.

 I find more and more inspiration these days from examples like Spirit House Yoga-- where people are coming together in unity around yoga rather than using the yoga and the various conventions, techniques and ideas of different  methods to create further division. I mean, let's face it- we all have enough division in our lives and experiences of being separate. It is really too bad that our strong allegiances within the world of yoga tend to recreate those same samskaras. They have really moved beyond that at Spirit House and it was  a pleasure to spend time in such a community.

Don't get me wrong- I get the need for distinctions and clarity at the level of defining the parameters of the various methods. I certainly see it at the level of trademarks and business. I don't have an issue with it at that level at all. Its just that to me I think more about effective yoga in general, over and above effective Anusara Yoga or effective Iyengar Yoga or Baptiste Yoga, etc. And I am always interested in looking at the efficacy of any particular style of yoga relative to what its primary aims are, not relative to what my personal preferences are.

I talked to Baron Baptiste about this once. In my opinion Baron is  a master at helping people see through the false limits of their psychology and getting real with themselves. His teachers are amazing practitioners, they know how to look at themselves, how to be accountable and how to create a transformational environment for their students that is rigorous and demanding. His approach, in my opinion is very effective. I have worked with a lot of his teachers over the years and they are great students--every single one of them.  So if you get on his case because he isn't telling you something about the intricacies of  physical alignment in a pose, you are missing the point. I am sure he could do that but he is not aimed there. He is aimed somewhere else- he is aimed at piercing through those false limits- and he is hitting the mark of where he is aimed very well in my opinion.

Or Bikram Yoga. They, too,  are aimed in a very specific way. Bikram created a series of postures to challenge, strengthen, open and detoxify Westerners who are stressed- out, sedentary and overweight. He believes that if the body is purified self-esteem and spiritual tranquility will naturally follow. Don't ask them for short cuts, for an easy way out, for justification or excuses and do not expect to experience "the softer side of yoga." They are not aimed there. They, too, however, deliver consistently on where they are aimed.

Or Shiva Rea's work. I mean who better than she to deliver us to the mythic inner realms and to invoke the ritual aspect of the practice than her? If people would just stop getting upset that she is not a renunciate and start looking at what she is aiming at they would see that there is something quite grand that happens when she is teaching and through the vinyasa she and her teachers offer.

I could go on because really, every method has this delightful offering it is making to the conversation of yoga. When we get to Anusara Yoga I think it can sometimes be harder to really understand what we are up to because, as a method that is aligned with a philosophy of totality, it gets pretty hard sometimes to know what is and what is not Anusara. For instance,  over the weekend I began  the final class with 5 Surya Namaskar A and 5 Surya Namaskar B. No lunges, no creative embellishment and no major alignment instructions. Just move and breath and feel. Ted told me later that it felt like a Baptiste Class.  But to me, that is a very Anusara Yoga way to start-- breath-based movement. In fact, it just so happens to be the Ashtanga Vinyasa way to begin also. (Why? Because its a freakin' great way to start asana practice! It works. So maybe its just good yoga, not good Baptiste Yoga or good Anusara Yoga, etc. Of course, for brand new folks, I don't see it as a great way to start but that is another story for another time.)

Anyway, I have talked to John about it a lot lately and he keeps saying "explain to me how something is not Anusara Yoga." He and I have had long talks about how broad the umbrella of Anusara Yoga is in his mind. He told me recently that he is expecting the fullness of the yoga to communicated to the students over a 6-month period of time, not in every single class. He says that he recognizes that some classes will be fiery and some will be mindful. Some will be fierce and others playful. Some classes will move. Some will have stillness. Some will have music and some will even involve the teacher rolling a mat to join in the fun. All of this and much more is  "Anusara Yoga" as far as he is concerned.

And yet we also have standards and even beyond the basic standards of "have a theme, link the theme up to the postural cues throughout class, start with a centering, end with a blessing and sequence effectively to the level of the group," we have the ever present "Video standard" lurking close by creating for many students a very special  kind of neurosis and worry. (Worry may actually be generous. Panic, upset. fear. Anger. All kinds of things arise in the the face of meeting up with that freakin' video standard!)

I personally look at the video as a time for the candidate to demonstrate a skill set and show the assessor that they know how to effectively utilize certain important teaching skills. I don't see that video standard as  "The One and Only Way  to Teach Anusara Yoga Effectively." No way could one standard be that because what we are aimed at is the recognition of who we are in totality. We are exploring the  direct expereince of the singularity of that totality in a mulitiplicity of forms. We want to know what is the same inside when we are moving, when we are still, when we are crying, when we are laughing, when we are at ease, when we are in intensity.  We are aimed at a kind of knowledge that cannot be achieved through predictable means and through recipes and through only one experience.

(And truth be told, even if the sequence stays the same and even if the teacher works from a script, every practice is different because each one of us is always in a relationship with the singular, eternal presence and with the ever-changing nature of the manifested world in the form of us and our life. But I digress. All I am saying is its not a cut and dry kind of thing.)

ANYWAY--I could go on with this because one thing that I have noticed this year in my travels is a lack of generosity among some circles of Anusara teachers. Having gone through the fire of passing that video for certification, the teachers are looking at other people's classes and saying "they wouldn't pass assessment" and instead of being generous with one another, there are pockets of criticism and nitpicking arising. And it's not pretty. We have been given an amazing method to teach with broad parameters by design. We are invited, within these broad parameter to find our authentic voice and to represent the majesty of the method through a variety of means. This kind of generosity could inspire the same in us, if we let it.

And look, I know how hard it can be to pass that video. And I know how hard it can be to train teachers according to certain standards and not see the standards being upheld by others, especially if those others are very visible teachers. I get that. I really do. But still sometimes, we are so stuck on video standard, that we may not be really trying to see where was the teacher aimed that day and whether or not they were hitting the mark of where they were aimed. Believe it or not, we are not always trying to model video standard!! I know for me, if I teach vinyasa, I may not be offering my best alignment experience and knowledge to the group that day. I let a ton go to get something else to  happen for the students.  And as much as I love alignment and believe in it, I am not that worried that one false move in uttanasana or chataranga is going to injure someone. Seriously. People bend over all the time. No big deal.

So we do our best and I suppose this rant was just a call to all of us to extend some generosity to one another and to open our eyes a bit to the many effective ways that yoga can be taught. Its a happier way to go.

Enough. Thanks for listening(that is if you made it this far!)


Unknown said...

Thank you for constantly reminding us to honor and respect other methods and diversity in general. Naturally, we always think that "our" way is the best, whether it be a style of yoga, religion, parenting style, etc. and these are ways where we feel separate from others' styles, even going so far as to harshly criticize a way that is not ours. I've certainly been guilty of this in many aspects of my life, and especially in my yoga bubble. I've been trying to be much more conscious of when I have these thoughts where I disrespect the teaching of one of my non-Anusara fellow teachers. This conversation also reminds me a recent class with Noah where he talked about "mudita", when we celebrate as opposed to fearing or competing with the gifts of others we become more inspired, which brings forth our own gifts--a win/win! So instead of bashing Bikrams or Ashtanga, lets celebrate what richness they add to the movement of yoga in the world at this time.

mattshortridge said...

I did make it through the whole reflection and really feel inspired to hear your 'seeing the beauty' in other styles. Especially as Anusara burgeons and grows, it is valuable for it to set the tone for respect and the highest in yoga, regardless of tradition. There is a tremendous leadership in Anusara--this is so in line with first principle. Thank you!

Kim said...


I recently completed Anusara Teacher Training, and I find this post so relieving. I believe firmly in my value as a teacher, but was having difficulty imagining EVER being able to teach to Anusara standards 100% of the time.

When approached that way, teaching feels impossible and contractive. I'm the only Anusara influenced teacher in my community, and I've been having trouble just having fun teaching. I have felt as if the world was on my shoulders in trying to assure safety and full representation of the method that I've been enthusiastically blabbing out to my students and fellow teachers.

This blog gives me hope and expansive belief that individuality can be valued and demonstrated within this beautiful method of practice. And you've offered permission to step back into my own "seat of the teacher"- with the immense knowledge I've gained in tow, ready to be expressed to the best of my ability.

Thank you.

kcyoga said...


Marcia Tullous said...

Yup, that was good. Teach the way you teach, be willing to continually grow and learn, let go of the bullshit, and remember to embrace and appreciate all the good in front of you and within you.

Love and Hugs,

Adele Cassidy Yoga said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adele Cassidy Yoga said...

Christina, this resonated so much this week: I found myself in an Ashtanga class on Sunday, then I read your post and followed the subsequent buzz (don't know if you caught the longtail, incredible). I was so inspired I took it into teaching my classes and honoured Pattabi Jois aswell as quoting John Friend.

Plus, Deva Premal & Miten Omega Ecstatic chant: Om Namo Bagavate/Oneness - Every day I feel the oneness inside of me has been on repeat all week!

It was a massive kick in the backside why we practice yoga in the first place: to feel connected. THANK YOU!

gbtrancer said...

I agree wholeheartedly with these comments!!
Honouring the traditions and doing the best to convey this seems the highest goal.
The goal of yoga for me is to clear away the clutter of ego based perception to evolve and shine from the purusa...not making someone else wrong in the process.

Kim said...

No matter what 'Kind' of yoga
It's all good!