Monday, October 31, 2011

Context Is Everything

I have been thinking a lot about context these days.

Lee was always talking about context. He repeatedly instructed us that if we could maintain an  optimal context for our sadhana and our lives, if we could keep the larger picture of The Teachings in our minds and hearts, then the content of our personal choices and outcomes would follow more naturally and easefully. Anchored in context, we would, as they say in 12-step recovery "intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle us." The thing is that without an optimal context, the best we can do is memorize a bunch of rules and follow them or rebel against them, living always in the letter of the Law as opposed to the Spirit of the Law. Or we are left to take our bearings from other people, society's norms and the somewhat undependable whims of our personalities, patterns and ever-changing and/or static opinions.

The thing about context, though,  is that it cannot be forced. We can not buy it and  we can not pretend we have it when we don't. (Not for very long anyway.) Context develops slowly over time as we mature on the Path. We can study, we can ask questions, we can practice and most importantly we can entrain ourselves with people who are steeped in an optimal context themselves. And we can hold steady while the seeds of Context get established inside of us. But the process of growing Context cannot be forced or rushed as it does not happen at the level of the mind or conscious will.

Speaking of which, I have been getting all kinds of questions this week about the content of my choice to resign my formal certification with Anusara Yoga. I understand this completely. It is so natural to want to know "what happened?" and "what does this mean?" and "what are the differences between Shiva Shakti Tantra philosophy and the tantra that Lee taught?" and "what is next?"

I do, however, want to be very clear and forthright in saying that the lack of content-based answers I have been giving has nothing to do with secrecy or even with a desire for personal privacy. On a practical note, I have spent the last 5 days teaching a Teacher Training and have had no time to write. (I have been doing my best to get through the emails and phone calls and such in my off-time from the training. Be patient with me if you sent me a note, please.)

Also, while, in retrospect, I can see that this choice has been in motion for quite time time, I didn't resign with any formal plan. So, its not like "what's next" is very clearly defined either.  Of course, I have a vision and its growing and taking shape by the moment and I will be sharing that as it forms more and more over the next few weeks, months and years.

And, while, of course, there were reasons, the deepest truth of my decision is simply that I came to recognize that my dharma could be best and most respectfully fulfilled outside the boundaries of Anusara Yoga and the circumstances of that recognition (the content) are a whole lot less important than the recognition itself (the context). I also worry a lot about making very direct comparisons at this stage of the game because, at the level of content and things on paper, there are very few meaningful differences to explain.

Also, I  have no desire to argue doctrine or get in a discussion of perception and go down that road right now. I am very well aware that as soon as I explain something one way, I set myself up for others to argue  my assertion.  Mostly, I hope that as time passes and my direction emerges, the differences (and lack thereof) will be obvious to anyone with eyes to see. And if the differences and changes in context and presentation do not seem apparent to the casual observer then that, too, is perfectly fine with me.  And, most importantly, talking a lot about those things  right now feels a bit at odds to the valuable insights I  have gained in walking through this particular threshold. Id rather talk about what I am learning now because its a mind-blowing process I am in.

I  have been thinking of it a lot like an alarm clock this week. When the alarm goes off in the morning, I get up. I am not one to think a lot about the tone of the alarm. I rarely press snooze. I do not think back to what I was reflecting on when I set the alarm the night before. I just turn off the alarm, get up and get on with the business of the day.

So, before I say much more, let me be very clear that the people who have asked me direct questions are doing so in the most sincere and respectful way imaginable and are, in some cases hurt, disappointed and confused by my recent choice. Some, of course, are simply curious. Others want "the scoop" which is also understandable. I am  aware of the wake that my choice left behind me. In fact, I am touched deeply with the kind of care, respect and concern that people have shared with me. All we really have in this life is ourselves and each other and to know that people are hurting because of my choice touches me deeply. I have never taken my place in the Anusara yoga community lightly nor am I casual about my relationships with my teachers, students and colleagues. It seems that my choice has catapulted more than one person into their own process of soul-searching regarding their relationship with Anusara Yoga and their own dharma.

And while  I know that is not an easy place to be, I think it is a very good place to reside, this place of searching the soul. When we go into that terrain, we are doing the necessary work of nourishing our seeds of context. Context, such as Lee described,  comes from the willingness to engage the difficult questions and requires that we hone our ability to make distinctions and to get underneath the surface of circumstances and into the Heart of the matter. Here, in the Heart is where our authentic truth resides. And when we recognize that truth, we have no other choice but to go boldly forward in the name of what we hold sacred.

May each one of us go boldly forward in the direction of our deepest truth.

More soon.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Letter of Love

To my friends, students, colleagues and teachers,
In the fall of 1999, after many years of study in the Iyengar Yoga school, I met Desiree Rumbaugh in her studio in Scottsdale, Arizona. A few months later I had the great fortune to meet John Friend and to formally step onto the path of Anusara Yoga. I was certified to teach Anusara Yoga in 2003. Since that time I have had the opportunity to meet some of my favorite people on the planet, to make some of the best friends of my life and to serve this family of the heart as a member of the Anusara Yoga Ethics Committee, the Anusara Yoga Certification Assessment Committee and the Anusara Yoga Curriculum Development Committee. 
Many of you know that I am part of a spiritual community and practice tantra in the lineage of the great Indian Saint Yogi Ramsuratkumar and his spiritual son, my guru, Lee Lozowick. For many years, the  valuable insights I gained in my studies with John Friend and Anusara Yoga lived harmoniously within my heart and teaching work alongside Lee’s teachings. As time passed and as both streams of teaching evolved in unforeseen ways, I realized the dharmic choice for me was to continue to teach asana with the brilliant alignment principles I learned from John Friend while giving direct acknowledgement to the spiritual lineage which informs the darshan of my heart.
On October 24, 2011 I formally resigned my certification with Anusara Yoga. I will continue teaching the way I always have- with passion, clarity and integrity- with the sincere intention that my future work reflect only  the Highest and best of what I gained from John Friend, Anusara Yoga and my many generous teachers.
Please know that I am not leaving Anusara Yoga, turning my back on anyone or severing the profound connections that have sustained me over the years. I am simply resigning my formal certification. Friendship, such as I have found in this community, is stronger than a piece of paper and what is most sacred, as we know, can never be destroyed. 
In the Name of all that endures,
Christina Sell

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Thoughts on Teacher Training and Community Building

I am on a plane on my way to teach a 6-day Teacher Training with Darren Rhodes at Yoga Oasis. I have been reviewing the notes from Part One and remembering the dynamic group we had for training last time. I am  getting excited to see everyone again and to add the next layer to the discussion. 
I say it all the time on this blog but teaching Anusara Yoga is not easy and there are so many components at play that when mastered, create the wonderful synergy that we love. Anusara Yoga, after all, is  not just a great sequence, not just a good message or heart-based theme. Nor are we  just good  alignment principles, a community of lovely people or even a shared vision.  We are each of those parts brought together consciously and skillfully. And when these various components are brought together, its Anusara- that wonderful thing that is decidedly greater than the sum of its parts. 
And for that to happen, each ingredient has to hold its own. I think about it a lot like cooking. One of my favorite ways to eat (And therefore cook) is with a few high-quality ingredients. For instance, I love a few in-season vegetable at the peak of the flavor, perfectly roasted in a high-quality olive oil and tossed into pasta or served over rice with maybe a few herbs. Maybe put a block of artisan cheese or olives or something nearby and I am ecstatic. I do not need crazy sauces and embellishments to be satisfied. However, take tasteless out-of-season vegetables, low quality oil and a cheap pasta and I am going to be looking for a way to make it somehow fancier, sauced-up or whatever because the individual ingredients are not holding their own. 
So in Ansuara Yoga, when the whole thing is combined it is definitely more than the sum of its parts but this mostly happens when each part is refined well, as in the above example of my dinner preferences. (And don’t get me wrong, I love a great sauce.) But let’s get back to the asana class: So, for instance,  as much as I love a good theme, I adore  a great sequence. And a great sequence without clarity of alignment and key actions is not going to stand alone either. And while I love my yoga friends, community is not all its about for me either. When I go to class, I  want to do some poses, learn some technique and get some inspiration! I want it all. (no shock there, I suppose.)  
So me and Darren have been doing our best to tease out the very bare bones and the most essential ingredients of the method to begin with, focusing most on “How to put it together for a 90-minute public class”. Then we slowly layer in skills and techniques and inquiries as we go along. The last training we gave together was one of the best we have ever done in this regard. We were so careful not to overload the students and we maintained a very solid discipline about only teaching one element at a time and layering component parts slowly. We had no major breakdowns, no major anxiety attacks and a fair amount of positive, empowering experiences shared together. I know Part 2 is going to be just as awesome, if not more so.
I always love going to Tucson to teach. Darren is such a good friend and the community there is so stable, deep and open. It really is an oasis. 
I have been thinking a lot about yoga community these days and what it actually is. This may be another one of my “blinding flashes of the obvious” but there is this way that, for me, community is more simple than I think many people realize. I think the people I consider “my community” in terms of yoga, are the people I practice with. I mean really practice with.  I mean the people I roll out a mat with, sweat with, help into poses, get help from, and so on. It’s  a really practical thing. To me, it has very little to do with potluck gatherings, Facebook forums, charming Twitter feeds or sharing fond feelings about the practice over a glass of wine. Nope, to me, my yoga community is, and always has been,  centered around who I am actually rolling out a mat with. 
And the form of that has changed over the years due to varying circumstances and so has the size of the people involved in the endeavor. But this clarity hit me like a ton of bricks when I was leading a group practice in Boise a few weeks ago. I was struck by the simple joy it is to practice yoga with people and to be together in that way. It is truly one of my favorite things in life. And I realized that my closest, most enduring yoga friends are the people I used to do the Eye of the Tiger Sequences with regularly. Like every week. 
And then I got to thinking about how people write and share with me- from all over the world- a kind of dissatisfaction and  genuine sometime-heart-breaking struggle they are having to create community where they are.  And I got to wondering- are we thinking community is something much bigger and grander than just being together on the mat? Are we, as a community, looking for the large expressions of community and skipping the mundane, ordinary and enduring connection of practicing together for no other reason than because we love the practice? We may have to share in the love of practice first, I think,  and then we might -slowly over time- grow to love each other.  
And yes, I know the bigger vision of a caring community that supports each other off the mat is and always has been John’s vision for us. And I believe in that for sure. When shit hits the fan in my life, who do I call? My yoga friends. And they have never failed me. Not once. But I am just saying that the foundation of that “off the mat” connection- for me- is the “on the mat” investment of time, energy, attention and commitment.  
So my advice if your “community” hasn’t gelled is to hold some donation-based group practices. Divorce the community from the finances a bit for an afternoon and just get together, ut on some good tunes, plan a solid sequence and give some boundaries and a bunch of freedom and be together in the love of the practice. And then do it again. And again. And see- if in a few years, you all love each other more. And if more of you are there loving more.

Obviously, more could be said and the issue is not exactly this simple and yet, thats my two sense on the topic for today.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I am on my way home from a great weekend in Louisville, Kentucky. I taught a workshop at Yoga East. Yoga East is a non-profit yoga school with three locations in Louisville. Established in 1974, Yoga East has been dedicated to making the teachings of yoga available to the public for many years. Laura Spaulding, the president of Yoga East, and my host for the weekend is a pretty awesome person. She is the only authorized Ashtanga Vinyasa teacher in in Kentucky and has a long standing practice and many years of teaching experience. She is always so interesting to talk to since she is also a devotee of Gurumayi Chidvalasanada. Between stories of her studies with Pattabhi Jois and his family and her experiences in Siddha Yoga, as well as her wit and wisdom and no- BS attitude, I always leave her company feeling inspired and uplifted.

Her no- nonsense approach to life and yoga definitely filters into the students at Yoga East. They were so well-trained and respectful that I always have a really awesome time teaching them and exploring the practices with them. One thing that is cultivated by practices like Ashtanga Vinyasa and Bikram Yoga, for instance, where the same poses are repeated over and over, is a deep understanding and appreciation for the power of repetition and the discipline required to practice the poses you do not like. See, in those methods, if there is a pose you don't like, you can never avoid it. It is there, every day, staring you in the face till you figure out how to master it or at least make a certain peace with it.

So for sure, those of us who do not practice set postural sequences, still have poses we practice that we do not like and making yourself do something you don't like "by choice" (and yes, its your choice to practice a set sequence but that is not the level I am talking about here,) is a different kind of thing and also very important to cultivate. But the students at Yoga East needed very few pep talks about staying with something till it improved. They are already established in that worldview, which was fantastic.

We used a unique workshop format this weekend- we had a teachers class on Friday afternoon, an all-levels class on Friday evening and two classes on Saturday. Almost all the students came to the whole weekend which also made the teaching feel very connected and united for me, What is so unique about the schedule is that we didn't schedule a class on Sunday so everyone had a full weekend of yoga and still has Sunday to have some down time. Even me! I get to have a Sunday at home, which is a wonderful thing for me.

I plan to get some sleep, do a practice, work on an article I am writing and then have a date with Kelly. On Tuesday I head out to Tucson for a week and then go straight to Athens. Georgia for a week and so I am gearing up for a big stint away from home.

Okay, more soon.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Wednesday Night Sequence

Enjoy! I know I did!

1 minute timings:

  • Childs Pose
  • Down Dog
  • uttanasana
  • twisted lunge
  • down dog
  • sirsasana 2
  • leg lifts in 3 stages for 1 minute
  • jathara parivartanasana with straight legs 1 minute hold each side
  • Down Dog
  • Sirsasana 2 drills- lower legs to urdhva dandasana, back up, lower legs to urdhva dandasana and then revolve legs to one side then up, back to second side
  • anjaneyasana
  • virabhadrasana 1
  • garudasana - this one is here to open up the front hip for the next pose. We did it in two stages: with upright spine and then in a forward bend position with the elbows beyond the knees to prep for the future arm balances.
  • revolved parsvakonasana
  • crescent pose
  • revolved parsvakonasana- even out the sides of the torso top and bottom (make top side do crescent!)
  • Maricyasana 3
  • ardha matsyendrasana
  • maricyasana 3
  • parivritta parsvakonasana
  • garudasana to eka pada koundinyasana to garudasana (I got this from Desirae Pierce who got it from Baron Baptise. Super nice way to enter that pose.)
  • malasana 
  • malasana to uttanasana
  • bakasana
  • sirsasana 2 to bakasana
  • pasasana
  • parsva bakasana
  • sirsasana 2 to parsva bakasana
  • Supta Padangustasana out to the side
  • Supta padangusthasana out to the side with bottom leg heel wide to the corner of the sticky mat
  • succirandrasana
  • supine lotus
  • seated padmasana
  • padmasana leaning back on forearms to learn the "no hands" entry
  • padmasana in sirsasana 2
  • sirsasana 2 to kukkutasana
  • (I worked on parsva kukutasana here but it wasn't formally in the sequence. if its in your range, is a great time to go for it. remember- if your left leg is in lotus first, twist and rest the lotus on your left arm)
  • chatush padsana 2X
  • urdhva danurasana 3X ( this is a counter pose for the arm balances, not a peak pose. For most people this will feel really good by the 3rd one but do not expect a great feeling back bend right away. Again, urdhva here is a counter pose, not the pose we prepared specifically for. However, with all the opening to the back and all the core work, it will feel great to many folks. Go for height in the pelvis and organic energy through the legs, more than deep upper back opening.)
  • Down Dog
  • uttanasana
  • parsva uttanasana
  • Down Dog
  • child's pose
  • sahita pranayama 5 minutes
  • savasana 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

work on the poses and let the poses work on you

Well, it seems whenever Kelly comes on a trip with me I spend more time with him and less time writing. I suppose this is healthy, when you get right down to it! We had a great few days in Napa Valley. We went and did some personal work at The Hoffman Institute.  Both Kelly and I completed the Process several years ago and so we went and did one of the graduate programs they offer there. It was fantasitc. The Hoffman Process is an amazing (an super intense and deeply healing) experience that is a very effective way to work on patterns of thought and behavior that are keeping us from experiencing ourselves and our lives fully. I recommend it to anyone who is struggling to move past their limits and wants to work on their psychological blocks from a spiritual perspective without dogma and with deep compassion. Truly an effective way to crack your heart wide open.

After the intensive we spent a day hiking and eating in Napa which was fun. Then we flew over to Boise for the weekend where I taught a weekend workshop. It was another great group and I had a really good time with everyone. (I suppose I say that after most weekend workshops I teach. Still, it was a wonderful weekend and it was a great to be there. And I loved the whole vibe of Boise.)

Kendra and Mark- students of mine from Tucson Immersions and TT- organized the event and it was an interesting mix of students brand new to Anusara Yoga, new to yoga, seasoned practitioners from other methods, long-time anusara teachers and students and everything in between. One thing I am really clear on these days is how much yoga has changed and evolved from the early days of Anusara Yoga. It used to be that if you did alignment you were from Iyengar Yoga and if you did vinyasa you were from Ashtanga Vinyasa and if you talked heart-based themes, you did Kripalu. In fact, those were the first three major group of people that came to Anusara Yoga when we were first on the scene.

John and a bunch of his students  from Iyengar Yoga and then a wave of Ashtanga vinyasa students joined us. Back in those days, John was doing some teaching with Richard Freemen and there was a lot of sharing between the two of them and practitioners from both methods. Then John got connected up with the Kripalu folks and we had a wave of them join us and it all grew from there. (Of course, this is a generalization and told from my observation and recollections. bias noted.) In the meantime, the vinyasa practices have flourished some with "methods" like  Prana Flow and Baptiste Yoga but also vinyasa practices that are more eclectic and creative have  grown by leaps and bounds and have a huge influence on the way yoga is practiced and taught in America right now, from what I can tell. Bikram Yoga, of course, has been around for a long time and we see its influence in so many of these vinyasa practices utilizing heated rooms and so forth. So on it goes. And all the while over the last decade John has developed collegial relationships with the leaders in these other methods and they have been in his classes and so we are being influenced by the growth of other methods and they are being influenced by us. A fair amount of cross-pollination has occurred and the conversation of "how to do yoga" is still in motion.

One thing I have noticed over the last few years is  that the conversation around Anusara Yoga and how we were "so different" that we were having around 14 years ago, is a bit outdated now. We are not actually as different as we used to be it seems!  At the time we came around, we were inventive, creative and fun and the heart-based theme was a radical notion. Now, almost every class in Austin, Texas begins with a theme. We certainly have a certain way we try to do it  in Anusara Yoga, but we are not the only ones out there using metaphor, myth and philosophy to bring people deeper into their hearts and bodies while practicing asana. Not by a long shot.

What is so funny to me is that while I still see our practice as creative, inventive and fun, its obvious that we are not "the funnest thing around" anymore and that people new to our method often  find our alignment confusing and/or strict. I came to Anusara Yoga from Iyengar Yoga where they are super detailed about alignment so Anusara's broad strokes always seemed simpler to me. (I mean try to move the skin over the top half of your kidneys up your back  while taking the skin on the lower part of your kidneys down your back. See, doesn't that make the instruction to "breathe into your back and inflate the region of your kidneys" seem easy by comparison?!)

But people coming to us from breath-based, movement-based flow practices get to us and feel the barrage of verbal cues to be obtuse and limiting. Makes sense. I mean, its not my experience and I do not see it that way but I know other people do because they (many many many people, in fact) tell me this. And I understand why. For years, you have been practicing yoga as a kind of ritualized, devotional movement-based prayer that allows you a chance to sink into your breath, your body and your heart in a private and yet also communal experience where you can challenge yourself as you want to and back off when you want to and express yourself creatively and so on. And then, enter your Ansuara Yoga teacher who stops the music, calls for a demo, makes you partner up with someone else, try poses you do not care about and breaks things down into these nitty, gritty details where you get caught in your head (and not just your head but the part of your heard where confusion lives) and let's just say you are not feeling the love, the grace or the shakti AT ALL!

See, I get it.

And so it seems to me that the people who come into the door of yoga through alignment methods have this idea that flow is advanced practice because "how can you do vinyasa and how can you do flow if you do not even know how to do the poses right? You can't stay safe, you will get injured and you won't know what you are doing?!"

And the people who come in the door through flow think that alignment is an advanced practice because "how can you get a beginner to actually learn all that stuff and be interested in the four corners of this and the inner spiral of that and the inner body v. the outer body when the most important thing is to breathe, move and feel?"

I actually think both perspectives are right. How can they both be right? Well, each perspective is based on practitioners direct experience and these experiences shape our perspectives, our biases and our teaching methods, regardless of system.

We talked about this a lot in Boise since one of the hardest things to really convey about Anusara Yoga is that we are so broad in your approach and the umbrella of "what is Anusara Yoga" is pretty darn big.  I have been writing about this a lot on this blog so its just another day contemplating the grandeur of what it means to practice and teach this method, I suppose. The thing is that we have to understand the breadth of the practice on one hand and what actually is appropriate to any given group on the other hand. One of the things I love most about vinyasa practice is all that I described above. But one of the things I love most about an alignment-based class is getting a chance to really analyze, learn and repeat something under expert guidance until an opening or breakthrough comes.  To me, one is  a practice environment and one is a class. I love them both but I do not see them as the same thing. I do not even think one is better or worse, just different and serving different purposes on a given day but the same long-term purpose: improving my ability to practice yoga.

So- the thing is that the advanced poses I can do, I learned how to do them through a combination of both analysis and persistent practice. If no one had explained to me how to actually do the pose, it would have been a mystery or left to chance. If I had the "lesson" and I didn't practice  it a lot, I would never have made use of the lesson and I wouldn't be able to do the pose. So I think we need both. I personally do not want to do a yoga of endless details, mind-numbing analysis, and endless corrections. Nor do I want to do a yoga of free-form movement limited forever by my creativity,  knowledge or lack thereof. I want to do a yoga of both boundary and freedom, of form and creativity, of discipline and joyful expression.

Occasionally, you have to pull off to the side of a pose and see how you are going to get through it, around it and make some headway into it. You have to work on the poses.

 And occasionally, you have to step into the flow, put on some music, breath deeply and just be with what you can do without trying to make it better, fix it or analyze it all. You have to let the poses work on you.

As always, if it doesn't depend and if the answer isn't "both" it is not Anusara!

more later.

Monday, October 3, 2011

En route

Kelly and I are en route to Northern California for a few days of personal time and then we are headed to Idaho for the weekend where I have a teaching gig in Boise. The plane has some maintenance issues so our flight is delayed, giving me more than a few extra moments to write a blog entry.

I spent the weekend teaching in Corpus Christi, TX. I have directed a 11-month Introduction to Teaching Yoga Teacher Training Program over there. It has been a great venture- I brought in Desirae to teach Baptiste Yoga one weekend and Gioconda to do a weekend on Vinyasa Flow, we had Michelle and Gretchen teaching Restorative Yoga one weekend, we had three Sanskrit/Philosophy weekends with Manorama and the rest have been with me, doing Basic Hatha. People are generally shocked when I tell them I didn't really  teach Anusara Yoga but I really didn't. I mean, I am trained and steeped in Anusara Yoga so I didn't teach anything inconsistent with Anusara Yoga but mostly I worked with the students on the basics of class construction and sequencing, the basics of verbal articulation skills and the basics of outer body alignment. No loops, no spirals, no heart themes.

One thing I have noticed in training people to teach Ansuara Yoga is that many people need better skills at what I call "good basic teaching" before they are going to be good at teaching Anusara Yoga.  Good basic teaching to me is "getting the students into and out of the pose efficiently and effectively in a sequence that is appropriate for the majority of the group while offering intelligent modifications for those who are stiffer or more advanced."   In fact, "good basic yoga" is at the heart of great Anusara Yoga. Its just that to make it Anusara Yoga we endeavor to teach all of that with a theme, connected to the grand purposes of yoga and using the Universal Principles of Alignment to enhance and refine the postures.

What I find is that when new teachers attempt to teach Ansuara Yoga and not just "good basic yoga" they get bogged down over UPAs and stressed out over the heart themes and catapulted into the cosmic dimensions with the chit-ananda aspect. So when Michelle asked me to offer a Teacher Training at her studio I told her that I would organize a broad-ranging, diverse faculty and develop a program that provided  introductions to a few different styles that was geared to introducing people to teaching "good basic yoga" but that I would not teach an Anusara Yoga training to her group since they wouldn't be ready for it.  John often says that Anusara Yoga Teacher Training is a graduate degree and so I was attempting to give the liberal arts undergraduate degree. And I am very please with how its gone.

This weekend was super fun. We covered a lot of asana through practice and some lecture and then did some work on Introduction to Prenatal. In a few hours, its obviously not a thorough treatment but it is enough to help them be aware of how to cope with the pregnant woman who walks into class, which is a very common situation for most of us. We had a lot of fun, we laughed a lot and its great to see how may breakthroughs can come from light-hearted laughter and honest sharing when a group has spent almost a year together!

The whole issue of "what is and what is not Anusara" is at play on this one. As easy as it is to define Anusara Yoga, its a bit harder to say what we are not. And like I have said, I get the need for definitions, especially relative to trademarks and the business aspect of all we are up to. At the level of practice, it can all feel a bit cumbersome to me, frankly. I have experienced John teach in very diverse ways and he certainly appreciates  a diversity of presentations when it comes to his certified teachers.

In fact, I think a lot of what we actually think is "Anusara Yoga" is only a limited slice of the pie. I can't tell you the number of times I have answered the questions in the trainings I give: "But doesn't every Anusara class have to have urdhva danurasana? But doesn't every class have a handstand in it? But don't we need to have 2 demo's in it for it to be an Anusara class?" And so on. Its odd, because the classes people are describing sound so far from what I know to be true about the guiding precepts that inform what we are doing in Asuara Yoga. Its a bit weird to me. Weird  to the point that I am convinced we are not all doing the same Anusara Yoga! Or at least we do not all mean the same thing when we use those words.

And yet, if people have only had my classes, then they think all Anusara is like what I do. And if they have only had teachers x, y, or x's classes then those classes become representative of the method.  Once I get to thinking like this, I realize that I do not envy John's job one bit. Managing a system that is both boundaried and creative, that has standards but not rules, that has both celebration and rigor, etc. is no simple task.  I know these contrasting qualities are definitely complementary and live together in a wonderful harmony and yet I also know that the key to that harmonious relationship is intelligent discernment.

As time goes on I think this might be one of the things I appreciate most about how John has endeavored to teach us over the years. He is famous for his "it depends" mantra whenever he is asked questions about our yoga. And he is famous for long, interesting, insightful commentaries on what depends on what. He has never given us hard-fast rules to follow but instead has attempted to educate us on the grey area that lives between the lines of rules written in black and white. In doing this I think there is an important subtext to really grok: He wants us to think. He wants us to evaluate out actions based on sound principles. He wants us to be discerning and he believes in our ability to step up to that challenge enough to allow us the sometimes-frustrating experiences through the wilderness areas of paradox, disagreement and mistakes.

Take the issue of music, for instance. (Although be clear, I am NOT interested in a big long discussion of why people wish I played more music in class. Seriously, I do not play a lot of music, not  because I do not like music or anything like that but  because, in general,  I want the students listening to me, not to the music and I want them learning from me,  when they are in my class. But I digress. Back to the story.)  So the story goes that just days after John was teaching at Wanderlust on stage to music, he came home to the Woodlands Anusara Yoga studio and told the teachers to stop playing music in their classes. He told them  he wanted them to fill the energetic space with their voice and with their prana instead.

At first glance, this seems unfair, right? Like, come on, he was just on a stage with musicians!! What do you mean we can't use music in Anusara?! Not fair. Whats up with that?!  At second glance we can see that there is a trajectory of teaching skills being outlined  and a deeper lesson to be learned. In the baby beginnings of learning to teach, maybe we put some music on and get used to being in front of the class and fill what is an uncomfortable silence (at first) with music. Once a teacher can do that, we want them to learn to be dynamic without the prop of background music and to learn to cultivate the energy of the class without it.  (This is what I am guessing that John wants for those teachers he "pulled the music plug on".) Once you can teach in a dynamic way without the music, you can use music when you want for certain effects- like  a party at a festival on a mountain or for a bhakti-inspired flow practice one evening with seasoned students. Its not "Music in Anusara" or "No Music in Anusara" its simply understanding the pros and cons fully and being able to do either so you can use it as you want to for a certain purpose or reason.

I could go on, but examples like this abound. Take demos. There is some rumor circulating that a teacher should use only 2 demos in a class. I asked John about it years ago because I use a lot of demos, depending on the teaching scenario. I do them quickly, efficiently and they are super-effective but I  didn't want to misrepresent the method or how he wanted it taught and so I asked him about it. John was like, "Christina, you have  a great practice and you are teaching in a new area. Your demos will be inspiring and informative. Use as many as you see is wise." Once again, we can see that  he is wanting us to be wise as opposed to giving us rules to follow.

The trick here is that we have to realize that  the process of going from uninformed to educated to discerning to wise is actually a time-consuming, labor-intensive, sometimes agonizing and humiliating process. Easier, I suppose, would be to have a bunch of rules to follow and for us to  police and enforce the  rules, but there would be a big loss in this approach in my opinion. I am happy and proud to be in a method that trusts my goodness enough to give me time to learn and trusts my capacity and  intelligence enough to educate me about how universal principles can be applied to specific circumstances rather than just giving me a bunch of rules to follow.

more later.