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.


maggie said...

I seriously shouted an internal AMEN after reading the last paragraph!! (its the South in me) and that touches a place of gratitude beyond Anusara, beyond the "yoga part" of my life~ but grateful for the trust and recognition that life in general unfolds through this process
"from uninformed to educated to discerning to wise is actually a time-consuming, labor-intensive, sometimes agonizing and humiliating process"
and grateful to for the company!

Dan said...

This post made me think of Aristotle's understanding of "practical wisdom." Practical wisdom is about knowing how to apply the many different "virtues." There is no rule that can cover the variety of real life situations that we encounter. Practical wisdom is, for example, knowing when to be brutally honest vs. when to offer encouragement. Here's a quick definition taken from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Aristotle follows Socrates and Plato in taking the virtues to be central to a well-lived life. Like Plato, he regards the ethical virtues (justice, courage, temperance and so on) as complex rational, emotional and social skills. But he rejects Plato's idea that a training in the sciences and metaphysics is a necessary prerequisite for a full understanding of our good. What we need, in order to live well, is a proper appreciation of the way in which such goods as friendship, pleasure, virtue, honor and wealth fit together as a whole. In order to apply that general understanding to particular cases, we must acquire, through proper upbringing and habits, the ability to see, on each occasion, which course of action is best supported by reasons. Therefore practical wisdom, as he conceives it, cannot be acquired solely by learning general rules. We must also acquire, through practice, those deliberative, emotional, and social skills that enable us to put our general understanding of well-being into practice in ways that are suitable to each occasion.

USCJan said...

Since my teacher training was by Anusara instructors, I can appreciate your thoughts. I had not taught before, had never moved bodies through space, and it's hard. Layer on the Anusara, & it can feel downright impossible. There are benefits to learning the method first too: not having to relearn teaching & create new habits. Overall, I get such great feedback from students who have had other yoga classes & I credit the method!!