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.


Jason Lobo said...

Absolutely Brilliant. Thank you!!!

Naz said...

Dear Christina I appreciate that you bring out such crucial issues into your writings. They are so inspirational, always...

beth said...

Really appreciate the holistic and no bs perspective on the different methods. It makes it much more approachable for me. I get this from you more and more as I'm in your trainings and from your thoughts like this entry. Thanks.

Dale said...

Obviously you know this, but I just wanted to mention to folks that this same "class" vs "practice environment" (or playtime, as I think of it :-), parallel exists between Ashtanga vs freestyle vinyasa in terms of the transitions and the poses.

It seems to me that the most time spent by any yogi in any class doing anything, is the time that an Ashtangi spends practicing transitions. The three basic transitions are practiced dozens of times during the course of each series, and most Ashtangis & teachers are pretty serious about improving their lightness, control, and precision. Indeed, one of my mental images of flowing with grace is of you floating forward from downdawg into uttanasana. That skill only developed thru a powerful devotion to making that transition the best it could be. Your optimal blueprint in motion :-).

In the same way, my (other) favorite Ashtangis are (also) serious about continual improvement of the poses. Now, their idea of alignment is not the same as ours, but that isn't the point :-), the point is the dedication to the ideal. And while they don't stay in esch pose for minutes at a time, they do tend to do the poses 6 days a week, which gives them plenty of practice time :-).

As a freestyle vinyasa teacher, I am extra super thrilled to have highly disciplined yogis in my yoga playtime classes/practices. For a number of reasons :-), but especially because the yoga works better on them.

What I mean is that the sequences of poses & transitions that I have designed for that class are intended to affect the body in specific ways to lead up to a peak pose or sequence. The folks who can use those poses to do the most work are the ones who get the full benefit of the sequences. The ones who are just making shapes with their body - not so much. And the discipline and skills to use the poses to maximum effect only comes from a steady, devoted, and disciplined practice.

Gio's (my freestyle Teacher) classes are a great example of this. You can go thru one of her classes and make shapes and hop around & sweat & have a great workout & a great mind-body experience. _OR_ you can bring the full rigor of your practice to bear on the poses and transitions in her sequences, and thereby get the full yoga benefit of her sequence.

Soooo - lots of thoughts - I love your writing :-). I think that the key to advancing our practice in the playground of yoga is the same key that unlocks the practice in yoga class - a dedication to making every moment of our practice the best, most beautiful, most grace-filled and shakti-powered moment of our life :-). To bring to every moment a dedication to cultivating and manifesting the flow of grace and the scintillating glory of the Divine.

I love this practice :-).