Saturday, November 26, 2011

Life is the Teacher

Well, its been a great week so far here in Arizona. I have spent most of the time out at the ashram and came into town Thursday for the weekend. I had an appointment with my favorite miracle-worker Osteopath and I am teaching a yoga workshop this weekend in Prescott. In fact, we had a wonderful turnout last night for a 90-minute flow class to kick the weekend off. It was so fun to see so many folks in attendance who I taught when I ran Prescott Yoga and I  also enjoyed  meeting so many new folks who have joined the fun. Also delightful was having students from other cities taking the workshop.

I worked with the theme of the guru, since I  have been using an invocation to the Guru for my classes since I resigned from Anusara. Obviously, Anusara Yoga doesn't own the invocation they use but it seemed appropriate to me to use a different invocation now that I am not formally aligned with the system anymore.

So this is the mantra I have been teaching with:

guru mantra in sanskrit

Summary of the Mantra

The Guru is Brahma (The God of Creation)
The Guru is Vishnu (The God of Sustenance)
The Guru is Shiva (The God of Annihilation)
My Salutation to such a Guru, who is verily the Supreme God

This mantra speaks so much to me and reminds me of a great teaching that Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron gave about trust and about developing what she called a Reservoir of Trust. She said that as spiritual practitioners we develop trust, not in positive outcomes and not in some idea or promise that everything is going to work out in our favor at the level of preferences, hopes and dreams, but in the felt experience that Life itself is always attempting to communicate with us through its dynamic flow of energy.  Our task as practitioners is not to learn how to shift everything toward our own egoistic desires as much as it is to learn to be sensitive to the teachings that Life is making as it creates (Brahma) as it maintains (Visnu) and as it destroys (Shiva). In that way, the entire cycle of life is the guru, the teacher, the force of revelation attempting to teach us who we are, not in an abstract way,  but through the direct experiences of our lives.

Creation, Sustenance and Destruction are not value-based nor are they isolated from one another. Destruction, which often sounds bad, may be a positive thing. For instance, think about ending a cycle of abuse or dissolving a dysfunctional relationship or the death of an illusion or limitation. In those cases, we are grateful for Lord Shiva's presence as he destroys what is no longer serving us. In the same way, creation, is not always a wonderful experience- think about how an illness might be created or division may begin or how we often create a problems for ourselves and others. So these are just forces of energy and are not good or bad, right or wrong and when skillfully engaged, they can each be utilized and applied toward learning the truth of who we are. And in the dissolving of one thing is the birth of another; held in creation are the seeds of dissolution.

I am not someone who believes that everything we experience in life makes us stronger. I have watched plenty of people make mistakes, suffer terribly due to life's ups and downs and experience tragedies from which they never recover. It is not the case, in my opinion, that hardship makes us better people. I do believe that it can, however. I believe that difficulty holds within it the power and possibility to elevate us and our awareness to new heights. I believe  the apparent "bad thing" has the potential to become our most profound teacher, but I also believe that the circumstance itself holds no guarantee that it will do that for us. The difference, in my opinion, as to to whether or not difficult experiences strengthen us or destroy us has to do with how well we are able to make use of them. The answer to growth is not on the side of the circumstance. It is on our side, as students of Life.

Once again, we come back to this idea of adhikara, of studentship, of preparation for the Path. Just because everything can be a doorway to the Heart doesn't mean that everything will be. To me that is the whole thing about the yoga. Yoga is a way that we can develop the skillful means required to be in relationship to life's lessons, to be in relationship to the guru function as it manifests through Life itself.  As an idea, it can be very inspiring to say things like "we can learn from everything" and "everything can help us see the truth of who we are" and I do agree with that teaching. I really do.  However, having that perspective is one thing while living in the work of that particular  demand is something else entirely. To make use of the tragedies and triumphs of life and for them to help us develop a reservoir of trust, a firm sense of OK-ness inside ourselves that is independent of circumstance, requires tenacity, courage, persistence and lots of practice.

I am not a practitioner that is interested in a kind of Grace that gets me good parking spots, puts the traffic lights in my favor and gives me a perfect job and  so on. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate that level of "flow" but to me its way too simplistic of a world view. I am also interested in watching who I am when I hit every traffic light on the way to where I am going and there is no parking spot within walking distance to my destination, etc. and when my job gets hard. I am not praying for difficulty, mind you, its just that the domain of challenge holds such interesting insight and grist for the mill that there is no way, in my opinion that that too,  is not "the flow." And come on, we are in Earth School and there is a ton of suffering here. Best, I think, we learn how to be with that in a skillful, elevated and down-to-earth way.

So, obviously, more could be said but its time to finish planning my class for this morning. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

You Tell Me

I have been in the world of the ashram this last week. Kelly and I drove out to Arizona a  week ago and dove into the festivities of Lees mahasamadhi (his passing) and also his jayanthi (birthday)  which are within days of each other. We had a 5-day celebration full of pujas, feasting, song, dance, talks, seva and good company. It was a glorious time full of great food for the body, mind and heart.  The formal festivities ended late Sunday night and then we have been doing a bit of clean up and catch up after everything.

I have received so many calls and emails from folks following my Anusara resignation asking me "what does this mean for me?" and I suppose I need a better answer than, "I have no idea." I mean, that answer just does not sound very compassionate nor does it even sound very smart! And I think some of this is going to make more sense and become more obvious as the form of my direction continues to emerge and come into being.  But in a simple way, its like this for me: I am going to continue being the teacher I have always been- I am going to teach who is in front of me as sensitively, passionately and creatively as I can. I wrote this on Facebook a while ago but  I am still me. I still love to practice asana and to explore new and juicy ways into the majesty of the heart and mind through through the vehicle of the body through asana. I am totally into translating that experience into my teaching and staying as fresh as possible in my presentation of what I am learning. Simply put, I am still practicing and I am still teaching from my practice. If you are interested in that, keep studying with me.

If, however,  you are primarily interested in studying and practicing  Anusara Yoga and you are actively accruing hours toward certification in that system, then you will need a new Anusara yoga  teacher, if I was your primary Anusara teacher.  This is not because I am going to be teaching something radically different or because I have any negative feelings about Anusara yoga or people who want to be certified. I don't. I love Anusara yoga, I love John Friend, I love my colleagues,  I learned a lot from the system and benefitted tremendously from my association with it. I would wish that for other people. There is NO problem with people continuing down the Anusara path on my side of things. It's just that I can not sign off on your hours nor will I be committed to "modeling the method" the way I have been. I am officially off that hook. So, on a practical note, that's something to consider.

However, if you want to continue down the Anusara yoga path and you are interested in learning what I am doing then its as simple as staying in touch and coming to a workshop or training and staying open to the process that's evolving. I will be happy to teach you no matter what certification you hold. My love of learning and my love of teaching has never been limited to Anusara yoga. I have always studied in a variety of methods even as an Anusara teacher and teacher trainer. I am happy to go learn in different environments and cultures to get the teaching. I have never required that the teaching be packaged in  a certain way. It's really not a big deal to me to take hot yoga, flow yoga, Iyengar yoga, Ashtanga yoga so long as I am learning and improving from my efforts.

It's really about being a student of what the teacher is teaching that day. My experience is that when I go to a class or workshop in another method and I am in a place of sincere studentship, then I learn. A lot. It's very simple. It's the law of adhikara, really. If a student has passed the bar, so to speak, the teacher MUST teach them. It's not a conscious thing either. It's not like the teacher is actually considering or choosing whether or not they are going to help the student. In fact, I have watched purist teachers in other systems try NOT to teach me for a while but after an initial period of hazing, my persistence has always been rewarded. Always. Without fail. Good studentship evokes being taught. Its that simple.  Its the law of the thing.

My guru always said that a good student could wake up around a bad teacher way easier than a poor student could wake up around a  great teacher. His view on  the responsibility of the student was that strong. Now, put a great student in front of a great teacher and that is a radical opportunity to really transcend the ordinary boundaries that often keep us from waking up to our potential.

I am, as you mostly know,  working on creating some very cool programs and trainings and Darren and I are going to be creating a School of Yoga. I have said many times that I do not want to make a method or a new system of yoga. This sentiment  is mostly practical and philosophical.

On a practical note- I want to teach yoga and teach people to teach yoga and eventually help train people to train people to teach yoga. I want to be in that work. Once we make something a "method" then, in my experience, the curriculum runs the risk of getting a bit frozen and standardized and the order of the day shifts from the organic response to the moment and become focused instead on teaching to the test and to the standard and to the system. Add in the reality that systems need trademarks in order to be  "preserved" and "valued" in the marketplace and before you know it you have to manage all of that nonsense. You have to implement standards, licensing agreements and implementation is shortly followed by policing and enforcing. None of that is at all interesting to me.

And what also happens is that subtly, without realizing, a shift in consciousness occurs where emphasis is off the yoga and on the trademark and I am not interested in that at all. Lee called it "churchification". He hated it and was always warning us as his devotees about the danger of turning his teaching and what he called  The Influence into a system. He said transformation just didn't work like that.  The idea was to align ourselves with the influence- and, sure, there were techniques and forms for that- and then to get ourselves out of the way so that we could each become an individualized, authentic expression of The Influence. For instance, his teachings live in me in both similar and different ways than they live in my sangha mates.

So I am totally in to teaching a seminar on "Heart Themes and The Conscious Use of Metaphor in the Classroom" but I am totally uninterested in having a discussion with you about using them if you don't want to. I am totally into teaching you how to do demonstrations effectively but I am not interested at all in convincing you to use them or telling you how many is enough or how many is too much. I am more interested in a discussion about how can you be the teacher you want to be, not a teacher that meets  a system's criteria. I am interested in how each of us can be the most authentic individualized expressions of The Influence in our lives as yoga practitioners, teachers and well, human beings.

So what Darren and I are creating is a school and a resource for practitioners and teachers and you will get to be a graduate of that school but I do not want to manage- for practical and philosophical reasons- what you do with the education and inspiration you receive from your training with us. Seriously, think about it, Harvard gives you a degree. They do not come into your life and tell you how to do business and they do not  take your degree back if you fail to agree with administrative, curricular, personal or marketing decisions. You go to school, you get your degree and then you have your life and work. And its up to you. Think about it. I want to be part of a new paradigm in teaching yoga that is less concerned with systems, trademarks, and accruing hours and more concerned with living in the Light of the Teachings and sharing the joys of the practice in profoundly real, accessible and effective ways.

So, what does it mean for you that I resigned my Anusara certification? (Oh, technically, I can't resign a certification. I can, evidently, resign my legal right to use the trademark. Funny, certification lasts for a lifetime but a the legal rights to the trademark can be terminated.  Anyhoo--)

So what does it mean for you that I resigned?  You tell me.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Some folks asked me to post the playlist from tonight's vinyasa class at BFree Yoga.  We had a really fun time. Enjoy- Not a playlist for those of you who like a meditative, mellow flow. Not particularly introspective either. Its a playlist when back bends are on deck and a party is in the air.

Om- Soulfood
Guru Brahma- Jai Uttal
Elephant Power (Omstrumental)- MC Yogi
It's Love- Jill Scott
Funky Guru- Prem Joshua
Gotta Serve Somebody- Bob Dylan
We will Rock You- Queen
Beauty in the World- Macy Gray
Bring the Funk- Ben Harper
Om Shakti Om- Tervor Hall
Son of Shiva- Mc Yogi
A little less conversation- Elvis Remix
Ganesh is Fresh- Elephant Powered remix
Recreated- Denise Allen Band
My Baba featuring Krinsha Das- Trevor Hall
I am Yours- Jason Mraz
Hanuman Jai- Bronwin Rhodes
Amazing Grace- Atila the Hunza
I shall Believe- Sheryl Crow

Off to Arizona early in the morning tomorrow. More later.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Signs of the Times

So, let's see. What to write about... I was remembering how, a few years ago, this blog was full of updates about how I went to get a mani-pedi before class with my sister and then taught a few classes and wrote about my theme and sequence. See 2007/2008 blog entries-- they were full  of simple, sweet stuff with an occasional rant thrown in. Seems like as of late I am pondering large issues and making big sweeping declarations here. I suppose its a sign of the times. In fact, I have been thinking a lot about how the times are changing and how the culture of yoga has been shifting over the years.

I was struck by the interest and comments around heart-based themes on my last entry both here on the blog as well as on Facebook. (Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment and offer their insights and perspectives. They were all so interesting.  One trend in the comments in particular had to do with the beginning level teacher vs. the experienced-level teacher.  Elizabeth commented how she suspected in the early days of Anusara, the teachers John were training actually had teaching experience and so teaching them to weave a theme was a different kind of endeavor. (Not her exact words) I think that's an astute perception and it helps us understand a lot, I think.

In fact, I have been think about that very thing a lot over the last several years as a teacher trainer. (And so we are clear about where I am getting these ideas, I am not just blowing smoke here. I have been training Anusara teachers since 2005 and I actually have a Master's Degree in experiential education so I am not making random guesses here, although admittedly I am basing my opinions on my own experience. Anyway, I have observed the trends and challenges over many years and with hundreds of people.) So,  to Elizabeths's point-- simply imagine and compare a teacher 's knowledge base who is relatively new to Anusara yoga but was already a certified Iyengar yoga teacher v. a teacher who may have practiced yoga for several years but without the firm boundaries of such a system behind them. The first teacher is going to know what I call "pose architecture" and be very schooled in the outer forms of the postures and how they relate to one another. They are going to be skilled at prop usage, modifications, progressive teaching strategies, demonstrations skills, verbal and hands-on adjustments and they would have already received training in anatomy, verbal articulation skills, etc. For that teacher, learning how to language loops, spirals and weave a theme is still not going to be easy. (BE CLEAR- it is not easy to pull this off well!) However, it will be manageable and will be an appropriate level of challenge.

So, what is really clear is that as yoga has become more popular, and as  teacher trainings have become more accessible and as more  people have entered the field of teaching yoga, we have more people learning to teach yoga who have not been practicing yoga very long at all. I used to rant about this a lot (check back through those old blogs, in fact) and somewhere a few years ago I got over it. I accepted that this was just how it was and regardless of the pros and cons that are inherent in the situation, it is simply how it is.  Having made my peace with reality as it is, I soon realized that I, as a teacher trainer, had to develop ways to train teachers that took this reality into account.

See, not only are more people getting into teaching earlier in the life of their practice than they were 15 years ago, the climate of public classes has gone from small, intimate, personalized classes to larger, less personal, flow-based, mixed-level classes. I began to realize that so many of the teaching methods I was using as a trainer assumed that the teacher-in-training would leave my training and go back to teach at an all-Anusara studio where there were clearly designated levels of classes and ongoing, committed students. (In fact, I think a lot of the manual assumes this if you read it carefully. Just an opinion.)

Anyway, it began to dawn on me that almost NO ONE in my training taught in such a scenario as the one I just described. Most teachers-in-training (or teachers in my trainings) were teaching in what I call "ecumenical" yoga studios-- studios with a variety of styles and methods being taught throughout the week with open enrollment and mixed-levels.   In fact, I, myself, had gone from running an all Anusara studio with clearly designated levels and ongoing, committed students to teaching  in a larger urban studio that met the ecumenical yoga studio definition to a "T". So, after years of teaching Anusara yoga in one way, I had to learn a completely different set of presentation skills in my new environment. And my ideas of how to train people naturally evolved. And what I looked for and enjoyed in asana classes changed as I worked within this broader, more-inclusive community of yogis and yoga teachers.

I think a huge change we have seen in culture and climate of yoga over the last 15 years has been the rise of the vinyasa methods. "Back in the early days" if you did a vinyasa practice you did Ashtanga Vinyasa. nd anyone who has tried that style of yoga know that it is a rigorous, methodological approach to asana practice with its own set of parameters, conventions, tools and understandings which would give a new Anusara teacher a solid platform upon which to place the skills of teaching loops, spirals and heart language kind of like the afore-mentioned Iyengar yogis. Anyway,  along with the rise of the vinyasa practices, there was been a increase of more movement in classes, more creativity, more fluid expressions of the asana, less outer form emphasis, more emotional expression, more music, breath emphasis, ritual environments and also, athleticism. (And don't even get me started on that, please. Since when is it such a  bad thing to want to get a little exercise out of an exercise class? Keep in mind, we come to asana wearing gym clothes not tweed blazers with leather patches and not with a shawl and a cushion for meditation. Okay the kundalini folks have the cushions, but they are a slightly different clan than what I am talking about. So,  yes, we have a bigger message and yes there is a lot philosophically going on behind the scenes of the asana and more is involved but yoga class is primarily--dare I say it--an exercise class! There. I said it. Whew.)

Let's face it- yes, asana is a spiritual practice. I get it. Asanas hold within their forms potent transformational power. We all know that. Ever feel like crap at the end of day and strike a pose- any pose- and immediately feel the shift in your state of consciousness? That's the power of the shape. That the magic of the asanas themselves. The Lords of Yoga smiled on us when they gave us this practice and I am not selling it short in anyway. Its a full package deal for me. But all that reverence, respect and awe for its spiritual power does not mean that I do not want, need or enjoy a conditioning effect for my body when I roll out a mat. I mean I come to asana class to, well, do asana! I want to get stronger and I do not want to lift weights to stay fit. (Although if you like lifting weights, by all means lift weights. Again, fine by me. Again, I digress.)  I also want to see my flexibility improve. And I want to do poses this year I couldn't do last year. That's me. You may be different. I am cool with that. I really am.

And personally, I meditate every morning. I do pranayama every morning. I study scripture. I chant. I personally come to asana class to do asana. Is that so wrong? (And look, before anyone feels hurt and send me an email about it, I have to say that I have no problem with anyone teaching anything else in their classes. I get that asana class is a doorway to the contemplative practices. I get that we have an opportunity to educate and contextualize the asana within the scope of the larger tradition from which it hails. I am into that also. I am just saying that all of  that work  is not "required" in my mind for an asana class to be effective. Not at all.  Do it if its important to you. Hold your head high if that's your message. I will sing your praises from the rooftops. I see the value. I really do.)

Anyway, one of my favorite things about most good vinyasa classes is you actually get to do close to 90 minutes of asana in 90 minutes! It's a wonderful contribution to the yoga conversation. Does it have flaws? Yes. Are there pitfalls? Certainly. But, come on everyone, since when is wanting a little exercise out of the deal a bad thing?

And this movement-based approach has changed the learning landscape as well so that while the conditioning effect for the body is getting actualized, the learning and cultivation of the knowledge of the poses and such may be getting cut short a bit and this phenomena effects the new teacher-in-training. They do not come in with the same knowledge base they used to have because what is being offered in the average public class has changed over the years. The average public class doesn't prepare people for teacher training in the way it used to. It's doing something else quite valuable, just not necessarily prepping teachers.  I think I still manage to teach and educate the intellect a whole lot in a 90-minute public class and no one has ever told me my classes are not hard enough physically but that takes a fair amount of experience and practice to pull off. And I am always working on that balance. What often happens is the  new-to-alignment-teacher slows things down to such a degree that the class momentum/interest is lost, the conditioning effect doesn't take place and/or the students are not actually warmed up to do the harder pose that the demo was all about anyway because they spent all that time watching not doing.

I think set postural sequences solve some of this problem nicely. Take the Bikram series- there are a handful of general cues for everyone. (Okay, truth be told, more than a handful of cues- its sort of rapid fire instructions for 90 minutes actually.) But my point is that everyone gets the script. And the cool thing is that poses stay the same so within that structure the students receive individual help. Newer students get personal modifications and advanced students receive refinements and no one has to learn everything about the pose today because you are going to get another two tries on it tomorrow. And the next day and then next day. No need to slow the class down to demo- listen as best you can, give the pose a go, come back again tomorrow. Are their pitfalls? Surely. Are there problems that arise with that approach? Certainly.

So -where is all of this ranting heading tonight? Nowhere, really, I suppose. Do I actually have a point? I think so but maybe it's not so crystallized.  Mostly I am sharing some of my reflections on the trends within the yoga culture over the last 15 years and suggesting that the best thing we can do as teachers and especially as teachers-who-teach-teachers is to know what is happening out there in the world beyond our class and beyond our chosen method, if we have one. It will help us understand out students and when we understand them better we can teach them more effectively. Simple, really.

I never give "assignments" here on this blog but here goes--I dare you to- (so actually, its a dare and not an assignment) no matter what method you practice and teach by preference- and its really cool with me that we all have our preferences- go and  take a few classes somewhere else. Not just one. Take several. In some style or studio you rarely do or go to. Best case scenario would be to find a really popular class in town, go to it with a very open mind and heart and ask yourself, "What is it about this class that is appealing to people?" And don't be snarky. Really look to see what that class and that teacher are offering to the people in attendance. Look beyond your bias and see what is truly being provided for the students. It can teach you a lot.

And as we see--and I mean, really see-- the beauty that is being offered out there in yoga classes everywhere and in so many different ways, absolutely wonderful things will happen. We will feel more beautiful ourselves. We will start understanding our offering within the larger scope of our community. We will see walls of division between studios, methods and teachers dissolve. Competition will subside. Fear will diminish. Confidence will increase. We will actually be in community rather than in the process of "cultivating community". We will be in the Light of the Teachings sharing the joy of the practice with people who are committed to The Path which is what all of this is aimed at anyway.

Have fun and thanks for reading. Let me know how it goes.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

More on the Horizon

Well, its been a busy few days at home with emails, phone calls, writing projects and lots of time on my mat. Thank you everyone who took time to send me and Darren words of encouragement about the School of Yoga. The School of Yoga will offer courses and trainings in various locations over time but first look for our offering in Tucson, AZ at Yoga Oasis and in San Marcos, TX at The San Marcos School of Yoga.  Darren and I are working on the curriculum now so expect more details to come and soon we will even have a website. (You can tell we are figuring this out as we go along, right? Its not like we are without ideas and experiences to draw upon but honestly we didn't plan to leave Anusara Yoga until the day we resigned so its not like we had some perfectly orchestrated and smooth exit plan.)

One thing I know we both want to do is streamline the  200-hour Intensive/Teacher Training curriculum towards personal practice through asana exploration, contemplation and introductory pranayama and meditation. The teacher training will be asana-focused, not philosophically-focused and will be aimed at helping new and seasoned teachers understand the postures and how to teach them in the scope of a 90-minute public class. One thing that I have noticed over the years is that with the curricular emphasis being so heavy on philosophy, heart themes and alignment principles, a huge chunk of knowledge isn't being conveyed. I call it "pose knowledge".  We both want to re-infuse the alignment of asana, not just "actions" and put the intense philosophy and heart themes a bit on the back burner. I see that as an advanced teaching technique and not necessary in order to be inspiring.

I am passionately interested in helping teachers find an authentic voice for their words of wisdom and the deeper teachings they may have to share, but I am not convinced that heart themes are always the way to do that nor do I think the belong in the introductory teacher training curriculum. The amount of time they take in training just isn't optimal, nor is the amount of time new teachers are devoting to try to get good at them. They could be learning how to sequence better, how the poses fit together, how to use props, how to say more with less, etc. instead. I see so many other teaching skills as more essential when you get right down to it.

(Okay, so that is another difference...I told you there were some differences that would emerge over time. Like, think about it- I was an Anusara Teacher Trainer who wasn't convinced that heart themes are necessary! That's a conflict. I mean that little thing is central to our method and super important to John. And I used heart themes in every class and am pretty damn good at training other people in how to use them also. So, its not like a big and huge philosophical conflict but still, relative to teaching methods and outcomes, its huge.)  

And before everyone out there who loves heart themes rises up in defense of the heart theme, let me be clear: I LOVE A GOOD THEME. I do. And I think that  they can really help bring meaning to the asana. I am into the conscious use of metaphor in life- on and off the mat. I see the benefit. Please do not share with me all the reasons to use them. Don't you think after 12 years of teaching this stuff I have a good list of reasons myself? I get it. I do. I just do not think that heart themes, by definition, help make classes better.  And I also think that  many times they are cumbersome, time-consuming, false and distracting. And, call me crazy, but I am pretty sure I am going to be able to still be pretty darn inspiring without them. And I think the beginner teacher has enough on their plate without having to tie an alignment principle to an adverb. I mean really, using them as a tool is fine by me. I will still teach people how to use them but requiring them is not my thing. I can't make a case for it as a requirement.  I just can't. (There I said it. Oh, the freedom!)

And speaking of upcoming training opportunities, I have a 100-hour teacher training coming up here in Texas. The training takes place over three long weekends and we will cover some pretty fun stuff. (And even heart themes! Oh the irony...)  If you have questions about the training, let me know.   For information you can also see the program description by clicking HERE.

All right then, until next time!

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Few Things on the Horizon

So, I mentioned that in a lot of ways for me, it is just business as usual. I spent the weekend in Corpus Christi, TX finishing teaching a 200--hour Teacher Training program there. We had such an amazing final weekend together. The group had become so close and supportive over the year and the personal insights and changes that the program initiated were so inspiring to hear about.  Such depth and richness.

I am home this week and then Kelly and I head out to Arizona for a three-week visit to Lee's ashram. The visit begins with a 5-day celebration in honor of his mahasamadhi which will begin at the time of his passing. While in Arizona I will teach a workshop in Prescott, one in Flagstaff and after our time in Prescott, I head down to Tucson to bring that cycle of training to a close with brother-D.  So, its the seasons of endings and completions, which, as we know, give rise to new beginnings.

And so that we can all turn our attention away from the reasons why we "left" Anusara Yoga and toward the future vision that is calling us into its realm, I want to share with you a bit about a project that Darren and I are working on. We are deep in the process of founding a school of yoga. The school will provide training and resources for yoga practitioners, teachers and those who wish to train teachers to grow in the light of the teachings and to share in the joy of the practice. We are not making a new style of yoga as  we are not interested in managing what you do with the information you get from us or in standardizing the way you express the inspiration you receive. So, to be clear, let's all think "school, not style." Think "trainings, not trademarks." Think "affiliation, not certification." We are dedicating our work to helping people engage traditional teachings in authentic ways so that a direct connection to the Heart's Light and its Source is established and the teachings of yoga are carried forward for generations to come.

Practically speaking, expect, over time, to see a 200-hour level Teacher Training program, a 500-hour Teacher Training program and supplementary courses in leadership skills, communication skills, group facilitation skills and curriculum design for yoga teachers. Plan on lots of asana practice, compassionate and rigorous self-study and expert guest teachers who are steeped in a life of yoga,  philosophy and spiritual practice.  Expect to hear about the great saints and sages who have walked the path before us and know that at the heart of this experience is the heart we all share and the company we keep along the way.

We have all kinds of details we are sorting out and more will be announced soon so don't press me too much on details! We are truly figuring this out as we go and as soon as we know anything, we are going to get the word out. (Of course, emails and messages that say "Yahoo" and "Can't wait" and "I love it" are always welcome) We are also working on programs together at The San Marcos School of Yoga so stay tuned for those announcements and trainings as well. And I will continue teaching weekend workshops and trainings and Darren has his work with YogaHour as well so we will also be working individually as well as collaboratively.

We are forging ahead in 2012 with a program that has 2 parts: The Path of Practice and Teacher Training. The Path of Practice, as you might guess by the name, is 100-hours of classroom time dedicated to helping participants deepen their personal practice of asana, pranayama and meditation. Particular attention will be placed on developing an authentic connection to your intuition and inner guidance through contemplation, study, writing and discussion. Experiential learning is key here so expect a lot of time on your mat. 

 The Teacher Training Program will help new and experienced teachers learn the fundamental teaching skills for teaching an effective and dynamic public asana class.  The emphasis here will be on clear, concise articulation of the practice and potent demonstration, observation and adjustment skills. Particular attention will be placed on finding ones powerful authentic voice as a teacher and developing personal magnetism and purpose.

For more information , please contact me directly or Rachel at Yoga Oasis. ( Out the programs together and you can register with us and with Yoga Alliance at the 200-hour level.

Okay- more soon.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Well, one specific thing I do want to write about has to do with people's questions about "what is the difference between tantra as Lee taught it and Shiva-Shakti tantra?"

To be clear, while there are some differences between the schools, mostly we are looking at the differences in tenor and mood that exist between a small, esoteric school in a traditional guru system and a large world-wide yoga school with public access. Obviously, even if the teachings were exactly the same, the application of the teachings would be different in flavor. Not better. Not worse. Different. Add in that Lee is/was a completely different character than John Friend and you add in another layer of difference, even if the doctrine was exactly the same. Again, not better, not worse. Just different.

There are some differences sure. Like Lee didn't care at all about whether  things were essentially good or  not. He sided, I think, more with the Buddhists on that. Life, he taught more than once, is essentially nuetral. We are the meaning makers. He was influenced heavily by the Fourth Way work and so as much as he taught us that we were supported in the process of waking up, he had a very healthy respect for what they call the "denying force" and the ways that such a force manifested though the unexamined facets of our psychology and unconscious involvement in the world and would, when given a chance, work to kick us off the path without us even knowing it. The denying force might even dress up as a church or as a cause and steer us off the path with promises of salvation that appeared to be our dream come true. He wasn't a teacher who was concerned much about happiness. Not his own and not ours, when you get right down to it. He taught a lot that the deepest aim of sadhana was to become transparent to the flow of Grace, to be in service to the shakti to such a degree that he described his essential teaching as "Spiritual Slavery." He said that Spiritual Slavery was the deepest freedom a human could experience and there were no guarantees that your psychology would dig it. None at all. He was not casual and he was not in it as a hobby. He was also fiercely loyal, loving, compassionate and I think he may have been the kindest person I have ever known. I could go on but my point being is that sure, there are differences.

I am so hesitant to discuss things here because one thing about yogis in our current world is that WE LOVE OUR YOGA and its a personal thing and pointing to difference and comparing is really hard to do without implying value judgements. It's also hard to read about differences without inferring value judgements that are not there. And value-based judgements are not at all at the heart of this discussion for me.  I think the most accurate way to explain my choice to resign my certification has less to do with dharmic differences between the two communities of which I have been a part and more to do with my own personal dharma; of how best to aim my teaching in the years to come. Its not so much about what "John says" and "what lee says" as much as it has to do with understanding the highest possibliity for my own  incarnation. (Wow, this just got big.) And as a student of Lee Lozowick in the lineage of Yogi Ramsuratkumar my purpose lands squarely in that stream. (And yes its all one and all that. But on a practical level, it's also about resonance. Like we all love yoga, but we do not all love the same practices. Like that. We resonate at certain frequencies. It's as it should be. No problem.)

So we are clear: I love John Friend. I love Anusara Yoga. I love my friends in the system. My students continually inspire me beyond belief.  I hope I have been super clear about that. I keep repeating it. It's the truth. I have benefited form my involvement with the organization and the method in so many ways. And I did my best to serve the organization and the community as an expression of my gratitude. Want a different story than that? LOOK SOMEWHERE ELSE!

So, having said that, a bit more of my personal process that might fill out the story goes like this: Over the last few years a very subtle yet strong and consistent interest has been rising within me. I started to realize that I was interested in yoga in general more than I was interested in Anusara Yoga in specific. I have never been an Anusara purist, as anyone who reads this blog knows. I like it all. I practice it all. (Okay, well, not all of it, but A LOT of it.) In fact, over the last 5 years since I moved to Austin, I have probably been practicing asana more outside of the Anusara yoga system than in it. Not by design or by intention but simply in an organic way of following my curiosities and inclinations and finding good teachers who could and would help me with my practice, regardless of method. And since I was the only Ansuara teacher in town, that left me the option of visiting other styles a lot. So Baptiste, Bikram, Ashtanga Vinyasa, Iyengar Yoga,  Prana Vinyasa, etc. I do it all. I like it all. And I have for a long time.

And I am a student of the yoga culture beyond Anusara Yoga's culture, as many of you know as well.  I am always interested in why people are doing what they are doing  and how they are going about it. I love getting inside a system and seeing what they are aiming at and how they are going about meeting and aligning with their aim. I have that kind of mind, I suppose. And I see so many effective ways to do this thing called yoga.

And, I am bit funny, I suppose, because as much as I am not a purist, I believe in structure, methods and boundaries. Big time. I am a fan. I love nothing more right now than walking into the local Bikram studio and watching them just rock that script and transmit the method the way their teacher wants them to. They are good at it. It works. I benefit from it. I don't wish for it to be different. It is great with me. I get it.

Anyway, all my "research",was not  consciously done as research but was more like me being me, just sniffing around for good yoga. Truth be told, I have never been one to fall for name brands. I am always gonna be where a good teacher is. So for me, I didn't leave my studies in Iyengar Yoga to study with Desiree and then John because I was unhappy in Iyengar Yoga. I was a believer. I still am. I love that system. Mr. Iyengar and his senior teachers are some of my biggest heros. Truly. I got involved with Anusara Yoga because at the time I was looking for a teacher in my area, Desiree was the best teacher around. She could have called what she did ANYTHING and I would have done it because my poses were getting better. That's the thing for me. She helped me. I got better. I stuck around. Simple.

In the long run I got way more than "better poses" out of the deal which is why my gratitude cup runneth over. (See paragraph #4) However, back to the story about my own interests: Not only did I realize I was more interested in yoga in general, I also got interested in yoga in 200 years, in 500 years. One of the big thrusts in Lee's teaching work had to do with "making the Teaching available" and preserving the majesty of tradition over time. He was kind of radical about this. In so many ways he was progressive and intellectually far out but by temperament, he was very conservative. He hated the internet, he thought that technology was the antichrist and after 30 years the ashram still has no dishwasher, no automatic clothes dryers and no television, wifi, cable or satellite.

So I got interested in how do we, in an age where yoga is becoming increasingly popular and increasingly paired with rock concerts, wine tasting, hula hoops and so forth, preserve the fundamental rigor of the practice, the fundamental sanctuary that a disciplined life yields so that the person who needs a sober, sane and profound access point to the teachings still has it in 200 years? in 500 years? Look, I am not interested in being the yoga police. I am not interested in telling you what is yoga and what is not.  I am not saying the modern trends are in any way wrong. I get that those things on that list are some peoples access point. I am cool with that. I really am. None of that is  my axe to grind. It's just that I realized what I am into is the preservation of the teachings through the  training of practitioners in whom the teaching is so firmly rooted that they become an access point for others. And then my students become teachers and their students become teachers and the continuity of the tradition is carried on like that. I think, in my heart of my heart, that people preserve the teachings, not systems. Not trademarks. So I am interested in teaching today so that the person who, in 200 or 500 years, needs the sanity that yoga and all of its accompanying practices have to offer, will have a place to find it and people to learn it from.

So, as I continued to take council from the wise elders in my life, and as I continued to listen to my own heart, I simply got interested in that vision over and above my job of teaching and preserving the Anusara Yoga system and the standards that keep the trademark valid in the marketplace. It is not because of some major disconnect or drama with John or a quibble with the  philosophical underpinnings of Anusara Yoga that I resigned my formal certification. Its more that I recognized  that my work in the world would best be served teaching yoga in general over and above Anusara Yoga in specific. (And yes, everybody, I know that the anusara system is broad and inclusive and does not limit its teachers so please, not another conversation about that. Not here. Please, I beg you. If we descend into that I am going to change the subject abruptly. Be warned. That's what I meant yesterday when I said its not really an on-paper problem at all.)

And yes, I want to teach in the name of my guru and give honor to the fact I feel like the true potency of my teaching is informed more by my connection to Lee Lozowick and to his guru Yogi Ramsuratkumar than it is by Anusara yoga. But it's not like I want to make Lee Lozowick Yoga into some kind of style of yoga. I do not.  In fact, I actually want to teach a whole lot LESS philosophy and a whole lot more asana. I truly believe that the shape carries the shakti and I am more interested in the practice of the practice itself as an agent of change. Yes, the theory of the practice is important, but that is not my job as a teacher right now.

And as time goes on, my job will shift and change, I assume. It's the way of things.

As for what's next, really its business as usual. I spent the day yesterday practitcing and teaching. I started to day with a practice and spent the rest of it writing an article for Yoga International. They asked me to be the Art of Asana columnist for 2012, which thrills me. I head out to Corpus Christi tomorrow to bring that training to a close and in the meantime I am catching up on a new website design, my schedule and rewriting curriculum for trainings that are still on the books. Most of my hosts for future workshops still want me to come and so my life continues much in the same way it has been.

One fun local thing on the agenda  is that next Sunday- November 13th- I am going to teach a Level 3 Vinyasa class at BFree so those of you who want to join me for that, it should be a good time. 6:00-7:30. Come ready to sweat. This will not be a class for the casual.

Well, time to sign off. If you made this far into the post, I salute you. more soon.