Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dharma

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.

32 comments:

Candice Garrett said...

Wow. That was amazing, honest and deep. Thank you.

Beccaroo said...

I think you rock!

Gabriel said...

Thank you for your words...... I feel the grounding of YOUR truth and in turn grounds mine.
Chadwick

susanelena said...

thank you so much for your honesty and clarity, it gives us all the courage to follow our own dharma and listen to our hearts whatever system or systems we work within.

Sara Strother said...

Soft power. I love you for it.

Barefootlotuss said...

"In fact, I actually want to teach a whole lot LESS philosophy and a whole lot more asana." Amen to that!!

Jeri said...

That was deeply moving, honest, and real. That's what I love about you, Christina. I look forward to our last teacher training weekend together. It has been such a trasformational year for me. I could never thank you enough, or place a price tag on the amazing experience this teacher training has given me. Travel safe, I will see you tomorrow evening!
~ Jeri

TigerChild said...

"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." - RESONANCE. Thank you for unabashedly being you! I look forward to connecting sometime in 2012 with you, powerful teacher of mine. With deep gratitude and respect, Josie Houpt :)

Bob Weisenberg said...

This is a wonderful article, Christina.

I asked the question "what are the philosophical differences" in a comment on Waylon's interview with John on Elephant Journal ( and LauraFlora13 was kind enough to link me to your blog here.

Thank you.

Bob Weisenberg
Editor, Elephant Journal
Yoga Demystified

Christina Sell said...

@Candace- Thanks.
@becca- aw, shucks...
@Gabriel- yes this is how we help each other right?
@Susanelena- integrity and excellence is bigger than a system and system without holds no juice.
@sara- ah, yes. soft is the new strong.
@barefootlotus- Can I get an amen? Oh, right, you already gave me one. Love you.
@Jeri- thanks for this. It has been an amazing year for me also.

Thanks so much for reading and chiming in. I appreciate it very much.

mark mckinney said...

beautiful. thank you for sharing your passion. inspiring. uplifting.

Christina Sell said...

@josie- yes! Would be thrilled to see you in 2012.
@bob- so glad you made it here. Thanks for reading.

Christina Sell said...

@Mark- you are welcome. thanks for your dedication to the same.

Chandika said...

Thank you for the continued energy that you've put out there, towards bringing clarity to the public aspects of all this change that was initiated by your resignation. And thank you for offering the slightly more personal and revealing aspects that have to do with your Guru in relation to all this. I'm part of a traditional guru path and I understand your the deep love and devotion. Being the all around nerd for philosophy and psychology, you have doing research into one of the teachings that you mentioned, the "denying force" from the Fourth Way, very interesting. And "spiritual slavery", that's provacative! Very similar to the tone my Guru uses with her teachings. There wild and full of crazy wisdom.

Also congratulations on your new article series with Yoga International! I'll definitely be checking that out. Spending almost a week with you was incredible and I hope to share space with you again sometime in the near future! Blessings and Love, Chandika

Christina Sell said...

@Chandkia- how wonderful to hear this. Yes, I know all about the joys of working with a crazy wisdom teacher. Victory to the guru! May the Light within us triumph.

Kimberly Achelis Hoggan said...

Great post Christina. Thanks for sharing honestly.

Emily said...

Thank you again for sharing. this ade me think of how sometimes allowing the asana to speak for itself, allowing the inner form and outer for to align on their own, is such a beautiful thing. ...this post really helps me get where you are coming from- beautiful! xo

Amy Cronise-Mead said...

Just to add...
How friggin articulate are you??! Adore your clarity of thought and ability to communicate it. (pardon my French, but it articulates appropriately in this moment!)

Amy Cronise-Mead said...

Oh.
and just to make a connection is there's one to be had
Michael Hewitt, NYC yoga teacher extraordinaire, is also a student of the 4th Way and teaches it in conjunction with teachings from the Diamond Mountain lineage, rocking the Buddhist dharma.
He teaches as sarva yoga academy.

Just loving how much points me back to how, as much as there are differences, there is such beauty in the overlap... Much love,
Amy

mark mckinney said...

"...just different" resonate within me. what resonates is the joy that comes from celebrating, loving, appreciating and recognizing the differences. wow. that is shri. thank you

ccb said...

Lovely words. Thank you for your honesty and insights. It's a helpful reminder to all of us that schools and methods offer a lot--wisdom, guidance, community. But sometimes you have to move on, learn new things, take new paths. Good luck!

Christina Sell said...

Thanks, Kimberly.

Yes, Emily, the asana has such majesty and power. I think the words and the understanding is part of it but there is power in the pose that takes us beyond the domain of words. Thats what I like about it. It always shifts me.

Amy, I know me and you could spin a great yarn about the differences, similarities and overlaps. Lee was such a fan of both drawing from all kinds of sources while remaining very much in 100% alignment with himself, his guru and his dharma. as always, its a spanda.

Thanks, Mark. Yes same and different. Its all One but its not all the same. And that is no problem. To me its just about recognizing our frequency, so to speak. Recognizing what it is that we resonate with.

ccb- thanks. Yes, taking a turn is not necessarily veering off the path. Parting ways is not always a mistake or a shortcoming. just time.

Love to you all.

Amy Soucy said...

Thank you Christina! I am an Anusara-Inspired teacher, working on certification, but always following my curiosity where it leads me, even if that means other teachers, styles, classes, etc. Your honesty and candor are So refreshing and So empowering to students and teachers alike. In the end, the simple message I heard was "follow your heart," follow your own inner guidance... Om Namah Shivaya! Hoping to one day study with you (will you still be coming to NY this month?). Namaste, Amy

cindy l said...

well, done, Christina on all counts...as one who has "left" a system before, I totally understand the idea of resonance, that is a key for me....

Julie Taylor said...

I have been giving this whole thing a lot of thought over the past week and have now arrived at 'it would be a surprise if this kind of thing didn't happen!'. The clarity with which you speak your Truth is testament to your practice as a whole. Through the sudden death of my 19 year old niece I have realised the teachings of the Buddha resonate much more strongly with me. Before this tragic event, I had a quiet unease about where my truth was in relation to practice/method/philosophy and now with these happenings I feel that maybe, just maybe, I am following my heart. Thanks for sharing so much; I can feel the waves of it from here.

Tara Jolie said...

Hi Christina,
We have never met but your situation inspired me to truly follow my dharma path and no longer wishing to be Anusara-inspired. Thank you very much.

PerfectSpeed said...

We met at Willow Street Yoga Center earlier this year in June (we briefly talked about the serratus-rhomboid connection at the end of one of the workshops you offered).
I just wanted to say thank you for verbalizing so vividly a lot of what I have been grappling with in the past few years about teaching yoga and/vs. teaching specific/brand yoga, about teaching the philosophy of yoga and/vs. teaching asana. I love asana and I love alignment and I study them with passion, discipline and gusto. I too feel that it's not really my time and place (at least currently) to also teach the philosophy, but thought that I was somehow inadequate because of that as a teacher. I now feel that my "inability" to transmit the philosophy part to my students is probably an unwillingness on my part to do that. I think that my skill in teaching asana is where I am helpful to my students and it is up to them to find the meaning in that beyond the mat. So thank you for giving me the confidence to continue on my chosen path rather than succumb to the ever-increasing pressure of a "sattvic" popularity contest.
p.s. I hope to be able to study with you again. Please come back to the DC area soon!
Anna K. McGlew

PerfectSpeed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mickie said...

There are only a handful of people that I call "my teacher:, though many have guided me, I reserve that label for just a few, and as far as yoga goes, you are "my teacher" I do still strive to teach the method of Anusara Yoga because that is what resonates with me right now. When I was told that this happened and asked for why I thought it could be, my only answer was, it must be out of a deep respect for the Anusara Yoga method, I couldn't think of another answer. As long as there is still Christina Sell Yoga, it matters not to me. I look forward to learning whatever your teaching for the many years to come.

jodi said...

A Sustainable and well rounded practice. Refreshing and heart warming!<3

Christina Sell said...

@Amy Soucy- thanks for your share. I postponed my trip to NY this month but I will be at Emma Magenta's studio in South Orange, NJ February 10-12. www.southmountainyoga.com Maybe we can meet up there?

@Cindy- that's the thing. Its really resonance and when we are where we best resonate, both teacher and student are served best.

@Julie- So sorry to hear about your niece and how wonderful the unfortunate event brought you closer into the heart of your truth. Thanks for taking the time to share with me.

@tara- May the Light of the dharma guide you and may the Teaching always be a shelter. Please stay in touch.

@Anna- I may have to borrow the phrase "sattvic popularity contest" at some future point. I know just what you mean. As a teacher trainer especially I want to help new teachers get confident at teaching the postures, honing their skills at teaching a good public class that takes people into the practice in reliable, efficacious and honest ways. I believe those things open the heart and make us fertile soil for outer wisdom and more importantly for the small still voice of truth that arises from within when we are clear and quiet enough to listen. I think the philosophy is always there but it'd be a lot better if it came much later in a curriculum. my experience is that too much time is often given to it too soon and for a lot reasons it doesn't serve the students who are hearing it the teachers who feel obligated to teach it and even the Teaching itself. thanks.

@Mickie- what can I say? I love you, I admire you and the integrity you bring to everything you do and I am so grateful for you and your studentship. I am glad to know we are in this for the long haul. (And I am happy to help with your anusara training. I mean, I do know a lot about i!)

@jodi- thanks. yes, sustainable and well rounded. there is a wonderful aim on and off the mat.

Terra said...

"... I am more interested in the practice of the practice itself as an agent of change."

Love this. This puts words to what I find my yoga practice becoming. Thank you. That is a quote that I'm going to use to continue to inspire me.

Bikram huh? Awesome. I find myself doing hot yoga these days (only Bikram studio is in Denver so I haven't tried that specifically yet) and despite my reservations and pre-judgements I had about it it is working for me at this time.

I can't wait till you're in Colorado again! You are an amazing teacher and any time spent studying with you is a blessing!

Love,
Terra