Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Kidney Loop Help

I got this question in my email the other day and I thought I might answer it here since answering it for one person one time is great but answering it for many people one time is even better!

Dear Christina,
I have a question for you about kidney loop. I have been spending two weeks on each loop, and this is my second time going through the loops. I am having a very hard time getting the kidney loop to my students. Should I approach it from the phrase "do not let the ribs splay out"? I just feel like this does not engage the rest of the loop, the action that the loop brings the ribs in and toward the back body supporting a straight spine. The students seem to get confused when we are in poses like trikonasana, urdhva dhanurasana, reverse vira II. Let me know what you think! Thanks!

Whenever I am going to teach a particular loop I start by asking myself a few questions-
1. What feeling quality does this loop yield? 

This questions gives me leverage into the Heart-based theme. Kidney loop is often associated with softening into the back body, humility, reverarance, remembrance of support and trust. This is certainly true for the muscular, integrated types. However, the organic types often feel kidney loop as strengthening, unifying, and integrative. Here is something cool. so you can use something like- "When we soften and trust the support behind us, we feel stronger and more integrated. " You can use both, you can use either, but make sure you set it up clearly and give reasons.  Since this is the second time through, maybe approach it from the opposite angle than you used last time.

2. In what poses or parts of poses does this loop come easily?
Students are very likely to get confused by kidney loop in reversed vira 2 since it is not a place where that loop comes naturally due to the shape of the pose. Its a great pose to apply it in once the action and the energy is accessed, however. 

So there are some poses that introduce the loops well and there are some poses where the loop is more obscure. We need the loop in both situations, but one is more for teaching and one is more for application once the learning has happened.

Poses where kidney loop is accessed easily-
cat/cow- the cat shape gets a beginning kidney looper in the neighborhood of the pose quite well and the cow gives contrast and offers students the opportunity to make a distinction between ribs flaring out and the sag in the middle back and the fullness of moving deliberately into the back body.

skier's pose- feet hip width apart, hands on thighs- apply cat/cow actions here and it is a wonderful place to explore and teach

utkatasana- the kidney loop doesn't happen naturally here, quite the opposite. But because the back gets such a natural sag here, its a great place to utilize contrast and larger action to great effect.

parsvakonasana, forearm on front thigh- with the forearm on the front thigh, the students are not in a big wqeight bearing situation and so you can keep their attention and interest for longer while they learn then you can expect in the full pose. this is also true if you were teaching IS/OS that day in this pose. This is an excellent teaching pose which is why it gets used a lot. 

Learn this verbal cue to teach kidney loop- "place your top hand on your hip. inhale, make your legs strong, draw in until your chest lifts, exhale, bow your head to your heart, move your side ribs back like you did in cat pose...." then make the teaching link- "this is kidney loop," " this movement into your back body is kidney loop,"" this humble bow is how we access kidney loop,"etc. All that stuff will fill it in but the students have to execute the actions of literally moving back, not just thinking about humility, etc. Getting them to bow their heads to their hears will help them access their kidney loop more effectively. Cue this again and again as though all of you have ADD. If you do not see the action happening, they are not feeling it, so watch them!

malasana is also a great place to teach kidney loop. look how the shape of the back is already  in kidney loop. I tell  people, "find the poses where you get the alignment principle for free".

3. In what poses does the application of this loop yield a pay off? A payoff  can be on many different levels- an increased awareness is payoff for sure. But here I mostly think of "pay off " in terms of  greater access into the pose and/or the alleviation of chronic pain.

So, kidney loop is a pay off in a level 1 class in a pose like ardha chandrasana. it will help students who have struggled to balance quite considerably.

kidney loop yields great pay off in arm balances like eka hasta bhujasana, bakasana and eka pada galvasana and will help students get lift off with greater ease.

activate kidney loop in cobra and great things happen. Also in vira 1, anjaneyasana and urdhva danurasana.

Kidney loop will help someone in pinca mayurasana  and handstand a lot.  So often the pay off postures are not the poses where you get it for free but the poses where its very difficult to access and the poses where THE LACK OF THE LOOP is the common misalignment. 

Pay off poses need to be considered relative to the level of the group, which is the next question I ask myself. 

4. What level group I am teaching? For instance- kidney loop makes a huge difference in handstand. But in order for handstand to be a good place to teach kidney loop, the students have to be able to actually do handstand. (in general. there are exceptions but for the average teacher I think the nuts and bolts of a posture should be in place before adding a clear lesson of the loops or you end up having to teach "how to do a handstand" and then "how to do kidney loop" and then "how to do kidney loop in a handstand" and this is how demonstrations and partner work run amuck in classes, slow down the pace, bore the students and shrink your class size. just sayin.)

So from there I write a sequence that begins with the poses where the actions come easily and progresses along through the postures, repeating the actions in increasing more challenging postures until the pay off poses come. Again, pay off poses must be chosen relative to the level of the group. if a group can not push up to urdhva danurasana yet, kidney loop is irrelevant. They need other lessons and other preparatory work. 

Centering- i would give a few cues here about softening and moving into the back body. I would also make sure i set up the idea that the back body corresponds to the Universal aspect of experience, etc. 


child's pose- I would tell them to breath into their back here

cat/cow- movement with breath with some info about cat pose that is the same as kidney loop- "move your side ribs back, inflate your middle back and with trust move into your back body until you feel the strength of that support."
* I would reference "halloween cat back" for the first half of class over and above kidney  loop.

Simple Surya Namaksar variations, depending on group level

skier's pose - cat/cow contrast work

utkatasana- teach the pose once, then demo how to apply "halloween cat back" to it.

utkatasana- verbally cue the application of kidney loop. VERY IMPORTANT- if they do it well, move on. if their backs did not change shape, demo again, give a pep talk and ask them to repeat. they are learning the actions here and if they are not doing them now, they will no be able to do them in harder shapes.

vira one with heel up- , link to utkatasana."place your hands on your front thigh. bow your head to your heart. Like you did in Halloween cat, slide your side ribs back and humbly move into the strength of Universal Support."

Anjaneyasana- same cues

parsvakonasana, forearm to thigh- use the cue I gave you above-"place your top hand on your hip. inhale, make your legs strong, draw in until your chest lifts, exhale, bow your head to your heart, move your side ribs back like you did in cat pose...." 

parsvakonasana- have them do full pose. then demo the application of the loop.  Then have them do it in a harder shape now, carry the actions through in your cues.

trikonasana-  carry the actions though here.

ardha chandrasana (let's say this is your peak pose today)- demo getting into and out of the pose. have them do it.

then demo how to apply kidney loop to ardha chandrasana.

then talk them through it. - "place your top arm on your hip. bring your top leg into the front plane slightly. bow your head to your heart with humility and strengthen your resolve to connect with the support of grace. move your ribs back, breathe into your back. keeping that strong connection, lift your chin out of your chest, take your shoulder onto your back, line your back leg up with your body and stretch your arm up to the sky."

if they do it, move on. if they can not or do not do it, figure out why and help them solve that problem. it may be they need something remedial like placing  the back foot on the wall to help with balance. Anyway, do a demo, give a pep talk, have them try again. Like that.

Do these next poses with less technical info and more feeling words and get them settled into their hearts. tey will ahve concentrated a lot, thought a lot and tried really hard.

Down Dog


windshield wipers

knees to chest


Obviously, adjust the sequence accordingly for the level and capacity of the group. if you were going to take it to back bends, just keep weaving the actions so that when they get to urdhva danuarasana their bodies are prepared  for the pose- spine is stretches, quads open, hips open shoulders and chest prepared, upper back ready- but they have super strong kinesthetic understanding of how to access the kidney loop. then you get them to urdhva. then you demo how to apply it. then you talk the through it.

Easy Peasy.
Hope this helps. Let me know how it goes.

And if any of you out there like this sort of work, come join me for the training I am giving in Tucson in August!

This three- day training is designed to  give the new or experienced Anusara Yoga teacher practical tools for teaching Anusara Yoga to beginning level students. The training will incorporate asana classes,
 lecture and experiential teaching exercises to help students embody the teachings.

Participants in this training  will learn:
* How to design a beginning yoga course suitable to your unique teaching circumstance and your individual teaching style.
* How  to break down Level 1 Syllabus postures into their component parts to make them accessible to new or physically limited students.
* How  to address common challenges and misalignments with sequencing strategies, modifications, and verbal cues.
* How  to present complex philosophical ideas in a simple, practical and authentic way.

If you have ever struggled with how to present the postures and the teachings to students who are new to the practice or less capable physically, this training is for you. Even if you do not teach Beginning Yoga classes, the skills presented  in this course will help you take your teaching to new levels of efficacy, clarity and inspiration.

August 16-18, 2011
Yoga Oasis; Tucson, AZ

Contact- Rachel King to sign up rachel@yogaoasis.com

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Anusara Yoga Teachers Christina Sell and Christy Nones teach in Miami, F...

A few days ago I wrote a lovely blog about friendship in yoga- inspired by my visit to Miami to stay and teach with Christy Nones and it was lost to cyberspace when I posted it, which was a bummer. Other than the frustration of losing the post, the time I used to write was really the only opening for writing that I knew I would have in my schedule for a few days. So here I am a few days later, sitting out on the deck at our hotel in Key Largo enjoying a lovely ocean view after a dip in the water with a few moments to write.

We had a great time in Miami. It was Christy's birthday on Thursday when we arrived and she had a party at her house that me and Kelly attended for a while, which was fun. I am not a big party person in general but I enjoyed seeing Christy in her "natural habitat" and not at a yoga workshop and meeting some of her local crew. I think maybe I used to like parties more than I do now, but as my work has increased and expanded and has involved more and more interactions, I find myself enjoying quieter down- time and less social environments than I used to. Who knew teaching yoga would feel so social?! It was however, a wonderful gathering with great food and good company.

We had a relaxing morning practice on Friday, a dip in the ocean and then we taught a flow class on Friday night, which was fun. Saturday we taught two sessions- a group practice and a hip-opening class. It was a lovely, sweet schedule with no stress and great students. This is my second trip to South Florida this year and I have found the students here a lot of fun and very receptive, which I always appreciate.

Christy and I got to talk shop a bit which is usually the case when you get two certified teachers together. It's interesting how different yoga communities are across the country and how people's teaching styles grow and change in response to the environment in which they live and teach. For instance, my work in Austin is full of teacher training and our yoga community is filled with ambitious, aspiring teachers and students whereas her window into local teaching is different. She certainly is a great teacher trainer- its not that- it's just when I look out into a public class, half the room is yoga teachers which is not the case for her so understandably, she and I think about a local class in different terms. So that was fun to explore in conversation and to think about.

I have had lots of food for thought this last month in fact. My schedule had me criss crossing the country a bit, and changing time zones and in so many diverse climates and cultures, each one with powerful teachings and experiences. I am filled with insight and inspiration as a result and I am happy to have a few days of down-time to process, unwind a bit and allow for some digestion and assimilation. I do not feel stressed by it though- it's mostly that the richness of each experience has given me so much to work with and to put into practice. Swimming around in an ocean looking at pretty fish seems just about right.

Speaking of which we had hoped go scuba diving this afternoon and when we got here and checked in at the dive shop they told us that it was very windy with big swells and not exactly the best conditions for novice divers like ourselves. Of course, they left the choice up to us but I was pretty clear, I wanted to have a fun intro to the ocean not an epic experience fraught with challenge and difficulty. We took the afternoon to get moved in, to go snorkeling and to read and rest. A wise choice, I think.

All right then, that's the general update for today. More tomorrow.

Friday, April 22, 2011

What is Origin Magazine? Maranda Pleasant and Christina Sell Talk about ...

Here is a short little clip that Kelly made about Origin Magazine.

Check it out.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Origin Magazine Release Party Sunday May 1, 2011 Whole Foods Rooftop Austin

If you want to know more about Origin Magazine, click here- www.originmagazine.com.

please help us spread the word about this event. Here are the details that Maranda posted on Facebook:

Join us for our Austin Release Party May 1st. 2-6.30pm. Whole Foods Market Rooftop Downtown.

Join us and hundreds more for Origin's big inaugural Release party at the Whole Foods Rooftop Downtown Austin, Sunday May 1st, 2-6pm.

Art, Music, One of the largest Free Yoga Classes ever held in Austin led by National Teacher Christina Sell at 4pm, Costumes welcomed, Performers, Artists, Sponsors, Vendors, Connection, Celebrating 152 pages of Art+Community. We are debuting the same issue in 6 cities within 3 weeks. WOW!

IF you're in our current issue, bring your wares, offerings and information to connect with the community. Wanna perform or volunteer?

Please post below or email: Editor@originmagazine.com.

We'll also be assembling a Maypole. It's gonna take a village: this is a big village. This issue features 60+ artists, 90+ yogis and 152 pages of art, philanthropy, beautiful photography, conscious articles and a lotta love.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A few reflections on Shiva-Shakti Tantra

Yesterday Mandy asked me to write a blog entry on the differences between Rajanaka Tantra and Shiva- Shakti Tantra. And since that is a question I actually get asked a lot in immersions and teacher trainings I thought it might be useful to explore it a bit so long as we all understand that:

a) I am not attempting to define either system
b) I am not endowed by either system to be a final authority
c) I am offering some insights, ideas and reflections, not an unbiased report of facts that have been meticulously checked and verified
d) I am not a scholar.
e) I am not a student of Kashmir Shaivism or Shri Vidya.

Let's see, I will probably need to add in some more disclaimers as we go along, but here goes:

Shiva- A name for Supreme Consciousness, the Singular Totality, the Eternal Awareness that is unwavering, steady and unchanging
Note: if you worship Shiva as the Absolute, you are a Shaivite.

Shakti- the Power of Supreme Consciousness, the multiplicity of totality, the pervasive, creative impulse and potential
Note: if you worship Shakti as the Absolute, you are a Shakta.

Tantric schools generally have a primary orientation to either Shiva or Shakti. In general, practice is centered around the recognition of the still point of singularity or practice utilized the dynamic pulsation of creation as a reference and entry point. In general, there were shiva cults and shakta cults; the shakta cults are what we think of as those who worship the goddess. There are also those sects that saw Visnu as the Absolute (vaisnavites) and even Ganesh and so on. (Now don't get freaked out about the word sect or cult- I just mean a group of people organized around same principles, etc.)

So, there are two main lineages of tantra that have always informed the "life-affirming philosophy of intrinsic goodness" that is the hallmark of Anusara Yoga, it's method method and its lifestyle: Kashmir Shaivism and Shri Vidya.

Kashmir Shaivsm, as the name suggests was a group of Shiva devotees up in Northern India in the region of Kashmir. (google it and you will find such luminaries as Abinavagupta and some of his disciples who left behind some wonderful esoteric treatises that we could spend many lifetimes trying to live into.) Pull on the thread of this school and you get to Laksman Joo, Swami Muktananda and now to the SYDA Yoga scholars who teach us in Anusara Yoga like Paul Muller Ortega, Carlos Pomeda, Sally Kempton, etc.( Of course you get a nice dose of Vedanta with some of them too, but that's another story!)

The Shri Vidya school, also known as The School of Auspicious Wisdom is a goddess- oriented tradition of Southern India and the tradition in which Douglas Brooks learned, lived and steeped himself in at the feet of his teacher/mentor/guru, Appa. (Shri is another way to say Lakshmi, so we see the goddess thing there.) So, obviously we all know that Douglas knows just about everything about just about every other religious tradition but when you get Douglas teaching Shri Vidya, you get him teaching what he lives and breathes, not just what he knows. So when I say he is the Shri Vidya expert it is also with profound acknowledgement that he knows about the other stuff too it's just that this is where his heart is. He calls his teaching and iteration of these ideas Rajanaka Tantra.

So, John Friend studied with the scholars who taught him about Kashmir Shaivism. He availed himself of the wisdom that Douglas Brooks had to share about Shri Vidya and Rajanaka Tantra. (you will even see the word Rajanaka a bit in some early Anusara information when Douglas and John were teaching a lot together in our Anusara workshops and for a brief moment in time we used it to describe Anusara Yoga's philosophy.) Not only did John study with these people, he invited them into our lives and us into theirs and made some of the most educated, accomplished scholars and practitioners of these ancient teachings available to us as a community and expanded our knowledge, expertise and opportunities in some pretty remarkable ways.

It's actually a great teaching example- John put his students in front of his teachers. It would have been so easy for him to just report on his learnings but he generously shared these resources with us and gave us access to explore the various philosophies freely in our own right. This generosity blows me away almost every day. Seriously. (so many teachers I know won't even give another teacher credit for a sequence, much less book them a workshop with their students. Small rant. Sorry. I digress.)

John also has an insatiable hunger for esoteric wisdom from Western traditions like Wicca, Pythagorus, Gnosticism, as well as technology from the Human Potential Movement like visualization, manifestation techniques as well as passion for art, science and dance. And he has his own explorations, experiences, insights and revelations. And one of the forms his particular genius takes is in synthesis. He sees distinctions very clearly between things but he can see unifying threads of Truth where other people see only divisions. Seriously, it's a siddhi of his.

For years, Kashmir Shaivism influences lived alongside Rajanaka teachings and were accompanied by other esoteric teachings as something called Anusara Yoga Philosophy. It was meant to be a broad-based integrative vision of totality that embraced life as a source of divinity, diversity as an expression of unity and was, by design, inclusive, welcoming and expansive. A year or so ago, John named that expansive, broad, inclusive philosophical outlook Shiva- Shakti Tantra.

My understanding is that name Shiva- Shakti is there to indicate we acknowledge Shiva AND Shakti as Ultimate, not one or the other; that we celebrate both consciousness and its power. The name suggests that we see the dynamic pulsation of these two forces at the Heart of Reality and the creative relationship between the two as the source of all creative expression and as an inspiration to live our lives creatively and artistically. Tantra is in the name because it indicates we are a school that seeks to weave this dynamic creativity into the fabric of our lives as a way to expand our consciousness personally and collectively.

By giving Anusara Yoga Philosophy a name such as Shiva- Shakti Tantra John is paying homage to the influences that inform his approach and ideas but is clearly telling us that we are also something different. We are not attempting to copy or go back to 9th-century Kashmir or live like Southern Indians in a modern, global culture. It's saying "Yes, we honor and recognize the profundity of these traditions and yet we are something else and we are that something else consciously and deliberately."

As I see it- again, I did not fact check this with John and so I might be getting a call from the main office any moment- Rajanaka Tantra lives within the world of Shiva-Shakti Tantra with no conflict although it has its own worldview, operating paradigm and points of difference. As do the profound teachings of Kashmir Shaivism that Paul is bringing to life in his courses. As do the heart-ful teachings of Jesus, Budhha, Wicca and anything else that brings us closer to the direct experience of our intrinsic beauty, delight, and creative expansion.

Hope this helps. Again, there is always more to the story but those are a few thoughts on the topic this morning.

Monday, April 18, 2011

refelctions on teaching

So for the most part, I am keeping up on everything except for this blog, which seems to be a bit neglected. I am not so sure that I have anything profound to say this morning but I thought I could at least check in!

I think because Kelly and I have been taking SCUBA lessons since my return from the last fee trips, my time has just been extra full ever since I got home. We are up again early today, having breakfast before we will head down to San Marcos for our first open water dive. I am enjoying the lessons and learning a new skill. And as always, I like being a student. And as always, being in the seat of the student and learning something brand new is giving me lots to reflect on as a teacher. (Like remember, Christina, learning something new is not easy- genereslly, people are trying very hard to do well!)

I spent the weekend in Corpus Christi teaching teachers training there, which was very sweet. Ww worked a lot this weekend on how to teach yoga to beginneeprs, which was fun. After lots of examples the students seemed to really make progress. Oe of the things I was really trying to get across to the trainees is the diffence between teaching yoga and leading a yoga class. I think both are fine but I think it is essential that we know which is which and how to do both.

What I see a lot of out there is leading yoga: "step your foot forward, turn your back foot in stretch your arms over your head...Vira 1. Breathe here and go back through the vinyasa..." I think that is totally fine for students who know the postures, who are familiar with the transitions and so forth and the yoga teacher is there to hold space, give reminders, keep people focused, pass on a tidbit of insight, inspiration and so on. I have no problem with this at all and I love to go to a class that is led well. In fact, it is tedious to learn something from square one (or to feel obligated to teach something from square one if the group is on square five. So this is not an absolute thing i am saying here. For instance I want to be able to say (and I do) andI want my teachers to be able to say (and they do) "handstand", or "vira 2" or "set up for shoulder stand and go up" if the group knows the pose in question.)

I just do not think that that is teaching and I do not think that talking people through a sequence is particularly effective for helping people really learn and understand the art of yoga and most beginners won't have a lot of success achieving the postures in good alignment without a more directive, instructional "how to" approach. Also, even experienced, advanced practioners can deepen their understanding and refine thei practice very effectively with such an approach. That is my experience and opinion of course, and not everyone agrees,which is fine.

So, the thing is that I learned yoga in the way that I am describing- methodically, step by step, with lots of relevant information, demonstration and hands-on help. As a teacher trainer I have had to learn that most folks in my trainings did not learn yoga that way at all. They learned by simply following along and doing the best they could within an all-levels, vinyasa-style setting. For years, I did not understand why my trainees did not know how to break the postures down and present them and I could not figure why, no matter how many times I said, "teach the component parts" they didn't know how to do it! Finally, I got it- they had no experiential frame of reference for what I was talking about. So now, I spend a lot more time modeling the "how I would do it" and giving lots of examples of how to break things down and give step by step lessons to trikonasana, supta padangusthasana, vrksana and so forth.

And throughout the weekend the trainees kept saying, "wow, I am learning so much in this beginning class! I wish I had had a foundation like this, I can see how valuable it would be!" so that was fun. And I got watch the lights go on and some connections get made about teaching vs. leading and that made me happy.

Yes, there is doing yoga. There is learning to teach other people to do yoga. Then there is learning to teach people to teach yoga. Each scenario has it's own learning curve, it's own skill set and while there is overlap between scenarios, it is not exactly the same thing and I have certainly been through a process with these different scenarios over the years. And as much as I love teaching and as much as I think I am pretty good at it, I have to say clearly and out loud that none of it has come easily to me. Honestly, this particular kind of teaching- yoga teaching that is, where we are part gym coach, part inspirational speaker, part psychologist, part minister, part friend, part cattle prod, etc- is just not easy and will ask each one of us to stretch beyond what is comfortable, easy and habitual every time. all that is why I like it but I must say nothing has kicked my ass quite like this job. (of course nothing has given me as much delight, meaning and joy either!)

One thing I have been working on a ton this last year is really observing where my students are in their understanding and experience so that I can effectively respond to what they need. In looking back over the mistakes I have made as a teacher and as a teacher trainer, a lot of my mistakes, frustrations and failures have come by not seeing clearly what my students really needed. The more I can get out of the way and really be in First Principle (open, receptive, without expectations and sensitive) the more I am able to recognize what my students need.

All right, well, more on this later. Time to go breathe underwater!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

More pictures

A before practice visit to Lululemon where the lovely lemon Ande and I had on matching tops!

Scenes from group practice:

For Brigitte who asked so nicely that the sequece be posted--This was a good old-fashioned approach to backbends which can be summed up as "stretch your quads and open your upper back":

1 minute timings:
childs pose
parsva adho mukha vajrasana
revolved childs pose
shoulder stretches on belly
eka pada bhekasana
half dog- arms out in front- life arm bones, melt heart big time
Down dog with deep upper back work

1 minutes timings in vinyasa with deep, working, major cobras and no pec-tightening chatarangas:
eprk with back bend
eprk with quad stretch
anjaneyasana with quad stretch
revolved lunge with quad stretch on forearm 
virasana with gomukhasana arms
vira 1 with gomukasana arms
parsvottanasana with gomukhasana arms
clasped prasarita paddottanasana

pinca with palms up
danurasana to cobra
danurasana to danurasana/bhekasana to cobra
bhekasana to cobra

1 minute timings:
urdhva danurasana 3X
dwi pada viparita dandasana 3X
Supta padangusthasana -out to the side

eprk 1, 2, 3, 4
kapinjalasana in urdhva danurasana

down dog
parsva uttanasana
childs pose
adho mukha sukhasana 2 X changing the corss of the legs
Supta padangusthasana variation- hands interlaced behind thigh

supta tadasana


Have at it. Let me know how it goes.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A few pics from the last few weeks

All right- I am finally getting a few moments to check in here before heading out for group practice at The Castle.  Here is a brief pictorial review of my last few weeks. 

After teaching an amazing Immersion weekend in Austin, I got on a plane and headed out to Yogaglo. I stayed right on Venice Beach- which I love. Here are a few pics form my morning walk:

This is a view from my hotel room window!

A sign in Santa Monica on my way to take class at Yogaworks.

After Yogaglo, I went to Columbia, South Carolina for a wonderful weekend at City Yoga. We posted footage and pictures from that already so scroll back few entries for more if you missed it.  It is always great to be with the City Yoga gang. They are under the skillful guidance and leadership of Stacy Milner Collins who is such an amazing teacher and practitioner. One of the great things about the community at City Yoga, in my opinion, is how loving and welcoming they are.  They are southern hospitality at its finest. Also, I love how much they love their teacher. They have it really good with Stacy and her team of teachers and they all know it. So the other hallmark of their community is gratitude. Love and gratitude are such attractive qualities in a community and they really taught me a lot about how wonderful of an energetic field those two virtues can create. Good times for sure.

Then I went to Whistler, BC for three days of fun with Lululemon and the Ambassador Summit. Here are some pictures from that.

Me and Kelly before dinner, decked out in lulu gear.

Me and Gioconda- two Austin representatives. We were both so happy to be there together and having two of us from one stroe was pretty special!

Me, Baron Baptiste and Gia having a blast.

me and Bekkah before morning yoga. I think Bekkah had slept like 4 hours or so. Her plane was delayed, her luggage was lost but still she was smiling.

Product design brainstorming session.


I went from Whsiteler to Arcata, California. How pretty is the Northern California Coastline?

I had a good time in Arcata with the folks there. I love Humboldt County and the whole vibe there is mellow, sincere, authentic and heartfelt. The students are sincere, inquisitive and hard working. We did lots of technical work on asanas and creative new approaches to the principles and explored some new and familiar terrain together. I think it was a great success.

And then the day after I got home form California, Kelly and I started taking scuba lessons for our upcoming trip to Florida. This is Kelly taking notes at the scuba place.

 Okay- more to do. I will write more tomorrow.

Have fun!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Vision and Goals

I am definitely in the midst of processing the 3-day Lululemon Ambassador Summit. We spent a lot of time talking about Vision, Mission Statements and Goal Setting. We got a lot of help with how to bring one's vision to life through manageable, well-planned sequential goals. I thought this was great since I have been so on the theme of Aim these days. We had some good break out sessions on creating brand identity in our business, how to globalize our offerings and how to use social media to meet our goals more effectively. We had good social time, an asana practice every morning and we even got to be involved in some creative brainstorming regarding product design. It was a pretty amazing experience all in all.

We had a chance to hear from the company founder, the CEO, as well as other members of the management team. I was blown easy by their approach to management their commitment to transparency, their ethics and the way they work with individual as well as shared goals and vision. I found the management to be humble, empowered, focused, compassionate, direct, honest and I walked away super happy to be involved with the company.

Additionally striking was the commitment Lululemon has to their Ambassadors. Ever since I have been involved with Lululemon, they have told me how important the Ambassadors are to the company's mission and while I knew that was true, I did not know the extent of their commitment to us as Ambassadors until The Summit. Seeing 100+ people all gathered at The Four Seasons in Whistler, BC for three days of fellowship, training and networking all on the company's expense might have helped drive the point home a bit. But more than that even was hearing from the Leadership Team repeatedly that they are dedicated to our personal success was quite striking. I got something about what they are doing with the Ambassador program that I hadn't really experienced before. So that was cool.

I enjoyed having some time for personal reflection and to consider my own vision and and mission and set some goals for myself. I have never really been a focused goal setter. I tend to do a lot of it naturally and I am a reasonably organized and disciplined person so if I decide to do something, I can usually clear away the necessary time, energy and resources to do it. Also, I have found that life has surprised me a lot and so many things that I enjoy and delight in are outside my scope of imagination and the timing couldn't have been predicted or planned for in a linear way.

Also I find it requires some work on my part to really get in touch with the aspect of myself that I want to set my goals from. See, I think we can set goals from our lower ambitions, our insecurities, jealousies and our greed or we can set goals from the alignment we have with our Heart and its values. I find setting measurable goals from that place to be a little more challenging since successful Heart-based outcomes are often harder do measure and are not always going to fall into parameters that are easy to check off a list. In fact much of what makes teaching yoga rewarding is hard to quantify and chasing outside approval and validation for the work is a pretty slippery slope to discontent, grasping and a whole host of patterns that have their roots in some fairly murky water.

All that being said, I found a groove with the work and I am making some headway on the project. For me, it kind of boils down to working smarter, not harder. I plan to incorporate some stronger boundaries around rest, time off and how I spend my energy. And I have some super exciting projects in mind for the next few years.

And honestly, I am not of the mindset that believes yoga is not a goal-oriented pursuit. My opinion is that is has always been goal-oriented and the idea of "no goal" is a misapplication of the non-dual perspective. I mean really, hasn't the whole experiment always been aimed at the direct experience of The Self? Sounds like a goal to me. (just sayin.') One thing that I do think goal setting does is to help us consciously align with what matters to us and then to focus our daily actions on our truer aims rather than squander our time on things we care less about. And what this outer, action-based alignment with Aim does is call into motion The Law of Attraction. When our actions are aligned with our Heart then we create a momentum that is not only going to take us into a certain stream but will mobilize and attract to us to the very lessons, experiences and opportunities that we need to manifest what our Heart most truly desires.

One teaching I love from Paul Muller Ortega has to do with just that. He said one time that tantra, instead of attempting to eradicate desire in the way that the Classical Yoga traditions did, attempts to satisfy, fulfill and transmute desire. He suggested that over time, the yogi progresses through sadhana to a state where our self-based desires become Self-Referenced instead. We literally being to desire a life of practice, discipline, service and these ideals are pursued from a sincere desire to live a life of integrated dignity and devotion. No longer an outside structure, sadhana, service and so forth become what we want. Lee used to say it's the best joke there is- The Path will give you whatever you want but by the time you get it "you" may not be there to enjoy it! (Lee was master of The Fine Print.)

But in the case of Lululemon goal setting, its more about moving into choice, into accountability and away from complaint, blame and victimhood regarding the outcomes we are generating in our lives. It's an invitation to dare to dream, to apply ones efforts deliberately and to allow a community of people to support you in the endeavor.

Anyway, this weekend takes me to Arcata, CA for a weekend workshop. I was there about 6 months ago. It's pretty odd that I get to go somewhere two times in the same calendar year for a workshop. I am looking forward to being there and seeing everyone again. I really had a great time the last time I was there. On a completely unrelated note, I am on the loudest plane ever while I am writing. (small exaggeration but wow, it's so loud!)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Anusara Yoga teacher Christina Sell on The Fine Print of Yoga

Here is a short clip from my opening words last night at City Yoga in Columbia, South Carolina. Enjoy.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Yoga is Not Normal

I wrote a blog entry a week or so back on aim- March 24 "More on Aim"- and this was a comment I received which has had me thinking a bit more on the topic:

"I am worried that working with attitude and intention means that you take and are given responsibility for your own state of mind and health. Also for the things that were either too big for you to handle or completely out of your hands, happened by accident or caused by other people or by your genetic disposition or because you grew up the wrong place or are unavoidable because you live in the 21.cent in a big city. If it comes down to ‘ it is my own fault because I have not been positive enough’ or if your surroundings blame you for not having the right attitude it can lead to what is happening here in Denmark . People who cannot lose enough weight are not eligible for certain operations. Treatment is withheld from people who can’t stop smoking or drinking. People who can’t find the strength and attitude to change their ways are being penalized this way. I understand that the guy who has lung cancer should stop smoking, but what if he can’t… does that mean he only has himself to blame? What if I am so angry about losing my legs in Iraq war that every day is hell? I probably know that my life would be better with a good attitude but I can’t really get to the point where I thank for having lost my legs and say that I have learned so much from my injuries?
I have never been able to reconcile these ideas. I blogged for a couple of years on Yogajournal and read thousands of messages and blogs from people who thought that working with intention and attitude meant that they had to be upbeat about everything even the worst problems so I know that this is not a negligible problem. But I don't know what can be done either.
All the best and thank you for good provoking blogs."

I have thought about this a lot since it was posted on my blog for a lot of reasons. First, I think I stated this in my entry, but I want to be very clear that aim, in the way I was writing about it and in the way I think about it, isn't about perky, upbeat, new-age strategies for "creating your own reality" or anything like that. I think about aim as a way to respond to life, not as a way to create life "the way that we want it." Aim, to me, is not about having a "good attitude" or "looking on the bright side of things" or any unsatisfying platitude that sounds lovely on a greeting card but when the shit hits the fan lacks real substance and utility.

Aim, as I see it, is a context that we, as yogis, can hold about our life and our responses to all that life brings us. I am talking about aim informing our life as fuel for a yogic response to challenges that come our way, not an ordinary mindset. I sometimes think that as yogis we forget that these yogic teachings and perspectives are NOT ORDINARY and the practices that stem from the teachings are difficult to do and are there to generate tapas and heat and transformation, not to make life easier.

Sure, life may get easier as a result of our yogic choices. It really might. For instance, if we implement the yamas and niyamas into life we might find that in some ways life if going to get a lot easier if we are not harming ourselves and others, if we are not lying, stealing, or blowing all our sexual energy in meaningless trysts. Sure, our life will get easier, if, like this person wrote, we can actually manage to live so righteously! But that life gets easier in some way is an outcome of the virtuous choices, not the reason why we do them.

I am about to say something radical but here goes. We may get happier as a result of our yoga but happiness, in my opinion, is not the point of the yoga either. Nor is comfort, pleasure, ease, lack of misfortune, reduction of pain, and so forth. And I like all of those things and think they are great so its not that I have a thing against happiness. I am into it. I really am but to me the yoga is about tapping into the direct experience of the energy that informs those ups and downs, those perceived positive and negative outcomes and living from that awareness. Yoga has never been aimed at preferences of ego and so forth. It's aimed somewhere else. So read on, but know that I do not think being a yogi is easy and I think that living up to its teachings is one of the most worthwhile yet difficult things we will ever attempt in our lives. But it's not exactly normal.

Back to aim...

Aim, as I see it, is about deciding to enter-to whatever degree we can-into the supreme endeavor of making use of difficulty. Aim rests solidly on the assumption that life is challenging, difficult and full of obstacles to happiness, peace and love. (yes, life is also beautiful, inspiring and creative, potent and full of delight but if we new that fully and could unflinchingly live from that knowledge, well, we wouldn't need to practice this stuff much.just sayin') Aim and attitude to me is NOT abut dressing up blame in a different outfit and fueling our self-hatred further by blaming ourselves or each other for accidents, misfortune, betrayal and abuse. Not at all. Not as I see it anyway.

Aim answers questions such as "What am I going to do with what life has given me? How, as a yogi, will I respond to what is dark, ugly and unseemly inside myself and outside in the world of circumstances?" (of course, pull on that thread more and we do see some pretty good teachings about the idea that those domains are not as distinct as we might think but that is a different post for a different day. ) Aim does not answer questions like "Why did this terrible thing happen? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does life seem unfair" And so on.

Truth be told, I have never really found a satisfying answer to "why?" I mean, sure, I have read plenty of explanations. It's not that my intellect can't be satisfied by long explanations of karma and the creative potential of the unlimited Sprit and all that. I know I said I haven't heard a satisfying answer to why but it doesn't mean that I haven't heard a lot of explanations. I have. It's just that in the heat of unpleasant events or when faced with tragedy or when I have been betrayed, its not my intellect that needs satisfying. A pithy answer about "why" is of little use to me when my heart is broken. For me, answering questions of the heart and spirit from the vantage point of the intellect is about as satisfying as skim milk.

So, where is the whole milk, heavy cream answer? It lives in the practice of responding. See, I think its in that domain that we can bring the body into the answer and move into the heart through skillful action and begin to glimpse, little by little, with painstaking efforts at times, the truths that live underneath the surface of experience. Aim, is not an answer about why. Its not even attempting to answer that question. Aim is about a heartfelt response to life that is aligned with our Highest Aim and as such can be a tool for guiding us through the very tragic and difficult examples listed at the start of the start of this post.

An example close to home for me- My spiritual teacher passed recently after dealing with throat cancer for three years. As his journey with cancer continued and his symptoms worsened he got more and more fierce as a teacher. He became uncompromising to a near intolerable degree for many of his students. He stopped candy coating everything and told us exactly what was in our way without a shred of concern for being polite or PC. He did the job we had hired him to do- help us see ourselves clearly- with a degree of ruthlessness we had never seen before. He told a student - "I would never have been able to Work like this without the cancer. I am not happy I got the cancer, it has been miserable. But it has served me and my students. I could not have made the shift without it."

That, my friends, is Aim.