Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Los Angeles

Well, we finished day two of Part Two Immersion this morning. I was thinking about my year today and I realized this is the 5th Part Two Immersion I have taught so far! I went to Copenhagen in February, Costa Rica in March, Tucson in March with Darren, we started part two Austin in June and now here is is late June/early July and I am teaching Part Two again in Los Angeles. That's a lot of Part Two Immersion! You would think I'd be an expert at it by now.

But the thing about Immersions is that every group is different. No matter how standard the curriculum remains, every group goes through the process in a unique way. Perhaps expertise in facilitating Immersions is more about trusting the uncertainty of the process as much as it is being certain about the material. One thing I am always certain about when it comes to Immersion studies- they are intense in some way for everyone. If the asana isn't the intense part, then the philosophy is. If the those things don't get to you, the contemplations do. If that is fine for you, then its gonna be the sharing that kicks your ass. And so on. They rub. Not so much on purpose but simply because they are what they are- underlying the intention to provide an education into the practices and principles of Anusara Yoga, these intensives are intended to assist the participants in deepening their studentship and sadhana and one just does not deepen without some friction. Set an intention to shift and you better believe some discomfort is going to be part of the process.

We had some interesting discussions this afternoon which I have been reflecting on. In the lecture on The History of Yoga Philosophy, we spent some time talking about Anusara Yoga and whether or not  it is a lineage. We considered if it is a religion, a spiritual path, or a public asana method, and in what ways does it ask us to believe a doctrine and in what ways can we engage its teachings with discernment, authenticity and courageous inquiry. We pondered when  blind following might dress up as studentship and how resistant rebellion might masquerade  as self-empowerment.

At one point I made a bold statement and said that for the record,  "I am not an Anusara Yogi and Anusara Yoga is not my spiritual path" which drew a shocked response from some folks. (What, how could Christina Sell say such a thing?!! Egads. What does it all mean?!!)  I mean, come on, ya'll- I love Anusara Yoga. I am very aligned with it. I spend a lot of my time serving its vision and supporting its evolution in formal and not-so-formal ways. I am into it- from thighs back to Putting the Highest First and almost  everything in between. So hopefully, no one hears me say such a thing and thinks to themselves I am not totally into it. For the record, I am totally into Anusara Yoga. Way.

Its  just that I do not identify as an "Anusara yogi". I never say that about myself and when someone says it about me I always bristle a bit. It is just not me to say that about myself. I don't resonate with that statement. It feels too small and a bit limited. John Friend is not only my yoga teacher, he is my mentor, my guide, my ally and my comrade on the path of awakening. He has my love, respect and trust and I know he holds me in great regard as well. I am also the committed, somewhat ardent devotee of Lee Lozowick and this is no conflict for me, Lee or John.   I am part of a spiritual school with a guru and a lineage of gurus  that is at the source of my sadhana and spiritual path and Anusara has always moved me deeper in that work and complemented my efforts beautifully. Anusara is part of what I do to remember who I am and what matters to me and it is an incredible tool, expression, mechanism and means to deepen my relationship with myself as a practitioner and teacher but it is not my religion.

 I practice, study and teach Anusara Yoga and I believe in its vision of like-minded community devoted to one another and to a common set of principles. And I love other styles of yoga and practice them as well at times. And this is no conflict for me and never has been for John. If I go to a retreat in another method he always says, "I am so happy to know that your studentship there will reflect so highly on all of us."

So perhaps its a language thing that gets me hung up here  but the larger point I am attempting to make in all that is that my truth has a home here in Anusara yoga. Ansuara has never dictated to me what I should believe nor have I ever found it necessary to have John's permission to have my own ideas and opinions nor has he ever threatened to kick me out for seeing things the way I do. John and the people I care about in this community have never required me to be someone I am not. I have been asked to grow more sensitive, compassionate, forgiving and yielding than my psychological patterns have dictated at different times, but that invitation is not an invitation to become someone I am not, it is, in truth the invitation to be more of what I truly am.

I think that as Anusara Yoga grows and people engage the method now as somewhat of a "formed thing" it may be different for them then it was for me and for a lot of us who were around in the earlier years. We were a small band of people, practicing very directly and intimately with John and each other. The method, the culture, and the the vision was being created right in front of our eyes, moment to moment. We didn't have a major curriculum to learn or to teach or even standards for how to make a heart-based theme. Back then it was mostly, "Make every pose an offering" and "bring meaning to your practice" not Shiva-Shakti Tantra, Tattvas, adhikara and so on. As each piece got added we adapted to it, incorporated it into what we were doing in a really natural way or we didn't. Mostly, as  I remember it, we were practicing really hard and having major shifts in our lives and crying, learning, laughing and growing. It was very experiential and not academic at all. All that came later.

As I write I can imagine what it must be like to be coming around now with 100-hours of defined, curricular-based Immersion studies, an Immersion manual, and so much deep and complex philosophy to master. Meeting the academic side first instead of the embodied experience of the practice and its efficacy could easily lead one to think there was a doctrine to "believe" in. But that is not why we teach Immersions. They are not a conversion experience by design, but an educational opportunity and an exposure to the method and in come cases and explanation of means based on philosophical tenets.  And beyond that they are hopefully helping us begin to engage the teachings in a personal way to see if they fit for us.

And if they fit, if we try them on and they fit, then we get to go deeper into Anusara Yoga if we want to. If we try them on and they don't fit for us, we should ask some intelligent, probing questions about why they do not fit and then depending on those answers, we should feel free and empowered  to engage another approach. Or to take what we can use and leave the rest. The truth is that some people will be drawn to our philosophy and others will love our alignment and still others will love the community. Still others will love the atmosphere of creativity that is growing around Anusara these days. Some people's relationship to the yoga will be be recreational. Some will be scholarly. Some will be artistic and some will be religious about it. None of that is a problem because the teachings are inclusive enough and broad enough to welcome diversity even in how we engage the teachings themselves.

Belonging in Anusara yoga is not an outside-in proposition and does not require any kind of blind allegiance. The allegiance I feel with Anusara yoga is built on recognition and resonance; with alignment, not imposition or conversion. This does not have to be some weird adult-version of high school cliques or a new iteration of some negative church experience. The real variable has very little to do with Anusara yoga and more to do with our own willingness to be real with ourselves and each other and to live our truth courageously and sensitively. And we don't and honestly, we can't,  define what's real for you in Anusara. That is what is so cool about it.

I suppose I could go on as each statement seems to beg another question and consideration, but its time I get to bed and rest.

More soon.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Christina Sell reads from her new book My Body is a Temple at the Austin...

A scene from the Book Release Party on Thursday Night. Thanks to everyone who came and made it great. It meant so much to me to have you all there.

I am in Corpus Christi this weekend. Manorama is here teaching on the Bhagavad Gita. I am, as always, inspired by her, her teaching and the majesty of the Teachings she is sharing. I am compiling my notes and will be sharing them as the week goes on.

It has been an awesome weekend. More soon.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Forward Bends and Reflections on Teaching and Practice

We had a great forward bend practice tonight at Castle Hill. I thoroughly enjoyed the time with everyone and working toward deepening forward bends. It was nice to work on some basic and familiar poses yet to get into them with such freedom and depth.

Since we had some new folks in class tonight and since I was new to some folks as well, we started class with introductions, which was fun and seemed to create a nice bond to go forward through the practice with. I always like it when the group energy gels and a class is not just a bunch of individual people practicing in a room but when it feels cohesive and unified. Tonight was like that and even though we laughed a lot, the asana took me to a very deep, relaxed and yet joyous space. It was lovely and a perfect counter practice for the crazy back bends I did yesterday with Gioconda and Sam.

Here is the sequence in case you want to try for yourself!

Child's Pose
Down Dog
Surya Namaskar 5X
Surya Namaskar 5X
urdhva hasta bandhagullyasana (hands interlaced over head)
urdhva hasta badhagullyasana (non dominant clasp)
Hands clasped behind back shoulder stretch
Hands clasped behind back (non dominant clasp)
uttanasana with hands clasped behind back
uttanasana with hands clasped behind back (non dominant clasp)
Clasp elbows behind back, both sides
prasarita padottanasana, with hands clasped behind back
prasarita padottanasana, with non dominant clasp
pascima namaskarasana (reverse prayer)
parsvottanasana, classic form with hands in reverse prayer
Vira 1, hands in prayer overhead
gomukhasana arms
garudasana legs with arms in gomukhasana
gomukhasana legs only, classic form with shins very close together
gomukhasana, classic form, arms and legs
adho mukha virasana
supta padangusthasana variation with forehead to shin
urdhva prasarita eka padasana
triang mukaikapada pascimottanasana
baradvajasana 1
ardha padmasana
ardha badha padma pascimottanasana
baradvajasana 2

I was thinking about a question that got raised on my last  blog entry about the difference between developing one's teaching skills as a yoga teacher and deepening one's practice.

Here is the comment:
As usual your blog gave me an opportunity to mull over something that has been on my mind for a while…how my teachers try to evolve. I teach Danish to foreigners, I have taught for 35 years and I try to improve as a teacher still and all the time. I do it by sharing with my colleagues, reading, experimenting, thinking, consulting elders and betters, writing, but not by improving my Danish. My investment is in improving my teaching methods not my practice. When I learned to dance Argentinean tango the best teacher I had was not the best dancer but the best pedagogue. When I talk to my teachers they always talk about improving their practice not their methods. They are already light years ahead of me, and if we spend the rest of my life together they would already know enough to keep me busy till then. Don’t they need to work on their teaching skills and not their practice? If the practice is so important why not concentrate on that, get an easy day job and evolve as yogis and leave the teaching to people whose focus is not their own process but others’? I know I am a bit provoking here but don’t I have a point?

For the record I am a very skill-based teacher and  teacher trainer. I actually believe that the more we refine our teaching skills the more effective we can be as teachers. I think that when our skill set is honed then we are actually less dependent on inspiration and we can be consistent in our offering regardless of how we feel on any given day. Good teaching skills are like knowing the scales as a musician. This is how I train teachers, as many of you know. I am convinced that good teaching is not haphazard or random. It is a dynamic fusion between skill and inspiration, ability and creativity, and the more practiced one becomes at the foundations the more intuition is free to inhabit the effort.

When I write a statement that says something like "I care more about being a yogi than I do being a yoga teacher" I am in no way saying that I do not care about being a yoga teacher or that I think teaching skills are not to be honed and cultivated. I take the craft of teaching very seriously and I am very committed to increasing my efficacy as a teacher. I studied education and have a Master's Degree in experiential education so, as an art form in and of itself, I am way into teaching. (Like big time.) I think the structure of teaching is very  important and our skills as teachers are key. Also, keep in mind that we can have great teaching skills but not actually know alot about the body, the asanas, the lifestyle of yoga, and/or the philosophy. We may have great charisma, but no inner discipline, etc.

My point had more to do with a bold statement that as much as I love teaching yoga, I love the practice even more. I think of myself as a yogi and devotee first and a teacher second. And, as much as I think yoga teaching has a set of skills that can be taught, those skills are applied to a subject matter that is, at essence, experiential in nature. I do not think we have to be enlightened to teach yoga. I do not think we have to be flexible and strong and be able to do every pose in the book in order to be a good yoga teacher. But I do think that the more mastery we have in any domain- whether with asana, pranayama, meditation, self-inquiry, compassion, etc.- the stronger, deeper and richer the foundation is from which we can teach others.

Obviously, its not all outer mastery, like performing showy poses. It may be (and often is) more about inner mastery. It may be courage in the face of hardship and perseverance through tragedy that is at the heart of what we teach as yoga teachers. So please don't write me an email, ya'll, worrying if you can't do advanced poses that you are not "good enough" to teach yoga. Seriously, I am not saying that, just so we are clear. We all have gifts to offer and a song to sing, so to speak. I mean it.

Nor do I think that being a good practioner necessarily means that we are good teachers. I know plenty of people whose natural ability in asana actually hampers their ability to teach because they do not understand the average person's experience of being in a stiffer body. However, not growing one's practice is not the answer to that particular situation either. (Developing teaching skills is the answer to that dilemma.) Plenty of great practitioners with amazing levels of attainment have learned to be great teachers. And plenty of them have no interest in teaching at all. Lee used to say that not everyone who is enlightened becomes a spiritual teacher. Not everyone who loves yoga or is good at it should teach it either.

So, all that being said, I personally got on to the path with teachers who had high degrees of personal mastery in the asana and in their inner lives and I wanted them to teach me because they had achieved things I hadn't. I still want to be taught by people who know more than me. There is nothing better to me that being with at a senior teacher with a lifetime of wisdom knowing that there is an inexhaustible well of information is right in front of me and no matter how hard I might try, I won't be able to learn everything they know because they are also continuing to learn. That is my bliss. Seriously. I find it inspiring when that level of mastery meets great teaching skills and I have been fortunate enough to have several teachers for whom that has been the case.

So, since we do not have to be perfect or enlightened or anything to teach, we might consider what is it we are actually teaching with these great skills we are developing? When it comes down to it, for me, I am teaching practice.  As a yoga teacher,  while I am ostensibly teaching trikonasana or uttanasana and such,  I am also hoping to inspire people to establish a practice for themselves.  Even if I say that what I am really into has more to do with inspiring people to live authentically then it does with "yoga" still, no matter how inspiring I am, no one is going to be able to live authentically without some kind of personal, ongoing relationship to practice. My belief is that practice- formal practices like asana, meditation, pranayama and inner practices of self-awareness, compassion, self-observation are invaluable tools to help us achieve what we want out of life.

Even if what we want is simply to lose weight and keep it off, we are going to need some discipline and commitment. College degree- same. Marriage- same. Raising a child- same. And we are just talking about mundane examples, not things like inner harmony, compassion  for others, serving a vision, serving people or enlightenment! No matter what we want, the going is going to get rough at some point in the journey and we are going to have to practice what is difficult and challenging if we want to meet our aim. Period.

So, while there are plenty of poses I can not do and like I said, I do not believe we have to be perfect to teach well, I do think we should keep deepening our studies, our personal relationship to the path and to the subject matter we are teaching. Since what I think I am teaching is practice itself, if I am not practicing, and if I am not deepening interiorly, no matter how good my teaching skills are, I am going to feel a lack of integrity.

Also, that last post was not about teaching as an art of integrity like I am writing about tonight- it was about how easy it is to get lost in the business side of being a yoga teacher and become identified with popular trends in yoga rather than growing the self-inquiry side of teaching and the skill development side of increasing one's efficacy.

Thanks for the conversation. Have a great day.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Great Weekend

What a great weekend in Seattle.

I feel so fortunate to have been here and at Willow Street Yoga on consecutive weekends. Both of these studios have such longevity, depth and quality and are true embodiments of what is at the heart  of the vision of Anusara Yoga. When John has talked about Anusara Yoga over the years, one thing he has always said is that his vision is that the method would grow from local hubs of teachers who serve a region ongoingly. Well- trained, inspiring teachers would attract amazing students. Communities, he said,  would form around these great teachers and growth would come from a grassroots kind of magnetism that would then, one studio at a time, become a global network. Denise has definitely created such a hub in Seattle and what is really cool is to talk to her about her current vision for her studio.

Denise is 58 and she has been teaching as long as I have been practicing yoga and one of the coolest things about her perspective on her studio right now is that her work is really not about her, her personal success, fame or fortune. She is interested right now in having a studio, not for her to have a place to teach, but to provide a place where talented teachers can get experience, mentoring and opportunities that they might not otherwise have without her. As co-chair of our Certification Assessment Committee she works diligently to help maintain quality standards in our method and to assist people in being the best teachers they can be. And she tirelessly supports us assessors in being the best teacher trainers we can be.  In a culture that is ego-centric, personality-driven and guided by personal ambition so much of this time, I found her enlightened intention inspiring, revolutionary and instructive.  This is yoga in action for sure.

So much of modern conversation around being a yoga teacher has so much to do with "getting your message out there" and "branding yourself" and "breaking into the scene" and so on. And look, I do this for a living also and I get it. I am not anti-business. I am not conflicted about making money as a yoga teacher. I am not ignorant that we need good marketing materials that reflect the great work we are doing.  All that is fine with me.

That being said, I am more interested in being a yogi than I am in being a yoga teacher. I am more interested in my practice than I am "my brand." I would rather meditate, practice asana, write or take a walk in the woods than make a fancy website. I was recently told I need better marketing materials because I looked like a B-List teacher. And while I can appreciate what the person was trying to say, and I will at some point get a fancier website, I also realized that I do not want to teach people who require bells and whistles to think something is valuable. Call me old-fashioned, rigid, or even resistant to change, but people who are captivated by flash are not going to like me anyway so we might as well get it over with from the git-go. I have boring marketing. Fine. So be it. Come or don't come. It's your choice.

I want to keep growing as a practitioner so that my teaching improves because my practice has deepened. And if that work yields a following of people who find value in what I have gleaned from practice, great. If that work results in people inviting me to their studio to teach and to share, then that is awesome. I find every invitation to teach that I get an honor and a thrill. I am more interested in rolling out a mat and working on my poses then ongoing professional photo shoots to make me look as important as a more famous teacher.

Okay- small rant. And seriously, let's be clear, I am not anti-business. I am highly creative and hard-working and I actually love business as a an expression of that creative force. I also get the whole marketing thing. I really do. What I am saying is that those things are not what inspires me. Deepening my direct experience of The Light inspires me. Helping other people to recognize and live from their Light inspires me. Any of us, at any time, who chose our intrinsic dignity over and above our  patterns of scarcity, competition and insecurity inspires me. Empowered vulnerability inspires me. Service inspires me. John has always taught these as are guiding principles of our practice and teaching, not the pursuit of notoriety, which can quickly, while we are not paying attention, seduce us into their sphere and away from our higher aims.

Obviously, the invitation of dharmic work is to use the business to support the Heart-based work that it is founded on. And I think its possible. I think it is worthwhile. I also think it is a razor's edge so we can fall off either side.  Mostly I think we need good examples of how it is done, what it looks like and how to recognize it. And many times, good yogic service is not flashy or fancy. It is kind of like asana in that way. Deep does not always happen (or only happen) in the big external poses.

Denise reminded me of a teaching John used to give about super intense outer work in asana. He said, some people are so asleep in their bodies that they need maximum sensation to actually feel anything at all. As an entry point, that is fine but the trap of that approach is the poses have to get harder, the room has to get hotter, the music has to get louder and so on. Better, John said, is that we grow more sensitive so that instead of making the outside bigger so we can feel, we make the inside more receptive and fine-tuned. We get more done with less, in a way.

Flash, pomp, circumstance and bells and whistles are like outer body asana and if we are not careful as students, teachers and "consumers" in the current marketplace of yoga, we will continue to require bigger and wilder expressions in order to recognize something as valuable. Recognizing the value of deep, humble service over a long period of time is like developing  sensitivity in asana. We may not recognize it when we first see it because it may look so ordinary, boring and uninteresting that we do not even know we are looking at a lifetime of practice right in front of our very eyes. Wasn't it Jesus who said something about "those who have eyes to see?"

So the question to me is really:  Can this yoga help me and those I teach to get eyes to see what really matters in life? Can it help me to recognize "yoga" when I see it? Can I grow sensitive to what is Real so that as I walk the razor's edge of sadhana I am clear about what serves and  what is actually only smoke and mirrors?

I guess that was more than one question. Oh well.

Enjoy your day.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Morning in Seattle

So-- I am in Seattle and just read that the forecasted high temp is 68! Tomorrow a high of 59! Well, I am certainly not in Maryland or in Texas anymore. Wow. And another thing you just gotta love about Seattle is that the coffee in the hotel lobby is excellent- rich, full-bodied, tasty and strong. Yum. (yes, for the most part I drink tea but when in Seattle...)

Denise picked me up last night and we had such a fun time reconnecting. I am so happy to be here with her. Denise is not only the owner and director of Seattle Yoga Arts she is one of the first certified teachers and the co-chair of the Ansuara Yoga Certification Assessment Committee. She is one of my heroes and inspirations, kinda like Suzie. She has a deep commitment to yoga, meditation and self-inquiry and has served her community for many years. Denise is not only funny, smart and creative, she is compassionate, insightful and honest. Spending time with her is super fun and always expansive and she has been a great source of personal support to me over the last few years. I am psyched to be here and we have a wonderful turn out for the workshop which is great.

I have been off the grid a bit the last few days with a sinus infection. It was not terribly bad- I caught if before it truly put down roots- and I have been resting and sleeping a ton. I really needed the rest and the down time gave me a chance  to reflect and examine some of my intentions and goals. I got a chance to honestly review what I love about my life right now and what parts have been "pricking me" gently from just underneath the surface of awareness. Perhaps you know that feeling- a subtle nudge from within that can actually be easily ignored, explained or justified and yet does remain somewhat persistent and tends to get louder and more symptomatic when not addressed? (If you do not know it, start being on the lookout for it- this is your intuition and inner guide talking to you!)

I have had that little nudge lately about work and travel and how I want to organize my schedule and use my time, energy and knowledge. A few nights ago,  it all kind of came together for me and I have the seeds of a great vision and plan now. Nothing major will change on the outside of my life for a while but I have some plans to offer some specialized trainings and seminars and to reinvent The San Marcos School of Yoga (the studio space that I own south of Texas)  as a training center that I can work from regularly. I still want to travel and teach- that is part of what I love right now- but I am going to create a home base for myself (that is the part I do not like that I do not have) and offer some intensives and trainings for experienced practitioners, teachers and people wanting to go deeper into the practices in an intimate setting.

As l gave honest review to what I have and what I want and as I talked with Kelly about what he wants to do,  it became clear that I totally love what I do AND I want to refine it and expand it. Where I would get stuck in "expanding my vision" was that I do not believe that bigger is by definition better. I think it can be better, but in the field of yoga I do not believe that it is always the case.  So I realized I wanted bigger AND I wanted deeper and I wanted ways to do both.

Also super important to me is living a sane and wholesome life that is conducive to practice and deepening my sadhana and so I wanted to step into a paradigm of work that supports what is at the foundation of my teaching. I will put practice-based intensives into place and create retreat time and longer stretches of time home without work.  So I have a vision and a plan. Stay tuned because it is going to be amazing. I actually have not been this excited about something in a long time.

I think that is the thing about vision and goals. So often people tell me they do not want to write goals because they feel like they would limit themselves.  I think the process of review and inquiry involved in goal setting is what is important. The goals itself is not some rigid, set-in-stone- outside-imposition that limits our creative possibility. Over the last year I have been putting a lot of conscious intention into this process and I have found that just setting  a goal or direction puts a valuable process into motion.  As I work with a goal, I get information- either from the outside or from these inner pricks of intuition that tell me "refine more" -and then I do. Sometimes the goal changes from the information. Sometimes the pathway changes. Sometimes my mind changes. Its not about being rigid or perfect.

Its like in asana. We cannot refine a pose we cannot do. I am not of the belief that everything on the mat has to be perfect from the git-go.  If I teach my beginners shoulder loop for the first time I am going to have to let go of kidney loop that day. The first time I teach them kidney loop I am not going to make them lift their chest fully or they will be stopped before they start.  Its teaching 101- get the general form first, then infuse the actions, then refine further.  Life, to me, is a lot like that. We set a course, we pay attention, we infuse our direction with as much skillful  action and heart as we can and then, as we go along, we listen to inner and outer guidance and  refine as we need to.

And like in asana, sometime, we can make a small shift while in the pose and radically affect the alignment and experience of the pose. Other times, we have to come out of the pose entirely and start all the way over.  Life is like that. Sometimes a subtle shift changes everything. Sometimes, we have to scrap the situation entirely to get back on track. So, how this all looks can vary significantly.

I think there is such a cultural samskara around making mistakes that many of us get paralyzed before we even start. Or we don't set a goal for fear it is not the right one. So often I watch myself and others ask questions about living consciously that boil down to "How can I make the right choice and not make a mistake along the way?" Lee used to hate that kind of thing. He would say, (often at high volume)  "Making mistakes is fine. Just don't make the same one repeatedly." He talked a lot about the childish psychology that lived behind "not making mistakes." The main point he said was that we need to realize that we made a mistake (or someone we love made a mistake) but we (or they) are not mistakes.  That recognition and perspective can free us up a lot and free up our relationships a lot.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Monday Morning

I had such an amazing weekend here at Willow Street Yoga. The thing that is so wonderful about the studio and community here is the depth and diversity among the students and teachers. At Willow Street Yoga there are 16 certified teachers teaching public classes on the schedule, not to mention the Anusara-Insired teachers there and the throngs of Anusara teachers in the surrounding area. Seriously, this region is a mecca of Anusara Yoga talent, expertise and experience.

Suzie Hurley- the owner and director- is one of the first certified Anusara Yoga teachers and one of the first people John Friend designated to train other people to teach Anusara Yoga. In her 60's she has been practicing  yoga over 30 years and teaching for well over 20 and she is, to me, one shining example of what a life of meditation, asana and conscious living does for someone. I have always admired her and thought to myself on many occasions, "When I grow up, I want to be like Suzie." She is funny, smart, sassy and wise and at the risk of sounding a bit corny, she also sparkles a bit. (Seriously, check out her eyes some time. Very shiny.)

I spoke about this a bit in the workshop but I might as well spin a small yarn about it here. I think that as yoga becomes more popular and more mainstream, it seems quite obvious to me that it is being (has been) infiltrated by images of the mainstream culture. All in all, I am fine with that and I am not interested in grinding an axe about that phenomenon exactly- it is what it is. I am not trying to change the machinations of Madison Avenue or the industry of yoga. Beautiful women in lovely clothes with supple bodies grace the covers of magazines, pose for products from cars to visa cards to jewelry and use images of yoga to sell us things. Okay, that is fine. I love beauty in all its forms and have no basic problem with that. Seriously.

I am just concerned that the larger yoga conversation is so lopsided to towards equating yogic aims with our often-times dysfunctional cultural ideals that we forget to educate ourselves and each other about what the point of the practice actually is. To me the point of the practice is the Light I was describing sparkles in Suzie's eyes. Its the potency of a community of mature and seasoned practitioners who are exploring their inner life together and serving others together. The point of the practice is not that the community has no shortcomings but that people, when faced with their own and each others, are endeavoring to be accountable, honest and responsible about moving forward in increasingly conscious ways. The asana practice, while it appears to be an exercise for the physical body, is actually an exercise in consciousness that ideally increases our awareness, our insight into Reality and our ability to be compassionate with ourselves and others.  I could go on but the highest aims of the practice are not  and have never been, physical beauty, cute clothes, popularity, fame or fortune.

Let's be clear-I am all for those things so long as they can exist without compromising the deeper aims. I am not saying any of that is, in essence, at odds with the practice either. I am no purist renunciate. I am just saying that it can be easy to unconsciously equate yogic success with worldly success and make all kinds of assumptions about yogic value based on cultural ideals rather than yogic standards. It is totally understandable that this happens- we are trained to see success a certain way and those patterns can run deep and function well below the surface of awareness for many of us.  It can take time to root out these misconceptions, to re-order our thinking and to allow our perceptions to be referenced in something greater than cultural samskaras.

And that is why I so frequently say that yoga practice rewards age.  To culture our consciousness, to develop awareness, and to be stable in our values is something that does not happen overnight or even in a few years. And while I am very interested in what newer practitioners and  teachers have to say about the practice I am supremely interested in what my elders have to say because, regardless of whether they can put their leg behind their head or not, I want to know, after 30 years of practice, how they stayed in place. I want to know how life's challenges deepened their practice, and did not kicked them off the path. I want to know how yoga helped them raise kids, manage the stresses of making a living, how it helped them nurture a community, mentor others and above all, I am keenly interested in that sparkle I mentioned earlier.

Dr. Phillips, our Sanskrit teacher in Austin, once told me that the best mathematicians are young and the best linguists are old. He said that mathematicians "peak" early because the kind of mind power they need to function is at its peak early in life. He said linguists and translators and such get better with age because the kind of skill they need has to do with associative knowledge, with nuance and depends on the ability to make fine distinctions between concepts. He said that the greater one's life experience the more layered and multi-dminesional one's understanding becomes so the ability to find the exact word to translate effectively increases over time and  a linguist will be peaking later in life.

So I think its the same with yoga. In fact the whole point of longevity in yoga was not so we could look cuter longer. It was intended to give the practitioner more time to develop themselves, to deepen their awareness to hone their discrimination. The longer the yogi lived well the more time they had to say the mantras, more time they had to meditate,  to practice and to serve. Longevity was cultivated not because youth was prized but because time was required to mature on the path.

Of course, it doesn't happen naturally. Old age, without practice, effort and a life aligned with Grace is just old age. Old does not necessarily mean wise. I am just saying, I am always inspired to be around people who have been on the path longer than me because they show me what is possible and how I might gain strength as I walk the path.

All rigt then. Keep the faith.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Radical Self Affirmation

I had a really good day today.

I got up early and made it to the airport around 6am. All of my travels were uneventful and I made it to my hotel here in Silver Spring, Maryland in time to spend some time with Suzie Hurley and get settled in before the class tonight. We had a good turnout this evening for a Level 1-2 class called The Yoga of Yes! We worked a lot on Inner Body Bright and creating spaciousness and courage in order to say Yes fully to all that life asks of us. We did good strong, detailed work in basic poses with some surya namaskar variations, crescent, utkatasana, parsvakonasana, parighasana, bharadvajasana and pranayama.

The overall theme of the weekend is Radical Self Affirmation which is a favorite topic of mine. To me, the whole idea that radical doesn't mean "far out" or "wild" or anything like that. Radical means "of or pertaining to the roots". Radical Affirmation is more about the willingness to affirm, to say "yes" to, who we most truly are- to what is at the root of our identity, that is- than it is about anything wild, fringe-y or extreme. Radical Self Affirmation also asks us to say "yes"to the ways we might be hiding our light, limiting ourselves and blocking our greatness through outdated patterns, strategic manipulations and unconscious tendencies.

And when it comes to that shadowy stuff, the paradox is that we can not actually move beyond it until we say yes to it. The amazing thing is that saying "yes" to our less-than-stellar traits is actually a gesture of self-acceptance and clarity and begins to create a more spacious relationship to those aspects that can help us be less identified with them. We can see those things as patterns and beliefs, for instance, not as who we are. We can begin to see our behaviors as distinct from our radical, root source of light. If we look at what really lives underneath all the psychic energy we have wrapped up in hiding our shortcomings from ourselves and others or pretending we do not have shadow elements in our psyche and behavior, we see that in some way we are identified with those things and on some level we haven't faced ourselves fully, seen ourselves clearly and accepted the fullness of who we are. If, instead, we can say "yes I, am behaving in a jealous way" or "yes, I am feeling angry" or "yes, I am feeling insecure" then that moment of clarity and self-acceptance can yield a spaciousness that can provide us with a sense of detachment where we see the pattern for what it is- as something distinctly NOT US. And the cool thing is that the spaciousness of self-acceptance, of saying yes- even to the ugly stuff- can actually give us the courage to do the work we need to to get closer to the Light within us. Of course that is not the whole story but it is some of it.

So we worked with spaciousness and courage paired up with strong work to open the sides of the torso, to expand the ribs and make the Inner Body Bright and then worked into the hips with Inner and Outer Spiral a bit. It was a great class and because the students at the studio here are so well-trained and well-educated, it was a "preaching to the choir" kind of experience for the most part. I looked up and saw how good everyone's form was so while we stayed on the basic syllabus we did a lot with details, refinements and repetition. I was really pleased with what I offered as well as how it was received.

And another great thing is that we do not start class tomorrow until afternoon so I can sleep in and do a practice in the morning which will feel wonderfully luxurious!

And here is me giving a short talk in Hawaii about some concepts that inform my lastest book, My Body Is a Temple: Yoga as a Path to Wholeness.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Austin TX

Well, I am back home in Austin for a little more than a day.

Kelly and I got in yesterday afternoon. We came home, got the laundry going and did some work to catch up in my office before Mom and Dad came  over for dinner. We had a great meal, gave dad some bodywork and acupuncture and then went to bed. After a long night's sleep, I got up, did my morning practices and am checking in here on my blog before settling into some asana and appointments that come later in the day.

Like I wrote about, the trip to Hawaii was pretty great and proved to be full of insight, learning and opportunities to explore. I head out tomorrow morning to Tacoma Park, MD to hang out with the great folks at Willow Street Yoga. I am really looking forward to being there as I know many members of that community already and several people have told me they will be joining me for the weekend. Willow Street Yoga is a long-standing Ansuara Yoga hub of teaching, training and community. It's super great for me to be invited there.

A few things coming up in Austin that I want everyone to know about are:

I am offering an Anusara Yoga Master Class and Book Signing at Castle Hill Fitness Center on June 23. I am really looking forward to it and I would appreciate your support and attendance. We will have a great class and some time afterwards to be together as a community with food, music and so on. $30 includes the class and a copy of My Body is a Temple: Yoga as a Path to Wholeness. This book has been a big achievement for me as so much went into the writing and publishing of it and I would love for you to celebrate with me and even more importantly, it will be a great chance to hang out together as a community.

Also on July 4th I am offering a Group Practice at Castle Hill from 9:30-12:00. You can sign up for that at Castle Hill soon. I will post the flyer and link as soon as they have it ready.

I am teaching the Wednesday Night Anusara Yoga Group Practice 4 more times, so please join me when you can this summer. Come this fall, I am going to shift my schedule and step out of that commitment.  Until then, I will be at The Castle teaching on: 
June 22  *   July 6  *   July 13 *   July 20   

Also- I am finalizing some details for book signing/parties in Los Angeles in July, Boulder in August and New York City in September. Stay tuned for details about those events!

Okay-  now is time for some asana!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Christina Sell teaches Anusara Yoga at Balancing Monkey in Hilo, Hawaii

Well, we had a very full weekend here at "The Monkey."

A little back story about what brought me to Hilo- Heather is the lovely owner of Balancing Monkey and she has spent a lot of time the last few years with me and Darren at Yoga Oasis in our Immersions and Teacher Trainings. About 8 weeks ago, Heather gave birth to Max who lived for 8 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit before being taken off life support and passing on. Since that time, Heather has continued to pump her breast milk and send it around the country to infants in need of "the real thing", community members have offered classes in honor of Max for outreach and service, he has inspired art, poetry and abundant creative offerings, and has touched the life of his grandparents deeply.

While Heather and Max and her immediate family and community were in the NICU, many of us held prayer vigils and offered our support from afar to the very challenging and beautiful struggle he had to open his eyes and stay alive. Shortly after Max passed, Heather took a trip to see family, touch in with spiritual mentors and friends and then she met up with Tucson kula for a few weeks of Immersion studies with me, D and the Yoga Oasis gang. So, Heather came home a few days before Kelly and I landed here on the Big Island.

But here is another synchronicity- Heather and I had originally scheduled this weekend for July and we re-scheduled it almost a year ago for this weekend. Who knew then, that my being here would co-incide perfectly with her return to Hawaii after such a monumental experience. I think when we re-scheduled the workshop, we knew Heather was pregnant but that was it. Anyway, co-incidence or synchronicity or just plain luck who knows. The good timing does remind me of a story that Ma Devaki told me when I was visiting Yogi Ramsuratkumar's ashram in 2004. (Ma Devaki was Yogi Ramsuratkumar's attendant for many years and served him directly.Yogi Ramsuratkumar is my guru's guru.)

Anyhow--She was talking about how often she would be worried about something that was happening or stressed about about a complication on the ashram and Yogi Ramsuratkumar would tell her not to worry that he was taking care of everything. She looked at me and said, "And you know what? Every time I would leave the ashram at night it would be in a total drama and every morning I would come back and it would be totally settled. Down to the smallest details of our lives he is arranging things..."

So like that.

So it worked out perfectly- as these things so often do- that I am here this weekend to be part of Heather's re-entry and to be teaching at The Monkey in this time of grief and transition. It wasn't something I talked a lot about teaching this weekend although there was an undercurrent of acknowledgement from everyone there, I think. In so many ways I really see Heather embodying the best of Anusara Yoga philosophy in the midst of this. It is not that she is saying "it's all good" in some light, disembodied, starry-eyed way. it is more the case that she is claiming how painful this circumstance and outcome is and yet even in that fullness of the tragedy her response is an affirmation that there is beauty in heartbreak and a chance to be vulnerable and to offer and serve no matter how torn asunder one feels from what life has brought them. She is showing up in an amazing, authentic and dharmic way.

Lee used to talk about "having a wound that only God can heal" and how spiritual life can be fueled from that kind of conscious suffering. This is not the suffering of our own making that we bring on ourselves through undisciplined actions, deceit and living out of alignment with our own heart. (For instance, think about how many medical situations we "suffer" but could be corrected with better dietary choices and some consistent exercise. Or the anxiety we suffer because we have spoken dishonestly and have to keep track of the lies we have told. We bring that kind of suffering on ourselves and that is the suffering that dharmic choices really can and should end.)

No, he was talking about a deeper kind of suffering that comes from a broken heart and from suffering those wounds that "only God can heal." He said this is what our deepest prayer, as seekers, ought to be- to be given this kind of wound- because this kind of wound will place us at the feet of what matters most and demand that we live in relationship to what can truly heal and restore us. It will cut away the crap, the extraneous, the frivolous, the unnecessary and deliver us instead to the very heart of our Heart.

So that is what's been going on here on The Big Island of hawaii. That and some amazing SCUBA diving, a visit to a volvano and some hikes though the jungle.

For more about Max, his story and the work Heather is continuing in his name, please visit .