Friday, July 29, 2011

I am home from 3 days in Lake Tahoe where I was at the first ever Anusara-Inspired Teacher's Gathering. I had the good fortune to have the opportunity to serve on the faculty for the event which was not only a great honor but a deep pleasure as well. Imagine teaching 150 yogi's - all of whom are well-trained and well-practiced in the method! Every single person in the room knows the philosophical tenets that govern the method. Every single person knows the UPA's and every single person in the room has a deep and abiding commitment to serving others through these practices and principles. Wow- talk about an ideal teaching circumstance.
That was how it was for me on the second day when I taught my class on sequencing. I started by introducing all the certified teachers in the room and saying that while I was going to share my thoughts on sequencing strategies, any one of these people might both agree and disagree with what I had to say and that is not actually a problem at all because the disagreements do not have to be resolved in only one way. 
Here is the thing- since all of us met John all those years ago, we have each had a close personal relationship to him as our teacher and also to the people we have had the opportunity to teach. Each of us has accepted the most wonderful and enlightening challenge of teaching Anusara Yoga- to give life-affirming teachings through alignment-based asana in heart-felt community. And yet because each one of us is different and each one of our teaching circumstances is different, how we met that challenge and how our teaching evolved to meet the guidelines and parameters of Anusara Yoga while responding authentically  to who was actually in front of us varies considerably.  And while I think this kind of boundaried flexibility is one of the best things about being an Anusara Yoga teacher, it can also be one of the hardest parts of learning to teach the  method.
In my session, I shared that I have taught Anusara Yoga in a lot of different circumstances and I am convinced that you can teach Anusara Yoga anywhere and I think that Anusara Yoga can be practiced by everyone but it can not be practiced in the same way by everybody. The longer I do this the more abundantly clear it becomes to me that there is no One Anusara. 
Let me be more clear and accurate though- Sure, obviously, there is only one Anusara Yoga. I mean it's a method and there is only one method and it has a philosophy and it has it's UPAs and so on. But the way that that One Method gets expressed and experienced is diverse, varied and endlessly creative. Even in an attempt to standardize certain aspects of it, we get confronted with how variable it's applications are. I talked about how sequencing has to be approached from principles because every situation is different and what makes a class "Anusara" is not the content of the sequence but the context- the reasons why we do what we do- not just whether or not you start in standing or start in a supine position or whether abs are before or after backbends. Both approaches will  work for both similar and different reasons. 
So then with all of that (and more) acknowledged we launched into the thick of things. I talked a lot about how the sequencing template we use in Anusara Yoga is a template that can bring structure or muscle energy to the process of making a sequence for class. We talked about the logic behind the template and then used it to create a sequence for practice. I plugged poses into the template, I talked about how I would emphasize shoulder principles throughout and link shoulder loop specifically with the heart quality of courage- the courage it takes to have our own authentic voice in a world that is trying to pour us  into the same mold.  
Then I taught the class parenthetically giving teachings about why I was doing what and how the sequence fit together and the logic behind it. After class I had the students reflect on what they got out of the class and what they learned about sequencing from being in the class and then we had some sharing and then we worked a bit on individual questions. 
It was a profound experience to have that many amazing students all in one place and all so keen to learn and so receptive to what I was teaching. I think it may have been some of the best teaching I have ever done and I left feeling so satisfied with my offering and so grateful for having had the opportunity to present to these teachers.  
I think all of the presenters this week felt that way. We had so much fun being together, so much fun watching John work his magic,  so much inspiration meeting a new group of scholars and it was such a great delight to get a chance to be with so many if our up and coming teachers in such a beautiful and uplifting environment.
I think the event was a tremendous success.

 I am, however, happy to be headed home and to be at home with my Immersion group this weekend. As much as I love the big group gatherings- and I love them a lot- I am excited to dive into the teachings with my gang at home and immerse myself in the sweetness there.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

So I had a quick trip to Grand Forks, North Dakota to teach on Friday night and all day Saturday. We had  good turnout and a wonderful group for the workshop. Patty and Carol were excellent hostesses and it was so fun to see Patty in her element and to meet her students, Carol's students and to see all the people who came from the region.
Patty was a student of mine and Darren’s at one of our Immersion over 2 years ago. And since that time she has opened a studio and spa in Grafton, North Dakota where she teaches Zumba, yoga and offers bodywork and spa services of all kinds. It is so cool to see her thriving and so deeply enrolled in her dream and vision.
So often I say things like “immersion are life-changing” and I know it can sound a bit overdone, trite or maybe even exaggerated. But seriously- the changes I witness in my students are profound. For instance, two years ago, Patty was just getting back into her practice seriously and spent the time in the training in the back corner of the classroom and hardly said anything. By the second teacher training she was speaking up, adding a voice of clarity and authority to our discussion and generally beginning to kick ass. She couldn’t even come to our third week of teacher training because her business was up and running and she was so focused in her local community that she didn’t want to leave. Two years later she is a leader in her community and pioneering the work in her area and shining brightly with inspiration and heartfelt zeal!
So it was so fun for me to visit her and her students and see all the ways the work she had done for herself in the trainings had manifested and to the meet the many people she was impacting as a result of investing in herself through her practice, the Immersions and the Teacher Trainings. Again and again lately, I find myself feeling a bit like a proud parent in a way. Seeing my students success and thrive in this way gives me so much inspiration and faith in the process of Immersions, Teacher Trainings and being in community.
I had a good time teaching- we covered a lot of basics and foundational principles and applications and I left feeling like I had really taught the students a lot of worthwhile, detailed information and still provided a glimpse of the philosophical big picture. 

This may be a gross generalization but there are basically three kinds of workshop styles that I notice. There is the shakti-blast style where the heart is elevated, the spirit is exalted and big poses get done and community is deepened through the fullness of expression that is shared. And there is the detailed, technical workshop where the method gets explained, where there is a lot of “how-to” and a lot of “reasons why” and students learn practice and  teaching techniques, gain clarity about the details of alignment  and learn to draw distinctions between what is muscle energy and what is shoulder loop and what is widening away with inner spiral and what is expanding with organic energy and so on. Then there is the practice-based workshop where the students do a lot of poses, get really warmed up and deep into things they might not normally explore and use the principles they already know to access poses that are new or uncommon. 
Of course, every workshop is actually a combination of the three styles and you can see each style I describe is one of the “A’s”- shakti-blast (attititude), Detailed-technical (Alignment) and Practice-based (action). When the three are balanced its pretty darn amazing- and of course we always aim for all three- but I do find that I generally walk through the door of one and get to the others as the time and curriculum unfolds. This weekend we walked through the doorway of the technical for sure. We had  a very mixed-level group in terms of ability and knowledge.  Generally,  I find that challenging, detailed work in the basics works great for groups like that. No matter how advanced you are, a good strong analysis of Vira 2 is not going to be easy and no matter how new you are, you can benefit from exploring the component parts of the Level 1 syllabus poses as well. And because we have the luxury of time in workshops, we get a chance to go deeper into the technical stuff that we don’t always have time for in public classes.
So it was  a great weekend, all in all. I am now on my way to Lake Tahoe for the Anusara-Inspired Teacher’s Gathering. I am super excited to see everyone and to enjoy the good company of the extended kula. More reports on that to come!

Thursday, July 21, 2011


We had a fun time in group practice last night. We worked on sirsasana 2, bakasana, urdhva danuarasana, headstand dropover and standing up from urdhva danurasana

Childs Pose
Down Dog
Uttanasana with major shins in and thighs out
Surya Namasakar A 5X
Surya Namaskar B 5X (lots of major, relentless up dog work)
pigeon prep work
deep lunge with back knee down and twist to parsvakonasana
sirsasana 2- coming up with knees to chest, then knees to the sky, then straight legs, then coming down that way
succirandrasana to supta padangusthasana out to the side
one leg happy baby
happy baby pose into supine bakasana
succirandrasana to supta padangusthasana out to the side
happy baby pose  into supine bakasana
malsana to bakasana- several times
sirsasana 2 to bakasana- several times
shalabasaba- 3X
danurasana- 3X
urdhva danurasana- 5X
standing up form urdhva with partner
dropping over from sirsasana 2 with partner
urdhva danurasana- 2X
"rocking horse"
urdhva danurasana- drop back, stand up
* at this point you could put it together- sirsasana 2 to bakasana to sirsasana 2 to urdhva danurasana to standing up to dropping back 
sirsasana 2  to bakasana to sirsasna 2 to urdhva danurasana to viparita chakrasana
Down dog
down dog
ardha matsyendrasana  variation
pasrva uppa vistha konasana

I worked with the theme YES starting with a teaching from Douglas Brooks that OM is the sound of the Universe saying YES. And Yes, as an Open to Grace, idea is really about accepting our situation as it is and saying yes to it all- to the agony and the ecstasy, the triumph and the tragedy, and  the ways we might be victimized as well as the ways we are empowered. To me, this kind of Yes is what Open to Grace is all about.  From this clear vision, this full-hearted acceptance of life as it is, we get to make choices about how we want to align and the yoga then becomes a series of yes's and no's.

It was a good practice. I am so enjoying the Wednesday night class and all the people who so regularly come to practice. I had planned to give the class and not teach on the fall schedule but last week I kept looking around and seeing how awesome everyone was and how much they have supported the class over the years and I thought to myself, "I can't stop teaching this class now!! It is just getting really good! And John is coming in April and I want to really prepare people for that and did I mention how good everyone is getting?!"

So I called up Stefania and asked if I could change my mind and she said yes. So, I will not be here at all in August- enjoy the good times with Jess G and Sam- and then in September I will be back in action on Wednesday nights. 

There is more to share for sure - upcoming trainings, John Friend's visit to Austin in April 2012 and all kinds of insights and excitements about the meeting me, Jess G, and Mandy  had (which was awesome and inspiring and will bring great things for all of us) but I want to get on my mat before the day slips away and I get lost to the mound of emails awaiting me. 

Also, we have to go take a trip down to San Marcos to meet the painters who are going to paint the property and get it ready for business.  We are going to have a few classes down there in the fall and some trainings in December, March and April so stay tuned for more information on that or visit us online at  If you would, please become our Friend on Facebook so we can keep you in the loop that way. The School is going to have some ongoing public classes and will be home to fantastic trainings and intensives. I am so excited to be working towards this vision of focused, intimate offerings for seasoned practitioners and teachers who want to go deeper into the practices in meaningful community. We have a community house for meals and classrooms and bodywork as well as a studio space for 40 and a lovely piece of property that is going to be turned into a great place to hang out and unwind. All this, just a hop skip and a jump away from an amazing river and 30 minutes outside of Austin.

i spent the day Tuesday working on the space some. I reorganized the studio, did a prop inventory and reorganization and did some cleaning. Here are a few pictures.

 Props! Another 20 chairs to buy , 60 more blankets to purchase and 40 more blocks to order. Then 40 students can each have 3  blankets, a chair and 2 blocks. Can you say "Deepen your practice with Props" workshop?!

Here is Kelly Berry enjoying the space.

Here is Kelly and Kelly Berry worrying about how Moshie is doing in surgery. He actually came through okay and is resting at the vet and will come home today if everything goes as planned. He had a growth on his spleen and some bleeding from that.

All right, more on all this later. Now, on to asana.

Monday, July 18, 2011

There is no Just in Yoga

I had a great time this weekend with the awesome and wise Becky Klett at The Denton Yoga Center. Becky is a certified teacher, a great person and a wonderful teacher. She is one of those certified teachers who serves with great dedication, humility and clarity. She is honest, self-refelctive and not only enjoys the respect of her students but has the respect of her peers and colleagues as well. (I know this because when any of my friends found out I was going to Denton they all said things like "I love Becky" or "Tell Becky Hello" or "Becky is awesome." The students who assembled were really great as well. We had an excellent turnout for every class and the energy throughout the weekend was upbeat, directed, challenging and fun.

One of the things I like most about my job these days is the diversity of it. Sure, on one level, its all "teaching yoga" but teaching yoga for me includes curriculum design, class planning, marketing, mediation, community planning, mentoring others, advising others, teaching workshops, teaching classes, leading practices, teaching immersions and teacher trainings- each of which has a different flavor and focus. My job involves a lot of writing, a lot of networking, planning and meetings. Actually teaching a yoga class is a very small protion of what is involved in my work, come to think about it.

So, it is always fun for me to teach weekend workshops because as much as I love and believe in the Immersion Process and as much as I enjoy the conversation of Teacher Training, teaching a workshop to a roomful of people from various backgrounds and ages and with varying abilities is a really fun thing and is usually kind of a relief since there is "just the asana" to focus on.

One time I was in a training with Patricia Walden and she had me demonstrating a back bend. I was on my back waiting for her to give me instructions and I looked at her and said, "Just go up?"

Very sweetly yet sternly, she looked at me and answered, "Come on, now...there is no just in yoga."

It is a teaching that has stayed with me a lot. There is no just in yoga. What there is, or what we are moving toward is a state of deep awareness, of mindful, intentional action and the conscious embodiment of Grace. How we practice involves invoking those qualities and working within a context of ever-deepening penetration and so truly, there is no just.

So to say, "There is just the asana to focus on in a weekend workshop" is a bit misleading and inaccurate, of course. I mean there is no big philosophy curriculum to present, there is no teacher training curriculum to get through, etc.

But this issue of just came up in a conversation I had with Becky. We talk about what a wonderful and interesting thing it is to teach yoga. On one level, when we teach yoga, we are basically exercise teachers and the yoga class is basically an exercise class with a positive message. Some even say perhaps we are just "stretching in Sanskrit." However, on another level, the yoga teacher often finds themselves in the middle of a much deeper and more meaningful pursuit than "just the asana" and their students begin to engage the process of yoga practice at a deeper level than the just surface activity of stretching in Sanskrit and then we are catapulted together into a much bigger conversation than simply "place your hand here, flex your foot that way and stretch your side ribs this way." The task of teaching yoga is both ordinary and extraordinary. It is both no big deal and a very big deal.

And it is not the same for everyone, nor should it be. Not every teacher is the same and not every student is the same and that is as it should be. We all want and need different things and are different stages of maturation, attainment, growth and skill. Different does not mean better or worse but I am not someone who thinks Ultimate Oneness means "its all the same" and "its all good". Not by a long shot.

I was introduced to yoga by senior teachers and practitioners. I have never had casual yoga teacher ever. I have always studied with people whose expertise and experience far eclipsed mine and so this informs my perspective on studentship and teaching, to be sure. I remember giving a talk on Studentship in Teacher Training one time and I was talking about how, as students, when we are in someone's class we should follow their instructions and even if we normally do something one way, we should do it the way the teacher is asking when we are in their class. One of the trainees raised their hands and asked me, "But what if the teacher says to do something you know is unsafe?"

I remember not even understanding the question at the time. It was not until later that evening when I went home and was reflecting on the exchange that I realized that that had never happened to me. I had never had a teacher tell me to do something I knew was unsafe. (Since that time I have visited so many more public classes that this no longer holds true but I didn't learn yoga in public classes with beginning teachers. I went to workshops with Senior teachers and practiced at home and read books and still I spend more time in personal practice than I do in classes or workshops.) And from the beginning, I have only had teachers who knew more than me. And the teachers I studied with were not casual, they were not beginners and for them there was no just in yoga.

Becky and I talked about how serious we can all get as yoga teachers and how big it can seem at times and how occasionally we talk ourselves down a bit and remind ourselves "this is just yoga" and then we get a letter from a student or we have a conversation with someone whose life is shifting in deep and meaningful ways through the practice and we are made aware, once again, of the profundity of what it means to teach yoga and serve others in any capacity. And then teaching yoga is a big deal again.

I suppose like so many things, teaching yoga is both a big deal and not a big deal. And so much of what a yoga class is to anyone is not in the class itself but in the way they, as a student, approach it. At the heart of the transformational power of studentship is really the student and not the class and not the teacher. Lee used to say that a good student could wake up around a bad teacher faster than a casual student could wake up around a good teacher. He thought the responsibility of the student was that important.

Prashant Iyengar had a pretty good rant about this as well in a class in Pune. He said, "All of you are convinced that you need the best teacher in the world... Have you ever asked yourself if you are the best student in the world?!"

Anyway- we had great students in the room this weekend. Kind, funny, hard working, dedicated and I was held in such grace and support all weekend long.

Onward- things to do...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Christina Sell welcomes G'Nell Smith to the Anusara Yoga family

I spent the day yesterday working away on some pretty fun projects like planning some future classes and events for The San Marcos School of Yoga and outlining some ideas for Anusara Yoga's upcoming Online Channel and The Center, outlining some ideas for a leadership training and then Kelly and I went to look for a venue for John Friend's visit here in 2012 (Stay tuned for details on that because it is going to be great and I am going to want ALL of you to come to Austin for the fun). After a short stop at Lululemon in the later afternoon, I went to Castle Hill to teach the Group Practice which was a lot of fun.

I worked with the theme of being anchored steadily in our own light so that we can joyfully expand and rise up. Basic root-to rise class to drop backs. (root with steadiness, rise with joy. like that.) It was really fun.

Surya A- 5X

Surya B-5X

1 minute timings with vinyasa between:

Vira One


parivritta trikonasana



parivritta trikonasana


pinca mayurasana

press handstands with partners

ninja warrior quad stretches at the wall- 2X

eka pada rajakapotasana forward bended and upright with back leg on wall

shalabasana and cobra work

corba with chest to the wall

standing back arch with pelvis at wall and partner assist at tailbone

drop backs with partners

drop backs with wall

drop backs alone

Down dog


parsva uttanasana

Down dog

bharadvajasana 1

childs pose

supta padangusthasana 1, and to the side

knees to chest


We had a great time at practice. Another fun thing last night was that I got to tell everyone that G'Nell Smith's application went into the Anusara Yoga office approving her for Ansuara-Inspired Status, which is a really cool thing. I know I have talked about this a lot on this blog and in the trainings I teach but the thing that is really impressing me the most these days is just how interdependent we are as a community of students and teachers. It strikes me every time an Anusara Yoga teacher reaches a new milestone in their journey like getting approved for Inspired Status or completing the Certification Process that it was a group effort.

Let's face it, no teacher anywhere gets good alone. None of us great-teachers-to-be are sitting at home practicing alone and refining our skills until "we are ready" to be launched on the world, perfectly able to teach inspiring and effective yoga classes to everybody we meet. Nope, that's not how it happens at all. Every teacher learns on their students. Someone once told me that Mr. Iyengar said most teachers should actually pay their students for the first five years that they are teaching. At any rate, every student who pays their hard-earned money to go to yoga classes and who shows up week after week and year after year is helping their teacher to grow into the best teacher they can be. And every teacher who is spending their time, money and attention to go to trainings, classes and to study everything they can find on yoga is investing themselves fully in order to be better able to serve the students who are supporting them. And when it works well, when it is at its best, there is an incredible reciprocity of time, attention, resources and we are held in each others Grace. Every conflict we face together, every triumph we share, and every season of growth we walk through together is forging in each of us a pathway to the truth that lives at the heart of our longing to align with what matters most in life. Certainly, no one can do the work for us, but truly we can not do it alone either. This yoga is a team effort.

We worked with that theme last night in class also. Its really one of my favorites. How can each one of us be so steadily rooted in our own light that we can joyfully share and receive the abundant light of those around us? Truth be told, it may not come naturally. It may be that at first, we see someone shining brightly and we feel threatened, diminished, invisible or jealous. We may have to do a lot of inner work to recognize and validate our own light before we are steady in it. But the teachings tell us that as we cultivate that steadiness, as we cultivate true joy in other's success our own consciousness shifts. (Patanjali 1.33) No where does it say we have to do it perfectly. The sutra says cultivate joy in other's good fortune or mudita.

Gioconda and I were talking about it a few days ago and she brought up the idea that cultivating virtues of the Heart is a lot like growing a garden. You do not water the plants only once and expect them to thrive. Water the garden only once and you should expect the plants to wither and die, in fact. Instead, we have to water continually and even give extra nutrition when the soil is depleted. We have to treat for bug infestations, clip back parts that are running wild, weed around it, shade the plants from the sun but not give them too much shade. When a freeze is headed its way, we need to take precautions. And so on.

Okay, so the plant metaphor has now been thoroughly worked, right? Well, cultivating our inner life is the same way. So often we make efforts but fail to cultivate the qualities over the time. Its as though we get jealous of someone else, try to think a happy thought, still feel jealous and then give up! Just like watering once. No- we have to keep the faith. We have to keep going and invest in the garden of the heart over the long haul. And when we do this, truly beautiful things grow.

I am seeing that so much right now in our community in Austin. The growth we have all been investing in is blooming and bearing fruit and the joy I feel watching it quite delightful. And I see more amazing things in the works- great seeds are sprouting and growing roots and a new cycle of growth is underway. I love it. It is a very inspiring time right now.

So tend your garden and keep the faith.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tuesday Morning

I woke up this morning with a lot on my mind and so I couldn't get back to sleep. I got up, meditated, made a cup of coffee, got to work on a few emails and decided it was time to write a blog entry.

We had a great weekend here with the Immersion at Breath and Body Yoga. The process is really so rewarding and profound. I mean, on one level, it's fairly straightforward and basic, right? You get a bunch of people in the room together and do a lot of yoga, talk about yoga philosophy and share a little with each other. How great does that sound?! And truth be told, I actually think it is pretty great.

But as so many of us know, so much more than that surface level of content goes on in the Immersion Process. The extended amount of asana practice itself, the subject matter of the philosophy lessons and the very circumstance of being in a small room with 35 people for 16 hours over a weekend is somewhat confrontational and creates a wonderful opportunity to see oneself with greater clarity.

One of my favorite teachings from Jyotish Astrology is about Surya, the sun. The thing about the sun in Vedic Astrology is that is shines brightly on everything all the time. At first hearing, that also sounds wonderful, right? Who doesn't want some light shining on them, bringing greater clarity? The thing is that the teaching in Jyotish is that the shines so brightly and so indiscriminately on everything that it is actually considered a malefic  force. (Planets and such are categorized in that system as beneficent and malefic forces, which is part of a whole thing in and of itself and outside the scope of this post!)

Anyway, so that is the thing about the Light of Awareness. Yes, it shines no matter what is happening and yes, it brings the very clarity by which we can see and yet, it is completely uninterested in making that a gentle, sweet or pleasant process. I do not actually think of Surya as malefic as "bad" but I do think it is entirely without sentiment.  I do believe The Light  has our Ultimate Best Interests in mind but I do not think it gives a shit about making the process palatable, easy, or agreeable to our self-image. It has no interest in preserving our vanity or making sure our PR improves as result of our Work. Sometimes, in order to get the job of awakening done, it has to burn us a bit to get our attention.  Its not personal. Its just how it goes.

Now the Immersion was not this dramatic at all. I am just saying, that it is easy to sign up for "a little yoga Immersion" thinking you are gonna hang out, laugh with your friends, do some asana and deepen your practice without being aware that:
a) there is no such thing as a "little yoga immersion" and that
b) deepening our practice usually involves looking at ourselves with greater scrutiny and
c) self- awareness has a price.

What I loved about working with this group is that they were into the process so wholeheartedly. As issues came up, they looked at themselves, laughed at themselves, asked each other for help and feedback and  kept moving. We did laugh a lot, we did do A TON of asana and we got through the bulk of the curriculum without too much breakdown. It was, by all accounts, a success.

And as always, upon reflection, what I love most about these trainings is the way that all that surface content is getting handled and how, through the execution of the content itself, a deeper contextual shift happens for the sincere student who participates fully. I so often say that Immersions are life-changing and it's not that a talk on the structure and purpose of Patanjlai's Yoga Sutras is in itself life-changing. I mean, it may be. But it may not be. The thing is that the content is in service to the larger context of awakening.  In Anusara that larger context is the unwavering invitation to each of us to come deeper into our Hearts and to step more profoundly  into the current that informs our truth.

So, like Lee so often said, "Context is everything." Something, in my opinion, is life-changing, not when it changes our outer life (although that may happen also)  but when our way of seeing ourselves or seeing our world changes. When we get a shift of context, everything else changes in an instant.  What is the one change that changes everything? That is what the yoga is aimed at; that is what makes it so efficient and effective. Instead of running around fixing every little problem or every little shortcoming in the outer world, we can work for the one change that will change everything else and that is generally going to mean a contextual shift, not a change in content.

For instance, Lee used to say, the cure for financial insecurity is not having more money. The cure for financial insecurity, he taught,  is having confidence in your ability to earn money. Another cure is to have faith. The cure for feeling insecure in our relationships is not having everyone tell us they love us. The cure for that kind of insecurity is to love ourselves, to be devoted to ourselves and that requires that we shine the light of awareness on old hurts and disregarded aspects of ourselves and that we shift our context from abandoning ourselves to lovingly including all parts of ourselves in our relationship with ourselves. If we do that, we are not going to be insure about being abandoned. Plain and simple.

Worry about being judged? We have to shift our own judgmental context! Worried about failing? We have to start wishing others well. For real.  And so it goes. And it can all start from a little innocent talk on Patanjali in a "little yoga Immersion" where the Light of Awareness seeps into places of darkness and brings its boons and its blessings of necessary discomfort, friction and tapas so that we can experience a shift.

Enjoy the heat.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday Morning Musings on Teaching

Well, its been a few days since my lats entry. I have been doing my best to catch up on email and phone calls and also get some  good time on my mat and with friends and family. Tonight we have Part 2 of Immersion Part 2 at Breath and Body Yoga. I am looking forward to being with the group again. One thing that has been so amazing about this particular group has been their level of preparation and readiness for the materials. Most of them participate in ongoing Anusara Yoga classes around town and so the lingo is familiar, their knowledge base is strong and they are already in sync with the method and the teachings. we have been able to go pretty deep pretty fast which has been fun.

So let's see- the theme for me these days involves some work identifying my growth as a teacher and how my skills and interests are evolving. One cool thing is that as I look around our community in Austin, TX I see lots of my students taking steps in their growth and advancing toward their goals and aims. Mandy Eubanks is teaching her first Immersion in Tulsa, Oklahoma this week and will teach her first Immersion in Austin soon. Jess Goulding just got certified and may be offering an immersion program soon. I just signed off on Desirae Pierce's application for Anusara-Inspried status. Jason Lobo returns to Dallas from a year-long stint in San Marcos with his application for Anusara-Inspired status approved.   Of course, there is more I could write about and that is just in Austin. Student from around the country are emailing me their progress and achievements and successes as they put the teachings into practice in their lives and in their teachings.

So I am feeling a bit like a proud mama these days and finding such wonderful rewards from my students stepping confidently and courageously into their dreams. I have begun to realize and experience directly that my teaching work involves the people in the room for sure but in many ways extends to the people who those people are teaching and in some cases even the students of my students' students.  My awareness of who I am actually working for and my responsibility in that is really expanding and it is inspiring and a bit sobering at times.

John Friend and I were talking about it recently- there is this fine line in teaching Ansuara Yoga between personal style and representing the method accurately. And while having a personal presentation and authentic style is actually part of the method as it is defined- seriously, we want everyone to be themselves- there is also the responsibility we have as teachers of the method to hand it down with integrity, precision, clarity and potency so that its transformational power is preserved through the generations. He and I were talking about the fact that I take that responsibility seriously and yet we also need to be clear as trainers that while we have boundaries, guidelines and standards that are clearly defined, we also are much bigger, as a method, than the stated guidelines. He and I were in a passionate agreement about how broad Anusara Yoga is- how wide and encompassing its methods and applications are-- and how odd it is that Anusara Yoga  feels limiting to people because really, in our opinion, on one level,  teaching "good Anusara Yoga" is simply "good teaching."

This came up in a recent conversation with a trainee who was telling me that he thinks Anusara Yoga is too subtle to teach to people who are not already skilled in yoga. And after listening to his thoughts and experiences I realized this is exactly what John and I were recently  discussing and I disagreed with my trainee's assessment.

I did not disagree with his experience, mind you. I get that. I get that it can be easier to teach Anusara Yoga to someone who already knows the poses and is self-aware with kinesthetic  proficiency.  So I was in no way in disagreement that with his experience as his experience its just that by definition, Anusara Yoga is adaptable and applicable for just about anyone. (That does not mean, however, that every class is appropriate for every person at any time. We have to be smart about how we take such a statement. ) But really, we can work with injury, from a wheel chair, in restoratives, and with senior citizens new to the practice. We can adapt  all the way to cirque du soleil acrobats and everything in between from stiff beginners to seasoned practitioners from technical start-and-stop classes to flowing with breath and so on.

But here is the thing- how Anusara Yoga looks in each of those situations has to be different. We are a bit of a chameleon method, in a way. Try to pin us down to one thing and we might change colors on you and show you another way we can express our true nature! I told my trainee that when I have raw beginners I can teach them a whole class on foundation and "how to step your feet wide" and its Anusara Yoga: "Step your feet wide. Everyone go wider. Even wider, Susie. That's it, Bob. Everyone,  be so courageous in your stance that your feet are lined up right under your wrists. Yes, that far! Be bold.Now let's try it again..." (UPA-Set the foundation. HEART THEME= Courage. Boldness.)

But wait, there is more....

  • With an advanced group- do drop backs for courage and super refined work about the bottom tips of the shoulder blades creating a courageous lift of the heart. (shoulder loop) Or take a courageous stance in the legs and root down with courage (Organic Energy)  and then drop back. 
  • With an injured person in private lessons- "be courageous in your work and dare to imagine yourself already healed." 
  • In a restorative class- "be courageous enough to let go."
  •  In a Level One class- Peak Pose= triangle pose and the sustained courage of muscle energy in the legs that can help provide the foundation to open the pose more toward the sky and get a turn through the torso. 
  • In a  flow class, UPA-The Breath and Opening to Grace."Follow your breath, your rythm as a link to the Source of courage that lives within you. Follow its lead, your heart, your breath, and make a connection to your courage as you move today." 
See my point? It is endlessly creative to teach Ansuara Yoga, not limiting. The thing is, and this is a very important thing to get a handle on, the way its going to look for every group is different. While some methods are defined by set sequences and the modifications for limitation or capacity happen within a set sequence of postures, we are different  and we can adapt our methods, our sequences and our strategies to whoever is in front of us.  I am passionate about this point because at the heart of good Anusara Yoga teaching is teaching to who is in front of us and having a wide and versatile skill set as teachers to respond creatively and appropriately.

This is why it always "depends" in Ansuara Yoga and why it can be frustrating to learn to teach Anusara Yoga and it  is also why it takes a while to get good at teaching our method. We tend to think Anusara Yoga is whatever it was from the person we learned it from without realizing that was a personal expression and relative to the circumstance in which they were teaching. Like if I am teaching my immersion group tonight and someone was not careful they would think "oh, that is a method for advanced people" when in fact, it is simply an advanced group of people doing Anusara Yoga. If someone were to see me teaching a mixed-level workshop of people trained already in Anusara Yoga with good teachers, they would say, "Oh, that method has a lot of technical precision" when in fact I was teaching Level 1 poses since it was mixed-level and giving a ton of refinement since they were already trained in the basics.

So anyway, I thought I would share some of those reflections in case they are useful.  And also, its important to remember that gaining versatility as a teacher takes time. And it is not required. You may just want to work with one type of student and that is totally fine. John himself has said many times that we do not have to try to be all colors of the rainbow. Some people will hold down a beautiful shade of blue and others a lovely shade of red. All that is okay.

Anyway, as I have been pondering my own growth as a teacher I realize I really want to work more and more with Anusara-Inspired teachers and helping them gain more versatility and more proficiency at teaching the method and and in making the leap from the skills required to be Anusara-inspired to what is required to become a Certified Teacher. I am going to be offering some specialized trainings like Teaching to the Raw Beginner and a mentor program with Noah Maze in 2012 (details on that soon) and a sequencing workshop and  some practice-based intensives for Immersion Grads and Teachers at The San Marcos School of Yoga in San Marcos, TX. (Look for the first Level 1 TT there in December and the first intensive in March 2012!) Its really going to be great. And the fun gets started soon at The Anusara-Inspired Gathering in Tahoe in July.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ultimate Freedom

We had a really fun group practice yesterday at Castle Hill.

 As many of you know, one of my favorite things to do on holidays is to get together with other yogi’s and do a practice.  We worked with back bends and a few arm balances with special attention to getting some clarity in the legs in the backbends to open the chest more. It went well. We had a lot of people joining us who have never been in my classes or workshops so that was fun. (It is a  bit daunting to meet people for the first time when the agenda is so intense but still, it is always a pleasure. I just worry when people encounter me or our method for the first time in a group practice because over the years my experience is that it goes great or not-great-at-all.) But even still, I enjoy meeting new people and I certainly enjoy watching the community expand a bit.
  • childs pose
  • down dog
  • uttanasana
  • Surya namaskar A- 5X
  • Surya namaskar B - 5X
  • Lots of attention to the upper back in the sun salutations in both up dog and down dog.
  • anjaneyasana
  • vira 1
  • vira 1
  • baby natarajasana- vira 3-vira 1
  • anjaneyasana with quad stretch
  • eka pada raja kapotasana with forward bend and twist over front leg and a massive inner spiral in the back leg
  • eka pada raja kapotasana with backbend and quad stretch
  • belly down shoulder stretch (too hard to explain, so don’t ask!)
  • shalabasana 3X
  • danuarasana  3X
  • shalabasana to danurasana to deep cobra 3X
  • parsva danurasana
  • full bhekasana
  • big, major, like-you-mean-it cobra
  • urdhva danurasana- 5X
  • dwi pada viparita dandanasana- 5X
  • drop backs for some
  • eka pada raja kapotasana 1, 2
  • natrajasana
  • down dog
  • uttanasana
  • parsva uttanasana
  • down dog
  • childs pose
  • bharadvjasana 1
  • bharadvajasana 2
  • adho mukha sukhasana, right leg in front
  • adho mukha sukhasana, left leg in front
  • supta padangusthasana 1, 2 with bottom foot at wall
  • succirandrasana
  • knees to chest
  • savasana or legs up the wall

My theme for the practice was the predictable July 4th theme of Ultimate Freedom. In Anusara Yoga we have a pretty common rap about freedom- that freedom is proportional to the commitment, the dedication and the discipline we bring to life. In the words of Douglas Brooks, “Yoga is not a path of freedom but a path of exquisite bondage” meaning that we are, in some way, what we bind ourselves to and hopefully, we are binding ourselves to, being committed and dedicated to, those things that have an ultimacy or a deep meaning. Like that.
I talked instead this year, about how the deepest freedom that yoga points us to- a freedom of consciousness that grants us access to a dimension beyond time and space, to a sphere of understanding that recognizes a unified field of which we are all a part, to the direct knowledge that my happiness is not separate from your happiness because I am not ultimately separate from you- begins, according to Geshe Michael Roach, with the decision to practice yoga for others, rather than just for ourselves. 
From his book How Yoga Works: “And if we would be free of all this (he is talking here about suffering and the perception of separation and even of time and space itself)- as we all wish to be, deep inside- then we need only take this first step, to do small things for others: to try to remove the division into their happiness or my happiness. And that all begins with those precious forms of self-control (yama), and expands to doing the opposite- to helping others, to serving others- until the day we become what we have really always been striving to become: a being whose eyes are not longer limited by time nor even space, in the service of others.”

So I talked about dedicating our efforts to this kind of Ultimate Freedom and to practicing not just for ourselves and our poses but for one another and for the benefit of others we might never meet. Our teacher, John Friend has been teaching us to do this from the beginning. His most fundamental teaching, in my opinion, is to make each pose an offering and to practice yoga to make more beauty so that we create a higher energetic field around us so that we can serve and uplift and live as a conscious agent of Grace. 
Just the other day, John had a conference call for the certified teachers where he went over his plans for The Center and also his vision for how the next stage in our expansion as a method would be served by each one of us abiding by licensing protocols and working from the remembrance that when one of us shines, each one of us benefits. He asked me to share at one point on the phone call and that idea is what I commented on. I find this notion to be both inspiring and challenging for so many reasons.
The truth is yoga rooms are filled with idealistic people who come to the practice with a vision and a longing  for enlightened community. We want to make the world a better place, we long to help others, and we know that yoga has the potential to move us in that direction. And so at the level of the heart, the vision of serving the community and the method, rather than ourselves, makes perfect sense and is totally thrilling. I could feel it on the phone call. The inspiration and collective vision was palpable.
And then, there are the knots in our psychology when we get down to actually working together up close and in community. As inspiring as it may be to say that “when one person shines, we all shine” the reality is that to live from that paradigm is more challenging that it seems on the surface. It is rarely the case that we grew up in situations where difference was celebrated, where there was an abundance of affirmation, attention and accolades to go around. Many of us have seeds of jealousy, insecurity and self-doubt that get triggered when one person is shining. We have to let go of past hurts, old notions and habitual ways of reacting to difference in order to really be aligned with John’s vision for us.
There is definitely some purification required for most of us. And because not everybody has the same work to do in a community, we are all going to be in different stages at different times. We might be in community with people who are much more established in this vision and much more comfortable with “group aim” than we are and working for one another is not going to feel to us like freedom, it is going to feel like people are getting in the way of our freedom. We might have resolved our issues of jealousy and competition only to find ourselves in a working relationship with people who haven’t done that work for themselves and so whatever we do is perceived by them as a threat.  I could go on as the examples are endless. Add in that fact that many people are teaching yoga for a living and the “perceived threats” have a monetary storyline going on as well. Suffice it to say that living into the vision is going to take a fair amount of purification, patience and persistence. 
That being said, I think its inspiring to try. I mean, any gesture we make towards the aim of enlightened community  gives us each a chance to directly shift our consciousness and to consciously evolve away from me and mine and you and yours towards a vision of ours. The struggle to communicate effectively, to work together and to collaborate is not just for immediate harmony in a community so that “everyone gets along better” in Anusara Yoga. I mean, don’t get me wrong here,  getting along is great and I prefer it to the opposite. But the context for the group work we are invited to do in Anusara Yoga  is not limited to that level of reality. Working for the good of everyone, working for the method rather than ourselves, and abiding in community within its guidelines and agreements,  is actually a  choice to work on the samksara of separation itself. It is a chance to nudge up against the primal fears of “not enough”  be it not enough money, not enough attention, not enough praise, etc. 

And that work is worth a few sacrifices along the way. 

Obviously, more could be said about this and there is a psychlogical level of boundaries that needs to be functional. I could write another entry all together on how good boundaries are actually part of working together, but the point here is that when we are in a process of purification and when we are learning how to work together, it is not a sign that things are not working. It is not a sign that the vision is off. Its just a sign that we are in a samskara of limitation and we are getting to work at loosening its grip on us. And that is what the yoga is all about to begin with.
Enjoy your day and the pictures.