Friday, December 21, 2012

Not Always Personal

Well, I am enjoying a bit of time at home to catch my breath, connect with my friends and family and to make plans for the upcoming year of travel and teaching. I have lots on my mind these days and as is natural during this time of year, I am spending some time in reflection and contemplation about what the year has brought, what I have done with what came my way, what I want to release and leave behind and what lessons I want to move forward with into a new cycle.

I was in a Bikram yoga class the other day and reflecting how the community of practitioners at PURE Bikram yoga held a space for me in this last year and a half that was really profound. Having a place to go to to learn, to practice, to be quiet, to sweat and to listen to myself in the midst of so many other changes and upheavals was  nothing short of profound. It's an interesting thing because I think the staff, teachers and students at those studios were simply -albeit skillfully and professionally- doing their job. On a very real level it was not personal at all and it had nothing to do with me.  Those folks are well-trained, dedicated and good at what they do and  they were doing it before I came around and they will be doing it if I stop coming.

So having said that on one level it was not at all personal, my experience of being part of their community has been deeply personal and tremendously beneficial. As a teacher this gives me a lot to think about.  Being a student, it seems, is both a personal and an impersonal experience. As is being a teacher. For instance, I have had the great fortune lately to receive some letters and notes from folks in some of my recent trainings who articulated how they grew and how they benefitted from their participation in the programs I have offered.  One of the coolest things about these letters is that the students reported "getting" exactly what I would hope anyone would get from these trainings. And in those very same trainings, other people were disappointed by me, by the curriculum, by the group, etc.  The very same program landed differently on different people.

Maybe Bikram yoga is the perfect metaphor for this because I am not sure if any method has such strong feelings associated with it. Rarely do I run across someone who is like, "Oh, yeah, that. It's okay." People seem to love it or hate it. They get it or they don't. Maybe because it, as a system, so squarely lives in itself it becomes the perfect screen upon which to project personal observations and feelings. I mean, it is not going to change- same heat, same humidity, same script, same poses, and so its very easy to like it or hate it since it is  holding so steady. Other classes change a lot so you may like what the teacher  does on Monday and not on Tuesday and think the sequence was great on wednesday but hate the music on thursday and so on and so on. But at any rate, my point is that the very same offering- no matter what it is-- is not going to land in the same way for everybody.

I talk to a lot of yoga teachers over the course of my days and our conversation vary from the frustrations regarding finances, competition in the market place, the challenges of teaching alignment in flow-based studios as well as the challenges of getting people to move in alignment-based studios. We talk about the joys of witnessing growth and transformation and we suffer our shortcomings in skills, knowledge and capacity when we fall short of the challenges the transformational path presents us as practitioners, students and teachers.  Different teachers respond to these challenges differently, make different choices about how to teach, where they see their responsibilities and even about what our role is as teachers these days.  Yoga teachers seem to place themselves on a continuum from PE teacher to life coach to therapist to spiritual counselor to motivational speaker to spiritual guide and even to guru. There is no single role we fill and no single need we attempt to meet.  The industry doesn't decide for us and it is up to us to carve our way in all of it, it seems. But anyway--

As I was lying there in a tired, sweaty heap in the Bikram class I somehow took a bit of refuge in this "it is not really personal" idea. Because the truth is we just do not always know--good and bad-- how our offering is landing. I mean in the case of me and the Bikram folks, you know, well, it's me and I have a blog and a big mouth and I write a lot about my inner experience so maybe they do have an idea that they have really helped me a lot this year. But my guess is that in a lot of cases, we just do not always know. People may be coming to our classes, getting a ton of benefit in ways we can not imagine and we may never know. And I know that the opposite is true- we may make off-the cuff remarks that cause harm and hurt other people and never really know. (And many times we get great letters of praise and many times we get letters expressing upset and disappointment. So sometimes, we do know.)

So to be clear, since this is a hot topic these days,  when I say it is not really personal, I am not excusing the ways we sometimes miss and fuck it all up as teachers. I am just saying, there is an impersonal element going on also. As a teacher, I have a calling to teach. I want to do my best to serve that calling and to teach the yoga as I understand it and personally, I happiest when I am anchored in that remembrance as the intention for my teaching work. Some people like the way I teach. Some people hate it. I am very clear about that- I am a bit of an acquired taste as a teacher, truth be told. Always have been, probably is not going to change now. But my point is that it is a beautiful thing when the way I  teach lands for someone in a way they can  make use of it to deepen their own practice, their own path and their own unfolding. And it is a great blessing when, as a student, I can make use of what a teacher is offering in their truth.

I suppose I never get tired of exploring the student-teacher relationship and the layers of responsibility in each. More could be said but I am going to see Kelly now for an acupuncture treatment in his new office.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Flow-ish Sequence

So we had a good time at Bfree last night for advanced flow. I thought I would share the sequence in case anyone needed some inspiration or ideas for a strong flow class for capable students. Lots of these could be broken down and modified for an all-levels class for sure.

We had a hot and sweaty room, some good tunes and willing group. One thing I love about teaching at Bfree is that everyone is pretty okay with my "flow-ish" style when I teach there. Flow-ish means that I mostly keep everything flowing and linked together somewhat creatively but at times the choreography is not stellar or seamless and if, at any point  I look around and see an obvious way to help people improve their poses I will cut off the music and give an explanation or demonstration or partner assist, particularly on the hard stuff, so that people can learn how to advance.  Other than that I try not to micromanage and we have a pretty good time together. So, flow-ish.

Flow-ish Sequence from Last Night at Bfree:

Centering Sequence:
Childs Pose
Down Dog
walk back to uttanasana

Warm Up Sequence:
(This is morphed from the Ghosh Lineage's Salutations to the Gods and Goddesses. Inspired by and not identical to, etc.)
1. step forward to high lunge/vira 1 variation with right leg--turn to back of mat, left leg lunge/vira 1--turn to front of mat for right leg high lunge/vira 1- hands to floor--down dog-- uttanasana to standing
Repeat with left leg first.

2. Same thing and on the last lunge, add on: back knee down 3 inches behind front foot, take  forehead to knee, place prayer hands in front of front foot, round spine, come upright, place hands and go to Down dog then back to uttanasana to standing
repeat with left leg first

3. Same thing and after rounded spine on right leg, stretch high to the sky and then back bend as far as you can go--anywhere from straight up and down to touching the floor behind you and then upright`, place hands, down dog to uttanasana to standing

(It occurs to me a little video of this might be useful... Anyway, I will do that for asana junkies for sure but it is simliar to this opening on the yogaglo class- DEEP HIPS FLOW

Simple lunge surya namaskar variation borrowed from the Ghosh lineage-- 4X-
1. anjali in tadasana-
2. standing back arch-
3.uttanasana with hands to sides of feet--
4.squat down--
5.leg back to lunge with forehead to knee-
6. look up--
7. high plank
8.low plank
9. high plank
10step to lunge
11. forehead to knee
12. squat
13. uttanasana
14. anjali
15. standing back arch
16. tadasana
note: the squat position is key here to really open and prepare the hip joint. not super flowy and fluid at this point but very effective.

Standing Poses (which become the basis for the flows)
crescent/side stretch
standing back arch
step wide and keep feet wide for fairly quick holds to create movement and familiarity with the baseline poses. Do the right side of each pose then the left, do not do all right side and then all left as it would be brutal to the legs and hips! (Those of you in sequencing part 2 and in TT will notice these as our very familiar postures from the sequence we were working with.)
trikonasana *
parsvakonasana **
vira 1***
vira 2 ****

quicker for more fluidity:
crescent/side stretch
standing back arch

trikonasana flow* (2X each side)- trikonasana- sweep foot in front of you, grab outside of foot with top hand and come to visvamistasana variation- one-legged down dog- wild thing/flip dog- one-legged down dog- parsvakonasana- stand up in a one breath vira 2 and repeat on second side.

Parsvakonasana flow **(2X each side)- parsvakonasana- grab outside of foot with bottom hand- place opposite hand on floor and go to vasistasana 2- parsvakonasana- ardha chandra chapasana- ardha chandrasana- parsvakonasana- stand upon a one-breath vira 2 and repeat on second side

Vira 1 flow*** (2 X each side)- utkatasana through vinyasa- vira 1- eagle arms in vira 1- step into eagle on front leg- step back to vira 1 stretch eagle arms into back bend then to upward prayer then vinyasa and repeat on other side.

Vira 2 flow **** (2X each side) Vira 2--clasped parsvakonasana- clasped uttanasana-- Bird of Paradise--clasped uttanasana--clasped parsvakonasana-- vira 2

Parsvottanasana with gomukhasana arms
adho mukha svanasana

pigeon with a forward bend

Flow-- from pigeon with right leg in front,  take back leg across front leg for ardha matsyendrasana twist--then take left  leg toward the back of mat for janu sirsasana starting position- twist over bent leg- fold over straight leg- then place right hand by right leg, lift hips, sweep left arm overhead  for stargazer pose. From stargazer, place left hand on floor shoulder width apart from right hand,  take right leg and cross it on left thigh for baby cradle in down dog. make sure your left leg is bent and then pivot on your foot and balance on your left foot and left hand and take you right foot into bow for kapinjalasana variation then go to one-leg down dog and switch sides.

pigeon with a quad stretch
anjaneyasana with deeper back bend
supta virasana then place hands like Urdhva Dhanurasana then come up to kneeling
setu bandha
chatush padasana
urdhva danurasana

work on:
supta virasana to urdhva D arms to kneeling
toes tucked under camel to urdhva D to camel
tadasana to urdhva dhanurasana to tadasana

then we did a few more  refinements on urdhva D

supta padangusthasana series
succirandrasana, flexed foot on upper thigh
succirandrasana, pointed foot on middle thigh
reclined twist
sukhasana forward bend (alternate leg in front)
sukhasana, seated meditation


Have at it.

In terms of theme, I talked last night about Light, my very favorite topic. After all, tis the season to contemplate light. And in the midst of the various acts of darkness plastered all over the media this week, it makes for a good consideration, I think. Lots could be said about that but I will save it for another time. It is a beautiful day outside and I am going to spend a little time outside before I go inside and practice some asana this afternoon.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Asana Junkies Practice Club

I have spent a lot of time writing these days about the power of group practice and watching my own passion for teaching in that forum grow and expand with appreciation for all the possibilities that exist when a group of people commit to practicing together over  period of time. And so many recent webinar participants have been asking for an asana-based webinar in which to participate. So here it is- THE ASANA JUNKIES PRACTICE CLUB WEBINAR!

The basic run down is that I am going to teach a weekly webinar and introduce a sequence each week that will start more basic and fundamental and will work towards some more advanced postures over the 3-month program.  This progressive approach will be optimal to build a strong foundation, learn the various ways to work in and towards the harder stuff and will help people grow together and will help teachers see how to sequence not only within one class but over the course of several months. In addition to reviewing the sequence I will share some tips about how to modify and how to wok into those poses deeper, answer questions, , give teaching tips, etc. In general, the webinar is  a place for me to give the intellectual "how-to" for the week's sequence. Also, I will give some suggestions for how to work on the sequence even if you do not have a full 2-hours to practice it.

And each week, I am going to teach a group practice here in Austin at Bfree Yoga.  In this way I will be working directly on the sequence and  practice and exploring the content first hand as well. So one the webinar "how to" is offered for the intellect (Along with some inspirational pep talks for the heart and spirit) each person or group of people will practice the sequence or parts of it  in their own way and put the information into ACTION. I am not providing a script or a led-class format via webinar but instead want to help people really learn how to generate intensity on their own and how to advance through both individual and group practice. Also, teachers will get lots of information that will be immediately relevant to their classes. 

I have this vision that people will sign up for the webinar wherever they live and if they are alone they will have group support, and if they have a group they practice with already they will have access to hints, tips and camaraderie through which they can  build an even stronger group. I also hope that this program will help people start group practices where they live to build their local communities through practice and the direct experience of being on the mat together.  

To me this is an exciting program because it has the possibility to  strengthen individual practitioners  and teachers and bond local communities AND can provide a hub of connection to a larger network and community  of practitioners.  Already we have people participating here in Austin and across the states as well as in Canada,  Patagonia, Ireland, Denmark, Mexico, etc. The program is both local and global.

 I will be writing more about the course as time goes by but here is initial course description and the link for registration.  As usual, the webinar tuition is tiered to accommodate different budgets and to encourage participation. Let me know if you have questions.

Asana Junkies Practice Club Webinar
January 9, 2013 - March 20, 2013

Are you a teacher who wants to deepen your practice and work on more advanced postures but you are not sure where to begin?

Do you often wish you had a group of yoga enthusiasts to inspire you, urge you onward into more advanced postures and with whom you can explore creative ideas and sequencing strategies?

Are you an experienced student who has always wondered how to advance your practice and can’t find a public class where the “how to” of the postures is thoroughly explained?

Are you looking for a way to refine and expand your practice this year and would love some help and comraderie along the way?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, the Asana Junkies Practice Club is for you. Designed especially for dedicated students and teachers who want to work on intermediate and advanced postures in personal and/or group practice, this 11-week course utilizes webinar meetings, video lessons, web-based group sharing and the power of group intention to create a dynamic personal and shared experience.

The course is divided into 3 sequential and progressive parts:  Establish a Foundation, Deepen Your Knowledge and Expand Your Expression. Each month, Christina Sell will develop three to four suggested sequences to help you explore and refine your asana practice. Each week, she will host a webinar to review the upcoming week’s sequence. Christina will provide options and suggestions for how to work with the suggested sequences in a 2-hour practice, a 90-minute practice, a 60-minute practice and a 30-minute practice. Throughout the course, an online forum will be open for Q&A, group sharing and inspirational quotes, video clips and lessons.

Christina Sell is known for her clarity and passion as a teacher and is quickly becoming recognized as an expert on sequencing strategies, teaching methods and group process. She was the 2012 Art of Asana columnist for Yoga International Magazine and conducts seminars and trainings locally, nationally, and internationally on yoga practice, yoga teaching and conscious living. Dedicated to the transformational power of group practice, Christina will be teaching a 11-week course in Austin, TX throughout the duration of the online course and encourages you to create a group practice using the course materials as well. In this way she hopes to keep the content fresh, immediate and relevant to our personal and collective experiences.

Webinar Meeting:
Wednesday Mornings 10:00-11:00 Central Standard Time

Begins Wednesday January 9!



Tuition: $360 ($33/week)

PLEASE NOTE: This webinar is tiered with a sliding scale to accommodate a variety of budgets. If you need financial help use the following tiers and discount codes when you register:
Tier #2- $300 ($25/week) USE DISCOUNT CODE 25
Tier #3- $220 ($20/week) USE DISCOUNT CODE 20
Tier #4- $165 ($15/week) USE DISCOUNT CODE 15


Asana Syllabus (a general plan)

A copy of Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar is suggested.

PLEASE NOTE: You do not have to be able to do all of these postures! These are the postures that we are going to work on, learn how to modify and how to approach safely. The emphais of the course is on finding good ways to prepare for and work towards advanced postures.

Establish A Foundation
Peak Postures:
Urdhva Danurasana
Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana
Pinca Mayurasana
Head Stand
Shoulder Stand
Side Plank
parsva bakasana
baddha konasana
uppa vista konasana

Deepen Your Knowledge
Peak Postures:
Drop Backs
Headstand drop -overs
rajakapotasana- royal king pigeon pose
Headstand and introductory variations
Shoulderstand and introductory variations
mayurasana- peacock pose
eka pada galavasana- one leg partridge
padmasana- lotus pose
pascimottanasana- intense west stretch

Expand Your Expression
Peak Postures:
eka pada raja kapotasana- one-leg royal king pigeon pose
natrajasana- dancer pose
vrisikasana- scorpion pose
headstand and variations
shoulderstand and variations
eka hasta mayurasana- one-arm peacock
kukkutasana- cock pose
visvamitrasana- friend of the universe p
eka pada sirsana- leg behind the head
hanumanasana- full splits

This is going to be great!  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Inner Authority and Outer Teachings

Kelly and I got home from Tucson, Arizona late last night/early this morning. I woke up, had some tea and offered my last Gift of Practice Webinar. The topic today was on The Power of Play which was an awesome way to bring so much of the work we did over the course to a close.  The webinar course exceeded my own expectations in a lot of ways. I originally wanted to offer an affordable, cost-effective course that would support people in staying connected to themselves and their practices through the holidays which is often a very stressful and busy time.  I had thought I might offer some asana tips and so forth however as the course developed and I dove into my outline more I found myself exploring the inner aspects of practice and clarifying topics such as what is practice exactly, how can we bring an integrated approach to our life of practice, how can we productively work with anger and practice forgiveness, how does gratitude help propel us forward on the path and what is the role of play in a life of practice and awakening. 

As is so often the case, we had a great group assemble for the sessions, both live and via recording, and the work was relevant, useful and thought-provoking. I told Kelly today that I actually taught myself some things over the course and clarified some important  issues for myself.  Really, that was an unexpected bonus for me.

If you didn't do the course live, it is not to late to sign up for the recordings. That is a picture of the online classroom and so you can see what it looks like if you have never joined me for a webinar. There is a lot of meaty material in the six sessions- plenty to chew of for a whole year, really. But at any rate, it was an awesome experience for me overall and a lovely way to spend the morning home after a wonderful week in Tucson. 

The week in Tucson was our sixth week of a year-long Live the Light of Yoga  program we began in January. The first three weeks were Sadhana Intensives and the second three weeks were Teacher Training weeks. Many people combined the experienced for a 200-hour Yoga Alliance-approved program while some folks did the first half and still others joined us only for the teacher training portion. Many of you have been following that journey via my blog so I won't go too deeply into it now, but I must say that I feel like came through a big personal process throughout this program.  Nothing like a year-long program to hold a container in which we can see and experience our growth.

I often wonder about the correlative and causative relationships between these kind of programs and personal growth. I think on one level most of us grow and change a lot in a year. I also think that when we sign up for year-long yoga programs, we initiate a kind of growth that might not otherwise occur. AND I also think that having the container of a group and a program provides a kind of structure through which we grow more aware of the changes that would occur anyway as it also does its work of helping us accelerate a kind of inner process. I see it every year in the students who enroll and commit to the process and I watch myself as a facilitator of the process have to step into my own grow deliberately with each group and with every program.

The big thing I felt by the end of the training was an appreciation for my Anusara Yoga experiences and training and gratitude for the support I had during that phase of my life. I feel like something healed inside me throughout the year that feels very freeing. In a lot of ways, I feel more "anusara" than ever, ironically. (I did chose to write that in lower case to simply say I feel more in my own flow,  more concurrent with the greater  flow which is what the word means, not to indicate yoga style or brand.) 

I also feel more clear about my direction as a more "independent agent" yoga teacher, which, pardon the pun, actually has a lot to do with owning a sense of my own Independent Agency or Inner Authority in my own work as a yogi, not just as a teacher. I feel more comfortable then ever bringing  parts of my past forward into my new work and I feel more clear about my aim for my practice and teaching in the years to come.

I have long been interested in the dynamic relationship between the outer teachings and  the outer teacher and one's inner wisdom and how these two domains  inform one another. Outer teachings and teachers give us references points, instructions for "how to know" and "how to recognize" and can be instrumental in helping us clarify and sort through the various aspects of ourselves and our sometimes competing urges and ideas.  Too much reliance on outer teachers, however,  and we doubt our inner instincts. Not enough doubt of the inner makes us subject to narcissistic tendencies and the pitfalls that come from being too self-referential.  I watch a lot of sincere yogis doubt their inner knowing, particularly  if it, on the surface seems "negative" because we do not want to be "judgmental. I know I have made that mistake many times.

The truth is I need to judge what is good for me and what is bad for me. I need to judge where I will be most likely to grow and thrive and where I will most likely wither or grow malnourished. It is important that I learn to judge good character influences and bad. And so on. Outer teachings help with this and so do those uneasy, uncomfortable and often times, seemingly negative feelings that arise from within. At any rate, I have made some progress with this work personally this year. 

As a teacher, I am more clear than ever that I do not want to teach a system of yoga or to represent a singular darshana or viewpoint, no matter how inclusive and brilliant it may sound or may indeed be. While one is never free of a viewpoint that informs their work, the main thing I am interested in as a teacher is  providing practices and experiences that help point people inward to their own wisdom. About as far as I can go right now in terms of clarifying  "what I believe" as a practitioner and teacher is the following:  I believe each one of us has intrinsic wisdom and dignity.  I believe that the yoga tradition- for all of its problems and pitfalls- has some pretty amazing tools that can help people of all faiths and those without religious orientation  recognize their inner authority, strengthen their awareness  and to build their capacity to live from such a recognition. (yes, I know, sounds a lot like Chit-Ananda as we learned it in Anusara.)

I believe yoga  practice- even if it is the physicality of asana divorced from any philosophy- still contributes to this inner knowing because it can build mind-body awareness in the practitioner. So to me there is not "physical only" asana even if someone is only looking at, caring about or dealing with the physical sheath. And I have said it more than once, I love asana as exercise.  However, I believe the other layers of our being  are affected even if we do not consciously cultivate them or mine them for what is happening. But I digress. 

My main point is that I think the tools of yoga are useful to the extent they help us grow into ourselves, not to the extent they help us fit into an outer ideal, even if that outer ideal is a spiritual community of like-minded people. And I believe that a community is most helpful if it nurtures the  individuals within it, rather than continually asking for people to sacrifice their personal ideas, needs and feelings  in its name, even if it is "for the good of the group" or "for the continuation of the teaching" and so on.  (Keep in mind this is coming from someone who considers herself a creature of community with  long-ranging experience in communities like 12-step groups, several spiritual schools/cults, several yoga methods, etc.) From my observation and experience I believe the "needs of the individual" must be balanced and supported by the needs of a group and to repeatedly ask individuals to sacrifice their needs guarantees a toxic mess will be brewing somewhere beneath the surface. 

Well, more can be said and all that may be read in all kinds of ways and all kinds of conclusions may et drawn but I feel really great these days. I feel very happy to look back and see immeasurable support and to look around and see the same. I am indeed, hopeful for the future, as the year comes to a close. I have learned a ton.

On another very practical note, as some of you know I have been posting weekly "Yoga Tips" on my blog and on Facebook as an effort to support people in practice and in teaching and to return the  content of my offerings back to asana practice and proficiency and away from so much subjective content and inner musings. Yoga Tips has its own Facebook Page now, so please go there and "like" the page and post questions and requests for  tips on postures of problems in postures you might like to explore.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Good Company, Great Yoga

Well, it is Wednesday and I am here in Tucson, Arizona. Today we had Day One of our Teacher Training. It is the third week of our three weeks of teacher training and it is the sixth week of the six weeks of the whole 200-hour program we started this January. What a year it has been. Wow.

I do not think I know anyone who had a mellow and relaxing year this year.  Seems like 2012 packed a punch no matter who you are or what you do. And yet, as the year is coming to a close,  Darren and I are looking back with gratitude and ahead with anticipation for our work together. And personally, I feel in the middle of some important contemplations about authenticity, boundaries and I feel very hopeful about my ongoing direction.

I spent last weekend teaching an intensive down in San Marcos which was a highlight of the season for me. Coming on the heels of a great Thanksgiving week, the weekend workshop was a new offering for me in San Marcos. Up until now I have been teaching mostly intensives there. By intensives I mean longer-term programs where full attendance was the only option for enrollment. I love that format because a solid bond is formed among the  group and, with  everyone there for every session, we can capitalize on the sequential and progressive nature of asana instruction,  lay a foundation and build on the basics. So I love that.

AND that format leaves a lot of people out who have families and 9-5 jobs and so on and people have been asking me to offer a program in which they could come in parts and parcels. So I did just that. I offered 6 sessions in the weekend- 3 sessions were all-levels classes and 3 sessions were instructional group practices where I practiced along with the group. I had so much fun and I really learned a lot as the teacher. And with no travel expenses and very little overhead I could offer it at an affordable price which I also felt good about.

On the whole it was a rich a deep weekend for me. I always love watching people relax on the property, work hard in the asana and generally soak in the intention of the School which is all about connecting to one's Heart through asana, chanting and the simple joy of being together with a common interest. I was also reminded how much I love to work on the poses and to explore my own boundaries in group practice. It really is like my favorite thing these days.

Here are a few scenes.