I am on a plane home from my weekend in Portland, Maine and enjoying the entertainment that in-flight internet services provide. And after doing some work on the upcoming Asana Junkies weekly forum and cruising through the world of Facebook I am settling in to write a little bit about the weekend.
Truth be told, each weekend holds certain treasures and teaching lessons for me personally and professionally. I am always amazed by how much I learn with every trip I take and how much conversations I have with people shape me perceptions and perspectives. Really, it is so cool- I leave my home to go teach and I am always- without fail--taught.
The workshop in Portland, Maine was sold out with a waiting list which was awesome to feel the support and enthusiam of the community for my visit. It was very sweet. Each session was filled with so many well-trained yogi’s who were steeped and grounded in the good teachings of Anusara yoga and who were also open to new ideas, perspectives and way of exploring beyond the familiar terminology and ideology. I enjoyed being with people who had such a solid foundation of practice and teaching and who also were open to a conversation that was not limited to dogma and who were willing to go on a journey of exploration and innovation.
On Friday night I told the group that for over ten years I practiced and taught and trained others to teach the methodology of Anusara yoga and while I was not a purist with the method, I was happier in Anusara yoga than I could have imagined being outside of it. And for various reasons the scales of that balance changed and I needed to “break up with the method” and for a while I needed a bit of a clean break. As silly as it sounds now, I didn’t want to look out in a room a see jazz hands or every pose back-bended and I didn’t want to hear clapping at demo’s and so on. I was craving a more sober practice with an introverted focus, a clarity of inner experience and I felt the need for quiet inside myself. I saw symtoms of great imbalance in myself, in my students and in my colleagues and I wanted to steer my work with students in a different direction. I was happy to talk about Grace and I was happy to consder the Guru but I did not want to continue to feed a certain stream of practice in the same way that I had been for many years. I likened the situation to a “break-up” with a lover. You know, you break up with a lover and well, if you keep having sex.... well, it is harder to really break up and almost impossible to move on.
And with some lovers, after you can break up you can actually become friends. I have people in my life like that. The former history adds a depth of honesty and the new- found boundary keeps a clarity that creates a friendship like no other. And with other lovers, well, you simply can’t be friends. It is an all-or-nothing proposition. Anyway, lest this yoga blog turn into a “sex and the city" blog, suffice it to say, it all depends. Two years after I have resigned from Anusara, I find it easier to be friends with the method and its manifestations than it used to be. Certain knots within me have loosened and certain edges have softened. None of my opinons are any different than they were two years ago and yet the charge is a bit different and my gratitidue for my experiences in Anusara is fuller and more in the forefront of my experience.
The big dfference now is not just me, I do not think. What the dissoultion of the structures that upheld Anusara seemed to have created for me is the ability to have a more honest conversation with people in and out of the method. I personally was never outraged about our dysfunction as a community. I was never outraged that the Universal Principles were more general than they were Universal and that they didn’t always “work” for everyone. I personally was upset that we were without viable mechanisms to communicate honestly and truthfully with one another about these things. And volumes have been written and expressed about why that was and so I want to conscioulsy shy away from any commentary about that in this post.
What is also interesting to me is that I am also part of another spiritual community where these problems exist outside of alignment of the body, outside of postural interpretations but where the pressures conform to group ideals is so overwheleming that personal honesty is often sacrificed and compromised to the pressure of the group-mind. And while I am compassionate about this dynamic, I have to say, it no longer interests me as a paradigm of relationship. And I hang out in other asana communities where similar dynamics are present as well and so to me this is not a “Anusara problem” but a consideration of community, group dynamics, power differentials, and so on.
At any rate, I found myself talking a ton about Anusara yoga this weekend and interpreting my instructions a lot through that lens. More than usual. I think because the studio was so steeped in the work of Anusara and the students were so clearly trained in the system, it was a very natural conversation in which to be. So much of what and how I teach is informed by my deep immersion into Ansuara yoga and it creates a very strong matrix of understanding for me. I have added other influences and broadened my perspectives but Anusara yoga is a very fundamental perspective for me nonetheless. (And to be clear, I do make a distinction between my undertanding of the principles and how they were/are often taught, perceived and understood by others, but that is another topic for anther day, )
If I had to criticize my teaching for the weekend (and, no I do not have to criticize my teaching but if you are me, every teaching experience provdes an inquiry of “what worked” and “what could be improved” and “what were the costs and benefits of the choices I made as as teacher throughout the weekend?”) then I would have to say maybe we veeered a bit toward the intellectual end of the spectrum. I am thinking about this a lot these days and it is clear to me that we teach yoga so much through the practice itself-- in and through the experience of the subject and its application. In general I think this is great- in the sense that yoga is about eating the meal, not simply reading a recipe or looking at a menu, etc. At the same time, becuase of this highly experiential approach, we have teachers teaching who do not know why they say the things they say and do the things they do and teach the things they teach. There is, after all, the theory of the practice and the practice of the practice and when these domains are balanced we know what to do, how to do it, why and how better to trouble shoot when problems arise.
We teach a multi-faceted subject--where the intellect, the emotions, the spirit are all joined in and through a physical practice-- in a public-access exercise class. To practice yoga intelligently and safely over a long time I think we need to know a lot about our own bodies, about the body in general, about the postures, about the context of the practice, about our own psychology as we practice, about our own temperament, about how to be in relationship to our teachers and their temperament and teaching style and so on. Really, this is such a vast subject that there is no way all we need to know about how to engage it can be communicated in a few soundbites throughout class nor can sophisicated alignment be captured in a few verbal cues no matter how good the cues are.
So, seemingly simple questions like “Should I squeeze my buttocks in this back bend?” or “What about pointing v. flexing the feet?” and “You said to push down in that pose and I thought we were supposed to draw in?” can certainly be answered in one or two senteneces but I do not think that clarity and understanding generally comes with simple answers. Maybe simple answers are good intially, while you are building a matrix of knowledge and establishing yourself in protocols, but over time, once the matrix is built, simple questions often require longer explanations to sort out the variables involved and the context that lives behind the cues.
At any rate, I am (obviously, right?) not a one-word kind of teacher when it comes to questions. It is my gift and my downfall, probably. I have strong opinions and all that but I am generally aware of more than one right answer about anything so it is so hard for me to just say “yes” or “no”. I remember when I was in school I would fail true-false tests, do better on mulitple choice and ace any essay test that was presented to me. (Some things never change, I suppose.) I think that is one of the things I like so much about my asana junkies programs these days is that we have a chance to go through the questions when we are all sitting down talking yoga, not in the midst of the practice. Makes me think that a designated Q&A in a weekend workshop might be a good way to go.
Anyway- the weekend was great. I enjoyed myself a lot and even had to time to work on the promotional materials for an online program I am offering with Gioconda Parker. We are taking many of the elements of our teacher training program and creating an online offering that will be awesome. Check it out. http://www.livethelightofyogaonlineschool.com.
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