It's a bit difficult to know exactly what to say about the 4-day Asana Junkies Intensive down in San Marcos, Texas. Words like awesome, fun, inspiring, radical, revolutionary, deep, delightful, soulful are all accurate and yet, honestly they all seem a bit overused these days.
All that being said, I really had an excellent time for so many reasons. The practices were strong and deep without being manic or agitating. We had time to go into things but we didn't get bogged down. We had lovely restorative afternoons and time for relaxing, drinking tea, hanging out at the river and even visiting the Lululemon outlet in San Marcos! We worked on a lot of the same postures every morning making small additions and changes to progress the sequence toward harder poses. I have been using this strategy in my workshops a lot these days to great result. While I am a big fan of creative sequencing and working to peak poses in a very specific way, I am finding that a more generalized approach to full-spectrum practice with a somewhat repetitious sequence helps both the teacher and student a lot.
This approach is also the one I am going to be taking in the upcoming Asana Junkies Webinar. During the first webinar we worked on a different sequence each week and while people found they got stronger and fitter and made great progress, people also said they had some trouble keeping up with the volume of content. Given that it is summer and people are busy and traveling more, I thought it would be a perfect time to implement my recent observations. So I have developed 3 progressively more challenging sequences that use the same basic template for a full-spectrum practice and we will spend 3 weeks on each sequence instead of 1 new sequence each week. Also, one thing that is great about doing a similar sequence frequently is that once we learn the choreography of it, so to speak, our mind is free to move deeper into the being-level of the postures and the flow of the practice itself, rather than on the figuring out of what comes next and why, etc. Of course, it is not some rigid thing either. I am a fan of both structure and creativity when it comes to these things.
Anyway, back to the intensive--We had yet another amazing group of teachers and practitioners assembled for the week from all over the states. There was an incredible, broad-base of knowledge and experience from Anusara yoga to Bikram yoga to Baptiste yoga to Viniyoga and Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga. We were able to be in a very collaborative, collegial discussion throughout It was so fun to see what started as a webinar this winter manifest in a live event where people from all over the country came together to practice as a group. It was so inspiring on so many levels. I think the main inspiration of it was the organic nature of this whole project. I didn't have some big idea of what this would look like nor did I start with concrete goals of any kind. I just knew that a lot of people out there needed some renewed enthusiasm for asana.
And so late last year I had an idea for an online program that would help support people in practice and strengthening their connection to asana and their love of yoga through a structured and collaborative learning forum. I was also inspired to create a program that could be done from home, that was affordably priced and would also connect people to a larger community of practitioners while supporting them in strengthening their local communities as well. I wanted to help bridge a gap between the global and local worlds of yoga and return to practice as the foundation of community life, not ideology or Big Vision so much. (Don't get me wrong, I love big vision and all that but honestly, community to me is always about who I am rolling my sleeves up with and who I am actually working with, not simply about like-mindedness.) Anyway, Asana Junkies was born from these stirrings and ideas and the program became a real source of renewal for me and for many people. (I mean really, there are so many amazing testimonies about how it helped people shift in both the physical practice and in their inner life of practice. But all that for another day.)
So that the online vision manifested in an intensive like this was such a lovely development in the story. And the caliber of practice and the depth of commitment in the room was also a lovely demonstration of what ongoing practice can create in us both individually and as a group. More could certainly be said but the day beckons.
here are some scenes from the weekend to enjoy. Also here is a link to Livia's blog about some of her reflections-livia-shapiro.squarespace.com/news/2013/5/20/deposits
I spent the weekend in tucson teaching a Teacher's Intensive called The Courage to Teach with Darren Rhodes. We based a lot of our discussions on Parker Palmer's book, the Courage to Teach which is filled with juicy nuggets about the inner life of the teacher and the dynamic relationship between the identity and integrity of the teacher and the subject matter. We spent a lot of time talking about identity, integrity, authenticity, The Teaching v. The Teacher and how to navigate the very nuanced landscape of what it means to be a yoga teacher.
All in all, I think it was a great week. We did an asana practice together every morning. We worked with the same sequence each day as a way to anchor ourselves in the repetition of practice so that we could refine each day rather than start new. This is something I am working with a lot these days as a teacher. When the students have to start each class from scratch there is a lot of energy wrapped up in the learning of the new sequence, etc. that pulls their attention away from the experience of being in the practice itself. I also like new classes and new insights and creative approaches so I am not changing my mind on that but simply exploring some new avenues for helping students establish themselves in practice. I have been working on 3 practice sequences that are full-spectrum practices, that get progressively more difficult so that a student who gains some mastery at the first one can add some more difficult postures incrementally and intelligently. Also these sequences are not peak pose strategies so they are very balanced sequences that could be done regularly. At any rate, we worked on the first of these sequences all week with much success. It was fun to watch the repetition take hold and move from the analysis and "how to" of the postures into the experience of moving through the sequence and being in the postures more directly. So many people had breakthroughs and made progress through this approach. Lots more to say about this another time.
In terms of using The Courage to Teach as a guideline for discussion, one thing I found interesting is that Parker Palmer is an academic and his experience is in institutions that value content over context, technique over Being and a concrete facts over personal knowing. When we enter the world of yoga teaching, generally we find ourselves in a world where that balance is a bit different- usually we have some connection to our inner lives as yoga practitioners and we are often times aware of the subjective nature of the material we are presenting to a degree that is probably different than traditional academia. And while there is an ongoing discussion in the world of yoga these days between product v. process, the Teaching v. the teacher and its about the pose/it's not about the pose and so on, we are very clearly in a holistic discipline that honors both the inner realm and the more objective, technical aspects of the subject. I enjoyed using his work as a springboard for our discussions without having to buy it 100% on every point.
I think that is the name of the game for me these days. The reality check of the outer teachings as they ask us to look at and confront our egoic strategies are so very important but the work of doubting everything we think must be balanced with a keen listening and regard for our own voice of truth. If we assume the teaching is always right (and we are always wrong) we are going to easily manipulated, led astray and never learn self-trust. If we assume everything we think is always right then we are unhelpable and unable to progress beyond our familiar patterns and viewpoints. Like so many of the topics we discussed over the weekend, the recurring thing is that no one solution exists that is alway right or that will work for all people all the time. The more the weekend progressed the more I began to experience the call to get off the right and wrong question all together and to transcend that particular duality.
The thing is that if we are asking the question of "what is right?" and "what is wrong?" the chances are we are going to fail to find where the depth is, where the texture resides and where the psyche is calling us to our own truth in the midst of competing agendas, both internal and external. Yes, the more we were together in the discussion the more I kept glimpsing the ever-important third option that exists beyond right and wrong and how freedom truly comes in giving up the binary-type viewpoint that so often informs our way of seeing difficulty and challenge. (I am not talking ethics here, in case that is not obvious. Certainly I believe there are domains and situations where "right" and "wrong" should be considered. I am talking here about a dynamic I watch in sincere yogi's who learn about the teachings and really want to chose well in their lives and who are also plagued with the fear of making mistakes and somehow "doing yoga wrong.")
Here are few gems from the book- (and there are so many more)
“Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.”
“By choosing integrity, I become more whole, but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means becoming more real by acknowledging the whole of who I am.”
“As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together.”
"Education is the attempt to ‘lead out’ from within the self a core of wisdom that has the power to resist falsehood and live in the light of truth, not by external norms but by reasoned and reflective self-determination."
"In every story I have heard, good teachers share one trait: a strong sense of personal identity infuses their work."
Here is a link to Martha's musings about the week.
And last but not least, a few pictures. Enjoy.
I spent the weekend teaching in St. Louis, MO at Southtown Yoga. This was my second trip to St. Louis and we had a really great time. The theme of the weekend was "Break Through, Don't Break Down: Advancing Your Practice Intelligently." I got the title from a teaching that my spiritual teacher, Lee Lozowick, used to give about progress in practice and how the aim was to practice in such a way that we had breakthroughs instead of breakdowns. In many cases he would explain to us that breakdowns came when we over-reached, when we tried to practice at someone else's level instead of our own or according to a preconceived notion of what a teaching meant instead of the way we needed to apply the teaching to our unique situation. He wasn't speaking about asana--he was talking about a larger life of sadhana-- and yet in so many ways, the principles are exactly the same. And while we could open up a big can of worms with what it means to advance one's asana practice, I did focus a lot on how to make intelligent progress in the physical practice.
One principle of intelligently advancing our practice -on or off the mat--is to accept where we are without judgement. If we are tight, we are not going to make progress pretending our muscles are loose. If we want to do scorpion pose, we have to learn to balance in pincha mayurasana and so on. Lee used to say that the sadhana was like a series of locked rooms and that the key to the next room is hidden somewhere in the room in which we currently find ourselves. The key to patience is in the traffic jam, the key to self-love is in our current state of self-hatred, the key to forgiveness is hidden somewhere in the seeds of our anger and so on. I see the same principle so often in asana. The key to the next pose on the syllabus is the skillful execution of the previous pose. Skip a step in the Level 1 pose and we are going to find a Level 2 pose we can't do until we go back to clean the earlier work up somehow. Get injured on the Level 3 syllabus and many times, some action we needed to avoid the injury and/or heal the tweak is hiding in plain sight on the Level 1 or 2 syllabus. So like that. (And believe me I am learning this principle in my own practice so I am not being "judgey" about it. I am spending a fair amount of time going back and cleaning up some shortcuts I took over the years in my personal practice right now. Lucky for me I like the work of it and find it intriguing and rewarding. Anyhoo--)
At any rate, the main idea is that we benefit most from the practice that is truly our own. Try to do someone' else's practice and it will lead to a lack of progress or injury or even just another experience of asking yourself to conform to an arbitrary outer standard. And because we navigate a lot of paradox in yoga- it is an individual practice done in a group, it is a physical practice that is not only physical, it is a spiritual practice that is also physical, it is about the postures but not only about the postures, it is not about the poses yet we use the poses, we are perfectly fine as we are and yet we need some improvement and so on-- the call to discernment and intelligence on our part as students is very high. The longer I go about learning and teaching yoga the more astounded I am at how much is actually involved in simply knowing what to do when we step on a mat. I am continually amazed at how nuanced practice actually is and how difficult it is to convey the subject effectively in the average learning environment.
I do not intend for this commentary to be a criticism or even a rant. It just seems to me that we have this huge subject matter that we engage in 60-minute, 90-minute or even 3-hour chunks of time. We have our own unique quirks of physicality, emotionality and intellectuality, coupled with an endless variety of expectations and desires and motivations and we are generally in a room with one teacher and a group of 6-600 fellow students as we learn. It is a wonder we understand anything at all and shocking that any of us can make our way through the paradoxes, surface-level contradictions, and subtleties that are required to apply the teachings to ourselves. Considering all we are up against, wow, we are probably doing pretty well!
I think that is the amazing thing about practice- if we keep doing it, the practice starts to reveal to us its layers. So much of the clarity and wisdom is in the doing. I think if the teacher can point us in a good direction we can save a lot of time and spare ourselves some extra work but it also seems that so much comes down to each of us engaging the practice for ourselves in our way, over a long period of time.
We also worked with a lot of repetition throughout the weekend which is part of a new approach I am taking in my weekend workshops. And this was great because it was an intensive so the majority of the people were there for all four sessions, which really maximized what we could accomplish.
I could go on about the group (fantastic- open, loving, funny and receptive) and my hosts (charing, sincere, dedicated, fun and supportive) and about so many other things that we great about the weekend but I need to finish packing and then we have One Om tonight.
Oh, and it's my birthday today so Happy Birthday to me.
Here are some pics from the weekend.
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