I spent a wonderful weekend in Fairfax, California with Sienna Smith and the awesome gang at Yoga Mountain Yoga Studio. Sienna and I have gotten to know each other a lot this last year as she has been an enthusiastic participant in my online courses and made several trips to different workshops. She has an extensive back ground in Viniyoga, Anusara yoga as well as a long-standing meditation practice informed by her studies of Buddhism and mindfulness. I found her company to be wonderful and the group of students and teachers at her studio to be fun-loving, curious, hard-working and very receptive.
Like so many of my workshops these days, the room was filled with people who share a deep understanding of alignment principles and body mechanics that is informed by their training and experiences in Anusara yoga. I enjoyed teaching such a well-trained group of experienced yogis with whom I shared a common background and language and who were also interested in adding to their knowledge-base and expanding their perspectives.
It seems to me that while so much of the alignment in Anusara got exaggerated to the point of creating imbalance rather than balance, at the heart of the method was a great blueprint for balance. This basic structure continues to inform much of my approach to practice and teaching and while I have refined, added to and expanded my understanding over the years and while I make disctinctions between the method and how it was often practiced and taught, in general, it continues to serve me well.
For instance, I still think its a great idea to take the thighs back and yet I do not think the big “blossoming the buttocks” actions are actually such a great idea over the long haul, although they may serve an immediate short-term function to correct certain imbalances. And I am more clear than ever that these actions of alignment are directly related to the postural forms we practice and to our own starting point of structure and the actions themselves are not the alignment. The alignment exists, in my opinion, in the relationship between the posture and our structure. “Thighs back” is not an alignment but an action to bring us into alignment. How much we do of it and to what degree it appears visible in our form depends on the pose and on us. At any rate, over time, I think the actions need to be applied specifically and precisely so as not to cause problems and yet they do give us a great general direction in which to point ourselves and our students. So much could be said about that but well, its a big can of worms.
AND I think one of the best things we can do to offset common structural tendencies in ourselves and in our students is to practice a well-balanced range of postures. Given that in a room of 30 people, some folks will have flat thoracic spines and some folks will have overly-rounded upper backs, some will be sway-backed and some will be flat in their lumbar spines, it simply makes sense to me to offer a variety of shapes and to work with shape as much as action to bring balance to the students in our general classes. Specific issues are outside the scope of what we can deal with in a big public class with students we might not know very well, so general strokes of alignment cues and balanced postural routines are a great way to go, in my current thinking. And again, that’s a big topic. I digress.
In addition to a shared language and understanding of basic alignment precepts, I found it very meaningful to connect with people I have known for years and to re-establish a connection to folks I have known somewhat preipherally for a long time. As time goes on it becomes more clear to me that so many folks who spent time together in Anusara yoga were also drawn to the system by their interest, commitment and passion for intentional, transformational community. Perhaps they were drawn to the method for that reason or perhaps the method cultivated the values of community and group-work, but in any case I am watching the threads of the fabric of our community get re-worked, re-woven and re-created these days. I personally find my conenctions with my associates from Anusara much more enjoyable than ever because there is a new level of honesty present in our conversations. For me, even the difficult conversations are more meaningful when they are honest as opposed to the pleasant, positive, somewhat “easy” conversations that sit on top of unexpressed misgivings, doubts, jealousies and judgements.
Even in the upheavel of the structures that held folks together under the formal auspices of “Anusara yoga” and even in the midst of the psychic burden I felt during the times of my personal dissolution and disillusionment with it all, I kept hearing a small voice inside saying “the story is not written yet.” I do think a chapter closed and maybe even the first book in the series is done and finished. But that does not mean that the story is written.
It’s a great reminder of transformation, really. It can be so easy to view life as a series of snapshots and to get crystalllized inside ourselves when a bad picture is taken or when the pictures all seem to be of other people. But in actuality, we are in a moving picture, in a movie that started before we were the us that we know now and will continue long after we are the us that we know now. We are not here, frozen in time, stuck with a shitty picture on a bad-hair day with unforgiving light. Nope, in the very next moment, the light can change, our hair might get styled and the whole composition of the scene can improve and come into view. I know in my own life that if you snap a shot of me at any given moment in my day I might look totally awesome but I might also look quite unimpressive.
So often over the years of my time with Lee I would get upset about one thing or another and he would listen patiently until I spelled out my whole drama in detail and then he would say something like, “Well, you have to keep a high vision.” Inside I would be like “WTF does that do for me right now, dude? I am ____________ and freaking out.” (Fill in the blank with broke, hating myself, hating someone else, angry, depressed, worried, etc.) I think mostly I just nodded and looked back at him trying to seem like I was a decent student. But one day, when I was particularly upset I said, “What does that actually mean?”
And then he told me, “Well, if you think about the view that a bird has over a landscape it can be very helpful in times like this. The upset right now that seems to be ruining your world, is actually quite small in the scope of your life and even smaller in the scope of your many lifetimes. In terms of your sadhana and your work with me, this problem of yours does not even register on the screen of something I am worried about. That is what I mean by keeping a high vision.”
Oh. I see. And I did. And I still do.
Don’t get me wrong, I am an excitable type and I love a good drama as much as anyone whether it is my own or someone else's. And yet something really came to me that day that continues to live inside me as a working, living and breathing teaching lesson from my guru. We do need to tend to the details and the content of whatever mess we might have made and it is a great idea to learn how to enjoy our success and to rest when the water is calm, so to speak. And yet, all that content--good times, bad times, loss and gain, all live in a larger story of awakening and unfolding. Remembering the larger story can be helpful because then we begin to play a participatory role in the saga as opposed to living at the mercy of the script-writers of our own negativity and our own habits of thought and behavior.
What does any of this have to do with my time in Fairfax, California? Well, I suppose the last few gigs I have taught have felt like part of a new story for me. I am enjoying my roots more than ever and I am beginning to see and feel new sprouts of growth emerge and begin to grow a little stronger and more stable within me. The good humor of the students around me, the skillful postures being practiced, the intelligent questions being asked, and the unabashed mutual enjoyment of our work together all seem like good signs that the next chapter is well underway for many of us.
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"There is a light that shines beyond all things on Earth, beyond us all, beyond the heaven, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in our heart."