Kelly and I left last Wednesday for Boise, Idaho for a few days of R&R and a weekend workshop. I really enjoyed having two unscheduled days in Boise before teaching. They have a fantastic Greenbelt there, lots of awesome places to eat and we were able to spend a lot of time on our bikes, practicing asana and avoiding the big holiday fanfare and feasting. (Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against a big meal with all the fixin's except that this year I was relieved to keep the day on the simpler side with some mashed potatoes and roasted kale instead of a whole big thing.)
On Saturday and Sunday we had a yoga workshop which was modeled loosely after the Asana Junkies forum so I got to practice and teach which was super fun for me. Kelly filmed some good footage from the weekend so I am sure you will see some of that in the next few weeks. It was kind of an experiment to see whether or not the holiday weekend would work for a workshop and I was very pleased with the format and the turnout. For some the holidays mean "super busy" and for others they actually mean "a little downtime where I can practice."
I told the group that the Group Practice format is a favorite of mine and that to me, it is a great way to work when you already have a good solid foundation of the postures and want a chance to work hard with a group. We covered some good ground and for me the main theme of the weekend had to do with letting go of dogma and actually testing out the "rules" in the laboratory of the body.
I am on this theme a lot these days. It seems to me that we have alignment protocols for a lot of reasons in yoga- attention, awareness, focus, safety and depth. For instance hidden in "do this, do that, without loosing x, add y, etc." is a call to pay attention, deepen one's awareness, clarify one's mind, mitigate the dangers of the posture and to deepen access to the pose. I love this work and for me the alignment doorway has always been a primary access point in my asana practice. AND it seems to me that we run the risk of getting stuck on the various teaching points and protocols and forget that they are tools to facilitate these other dimensions of the experience that asana offers us. It is like we are on a journey with the asana and instead of taking the trip, looking out the window at the scenery and getting out of the car to take in the stellar views, we are focusing on what color our car is compared to another car on the same trip.
For instance, "squeeze the butt or not squeeze", "spread the fingers or join the fingers","turn the toes under in a kneeling lunge or put the toenails down", "Draw in or extend out", and so on are not ends in and of themselves but are means to greater attention, awareness, focus, safety and/or depth. So for a period of time we engage whatever protocols we are given as though they actually matter and in so doing, hopefully we train our attention to move more deeply into our body and we gain the clarity that comes through repeating forms with specificity. And yet, still, the postures and the ways to perform them are pointing to an experience far greater than the teaching points themselves. Asana, for me to stay interested over the long haul, needs to be more than a set of "do's and don'ts and "we do it this way in ______ yoga" and so on.
So many metaphors abound- learning to play scales before you play jazz. Learning the alphabet before you learn to write poetry. Learning to dribble the basketball before you play the game. And so on. Seems to me every discipline has a kind of fundamental vocabulary we need to learn and a fundamental approach to the subject that we need to embrace and also has a progression to learning that, when followed, helps us build our expertise from a solid foundation.
At any rate, I find it an interesting place to be in my own teaching and practicing to be very interested in postural practice still and yet quite disinterested in a lot of dogma around right and wrong as it relates to asana and its forms. It is paradoxical- I roll out my mat and I pretend for 2 hours that it really matters and by assuming that this form or that form is what I am going to work towards, I learn about myself. I get a chance to say- "Why can I do that one form and not this one? Why does that one come easily and this one not? What do I have to do to get that outer shape more precise? Why should I? Why don't I want to? Oh lookie here-- when I do that, this releases and I find ease" and so on.
So-the forms as points of aim are important because of the inquiry they provide but I think the inquiry is the yoga not the form. And while some forms seem "safer" than others and certain small changes in outer shape can yield significant differences in effect, there is a level where I see the poses as quite arbitrary. Again, I see them as means for self-understanding, not as the ends.
I could go on about this and I think it is the trap of alignment-based practice. We confuse the car for the ride. We confuse the points along the way for the point of destination. The flow-based practice has its own traps as any way of working holds great boons and great dangers. So for me when faced with a new instruction, a new outer form I do my best to evaluate if it is dangerous or just different. If just different I work with it and observe what it yields and what it costs. And sometimes the cost to benefit ratio is not worth it and some times it is. Sometimes I have to ask some questions and sometimes the outcomes of new actions and forms are immediate and sometimes the results- good and bad- take longer to show themselves.
At any rate, we had a good time with the poses, the actions and these themes all weekend. It struck me as interesting that this was also a similar conversation to the one we had in Portland last weekend and one we have been having a lot in Asana Junkies.
This weekend I expect to get a little bit off that conversation with a unique weekend offering with Sianna Sherman. For years Sianna and I have talked about offering a program together and we planned this weekend almost 2 years ago. So, now, after so many twists and turns in the yoga world these last two years, the weekend is here. Those of you who know me as the "alignment junkie" will see that knowledge form a foundation for a flow-based weekend filled with great stories, chanting and practice-based sessions.
The good folks at Wanderlust Live here in Austin are hosting the event so we have lots of room to play and an awesome location right in downtown Austin in which to be together. I am looking forward to the weekend for a lot of reasons- I haven't seen Sianna in a few years and so other than some phone calls and meaningful text messages over the last few years, we haven't connected much and so this is awesome for me on a personal level. Also, Sianna is such a great storyteller and so I am psyched to get a chance to hear some good stories (And to tell a few myself!). And I am very excited to be with a group and to dive into the practice of the practice and not the the of the practice and the vinyasa-style format is such a good one for experiencing the joy of movement and the bhavana of devotion and as we head into the holiday season, getting a strong impression of inner dedication and reverence is so important for staying centered in the midst of a busy and often-stressful time.
I could go on, but the list of the things I am excited about for the weekend is pretty long.
And we are in our last 2 weeks of the Fall Session of Asana Junkies which has been super fun. We had a long session- 14 weeks!- this time which has been an intense undertaking for sure. One thing that is so clear to me about this program is that the people who are participating in it are growing in some very profound ways. I am always amazed at how deep the conversation goes during a session and how we can, because of the ongoing nature of the format, dive well beneath the surface of things and explore some pretty interesting terrain. Asana Junkies is not a class and it is not a workshop and it is not a teacher training but it combines elements from all these avenues of learning into something that seems to me to be par- inspiration, part-education, part-community support network, part-self-examination and part-asana exploration.
Today we have group practice at Bfree and and we are going to work on the full-specturm sequence #3. Lst week we did forward bends, the week before that was back bends and the week before that was arm balances. So this week we put the pieces together into one full-spectrum practice. Should be fun!
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