Better late than never, right??
Here are five things I took away from Minneapolis Anusara Immersion, Part I. I hesitate to call them the "top five" even, because knowing me I'm forgetting something, will remember it 5 seconds after I post this and immediately go 'OH CRAP THOSE AREN'T REALLY THE TOP 5 I JUST LIED TO EVERYONE.' So to avoid such situations, we will just say... these are 5 takeaways, in no particular order and of no particular importance.
1) You can't control what happens to you in life - but you can control how you react to it.
One of my favorite quotes in the world comes from Albus Dumbledore: "It is our choices, Harry, that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities." We are all given the freedom of choice - we can choose the right or the wrong path, and because we are given that freedom, we have the opportunity to be amazing, but also the opportunity to get all misaligned and screwy. The Immersion Manual says that "Whatever we encounter, whether it is auspicious or malicious, good or bad, uplifting or disheartening, we respond in ways that are more life-affirming." In other words, if some a-hole yells at you on the street for no reason, or if someone is cruel to you, you can choose not to respond with cruelty - your reaction says more about you than it does about them. You can decide to be whoever you want - be someone who puts more love and strength into the world.
2) Honor your teachers - and they might not be who you think they are.
The first line of the Anusara Invocation is "Om Namah Shivaya Gurave"...there are oodles of ways to translate this but my personal favorite (courtesy of yogash) is: "I deeply honor the presence of my true teacher...the one who resides within me and within all things."
....ALL things? Really?? Surely not ALL things.
Oh yes. All things for sure. A couple of years ago, I went through a really disturbing situation ... took me a long time to get past how upset I felt by everything that had happened, and even though I acknowledged that I had learned a lot from going through it, I still felt really icky inside every time I thought about it. Without going into too much detail, it was a really bad relationship that I ended, which then took a turn for the even-worse after I ended it. Last Saturday night after the immersion, I was standing in front of my bathroom sink and I started thinking about the invocation and about that period in my life, and I suddenly realized that all my negative feelings were gone. I felt nothing but gratefulness for all of the positive things that would never have happened without that person being in my life - I grew closer to both of my parents in ways I never expected; I have a much deeper appreciation for the wonderful relationship I share with Ben; and I learned to be a stronger person, to stand up for who I was and to take the high road in the midst of someone trying really hard to tear me down. I genuinely hope that he finds happiness, and figures out his path in life - and, as horrible as some of the things that were that he said and did to me, I am grateful for everything he taught me. Everything and everyone can enrich your life in some way, even thought it definitely might not seem like it at the time ...and sometimes, the recognition arrives out of nowhere when you're brushing your teeth. True story.
3) Sitting on the floor for a long time is really damn hard.
There, I said it. I expected the philosophy to challenge me a little (especially because the words "tantra" and "universal love" are used far more frequently than my MBA brain is accustomed to); I definitely expected the asana practice to challenge me a lot. What I did not expect was that the hardest part of the immersion by far would be SITTING DOWN. Seriously... I started every lecture sitting diligently in Suhkasana, my tailbone tucked and my legs inner-spiraled, shoulder-loop and kidney-loop all working together towards the perfect alignment. Then kidney loop would abandon me. Then I would start scratching my shoulder just as an excuse to move. Then I'd shift over slightly on to one hipbone. Then my other leg would start to hurt and I would try kneeling. Then my knees would hurt and I'd try sitting normally on my bum with my knees up to my chest but then it was impossible to take notes and I'd try some other strange position only to end up back in Suhkasana thinking "OMG when can I stand up!!!" Then I'd go to the bathroom just so I could stand up....etc.... All the while thinking "Dude, this is NOT good yogi behavior." It did get much easier between the first weekend and the second. Someday I will sit for hours with perfect inner-spiral like Shiva on the mountain. But today is not that day. It's just where I am in the practice of sitting on my ass.
4) Sometimes, to say yes, you have to say no.
In any pose in Anusara, you have to set the foundation with muscle energy before you can expand outward - creating the boundary allows for freedom. One of my fellow yogis was reading a book about games, and threw out the idea that the rules of the game are what make it fun - you have to be creative to be successful within those boundaries. There's something to be said for that in life too, I think - knowing your personal boundaries and when to say "no" gives you the freedom to say yes to those things that are really fulfilling. Say "no" to your leg when it tries to splay out all crazy-like in nataranjasana... so that you can say yes to the freedom of the backbend. Say no to diving into gossip so you can say yes to being kinder and more mindful. We are always making little refinements to our lives, so we can flourish within the rules the world has created for us (gravity, traffic on 35, the stiffest hips ever on the planet, etc). But always say yes to chocolate. Always.
5) Chit happens.
...Shit also happens. Life doesn't always go the way you planned - but, as one of my teachers said on Saturday, sometimes the barriers are the path. "Cit" means pure consciousness, or self-knowledge: also defined as "awakening, recognition, remembrance, self-realization, enlightenment, and discovering the bliss of being." We practice yoga to remember who we really are... it isn't about having toned abs at all. I find that the more I practice, the more settled I feel in myself and in my life, and the Immersion drove that home in a big way.... not only that I'm making progress, but that I still have a ways to go.
We're all beginners.
"In your vulnerable moments you are held by the current, floating. In your empowered moments you swim with the current. In your ultimate moments you and the current are one. You don’t feel the difference between you and the current. That's Anusara." ~ Douglas Brooks