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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Live the Questions

I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if their were locked rooms or books written in a foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way to the answer.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

You guys... I am SO fired up right now.

I am also sitting cross-legged on the couch with a bag of chips in front of me and a jar of salsa balancing on my feet.  You didn't really need to know that, but in case you were wondering I realize it's a terrible idea and that disaster is imminent.  When Ben comes home and finds salsa all over the couch, I'll blame it on the pets and only you and I will know the truth.

Anywho....  I just came home from a two-and-a-half day workshop with international yoga teacher Christina Sell.  I recently finished reading her second book, and couldn't wait to study with her in person. Every workshop I've been to has been amazing, but honestly I haven't felt this inspired since the immersion.

For those of you not familiar with Anusara yoga, Anusara is a school of tantric-based hatha yoga founded in 1997 by John Friend.  John was an Iyengar student who found that his own practice was beginning to deviate from the Iyengar philosophy, and he decided to found his own method.

In terms of metaphysical philosophy, the key differences between classical yoga (Iyengar) and tantric (Anusara) is that in the classical tradition, the physical world is inherently inferior to the spiritual world, and by practicing yoga and meditation we can glimpse the divine.  In tantra, the physical world is a manifestation of the divine, and yoga is the means by which we remember our true nature.  In terms of the physical practice, classical styles of yoga often focus more on the outer form, where as John Friend, wanted to turn the focus back on the alignment and the action behind the creation of that form.

One of my favorite examples of this is in the chatturanga to bujangasana (cobra) transition - until I took an Aunsara class, I'd always been told to keep my elbows pinned close to my body.  I started to have all sorts of problems with my shoulders and couldn't figure out why.  Turns out that in order to keep your shoulder safe, the armbone needs to stay plugged into the socket, which in the case of the shoulder is quite shallow.  When students only try to keep their elbows in, the shoulders tend to round forward and come unplugged, which can cause injury after too much repetition.  If you bring your hands and elbows a bit wider it's easier to plug your armbones in, keeping your shoulder joint safe.  It also makes it easier to bring the shoulderblades onto the back, facilitating a safer backbend.  Eventually you can bring the elbows in, but the most important thing is to keep the shoulders in alignment, whatever that looks like on the outside.  This is just one example of the much bigger picture of how Anusara is different.

Nerdyness.  I geek out over this stuff.

Anyways, last fall Anusara had a bit of what was referred to as an exodus.  To me that sounds a bit dramatic, but basically what happened was that three key members of the Anusara teaching community - Christina Sell being one of them - resigned their certifications.  Just this week Amy Ippoliti, another key member, handed hers in as well.  This had a lot of implications for them and their students, the nuances of which I won't go into here, but needless to say this wasn't taken lightly and there has been a lot of talk on the internets around what the heck was going on in Anusara yoga.  I was curious to see how her decision to split from Anusara would affect her teaching.

Oddly, the session I loved the most was the one I almost didn't sign up for - the teachers' session on sequencing.  I'm not a teacher, so I questioned whether I belonged there but I am so glad I decided to attend.  A lot of what I learned can be applied to my own practice - plus it's the kind of yoga-nerd fodder that I go crazy for.  Christina's sequencing is masterful, and she does an amazing job of breaking a pose down into its components, studying a pose's related poses and shapes, and working all of this into her sequencing in a way that is pretty genius.

Christina describes her teaching style as "making the obvious, obvious."  I'm about to do the same, so bear with me.  So...take a pose like the full form of vasistasana:
(not a picture of me, btw)

This pose is a combination of being able to balance in vasisthasana combined with the key actions of utthita hasta padangustasana:

Hey girl, I love when you inner spiral that top leg

...and think about the shape of these poses in comparison to utthita trikonasana.  I KNOW.  I could geek out over this for hours - figuring out which poses to use in order to prepare the body for another pose, and how these are all related to each other in terms of components, shapes, and key actions is just about my cup of tea.

One of the many things that made me fall in love with yoga - and especially with anusara yoga - is how it's challenged me to live the questions and look for the beauty in everything.  I can absolutely see where a combination of these two aims would lead to a break from a school or style.  If I keep living the questions I start to wonder why I should practice only one style.  I see so many wonderful things about each, and am hesitant to say yes, we should just pick one and live (or practice) only this way.

Anusara teachers moving away from the style is really not that crazy - after all, Anusara itself was formed when John Friend felt himself moving away from his teacher.  Christina did an amazingly skillful job of paying homage to both Friend and Iyengar, while at the same time creating something that integrates on both styles and builds on them.  We have the Anusara Alignment principles, and we have the bhandas and classical form...why do we need to choose between them?  Why can't we have both?  Together they may be even stronger than they are apart.

Yoga, by its nature, almost necessitates evolution and division.  If we are to be discerning students - if we are to keep living the questions - we must challenge our teachers.  But at the same time, we are asked to look for sameness and harmony even in the most glaring contradictions and differences.  It's not easy...but it isn't really supposed to be.

ANYWAYS.  I learned a ton this weekend, and am just pumped about yoga and life in a major way.  The tapas are fully stoked.



  1. That sounds really cool- some yoga teachers have a way of making things just "click," and now maybe your body is more in tune with itself and the salsa won't spill :)

  2. I did not spill it!!! Must have been a yoga miracle :)


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