Recently I dug out the old photo albums from my first retreat with John Friend up at Inner Harmony 11 years ago. First off, I just have to address the shock appeal thing - like, the "OMG, we have aged so much!" factor. Looking at old photos, our tendency can be to long for those younger years; the wrinkle free skin, the thick heads of non-grey hair (well, except John, who went grey really early!), the white teeth, and the lean, strong bodies.
That said, when I flipped through the albums this morning, I saw all of that youth and I have to say, I did not have that sense of longing. In fact, I did not miss the youth I saw in my friends, in John, or in myself one bit. Looking at my own picture, I actually kind of winced! Why? Because I just like myself so much more now!
John and I in 1999 at my first Anusara retreat and teacher training.
Desiree Rumbaugh at age 39 and me at 29, spotting each other in Rajakapotasana,
back in the days before good yoga underwear! 1999.
Above: Martin and Jordan Kirk had just gotten together! Relaxing at kirtan with Krishna Das and John. 1999.
Below: Betsey Downing at 50 something, in Bhairavasana using "the self-maneuver". 1999.
From our time together, I believe deep seeds of trust, love, bliss, and a desire to become more of who we are has taken root over time, and the flowers and fruits are now emerging - so to me, everyone actually looks MORE radiant, more shri, more wise, more exquisite. I love to look at my friends and colleagues as who they are NOW.
2001, Look closely and you will see Christina Sell, Sundari, Darren's mom, Noah on the left, Heather Werheimer, John Seelye and I in the back, Suzi Hurley and others...
I feel blessed every day to have had the opportunity to do my teacher training with John in a room full of only 50 people, to have practiced one-on-one in Texas with him, and to have spent weeks on the road practicing with just a few of us. I remember one week when I did not sign up early enough for the advanced Intensive in AZ, I asked John if I could come and just be there in case someone did not show. Never wanting to shut anyone out, he said yes, AND that I could come practice during the break with him, Desiree and Sianna. Needless to say I bought the plane ticket.
Hippie Chiquita, Sianna Sherman in 1999
With no planning ahead, I arrived at the workshop from the airport with no place to stay and made a quasi announcement saying I was looking. Sianna came forward and generously offered to share her bed in the room she was staying. She herself would be spending the week taking notes, confined to the ledge of the studio that held only 38 people along with Desiree, also perched on the ledge. So every day I would make an attempt to get in, and on the days I failed, I would go back to the house, get the family dog and walk over to the studio so I could listen to the teachings through the window. Then at lunch we would bend with John, just the three of us. That was when John helped me first balance in handstand with out the wall, spot people in viparita shalabhasana, and bend ridiculously deep into paschimottanasana just by puffing my kidneys.
We shared our first Mahashivatri together that week, and I met Darren Rhodes and Christina Sell for the first time. One of the best moments was the invocation chant where we all put on sunglasses while our eyes were closed, so when John ended the chant he looked up from his namaste, shocked to see us all in shades.
Da Boyz! Krishna Das, Naime Jezzeny, and John, 1999.
We used to play jokes on John all the time. And he would play them on us too. Like the time he showed up after Savasana head-to-toe in a superman suit complete with musical accompaniment. We would just laugh so hard.
During the summers in 2000-2001, I had moved from New York City with my boyfriend to Stone Ridge, NY which meant we could get to John at Gurumayi's ashram in only 45 minutes. I would go 2-3 times a week so I could take his public 90-minute classes and also practice with him for 2 hours during the day. During the day we'd do things like Abisheka (ritual bathing) of the Hanuman murti, hang out in the Amrit Cafe eating Dosas and talking with Douglas Brooks, have darshan with Gurumayi, meditate and 'get stoned' from the shakti in Baba's temple, and then do epic practices at Ashirwad, the hatha yoga complex that John helped design. Apart from Ashirwad, we were forbidden to wear tank tops which would expose our shoulders, or cross the road with out using the underpass. My boyfriend and I would have these silly fantasies of streaking across the road with nothing on but a leopard-striped fur thong, just for fun. Naughty!
At night I got to see John lead a normal public class that was less than 2 hours long, so I learned a lot about how to condense Anusara from "workshop mode", as I was accustomed, into a regular class. It was here that I met Jimmy and Ruthie Bernhaert, Noah Maze, Jayendra and others. Those were the days!
Elena Brower, Douglas Brooks and I at Vira Yoga, NYC, in 2002
It is powerful to be with a community for this long. To grow and expand together, to learn from each other, to make mistakes and be forgiven, is truly like family, with out the blood connection. And yet, this feeling of family is ever present now whether one has been practicing Anusara for years or has just begun.
I like to think that the "spirit of Anusara" is always available to anyone, because of the foundation of love and Grace that was created during Anusara's early days. I believe that spirit is still generating and will last for many generations to come.
2001, with John