Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Old Days...Some Stories of Anusara's Youth

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

Thursday, July 22, 2010

My Immediate Reaction to the NYT Article on Anusara and John Friend

Yes, I just read the NYT and subsequent bloggage. Overall it is simply a excellent that John Friend and the school of Anusara were featured in such a prominent paper. Clearly Anusara is enough of a movement to merit that kind of attention. Having grown up with the NYT on the breakfast table daily, and having been interviewed myself for magazines and articles, I know how easily quotations can be taken out of a larger context. I won't get into all the things I want to say about some of the quotes just now...however, what stuck with me is how this article has stirred up the age-old, conversation about the "commercialization of yoga". (oooh! Hide, run away!)

Here are my two cents on the subject...Can I be frank?

I would love to see the people (who are freaking out) get over themselves around all the concern over "the commercialization of yoga". What good is doing yoga in a cave and not letting people know about it? What good is one yoga weekend in Podunk, when that teacher goes home and there are no more teachings? Enter Yoga DVD's or an internet yoga class which can hugely help these students stay connected!

We are all marketers at heart - whenever we give teachings, we are shifting people's minds. Guess what? That is the definition of marketing! I have always LOVED that John Friend is a model of prosperity, abundance, ethical, and sustainable business as a yogi, while at the same time able to go SO FULLY DEEP into the topics of spirit and oneness. Isn't that combo what we all want?

Not to mention, if yogis actually made and had money - OHHH AH OH WOW! (insert double rainbow guy inflection) what a world this would be. Think about it, since yogis generally do not use money to harm, be corrupt, or overly consume - think of all the causes and charities the yogis would give to if they were making more than $35K a year!! The world is in dire need of this kind of contribution. I want to make this kind of contribution.

I say keep marketing, John. You go!

Nothing but love and a whole lotta shri from me on this topic.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Living in the Paradox

For a whole month I have been enjoying being home in Colorado, getting caught up in my office, bonding heavily with my cat, Jaya, and hosting lavish raw foods dinner parties in my home. Not too shabby.

My practice and application of Yoga allows me to embrace the paradox of, on the one hand, living my life fully, enjoying nature, the garden, and keeping company with great beings, while at the same time feeling deeply the space of heart break. Millions of gallons of oil are still gushing from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, my friends along the Gulf are in sorrow at losing their ocean habitat and lifestyle, not to mention the effects of climate change tangibly being felt around the

planet. With all this AND the world economy continuing to be in shambles, it can be easy to want to give up, blame, or become a total grump. Lucky for us, yoga philosophy has answers if we are willing to listen.

Many of you know the theory of the Kleshas or "stains" which are aspects of our humanity that are unsightly, flawed, or vikrokti (broken). When I have been hurt, to help myself heal, I have sometimes made a decision (usually a limited decision) about the way life is, who I am, what I'm capable of, about men, or about women, yadda yadda, that has become part of the fabric of my belief system. We have all done this at one time. And so we use that fabric to build a tent to hide ourselves under. Meanwhile the life we really want to live is outside this tent! At our dinner party the other night we decided that to get "the gold" out of the hurt we have experienced, the process of a conscious yoga practice can help us turn that fabric into something new and fabulous - a garment that we wear which holds the wounds of the past, but now has taken the form of wisdom.

This is turning your kleshas into Lakshmis. The great Goddess Shri, or Lakshmi wears her blood in the form of her hot red sari.

So instead of limiting ourselves to those beliefs we made created when we were especially broken, we can choose to wear the fabric not as a tent to hide beneath, but morph into the fabric of a NEW and totally breathtaking outfit!

The oil gush in the Gulf right now is a Klesha on our ocean of catastrophic proportions. To be transmuted into a Lakshmi, every single person on the planet must pledge to take more personal responsibility for energy conservation and to take the time to speak up regularly to demand clean energy legislation in their country.

Together I believe we can turn this tremendous wound into wisdom, and help mother earth find a new gown to wear, worthy of the princess she is!

Join us this July and from here forward on Facebook for the July 30 Day Yoga Challenge. This month we are dedicating our challenge to the Gulf waters, people, and wildlife who are hurting right now with practical direct things you can do to make a difference. The challenge is to practice your yoga daily, with the A/C in the OFF position, (or if you are a hot yogi, practice with the heater in the OFF position), for 30 days!The corresponding green challenge is to simply get into the VITAL habit of unplugging any unused appliances, lights, cell phone chargers, or other electronics when not in use! I can't wait to hear about how bendy you all will get with out A/C this month.

Off to Telluride this weekend for the completely GREEN-run Telluride Yoga Festival.

Sending our big virtual fist bumps to all as you re-vamp your spiritual wardrobes,