Coming from an athletic background in baseball, football and basketball, yoga hooked me through a heated, Power Vinyasa style.
By adding a sense exhilarated exhaustion to my workouts I found myself seeking time to practice to balance my work as a child psychotherapist. For the first four years of my asana practice I can count the number of other class types I attended on two hands. I always wanted it hotter, I wanted to flow, and I wanted to work. It’s likely these desires came from my athletic background and that ever present American understanding that a workout should be an ass-kicker. However, when I decided to commit to yoga teaching as a full time profession I was beginning to explore Anusara Yoga in depth. I had previously been exposed to its heart-centered classes, I knew my teachers were changing their focus from Power Vinyasa to Anusara, and I felt some resistance. I wanted less heart centered themes and more workout.
However, things had radically changed in my life. Having moved through a very challenging time and looking to deepen my practice, Anusara’s Universal Principles of Alignment were able to explode my practice and grant me access to advanced postures by aligning my bones and spirit. I fell hard for Anusara and I am currently in the middle of my 100-hour immersion with Sianna Sherman and Abby Tucker in San Francisco. I plan to move onto Sianna’s teacher training in 2012. I have found a real resonance with Anusara’s non-dual Shiva-Shakti philosophy and just find the whole package to fit my view of yoga and the world.
This past weekend I was in a discussion of yoga styles and yoga teachers with a dear friend of mine and we decided to attend her friend’s class to shake things up. Portland has many fabulous yoga teachers but because I have found such a home in Anusara classes it is rare for me to visit new teachers or styles. I headed to Yoga Pearl, one of Portland’s two biggest studios, to take a class from Tiffany Cruikshank, a well-known Power Vinyasa teacher who travels the world offering workshops and teaches at many events across the country.
Much to my surprise, I immediately spent the first ten minutes of classes judging! The studio had carpets not hardwoods. The room was too hot. I wanted more alignment cues. My mind was spinning! In a flash I recognized what was happening. It became abundantly clear my expectations and thoughts were negatively impacting the enjoyment of the present moment. As soon as I noticed this, my experience shifted. Tuning my focus to the class as learning opportunity, I realized that watching my mind is much more interesting than following it. We held standing splits for far longer than I am used to and this enabled me to recall Baron Baptiste’s powerful statement, “the pose begins when you want to come out”. We practiced handstand jump switches while my mat resembled a small lake, cultivating a strong sense of focus on my hand foundation. Halasana (Plow Pose) into Setu Bandha (Bridge)? Not something I usually try but this vinyasa was able to help me focus on alignment, ensuring I completed the transition safely. Most of all I noticed how much fun Tiffany was having while teaching. Just the day before a dear friend gave me feedback from a class I taught that literally centered on the concept of “fun”. It did not seem to her as if I was deeply enjoying myself. Tiffany radiated joy, smiling and laughing throughout class, encouraging her students and simultaneously asking a lot of them. She showed a light and determined heart.
I encourage all yogis to find a style of yoga that resonates and dive deeply into it. This type of concentrated study is crucial to expand your practice and transform your life. Have a home studio. Find your teacher but do not become rigid and tied to what you know. One of the Shiva Sutras states, “Knowledge is Bondage”. One way to interpret this powerful sutra is, that which we know contracts us. We so often close off to the possibilities infinitely surrounding us because we choose to focus on the comfort of the routine. Once you have located that class or teacher that helps you grow, take a day and head somewhere else. You may be surprised.
Nickelodeon’s late 80s sketch comedy show “You Can’t Do That On Television” (starring a young Alanis Morissette!) had a segment called “The Opposite Sketches”. Everything was a little “off”. Birds would talk, kids would fly. Take a page from Nick and head to the other end of the yoga spectrum. If you love Vinyasa Flow, try Yin. If you love Iyengar try Vinyasa. This radical shift will allow you to explore yoga’s profound teachings on self-awareness. While my mind was busy trying to impose its will during Tiffany’s class I was reminded of something Tantric scholar Hareesh Wallis recently said in my Anusara Immersion, “Be skeptical of your own thoughts, question what you know, and don’t believe everything your mind says”. If we learn nothing else from yoga let it be this.