My Extraordinary Life & Anusara Yoga

 

I always thought I was being led to live a “normal” and “typical” kind of life. I have friends with similar childhoods like mine and then I have friends that had childhoods that I now envy as an adult. I have yogi friends with much more “interesting” childhoods who were able to “create” their childhood experience. In their youth, they playfully sought out unicorns with their parents, crafted their talents with encouragement or in high school, ditched school and essentially ran away from home to travel with the Dead.

 

Now that I’m adult, guess what I want~ a playful life that I can co-create with spirit.  As an adult the playfulness is even more satisfying due to the freedom that adults are granted! This is what Anusara yoga has allowed me to discover ~ the radical notion that we don’t have to settle for an “ordinary” existence. Every moment, no matter how mundane or challenging, is a chance to create more beauty and play in our life.

 

What makes Anusara yoga different? How did Anusara help me to create more beauty in my life? Within the beauty of the methodology of Anusara, we find the 5 elements of nature or the Mahabhutas ~ more on that later.

 

Let me first explain how the name Anusara came to be.  The name Anusara came to be in large part due to Professor Douglas R. Brooks who pointed out the following sacred text from the Kularnava Tantra, 14.38

 

Shakti’nipata-anusarena shishyo’nugraham arhati

By falling into the current of Grace, the seeker becomes capable of holding the Light.

 

The name “Anusara” mean “anu-” or “the individual” and “-sara” meaning “flow” or the individual “flowing with grace” or “following their heart”.  

 

Now I’ll go ahead and point out just a few points that distinguish Anusara yoga from other schools. To be honest, you truly have to seek out a class to experience all that it has to offer.

 

Each Anusara yoga class harmoniously begins with the “Invocation”. When the chant is sung with sweet devotion, it brings the community of the heart, kula, together as one representing the bigger Spirit and it awakens our own higher Self. It brings the practitioner back to their essence nature that is always peaceful and blissful. The chant helps release any self-images, self-defeating stories and self-imposed definitions, stress, burdens and unites voices and attunes us to our unique vibration of Spirit.

 

The invocation is from the first part of the Niralamba Upanishad from the 12th-15thce.

The Invocation

 

Om Namah Shivaya Gurave

Sacchidananda-Murtaye

Nishprapancaya Shantaya

Niralambaya Tejase

 

Listen to melody here:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zf5G6_glwLQ

 

The first line of this ancient verse, Om Namah Shivaya Gurave, connects us to the auspicious nature of Shiva or the benevolent and intrinsic goodness, within everything and everyone. It helps us to remember Spirit or the auspicious nature within each of us. Om is the primordial sound of creation, particularly the sound made when the universe came into existence. Namah means “to honor”. Shivaya refers to the essence of Shiva, pure auspiciousness. Gurave refers to the Teacher (Guru) or “the remover of darkness” that illuminates and shares the teachings.  In the invocation, the line is translated as: I honor the essence of Being, the Auspicious One, the luminous Teacher within and without. This first line is often more personalized and can be translated in relation to each practitioner’s philosophy. My personal translation is: I honor the light in everyone and my heart is my teacher. What would your interpretation be?

 

The second line, Sacchidananda-Murtaye, reminds us that our “being”, and all it’s layers manifested in every moment, at its core is pure Spirit and bliss. The 3 words that form Sacchidandanda are: Sat- the root for Satya which means Truth and the Sat is often translated to Being; Chid-  or Chit  means Consciousness and Ananda means boundless Bliss or Joy. Murtaye means to take form, like a Murti. The second line is translated as: Who assumes the forms of Truth, Consciousness and Bliss. 

 

The third line, Nishprapanchaya Shantaya, reminds us that this peaceful Spirit is always with us and always flowing forth. Nishprapanchaya translates to “never not there” or “always present”. Within Shantaya, is the root Shanti, meaning peace. Shantaya means “full of peace”.  The third line is translated as: Is never absent and full of peace.

 

The fourth line, Niralambaya Tejase, helps us remember that we are without the need of external support because we are each always radiant and luminous and at our core an infinite source, benevolent Spirit. Niralambaya means “free from all external support” and Tejase means “full of light” or “radiating brilliance”. The last line is translated as: Ultimately free and sparkles with a Divine luster.

 

A second hallmark of an Anusara yoga class is when a teacher weaves a heart-theme throughout class. A theme can range from one inspirational word, such as Bliss to more esoteric philosophical concept.  Anusara yoga is rooted in the teachings of Tantra, a non-dual, life-affirming school of yoga philosophy, “that teaches us everything in this world is an embodiment of Supreme Consciousness, which at its essence pulsates with awareness and the highest bliss.” (Tantra Illuminated) Whatever theme is chosen, the teacher also tells a relatable story so the theme is anchored from a place of experience.

 

Along with the theme the teacher matches a “heart quality” or “feeling” which helps the practitioner to cultivate a certain “mood” (bhav) for their practice. The teacher skillfully chooses certain phrases for the “heart-quality” to help inspire the students practice. Through the power of words, the teacher weaves the “heart quality” into the postural and breathing instructions, as well as adding in phrases and stories throughout class. When the teacher themes a class with a “theme” and “heart-quality”, the practice affects all the layers of our being.

 

Furthermore, the teacher can add gems such as mudras, meditations or inspiring quotes. A teacher can share a quote that embodies a chosen theme like Bliss, such as the following from Utpala, a great siddha master (c. 925 – 975) who wrote the Siva-stotravali: Garland of Hymns to Siva:   

 

Making Yourself radiantly manifest, You make all things unfold; contemplating Your own form, You contemplate the universe. As You whirl in intoxication with the juice of the aesthetic rapture of Your own nature, the entire circle of existent things dances/radiates forth into manifestation. (13.15) (Tantra Illuminated)

 

Can you feel the Bliss welling up from the source of your being? Are you ready and excited to receive the beautiful gifts of your new extraordinary life? I thought so.

 

The power of the theme is lovingly practiced and usually enjoyed just as much by the one teaching it. One of my favorite aspects of teaching Anusara Yoga is getting excited about teaching a theme. Many times when I’m done teaching a class, I have inspired myself and leave with a sparkle in my eyes, just like the students. I feel full and complete, and everything seems just as it should be. Anusara teachers put lots of loving contemplation into their classes.

 

Anusara, was the first yoga that helped me cultivate a feeling of Gratitude through the practice. One of my first classes was themed around Gratitude. Before Anusara, I can truthfully say that I knew of Gratitude but didn’t know how to integrate it into my daily life. By practicing Gratitude on the mat, it infused my life off the mat. The little experiences that seem insignificant even bothersome become extraordinary ones. Shifting my Attitude and turning any experience into one of Gratitude and it becomes an awareness practice. Every moment is an opportunity to become an extraordinary one, filled with Gratitude.

 

Layered on top of the theming of the class, teachers impart knowledge of the 5 Universal Principles of Alignment or more frequently referred to as the UPAs.  The UPAs are, “A unique set of concise bio-mechanical alignment principles applied to each asana. Anusara yoga teachers are trained to integrate these alignment instructions with the attitudinal heart theme in artful and varying ways, offering students a new experience of yoga in every class.”

 

This brings me back to point about how the methodology of Anusara, is inspired by elements in nature.  Think of the 5 Universal Principles of Alignment as tools for your personal yoga toolbox. You can use the one(s) that work for you more or less! However, when you use all of them sequentially, it opens your practice up to a new dimension.

 

The Universal Principles of Alignment of Anusara Yoga:

 

1)    Open to Grace and Set the Foundation (Akash-space)

2)    Muscular Energy (Prithvhi-earth)

3)    Expanding Spiral (Jala-water)

4)    Contracting Spiral (Tej-fire)

5)    Organic Energy (Vayu-air)

 

 

Attitude is everything, so Open to Grace is always first. We look for the auspicious or the good first, so we can continue on the path of true inquiry, acknowledging the shadow and the light, to know our higher Self. When we Open to Grace, we open to Spirit, the Cosmos, the great expanse or something “bigger than our self” so we may flow with the a greater energy. Next, we Set the Foundation, to transition into the more tangible earth element. When we remember Open to Grace and then Set the Foundation, they are in relationship together, and we are connection between Ether (Akash) and the Earth elements.

 

Next is, Muscular Energy, represents the Earth (Prithvi). We are essentially made up of the same elements that exist in space like the stars that have condensed their gas and dust molecules to form into matter. Matter and earth are hard, dense and solid. When we bring this sense of earthiness into our practice through Muscular Energy, we engage our muscles, we become steady, stable, and more integrated. Muscular Energy is like the banks of a river that direct the flow of water. Without the banks of the river, water would overspill and flood our lands.

 

Next is, Inner/Expanding Spiral, represents the Water (Jala). Water is expansive, fluid, a soft and strong force of nature. Riverbanks direct the flow of water in a quiet yet forceful manner. The water smooth jagged rocks and effortlessly moves around any obstacles in its path. Inner Spiral is like the water moving from the mouth of the river and flowing into the great expanse of the ocean. Inner Spiral is fluid, expansive and leaves no groove unfilled.

 

Next is Outer/Contracting Spiral, represents the Fire (Tej). Outer Spiral is the complimentary opposite of Inner Spiral. Fire is hot, quick and stinging. Outer Spiral is the stoking of the spiritual fire to know your Self. The fire’s flames lick the sky above and reaches high into the air that feeds it from all sides.

 

Organic Energy, represents Air (Vayu). Air is light, subtle, expansive and constantly moving in all directions. It is similar to water, in that it is fluid, and flowing, it is a soft yet strong force of nature. Air shapes riverbanks, sides of mountains and shorelines. Just as it shapes the land, it can also re-shape and beautify your inner landscape through the pranayama. Air connects us back to space again. 

 

In summary, we first Open to Grace and Set the Foundation to set our practice on a path that takes us outside our perceived limited mind and body. We then create a safe environment through Muscular Energy, the engagement of muscles, integration, and a steady structure. We then create Inner Spiral, to allow the expansion to happen, allowing the energy to find its natural flow. We then create Outer Spiral, to balance that expansion through the complimentary opposite of contraction. Lastly, we let our Spirit express itself and shine out through our embodied self through Organic Energy.

 

When I attune to the nature’s elements and their qualities within myself, I flow with naturally flow with universal consciousness. Nature is extraordinary, and therefore, so am I.

 

Anusara yoga, works for me on all levels of being and has changed my once perceived common life into an extraordinary one.

 

Boons & Blessings~ Des

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breakdown and Breakthrough

As a teacher, I have a wish list. Number One on my wish list is that all students practice safely. I teach in various locations including park districts and studios. How often do you get students in your class that have an injury or a condition, or both? I get at least a few students like this in every class!

We all can feel a bit self-conscious or inadequate when we try something new or are not feeling 100%. Where do we park our mat when we feel this way? Most often we park our mat at the back of the room, hoping that we'll get through class unnoticed by all the other students, but still get a little help from the teacher. Been there!

As an Anusara-inspired teacher, I walk the room to keep an eye on the students to adjust them and help them modify. But what if these special students are parked all over the room in various locations? How do we get to these students that require extra help, in a timely manner?

 Tantra teaches that we are all one, and all experiences and manifestations are expressions of the divine. We may feel as if we are different in some way from everybody, but at some point all of our bodies will experience a breakdown. When your body goes through this, see it as  a breakthrough! A breakthrough to experience your divinity in the form of your feelings of anger and fear. These feelings are experienced by everybody, therefore we are one again, and yoga helps us uncover this essential truth. We can either embrace these feelings or let them control our behavior in a "negative" way so that we don't get the things we want in life, like modifications from the teacher. (P.S. Tantra also negates looking through a lense of seeing things as "bad" or "good".)

Teaching is a two-way street. As the teacher, I want to help you, to learn from your experiences and grow as a teacher. Every student that I get in class with these concerns, helps me grow as a teacher. When you show up fully as you are, at front and center of the room, you benefit by receiving help from the teacher without having to wait too long.

Portable Peace

I recently completed an online 40-Day Awareness Challenge with Sanskrit and Tantra philosophy scholar and teacher Christopher Hareesh Wallis. I decided to take this course as a way to motivate myself to sit in meditation every day and spiritually grow to help deal with everyday challenges.

On day 29 of the challenge, Hareesh spoke about "The Unmoving Center" or the visranti. Visranti means to be in "a state or feeling of repose, peace or tranquility".  It is the place within each of us, where stillness already exists, the ground of pure being. Visranti is also a location, at the base and back of the heart center.  Whenever we find ourselves in challenging situations, we can come to this place of stillness, by first breathing slowly and fully, dropping our awareness into the visranti and connecting to feeling of peace and grace. 

From Tantra Illuminated, Hareesh writes:

“Visranti, repose, is quite beautiful. It means to rest in this peaceful ground of being, that state of real connectedness, which is as refreshing and delightful as the cooling rays of the moon after a scorching day.” 

Portable peace within each of us! I love tantra and Anusara.

Theme: Visranti

Heart Quality: Peace

Apex: Ardha Chandrasana

UPA: Open to Grace

You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life, but by realizing who you are at the deepest level. ~ Ekhart Tolle

Yogis Living Skillfully

I have a student who is hearing impaired. She comes to my class weekly. She's such an inspiration. I often theme my classes, and she doesn't get to hear the great wisdom I get to share. So this entry, and subsequent entries focused on class themes, is dedicated to her, so she can know what yoga is really about ~ it's not just about the postures ~ but the heart of yoga lies in it's wisdom. In this way, we can truly make yoga accessible off the mat. Yoga teachers use many resources, and one of my recent inspirations is the book, My Body is a Temple, by Christina Sell.  Christina has this way of making the teachings accessible and practical.

Awhile back, I went on a weekend yoga retreat. We were told that we could bring a bottle of wine to share. Knowing I am a "cheap" date, since I never indulge, I decided a little vino to help me unwind was just what the Dr. ordered. And so I had a couple of glasses of wine the two nights of the retreat. We laughed, we hooped, we yoga flowed with the hoop, we laughed some more. It was really a great time, and I didn't regret a moment of it. Needless to say, the next day, I was not as strong as I could have been.

Christina talks a lot about the teachings of one of her teachers, Lee Lozowick. He talked about "Enthusiastic Discipline". Looking at the etymology of the words, with "enthusiastic" ~ "En" the prefix means "in" and "thus" the root means "theos" or "god". With "Discipline" it shares the same root as "Disciple" which means "to learn" "to comprehend" or "to hold apart". She says, "Enthusiastic Discipline" means "Holding God Within". She further says, "No matter how inspiring the vision or how much we want to align with our highest, our sincere longing and inspirations must be brought to life through enthusiastic discipline efforts. Enthusiastic Discipline originates deep in the inner being of the practitioner. For instance, we are not holding ourselves apart from things we enjoy by some imposed restriction, but rather abstaining from those things that are against our highest aims and practicing those things that strengthens us, out of the recognition of what serves our deepest truths." Furthermore, she says, "Enthusiastic Discipline is the willingness to say yes and no, to give up those things - behavioral  or attitudinal - that compromise our efforts so that we can be able to hold God within."

Wanting to feel and look my best is a form of self-love. It's a the kind self-love that doesn't require much more than an awareness of what works and what does not work for me personally.  Will I indulge in a glass of wine on my next retreat? It's not something I can predict. After all, should my "Enthusiastic Discipline" become so rigid as to cause anxiety and guilt for partaking in such action, then "Enthusiastic Discipline" is just another dogma. Living as a tantric yogi, "Enthusiastic Discipline" offers the lesson that I am free to do what I want in any moment, but begs the question, does it serve my highest aims or my higher calling?

When we have the desire and wisdom, our "Enthusiastic Discipline" can help guide our actions and we have a choice to live more skillfully.

Theme: Enthusiastic Discipline

UPAs: Muscular Energy (embracing what works for us personally)

Apex: Surya Yantrasana


Ahamkara and Practice

There are a number of things that people neglect to tell you about having children. Prior to having children I always thought it was the parents that always embarrassed the child.  Well, after having two kids I discovered that it's not always the case! The other day I was at the doctors office for a strep test for my daughter. My 4-year old son spontaneously burst into song in front of the female doctor. The chorus went something like this, "boobs, boobs, boobs, boobs!"  He picked up this little ditty when we left TMZ on a little too long. Needless, to say, I was a bit mortified. Oh, out of the mouth of babes!

In yoga there's a sanskrit term "ahamakara". Breaking it down: "aham" refers to the self or "I" and "kara" refers to "to make" . Ahamakara,  is when we find too much attachment to the ego-state of the human existence. Ahamakara is believed to exist in the sphere of duality, or in the realm of opposites, e.g. freedom and boundry, contraction and expansion, hot and cold, and so forth.

Knowing that "ahamkara" exists in the realm of duality, or in a world where there's always a complimentary opposite, I was aware that this state of embarrassment (a state of my mental discomfort) was one way to let go of any expectations of good behavior at all times from a 4 year old.  Just being aware, helped me to step back and see the bigger picture, that  my sweet boy meant no offense to anybody, including myself. Any mom, would be honored and pleased by his overall cheerful and sweet nature.

Many times people come to yoga expecting that the practice will immediately help them connect to their true-nature without much work. That what is offered in yoga class will always be presented  in a neat and  lovely gift-wrapped package for you to open and furthermore that you'll love the gift and not want to return or exchange it. What people may actually experience is a stirring-up of things that have been sitting stagnate below the surface, in our tissues, mind, subtle energy  and all the sheaths or layers of the body, and that we wish we had a gift-receipt.

In the wise words of yoga teacher Christina Sell, "The fine print of yoga is that it teaches us virtue through the direct experience of virtue's opposite." The teacher may go on about how yoga is an "expression of the spirit", "teaches us that the one is in the all, and the all is in the one" (non-duality), "teaches us that it's all about a connection to the heart". While you sit there admiring and cursing below the breath the scantly-clad, spandax-ed, able-bodied goddess in the front row. We don't always immediately resonate or relate to the message the teacher is lovingly trying to deliver to help inspire us and get a glimmer of self-love. So while we try to reconcile our thoughts and emotions with what is being presented, it is through this offering of opposites that we can learn to grow and progress on the path of yoga. Learning first to become aware of the virtue's opposite as a bubbling of perhaps a sort of an 0ver-active energy within the body, acknowledge it, feel the intensity of the power behind that feeling and alchemize that intensity it into an energy that will serve you better.  There's no special formula to get there, it's a tiny bit of surrender and lots of gratitude for yourself and yourself alone. It's good to be selfish in this way.

When we are too attached to the state of ahamkara, we aren't able to connect to our true-nature. However, it is through this lens of appreciating the virtue's opposite that we can learn to grow and expand in a direction that is healthier for us in the long-run. Contrary to western thinking, the path of yoga is not a sprint to the finish-line, but a rather a pilgrimage to the heart that takes years if not life-times to reach.  If you are discouraged or frustrated by things, give it lots of time, T.L.C., focus and practice, and eventually it's complimentary opposite will surface.