Tag Archive: Anusara principles

Atha Yoganusasanam (and “Opening to Grace”)

Earlier this week I was talking to a long-time friend of the family (my father has known him and his wife for over 60 years; they have known me since I was riding around in the womb).  My parents had sent me an email while I was on the meditation intensive with Paul Muller-Ortega last month, to tell me that our friend was in intensive care recovering from an operation.  I waited until I knew he was home to call because it can be so tricky to get the right time at the hospital.  When we spoke, I told him that my father had said that his intrepid cheerfulness was a complete inspiration.  “What choice do I have,” he asked, “what can you do when you wake up in intensive care on your 82nd birthday, but look for the gift it will have to bring?”

In the past several weeks, a number of other friends and family members have been seriously ill or lost loved ones or home or work or more than one of these.  The outrageous suffering from a seemingly relentless series of natural disasters and war and the financial crisis is a staple in the news.  In trying to stay present for my friends and community, while still taking care of my own needs and emotions, I found myself led to practice bhavana on (deeply contemplate)  the first sutra in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutrasatha yoganusasanam–now begins the practice of yoga and how it relates to the Anusara first principle of “opening to grace.

Teachers and commenters say of the Yoga Sutras that it was not meant for beginners, but was meant for students who have already established a practice and reached a level of initiation (diksha) that  established they were ready to be given the teachings.  I have also often heard said that one is drawn to the practices because of other experiences in this or a previous life; in some sense, the first time we show up, we are not a beginner and are ready for the teachings.  Whatever knowledge and skill we bring to our studies and practice on any  given day, they start new.  They are starting “now.”

Now begins the practice of yoga (yug)–of uniting ourselves with each other and with spirit and linking our mind and body one-pointedly to the fullness of the teachings.  The teachings are methods for knowing and experiencing this perfect union.  In that regard, I think that an essential element of the teaching conveyed by  the Anusara first principle of “opening to grace,” is this now, this beginning anew both to know what already is in our hearts and to learn how the practices can make it ever more accessible, whether we are beginners to what we understand to be yoga or meditation or have been practicing seriously for years.  We want this “now” in every moment.  As we get more skilled, and part of developing our skills is challenging ourselves deeply in the controlled environment of class and our own practice so that we will spontaneously open to grace in the moment when, as my friend said, there is no viable choice but to be cheerful (to “open to grace”).

The “now” of Patanjali, the practice of “opening to grace” in Anusara yoga, is a way to teach those of us (like me) who do not otherwise learn or intuit from living itself that there is no viable choice other than cheerfulness in the face of the most difficult of challenges. The  “now”  conveys that it is now time to go deep, time to expand understanding and practice, time to discover truly how the practices can connect us to spirit and alleviate suffering.  Now is the time to be and to  learn better how to stay grounded in and connected to the flow of energies, not just so that you can face what you yourself might be experiencing, but also to have ever more space for love, compassion, support, and service for others who are in need.  Now is the time to open to grace.

Photo from exhibit in San Francisco on the 10,000 year clock project.

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June Greetings (Web Version of June E-Newsletter)

Dear Friends,

One of the yoga practices in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is sauca, which means cleanliness or purity.  It does have a basic aspect of physical cleanliness, which has lead me this year to do an especially vigorous spring cleaning.  I think following the principle of saucra also applies to the clarity of our intention for the practice of yoga:  are we seeking to experience and act from a place of deep connection to spirit (or good or oneness or divine or whatever you name it)?  In practicing sauca, I think the most basic question is whether we have dust on the mirror that reflects the good in ourselves obscuring our vision, whether there are blockages to the energy flowing to bring us to optimal physical and emotional health, or whether anything is getting in the way of our manifesting our intention?

When it has been too hot to go into the garden over the past month, I have been reorganizing and sorting through old papers.  As a once every five or ten years spring cleaning, it is lasting longer than usual.  I tend to be good about keeping on top of these things, but there are crevises of old records of my life that seem to just get stuck back into a folder to be decided on some other time.  This afternoon I came across intimate letters from a friend who, not long after we went our separate what had become cross-continental ways with regret on both sides, discovered he had brain cancer.  There were a few notes not in envelopes.  I reread those, but did not open the envelopes.  Back into the miscellaneous file until the next time.  The same with the print-outs of emails to and from Peru right after 9/11.  It wasn’t avoidance.  Over time and distance, regret and grief have faded.  I did not have the need or the time to read them now.  They went back into the file because I am curious what will be my reaction to these documents when I am 87 should I be around in this body then.  I find that when I see them after again more years have passed, I can see how much the yoga (asana and meditation) as a steady practice over time has shifted how I relate to my past, to all the decisions better or worse that brought me here today.  I am more at peace with the various detours and convolutions for the teachings and the good at the time, even if they do not appear to have been squarely or most efficiently on the path.

Just as most of us have pieces of paper or things that for some reason get saved, but spend most of their time in a drawer or a file cabinet or a closet, we have thoughts and emotions around past experiences that can emerge into memory at what can seem to be the oddest of times.  With a strong meditation practice, it can sometimes feel like we are cleaning out the closets of our mind.  With a therapeutically focused asana practice, it can seem as though we have found old energetic entanglements, and it may feel that it would have been easier never to have practiced at all.  If we stay steady and keep coming to class and our own practice, we witness how much change can be wrought.  When we remember to bring our clear intention to the yoga mat, the meditation cushion, the garden and the kitchen, the laundry, work and commuting and everything we do, then we in an ever more refined and deepening way open to grace, the fundamental AnusaraR principle.

I am happy to let you know that I am now E-RYT 500.  My spring cleaning on the physical level motivated me to do the paperwork with Yoga Alliance.  My carrying the designation E-RYT 500 means that teachers taking my classes and workshops can get Yoga Alliance continuing education credits, in addition to Anusara study hours.

I am looking forward to studying with Christina Sell at Willow Street Yoga next weekend.  Come join fellow yogis for what promises to be a joyously challenging weekend of classes.  The following weekend, I head up to Vermont for the Anusara Grand Gathering.  If you are going, let me know and we can try to connect.

Special June Location Information for William Penn House Classes:  June 14 and 28, William Penn House will be completely taken over by conference groups.  Class will be held at the house location.  RSVP’s are required.  For those who have been regulars, but who have been full up with other things in life than class, it is a sweet way to get back.

Hope to see you soon.

Peace and light,

Elizabeth

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“Stabilize the Periphery; Move from the Core” (and blogging)

For the past week, I have been contemplating, practicing with, and teaching the axiomatic sequenced alignment principle of Anusara yoga “stabilize the periphery; move from the core.”  It means exactly what it says.  We stabilize the outer edges of the pose (feet, hands, head) and move from our core to get into the full expression of the pose.  For example, have you noticed how often the yoga teacher will have you put your hand on your hip when you are first in a standing pose and working the alignment of the foundation and core body?  Only when the central alignment has been reached, do you extend the arm and hand to complete the full form of the pose.  The reason Anusara teachers are taught to use this technique is that it stabilizes the periphery, so that the students can concentrate on the major alignment and then move from the core.

Off the mat, this principle means to me that we start with our overall goals and needs and the essential principle of trying to move from and respond in the highest before getting distracted by the details of whatever is going on.  As I contemplated and taught the principle this week, I found myself thinking and talking about lots of different examples on and off the mat.  The central idea was there, and then as the classes progressed, depending on the level and the students, I wove in illustrative examples that made sense with what was happening in the classes.

I found myself struggling, though, to write about this principle.  I had too many different things I wanted to explain about how it helps in yoga asana both as an important therapeutic practice and as a way to expand one’s core abilities.  A plethora of examples of how it works off the mat came to mind.  To write coherently when one has limited space/attention span of reader/number of words, one has to first stop getting into the details and start with the central theme.  Then it is necessary to flesh out the central theme with very select details that enhance the understanding of the central premise.  The writer chooses not to scatter the central theme into so many details that the central point is obscured or lost in the details.  My struggle to write about this principle served then as a perfect example to myself about the very principle about which I was choosing to write.  I needed to “stabilize” the details, so that I could express coherently the core principle.

Do you have good examples of how applying this principle has helped you on or off the mat?

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Vinyasa Krama (and Anusara Sequencing Principles)

Vinyasa krama — the art or essence of sequencing is meant to help us align in space and time, so that we experience being and practice in the most optimal way.  Last time I was with John Friend, he gave as a homework assignment, writing down Anusara sequencing principles.  What I found wonderful about thinking this through, was it was not just about how to sequence a practice to reach a particular apex pose (though that is an important aspect of designing a class or practice).  Here’s the list I came up with (not in any particular order and I am sure I’ve left some out):

First principle (open to grace always comes first)

Attitude, alignment, action

Open to grace, muscular energy, inner spiral, outer spiral, organic energy

Set the foundation of the pose first (for teaching and observing this also applies to looking to the foundation first)

Breath leads the way

Stabilize the periphery, move from the core

Root to rise

Major principles before applying refinements (i.e., open to grace, ME, IS, OS, OE before loops)

Sensitivity, stability, adjustment (for hands on/therapeutic adjustments)

Curvature before length (spinal alignment)

Shins in, thighs out

Initiate actions from the back body

I could blog about these for weeks and how, although they are simply articulated physical alignment principles, they would apply to actions off of the mat.

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Shiva-Shakti Tattvas

The shiva-shakti tattvas, the two highest tattvas, are completely subjective.  The shiva tattva is, according to the philosophy, the ultimate reality, the pure “I,” undiminished and undifferentiated consciousness.  As something purely subjective, it is both everywhere and nowhere, in every being and simultaneously beyond them.  It is not dissimilar to Hegel’s Absolute (though I believe Douglas Brooks, who knows far more than I in this area, might disagree with me on this one), which “is and is not,” or Kant’s “unmoved mover.”

Shakti tattva is power — the power to tranform, create, manifest, diversify, cloak.  Shakti is the power to become embodied in objective form.  Shiva and shakti tattvas are thus inseparable.  Ultimate unbounded consciousness and freedom (shiva) only has meaning to the extent the power to move, create, and diversify (shakti) pulses and transforms the subjective into the objective, the unimaginable to the observable.

In our yoga practice and meditation, we seek to use the practices to reveal to ourselves the ultimate pulsation (spanda) between the objective and subjective, the observable and the unknowable, the individual and the completely universal.  One way I experience the first principle of Anusara yoga (open to grace), is taking the mat or my seat with an openness to sense and experience this ultimate pulsation (spanda) and play (lila), so that by using my body, mind, and will, I can better recognize the spirit that shines in all of us and use that recognition to inform how I relate to myself, society, and all beings.

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Iccha, Jnana, Kriya

Above (or perhaps beyond, or maybe more elemental, or more universal — words inevitably tangle us in discussing essential philosophical constructs) the six kanchukas (cloakings or coverings) are the five universal elements.  These are suddha vidya, ishvara, saddha shiva, and shiva-shakti.  John Friend suggests that we think of the first three of these tattvas as corresponding to the principles of iccha (will),  jnana (knowledge), and kriya (action).

When I think of the Anusara principles in practice on and off the mat, I think of them in terms of the tattvas, particularly the five universal elements and the five mahabhutas .   Those of you who practice and study Anusara yoga are familiar with the principles of “open to grace, muscular energy, inner/expanding spiral, outer/contracting spiral, and organic energy.”  As part of the physical practice of asana, I think of these alignment principles as corresponding to the mahabhutas (the five great elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space/ether; see previous posts on how I experience the alignment principles as relating to the mahabhutas).  At that level, “open to grace” has physical characteristics.  These principles, when applied consciously, help us to align the physical body with the energy body, so that we can more fully delight in our bodies.  When we are in alignment and experience expansion through alignment, we can more optimally move in and experience the physical and mental realms in a way that helps us recognize the universal spirit in all beings.

The reason I come to the mat, the ultimate purpose of yoga in an of itself and for me as a practitioner, is informed by the five principles of the universal.  The yearning to connect to the spirit is in essence an opening to grace at an elemental, non-physical level (an uber opening to grace).  The next aspect of our practice, which is more important than the physical technical details of the alignment principles, are what John Friend terms “attitude, alignment, and action.”  These are by definition more universal and fundamental than the physical principles and correspond directly to the principles of iccha (will),  jnana (knowledge), and kriya (action).  The essence of yoga, especially from a tantric perspective, is the will (iccha) to embody and experience the union of mind, body, and spirit with a radical embrace of our being.   Knowledge (jnana), when used as a way to align with our true nature, is not to correct, but to better enable us to align our body, both physically and energetically, and our mind so we best can experience and express our will to connect.   The ultimate action (kriya) of a pose or what we do off the mat is a spontaneous offering or an expression of our will to connect, using ever increasing refinement, skill, and knowledge.

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Prakriti, Purusha, and the Three Gunas

After the five mahabhutas (great elements), the five tanmatras (subtle elements), the five karmendriyas (organs of action), and the five jnanendriyas (organs of cognition or sensing), come the three antahkaranas (internal organs).  The antahkaranas are manas (mind), buddhih (intellect/intuition), and ahamkara (ego, sense of self as an individual).  These 23 tattvas describe the objective world and our place in it as manifest physical beings and as beings who sense and think about our place in the physical world.

The next two tattvas are more in the subjective realm:  purusha (nature) and prakriti.  In the classical system, the 23 described above plus purusha and prakriti are the sum of the tattvas.  In that system, prakriti, is interpreted as “spirit.”  It is not the world spirit or the transcendent spirit, but more our individual spirit.  Nature is divided from spirit and all of the objective world and individual spirit are different from “Atman” or “Brahma” what is real.  In Kashmir Shaivism, there are another 11 tattvas — the six kanchukas (cloakings or coverings) and the five suddha tattvas (pure elements) that describe the relationship between the individualized, diverse, perceptible and perceiving realm, and the purely universal.

Purusha (nature) is a name or way of looking at the 23 earlier described tattvas and prakriti describes the sense we have of there being something more that is unifying and universal among all that is manifest, but still from the perspective of our own individual perception.  When we look at nature (purusha) from a more universal perspective, we look at it from how it behaves generally, how it moves, and what moves it, as we look at the laws of nature of physics.  In yoga, nature is described from the perspective of the three gunastamas, rajas, and sattva.

Tamas is dark, dormant, inert, and heavy. Rajas is fiery, energetic, and impassioned.  Sattva is pure, clear, and light.  From a classical perspective, tamas is a state we need to transcend to connect to spirit, rajas is the motivating energy that helps us move past tamas to a sattvic state.  From the tantric perspective that underlies the Anusara principles, we recognize that tamasic qualities are part of nature and we embrace it where it leads us to a place of balance.  At night, for example, it is better to be still and dark for optimal sleep.  In this latititude, gardens need a period of dormancy in winter to thrive.  When we are sick or exhausted, restorative postures may be more healing and balancing than would be power flow or even meditation.  When tamas is out of balance, though, we are sluggish and slothful.  We can be stuck in our ways — ways that are unhealthy for ourselves or the planet.  We then need to cultivate more rajas.  We use fire and passion to transform, to find new ideas, to shift our behavior, to find discipline.  If our bodies are weak or inflexible, rajas helps us activate our practice to build power.  The rains and warmth of spring make the garden grow.  From this perspective, being light and pure based on particular dietary and behavioral strictures is not necessarily the ideal.  Rather being sattvic is being in optimal balance; it is knowing ourselves well enough to know when darkness, earthiness, and stillness or light, activity, and “spiritual” practices best serve ourselves, other beings, and the earth.  Being sattvic is being clear enough in the multi-faceted relationship between the world around us and our own mind, body, and spirit that our sense of spirit in all things and ourselves is unsullied, and illuminated.

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