Tag Archives: Anusara

Lineage of yoga founded by John Friend

Yoga teachers as rising rock stars

Photo: yoga class at Thrive Yoga
A wide-legged forward fold or Prasarita Padottanasana led by Suan Bowen

Each morning at Thrive Yoga‘s yoga teacher training (YTT)  participants join a 90-minute yoga practice led by the owner Susan Bowen or two other teachers, Sarah Wimsatt or Krista Block. Except for a few yin session that Susan gave as a change of pace, the classes have tested my yoga:  I’ve come out of the practice dripping in sweat, buzzing from the intense rinse cycle that my brain has been put through and feeling as if I had had an out-of-body experience. Just when I think I can’t go any deeper, I am led into new territory.

The physical practice is the number one reason I decided on YTT — I wanted to renew my hatha practice, increase my stamina, strength and flexibility, deepen my understanding of fundamentals and get back into my yoga groove that I lost when my parents died two and a half years ago. Continue reading Yoga teachers as rising rock stars

Long feature about an old story

Where have I been for the past two weeks? I did not even notice that my hometown paper published a long article detailing the upheaval in the Anusara and broader yoga scene because of John Friend’s misadventures:

Scandal contorts future of John Friend, Anusara yoga: “Friend’s empire — an international network that claims more than 1,500 teachers, including 25 in the Washington metro area, and 600,000 students — is in crisis now, teetering under the strain of a sex scandal that has split its most loyal practitioners and prompted an astounding venting of emotions, from rage and recriminations to compassion and sadness.”

The Washington Post piece was so long that I could not finish — I’m at work right now so I’ll have to come back to it later.

A different kind of yogini

Photo: hearing-impaired yogini talking with Desirée At Thrive Yoga‘s recent Rumbaugh workshop, I had my mat next to a special yogini. I never caught her name. She was hearing impaired and she had brought a sign language interpreter with her. Dave and Susan gave them plenty of room in the corner of the studio (actually, my favorite turf for taking pictures, which is why I ended up next to her). The interpreter frequently stood off to one side signing Desirée’s lecture and demos. During the routines, she sat or stood near the woman and passed on the instructions.

I got a chance to partner with her when we were doing handstands in the inversion session. She was able to get up into the pose fine, and I goofed up a couple of times with the support. I also did not know the sign that she gave to let me know that she wanted to come down. I let her get out of having to support me for the hand stand, in part because she could never have supported my weight. I could see that she had a very good personal practice and she was capable of absorbing everything that Desirée was offering.

After the session was over, the woman and her interpreter approached Desirée and had a conversation. There are some obvious obstacles between a hearing-impaired yogi and an instructor because hearing is so important in cuing through a practice. In the workshop’s case, this was not even a standard class, but an extended demo/lecture/try-it-yourself format. I am pretty sure that the woman did not know exactly what to expect. Plus, Anusara has its own specific terminology for how a posture is put together and an interpreter would have to be familiar with it to translate that language into appropriate signs. At one point during the session, I was tempted to grab one of Desirée’s associates and ask them to actually help the hearing-impaired yogini get a clear idea of what Desirée was asking of us by actually laying hands on her and rotate muscles in spiral directions.

I had been meaning to blog about this encounter on the mats with the hearing impaired, but I forgot about it until I came across a tweet from the Deaf Yoga Foundation, based in New York City. It’s main mandates are preparing a yoga sign dictionary, teacher training, and community outreach. The dictionary is interesting because it is drawing on hand gestures in Indian (Hindu) dance. Check out Dancing for the Gods.

Getting back on the track

I missed vinyasa class tonight because of a heavy workload and a boss who’s traveling tomorrow. When I got home, I had a choice: either watch the Trudie Styler DVD to write the review or go running. I choose running. I put in nearly two miles at a slow trod.

I used to run a lot until my knee injury and surgery. A few weeks ago, at the gym working on the stationary bike and elliptical trainer, I felt an impulse and jumped on the treadmill just to see what it was like, maybe just a quick walking pace. I did not feel anything bad. I stepped up the speed. At the end of 15 minutes, I was trotting along without any pain or complications. The following day, I felt no adverse consequences. I started jogging again, gingerly, at the gym and at a high school track near my house, first with a mile, then, adding a quarter of a mile gradually, until I am up to two miles now.

When I was recovering from my surgery, I focused on getting back to yoga because the discipline had a ripple effect throughout my life. I ruled out running because I did not want to overstress my knees. But running had never been the cause of my injury: it was actually yoga, an over-aggressive moment when I put too much weight over my bent knee.

What pushed me back to running was my yoga practice: I’ve been doing one or two sessions a week of hatha yoga with Marylou McNamara at Thrive. She’s trained as a Anusara teacher so she works a lot on alignment — long, repeated holds of fairly simple poses (lunge, Warrior I, II, III). I feel that I am able to access key muscles in my shoulders, back, core, and hips for the first time, and her instruction helps me focus on those areas. But a hatha class does not get much into aerobic conditioning, and I’ve noticed in the vinyasa classes that I’ve been getting winded. If I was going to continue going hatha yoga classes, I needed to add some aerobic exercise, either at the gym, the yoga studio or elsewhere.

So that’s why I started running again. My short-term goal is to get ready for the Brian Kest weekend workshop at Thrive coming up on October 23-25. He teaches an Ashtanga, power yoga style that’s going to test my limits over four two-hour sessions. I knew I had to step up conditioning.

Anusara’s John Friend leads a class

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic I was following John Friend’s twittering and came across a link to this shot. Twitpic has several other shots of massed yogis in formation. Awe-inspiring gatherings that project channeled prana. Friend is on tour, currently in Canada, putting on workshops for Anusara yoga teachers.

As a hack photographer, I am fascinated by shots of yoga practice, both the group sync and the individual pose. John — or his people — have many opportunities. It’s a lot harder than it looks because the photographer has to capture the instance of grace in poor, indoor lighting, and frequently in movement.

The yoga meme even slips into the Wall Street Journal

WSJ Magazine From Navy Whistleblower to Warrior Pose is the story of Paula (Coughlin) Puopolo who was the focal point of the U.S. Navy Tailhook scandal in the early 1990s. This story tells her story well and also how yoga allowed her to come to peace with herself and the repercussions from the public airing of her ordeal in a hotel corridor in Las Vegas. She now owns her own yoga studio, Ocean Yoga.

Of all the yoga styles she’s experienced since then, the one Puopolo has focused on is a tantric variety called Anusara, created by the American teacher John Friend in 1997. Its guiding ethos posits the inherent goodness of human beings. Over time, it replaced smoking and prescription pills, and her anger at her attackers receded, until Puopolo decided she wanted to teach others about the restorative powers she found in the practice. “I wouldn’t be talking to you if I didn’t really think I was finally getting some clarity,” she says. “The philosophy opened me up to the idea that I could really stop hating so much stuff.”

The Wall Street Journal keeps a lot of its content behind fees-based barrier so you may not be able to access this story after a few weeks. Enjoy it while you can.

Second Impressions of the Rumbaugh Workshop

I did not go into the workshop with Desiree Rumbaugh with any special expectations, aside from that of knowing that an excellent instructor would be guiding the process and a group of yogis would energize the environment. I saw the occasion as a mid-term evaluation about how my practice has been maturing since my last workshop. I wanted to see how the work invested on the mat has paid off. So I pick up where I left off yesterday.

Photo of wheel pose at Thrive Yoga, Rockville
Thrive Yoga’s Dave Bowen gets a taste of Desiree’s adjustment of wheel pose.

Fourth Finding: The day after the workshop was over, I felt really fatigued, my whole body burnt out. I pampered myself and did not try to do any yoga or exercise except for my walks to and from the Metro, a couple of miles. I felt sore as if I’d really gone through an extreme physical ordeal. I was especially sore and stiff in my hips and shoulders, thighs and arms. Curiously, my knees hurts when I walked, as if I might be a risk of tweaking a tendon. Throughout the weekend, I had been probing my edges and it was natural that my body should feel the strain. At my age (two months short of 59), the energy reserves are shallower, the recovery capacity is slower and the need for healing is more pronounced. But it took me a while to realize that this sensation is really a kind of muscle memory of all the poses that I did and the new edges established. I stop, focus in on my aches and pains, and sense what muscles involved, and then I feel myself drawn into alignment and something lights up inside me.

Photo of a yoga pose - Diving Osprey - by Christine Peterson
Desiree stands back in awe, watching Christine Peterson
(you can tell she’s a Forest Yoga buff because she uses gloves)
settle into Diving Osprey pose.

Fifth Finding: yoga is an experimental, experiential science. It is a sophisticated universe of knowledge about the body, mind, spirit, energy and their complex interrelation, which has been accumulated, filtered, refined, and aged over millenia. But the application of this knowledge system on the body and mind is left to the individual practitioner. Desiree said that you can tell when a yogi is advanced because they take their time getting into poses. It almost looks as if they were practicing in slow motion. That’s because they are observing and parsing all the information coming back from the far reaches of their limbs with scientific rigor: how do the muscles feel, have they reached their edge, is there a risk in pushing beyond the edge, do I feel at ease, can I dwell in stillness in the pose, how can I get out of this knot, what emotions and energies are released by this pose, what am I revealing about my mind or spirit in this vulnerable pose and so on. A beginner will zip through the vinyasa, and in and out of poses, as if he/she is sprinting to a finish line. The intermediate yogis are the ones who get themselves injured, Desiree pointed out, because they are pushing recklessly beyond what is physically safe and worth the risk for the practice. She admitted that she was guilty of this excess in her early years, and her current skills at practicing advanced poses and assisting others to learn yoga were acquired through painful mistakes and the need to heal and avert them in the future. She got really amped up when people started asking questions or giving insights that showed that they were paying attention to the details. The workshop drew a pretty experienced crowd of yogis, but we went over the details of the poses as if we were all beginners.

Photo of a yoga pose - upward bow
Thrive Yoga’s Lisa Johnson turns inward in Eight-Angle pose (Astavakrasana).

Sixth Finding: Anusara yoga practitioners have their opening invocation “Om namah shivaya gurave…” that starts each session, and then there’s the mantra that they repeat for every pose: “Shins press towards the mid-line, thighs spiral in and back, the sit bones widen, the tail bone tucks into the space made by the blossoming of the hips…” The Universal Principles of Alignment are the guidelines that John Friend laid down to unify all the yoga practices and poses across multiple lineages and traditions. Desiree repeated the instructions over and over again, and then came back to them, again and again. But I never found this repetitious or boring. Even though the instructions are similar, each pose opens a different gateway into the body. And since your body is changing in the process, each time you approach a pose, the experience is going to be unique. You can be practicing mountain pose or a complicated arm balance, and the same attitude and approach apply.

Photo of yoga practitioner
The reward of sweat

Seventh Finding: at any time during the workshop, I’d look up and see yogis and yoginis, teachers and students doing their stuff, and all of them were bumping into what seemed to be their own bodies’limits. Desiree would come up and apply pressure with a hand or knee on a specific area and show that it was merely a false floor, that there was space beyond that faux boundary. Desiree was asked about the ideas of some yoga teachers, like Paul Grilley, who make a point of highlighting the anatomical limits that exist in all people, and may be quite different, the conclusion being that you should not ask students to go beyond their physical limits. Desiree said, however, that Anusara celebrates freedom of yoga (as opposed to anatomical limits) and that each individual should assume ownership of his or her own body and take it as far as they can.

First impressions of the Anusara yoga workshop at Thrive

Photo of four yoga teachers
Desiree Rumbaugh
Anusara Yoga teacher

I wanted to sketch out some ideas about the Desiree Rumbaugh workshop at Thrive Yoga this weekend. You would think that 13 hours of yoga spread over three days would generate a lot of grist for the mill, but there’s been little opportunity to clarify my mind. Friday night after the first two-hour session, I was involved in family affairs (my mother-in-law arrived from New York City and daughter spent the night on her way to Philadelphia for the weekend.) until late.

Last night, I went straight home and ate anything to give me some quick energy. I thought about doing something useful, but I was too tired to write anything about the workshop. In the end, I went to bed. The next morning, I dragged myself out of bed, served myself a bagel and a cup of coffee and made it to the studio by 8:45. I wondered if I had made the right decision: my hips, thighs and calves were all stiff and felt like dead weight. I felt flat and a bit burned out. But once the yoga started moving my limbs, my energy got better. By the end of the last session (Yoga Therapy), all I could think of was to get more fuel into my system.

Photo of four yoga teachers
Kathy Donnelly, Desiree Rumbaugh, Suzie Hurley and Susan Bowen welcome
all the Anusara aficianados to the first night of the workshop.

First finding: all-day yoga workshops make it hard to get adequate meals. I did not want to overeat at breakfast and lunch for fear that it would interfere with the yoga. But all the energy consumed during the sessions means that a late dinner just makes you want to go to bed. If I had taken just one session a day, it would not have made much of a difference, but double sessions are grueling.

Second finding: Anusara yoga has a strong foothold in the DC area. Desiree drew workshop participants from as far away as New York, Pennsylvania and even California, but many current Anusara teachers from the DC area (and their students) renewed their relationship with Desiree. Lots of hugs and kisses before and after each class: Willow Street Yoga, the Yoga Center of Columbia , Inner Reaches Yoga, and probably a few others, were all present. Friday night and Saturday morning, not another mat could have fit into the expanded room (maybe 70 in all). The other sessions still had slots available, but there were a lot of new faces. That’s pretty good, considering that the workshop fell in the middle of summer. Thrive’s owner, Susan Bowen, says that Desiree will be back soon.

Desiree Rumbaugh demonstrates cobra pose
Desiree demonstrated how to get deeply into cobra pose.

Third Finding: Desiree Rumbaugh is an exceptional teacher, and it’s easy to see why she’s gained such a great reputation. She has a knack for driving home the Anusara message of proper alignment, joyful attitude and balanced action in asana after asana, spotting the necessary adjustments to more fully manifest the pose in her students, and enthusiastic narrative that intertwines her own self-discovery and healing through yoga and the principles of Anusara philosophy. She’s really able to break pose down into pieces that can easily be digested and enacted. And it’s the details that make the difference in the asana.

These “findings” are the low hanging fruit that I can easily pick before going to bed. More considered remarks will come later, with at least one good night of sleep and a day without yoga under my belt. Plus, I’ve got photographs of the sessions.

An unexpected gift from yoga

X-ray of human hipOn Monday evening, I went to a vinyasa 2 class at Thrive Yoga to make up for missing my normal Sunday class. I was met with a teacher substitution: Mary Lou McNamara was replacing Lisa Johnson because of vacation travel. Both followed the Anusara style so there was an underlying continuity between the two. I was breezing through the class without really being tested to my edge when we moved into the seated practice and I was hit by an unexpected breakthrough: Mary Lou asked us to get into Lord of the Fishes pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana). Almost without thinking, I slipped into the pose, which requires me to fold one leg under as a kind of base and the other leg is placed over it, with the foot on the ground — it requires that both sit bones be on the ground. In the recent past, this kind of contortion was beyond my reach: one hip would be torqued up in the air and I would be completely out of balance. I’d have to extend the bottom leg out before me or put a lot of blankets under one hip. Well, this time, both my sit bones were firmly planted on the mat and my spin could sit squarely over my hips, allowing a smooth even twist when completing the pose. We quickly moved on to other poses, and I could not fully appreciate what had happened.

Let me say that I have not made Lord of the Fishes pose as one of my goals, like full or half Lotus pose. I only practiced it whenever it rarely came up in class, unlike say half pigeon pose that almost always gets thrown into the mix. I recognized Lord of the Fishes as another manifestation of my tight hips, and some day I would move beyond this corporal legacy of sitting in chairs and slumping over keyboards.

Ironically, since coming back from vacation, I have been grousing about how hard it has been to regain my stamina in jogging. My legs seemed dead weight and fatigued. Well, part of this muscular fatigue is probably because the connective tissues between my legs and hips are having to move in new and different ways, while tolerating a lot more range of motion in my hips. As I’ve said here before, I often feel as if I am teaching myself to run all over again.

Coming yoga events in the DC area

Beryl Bender Birch, the master instructor of Hard and Soft Power Yoga (within the Ashtanga school), is giving a weekend workshop at Georgetown Yoga on Friday, June 6 and Saturday, June 7. As noted here and here before, I participated in a Bender Birch workshop at Thrive Yoga. I really enjoyed the opportunity to benefit from her insight and inspiration and would recommend her to any serious yoga student.

At Thrive Yoga, there are a couple of great workshops coming up:

  • Govindas & Radha – Waves of Love Weekend on June 13-14. Govindas is a Rockville native who now lives in California and leads workshops that combine asana with kirtan, music, rhythm and joy. You can buy his CD at CD Baby. The Friday evening event is going to be a family affair in which you can bring offspring and friends for a single price.
  • Anusara Yoga with Desiree Rumbaugh will take place on the July 11-13 weekend. Desiree is an exception teacher and associate of John Friend. She has multiple two DVDs that deal with body issues through yoga. These sessions are going to be 2-3 hours long so that will really reveal a lot about Anusara’s approach to the body .

There is nothing like take an intensive workshop (just one session or multiple days), to break through barriers in your practice.