Standing Together In Our Own Freedom

The letters from students continue to pour in. For most of them, John Friend has only barely touched their lives through the lineage of their local teachers.  What the students care most about is that their teachers keep offering the high quality classes they are used to, the preservation of their local communities, and to continue to use the method to create a better quality of life.

About a month ago it was Chinese New Year and I spoke about the water dragon in my classes.  For some time now, I have also believed that one of things that would happen in 2012 is that old structures of society would begin to break down because they could not be carried forward in this “new world” we are creating.  Wouldn’t you know it? The first thing on water dragon’s agenda was Anusara® Inc.  Like a tsunami, the intensity of the dragon, combined with water, leveled our hierarchical system. Now we all stand together in the horizontal model that the Rajanka tradition, the philosophy that speaks to my heart, states.  A collective of voices and talents.

Back in September I was doing my Brand Thyself session with Jess and working on a new bio. She kept saying,  “speak from your own experience, you don’t need to validate or justify it with your teachers anymore.”  She reminded me that after being a student of yoga for more than 15 years, and teaching for over 10, that I have my own credibility as a student and a teacher on the path. This wisdom has really helped me the last few months and I think it will help us all right now.

Now is the time for each of us to step deeper inside ourselves and stand upon our own experiences.  It does not mean we have to separate ourselves from Anusara, many of the teachers who resigned stated that they will continue to teach the method. But I do believe it is an opportunity to look at the places where we are not speaking from our own experience and truth or simply taking our teacher’s word for it.  It’s time for radical authenticity.  To be guided from within, to speak and act from your heart, and to live the yoga.  We can stand together in our individual freedom.

Each of us can examine our lives, whether you teach yoga or not, and move toward deeper intimacy.  Each time I speak my truth, even if it leaves me feeling vulnerable, I am living from my heart.  This is what the new era will require. Right now we are just in basic training.

There is a saying in China, you can never see the head and the tail of a water dragon at the same time.  We have no idea where this is going, we just have to stay open and present, continue to practice, and flow with it.

My Asana in the Anusara Situation

In response to inquiries from friends and colleagues, I wrote the following after spending three days at the Advanced Intensive in Miami with John Friend.

During the three days I experienced the full spectrum of emotions. As our community broke apart, so too did my heart. I came to Miami because I needed to see things for myself. I don’t make big decisions quickly, and I certainly was not going to make this decision in haste.

My original plans had me staying for the weekend workshop, too. However, after the Advanced Intensive I decided to take a vacation day in Miami and then fly out earlier than scheduled on Sunday; I have never wanted to come home so badly!


My “vacation day” plans fell through so I have a day in Miami Beach alone. After almost two hours in the sun without sunscreen, I went to seek lunch. As I sit on this wild promenade that is South Beach, Florida, watching vacationers of all walks of life from all around the world, I so wanted my day to be like that today. I wanted to play and have fun after the intensity of these last two weeks but instead I am preparing myself to go back to San Francisco and take the seat of the teacher. So, alone it is, and I embrace this. Many in my community, both teachers and students alike, are awaiting my report. Everybody is asking, What is your stance?” These last two weeks I have been unable to take a stance. I have been quiet. I have stood still, breathed, and done my best to practice the First Principle. I have been listening inside and out, watching and waiting to see what happens, talking to a lot of different people. My feet have felt like lead, unable to make a move in either direction.

I am not going to give you an account of John said this and did that. I am just going to tell you how I feel.

I stand with my teacher John because I can’t fathom walking away from someone when they are in a time of challenge. I DO NOT stand for him continuing to teach right now, or for Anusara Inc. to go on the way it has for all these years. I stand for John finding the healing that he now recognizes is needed due to this situation.  In both public and private conversations I had with John I am led to believe he is going to seek help. I hold him in love and compassion and wish for him to look deep inside himself at his shadows and his wounds and make peace. I stand for him living with alignment between his words and actions; I stand for him to go back to the divine source that brought Anusara through him in the first place and remember his truth and his vision. I stand for him to emerge better in himself than ever before and to find a balanced and sustainable lifestyle.

I stand for the method of Anusara yoga because it has helped me heal and it’s the guide I use to help others. I have seen it work time and time again and I believe in it wholeheartedly.

I stand for the community of teachers (even those who have resigned) that I have grown to love as my brothers, sisters, and spiritual companions, and I want us all to thrive like never before. I stand for continuing to co-create something beautiful – whatever forms that ultimately takes.

I stand for my local community: for the amazing teachers that work so hard; for the students that come to class week in and week out; for the deep bonds of friendship that have been forged through this yoga. We in the Bay Area were really trying to come together in a more powerful way in 2012 and we were off to a great start. I honor our plans.

I stand for myself to find my place within all this mess; a place where I can continue to learn, grow, and expand to my full potential. I have been inquiring deep within myself: Where does the container of Anusara support me and where does it limit me? Who might I be without it? What would it be like to stay without all those who have left? Can I stay in good conscience? Will our “tribe” be able to regroup and form something new, something healthy? Will we all just be individual yoga teachers in the sea of yoga? I do not yet have all of those answers, so still I stand and wait.

For now I am standing steady to see if we can reclaim and resurrect the school of Anusara yoga apart from John. Thank you Ross, Desiree and others for your tireless work and enthusiasm. Will John make the method public domain? Will he let us adopt his child and allow us to nurture and grow it from here? Do we start something new on our own? Will John do the hard work on himself and create a collaborative organization? These answers will not come quickly and for this moment I am prepared to wait.

The last nine years have been the best years of my life and I am grateful to all of my teachers, friends, and students who have supported me. I have found immense healing in this practice and this community and I have created an amazing life for myself, all because of Anusara yoga. Yes, the system is dysfunctional as it is but I believe we all have a hand in that. I want to use this situation to look and see where I am out of alignment and continue to get better in myself. I don’t know what the next nine years will look like but I remember John always telling me, “keep lining up, I promise it will get better.” He was right, and I now delight in telling my students that from my own experience. What to align with right now, that has not yet been revealed, but I am confident that my practice will continue to lead me to my heart.  

Connecting Hearts to Their Source… In China!

Often when people begin to practice Anusara Yoga and they first hear about the philosophy, the life view, and the approach, they find themselves thinking, “Wow, this is exactly what I believe and how I try to live. I can’t believe there is a system out there, a group of people who have the same beliefs.” This is precisely how it happened for me when the Anusara method found me in 2002.  It was as if some part inside of me already knew these ideas to be true but I did not yet have the words to articulate it.  My heart felt blissfully at home in a community of like-minded and like-hearted people. Over the years, many of my students have shared these same feelings that the Anusara philosophy truly resonates deep within their hearts.

Recently this same theme was illuminated while I was teaching a 50-hour Anusara Immersion in Shanghai, China. In this particular Immersion, nine countries of origin were represented and all but one of the students currently lived in China. Leading an Immersion is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.  Normally, over the span of several months I get the privilege of watching as hearts gradually expand and open and the participants are empowered to create life changes both large and small. Yet in just seven days in China great transformation occurred. It was truly a powerful experience, and an honor to witness.

In the first few days of the Immersion the students were very reserved and they did not want to speak or share their thoughts.  However, over seven days these 20 people shifted; friendships were born, stories began to unfold and express themselves, and hearts were blown wide open.   By the end of the Immersion a beautiful community had formed and everyone wanted to speak! On the last day we sat in our closing circle and these faces that had started out as shy and hesitant, had now softened and were expressing tears and laughter. Each of them had touched the light of their own hearts and were experiencing true joy. What was even more exceptional was the realization that this happened only after seven days of immersing in Anusara Yoga.  Everyone in the group felt that this perspective on life and method of practice resonated deeply in their hearts, and even though they hadn’t known it, this was exactly what they had been looking for.

The significance of this transformation was beautifully expressed by a French woman in our group, who commented that one of the best parts of the experience for her was witnessing the Chinese students open up and share their stories. This woman had been living and working in Shanghai for five years, and despite having worked there for all of that time, she had never really been able to get to know her Chinese colleagues. After only seven days in an Anusara Immersion she was so happy to be learning about her Chinese peers and neighbors. While the society and culture around them would remain unchanged, for these 20 participants, true transformation had occurred. Their hearts were wide open, emanating their inner light.  It makes me smile to think that they will share this radiance with others around them.

It is basic human nature that our hearts long to reconnect with their source. The method of Anusara provides a gateway to our natural selves. It gives us an opportunity to self-reflect, to listen deeply, and to hear the inner desires of our hearts. With this knowledge we can better set our intentions and align with our higher vision, bringing it into manifestation. When we are living in alignment with our deepest beliefs, life becomes more joyful. My experience teaching in China has shown me that when the heart feels at home, the boundaries that prevent us from experiencing our natural self dissolve and what is left is the pure joy of the heart to delight in this gift of life.

Anusara Yoga Immersion China 2011Anusara Yoga Immersion, Shangai, China, June 2011

Open Hearts Bring Down Walls of Separation

Part Two of my experience in Beijing.

Boundless Hearts in Beijing

Check out my post on the Yoga Journal Website

It’s A Collective Endeavor

Last weekend was PRIDE, which is a full on holiday in San Francisco!  There was a lot of talk this year about it being the 40th anniversary and how much progress has been made.  Yes indeed, the freedom for all beings to express themselves is a wonderful thing to celebrate! The streets were packed with people sporting the colors of the rainbow, drag queens dressed to the nines while some barely dressed at all. While they were all gathering for the festivities and the pending parade, I was teaching class. It seemed to me that on this day, it was just as important to pray for tolerance, as it was to celebrate.

The highest purpose of our yoga practice is to know yourself, to discover your truth, cultivate your gifts and express it all by delighting in life and living fully.  Similarly, the very definition of pride is having deep satisfaction and pleasure for who are you, your accomplishments and expressing it.  Pride is everyday in the way that you dress, act, and participate in the world.  Pride is yoga.

I have been studying and practicing both Anusara® Yoga and Rajanka® Yoga for several years now.  I was drawn to both because they are empowering practices and each speak about discovering who you are, cultivating your gifts and talents, and realizing that you contain all you need within you to live a powerful and wonderful life.

While this is true and life changing for many of us, it is important to also remember that our practice begins with humility; A genuine recognition that there is a Supreme Power greater than us at work that we honor first and endeavor to co-create with. By definition our own freedom (svatantriya which means self-looming in Sanskrit – see previous post) means that others too are free to express themselves in the world. To live in harmony in this world we must first develop humility and tolerance.  This is part of the first principle of Anusara Yoga we call Open To Grace.

In Anusara Teacher Training the first skill we are taught is to see the good in others, in life and in the world.  We practice looking for the beauty and honoring one another for their gifts and contributions with recognition that Supreme Intelligence exists in everyone and everything before us.  As many of us know this is not always so easy to see, that is why it is part of our yoga practice.

Both Anusara and Rajanaka also have a great emphasis on community.  There has never been a notion that we become empowered to stand-alone or to be self-centered.  The essence of this practice has always been about cultivating yourself to offer your gifts back to the whole.  That the difference YOU make weaves richness into the tapestry; it brings more artistry to the Merry Band. When you shine, we all shine!  In this way, our awakening and evolution becomes a collective endeavor. My teacher Douglas’ Brooks even talks about deferring to another’s gifts, why do I have to do it all myself?

I believe that tolerance is the natural result of having pride in one’s self, or truly becoming sovereign (the meaning of Rajanaka) onto one self. When you are whole-heartedly YOU, there is simply not a threat by another expressing them self. Furthermore you begin recognize the natural abundance and order in the Universe and realize that there is no reason to be selfish.

Right now, there is more and more recognition that humanity is a global community and must work together to overcome the challenges that face us in this modern world.  It starts in our Kulas, (yoga community) where we learn and practice supporting one another to open to their fullest potential. We create a paradigm of connectivity and bridge the gap between us in a way that we all can flourish.

Something beautiful unfolded in class on that PRIDE day.  I instructed the students to partner in groups of 3 to deepen their Urdhva Danurasana  (wheel pose).  One student supporting the shoulders and another rooting the legs to allows the practitioner open their backbend a little deeper.

A dedicated immersion student named Ray demonstrated a beautiful opening.  In the demo I explained it was not about making someone into something they are not or about forcing someone deeper but rather standing in yourself fully and being a support for them to unfold and expand to their potential. When Ray came out he said when he felt the supportive hands of my self and my assistant the fear dissolved and he felt safe to go into the unknown and open more fully.

As the students got into their groups and helped each other a greater level of ananda (joy) washed over the room.  Once everyone had a go it was clear that each experienced a deeper opening in the pose but almost more importantly, they noticed there was just as much pleasure in supporting and witnessing another to realize a greater expansion.

I don’t think I will forget the bhava (feeling or vibe) in the room after that experience for a long time.  It reminds me exactly why I do what I do.  And it is with great gratitude I thank you for being participating.