Align with the Divine: A Rose in a rice field is a Weed.
By Kerry Weavind
There are so many styles of yoga now reaching our South African shores, both a blessing and a curse. With so many styles, we are inundated with further choice and tempted toward spiritual shopping, and yet, we now have opportunities we never had before to open up and expose ourselves to all styles of yoga, to find the perfect fit.
A 5 day immersion in Anusara Yoga was offered this February by Jordan Bloom. His second visit here and the second immersion including Desiree Rumbaugh’s. An immersion was offered in lieu of a workshop, to give students time with the concepts and to allow that these new ideas of movement be integrated, and to begin to teach the philosophy behind the practice. The Universal Alignment Principles of Anusara – both on and off the mat – are profound and simple. The philosophy gives a sense of how to function in the Universe and the wonderful mindstuff behind the asana principles is that the instructions never change, no matter the pose or relationship with the floor!
My biggest lesson of this immersion was that practicing yoga asana affects your life. I knew this intellectually, but the immersion worked to make this something we could experience! I realized that I cannot escape how yoga is going to teach me and change me, and that how I work in my physical practice is how I am likely to be living my life, change my practice, change my life! Take my practice into my life!
Anusara yoga begins with 5 principles of alignment which are the foundation of every pose. So instructions are easy and therefore easily digested. The 5 principles are opening to Grace; muscular energy; inner spiral; outer spiral; organic energy.
The beauty of Anusara yoga is that it makes the easy poses difficult (relatively, in terms of encouraging muscular energy (which feels like effort)), so as to make the difficult poses (“advanced” asanas) easier through strength in the alignment techniques. Anusara teaches to begin a pose by pausing, and softening, to open to the aspect of life that we are not in control of and to that which we do not know. Then it asks us to engage in what we can feel, the work of the pose - strong muscular action, a system of inner and outer spiral which helps to prevent the incorrect use of the joints, aligning the joint through the correct action of each muscle group, and then extension. Organic energy is the expression of the pose, the moving into the sensation of joy in the pose – the feeling of the pose.
The integration takes time and practice, remembering and reminding the body, drawing the body out of habit, especially habits causing pain. Being in pain is a signal from your body that you are out of alignment, in the pose or in your life, depending where the pain sits. From the understanding that many of us experience pain throughout our yoga practice, and lives, Anusara focuses on the therapy that yoga can provide and has developed a method of working that brings us back into alignment, and therefore pain free. One of the foci is lower back problems and since the immersion, I have noticed that so many of us have abused our spine out of its natural curve.
What is normal often is not what is natural!! I have often toiled with this concept, assuming and hoping that my body would know its best movement as a matter of DNA and some inner knowing, yet, because my body and mind are not living in communion with eachother all the time, my body is often confused by my mind and vice versa, so to learn that what feels normal, is not always natural has been a great gift in finding a new way to divine alignment, an Anusara mantra.
As a result of this focus, I have also realized that “tuck your tailbone” is possibly the worst instruction a teacher can make to a group of people where most will be flexible enough to indeed do just that. Tucking the tailbone if someone is rather open in the hips means they will be able to tilt the pelvis and draw the tailbone under the pelvis toward the pubic bone. This in effect straightens the spine. The objective with ‘tuck the tailbone’ though not clearly communicated in this instruction, is a lengthening of the lower back, honoring the curve of the spine, and then secondly, a rooting down of the tailbone to the floor, in effect engaging the muscles on either side of the tailbone and above the pubic bone, strengthening and lengthening the lower back. Actually tucking the tailbone weakens the sacro-iliac joints and puts strain on the sacrum, and ignores the balance of inner and outer spiral. Inner spiral create space across the lower back resulting in the buttocks sticking out (wagging the tail) and outer spiral which is a rooting of the tailbone toward the floor. The attitude of Anusara is that you don’t have to endure pain or live with it.
There are two ways of being in your body (which affects your life). Muscular energy is the strong activation of all your muscles, to work in your body with FIRE, a sense of urgency to be fully in the experience, and therefore your life. This creates boundaries…..
Organic energy is an expansion, extension, creative personal expression of the pose. This is pushing against the boundary to find freedom.
Life becomes a balance of knowing when to create boundaries and when to push against them. The more you want to expand, the more you have to contract. For example, to jump high (expansion), one needs to bend the knees and ground down (contraction). Restriction creates freedom. This physically rooted philosophy, grounding through the feet and hands in a pose to rise up into the open heart and extension of any limb free of the ground, then moves into a philosophy of self expression and personal freedom. The heart is opened and made free to launch itself upward. Discipline (often taken as the translation for one of the niyamas: tapas) seems to be a restrictive experience but in its limiting, it offers greater freedom, as saying ‘No’ often empowers your ‘Yes’.
This is the Tantra based philosophy of Anusara yoga. Most people hear tantra and think Sex, but the philosophy behind Tantra is a rich, expressive testament to living life out loud! Unlike more classical philosophy of yoga where our embodiment is a mistake and something we need to transcend, Tantra embraces the human experience and encourages a full experience of the body as temple and vehicle for personal freedom. The philosophy encourages being in the body for the entire experience of it and expressing an individual creativity for a richer, more whole life. I understood from the teachings that instead of being a “victim” of karma, dharma and destiny, Tantra yoga says stand up for your life and participate. In participating we choose to create an experience for ourselves. Create because we are made in the likeness of our Creator and therefore have that ability. Create for the sheer joy of it. Create through choices that uplift, empower, and improve your life. Happiness for instance, is a choice you make on a daily basis (Desiree Rumbaugh). Anusara yoga emphasizes making these empowered choices and creating the life you want, and in every moment, renewing that choice. And, in this creative process there is a significant absence of ”trying so hard!”. Tantra also teaches that “In the tango of life, the Universe is leading” (Jordan Bloom). And so Tantra yoga teaches the art of balancing doing and surrendering. The best you can do is show up – to Align with the Divine and let the Universe lead you.
Yoga Community became a large topic of the immersion. I have always considered building community to be an integral part of yoga and despite that, was shown through the efforts of Jordan Bloom how to realize a conceptual idea of community, rather than an intellectual idea which was powerless! Com-unity “with unity” depicts the attitude behind the success in building a community. Community will not exist save everyone’s involvement and coming together toward a mutual goal. Not one of us can create a community without becoming involved.
I am hopeful and excited that the yoga community can expand through a mutual consciousness and equal interest in being a part of something bigger than ourselves, making yoga accessible to more beautiful people who are interested in finding out about this way of life. I am also inspired to realize that I don’t have to do it all alone.
(published Complete Yoga magazine 2007)