Opening to GracePosted: October 17, 2011
I spent the weekend in Montclair attending my first-ever workshop with John Friend, the founder of Anusara yoga. I had no idea what to expect. I came away delighted. Far from being your typical stereotypical “guru,” he was amazingly — normal. Down to earth. Funny. Smart. So smart. This is the guy who came up with the Universal Principles of Alignment. And though they map on to emotional and spiritual freedom, far from being loosey-goosey spiritual babble, they are based on decades of scientific observation and study by John himself. I was impressed, and grateful for the opportunity to learn firsthand from him.
In Anusara, the Universal Principles of Alignment are applied physically to every pose. If you learn to do this, you’ll always be aligned properly — and not just with your skeleton. Mentally, emotionally, energetically. Tiny little adjustments can make amazing differences to how a pose feels, to your body and to your spirit. When it all comes together, when you find that sweet spot, it almost seems too easy.
The idea is to align with the flow of nature, with the rest of the universe. And it’s not at all passive. Far from it. You need to actively work your muscles, to engage, and then you get to experience bliss, to shine.
To be open to doing so is the first and perhaps most important principle, because none of it is possible without this: Opening to grace. This means setting your foundation and your intention to align your mind and heart with the energy of the universe. You soften your boundaries, stay present, and become more aware and receptive. Anusara teachers like to say “outer body soft, inner body bright.”
Grace is something I’ve been thinking about lately. Being graceful, going through life with grace — those are things I aspire to, that I work toward. One definition of the word grace is “ease and suppleness of movement or bearing.” That goes deeper than just looking nice or being attractive. It goes beyond physical suppleness and ease, though I’ve come to believe that having those things physically is necessary before you can have them in any other way. There’s a comfort with oneself involved, a center that’s strong and free simultaneously. There’s a mastery of doing something else that got mentioned this weekend: facing uncertainty with certainty. Coming at everything from a place of security and surety, even if you have no idea what’s going on outside or around you.
Of course, grace also has major spiritual and religious connotations. Several other definitions: “divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification”; “a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine grace”; and also “a virtue coming from God.” Depending on how you define the Divine, grace can be something sacred that’s inherent in yourself, not just something granted to you by a deity. I like to think about the energy all around us and in us as being the Divine, and in that sense, we really are in the flow of grace, all the time. We get to choose whether to engage with it or not. And it feels really, really good to engage with it.
There are also the Graces, three sister goddesses in Greek mythology who are the givers of charm and beauty. That makes me think of our lovely teacher Emma Magenta, our hostess for the weekend and an all-around amazing yogi and person. If anyone I know epitomizes grace, it’s her.