Leaning Back

278424_2171695125261_379018_oIn yoga, the front of the body is associated with the individual, and the back of the body is associated with the universal. When we curl into ourselves, we tend to hunch our shoulders forward, cross our arms and bow our head, protecting the heart. When we’re able to open up, we melt our heart forward, pull our shoulders back, and lean back, unafraid.

It’s a tall order. It can be a hugely emotional undertaking. It takes strength, courage, and trust.

And it’s a process. I’ve been practicing yoga steadily now for almost four years, and I feel like I’m just starting to really and truly be in my back body (see A Tool for the Box and A Shift).

My shoulder blades move more easily and smoothly down my back; I’m more conscious of keeping the sides of my body long. I can melt my heart down toward the floor or out toward the front of the room. I’ve never really been afraid of the leaning back part (how I adore ustrasana!), but it feels a lot better when you’ve got everything else aligned properly.

And I suspect — no, I know — that staying in my back body is the key to being able to kick up into a handstand (the Holy Grail of my practice). What happens, I’ve realized, is that when I get scared, I pull into myself, into my front body, and all the lengthening of my sides and melting of my heart and muscular energy I’ve cultivated in my arms comes with me. If I could just keep all that, I could get up. I need to trust in the fact that I can keep all that, and that it will keep me safe.

But I see now that all the back body work I’ve been doing lately — the way I’ve been feeling it differently — is work on the way to that goal. Today we did some binds and they felt better to me than ever before: so much more open, because I’m lengthening, and my shoulders and blades are in the right place. So much freer. (I love the contradictions in yoga — you get yourself into a bound pose and experience freedom. How crazy is that?)

I’m finding that I can lean back into poses more deeply now. I can keep my foundation strong, put my shoulders in the right place, and go. It’s very exciting, perhaps because the letting go part has always been difficult for me. I’m choosing to take this as a sign that I’m feeling confident enough in my center that I’m willing to trust myself and the universe more and lean into it.

I’ve got support — my family, my friends, my kula, the universe. It’s good.


Fully Immersed

Our Anusara immersion ended yesterday. Sixteen of us came together with our exceptional teacher Emma Magenta for nine weekends over the course of a year. Altogether, it was 108 hours. It was a big, serious committment of time, money and effort, but one we all felt was important and managed to convince our loved ones was important.

We were all there because Anusara struck a chord with each of us, and we wanted to go deeper. It was a lot more than just a class where we took notes, or a workshop to improve our poses. Though we did learn all about the Universal Principles of Alignment that our style of yoga is based upon and did many hours of tough asana, we also studied the Tantric philosophy that makes Anusara unique. We read and discussed the Bhagavad Gita. We practiced pranayama, meditation, and kirtan. And we got to better understand how yoga touches all parts of our lives — physically, mentally, spiritually. If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog, you know that two of the Universal Principles in particular have made a major emotional impression on me: muscular energy, or creating a strong foundation by contracting and pulling in, and organic energy, or extending and shining out.

We created a kula. We went from a group of strangers — or, at most, people who’d seen one another once or twice in class — to a cohesive community, a circle of love, trust, and safety. We established strong bonds of friendship.

When I started going to South Mountain Yoga about three years ago, I knew almost immediately that Anusara was going to be significant for me. I was feeling so battered and lost, completely foundation-less. I walked in there and it felt like a haven. What I got out of it was just what I needed.

It still feels that way, and I’m a completely different person — because of all kinds of work I’ve done since then, but in large part because of my yoga. I’m as strong as I’ve ever been, physically and emotionally. I’m more comfortable in and confident about my body. I’ve found a language to understand the spiritual ideas that I already had.

It’s hard to articulate what Anusara is and why it’s special without sounding like some sort of cult member, so I try not to proselytize when my friends show an interest. I tell them that yoga is like anything else — you find the studio, teacher, and style that work for you. Of course I want them all to come do Anusara with me. But I’d love for them to come to it organically, like I did.

There’s the possibility of teacher training in the fall, and though I’ve never considered myself teacher material, I’m starting to rethink that. Good teachers are passionate about their subject. I don’t think I have the amazing gift that Emma does (that’s her front and center in the picture, in the bright blue jacket). But I’d love to help other people see what I see in Anusara, to get what I’ve gotten out of it. Whether I’m a good prospect for such an important job remains to be seen. But I’d love to learn more. So I’m thinking about it.

But I’m really going to miss having immersion weekend to look forward to. It was always so nice to know one was coming up, that I’d get to spend the weekend talking and thinking about something I love, with people I love, and doing something soothing and healing for myself. This last one was a week after my father’s memorial service, and the timing could not have been better.

One of my classmates put it this way: When we began, it was like we were in the lobby of a museum, and we were there to see an exhibit we were interested in. But it turned out the museum was huge, cavernous in fact, and there was more and more to explore. So now we’re wandering through the infinite museum of Anusara yoga.

The nicest thing about this metaphor is that even if we’re in different rooms or focusing on different exhibits, we can still meet up in the cafe. See you all there.