Showing up (for backbends, Capitol lawn protests, etc.)

Right-to-work protests at the Michigan Capitol buiding today. (Photo by Romain Blanquart via the Detroit Free Press.)

What is it that you show up for? I mean, really show up for? Your yoga practice? Your job? Your kids? Your marriage? Your church? A cause? Why do you do it? How do you do it?

I’m thinking about this on a day full of people showing up in vastly different ways. I started my morning at the yoga shala in Ann Arbor, rolling out my mat for Mysore practice at 6:15 a.m. The collective energy was, as always, powerful and grounding. All the ashtangis around me have had their own journeys of training themselves to change their lifestyle enough to show up at ridiculously early hours to practice, and why they do it week after week is like a fingerprint — unique to them. Yet the collective feel of a group of people working toward a similar goal is palpable in that space.

The 60-minute drive back to mid-Michigan, where I live and work, took 90 minutes this morning, thanks to cars clogging the highway as they headed toward Michigan’s capital city to protest right-to-work legislation. I work two blocks from Lansing’s Capitol building, so my coworkers and I — a mix of former journalists and news junkies — couldn’t help but to follow what was happening as thousands of protestors and two branches of government did their thing. The sound of helicopters above only added to the day’s heightened feel, but the most notable feeling for me, as I walked through the crowds in the bitter cold, was how upbeat the collective energy of the protestors felt. This was absolutely a politically driven event, but I’m not making a political statement here. To me, it was interestingly apolitical that the men and women who showed up in Lansing today seemed to believe that their presence in that very particular spot of the world was vital, even though all the pundits and analysts said it was game over for their side (and it was).

After work, I headed straight to the athletic club where I teach a beginning-level vinyasa-flow class. Tonight there were twice as many students as usual who were ready to challenge themselves with a mind-body practice. Some students I have seen every week for a year, and several were new. The feel in that room was one of determination — yoga may not necessarily come easily to them, but they weren’t going to give up and walk away.

I suppose what I’m saying is that in every setting I was in today, I was surrounded by people who had to make a conscious decision to show up — which is sometimes the hardest part. True, the shala and the gym’s yoga room aren’t divisive spaces like the protest grounds, which had an intense police presence, riot gear ready. Yet the collective feel in each was one of a group of people willing to do what it takes to show up to help create what they believe to be a set of better circumstances.

(What’s pretty inspiring on the yoga front is that it you can’t just marshal up that motivation once; it’s not a one-shot deal the way a protest might be. But I think that’s where collective energy can be so helpful to keep you fighting the good fight against laziness, inertia or a crazy schedule.)

So back to the questions. What do you show up for? I find that showing up to my yoga practice helps me be more present in everything else I do — my work, my marriage, my friendships, even how I process the feel of something like a right-to-work protest. And how do you go about being present once you’ve shown up? For me, I think that lately I’ve been working on putting forth the effort but trying to avoid clinging to what I want to happen (e.g., “I want to feel my body to feel light and my spine to feel supple this morning”), which allows me to be more receptive to what comes (note the emphasis on “trying”).

By the way, on the point of receptivity: Working on deep backbends — can you say kapotasana? — seems to help with the whole surrendering process (no kidding, right?!), which in turns seems to help me with the whole receptivity process.

That said, every new day is a test. I failed a couple of tests today (post-practice) and I passed others. We’ll see how tomorrow goes — starting with those backbends.

The Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Mysore space (2011) (Courtesy of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor)

(Photo links: Free Press aerial shot; Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Mysore space)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Backbending, and getting back together

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For me, the second full day of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence was about backbending and getting back together.

Mysore West?

First, getting back together. As lots of people have noted, having 350 Ashtanga yoga practitioners all in one place to learn from five master teachers is a recipe for a reunion. Even though Ashtanga’s popularity around the world seems to have increased exponentially since the early 1970s, it’s still a pretty small, tight-knit community — even if you’ve never studied in Mysore, India.

Just before the start of the conference, Tim Miller wrote this blog post:

The tribe has already started to gather—my regular classes are starting to swell a bit with the new arrivals from various parts of the country. Most of these folks I have met at some point, either through their attendance at a workshop I taught in their area or their participation in a teacher-training course or retreat. It feels a bit like a family reunion—nieces and nephews and cousins all coming together for a big celebration. My fellow teachers at the Confluence are like brothers and sisters that I rarely get a chance to spend time with. The last time we all got together was for Guruji’s memorial in 2009. The Confluence will be a different kind of Guruji memorial—a joyful celebration of Pattabhi Jois’ life and legacy.

The tribe gathering — it’s so true.

It was wonderful to have the chance to spend quality time this afternoon with the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor crew. In the evening, the dinner break gave me a chance to hang out with the totally fun group of ashtangis I met at the Mt. Shasta hiking and yoga retreat this past August. Tomorrow, I get to catch up with Dana Blonde and Brent Mulligan, the awesome couple who own The Yoga Shala in Calgary, Alberta. I met Dana in 2009, when I traveled to Vancouver to do a weeklong training with David Swenson. I met Dana’s husband in 2010, when I traveled to Southern California to study with Tim Miller.

Yeah, it’s definitely a small world.

There’s also a lot of supportive energy in the air, and I think that’s thanks not only to the Confluence attendees, but also the tone set by the five brilliant but incredibly down-to-earth teachers themselves. Yesterday during Tim’s pranayama workshop, Eddie Stern and Richard Freeman streamed in with all the other students who were attending, and listened as intently as anyone. In today’s backbending workshop, David Swenson slid in and found an open space that happened to be just in front of me. I’m guessing he didn’t bring a mat in so as to not take up a full space (this workshop had been over-registered), but right there on the hotel carpet, he got into sphinx pose, shalabasana (locust), and all of the research poses that Richard put the room in. He looked like he was having a blast.

The level of camaraderie seemed to reach a fever pitch when the afternoon discussion between Tim and Eddie — focused on Hanuman and Ganesha — closed with everyone singing the Hanuman Chalisa. Tim played his harmonium, accompanied by some of his students on a range of other instruments. Jason (@leapinglanka) tweeted this afterward:

Eddie S. & Tim M. shredded Hanuman/Ganesh tonite. Dffrnt generations, East/West coast, didn’t matter: ashtanga tradition is very much alive

‘Yoga is relationship’

Ah, to the backbending.

I was lucky enough to receive my dropbacks during Mysore this morning from Ricard Freeman.

Oh. My. God.

I am blessed to have had, over the past couple of years, expert Ashtanga teachers who have taught me a tremendous amount about stability, security and strength during dropbacks. I am able to surrender fully in dropbacks because I trust fully.

But I’ve never experienced a dropback quite like the ones given by Richard. It’s nearly impossible to describe. Suffice it here, for now, to say that it didn’t feel like Richard was using his muscles or any part of his body, really, to support me in the dropbacks. It instead felt like he was directing an invisible net of soft energy that allowed my spine to cascade like a waterfall up and over, and then return again (almost like a video being played in reverse), with a moment of pure suspension in that moment just before I returned to standing.

Those dropbacks were the perfect trailer for the backbending worskhop held a couple of hours later.

There’s no way I could possible recreate — or even distill, really — the backbending workshop. That’s one of the beauties of being present at a gathering like this. You come to learn, and to share what you learn. But so much of what you learn you can’t adequately share in a straight-forward way (like blogging about it). So much of what you learn you will end up sharing because it will become part of how you see this practice, and that will infuse into the way you practice, the way you interact with your world, and, if you are a teacher, subtle things about the way you teach and adjust students.

If you have the chance to learn about backbending from Richard, who found Iyengar yoga before he found Ashtanga yoga, I highly recommend it. Richard builds it step by step so beautifully — much like the way Tim builds his two-hour bandha workshop, which he sometimes offers when he travels to conduct his weekend workshops.

I will say that Richard opened the backbending workshop by talking about the two dominant patterns — one based on prana, and one based on the opposite, apana, and what we need is to balance the two.

Yoga is relationship. . . . You are a go-between for these patterns — prana and apana. Or, Shiva/Shakti, if you want to be fancy. When they intertwine, you disappear.

A reunion.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.