Tuesday, 21 February 2012
Thursday, 16 February 2012
I think it's about time I sit down and gather my thoughts and reflections of the past days. After the allegations regarding John Friend's misconduct were made public on yogadork, I immediately manifested my opinion on the matter. I stand by that same opinion. For me, yoga is not about the teacher, it's about the teaching, the practice, the philosophy. For me, Anusara yoga is not about John Friend. I became sad when some of the teachers decided to resign, but I was not sad about John.
My first contact with Anusara yoga was in the end of 2010. In 2011 I immerged myself in it. I went to public classes and I started following some classes on yogaglo. I could feel my body incorporating the principles and the alignments. I realized my approach to life had changed as well. Anusara was helping me clear out some of the clouds that had been with me since 2009. I was gonna stick with Anusara; it had become my yoga style and I was gonna dedicate my time to it, studying it.
I had found home.
So for a few months, I practiced a lot; I had my main Anusara-inspired teacher in Portugal and I had Noah Mazé on yogaglo. I practiced with other Anusara teachers, but Noah was the one I was faithful to. I loved his style, his way of teaching, his technique and his humour. I learned a lot from him. At the time I had no opinion on John Friend. I had heard some comments from my teachers here in Portugal, I could tell Bel respected and admired him a lot, but that was it. I had no personal opinion, so somewhere along the way, I decided to meet him, to meet the man who had founded my, well... my home.
So in July 2011, I flew to Geneva, Switzerland, for a weekend workshop with the man himself - John Friend. It was mentioned here that at his events there's a certain pull. Like the energy draws in to the space the event is taking place. I was with John for only two days and I know this to be true. My roommates in Geneva told me "Just follow the people with the yoga mats". And so it was, you could feel and almost see the aura around the area. I followed the people and signed in, got my very first Anusara-event name tag, sticked it to my mat and quietly sat down absorving everything I could. I quickly recognized Marc Holzman, another familiar face from yogaglo. And then John showed up and I thought Crap, it's really happening. This place is huge, I don't know anyone... I flew all the way from Portugal to practice yoga with this guy I know nothing about.
I had a blast. John is a lot more than an awesome yoga teacher. He's an entertainer. He manages to put the students at ease, he's funny, he's insightful and makes you think and enjoy your practice - attributes I really admire in a yoga teacher. And he pays attention. He notices the people. Even though he had assistants - I remember Marc, Ross Rayburn, Jeff Fisher (who I "officially" met this past December) and a certified teacher from Italy, whose name I don't remember - John walks around the room and he lets the energy flow.
On my very first session, I talked to John. I believe that was the only interaction we had. I was helping a girl in handstand. I remember that John passed by us and gave me a hand. He asked my name and where I was from. Shit, John freaking Friend is talking to me. I said I was Marina from Portugal. He looked surprised. Portugal?! He was making eye contact and he was grounding the other girl - he was paying attention to everything. Yes, I study with Bel. And he said, Yes, I know Bel, I love Bel. And that was it. I don't think I talked to John ever again after that. And I can assure you: he's human. He's just as human as the guy. But then again, I don't buy the guru thing.
Going back to my notes from that weekend, this is what I wrote after that first session: very good & vibrating.
The next day I watched the advanced session - I was only doing the mixed level at the time - and it was mind blowing. I absolutely love advanced classes, I usually say that my favourites classes are the ones that include poses I can't do. I love the challenge and to work my way to the pose. I learned so much from watching those amazing people. And I liked John, the way he acted around his students, some of them now fully grown into certified Anusara teachers themselves. I loved his jokes. I remember clearly how hard I laughed when John said anyone could do yoga, you don't need to be flexible, or be super strong and you do not need to look like Ross Rayburn. Everyone laughed this, including Ross!
I met so many inspiring people on that weekend. Barbra Noh received her certification on that weekend and it was so beautiful. I wasn't there at the time, but we were in the same apartement and so we all went out to celebrate. I felt so blessed and happy to be there. I didn't want it to end.
But it did. I tried to absorb all of John's last words to us. It was intense. There was this knot in my throat. I wanted to cry. It was so weird, I had just met that man the day before. I didn't know most of the people sitting next, in front and behind me. And I was feeling both really sad because it was coming to an end and very happy for taking that step.
The last thing I wrote down that John said was:
There's no waiting for the perfect moment, because it might never come; you can make every moment perfect.
Still, John did not become my main teacher or source of inspiration, even I though I loved being there with him. He intesified my belief in Anusara yoga, in the power of the amazing kula. My first contact with the international kula had been amazing. Everything Anusara resonated with me on every level. So I came back home and continued my practice. Having met Marc in Geneva I decided to give him more chances and started practicing with him as well on yogaglo. Tara Judelle followed him. I felll in love with her voice. And she has a very deep sense of the body, of the organic part of the body that I really like. She also cares about the brain functions and she manages to incorporate everything in her clases with such poise and fun. Plus, she read a lot! A yogini bookworm like me! Her teachings really resonate with me. So in the end they ended up being my teachers. I had my Portuguese teachers and those three at yogaglo.
In December, I met Sianna Sherman and loved her. She's inspiring, kind, poetic and presented us with some kick ass practices. She told stories in a way that was captivating and interesting. I fell in love. I had these inspiring teachers I could always turn to. By that time, Christina Sell, Darren Rhodes and Elena Brower had already left. You could tell something was wrong. But I think it was when Amy Ippoliti left that everything surfaced.
And the rest is history. Or not yet, because history is still being written as we speak, particularly in Miami.
On February 12, when I heard that Noah was leaving Anusara yoga I felt really really sad. And then this week, Tara decided to go. She decided to go on the day I was giving my first yoga class. I felt confused. They were leaving and I was only beginning. I know that yoga is yoga is yoga. But will they still teach the same way? Of course they will. They will be the same teachers, teaching with the same heart and inspiration. But Anusara was/is like a big family and when someone moves out you know you'll not see them as often. You know things will change. Noah and Tara leaving was really hard on me. It still is. And I don't even know them. And I knew John and I don't really feel the same way for him.
I guess what this means is that Anusara yoga has grown beyond John. His students reached 18 years old, they went to college, they graduated and now they moved on. But they will take Anusara yoga with them. John decided to take a leave of absence and you know what? Anusara yoga will keep on rocking.
I do not know the future of Anusara yoga. I guess at this point most of us don't. But in the end it doesn't really matter. Because we hold the fundamentals close to our hearts and we take them with us wherever we go. And the friends we made through Anusara will still be our friends if Anusara ends (can a yoga style truly end, though?).
I honestly wish Jonh Friend the best of luck in this difficult time. I think he has a lot to consider and I think he mustn't forget that this is so much bigger than him.
I hope Marc and Sianna don't resign. Marc is so close in Paris and I already paid for the Immersion I with Sianna in April.
Just something to consider: it starts with Opening to Grace for a reason. ♥
Tuesday, 7 February 2012
It seems to me people are losing touch with what really matters.
I love Anusara Yoga. Let me make that clear, Anusara Yoga. Not Anusara politics. Or any politics for that matter.
Anusara Yoga, as a philosophy is centered on the Tantric approach of intrinsic goodness, Anusara focuses on alignining the individual with the Divine, allowing the human being to flow deeper in the sweet current of life. Sounds pretty awesome, right?
Well, it also uses, let's call them physical tools, which have received the glorious name of Universal Principles of Alignment (trademark!!), which allow the practitioner to go further in the practice and if we align ourselves with the Anusara idea of yoga being an artistic expression, then whoever practices Anusara Yoga knows this to be true: it rocks.
And this is the part that I love.
I'm not an Anusara Yoga teacher, I practice Anusara Yoga because I love it, because it makes me feel good, because it provides me with the tools to better explore myself (body, emotions, what have you), so what I'm stating here is merely an opinion. It's merely my opinion.
In 2010, John Friend replied to an article published in the New York Times regarding himself and Anusara Yoga. Some of the points he defended seem pertinent to the point I'm trying to make.
Is Anusara Yoga a means to make a lot of money?
Well, yes and no. They do have an online store, where they sell their products worldwide; John Friend has worked directly with both prAna and Manduka, designing a very special "Anusara line". Their ideas are trademarked... (I mean if the principles are universal... shouldn't they belong to the... Universe?) The Anusara workshops or trainings don't come cheap. So yes, Anusara Yoga can be seen as a way to make a lot of money.
But. But, they have something called "Anusara Aid": Anusara Aid is used to financially assist students in their training with John Friend. Financial difficulty should never be a hindrance to attending an Anusara yoga class. Students who need financial assistance to study with John are welcome to submit an application for Anusara Aid or request a payment plan option. (quoted directly from the Anusara Yoga website)
In my opinion, this means Anusara Yoga wants to make money - granted, they have become a business after all, they have employees who live on their salary, I'm sure (and they're awesome employees by the way, I know this from personal experience). But they're not only interested in making money, they want to spread the yoga. Their teachers and John himself travel extensively throughout the world to share the teachings of Anusara Yoga.This is a fact.
What explains the exodus of Anusara certified/senior teachers?
Well, John Friend founded Anusara Yoga in 1997. Most of the teachers who left recently had been studying with John Friend since before 2000.
Now, are you the same person as you were 10 years ago?
And I'm pretty sure none of those teachers are, and neither is John Friend and neither is Anusara Yoga.
Do you want the same things, do you think the same way?
Does this answer that question?
And didn't John Friend also felt like he was no longer aligned with Iyengar Yoga and returned his certification and later came up with this awesome idea of founding "Anusara Yoga"?
All this talk of money with a huge hint of politics makes me cringe.
Yoga and politics are two separate things.
Anusara Yoga's popularity is the main source of money for the Anusara organization and John Friend. The thing is, John Friend didn't impose Anusara yoga on anyone, people chose it. People tried it out and either loved it or hated it, but he didn't shove Anusara yoga down people's throats and threatened them to give him all their money so he could look pretty on television and design a revolutionary yoga mat.
People allowed this.
We go to Anusara Yoga classes and workshops and trainings.
We buy their products.
We click a link anytime we read "blah blah Anusara blah blah".
And we do all of that because it resonates with us.
Because we love Anusara Yoga.
And I mean, Yoga.
Monday, 6 February 2012
I got in touch with the studio and immediately reserved my spot for the workshop.
I was really excited about this!
I remember how at the end of the first and second sessions, in February 2011, something happened. When I was walking to my car I was literally jumping on the street, making my way feeling happy. I wasn't used to this feeling anymore. For the last past weeks, things had got darker and darker and I was growing used to pain and misery; this was new. This was good.
I realized once again that Anusara Yoga really touched me, maybe because I really needed its wisdom regarding the good and positive thoughts on life and people. It was such a dark place for me that anything that seemed to pour a little light into my life was a very precious gift. And I took it.
The physical aspect of Anusara Yoga felt perfect because it was complex enough for me to get out of my head and be able to enjoy that time without the constant agonizing thoughts that usually wandered around in my mind. I drank all the words and the practices, always learning more and more about yoga and myself.
I soon decided I wanted to do a yoga teacher training in 2011. And I wanted to go deeper into Anusara Yoga. I was already grasping the basics, as the five sessions progressed. Bel built the workshops in a way that allowed the students to connect the Anusara teachings. The first session that took place on February 5th 2011 (one year ago!) focused on Opening to Grace, Muscular Energy and Organic Energy; the second session focused on Inner and Outer Spirals and Tantric philosophy. On the third session we went into fine-tuning skills, the energetic loops and some more philosophy. The fourth session was focused on inversions and my teacher invited the other Portuguese Anusara-Inspired teacher, Manel, for that session. What a blessing, to know the only two teachers in my country who teach Anusara. Bel & Manel together are absolutely wonderful; with them I could understand that these two people had a more profound knowledge on yoga and the practice than I was used to, they knew so many small details that could change every pose, making even the most advanced pose available to us. The way they both taught and the things they told us made such a blissful ressonance within me, everything was connecting me more and more to Anusara Yoga and I wanted to absorb all of its teaching and sweet sweet magic.
(Anusara-Inspired teachers Manel Rodrigues and Bel Janela and me)
The last session was a conclusion of everything we had learned, Bel led us through a sweet practice where we could once again experience all of the teachings that had been given the previous sessions and she explained to us the meaning of the Anusara Invocation, the mantra we usually sing at the beginning of each class. Now, here's a funny thing about mantras. I absolutely love to have them on my iPod and listen to the fine music and singing, but other than the sweetness of the melody, mantras don't really resonate with me. But after Bel explained to us the Anusara Invocation, I noticed that whenever I sang the Invocation I could feel my body slightly moving, as if I was slowly dancing.
(this version is the one presented on the Anusara Yoga website)
Two amazing things happened: Bel and the awesome studio owner who is also a yoga teacher, Jean-Pierre, were thinking of putting together a YTT. Perfection. I could learn directly from my very inspiring and inspired teacher and in a place that was feeling very much like home. Things were yet in their very embryonic stage and I had already told them to count me in! The second thing was when I decided to actually meet John Friend, the founder of Anusara Yoga, for a workshop in Europe.
But how would I do it?
I had never travelled all alone.
The only options were countries I had never been to.
I didn't know anyone there.
How could it be done?
Could it be done?
Saturday, 4 February 2012
This journey begins in 2010, even though I have been practicing yoga since 2003. For several years, my yoga practice was very irregular and I mostly used it to center myself and find some quiet me-time. In 2010, I was coping with my father's recovery from surgery. He had been diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and had been taken his entire esophagus and part of his stomach in the beginning of 2010 and things were looking good.
But by Spring his cancer was back; it was now in his throat - which would eventually lead to the paralysis of one of this vocal cords - and his liver and at the end of the Summer, the doctors had told me and my sister that since my dad's cancer had returned there wasn't much to do. He got sicker and sicker and lost a lot of weight. Due to a pancreatitis he spent an entire week without eating (this picture is one of the first things he ate by himself when he started recovering). We did everything we could, tried everything, but he was still given 6 months to live. I remember being with my dad every day and making the most out of everything; I wanted to remember him always. I trained myself to remember both his voices: the regular one and the one after his vocal cord paralysis. I wanted to remember everything.
In October I went to a weekend yoga retreat with a friend and there I met my current Anusara-Inspired Yoga teacher, the inspiring Bel. I had never heard of Anusara Yoga before, but I immediately fell in love with this teacher and this inspiring yoga style she was talking about. I knew right then that was my home. Immediately I filled my mind - once again - with yoga projects. I wanted to practice more and more and maybe even do a teacher training so I could learn more.
But nearly two weeks after that, on November 13th my dad died. I will not go into details about his death, but one thing that keeps my soul at peace is knowing that he died surrounded by his wife and his two daughters, my father took his last breath while my right hand held his right hand, so I know for sure he wasn't in pain, he didn't suffer. He left in peace and he was surrounded by his family. We had been told hours before his death that we should start saying goodbye. Up until that moment in my life that was the hardest thing someone had ever told me. To say goodbye to my dad, while he could still see me and talk back to me. I remember the last smile he gave me. It was when me and my sister approached him, his eyes were closed, but he opened them and presented us with a huge smile. His last smile. My friends tell me they had never been in a funeral with so many people. You see, my dad was the kind of man who easily got along with anyone and anyone would always be on his good side and be a victim of his peculiar sense of humour. I remember how at the graveyard the man from the funeral home looked at me inquisitively and I nodded "Yes, go ahead, bury my father." I helped. I took a handful of dirt and let it fall on top of my dad's coffin. I didn't clean up my hand until I got home; I rubbed my hand onto the walls of my house; onto the walls of the house my dad had drawn and built himself.
For weeks, I felt completely numb. I was appaled at how the world could go on and how everything was the same, when everything was different now. I realized that everything ends. I should also point out that my 4-year relationship ended 4 months before my dad died, so I was carrying this deep feeling of loss with me. Most things didn't make sense to me anymore, how people approached their lives and how people related to each other. Everything seemed fake and pointless. I started questioning everything, the point of life itself.
Needless to say, I didn't enter 2011 the best way.
But, at the end of January I got an email with several yoga events in Portugal and I immediately recognized my teacher's name - yes, the one I had met back in October 2010. She was doing this 5 workshop series called "Anusara Fundamentals" at a new studio in Lisbon. And I knew I had to meet her again. So I contacted the studio where she was now teaching and yoga saved my life - again.