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YOGA NEWS YOGA NEWS YOGA NEWS MAY 2007
Dear Students, Friends, and Colleagues,
Spring is here, and change is in the air! Nature’s radical unfolding each spring reminds us that we too are ever evolving—parts of us fading and dying away while others arise and grow. It happens all the way down to our cells, which are constantly replacing each other. To live is to change!
And when we don’t change, when we get fixed in our ways and stuck in our habits, we suffer. The Sanskrit word samskara evokes this notion of patterns that get a hold on us. The root of the word is the same as that of the English “scar”: samskaras are literally grooves carved into our psyches. Ruts.
Many yogic practices, including the asanas we all practice on the mat, are designed to break up old, unhealthy samskaras and replace them with healthier ones. That’s what all the talk about “alignment” boils down to: rearranging the parts of your body so that the prana, or life force, can move more freely. And while we focus on the physical body and the breath, these shifts imprint themselves deep into our nervous systems, our minds, our hearts. Thus, many people early in their practice of yoga experience emotional outpourings—nameless grief, inexplicable joy, and everything in between.
The longer you practice, the more subtle the changes. I used to obsess over things—big things, little things—around and around my mind would spin on just about anything, but especially that also had a hold on my heart (the unavailable guy, the dream job). A few years ago, I noticed that I don’t obsess anymore. Ever! Gone! What I thought was a deep, permanent part of my nature was completely dislodged, unstuck. Ditto the tension headaches that plagued me for years.
While some of my patterns have proven more tenacious, I’ve come to believe that nothing is truly permanent, that everything can be shaped, altered, transformed. Recent research suggests that the human brain, once believed to be fixed by early adulthood, can be radically altered through use. Hence the new niche market of “brain gym” products aimed at baby boomers desperately afraid of losing their memory and their mental acuity. Hence also the recent fascination with the brains of Tibetan monks, who appear to have altered the contours and contents of their brains through years of meditation.
Much new research and practice centers around the idea of recovering our natural range of abilities—both physical and mental. One American heart surgeon has postulated that the healthiest hearts are those that reveal the greatest elasticity—the ability to move from rapid to slow beating and back again. (This runs counter to the mainstream view, which advocates prolonged periods of exercise at a fixed heart rate.) The brain gyms require that participants exercise specific parts of the brain that are currently underused—the use it, or lose it model.
This winter, at the suggestion of a gifted physician-yogi, I embarked on a journey to recover some of my own mental elasticity, to see if my mind is in fact as pliable as my body has become. Neurofeedback wizard Stephen Larson (www.stonemountaincenter.com) has pioneered a new model of biofeedback, which seeks to break up holding patterns in brain-wave frequencies (samskaras!) and restore people’s natural range of thinking and feeling. The process begins by mapping the brain’s dominant frequencies at different sites. Larsen then creates an individual program of electro-magnetic stimulation geared at awakening sleepy frequencies and moderating those on overdrive.
Six months into this experiment, I’ve noticed some startling shifts. I used to have this funny, anxious feeling of being trapped in time, beginning with a being a little girl waiting for the school bell to ring . . . and waiting, and waiting. If there wasn’t enough immediate stimulation (family car trips, doctor’s waiting rooms, boring company come to mind), I would get increasingly jumpy. This carried over into my adult life: I’m a clock-watcher. I have to turn all the clocks backwards in my apartment to avoid getting hung up on the time.
Well . . . it’s gone! Not the clock-watching itself--I still reflexively look at the clock way too often, but the time doesn’t trigger that same panicky, trapped, “when will this be over?” response.
Those of you who know me also know that . . . I love to work. To the point of workaholism, of compulsion. Well, major change number two is that lately, I’ve been putting fun first! Nothing radical, just little pleasures. Like brushing up on my French, and testing the waters with Spanish. Like shopping for spring clothes, and indulging in some new opera CDs. Going to the theater in the middle of the afternoon. Emailing friends before following up on the long list of “should” emails. Things I always want to do, but don’t think I have time for, cuz there’s always so much work to do!
I firmly believe that these changes result from the subtle recalibration of my brainwaves. And this energetic adjusting is just what yoga does! It shifts the deep energetic patterns that have come to rule our lives. I’m sure that sooner or later, my yoga practice would have effected the same changes as the neurofeedback, but I’m delighted to have found a “practice” that complements my time on the mat so well!
YOGA, HITHER AND YON
I’ve been closer to home in the last two months, tending to my city classes and workshops, with the exception of a weeklong Anusara Yoga Immersion that I led in Costa Rica—this time for Costa Rica students. My host, Mariela Cruz, invited me to initiate her students into the wonders of Anusara Yoga. We had a great time together, and it was great to see this yoga flourish across national borders and languages (that, by the way, is why I’m trying to learn a little Spanish!). Our multi-talented group included Pilates teachers, physical therapists, massage therapists, bankers, a fire-thrower, and a dentist-belly dancer. Needless to say, it was a colorful week! Most of all, I loved how the Ticos lead with their hearts—which is, after all the whole point of Anusara Yoga! I’ll be returning for parts 2 and 3 in June and October. (These programs are open to American students as well; details at www.blueskyyoga.com)
Maybe the change you need right now is to deepen your practice! To learn how this yoga works. Or maybe you’ve thought about teaching? If so, I urge you to get started on the Anusara path by enrolling in one of the Anusara Yoga immersion courses now being offered worldwide. This 108-hour course, which is divided into 3 sections of 36 hours each, is your invitation into Anusara Yoga—practice, philosophy, breathing, meditation. Virayoga in Soho will be offer part 1 this June (in two formats: weekdays and weekends; www.virayoga.com); in addition to the Costa Rica programs, I will be on board to teach the weekday version of part 2 at Virayoga come fall.
The immersions are also now a required prerequisite for entering any Anusara Yoga Teacher Training program worldwide—including the one that I am co-teaching with Ellen Saltonstall and Julie Dohrman this fall! So, if you are on your way toward teaching, I encourage you to begin (or continue) with the immersion cycle now!
SPRING INTO SUMMER
The transition from Spring into Summer is also upon us. I’ll be finishing up with my city classes on June 1, except for Yoga Nerd, which continues through June 14. My full schedule of classes for spring in the city and summer in the Hamptons is posted on my website, complete with start and end dates. I’ll kick off Memorial Day weekend with a Sunday morning class at One Ocean Yoga in Bridgehampton. Please come and visit my for Anusara Yoga by the sea this summer!
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