Fall From Grace to Radiant Heart
The day of Desi and John Friend workshop starts auspiciously. I dream the night before I am teaching a young female friend, Libbie how to walk on air… I don’t know John Friend and haven’t seen him before today but what I do know is that this man has shape shifted. He has seemingly morphed into a newly humbled being by way of demand from the inside out. Desi is all hard and angled—grit as proof of a chin that juts out. She is soft spoken and precise in her speech but her motivation is hard and unyielding. Her days in yoga started in Bikram and this is telling in her body and discipline. She tells us this Shidaiva yoga is like bitter medicine, good for us but hard going down. The Roots is a practice netted in “sensitivity” and back body fullness with a tipped tail—the moon, shadow, hidden side in full view. A perfect place for John to find a home. His beard and stance is curled inward as we begin juxtaposed to their teachings, he appears small at the start of the day almost unrecognizable even though I have no comparison.
Mid weekend though I can see the Anusara John---the teacher who has been in the role of leader and sage for many years. His girth expands and enthusiasm grows. Desi humbles him chiding silently and aloud for his interrupting at one point—we stop there is silence, she speaks and he is quiet. Later she reins him in again for his tone of voice, “Tell your body “it’s going to be ok” he guides us in his distinct voice. She criticizes—“you are sounding like you are talking to a child.” She repeats the words in a tone she finds more suitable. John apologizes. A male participant, who is about John’s age mumbles, “he was just using ‘inner child’ speak.” (I am thinking this same thing—my sense of fairness prevails yes, he wasn’t being condescending) John is relieved to be defended something uncommon these days and says, “yes this is what I meant,” he appeals to her and us. She ignores and we move on, patterns need to be reworked right down to the connective tissue. Samsaras need to be changed. The way needs to be altered.
I think of this poem
as I write this
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in...
I am lost... I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn't my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It's a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
I walk down another street.”
― Portia Nelson, There's a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery
Desi is in control. In order for him to come back and maybe even change, he will need for her to be in the lead. This is ok with him. The feminine, Lunar will lead him back to his roots so that he can begin again. This re-netting of body, mind and soul will not be easy for him or us. We are taught a 54-pose practice of mindfulness this weekend. Remember what foot hits the floor first as you start with the pads of your toes. All details matter. The adage ‘How we do anything is how we do everything’ comes through…John laughs, “If you don’t pay attention you might just kill someone.”
We hold our breaths and then move on…
The following day it is raining out. I am rushing to get Oscar to doggie daycare. I am reading emails as I sit in the parking lot in the pouring rain and start to back out abruptly without looking. As I am doing this I look up and see a man jump out of the way. I am horrified. I could have hit him. I drive to the end of the lot, again distracted. I look up and he is behind me patiently waiting for me to drive forward. I quickly exit onto the road. As I am driving along I notice that I don’t have my lights on. I remember John Friend’s words…you just might kill someone…I turn on my car lights and say a prayer of thanks for grace. I pray for mindfulness.
Denver Oct 2015
I decide to go to a 5 Day Training in Colorado on Sridaiva at Vital Yoga
I am sitting outside in the last space of sun of the day at Juan’s BNB amongst the lavender plants and the feeding bees. The rays shining down have the magnitude of being closer to the sun as at the same time the air portends the evening cool of the Rockies. I am reflecting back on the weekend and today. The intensity of the Integrative Psychiatry workshop and all the cool things that I heard, learned and the people that I saw while there are finally drifting away. The tension and anxiety of the hype from the weekend is settling down and I feel less flightly and scattered and more grounded than I did this morning.
The BowSprings workshop starts off as a pleasant contrast as we moved early during the first hour. Desi had told us that each week her studio has a focus and this week’s is accountability. I think of what this means for me. The ability to account for my actions as I look back, sit with and look ahead. I like the bow springs for the simple fact that it keeps me present and allows me to reset in a funky way. My body becomes clearer, more calm and I feel present even after one class. The rattle of someone’s air conditioner takes me out of my muse as I listen to the drumming of machinery while the gentle wind blows against my bare arms. I think back on how amazing it is that I am with two master teachers within a small group of people and how many of the participants are European. How one woman from Spain needed an interpreter and Desi was able to fluently fill her in though out the afternoon on what needed to be heard. In this intensive there are three people from Spain, two Canadians, a Czech woman and another from Poland. There are a scattering of people from the States, many from the southeast. We all come together wanting different things but in some way all striving for the same intention for our lives as we join together from different respective corners of the earth. It is hard not to get caught up in Desi precise, soft held focus and John’s enthusiasm as I look forward to the rest of the week.
Day 1 (eve class)
It comes to me tonight, as I watch John come into the room and chat with a fellow man that there is a joyful innocence about him that belies the self created turmoil he has come through and indeed he seems to be unhindered by it and has found new happiness. This is refreshing to see. Pain need not be enduring in this life. Maybe the bowspring has been his medicine and therapy? Maybe it will work for all of us in this way? Desi started class by reminding us of the theme accountability which sounds so “heavy.” (I silently am in agreement.) How she had a personal relationship three years ago with accountability when she bought her first home. She now sees it as an opportunity to account for our choices. She says that we are responsible for our lives, what we eat and how we live. “Our soul’s journey is in our hands” She emphasizes this as her words linger. “It is like a house that needs to be nourished. It is different from when you rent, rather with a home you buy you want to take care of it and do house cleaning and there are all those projects…” The class begins and I can only say it is hard and at one point my lower back starts to tight up. I tell myself this is good for me and know that in a few hours I will feel AMAZING but I am still feeling the intensity of finding out how to move correctly and not over tighten in spots unnecessarily…I notice that they have refined their teaching and it flows more fluidly and with better cueing comparative to the one done in Asheville. At one point Desi says to close our eyes and focus on our own metaphoric house and what’s in there and suggests at the end that we open up the shutters and let the light pour in. After class we are invited to introduce ourselves to those around us. Scott from Wisconsin is next to me and doing the teacher training that is concurrent to our intensive. He is a tall, young bearded hipster guy with intense eye contact. My eyes are hypnotically locked on his in an odd way as he starts to talk and tell me that he lives is Wisconsin (in a somewhat apologetic tone) but is leaving there to travel. I ask him where to and he says Peru to start. “Are you going to train with a shaman?” I ask him smiling. Yes, indeed, his Tibetan teacher lives in the rainforest and he is excited to get back to see him and work on holotropic breathing and he hopes to bring this back and teach it someday here. I picture this similar to the breathing required to playing a didgeridoo and venture to guess that it is quite complicated and overwhelmingly difficult. He says he is enjoying the teacher training at Vital Yoga. They went to a cadaver lab today to see the bodies of older people and learn how the body decays. (I am guessing they go there to see first hand how life’s hits affect the body with age and how we have to attend to our own.) I simultaneous think that this sounds-like an intense and deep yoga teacher training and how too so appropriate for this guy with his work with a Tibetan Shamanic Monk. A death meditation of sorts to be had for him and all in their (life) training lesson…the class breaks up and eventually we shuffle out the door and into the drizzling rain.
John starts the second day and tells us that this work of the bow springs can initially activate the sympathetic nervous system “fight or flight” because it is releasing energy and at times the energy is either, undirected or directed incorrectly up which can heightens anxiety. One woman in the class nods her head. Apparently she’s been anxious and hasn’t been able to sleep. I share that it actually has done the opposite for me, this is mainly why I came back. It seems to reset my nervous system and center my energies. Desi smiles a chesshire cat smile and nods her head at me. Another woman whose is sold on this yoga and, simultaneously to the intensive, is also doing the teacher training remarks that it has cured her restless leg syndrome. She has had this since childhood and it’s now gone. Amy from Asheville tells the group that she has had a spinal fusion at the cervical region of her spine and the MRI now shows greater space between the vertebrae since she started this work. We are working to find homeostasis in the systems of the body and change our samskaras life patterns as we work the body in opposing direction while coaxing them into greater harmony as we look to finding balance and equanimity. Since Asheville, Desi has softened which has allowed John to stand firmer in his voice which is presented in a geeky, excited way. She seems to hold the container for the group as he does most of the talking. Their cueing is more specific and they have added more hand and arm gestures, "seed hands", to "infinity hands", "genie arms", "Hercules grip" etc… I like all of these gestures to open my chest and heart center which allow for a more expansive breath. Another difference is greater emphasis on extending the neck long, (elongation of the crown) while aligning the head slightly back. A printed Algorithm has been formed and presented to us of this work which was three years in the making. Desi tells us that it took a long time for this cake to bake”. “We didn’t want to rush it and take it out of the oven too soon” “You know how when you eat a cake that isn’t cooked all the way.” “You eat a cake that isn’t properly cooked and you may never want to eat another piece of a cake like that.” I feel like this papered Algorithm presented to us is important. I can feel its weight as I hold it but know that it may take years to digest.
I took a different road home from yoga today. It was much more lovely with quaint homes and I took in the view as I zig zagged my way back instead of following the busy street along. Sometimes it is necessary to take a different road instead of following the same circuitous route. Habits can be hard to break. I was initially psyched to be partnering with Desi tonight in the level 2 class as we were doing one handed handstands but she and I didn’t get any farther than the seed hand position, the one that I questioned earlier today by asking, ”why not put our arms behind our back in “infinity” hands (conjoined “seed hands”) instead of in front of the body to bring more awareness to the back body?” Stephan who was sitting next to me then thought to question the hamstrings and “were they getting worked at all?” I got the sense then that the Q and A was not to “question” but to ask questions. Like "Why is your business model so successful?" or comment on how awesome John's class was the night before. (and it was). It is neither here nor there but the life lesson for me is to no longer look to question. It isn’t my job to help others along their path but rather to worry about my own. What difference does it make to have the seed hands in front or back? Maybe it is arguable better in front or maybe in back. Maybe in 20 years they will have an epiphany and it will be like “oh my gosh, it made way more sense to do the infinity hands behind the back, what were we thinking?”…Who knows, who cares. As John said tonight, no one but you can fill up your radiant heart. That is for you to fill up with accountability, mindfulness and compassion. “All you can do is live your life fully, no one can ask anything else of you.” He mentioned shadow work and it wasn’t explicit what he meant but his words had divine meaning for me. My highest Self tells me, “Don’t question anymore. It doesn’t matter. Let it go. Find what works for you along your path and understand that we all come from different places and right and wrong often have little meaning in the end.” In Diana V’s words, “would you rather be right or happy?” Maybe it is because mercury is retrograde in my birth sign or maybe it is because the last lessons are always the hardest. The darkest part of night is right before dawn. But for whatever reason, Day 3, I came head to head with my shadow side, the questioning and resistance…and it didn’t feel good. Of course this is difficult to share but it’s necessary to expose my vulnerabilities if I am going to write about others. Suffice to say, the more you fight life, the more life will fight you. More words from within…”Just go with easy. It will all sort itself out in the end. No reason you have to do the work of life. Just do your own work and actually for now your work is to find joy. No more work. Just enjoyment. If this is hard, it doesn’t have to be. Nothing has to be hard anymore. The hard part is over. The door is finally open. Just walk through it.” Desi said earlier that this Bow Springs Yoga is hard work and not for those who are looking to find convenience and comfort. (This is her business model--define your practice and the students who are aligned will find you.) Maybe that is what I need for today, hard work but tomorrow?? As I was leaving class, with sincerity I thanked them and gave John a big heart-centered hug as he was standing at the door. (Desi was behind the desk.) me to them: “Thank you.” D and J: “We are glad that you are here!” I add, "me too.” “Thanks for the life lessons.” “Shadow work is hard” I slapped my backside for emphasis. John replies as I am leaving, “True that!”
The day session started with a Q and A. Many thoughtful questions were asked and the answers given seemed more succinct than in the previous days. There was a discussion on how when you change the body, the mind changes. That the interwoven “matrix” of the connective tissue can be re-patterned to allow for a higher vibration in the body. John reminds us that we are mostly made up of water and water is energy and has a vibration. The goal is to raise the vibration for greater health and wellness by re-working the body to provide openings, in the central channel and the radiant heart. He continued to point out that the way we hold our stance could even affect the glandular organs like the thyroid. When we hold our head angled down we are literally cutting off this organ. (This discussion reminded me of a study that was mentioned at the integrative psychiatry conference last week on botox at the frown line and how it has efficacy with depression. When the frown line is un-creased, depressive symptoms seem to abate. Newer studies not yet published, are showing the results last even when the botox starts to fade. The theory is that the face has been re-trained to hold itself in neutrality rather than in a frown and that our facial expression and mood seem to correlate with one another. Additionally, it might be theorized that when we frown people react negatively to us and when the frown goes away our interaction with people and the world may even change!) http://www.medpagetoday.com/Psychiatry/Depression/45101)
The level 3 class that we attended in the pm was rocking hard. We pranced around the room on our toe pads and did all kinds of variations of difficult poses on bent knees. It was fun to look around the room, watch, laugh and smile. Desi taught, and her amazing practice is awe inspiring to take in and John created levity by being light and silly.
One of the arguable benefits of this type of yoga (even for those it doesn’t make sense for) is that it requires you to listen and attune to your body in very minutiae ways. John was sending out about 10 cues every 15 seconds and that requires a tremendous amount of attention, and an understanding of where you are in space and time. You need to move different parts of the body in refined ways all at once. There is no collapsing into and out of a pose. There is even a technique to get into ‘savasana’ final relaxation. I am reminded of the adage ‘how you do anything is how you do everything.’ After class I find I am a little more mindful in thought, speech and action…I hope it continues when I get home. Desi’s final words before we left class were, As you Bow, You Grow…
We are in between class and the final breakout session of the intensive and I am feeling some resistance on attending the last part. I am psyched that we will be outside at the park for a portion of this, but on the other hand not looking forward to an afternoon of partner work. My body/mind is craving a need to go within and not be engaged with a partner today. If I were to mark a period in time when my edge with partner work started it would be back in 2003. I convinced my husband that ‘wouldn’t it be fun to spend our 20th anniversary on a yoga cruise with dozens and dozens of famous teachers like Rodney Yee, Baron Baptiste, Beryl Bender Birch (and John Friend)?’ He a newbie to yoga indulged my obsession with the “sport” and agreed to go. I was infatuation and high on all things yoga. I had been teaching and practicing for a few years and thought I knew everything and, what I didn’t know, I was craving to learn. We were in Lisa and Charles Matkin’s class (there’s a couple in this intensive that reminds me of them) doing partner work in triangle and I was very frustrated with my husband because he had so far to go in his practice. Little did I know that the “teacher” would become the lifelong student (thank you, husband for your continuous patience with me)…Today’s morning practice was so much fun. It was the elements class with a pot pourri of everything. Desi’s pace was perfect and her words and voice still resonant from this morning…’ownership is an acceptance of being exactly where you are’ and ‘studentship is knowing where you have room to grow and pride in how far you have come’…I would like to think that I am moving to the “know what I don’t know stage” of practice because God knows, when you think you “know it all” life has a way of biting you in the ass, I think if you asked J. Friend, he would agree…
10/11/15 (Final Note) Denver. As I look back I think ‘will I continue this practice?’ and think so. It has a way of shaping the body in a sharp way and even if arguably, the work itself doesn’t sculpt you energetically, by the very nature of doing something different this ‘mixing things up’ will undoubtedly start to create re-patterning. I told J. Friend that I was almost killed by a car during the week. How a woman came out of nowhere at a fast pace in an SUV towne car and almost ran me over. Did he think I was releasing traumatic energy from the past (car accidents since age 2) attracting this? He thought that this could be. He told me about his friend who had been hit by lightening three times and how the third time it was a cloudless day and the man was out on a boat and this cloud appeared out of nowhere and a bolt shot out and struck him. (I couldn’t help but laugh. It was the same with the car—it was like she was aiming for me). So much happens to us that is unseen if we don’t gaze closely between the lines.
Did I think this yoga was going to be the panacea and the second coming? (of Anusara)… no, if John is looking for redemption from his former community he will be disappointed. That life is over and not to be re-created. Forgiveness needs to be found from within. No one is going to ‘take away our sins’ with their words. But maybe by Grace we can find it if we can take the past and learn from it and allow it to grow into something better. We need to go deeply within before we can do this. I am not sure if he has entirely done this yet. Is he sorry because he was caught and faced humility or because he deeply realizes that he mis-used his power and trust? It is not for me to say, but if I were to guess it would be somewhere in-between. Hopefully lessons don’t need to be repeated. They always knock harder the second time around…
Syridyva means (something like) divine meeting. The bowsprings is a divine partnering of two people’s brilliance. The audience is wider and more diverse than Anusara and it seems, less superficially entranced. Something that has functionality to all populations. Hopefully it can stay this way. The herd mentality that John criticizes is what I think he misses most and is hoping to get back. For Desi, it is harder to speak to her. Her story has yet to unfold. It was mentioned by them that she doesn’t know how to bring this to the masses and hasn’t experienced pain. I hope for her that her lessons can come easier and that pain doesn’t have to be the task master. She developed this technique on her own through her own study and relationships with others, the MBA player that she dated who told her to ‘stick her butt out, girl why are you drawing it in?’ ‘How can you move that way?’ How she lived in the back of the old studio for seven years (practicing six days/week) before finding the worst house her realtor had ever seen to buy. (How ironic are these words?)
Anyway for me…it was a full week spent learning how to heal others and myself. I will continue to dabble in this and in other practices (sometimes seeking ‘comfort and convenience’) because I am not a purist and like to wiggle out of anything that has too much structure for me. This is my issue. John and Desi are purist and what worked yesterday no longer works tomorrow. The world is flat until it becomes round…
Lastly and most importantly what I have learned is to remember to say to my clients, “This is what I know today to be true….”My daughter has been following this and asked me, "What are they like?" "Do you like them?" Yes, they are lovely, kind people just finding their way...