I drove up the coast on Highway 1 this morning from Santa Cruz where I taught an intermediate hoop workshop on intelligent technique. The new morning sun coaxed rainbows out to play in the spray of each iridescent indigo wave – foaming white tips belied her inner calm. The great Mother Ocean came into view between outcroppings of spring green and red cliff. Concealing itself, and ushering in my awe anew again and again around each bend. I saw 2 hawks, 2 blue herons, 2 redwing blackbirds, and counted my blessings way more than twice.
Everything in this world is a pulsation of the One that appears to be two – a metaphor of Earth and Sky, Purusha (spirit) and Prakriti (matter), perceived emptiness and incomprehensible fullness. Immersion II in South Carolina was a play on the spectrum of madhya – the mid-line, doorway to the Absolute -the attachment point of the swinging pendulum of polarities. Yoga, John taught, is the practice or the means to experience a uniting of the contrary compliments that takes you to the essence, the heart.
I arrived in Columbia, South Carolina 2 days ahead of schedule for the first of many hoop workshops I’ve set up around the country this spring, summer and fall. Charleston proved exceptionally affirming for me as I continue to find my voice and my unique offering as a teacher. I bow in gratitude to the Charleston hoop community who took me in with open hearts and eagerly devoured what I had to offer, while simultaneously giving back. I felt strong in my message, after only 2 events with John, I was already feeling and speaking the effects of accumulated knowledge.
Sunday before the immersion began I rendezvoused with my Kula. A RAD band of California innovators and a sweet new friend from Montana. One of the most incredible aspects of these trainings is the fast-track to depth that we experience in relationship. Despite the proceeding difficulty of group organization amidst pre-travel stress and limited communication, by Grace we pulled 11 people together in a gorgeous rental house by the lake, 45 minutes outside of the city. More than a place to lay our heads, this hub became our Mandir away from Mandir, our sacred space where we shared, laughed and delighted in the days teachings over community meals, handstands off picnic tables, bodywork, and impromptu lessons in hoop dance and self-defense. We quickly found our flow together.
5:30am. A resonance of Zen alarms donged gently throughout the dark house followed slowly by sounds of stirring that roused even the most weary of us, inviting the return from dream-state. Water boiling, the spattering of showers, the smell of toast… It never took long for our laughter to join in harmony. The scene upon entering into the light of the kitchen was a row of 11 pieces of bread, laid out in assembly for the day’s lunch. Tuna, avocado, miso mayo. Eleven yogis drinking Emergen-C, coffee, tea, coconut juice, eating multi-vitamins, honey, bananas, oatmeal, eggs and granola, filling water bottles, rubbing sleep from their eyes, and lighting up South Carolina with the sun. By 6:45am we piled into a mini van and a sedan and began the cozy drive into the city. This became ritual more than preparation. A smile over shared caffeine, a sleepy hug and a helpful hand solidified our bond together as community and that bond rippled out to include even those who were not staying with us. Out of the One become the many.
The Senior Center made yoga ashram was our locale for transformation. Smaller than San Francisco, 100 yogis gathered everyday Monday-Friday. Mats laid out close to each other facing Nataraj, Lakshmi, Kali and other murtis, flower bouquets and a waterfall of sheer silk tapestries. Sitting on a cushion, John would call everyone close for the morning discussion. A master at his unique conversational teaching style, John interwove story, philosophy, and playful whit into a delightful, permeating and deeply insightful lesson. Where Immersion I was more introductory material on Shiva-Shakti Tantra and Anusara Yoga, Immersion II dove into an exploration of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras in a Classical dualistic context and through Tantra’s non-dual lens, cosmology via the 36 tattvas, the 3 malas, the 5 elements of adikara (studentship) and the 3 doshas (Ayurveda), to name a few topics. I’ve always had an insatiable thirst for yogic philosophy. My notebook, new in SF, is now more than halfway full of notes, my handwriting tilted to the right as if it were trying to catch up with my/his speeding train of thought. Every word is gold.
Our cups runneth over into the morning’s asana practice. Two hours of standing poses, inversions, arm balances and backbends interspersed with John’s illuminating demos and partner assists that were equally physically and mentally stimulating. “Always go back to the Universal,” John cued, “look for the good first in each other first and open the curtains of the heart to let the light pour in.” We learn to read each other, to see the body, to share an insight, to be each others student and teacher both. We ultimately learn not only asana practice or embodied philosophy, but to trust. Trust in the Shakti and the community supported by the Shakti. Trust in your own transformation.
After lunch in the sun, we’d reconvene for more discussion and another 2 hours of asana, this time seated postures and hip openers. Time never dragged on, and although I’d find my edge, the 100% that was right for me at the time, I never felt as if it were too much to take in. Which is worth mentioning. One aspect of Anusara yoga in particular is that it’s accessible for any body type, any ability level. I spend at least 4 hours weekly training in the Circus Center, and I would leave that day just as sore and open as the mother of 3 next to me – with the same blissed out look on my face that someone from the ‘outside world’ may describe as vacant. Ah, if they only knew!
Sometimes we’d return to the house with homework that turned into playful memorization games (I’ll seriously never forget the tattvas of the physical body!). Sometimes we’d catch ourselves communicating in our philosophical shared language – a benchmark of mental stimulation embodied on a deeper level – hoop tricks described under the Universal Principles of Alignment, doshic references over pots of curry, exploration of the shadow self in concealing and revealing polarities. And it struck me just how deeply the material is sinking in. This is not book knowledge.
The last day at the tail end of our practice, John called us close for a demo. A fellow participant, a vocalist by profession, was experiencing pain in her jaw during backbends. Like all demos of alignment John started by describing the good first. Her beauty, her Sicilian roots, her gorgeous bone structure, white hair against dark skin, her inner radiance. Physical observation revealed placement of the neck and head that contributed to her clenching jaw. John gently manipulated her posture to relieve the pain. Standing behind her, hands supporting her torso with his eyes closed he said; “sing for me.” And sing she did.
Full bodied and perfectly refined, the lyrics of Amazing Grace reverberated throughout to room, washing over us listening and watching in rapt attention. It was so perfect a moment, as if it were planned but made all the more powerful for it’s spontaneity. An accumulation of the weeks efforts, a penetrating reminder of the Grace that moves us. There was not a soul in the room that remained unaffected. Out of silence came sweet sound.
With her we sang silently along. “The highest spiritual practice is in relationship with others,” we learned. In Anusara yoga we open to the highest first, align with the divine, then live it in community. We embrace each pair of opposites to strike elegant simplicity in the middle. We love without restraint and grow without judgment. Today the salty, sun-kissed ocean air moved over my skin and through my lungs and body like liquid light. The creative power of pulsating consciousness; free, blissful, full and at peace. I counted these blessings… 0 1 2 4 8 16 32 64…