Anusara, Art, Culture, and Shradda

I know this title seems like a mouthful. Bear with me - and we will make some sense out of it...

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to experience taking class with a budding teacher by the name of Rick, whom I encouraged to go for his Anusara Inspired status. Humbly, he told me he wanted to improve in all the ways he could, and he enthusiastically asked me for any suggestions I might have for him, and, really, there were very few to give! He deftly wove his theme of "shradda" - which means faith - in a very nuanced but powerful way in his sequencing, duly connecting it to his action.

I went for a paddle this morning in the Potomac River, which as many of you know, is about a mile from my house. It was very hot out there, but the water was perfectly still. I paddled all the way to the Maryland shore and almost collided with a magnificent blue heron. We surveyed each other for a while. Then, we traveled upstream in tandem - I, in Grace, my kayak, and he, walking gracefully along the riverbank. We stopped in tandem. Then, we seemed to begin our movement again in tandem. Periodically he would fly ahead of me, and our dance would begin again. But once, he stopped, and majestically, unfurled his wings, and bowed down to me. I almost immediately heard these words inside my heart: "He is telling me to have faith!" At a time when I am navigating turbulent waters in my life, this blue heron showed me the way to surrender, and acceptance, but most of all - to letting go of everything in faith - and simply trusting that all would work out in the end...

This week, I had the opportunity to review the Vision Statement of Anusara Yoga that John Friend drafted on August 15, 1997, as he began this venture of creating a new style of yoga, not fully realizing perhaps, where it would end up. Every single year that I have attended the Anusara Yoga Certified Gathering, John revisits this statement. And yesterday, for the first time, I realized how important this yearly exercise is, because it continually reminds us of our roots and invites us to re-connect with them in a deeper way.

I know there are many in the larger Anusara community who are very much disconcerted by the "direction" we seem to be taking. And some of these individuals, will continue to feel the way they do - no matter what is said, how everything is explained, and despite countless clarifications or invitations to dialogue. I am not concerned about those individuals as much, for their minds are made up - and frankly, we are all free to go in the directions that are best for each and every one of us. But I am concerned, for those who have been stalwart supporters of this community, and who also may be on the fence, and perhaps are feeling lost or confused. To these I say, "Have faith!" This may seem like a simplistic thing to say - but really - only a well-grounded and sensitive person committed to growth on so many levels can truly engage in the practice of faith, because it requires everything of us - and ultimately - it demands nothing less than to trust in the unknown.

As I reviewed the Vision Statement, I marveled at how many "indicators" were embedded in this simple document as to the direction we would be taking. For example, the invitations to become "co-creators," and the references to "creative freedom," and expressing the practice from the "inside out" with "artistic feeling" - already contained the seeds for what John is referring to as the "Art and Culture" of Anusara.

I realize that change is threatening to many. It is to me. Frankly, I don't like it - and resist it often until it slaps me in the face or bites me in the butt! Literally! But, change is necessary, and as John Henry Newman, the great American Bishop, theologian, and philosopher once stated, "Growth is the only evidence of life!"

Looking more closely at the meaning of the words "art" and "culture" we can see that "art" is more directly related to the term "asthetics," and refers to arranging elements in all sorts of human expressions and activities in a way that affects the senses and the emotions. I can't help but think of some of my students and friends who go into a "zone" when they practice, and it becomes the canvas upon which their essence - their very soul is etched and expressed.

"Culture" comes from a Latin word which means "to cultivate," But it also includes (from Wikipedia) "the set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterizes an institution, organization, or group." That is exactly what Anusara is! We are a group of like-minded but unique souls who cultivate our garden of students, looking for the good, and enhancing their practices, and ultimately their lives. This notion of shared attitudes and goals is so evident to me any time I attend an Anusara workshop, Anusara Certified Gathering, or visit my local Anusara community at Willow Street Yoga Center in Maryland.

Anusara is also a community. At its most close-knit level, it is a "kula" - as tight-knit as a clan or family and there is a degree of initiation and commitment that is required and given.

As a community evolves and grows, the process can be messy. In my blog entry of May 20, 2010, "Reflections on Anusara Yoga Growing Pains," I referred to the stages of institutionalization that a religion undergoes - not to directly compare Anusara to a religion - but to highlight the sociological cycles and patterns that all organizations undergo. There are mistakes that may be made, alienations that may occur, but in the end, I very much believe, as the Christian scriptures teach: "By their fruits, you will know them. (Matthew 7:16)"

I do believe that the seeds originally laid in the Vision Statement of Anusara have grown and born fruit. I see this every time I am blessed to be with my students and am sacred witness to every way each and every one of them blossoms - and I also think this has happened - beyond the wildest expectations of anyone - perhaps, and most especially, John Friend's. One of the things that I admire most about him is that he listens. And even if you get no indication that he agrees or not with what you have to say - he will ponder your suggestions, and will come back and show you that he has taken things into consideration.

I look around me, and every day I feel buoyed, embraced, and blessed by the members of this community - those I see and inter-act with more regularly, and those I may see, at best, once a year. Every time I am with them, I feel like I am "home." I have been challenged to grow, and to become a much better person. I have been supported as I have confronted all my limitations and demons. And frankly, what else is there?

I invite you simply, to continue to walk in faith. Let us hold one another accountable. But, I know, despite traversing rough waters here and now, as I have experienced on the river, the ondulations eventually lead to stillness. And grace. And yes - growing pains ARE the only evidence of life!

(For May 20's blog entry, see:


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