I am, in many ways, a creature of habit. My classes have occupied the same slot on the schedule for the last five years. Sure, new folks wander in regularly but for the most part, I know my students and they know me. Very often when I see new faces, it's because they've intentionally sought out an Anusara Yoga class.
Recently, though, I've taken on a couple of new Basic Level classes. People who come to Basic Level are generally newer to yoga and are likely to pick a class because it fits into their busy schedule. They may have no idea of what they've signed on for.
In these Basic Level classes, where students neither know me nor what to expect, I like to explain that yoga is like ice cream in that comes in many flavors, and the particular flavor they are about to taste is Anusara Yoga. Then I tell them what that means:
1. The underlying philosophy beneath Anusara Yoga is Tantric--which just means the vantage is that life is good. Tantra teaches that we actually can get better at learning how to love life. We do the physical practice of yoga because it makes us feel more connected, both inwardly and outwardly, and teaches us to savor our experience. Our yoga is every bit as much about being strong, open and agile in heart as it is about being strong, open and agile in body.
2. Anusara Yoga uses a technology of transformation that we call Universal Principles of Alignment. These Universal Principles work in the same order in every single yoga pose. So, by learning five Universal Principles, you empower your understanding of all the poses. (Even poses that haven't been invented yet!)
3. You can't do it alone. "Enlightenment is a collective endeavor." We don't just need each other, although that's certainly true. We actually hang out together on purpose because we like to, and because we make a conscious choice to keep, and to be, good company.
Next, I hand new students a card with the Anusara Invocation on it, and say, totally deadpan, "We'll begin class by chanting a traditional Indian chant to the Hindu God, Shiva. After class, you'll be invited to write a large check, shave your head and sell flowers at the airport."
I watch them take this in.
Then I say, "No, just kidding."
"It's just a little blessing we do, and I like to give out the words so that it doesn't feel like you're the only one who doesn't know the secret handshake. If it feels too weird just skip it. This is a yoga that's all about freedom so nothing is ever obligatory."
If they smile, I know I have them.
did you think this post wasn't about depression?
HA! I FOOLED YOU!
Whether you're in the midst of clinical depression, or whether you're just feeling kind of blue, it's a good idea to keep your asana practice very first principle.
What do I mean by that?
The first Universal Principle of Anusara Yoga is: Open to Grace.
Now, me? If someone tells me to open to grace, I'm going to need some context. Without context I'm gonna be thinking that next thing I know someone's gonna be trying to put a crystal on my chakra, or something, and I am going to be out of there as fast as possible.
When we say, open to grace, we really do mean that in every way, including in the great spiritual context, but that can be a tall order on some days. If you're depressed that's a tall order any, and every, day.
Here are some ways of opening to grace that might be more swallowable when you feel like shit:
1. Keep your practice extremely breath centric. Make your breath your primary focus and follow your breath with your movement as though you were playing follow the leader. It's undoubtedly scientifically explicable but moving my body with my breath might as well be magic. When I do it, something happens. If you do it, something will happen for you, too. Double your money back guarantee.
2. If you pay attention, you will find that every inhale makes you inwardly light and every exhale makes you outwardly settled and heavy. This means every inhale can be used to move around what feels dense and heavy, and every exhale can ground agitation like a lightning rod grounds electricity. Whether you feel heavy or anxious, this will be a good plan.
3. As your lungs expand, every inhalation creates an inner buoyancy. We say, "inner body bright." All yoga traditions see breath as the vital life force. The more you open to welcome your inhalation in, the more enlivened you will be, and feel. You don't have to believe me. Just take a deep breath in.
4. Soften. This is often the hardest instruction but it's the very first one. If you don't consciously infuse all your movement with breath, and soften, every move you make will be rigid and hard. Without softening, when I tell you to engage your muscles, you'll do it in a white-knuckled way, as though I had a gun to your head. Stop it! Soften! You have to soften on purpose. Exhale and soften your eyes and your jaw and your neck and even your skin. If you're not sure how to soften, close your eyes and do your best approximation. Pretend.
5. Set your foundation with intention. Take a good look at yourself. Are you where you want to be? If not, why aren't you? Set your body upon the earth with intention. Just by lining yourself up physically you can create a shift inwardly. 'Cuz, like, the mind and the body are connected, or sumpthin'. I heard that somewhere.
When you line yourself up, the world opens up.
Don't worry about being technically perfect; just keep it super first principle.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
It's like magic.