with Certified Anusara Teachers Zhenja La Rosa and Vanessa Spina
January 31-February 7, 2009
Join Zhenja and Vanessa for a week of bathing in the wonder of yoga in the Caribbean paradise of St. John. We will begin each day with an intense and playful yoga practice, and close the evening with a quiet, meditative practice to guide you to the vastness inside. In the afternoons, take your boxed lunch to the beaches for underwater exploration in St. John's astounding coral reefs, hiking, or any activity that nourishes your soul!
We'll be staying in "eco-tents" (high-tech tent structures with modern conveniences) at the Estate Concordia, a secluded eco-resort on the southeastern part of the island that is powered by the sun. St. John is a place of incredible beauty, and extraordinary beaches. More than half of the island is protected national parkland, so the development has stayed to a minimum. There are 39 unique beaches, each with its own ecosystem, from white sand to rocky bays, from mangroves to salt ponds. You can dive right in with snorkel gear and see every color of fish, and, depending on the beach, turtles rays, octopuses, lobsters, and pretty much everything imaginable (including that which you've not-yet imagined) under the sea.
*includes yoga, room, and all meals; does not include transportation to Concordia Estates in St. John
A nonrefundable deposit of $350 is required to secure your spot. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or to sign up.
Class Schedule at Virayoga
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
Years ago, someone had commented to me that "independence isn't the same thing as non-dependence," and recently it settled in my heart. For as much as we may want to do things and take care of things ourselves, for as much as we prize our independence, if we don't let others do for us sometimes, we end up shutting out the world.
We have to allow ourselves to be held sometimes, to be carried in their embrace. We have to allow ourselves to be indebted to others, in order to be happy.
In the yogic lore, this is a concept known as rna (it's the "r" with a dot under it). It means debt or obligation, but it's the idea that you don't live in the absence of the gifts you're given. When you're given a gift, you're left with a feeling of gratitude, and in a certain sense responsibility. Of course, none of us wants to accumulate debt (certainly not in this economic environment). But if we don't allow ourselves to feel indebted to others by accepting the gifts they have to offer, we isolate ourselves from the world.
In Anusara Yoga, our first principle of Opening to Grace is the opening to receive the gifts that you've been given. In this principle, we open from the inside and then allow ourselves to be held. It's the way in which we allow rna to be our experience. If we don't allow for the rna, the rest of the principles and practice can end up disconnected, isolated, hardened.
Learning to release yourself into alignment is certainly a practice, and one that requires our openness to receive the gifts of those around us, to take on, as it were, that debt, and allow ourselves to be held in their embrace.
- Open to Grace: This first principle really has two actions associated with it. First, there's the opening to receive the gift that's being offered. It may be the gift of your breath, a recognition of the gift of your own life, or something more specific, like the support you've received from someone. Physically, there's an expansion of the inner/energetic body, as torso grows circumferentially and from the sides of the waist all the way up through the sides of the throat and the dome of the palate. The second component of Opening to Grace is a natural release into the embrace of gravity. The outer body (skin, muscles, bones) softens toward the earth. It's a recognition of the debt and allowing yourself to be held, taking the form of your own gratitude.
- Muscle Energy: There are two kinds of Muscle Energy: active, which uses the action of the muscles to create integration; and passive, which uses the release into gravity to create integration. So in a certain sense, the second component of Opening to Grace can create passive Muscle Energy. As we work through the principles in our practice, we have to learn to allow ourselves to be held in the passive embrace of gravity first, and then add active Muscle Energy to that release.
- Organic Energy: Organic Energy also has both passive and active forms, and as with Muscle Energy, the passive form is when the release into gravity is what creates the extension.
- Hands and knees: Place yourself mindfully, and then turn to your breath. The inhales will naturally create an expansion on the inside. The exhales will naturally soften your outer form. When you release with gravity, notice how the heart center (between the bottom tips of the shoulder blades) melts down, and the arm bones integrate more deeply into the shoulder sockets. (If the upper back is stiff and doesn't melt, you probably need to create more space, going back to the opening that allows others in.) This is the softening of the first principle, and it creates passive Muscle Energy. Now add active Muscle Energy, drawing from the fingertips to up through the arms into the pelvis. When you do active M.E. on the support of passive M.E., there's a softness and a sweetness to the hugging of the muscles.
- Downward-Facing Dog: The difference between active and passive M.E. here is significant. With the first principle, as you expand on the inside, the uper body will back out of the pose, with the upper arms rising toward the sky. Keep that expansion, and then soften the place of the heart, in line iwth the bottom tips of the shoulder blades. That's all first principle, but it creates a deeper integration in the shoulder girdle. Once you find that place of being held in the upper back, now engage active Muscle Energy by pressing your fingertips into the floor and drawing the energy up the arms and into the heart. Notice the difference between active and passive integration. Notice, too, what the active integration would feel like if you didn't first create that first softening. We need both. We need to let others in. Once you're integrated, now extend Organically from the heart down through the arms, and out through the spine and legs.
- Surya namaskar: As you move through these poses, pay attention to how much you're holding and how much you're allowing yourself to be held, particularly in caturanga and cobra pose. First create the opening, then the release, and then the active engagement, and see how that opens things up.
- Virabhadrasana 2, trikonasana, parsvakonasana: Working in these side plane poses, bring your focus more to the lower body. When your upper inner body expands, the ouer form can release with gravity, especially in the pelvis and legs, integrating the thigh bones more deeply into the hip sockets. Find this opening and release with the breath first, and then engage more actively. Notice how when you release first, when you allow the rna to settle, the poses become softer, and more integrated. Once you find the release, then add your own effort through active Muscle and Organic Energies.
- Vasistasana: When you come into the general form of the pose, make sure your stance is long enough to allow for a lengthening of the side bodies. Then direct your breath toward that expansion, especially lengthening the underside body from the waistline up through the armpit. When you open in this way, it creates the possibility of a passive release with gravity that slides the armbone more deeply into the shoulder socket, and the shoulder blade more toward the midline. Keeping that, now actively engage the muscles of the arms (and legs), and then extend Organically out from the pelvis through the legs and arms.
- Handstand and Forearm Stand: In inversions, when you soften with gravity, the heart melts toward the floor, which in turn plugs the arm bones more deeply into the shoulder sockets. Once you're upside down, try this, and feel how you can release into a greater alignment. Then again, add your effort to this through active Muscle Energy from the fingertips up to the heart center, and active Organic Energy, from the heart down through arms and back up through the legs.
- Anjaneyasana, Pigeon Pose (with thigh stretches)
- Dhanurasana, Makarasana, Rajakapotasana: With the first principle in all of these poses, the sides of the torso lengthen, and the heart melts with gravity. To me, moving toward rajakapotasana, the most advanced of these backbends, is all about riding the current of the breath in this way, allowing yourself to be held as you go deeper into the pose. It's counter-intuitive, because you'd think that you'd have to push back to get your head to your feet. Instead, you have to soften the heart forward as part of Opening to Grace, creating a passive integration, while you darw the upper arms back through active Muscle Energy.
- Baddha Konasana, Upavista Konasana: In both of these poses, as with most seated forward bends, the thigh bones tend to get pulled up, and the more we activate the muscles of the legs, the more this tendency can get aggravated, if we don't first strat with Opening to Grace. As you set up for these poses, start with your hands on fingertips behind your pelvis, and use your hands to lift your pelvis up off the floor. Create a huge expansion on the inside, lifting up through the sides of the torso, and then without letting the inner body collapse, allow the pelvis to release back down to the floor with gravity. This may take a few breaths. Once the pelvis is back on the floor, you'll feel the hips more open and integrated. Then add your effort to grow the pose.