Tag Archives: Anusara Yoga

Don’t Try Hard; Try Easy

“Trying hard invites strain and struggle. Trying easy gives you the levity and freedom to fly. When you try hard, you are using willpower. But willpower never works and will always fail you. That is because willpower is based on brute force as opposed to soul force. Brute force is like trying to lift a Chevy truck with your bare hands. Soul force is having a pulley to raise it right up. Willpower comes from your intellect, but soul force is powered by your connection to the infinite universe.” –  Baron Baptiste

Annie Adamson bound low lunge.

Annie Adamson yoga poses

I’m working on softening my yoga practice and it’s not easy. A lot of us guys struggle with muscles that get in the way. Big shoulders, tight hip flexors, football quads. Not only does this make the physical practice of asana challenging, the mental side is not tipped in our favor either. Many of us grew up in an athletic culture that values pushing your self to extremes to maximize physical ability, capture a league title, or make an all-star team. Digging into yoga philosophy over the past seven years has exposed me to very different values.

Selfless effort. Let go of the clinging. Chill out. Breathe. While you’re at it, contort your body into seemingly absurdist shapes. Literally and figuratively turned upside down, I have learned that to expand my asana practice and access some of yoga’s fruits – less fear, anxiety, judgment, I need to slow down and soften the struggle. Anusara Yoga calls this process – Open to Grace.

When I over-effort in class my friends hear me grunting and my teacher sees me staring intensely. I squeeze my muscles as if trying to choke the pose from my body. I am always determined to give the poses everything I have, undoubtedly a positive trait. After all, I grew up pushing my body through intensity. However, “open to grace” is revolutionary for a guy like me. Venturing into foreign territory, I am scared to surrender control.

My teacher, Annie Adamson of Portland, Oregon’s Yoga Union, recently asked me to demonstrate Handstand to Uttanasana in front of class. Immediately I felt desire, and the need to force myself upon the pose. It was as if John Cafferty plugged his guitar into my head and started singing his song from the training montage in Rocky IV, “Hearts on Fire”. I wanted to go big, rely on the passion that helped me succeed in sports. Kicking up into handstand, I was fairly steady, no easy feat for me, one that took months of dedication to approach. As I began to lower my legs sweat poured from my face.

“Slowly”, Annie said.

I began to exert more. Grunting deep breaths and firmly hugging my arms toward each other, I fought to complete the challenging transition. Landing with a thud, I felt relieved. I accomplished my task. I “stuck it” to use gymnastics parlance.

“Now do it softly, without grunting.”

I laughed. The most vibrant part of asana practice, and yoga in general, is the daily reminder of how much I have to learn. When recently my Anusara Immersion teacher, Sianna Sherman, asked me to breath like “soft moonlight” during practice it became abundantly clear. Open to Grace, Chris. Trust there is support. You don’t have to struggle and do it alone.

Anusara Yoga’s first principle asks that we surrender the effort of ego and have faith in the power of a buoyant and compassionate spirit that surrounds us. Open to Grace requests we literally trust that the universe is inherently good and begin every posture, and in turn every day, with an open heart. I recognize that trust this deep is hard to come by. A lot of terrible things happen in a world supposedly so supportive. It is challenging to fully dive into a heart-centered practice like Anusara but this choice is ours to make. We can see each moment and all experiences as opportunities to expand consciousness or we can try to push through with a single-minded focus using our individualized determination. Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of moments that call for forceful and decisive action. Moments when you’d better act and skillfully navigate real danger. Nonetheless, can burning passion alone, that “heart on fire”, access “yoga”, state of integration between mind, body, and soul? Can I will myself to God?

The trait I never want to lose seems like the one I need to transform the most. I will not dissolve or decrease my passion but rather radically expand it by infusing a soft and agile flexibility that supports a dance with life rather than a struggle against it. If I am not mindful, the same fire with which I aim intensely at handstand will entangle me in hardening and contracting mental habits of ego like judgment, impulsivity and craving. These traits confine perspective to a limited view that is too often reinforced by culturally appropriate achievements in education, employment and financial gain. In the name of more holistic growth, I am learning to notice these moments where ego drives experience and consciously breath into their intensity. The power of a single full breath, of opening to grace, is astounding. These moments soften my tendency to over effort and offer unparalleled support in shifting from tense and rigid to fluid and open.

“…Don’t try to control [the] energy experience, we’re free to surrender to the wave of sensation, of feeling, and of energy. In these remarkable moments of freedom, we can let life touch us as it is, because at our core we know everything is already OK.” –  Stephen Cope Yoga and the Quest for the True Self

It’s simply a hell of a practice. The hardest thing I have ever done. I am asked not to “try” less but to try differently. I can grow the most radically when trusting the vast sweetness of grace instead of ignoring it by charging headlong into the next challenge. Small glimpses of grace tell me that when we strip away the anxiety and ego that permeates our day to day functioning, human experience is rooted in a universally connected web of pure love so potent its impossible to fathom.

Article by: Chris Calarco

Inner Spiral -with Chris Calarco

Sunday  was Father’s Day and even though some of us were not able to spend it with our dads, we were lucky enough to set our intentions for them in the Anusara class led by Chris Calarco. The practice felt particularly special that morning- maybe it was because we were getting to share our gratitude for life with a room full of yogis who also have fathers that helped them get to where they are today. Or maybe it was because Chris’s parents were visiting from the East Coast and were in class with us, beaming with obvious pride and love for their son. Or perhaps it was the deeply personal and insightful guidance given by Chris himself. Using the principle of Inner Spiral as a theme, he led us through an inspiring physical practice while sharing his struggles and triumphs with his own Inner Spiral. This principle has had such an effect on Chris he wrote a piece about it and graciously shared some of his writing in class.

(Picture from http://chriscalarcoyoga.com/)

His message has become widely popular (!Go Chris!), and can be read on the Wanderlust Blog page  among others.

So for those who were in Chris’s class yesterday and want to be inspired by the whole article, or those curious about Anusaras 3rd principle of alignment,  please enjoy Chris’s story below 🙂

And take a minute to check out his website (http://chriscalarcoyoga.com/) which has details about the upcoming July 23rd Yoga Groove- a class that unites yoga and music, with a dance party to follow. Mark your calendars, you won’t want to miss this party!

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I had been practicing yoga regularly for about 5 years…

I was certified to teach Vinyasa and loved the feeling in body and mind yoga produced. I thought of this feeling as a combination of exhaustion and exhilaration. I sought it out whenever I could fit my practice into life as a child psychotherapist. However, without warning, my motivation to practice fell off the face of the earth as I lost my way. For almost 9 months my whole being shifted and I lost touch with my body, my friends and my practice. Even before yoga came to an abrupt halt I had gradually, and unconsciously, migrated away my first teachers and their studio. I hadn’t found a new studio per se but lived as more of a yoga vagabond, wandering from studio to studio with my head down, practicing hard and then quickly getting out the door. I wasn’t a very social yogi. Around the time I became a nomad, my teacher’s, Annie Adamson and Todd Vogt of Yoga Union in Portland, Oregon, were beginning to integrate Anusara Yoga’s 5 Universal Principles of Alignment into their classes during their process of training.

Upon deep self-reflection, a hefty dose of depression, and a lot of help I finally returned to the mat, making a massively liberating decision to commit myself fully to the practice and teaching of yoga. As I became reacquainted with my body I soon found myself bound and stuck in common poses like Trikonasana (Triangle) and Utthitha Parsvokonasa (Extended Side Angle). I was disappointed that after 5 years, even given the layoff, I remained shallow in my Triangle with bottom hand just below my knee. Athletic but never super flexible I felt a sense of resignation, as if I had reached my edge in asana practice and I would not grow. I knew I could always access the good feeling after a class but deep inside this was not enough, I longed for much more. I wanted access to advanced poses, I wanted to increase my strength and flexibility but most of all I yearned to change my habits of mind and magnify my life from within. I left yoga because of depression and was determined to make a resonant and permanent change.

I scheduled a private lesson with Annie and expressed my frustration with Triangle and Extended Side Angle. Quickly, I found Anusara’s third principle of alignment was going to be my new intimate dance partner. Inner Spiral is an “energy spiral” thought of as a refinement of the body’s alignment in all yoga postures. The spiral begins on the inner edges of the feet and widens as it moves upward toward the pelvis and outer edges of the waistline. Inner Spiral turns the front of the legs and pelvis inward, towards the midline. It moves the inner edges of the feet, legs, and pelvis backward as the inner heels, inner knees, and inner thighs flow back. These actions also broaden the legs and pelvis apart. Inner Spiral’s key words are “In”, “Back”, and “Wide”. Physically, this manifests an increased healthy curve in the lower lumbar spine and the sitting bones press out. Renowned teacher Sianna Sherman often half-jokes that one of Anusara’s secret principals is “when in doubt, stick it out”.

Importantly, Inner Spiral requires the engagement of its partner principle, Muscle Energy (Anusara’s second principle), to be radically transformative. When the muscles of the legs are engaged and we actively make them flow “In”, “Back”, and “Wide” there is integration throughout the entire lower body that creates vibrantly new ripples of freedom in the groins, hamstrings, and lower back. Within the first ten minutes of my private with Annie I looked into the mirror and was astounded. I did not recognize the person in Triangle pose. My stance was wider and more stable, my bottom hand was on the floor (Hallelujah!), and I felt a lusciously deep stretch in my groins and lower back. Now I had to begin working with Inner Spiral and all five principles in every pose! The work had beautifully just begun.

In Anusara’s methodology, each Universal Principle of Alignment is associated with one of earth’s natural elements. Inner Spiral is like water. Just as rivers flow naturally, nurturing the surrounding land, Inner Spiral watered the seed of each asana inside my body. With active engagement, Inner Spiral created a new sense of liquid depth in me and in turn granted access to the freedom and revelation l longed for. I no longer am a yoga vagabond as I have found a home inside my body and with Annie and Todd at Yoga Union. I am expanding my limits, working at my edge, and nailing postures I never imagined. Inner Spiral has literally blasted me open to the new possibilities that are always available if we align heart, body, and mind. For me, the body came first, and the others soon followed suit. Feeling extraordinarily liberated and full of deep gratitude for my fellow yogis, teachers and this system of yoga, the journey continues. Inner Spiral changed my life and it can change yours.

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A little about the author….

Chris has been practicing yoga for the past six years and has recently begun teaching in Portland, Oregon. He has been listening to music since Poison overtook his heart at age 12. Yoga and music, yoga and music, yoga and music! Jai!

Pose of the Month: Ardha Chandrasana, Half Moon

The pose of the month for May happens to be one of our very favorites, Ardha Chandrasana, commonly known as Half Moon. As many of you know, the moon often plays a significant role in the various practices of yoga and commonly represents one of the two polar energies of the body. Try channeling your inner lunar spirit as you practice the pose!
Below is a step-by-step to help you get started:

1) Start in Trikonasana to the right side, with your left hand on the left hip. Inhale, bend your right knee, and move slightly forward while also reaching your right hand in front of the little-toe side of the right foot<

2) As you exhale, press your right hand and right heel strongly into the floor (this should provide you with some balance). At the same time lift the left leg parallel to the floor. Extend through the left heel and keep your foot engaged to keep the raised leg strong. Be conscious not to lock or hyperextend the standing knee

3) Raise your left arm straight up as you rotate your upper torso, keeping the left hip moving slightly forward. Most of your weight should be in the standing leg while you use the hand on the floor for balance. Keep the head in a neutral position or allow the gaze to follow the left arm upward

4) Remain in the position for 30 seconds to 1 minute. When finished, lower the raised leg to Trikonasana. Then perform the pose to the left for the same length of time.

This particular stretch can be therapeutical in relieving stress and anxiety, backaches, osteoporosis, sciatica and even gastritis. It can also lessen feelings of fatigue, constipation or indigestion and even menstrual pain.
As you continue to practice, the abdomen, ankles, thighs, buttocks and spine will strengthen, while the groin, hamstrings, calves, shoulders, chest and spine will stretch. Balance will also improve.

If you are a beginner, it can be helpful to use a block under your hand for stability- practice with the block at different heights until you find the fit that’s best for you.
Happy yoga-ing!

Applying the Universal Principles of Alignment in Anusara Yoga

1. Initiate your asana with Opening to Grace, an intentional approach of softness. In the first moment of your pose, align your heart’s intention with your spirit and your physical being. Soften your whole being with humility. You can begin with any asana.
2. Affect the Heart Chakra (The Heart Chakra is the centre from which feelings of love emanate. It is also associated with other virtuous emotions, such as joy, happiness, honesty, respect, compassion, understanding, and generosity, and with loving oneselfin a sincere, non-egotistic way) energy center as you maintain your pose. Muscular Energy, the second Universal Principle of Anusara Yoga, establishes stability andcoordinates physical strength. Muscular Energy draws into the Focal Point, an area of localized power in the body.

3. Expand energy with Inner Spiral. Energy expands from the feet up into the pelvis and waist area, thighs widen.

4. Apply Outer Spiral principle, which redirects energy inward, back down through the tail bone and out the legs and feet. Remember that the previous principles are still active.

5. Activate Organic Energy, the final Universal Principle of Anusara Yoga. Organic Energy is an outward energy that runs through the body’s outer core.