Tag Archives: Anusara

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

Pose of the Month: Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

July brings us a new pose of the month- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, or, Bridge Pose (setu = dam, dike or bridge, bandha = lock). This is a great pose for yogis in all stages of practice, and the benefits are extensive. Anatomically, Bridge focuses on the neck and shoulders and in women, the uterus. The chest, neck and spine are stretched, while the abdominal organs, lungs and thyroid are stimulated. The pose can also alleviate stress, improve digestion and rejuvenate tired legs. Here are some tips to help you get into Bridge:

  • Lie on your back, and if necessary, use a blanket under your shoulders to support the neck. Bend your knees with your feet on the floor, keeping the heels close to the sitting bones
  • As you exhale, actively press your inner feet and arms into the floor, pull the tailbone up toward the pubic bone, and lift the buttocks until the things are about parallel to the floor. Engage your thighs and inner feet to keep them parallel
  • Keep the knees over the heels and press them forward away from the head, lengthening the tailbone
  • Keep your arms on the floor or clasp the hands below your pelvis and extend, allowing you to rest on the top of the shoulders
  • Lift your chin slightly away from the sternum and firm and broaden the shoulder blades against your back. You should feel the space between them lift up into the torso
  • Stay in the pose anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute. Release with an exhalation, rolling the spine slowly down onto the floor.

For an added challenge, try lifting a leg until perpendicular to the torso and repeat on the opposite side. Sliding a block under the sacrum can provided added support and increase the restorative properties of the pose. Use caution if you have a neck injury and if you have any questions, be sure to ask an instructor.

Photo Source: http://yogajournal.com


Happy Independence Day

Happy 4th of July weekend fellow Yogis! Do you have plans to BBQ, enjoy the sunshine or watch the fireworks? In case you’re still wondering what to do with all this nice weather, here are some holiday happenings in the Portland area:

• Waterfront Blues Festival: Take a blanket, pack a picnic and groove to some live tunes at this year’s Waterfront Blues Festival! Shows will be happening on the grass all weekend, so check out http://www.waterfrontbluesfest.com/
for details on who’s playing and when. Channel your yoga spirit and show the City of Roses your moves! This is also a great spot to watch fireworks- starting at 10:00 pm, this display at Tom McCall 
Waterfront Park is the largest fireworks show in Oregon

• Independence Day at Fort Vancouver: An all-day extravaganza, this festival has something for everyone. Bring the whole family and enjoy food, drinks, games and entertainment. Finish the night off watching an amazing fireworks show synchronized to music. Check out http://www.fortvan.org/pages/fourth-home
 for the full scoop

• Oaks Park Fireworks Spectacular: Music, fireworks and everyone’s favorite- carnival rides! Let the kids play while you enjoy the sunshine and friends. Check http://oakspark.com/upcoming3.html for prices and details

If the crowds are to much for you, why not have your favorite people over and grill in your yard? Here’s a great link with 4th of July themed snacks and drinks http://allrecipes.com/Info/holidays-events-and-occasions/july-4th/main.asp

Can’t see any fireworks from your yard? Try theses spots to chill out and watch the shows:

  • Hawthorne Bridge
  • Mount Tabor
  • Rose Test Gardens
  • Pittock Mansion
  • Top of PSU parking garage on 6th and Harrison
  • Portland City Grill
  • Sellwood Park (you can see both Oaks Park and downtown from here!)
  • West Hills: Terwilliger near OHSU has many spots.

Be safe, be happy, have fun!

Picture from: http://www.pdxpipeline.com/2011/06/30/where-to-watch-fireworks-on-july-fourth/

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!

Nataraj, the Cosmic Dancer

Have you had a chance to check out the statue, or “Murti”, in the front of the bamboo room at Yoga Union?  Perhaps you’re like me and you’ve used it as your focal point during a difficult balance sequence but don’t know much about it. In order to appreciate more than just the beauty of the murti itself, I asked Todd to answer a few questions about the dancing deity he chose for his studio.
Q: Who and what is being depicted?
A: The statue or “Murti” depicts Shiva in his form as Nataraj, the cosmic dancer. Shiva is divine consciousness and his dance, called the Ananda Tandava or “blissful dance”, creates the entire universe. The symbolism reveals to us that the universe is a divinely blissful dance of consciousness in which no individual is separate. We are both engaged in the dance, as Shiva is, and we are also the dance itself.
Q: What made you choose this particular statue?
A: The sheer beauty of it is honestly what first drew me to the Nataraja.
Q: What significance does it hold for you and the studio as a whole?
A: This particular depiction of Shiva is probably the most relative to yogis who practice “asana” or physical yoga poses. The statue has movement and life in it. In fact, it is actually placed in a yoga pose, so it’s a good fit for the yoga studio. The symbolism it presents also has a lot to teach us about being graceful in our practice. Shiva’s standing on one foot atop a dwarf who symbolizes our ego. It is this ego that keeps us small by insisting we aren’t worthy, don’t have enough, aren’t ready yet, or haven’t earned the right to be all that we can be. Here we learn here what’s required is to squash that limiting voice in our head and to transform the ego from a problem, as Shiva did the dwarf, into the actual stage we dance all over. The other foot is the graceful upturned foot which symbolizes revelation- that through yoga we embody the power of grace and our true nature is revealed; joy, goodness, delight, fun. We are never more ourselves than in that enrapturing moment of blissful dance; when we’re in the zone so to speak.
Q: What do you want your students to gain from it?
A: Primarily that life is a dance and that like all dance, it’s primary purpose is to delight in life.
Q: Any other fun facts in regards to Nataraj?
A: One of our teachers, John Friend (Anusara Yoga founder), has called his tour this year “Dancing with the divine.”

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If you’re interested in learning more about Shiva, the link below has some great information:

http://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/deities/shiva.htm

Flying Fish Co.!

 

If you frequent the Yoga Union studio, then there’s a fair chance you’ve passed by a large van bearing the name “Flying Fish Co.” on the corner of 50th and Hawthorne. But have you stopped to peek inside and see what that van is all about, and who’s actually driving that thing around Portland?

Lyf Gildersleeve, the owner and second generation fish monger from Idaho with his degree in Aqua Culture, is as welcoming as the fresh foods he’s providing. He greets each patron with a smile and recognizes more than a few of the returning customers, calling many by first name. He seems to know what they have come for and enthusiastically volunteers which fish is the most fresh, which has gone down in price, and any specials he currently has in.  A chalk board lists the week’s fresh catches (boasting names like Copper River Sockeye and King Salmon) as well as the frozen (but never defrosted) selection, which is lengthy and drool-inducing. My eyes bounce from Dover Sole to Halibut Cheeks to the Smoked Ahi and back to the Ekone Oysters, all this before I even see the lists of local, organic, grass fed meets. Lyf tells me the beef, lamb, buffalo, pork and even elk are delivered to him direct from the ranches. All the meats, including the fish and the local eggs (chicken, duck and quail, oh my!), are chemical and hormone free. There’s even something for the herbivores- fresh seaweed salad! A large refrigerator, also covered in chalk board with prices listed on all sides, holds most of his bounty. Customers happily browse through the selection, while Lyf gives cooking tips for each. The environment feels more like a friend’s house than a fish market, and it makes me want to become one of his regulars.

As awesome and substantial the choices of seafood are here,  a huge focus of the Flying Fish Co. is to provide proteins that are not only good choices for our bodies, but also good choices from an environmental prospective. Populations of certain species vary over time and are dependent upon multiple factors, including how heavily they are fished. If a specie’s population isn’t stable, then it won’t be available from Flying Fish Co. Meats like beef and pork are purchased form local farmers, helping to stimulate and support our community economy. We as consumers should also do our part by making smart choices, and Lyf’s truck is a great place to start. Even the trays the fish are packaged in are biodegradable.


As I browsed through the choices, I was surprised to find that prices were well below what I had expected. A dozen eggs are $5, and I picked up a pound of the fresh Copper River Sockeye Salmon for only about $10. Lyf said that although his prices were higher than at a store like Fred Meyer (whose products are not even comparable, in my humble opinion), they’re actually a few dollars cheaper than at a place like New Seasons. He accepts cash and cards, making buying a breeze, and soon will be accepting EBT (food stamp) cards. If you sign up to be on his mailing list, you can find out what specials he will have in that week (it always varies) and even make special requests.

Later that night I grilled my fresh salmon on the patio with the Portland sun shining (finally!) down on me. I took Lyf’s advice and didn’t overcook the fish, making sure the insides were still a lush coral pink. The result was one of the best dinner’s I’ve had all spring, and the friends I was willing to share a bite with agreed. The flavor was delicious and fresh, and the meat flaked off in perfect, moist bites.

Tomorrow I plan on walking down the block and popping back in to see Lyf, who opens his doors from noon to 7, Wednesday through Friday at the corner of 50th and Hawthorne (he’s also open on weekends at 3221 SE Division, in the cart pod). This time I want to try some of the farm fresh eggs, and maybe some of the Pacific Snapper. I’ll probably also mention how open my lower back feels from his Hot Flow class I attended this morning- when Lfy isn’t slinging fish, he also happens to be a wonderful instructor at the Yoga Union 🙂
I highly recommend taking a minute to stop by and check out Flying Fish Co. and say hi to a fellow yogi in the process.

Here’s a link the the Flying Fish website, where you can find out more about product availability and even details on other locations (most of which are owned by Lyf’s family) around the West. Be sure to sign up for his mailing list while there!

http://web.flyingfishcompany.com/home.html

Namaste!

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!