Darren Rhodes, international yoga teacher and asana model for the style formerly known as Anusara, was the first major teacher to leave the school in 2012 along with Christina Sell.
Their departure sent shock waves through the community, and ultimately the fastest growing yoga school in the world foundered six months later.
Since then, Darren has been mostly out of view, tending to his Arizona studio, YogaOasis, to his practice and to the recent arrival of his first child. Elephant caught up to the J.D. Salinger of yoga and had a chance to ask him a few questions about life, love and the pursuit of the world’s hardest pose.
Michelle Marchildon, for elephant journal. So, Darren, other than blowing up a yoga school, what have you been up to?
Darren Rhodes: We’ve been extremely prolific this year (Darren has produced two books, a new asana poster, created YogaHour, a 200-hour YTT, recorded a ton of classes for YogaGlo and had a baby.).
MM: What has been best about post-Anusara, or the ‘new normal’ for you?
Before, when I put out a product, or offered a workshop, there was so much resistance for trying anything new. I would have gotten calls. Now to be able to do it without resistance is a joy.
MM: What are you doing, now that you can do anything?
DR: YogaHour is definitely my passion. Originally, it was “Word of the day,” with a fun flow and music. Now, I’m focused on weaving in shape, safety and refinement instructions into each pose. A YogaHour class is more like hip hop than rock; it’s outstanding how many lyrics some artists can fit into a single song. YogaHour is like that without overwhelming the student with too much info.
When I used to go to an Anusara class, there would often be a 10 minute introduction, a chant that made students wonder if they were in a religious setting, demos, and partner work. That is not what I wanted out of a yoga class. I wanted to practice, not so much learn about asana or yoga philosophy.
I realized that if I took those things out, I could still offer the poses. Now, YogaHour offers 55 minutes of non-stop practice in a 60-minute class. We aim for 75 to 90 poses versus 19 to 25 in a typical Anusara class.
Students who come to YogaHour want to practice, they don’t want to leave their desk to sit at another desk. They want to stretch away their stress. Although I benefited from demos and some partner work, it always felt like it interrupted my practice. So now we offer those things in workshops and intensives separate from YogaHour.
Our motto is to make the difficult doable, and the doable more difficult. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever taught, and a synthesis of everything I’ve been influenced by from Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Iyengar and Anusara.
MM: It may be old news, but inquiring minds want to know. What happened?
DR: By now many know that John (Friend, the founder of Anusara yoga) was attempting to kick me out of Anusara (over a dispute regarding YogaHour, the book Yoga Resource and his studio). When it became clear that’s what he was doing, I realized I didn’t want to stay in! So, after fighting to stay part of Anusara for many months I just up and left. The moment I resigned I felt fully aligned with myself. I never regretted it for an instant. John and several of his generals had become a pervasive presence in my life so I felt very relieved to be done with all that.
MM: What teachers are you following these days?
DR: It’s great to see so many of my friends happy and thriving post Anusara. Since leaving, a lot of teachers have created classes and products that they align with 100 percent. I’m very into and inspired by YogaGlo (Darren records classes for the web-based studio). It has been so conducive to creativity and individual expression. You can use it to find inspiration for a theme, for a class, or to learn a new sequence. It’s all there. It’s been a fantastic resource for our community.
MM: Tell me about the “Word of the Day.” I am a fan because it’s simple, effective and lets the asana take center stage in a yoga class. How did you come up with this?
DR: The Word of the Day makes a difference in practice. It is something students look forward to and enjoy. They connect to the teacher, they can hear something about them, or their practice, and it informs or inspires them. If they are late to class, they are often bummed to miss the Word.
I watched so many teachers struggle to deliver a theme and not be clear on what they wanted to say. There is pressure to be anti-spiritual sandwich, which is where you state the theme at the beginning and the end but don’t weave it into class. In YogaHour, students consider the spiritual sandwich to be delicious—because the stuff in between is the asana. They are even happy with a spiritual pizza where the teacher shares the word at the beginning of class and never mentions it again.
MM: Spiritual Pizza! I love it. I modeled the ‘One Word Theme’ in Theme Weaver on your Word of the Day. It’s a very effective model in my opinion. Do you have any advice for teachers when they start experimenting with bringing in inspiration to their classes?
DR: Some people have the gift of weaving in a theme. For others, it diminishes their ability to teach Hatha yoga. It takes time and energy away from what they are trying to do instructing the poses. If a teacher uses just a single word, they can usually nail it. It gives the teacher and the student a clear point of focus. It is the message of the day, and it’s short. It takes two minutes to deliver.
MM: Is YogaHour a flow class with a Word on top?
DR: Vague is in vogue, so I got interested in how much form you can bring into the flow. What makes YogaHour exceptional is that the teacher aims to systematically weave in shape, safety, and refinement instructions into every pose without inhibiting the asana. It feels like fast Hatha or something.
But still, there are problems that come up which YogaHour cannot address. YogaHour does best when a studio also offers workshops and other kinds of classes where you can teach alignment in depth.
MM: I want to ask the question everyone wants to know. Is there a pose you can’t do?
DR: What I can do is recorded. And I’m sure there are plenty of poses I can’t do. I can’t do both feet to the armpits, a variation of Yogadandasana or Double Dragonfly in a hand balance. There is a great photo of Ana Forest doing that one. And I can’t balance on my head with no arms. When people ask me how do you do a one-armed handstand and no-hand headstand, the answer is very quickly. I took them out of the e-book because I felt that they just weren’t honest to my practice.
MM: How do you cultivate a practice like yours?
DR: I’ve met so many people who can bend and stretch way beyond me. A lot of what I did I just made it happen because I wanted it so badly. Even Hanumanasana is hard for me. I’m not about pushing myself anymore beyond the boundaries. I care more about the preliminaries. I really always cared about the form of triangle pose, more than say, getting into Scorpion.
MM: What pose is the greatest teacher for you?
DR: The standing poses. Standing poses offer very little glamor or glitz. They are not distracting that way. They are hard to get motivated to do, relatively arduous and take a lot of energy. For my spine, which once had a 40 percent curvature, and for my state of mind, there’s nothing like them (Through yoga, Darren has corrected his spine to having only 15 to 20 percent curvature these days.) The standing poses bring my spine and mind into alignment. Doing a good long standing sequence creates a certain kind of oneness and delivers a sustained state of improvement for me. If I only had 30 minutes to practice, it would always be standing poses.
MM: What is it like to be a father for the first time?
DR: Being a dad to Dagda is the best dharma. And it’s the most demanding dharma, which is no surprise.
I find I have to practice to be the dad I want to be. I don’t practice as much, but I need the practice all the more. If I don’t practice today, then yesterday’s practice is useless to me. The only way I can draw on it, is if I did it today.
MM: Do you have a last word, from the man who invented the Word?
DR: Back in the day John attracted such a creative and capable group of people. As Douglas Brooks often says, “Keep good company for you are the company you keep.” The company I kept in Anusara Yoga was great company. I am grateful to still be keeping company with many that were once part of Anusara.
All and all, I think Anusara offered a lot to the evolution of yoga in the West and kudos to it for timing its dissolution perfectly.
MM: Like I say, I like to walk with other great beings on the way home. Thank you Darren.
DR: Thank you, Maha Michelle. Muse on.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta
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