From Tadasana to Savasana. ~ Darren Rhodes

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The Making of Anusara.

Why is it that B.K.S. Iyengar’s form in asana is so supreme, so superlative? And I’m not just talking about the alignment articulation, which is pretty much flawless. What I’m pointing to is the intoxicating shakti within these photos.

For me, gazing at B.K.S Iyengar’s form in an asana is similar to sitting in a sacred temple before an ancient bronze sculpture of, say, Kali. The physical form of a bronze Kali in a sacred temple stays relatively the same physically (or should I say physikali) year after year. And yet, energetically she builds power as more of Kali-ness awakens in that particular murti form. Similarly, I postulate that the photos of B.K.S Iyengar in Light On Yoga have evolved in subtle yet significant ways since they were first taken. Durga decade after decade I claim that the photos in Light On Yoga have become less and less an expression of B.K.S Iyengar, and more and more an expression of Hatha Yoga itself.

His form has become direct access to what asana is and what asana does. In other words, what we see now in Light On Yoga is not just B.K.S Iyengar in asana, but asana itself. These photos, therefore, have the potential to deeply inspire any Hatha yoga practitioner who genuinely spends time with them. When I first really looked at Light On Yoga 15 years ago, I said to myself, “I want to be able to do every posture in this book.” My quest was inspired by this question: “How would being able to do each of these postures shift me physically, mentally, and spiritually?”

I didn’t tell anyone about my Light On Yoga aim—there actually wasn’t really anyone to tell. At that time I was the only one among my friends and community that practiced Hatha Yoga. The only other Hatha yoga practitioner I really even knew was my mom.

So, little by little I attempted to do each and every posture. I made a list of all the postures I couldn’t do and crossed them off one by one.

About four years into my practice I hit a wall. I had pushed myself as far as I could go on my own. For example, I remember one year my goal was to be able to do Kandasana by the end of the year. I could barely do baddha konasana at the time! I had never seen anyone do this posture and never been given any instruction on it. On that New Year’s Eve I asked my dad to push my feet into my abdomen. My back was against a wall. My dad, who is very strong, used all of his effort to try and force my feet into kandasana position, to no avail.

It became clear to me that in order to achieve my aim of doing every posture in Light On Yoga I needed guidance; I needed a teacher. Soon after that realization, as luck would have it, I met John Friend. During that first workshop with John, he told me that I could perform all the postures in Light On Yoga if I learned the art of alignment. Sianna Sherman was also at that particular workshop. After asking John about Kandasana he brought me over to Sianna. He asked her to show me the posture. Without even being warmed up she did it with ease! I had never seen anyone move their limbs like that before. As Sianna did the posture John explained the alignment necessary to shape shift like that. I was so inspired. I had witnessed the rare and nearly extinct species called Kandasana. (About 8 years later I kind of got into Kandasana as you can see in the below photo).

The techniques I learned from John Friend seemed magical. Suddenly, I could do what I could to postures I couldn’t even get close to doing before. Not only that, but practicing under the guidance of John Friend gave me a blast of bliss.

For more than a decade I have run Yoga Oasis studios in Tucson, AZ. Early on, Yoga Oasis had a wide assortment of class offerings. We had so many styles of yoga and class levels that students and teachers alike were not sure what the exact differences were in our classes. To convert confusion into clarity we decided to offer just three class titles: basics, expanding, and radical expansion (since then we’ve also added intro2yoga and yogahour). The key thing that defined these class titles was the Anusara Syllabus. Basics utilized postures from the level one syllabus of Anusara. Expanding used poses from the first and second syllabus. Radical Expansion used poses from all three syllabi. For these descriptions to make sense we needed a visual of each syllabus which sparked the idea of making a poster of the entire Anusara Syllabus. The problem of course, is that we needed to captures 350 photos for that to happen. On Nov 21st of 2005, after explaining my poster vision to visionary Ross Evans–inventor of the xtracycle–he said, “Well, You can do all the postures, so let’s get started tomorrow. Milo can take the photos and I will film it.” At that time, I actually couldn’t do many of the postures in the syllabus. But I was willing to go for it.

Little did I realize that a situation had arisen where I would nearly realize my initial dream of doing all the postures in Light On Yoga.

The 8 a.m. photo shoot finally started at 1 p.m. Because we were using natural light for the photos we only had until 5 p.m. We photographed both sides of every standing posture in the syllabus that afternoon (101 postures). This was only possible because I flowed from one posture to the next pausing only long enough to hear the click of the camera. We did the entire photo shoot like this because it was also being filmed for a project that never came into fruition. We agreed that we would photograph the rest of the photos the next day. Even though my legs were exhausted from all the standing postures, I tossed and turned that night knowing I was going to do more asanas in one day than ever before in my life (approximately 450 postures including both sides) Doing the rest of the syllabus in one day was an ultimate challenge that irrevocably changed me. It took about 8 hours of nearly non-stop asana. I felt both utterly depleted and elated by the end of that day.

After sending John Friend the results of our first photo shoot he sent back 150 re-shoots with detailed alignment instructions. The next round after that, he sent back 85 re-shoots. For over a year we did re-shoot after re-shoot. Sometimes re-shooting 25 photos or less took several days due to the alignment refinements we had to capture. I made a commitment with myself from the beginning that I would do as many photo shoots as John required. I told Milo (the photographer and graphic designer for syllabus poster) that I was willing to continue with this process for years if that’s what it took, and there were times when I started to think it would take just that! The day John said, “The photos are done!” was a moment of roaring relief! Wow and woe, what a process.

Evolution: One posture I just couldn’t do, try as I might, and try I did, was Viparita Salabhasana. Here is what John emailed to me to get me into this posture:

Brother Darren,Viparita Salabhasana – You can do everything by aligning with the bigger Flow…keeping your inner thighs back like life depended on it, you must scoop the tailbone strongly to maximize Pelvic Loop. Then extend out through your legs full blast. Have someone hold your pelvis so you can get used to moving your energy more forward on your chest and throat. You must lean forward more with your center of gravity and get more onto your top chest. It takes more strength in your throat and chin and upper back muscles, but you can do it. You are bending too low in your back. The deep bend must happen higher up in your back. You WILL get Viparita Salabhasana following my instructions.” A few months later, sure enough, I got it.

Many of the more advanced postures appear so daunting that we often mentally label them as impossible for us. Suggestion number one: don’t do them. Advanced asana is dangerous. Suggestion number two: if you must, start by visually taking in their form without reaction. See the photos as they are. Then open yourself to the possibility of you becoming that form. Like Hanuman, many of these postures require that we become a changeling. Also Like Hanuman, as Professor Douglas Brooks says, “The impossible becomes yet another possibility.” The asanas that challenge us are often the ones that bring about the most significant transformations in all realms.

In the span of just over one year, John Friend’s instructions for the syllabus photos took my practice to a level that I would otherwise never have reached on my own. Without doing this project, I would never have the depth of relationship I have now with asana. One of my highest hopes is that the poster project will inspire similar such transformations in others. And of course, without my initial Light On Yoga inspiration none of this would ever have hatha happened.

And oh, for what it’s worth: creating sacred space can also allow us to do what would otherwise be impossible. For example, during one of the last photo shoots for the syllabus poster I was attempting to do Valakhilyasana, which I’ve nicknamed Kali-Kill-me-asana. I was capable of getting my back toes onto the floor. I wasn’t, however, capable of getting the front of my shin, ankle, and foot to the floor. After many attempts I concluded without a shadow of a doubt that that asana was impossible for me. My friends in the room assured me that I could do it. But I knew inside that there was no way. No chance. In a state of defeat I sat there in Pigeon prep gazing at the form of Bhagawan Nityananda, a great yogi saint. I had put that photo of Bhagawan Nityananda on the puja that morning to inspire me. As I gazed at Nityananda I felt my awareness soften. I started to take in a powerful energy from his form that took me into a realm of my heart I had never been–what felt like a wellspring of shakti.
Then suddenly, like moving from the depths of water back to the surface, my awareness rose back into the room. In that short period of time I went through a deep inner shift. I turned to Milo with a smile and said, “I can do it.” As I went into the posture all the previous obstacles were still there. Only now instead of a stop sign it was a yield sign. Instead of a red light it was green or even yellow (yes, I nearly ran a few red lights). And yet the deep recognition of knowing I could do it kept me guru going. After getting into the final form I came out and declared that I could and would go deeper. I learned the priceless lesson that in order to shape shift, I must first state shift.

Back in the day yogins did asana for the primary reason of creating a vessel strong enough to contain the spiritual energy of their sadhana. Interestingly, many yogins while in deep states of meditation spontaneously entered into various asanasas the kundalini awakened more fully—my father has had this very experience in meditation. These forms then were expressions of their bliss or the shakti itself. It makes sense then that these asanas can take us to the very bliss that inspired them in the first place. In other words, if asana can happen from the inside out it can also happen from the outside in.

The main thing the syllabus poster project taught me: when a deep desire of the heart spontaneously arises follow its calling. My experience has been that such desires is grace itself guru guiding the way towards and too my own bliss. It always proves to be both a perilous yet precious path.Thanks, sadhana. Interestingly, many yogins while in deep states of meditation spontaneously entered into various asanas as the kundalini awakened more fully—my father has had this very experience in meditation. These forms then were expressions of their bliss or the shakti itself. It makes sense then that these asanas can take us to the very bliss that inspired them in the first place. In other words, if asana can happen from the inside out it can also happen from the outside in.

The main thing the syllabus poster project taught me: when a deep desire of the heart spontaneously arises follow its calling. My experience has been that such desires is grace itself guru guiding the way towards and too my own bliss. It always proves to be both a perilous yet precious path.

Darren Rhodes, a Studio Director and Certified Anusara Yoga Instructor. My mom began practicing yoga while she was pregnant with me. Throughout my childhood she practiced and taught yoga in our living room. My father, an avid meditator and scholar, has consistently shared his spiritual experiences and insights with me. My parents continue to support, guide, and inspire me on my yogic journey as do my many teachers.  My primary hath yoga teacher for the past 12 years has been John Friend.

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27 Responses to “From Tadasana to Savasana. ~ Darren Rhodes”

  1. Darren you are the man! You gave me this poster at the first yoga rocks and it hangs on my wall and I refer to it everyday. It is such an inspiration and I show it to not-yet-yogis to blow their mind and get them on the path. I hope to make it to your studio and practice more with you…until then, see you at BhaktiFest – I'll be helping run the yoga space. Bom shiva!

  2. kira says:

    "when a deep desire of the heart spontaneously arises follow its calling"

    thank you, darren for sharing your journey and wisdom.


  3. Ashley Bauman says:

    I loved this article! I thought that it was a great motivation for my practice to be dedicated and to go deeper into the unknown. Thank you for your inspiration Darren.


  4. Bliss Rowland says:

    Deeply helpful. Please keep writing about and sharing your practice, on and off the mat. Everyone wants to go deeper, we need people to take us there. Thank YOU! Keep it comin!

  5. Lara Blommer says:

    I love the poster, and the story behind it makes it even more inspiring. I also love seeing the Viparita Salabhasana pictures side by side. Thanks for a great article Darren!


  6. courtney says:

    I am blessed to have this poster on my wall for the past few years…it has even more meaning & depth for me after reading how it all unfolded. I am touched and inspired by the story. it is nice to think of what seems impossible as possible! Lovely on, Courtney

  7. gabriela says:

    Brilliant article! So deeply inspiring and poignant! What a beautiful story of following deep heart calling and guru grace. What a blessing to feel the power of student- teacher relationship between Darren and John, as well as the lineage of yoga as passed on by Iyengar & the transmission available to soften and deepen even through a photo of a yogi saint, Nityananda. And then there is the relentless devotion, focus and commitment of ShriDarrenji on this perilous and precious path… Deep Bow. Thank you! I am fortunate enough to live in Tucson and have been called to deepen my yoga practice within Darren's light for many years. And now, when I travel the globe, I bring his fabulous new cd, Yoga Hour-Power and Play, with me (available on cd baby http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/DarrenRhodes1) and practice with my dear teacher and cherished friend anywhere, anytime. What a treat to hear his voice, in print, here too. BRAVO!

  8. gabriela says:

    Bravisimo! What a truly brilliant, heart felt article and great inspiration. I loved reading the process and story behind the poster. What a rich and poignant transmission of student to teacher in Darren and John’s exchange, of lineage and grace in Iyengar’s offerings and Nityananda’s softening depth and in the relentless devotion, focus and commitment Darrenji demonstrates.I am fortunate enough to live in Tucson and have Darren’s guidance in my yoga practice. And now, when I travel, I even have his awesome new cd “Yoga Hour of Power and Play”, http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/DarrenRhodes1 to practice with anytime, anywhere. It is a pleasure and joy to hear his voice again here, in print. Keep em comin!

  9. Tad Luke says:

    It has always been very clear to me that if some one puts a great deal of passion and effort into a thing, then that thing turns out to be something extraordinary. It’s also very clear that the result of Darren and Milo’s passion and effort has become greater than they could have imagined. This poster is the single most common physical element in every Anusara yogi’s life. I can walk into any. Anusara yogi’s home or studio, anywhere in this country or the world and feel like I am home because there on the wall hangs ” Tadasana to Savasana” Thank you Darren for weaving this story for us all.

  10. Danny Gray says:

    Thank you Darren for sharing a little of your amazing journey in creating this poster. Seeing the before and after shots of viparita salabhasana and valakhilyasana and reading about how it took months to shape-shift into these forms is so inspiring! Your passion for asana is infectious — thanks for showing the way!

  11. Everyday I refer to this poster. My first reaction upon seeing it is total amazement. Like eating chocolate cake, it just keeps getting better as if over night I forgot just how amazing it is. Often I scrutinize what really is the final pose so that I may clear with my instruction to myself and to my students. Thank you for this gift that keeps on giving.

  12. Laura Shriver says:

    Thank you so much Darren for sharing your journey. Looking at the poster it is easy to believe that perhaps you have something that other people don't have or that it was somehow a magic trick of a born contortionist, instead of a gut wrenching, soul twisting, and transformative expression coming from devotion and discipline. It is truly inspiring to read this and look at the poster with a new perspective, knowing that the love and Shakti that created this beautiful expression of Ananda is the same as the inspiration and light that resides within each one of us. Thank you so much for being willing to shine brightly and provide inspiration and guidance for others to also access that power and rise up in the light of their own Practice and Work. Thank you so much!

  13. brigette says:

    what you did with light on yoga is what I do with your poster. I literally practice with it on the floor, next to me. its made all the difference in the world having a point of reference created by a teacher who I can relate to, in today's world. the poster hangs in my studio. so many teachers and students look to you in admiration. you have no idea the level of inspiration your work has provided. thank you for putting in the time, the dedication, the practice. your work, inspires my work.

  14. Alice says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. With tears in my eyes you have inspired me to stop whining and start doing. Your poster hangs on my wall and sometimes I look at it and yell "NO WAY!!" How in the word did he do that??? Thanks and love for all that you do for so many. Please keep posting and helping us so profoundly.

  15. […] Read the full article on Elephant Journal. Published in: Inspiration on Saturday, July 10th, 2010   Tagged: No Comments […]

  16. As always Darren, you continue to inspire me. Not only by your intense practice, but by your intense surrender to the practice itself. Looking at the Anusara Syllabus Poster, for me, is such a great inspiration to my practice and my teaching. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights.

  17. Angela White says:

    D! What a wonderful article.. With its alchemical resonance, “From Tadasana to Savasana” could well be titled “From Lead to Gold”! Thank you for sharing the perilous, priceless process behind the poster, and reminding me that the work required for such transmutation is perhaps more significant than the end product itself. Your tenacity and your passion for this precious practice are deeply inspiring. Thank you!

  18. Roxanne H. Rhodes says:

    Who would have thought when I did my first yoga poses with Richard Hittleman on his early morning TV broadcast in 1967 that one day my son, forty one years later, with the help of his dear friend Milo would have the tenasity and follow through to create an incredible poster and be published in a prestigious magazine? I am proud and amazed and grateful at the good fortune to be Darren's mom.

  19. Kumiko Oda says:

    I am glad about every Studio Yoggy studio in Tokyo has From Tadasana to Savasana poster on their walls. I gaze at the poster just like you were fascinated by B.K.S. Iyengar’s form in Light on Yoga. This work is such a blessing. Enjoyed reading the article so much. Thanks Darren: )

  20. Marvi says:

    I love reading the background to the poster, especially Darren's personal journey into asana. A nugget of wisdom for me is that "in order to shape shift, I must first state shift." This points to the origin of tension in the body (state precedes shape), and the grace needed to transform the tension. Stories like this create stepping stones on my spiritual path. Thanks!

  21. Kate says:

    Words cannot express how your 'Work' has impacted and inspired the lives of those that come into contact with you… Thru the clarity of your work, my own work becomes clearer and the driving force, amplified..

    Thank you, thanks thanks thanks.

  22. jessa says:

    The syllabus poster is to me what Light on Yoga was for you…I started with Tadasana and continue to mark off each pose that I "can do". After more than two years my marks have changed many times and ranged from 1 to 20 and everywhere in between! "The main thing the syllabus poster project taught me: when a deep desire of the heart spontaneously arises follow its calling."

    You are such an amazing teacher for so many. Thank you for all you give.

    <3 J

  23. […] John Friend, he once told me (through my girlfriend) that I could be a great yogi like my friend Darren Rhodes. What he meant, of course, was that I had the potential to realize the exemplary qualities of […]

  24. Nora Lorber says:

    Interesting site this is. I will be coming back to read later. many thanks

  25. […] trainings know the power of these three refined and skilled yogis. Darren Rhoades is literally the poster boy of Anusara yoga. From Tadasana to Savasana is the poster sold as an official guide to assist teachers in sequencing […]

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