Saying “Thank You” – A Love Letter to my Teachers.

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Nataraja, July 2011

Yes…THAT. I am that. That I am.

My Two Teachers

I have many teachers, but the two who are really the great teachers of my life are the ones who, when I first heard them speak, seemed to be voicing the contents of my brain. If you have had this experience, you know exactly what I am talking about. You are surprised, and think – wait – how did you…? but I…  and then – yes and yes again. Then the surprise gives way to a magnetic compulsion that makes you want to scrunch your chair or yoga blanket or whatever you happen to be perched on …right…up…close.

It makes you want to travel around the world to study with them and precipitates dramatic shifts in how you order your time and with whom you wish to spend it. Your initial amazement and delight pool into a profound sense of gratitude for this glimpse into the mysterious synchronicity of things. Resonance and Recognition. This is what happened when I met my teachers John Friend and Douglas Brooks.

To Backtrack for a Moment – Paris and Proust

I keep thinking about the first time I read Proust. I was studying in Paris and as I tackled the dense text, I suddenly realized that I was being moved by the quality of the language and by the beauty of the prose. For the first time reading in French – instead of translating in my head, instead of it being about comprehension – I had moved into a place of profound aesthetic appreciation. That was something.

The writing seemed strangely familiar. As I read, it felt as if someone had transcribed the phrases and ideas lining the inside of my brain. I was seeing myself reflected in his words – not just things I had thought about, but patterns of thought – an underlying structure that said – That is me! The differences between myself and a neurotic French writer born in 1871, who closeted himself in a silent cork-lined room so that he could write all 3000-some pages of his book were evident. Yet, the startling sense of recognition triggered a sensation of deep connectivity to the world around me, which is actually what he was writing about. And this experience is what I’m now talking about.

Post-practice with John Friend - Anusara Grand Circle-Wanderlust, VT, June 2011

On Recognition and Moving through Things

Many years later, I was going through a challenging period in my life – I had lost 3 people I cared about in 3 months in unrelated violent deaths. I was toughing it out, trying to be there for other people while I just barely kept it together myself. I felt as if I was held in place by lots of little overlapping pieces of psychic tape and messes of determined glue – a shifting collection of pieces.

I had been studying with John Friend for about 5 years, and had already had the above-mentioned recognition experience with him. He was in town teaching a series of workshops in Soho. Usually when I studied with John, I was like an excited puppy  – exponentially more bouncy and chatty than I normally am. This time I was in a place where I just wanted to find some peace – to stop grinding my teeth for a few hours and feel happy again. We put down our mats and gathered toward the front of the room.

As John began to speak, something in the tone of his voice shifted something for me, and my carefully taped together self began to come unstuck. I spent most of the morning crying and sweating in the bathroom, finally managing to fit in about 30 sniffling minutes of practice. He came over to me immediately at the break and I recall spilling some incoherent mess about what I was dealing with, as he took it in and held that space for me. Exhausted, I went back to my apartment, showered, scrubbed everything off of myself, and when I returned for the afternoon session, I was on the other side of it – clear, clean, and actually slightly happy for the first time in months. The tone of recognition and acceptance within his voice had triggered a profound alchemical shift within me. He had invited me more deeply into a particular part of myself so that I could process what I needed to move through.

Great teachers speak to you from where you are. They don’t try to yank or push or pull you into where they want you to be. They remind you to move into the fullness of your experience, to embrace whatever rasa, or flavor of experience, you are in so that you can best figure out how to align with your current reality.

With Douglas Brooks - Swamimalai Subrahmanya Temple, Dec 2010, photo-Diane Stone

On Reflection and Thatness

I was in upstate New York studying with Douglas this past week. Near the beginning of a meditation practice that Douglas was guiding, there was a moment near the beginning when one thanks one’s teachers. He let us know that this was what he was doing and that we were welcome to do the same. Look way back – he suggested – go to 2nd grade. I decided to really go for it, and it was amazing how many people I genuinely wanted to thank. I tried to pare it down to my parents, my high school English and Art teachers, my college Art History professor, several of my Anusara mentors, and Douglas and John. But then I thought about all of my teachers’ teachers, and that kept multiplying as well – lines and lines of them extending in every direction. It was endless.

I met Douglas when he was invited by Amy Ippoliti to kick off our Anusara® Teacher Training in January 2002. I have extremely vivid memories of being floored at every single thing he said. It was brilliant. And totally new. And yet utterly familiar. To conclude one evening, we were asked to give one word or phrase summarizing our experience. People said, inspired – intrigued – exhausted – perplexed – blown away, and more.  The one thing that I could truly say, was Yes…THAT. I am that. That I am.

You know in a minute flat when someone is going to be a great teacher in your life. You can learn from many, but the great ones – that is always clear. And there it was again and again, and here it still is again and again: the vimarsha shakti, which can be loosely defined as the energy of you being reflected back to you. Being around my teachers makes me a better person because of this endless mirroring and self-reflection, this sense of recognition, the inescapable resonance, the sweet invitation to that.

Jet-lagged but happy - with Douglas - Tirukalakundram Vedhagirishwar Hill Temple, Dec 2010

Saying Thank You

I was away traveling for much of this summer – Vermont-India-Paris–Boston-upstate NY, and had intended to write something like this for Gurupurnima, the traditional time of year to honor one’s teachers, so this is slightly late. But I honestly think about my teachers every day, which somehow blended with the nostalgia or longing that kicks in for me at the end of summer and the fading august light, so I felt compelled to write this belated thank-you note.

So here it goes  – thank you to Mom and Dad for being the most ridiculously fabulous parents anyone could wish for, to my sister Jen for being a model of integrity, thank you to my academic teachers who believed in my creativity and my skills – thank you to my yoga mentors and inspirations – Sianna Sherman, Elena Brower, Amy Ippoliti, Lois Nesbitt, Vishali Varga, Ellen Saltonstall, and Sue Elkind. You have all given me so much.

And thank you John. Thank you Douglas. I thank you all for offering me myself.

With John - Anusara Grand Circle, VT June 2011

Every reader finds himself. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself. – Marcel Proust

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Susanna Harwood Rubin

Susanna is passionately committed to finding beauty in everyday life. She is a yoga teacher-writer-visual artist, which means that she rarely stops moving except to meditate. She is ERYT-500, has been teaching for over 12 years, and travels regularly to South India to delve into the traditions of Rajanaka Yoga that inspire her work. Her spiritual home is the great Nataraja Temple of Chidambaram. She teaches internationally, but is based in New York. Find her weekly classes at Twisted Trunk Yoga and Abhaya Yoga .

Susanna’s artwork is represented in collections such as the UCLA Hammer Museum, the Berkeley Museum, and the Addison Gallery of American Art. She lectured and wrote for MoMA for years, including co-writing the book “Looking at Matisse and Picasso,” and she will still happily talk about Picasso for hours if you ask her.

Susanna currently writes on yoga, writing, art, and life for a number of publications, including The Huffington Post , Mantra Yoga+Health , Rebelle Society , and YOGANONYMOUS . She gives talks on yoga, Hindu myth, and philosophy, and created the popular Writing Your Practice workshops and telecourses for yogis, applying yoga philosophy and myth to the practice of writing.
Overall, she is amazed at the richness of her life.
Find her on Twitter , Facebook , &

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anonymous Feb 15, 2012 11:00pm

[…] and the toughest point in all of this, is that I truly love, admire, and respect John. He has been supportive of me in many ways, and his teaching has helped me to heal when I was going […]

anonymous Jan 5, 2012 6:06am

[…] To my teacher Douglas Brooks […]

anonymous Sep 1, 2011 7:36pm

your greatness is evidenced in your devotional humility.
truly an amazing transmission youve given the world by reflecting such perfect love!

anonymous Aug 31, 2011 12:37pm

Susanna, this is beautiful. Your writing is so graceful and evocative. Truly beautiful. It also resonated with me quite profoundly as I too am someone who has been changed by Anusara and the teachings of John Friend. I'm also a contributor to EJ, and I think you'll relate to my "Ode to Anusara" that I wrote recently:

Keep writing. You truly have a gift. : )

    anonymous Sep 2, 2011 11:22am

    Thank you! I will definitely check out your article!

      anonymous Sep 9, 2011 10:47am

      I checked it out & loved it – thank you for sharing it – so important for us all to stay connected!

anonymous Aug 31, 2011 10:16am

Gratitude is so powerful. Inspiring.

anonymous Aug 31, 2011 10:07am

Beautiful! Thank YOU! <3

anonymous Aug 31, 2011 7:37am

Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    anonymous Sep 2, 2011 11:21am

    Thank you as always, Tanya!!!

anonymous Aug 30, 2011 8:41pm

Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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anonymous Aug 30, 2011 8:45am

Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

anonymous Aug 30, 2011 8:06am

This is so beautiful, thank you Susanna!

anonymous Aug 30, 2011 1:01am

Susanna! You are such a great Being and I am so happy to keep company with you.. even when we aren't hanging out somewhere on a mat or satsang, always connected in our Hearts, Kula sistas.. xo Love and gratitude.

    anonymous Sep 2, 2011 11:20am

    Thank you for your constant sweetness, BJ! I feel the same way about you & love that we connect while traveling, through writing, and always through our hearts! You are a TOTAL sister – gifted & inspiring.
    Love you!

anonymous Aug 29, 2011 11:11pm

My experience with the two great teachers:
I am not you.
I am like you.
I am nothing but you.

    anonymous Sep 2, 2011 11:24am

    Yes, Shig! – all three simultaneously, of course! We are so fortunate…Thank You!

anonymous Aug 29, 2011 10:49pm

Susanna, this is so beautiful! Thank you.