April 18, 2012

Time for a Grown-up Discussion on Anusara. ~ Christina Sell

Warning up-front and in plain sight:

I am going to make fun of some things and speak directly to some things and if you are in an overly sensitive mood this post may not be for you.

I recognize people are in various stages of a grief process, processing their feelings, observations and experiences at different rates and not every post can land perfectly for everyone. All right, that being said, here goes.

At dinner last night I was talking with a friend about my reflections from the experiences of teaching in different communities. Some of the context of the discussion had to with the various delights and difficulties involved in teaching yoga in the midst of the dismantling of the structures of Anusara. Has anyone come up with a PC way to say it? “The Scandal” sounds dramatic and inflammatory. “The recent events” sounds vague and evasive. “Anusara Yoga’s recent growth opportunity” is funny and certainly holds a kernel of truth. but all things said and done is a bit ridiculous and perhaps condescending. Anyway, what to do…

A few things are on my mind relative to all of that. Yes, I know I said I wasn’t going to talk much about it anymore, but this has more to do with my movement forward as opposed to my commentary on what I think happened or didn’t happen.

On the first day of our teacher training, when we were discussing some personal feelings that folks had in the room relative to the current events with Anusara (Oooh, now there is a way to say it… current events…), a trainee made a comment that involved a criticism and a generalization of certain things in her experience of Anusara yoga. Many people shared the experience she was describing and we talked a bit about it.

After we explored it a while and had moved onto another topic, when this woman raised her hand and said, “I just need to say that I do not want to be negative or critical, and I hope I didn’t offend anybody, and I am sorry if I hurt anyone’s feelings, etc.” It was as though some fear came up for her  after-the-fact and she felt she needed to cover her tracks a bit.

A similar thing happened when I was teaching the Spring Intensive in San Marcos in March. I posed the question to the group, in all sincerity, “How much time will have to pass before we can say something critical without prefacing it with “I am really grateful for all I learned but….” or “I really respect everyone’s decision to stay but….” or “I think Anusara is really great but….”

Someone in the group sincerely answered my question, saying, “Two years, at least.”

I said, “Let’s do some work on that for ourselves—I can’t wait two years. That is too long for me. I do not  have that kind of time.”

I launched into the same discourse in March that I did in Athens during the teacher training because I think its essential that we get clear here on a few points:

There are as many varied experiences of Anusara as there are people involved with it. Some of those experiences share a lot of content and some have almost nothing in common. Everyone was looking at and participating in the same thing from sometimes radically different perspectives and therein lies the interesting and difficult part of the conversation.

If we get fundamentalist about this, if we insist that ours is the only true perspective, if we dedicate ourselves to convincing others that their experience is wrong, ignorant, misguided, confused, lacking insight,  negative, vindictive or in any way less than ours, we are in pretty unsavory territory.

So, the first thing I propose is that we each look at our own experience very courageously, lay it all out for ourselves to see and then validate it for ourselves. I mean it! Validate it for ourselves to such a degree that the fact that anyone sees it differently poses no threat to the truth of our own truth. It is very difficult to do this as we are trained to seek validation from others in all kinds of ways.

I also think that part can be healthy at times. I am fan of sharing, processing with people and ending the isolated perspectives that secrets generate. But we need to do both, in my opinion. At least 50-50. So I am not saying it is all an inside job but I am saying we have to meet the outer world at least half-way in such matters.

In my experience, the more I can validate and “make real” my own direct experience in any situation, the more I am able to allow people to have their full truth. I can allow their perspective to be valid as that—their perspective, true in its own way just as mine is true for me. Simply put, I am less prickly. It’s just the way that it works.

All right, so all that being said, I think the second thing we might consider is that we could confront the “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” strategy as being appropriate in situations of hurtful gossip and a good tool from childhood lessons regarding playing well with others, but not always applicable to the complexity of adult life. It’s also bit useless in the face of sorting out ethical considerations, distribution of power, interpersonal conflicts,  boundary setting, professional affiliation and so forth. I mean, the thought behind that is great but honestly, its a bit limited as a way to live.

No matter how wonderful something is, it is never perfect. No matter how bad something is, it has seeds of greater possibility.

The dark is contained in the light and the light in the dark. We know this from our philosophical studies. So, no matter how much we love Anusara yoga, or loved it or might love it in the future, it is a completely ridiculous notion to assume that it could ever be flawless or without shortcomings or ways to grow and improve. Get real. Seriously. We have to grow up on this one.

Just like each of us who are wonderful people and love other wonderful people in our lives, wonderful does not mean,  never did mean, and never will mean, flawless. To require each other—smart, intelligent, discerning adults—to not see flaw and to not speak of flaw is more than a bit limited and limiting—it’s childish.

It will not allow for growth, development and maturation. The childish strategy will keep us trapped at its level of immature consciousness. I do not mean the word childish and immature to sound mean-spirited. I really mean childish in the sense we could trace that idea and ideal back to childhood where we believed in fairy-tale endings and princes on horses, and magic wands. During this time we lacked the ability to see things in their full glory like we can learn to do as adults.

Simply put, criticism is not the about the whole thing, it’s about the aspect of the thing being criticized. We do not have to generalize one flaw to the whole person or organization.  So when someone is criticizing something, maybe we could, within ourselves, just pause and go, “oh, they are not talking about everything, just about x,y, or z.”

The other thing we could do is to observe why we get so easily offended when criticism arises. Instead of asking people to stop speaking their truth, we could examine our own prickliness and dismantle it internally. Yoga can make us more sensitive, but it can also make us more resilient. The kind of sensitivity it is training in us is not the kind that means “easily offended” anyway. But that is another story.

The way I summed this up in my teacher training was to tell them I would like to make an agreement for the rest of the week we would be together:

1. We would grant each other the generosity to be able to share different perspectives without apology.

2. If our feelings were hurt, we would first look inward and see if we could gain clarity about why were so offended.

3. If we felt we needed to share it with someone, we agreed to speak directly with the person whose comments rubbed us the wrong way.

4. We would listen to each side of the story and agree to disagree at times, apologize if we did indeed make a mistake and that we would ask for help from others in the process when we got stuck.

5. We would agree to remember that everyone in the room had mixed feelings of gratitude, hurt, shock, anger and even boredom relative to the situation, and that we would not longer preface everything we said with “I love anusara…” or similar preamble.

The woman who made the comment was a champ because I took her comment and made it into a full-blown teaching lesson that went way beyond her sweet plea to the group that she did not want to seem rude. That is the way it is when we teach sometimes. Someone opens a door and we can walk through a simple comment into a much bigger teaching.

I have been that student more than once for my teachers over the years, and it’s always a bit wild to see what can happen and how a teacher can make a big point out of a small comment. Sometimes, we just have to take one for the team, like this woman did. She was a trooper about it, though.

I personally am not interested in a two to three year period of time having to go by before everyone is undefended enough to hear each other’s thoughts about things. I am putting the people who know me on notice. I am smart, intelligent woman who has opinions about things and whose job is to offer those thoughts and insights in service to others in the process of deepening our sadhana together.
Part of my job is to share that reflective process, not to not offend the group. Freedom is only freedom when we are free to agree and free to disagree,when we are free to praise and free to criticize. Of course, there are skillful means, so I am not planning on becoming some kind of crazy blurter or anything like that.

But in order to really teach and learn, we have to clear the field a bit and be less identified with our own feelings of being offended.

I am saying “we.” I am rarely psyched to be criticized. I prefer for everyone to think I am great and for us to have big love fests of agreement. I am big fan of preaching to the choir. Like any good co-dependent, I like to please people and have a good repertoire of adaptive strategies in place to do just that.

But I have to say, it’s tiring. This recent situation has just gone on too long, in too much scale to be able to preserve those strategies without breaking down and destroying my energetic field entirely.

Being PC all the times takes a lot of energy. It’s time to be honest.


Christina Sell has been practicing yoga since 1991. She is the author of Yoga From the Inside Out: Making Peace with Your Body Through Yoga and My Body is a Temple: Yoga as a Path to Wholeness. Christina is the 2012 Art of Asana columnist for Yoga International Magazine and a regular contributor to Origin Magazine. She is a faculty member on Yogaglo, which provides online global access to yogic wisdom.

Known for her passion, clarity and creativity, Christina’s classes are challenging, inspiring and dedicated to helping people of all ages experience the joys of yoga practice and conscious living. Christina is the co- founder and do-director of the Shravana School of Yoga and offers workshops, trainings and seminars locally, nationally and internationally.

She is committed to bringing traditional practices and teachings to modern life. Christina is a devoted student of Western Baul master, Lee Lozowick and credits his Influence as the spiritual inspiration behind her life and work. For more information about Christina please visit her online at www.christinasell.com and www.christinasell.blogspot.com 


Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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