Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Not My Style

Today I took an Anusara class. The Anusara practice was founded in 1997, around the same time I found yoga. Practically speaking, I think of it as Iyengar Lite -- alignment-based and prop-heavy -- although devotees would probably school me harshly for making such a statement. On the official Anusara website (www.anusara.com) it states that "Anusara means "flowing with Grace," "flowing with Nature," "following your heart." Interesting moniker for a practice devoid of flow. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Having inhaled and exhaled my way through countless vinyasa, power and ashtanga classes, as well as six months of Mysore practice, I know how important proper alignment is. Thanks to my dance training, I'm a stickler for good form. I never leave any class, regardless of style, without a nugget of new information. I once took an Iyengar class where the teacher worked on Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose) for 90 straight minutes. Somewhere around minute 75 she exclaimed: "There's a backbend in revolved triangle," and I unlocked the pose for myself. I hear that voice every time I revolve my triangle. Deadly as that class was, I'm glad I was there.

In vinyasa class I understand that perfection in asana is unachievable. (Do not get me started on Bikram's yoga championships.) Because I love going deeper and deeper into the subtleties of the postures, I could practice forever and never get bored. In the Iyengar and Anusara practices, however, my own imperfections are all up in my face. I'm too flexible, which means I'm weak as a deboned kitten. I hyperextend my knees and elbows, which means I will die a slow, agonizing, immobilized death due to misuse of my own limbs. As for my badonka-donk, it's been repeatedly flicked and smacked to remind me to shove -- I mean "draw" -- it underneath. At the Iyengar Institute, the teacher actually pointed at my ass and laughed. But I showed up today, ready to for anything.

At the top of class, a fellow student handed out cd liner-sized cards. I gave it a polite glance, masking my disapproval of self-marketing in yoga class, then stuffed it out of sight under my towel, until the teacher asked us to take out our cards and read along if we were unfamiliar with the opening chant. I read and write all day long. It's the last thing I want to do in yoga, so I made up some Sanskrit-sounding gibberish. We chanted one time through, then handed the cards back. It felt like the end of a pop quiz that I had just failed.

Next, we closed our eyes, focused on our breathing, and were treated to at five minutes about the Silk Road exhibit at the Natural History Museum. What lessons did I take from this story? 1. I am woefully ignorant of Asian history. 2. I know Marco Polo only as a pool game. 3. I'm sick of caterpillar metaphors. And 4. I don't take advantage of New York City's cultural activities. The list goes on, but you get the idea. I'm lazy and I suck.

Only fifteen minutes into class and I was barricaded so tightly inside my own head that Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, Jerry Garcia and the Beatles together could not have freed my mind.

I'm not saying I didn't find a nugget in today's practice. I was reminded to melt my heart toward the floor in preparation for handstanding. It helped. I got closer to vertical than I ever have on my own. Then I landed on my sore big toe. "Dammit." The teacher gave me the hairy eyeball. There's no cussing in yoga.

By the end, I was mentally exhausted, overwhelmed by the four corners of my knees and the inner and outer spirals. I got the concepts. They're not unique to Anusara. But the way they were communicated kept me in an intellectual space, rather than an energetic one. The whole practice felt herky-jerky. And rather than walking tall as I left, I took new aches and pains home with me.

Was it the teacher or the style?

I visited the Anusara website, looking for enlightenment. (I prefer to find it on the mat, but hey....) The site claims Anusara is "uplifting, epitomized by a 'celebration of the heart' that looks for the good in all people and all things." Not my experience today, but maybe I have a bad attitude. They refer to their community as a "merry band of bohemian artists." Sure, if said artists are bipolar and on the downswing. According to the website, the chant was meant to invoke universal spirit. It just made me feel more alone. On a positive note, I had an excellent savasana. My soul left my body. It had a seventy minute head start.

Anusara isn't the practice for me right now. Certainly not with this teacher, who struck me as inauthentic. But please don't take my word for it. For some, Anusara is exactly the practice they need. Personally, I prefer a style that's older than I am. But I'll try anything six times.

Yoga means "union." I find union when my practice takes me out of my body, when my breath and movement become one, when the energy of the group carries me along like a wave. My ideal practice is a moving meditation that brings total connection.

I wish I felt the class today. I wanted to. I totally felt the chickpea fries I had later at Peacefood Cafe. And their raw key lime pie? That was union.

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