The word Anusara is often translated as "flowing with Grace", "to step into the flow", "to align with the flow of Nature". Sometimes we Anusara teachers will shorten, sweeten, and make it meaningful by saying it means "follow your heart".
As a lover of all things lyrical, I thought these translations and the concepts they evoked were beautiful. However, as a stubborn obstinate pragmatist who needs to see, comprehend, and tangibly feel things, I felt challenged to find relationship to this concept "flow", "flow of Nature", "Grace" within myself. In fact, I felt far from it!
Somewhere deep inside these words touched me but in my practice it seemed that I only skimmed the surface of a real embodied understanding. My practices felt effortful, my body felt heavy, and many things - asanas (Handstand, Hanumanasana, Eka Pada Khoundinyasana), deep meditation, and a trusting heart - felt so far out of reach. The more I worked to achieve these things, the more they eluded me.
Then two years ago, I had an experience that radically changed this. Attending John Friend's Intermediate/Advanced Weekend Workshop in North Carolina, I found myself in a familiar place - an aching body, an effortful approach to my practice, and my heart full of doubt.
During these kinds of workshops, John will often stop the flow of the practice and ask a student to perform a demonstration in order to illustrate a particular action or particular series of actions within an asana. As he drew us all together in the middle of the room, his eyes scanned the crowd. Instead of asking any of the workshop participants or assistants to demo, I was surprised to hear him call over from across the room his tour assistant and merchandising manager Tiffany.
Now I have had the privilege to get to know and practice alongside this inspirational yoga goddess so I already knew that she was capable of demonstrating some wild and beautiful asana!
Instead of asking her to strike any one pose, John invited Tiffany to stand at the top of the mat and close her eyes. He asked her to soften her outer body and open to the sweet pulsation of the breath that represented the divine flow of Shakti, the creative power of the universe, within her. He invited her to tap into the three qualities of this breath, the spanda of all creation - arising, sustaining, and dissolution - and to feel herself within and supported by that flow.
John talked Tiffany through one of the most challenging and complicated sequences of yoga postures that I have ever seen. Nearing the end of that three minute sequence, my heart overflowed and tears streamed out of my eyes.
I had seen challenging and "advanced" yoga before. Yet here, it was not the difficultly of the postures or even the seamless way they were strung together that affected me. What moved me so much about Tiffany's demonstration was the sheer effortlessness, the unparalleled balance of strength and softness and the deepest sense of trust that was evident in her movements. There was not a moment of being "out of breath". In fact, she was so deeply IN breath as the flow of Nature embodied.
Tiffany trusted John but the faith I saw her moving from was even deeper than that. In those moments, she was within, she WAS the divine flow of the universe. In every moment, in every transition she began with a softening, a radical sensitivity. She waited for the breath, the flow of Grace, and then she moved in tune with that flow like a skillful, patient partner in a creative and joyful dance.
In watching Tiffany's demo, I realized what it was that was missing from my practice. The part I had forgotten...
You see, I had been trying to do it all by myself. All of my effort, all of my intention (even in all of its goodness and authenticity) was self generated. I had been forgetting the very first principle of this yoga that I practice - Open to Grace. Universal first. Follow in the wake of the bigger energy ... Grace, Nature, Shakti, Life.
It was a huge reminder to me to stop trying so hard to lead the dance.
To soften my effort enough to feel the pulsation of Life always there to support me.
To always remember that Spirit is embodied in me, as me.
To co-create with this flow of Life, with Spirit in a way that makes more beauty.
Embodying my Bali Bliss
Sweet Tiff & Holly inspiring us all
John Friend's Bali Retreat 2010