_ Staying Open to Grace
Dear Yoga Friends,
I have been contemplating the fact that I have now been practicing yoga for 20 years. I took my first yoga class while in my 3rd year of college. I was looking for some way of helping my stiff body become flexible. I remember nothing about that first class except for savasana, when I became aware of, for perhaps the first time, the silence of my inner vastness, and I was astonished. I didn't know that place existed and I was deeply moved. Although, this was not the word I would have used at the time, I would call what I experienced Grace. It felt like home, and I knew even then in that brief encounter, that it was something I needed to cultivate and pursue.
So, I started studying and practicing yoga. Since then, I have had the privilege of practicing with wonderful teachers in many places. I began in the Iyengar tradition and was inspired by the brilliance and precision of the alignment instruction. I spent several years practicing this style of yoga and have deep appreciation for this method and for my teachers: Rena Dubin, Kofi Busia, Nancy Mildren, and Janet Hochfeld. In 1998, I was exposed to Anusara Yoga, a new style of yoga founded by John Friend, that was an innovative method based on the alignment tradition of Iyengar freshly articulated into a clear sequence of universal alignment principles and the heart opening tradition of Tantra. I was immediately hooked. My mind-body and heart felt at home. I found that softness and sweetness could live alongside strength and power. Since then, I have had the opportunity to study with many skillful teachers of this method, including John Friend, Charly Pivert, Janet Hochfeld, Desiree Rumbaugh, Denise Benitez, Elizabeth Rainey, and others, and I thank each of them.
This is where I first learned about Open to Grace, the first principle of the Anusara method. At first I was sure about Grace, what was it exactly? Was it something I was imagining? Was it something real? The instruction was to pause, soften and breathe. And, that took me there. I realized that the Grace resided in that silent space between two breaths, or between two poses, and in savasana. Anusara taught me that I could have a relationship with Grace.
And, one door leads to another. I have met so many wonderful people through yoga. Through my Seattle mentor, Denise Benitez, I was introduced to my current teacher Paul Muller Ortega, founder of Blue Throat Yoga, a lifelong meditator and scholar of Tantric Shaivite Yoga. Paul initiated me into Neelakantha Meditation, a beautiful and profound practice of Tantric meditation, and it is in this practice and tradition that I am continuing to learn to more deeply cultivate and open to the beauty and mystery that is Grace, and to discover who I am at root and at core.
It is in these traditions, practices, experiences and beautiful community that my yoga life is rooted.
This past week, the Anusara world has been tipped upside down as serious misconduct accusations about John Friend on personal and business levels have surfaced causing severe grief, anger and confusion within the Anusara community. I, alongside my mentors, colleagues and friends have been thrown into the midst of this turmoil. This isn't the first time I have felt discomfort with Anusara, the business or John, the teacher. In times like this, it is easy to contract and react. It is far harder to remember to pause, soften and breathe. I realized this week, that this practice of Opening to Grace hasn’t been second nature to me. I have had to work at it, forgetting and remembering, forgetting and remembering. I’m grateful for friends who have been there to remind me. And, I realize that this is at the heart of what it is to be a yogi, to turn to our practice in times of turmoil.
As a result of this turmoil, Anusara, the organization, is broken, and I don’t know what will happen to it. Will the organization be able to heal and be restored? It will be tough, and I don't know what I think about this... There are individuals working diligently at re-envisioning this, and there is hope that it may be repaired. I don't know if I will want to be part of it or not. So many connections and communities have formed around Anusara that it has transcended its founder. Anusara, as a method and as a practice, lives on in the lives and hearts of so many people, each of whom makes it his/her own, and each of them will continue to take the beauty of it and make it their own in a myriad of ways.
I know that as circumstances unfold, I will do my best to own my practices whatever they be called and remain committed to the principle of Opening to Grace, allowing my inner guidance to come forth. I will remain dedicated to serving my community in the highest way possible. My practices and my teaching are rooted in the tradition of alignment based hatha yoga and the tradition of heart-opening Tantra. My commitment is to offering the best of these teachings utilizing the methods that I have studied and practiced and crediting those who gave them to me, informed by my on-going experience, contemplation and study. Basically, I’m staying Open to Grace.
Annie Barrett. Educator, certified health coach, educator and yoga instructor.