Finding Your Sutras
I was at dinner last night, and someone asked me if I just teach the same thing over and over again, or if I'm always coming up with fresh ideas for each class. "A little of both," I replied.
I'm always seeking; bringing shiny new tidbits that I've learned to my students, like a bluebird adding pieces of holiday tinsel to its nest. My workshops are like snowflakes: instantly recognizable, yet no two are exactly alike. Even so, I cultivate and maintain a voice, so that in addition to the differences, you'll always hear my language, main teachings, and perspectives on yoga.
When I do trainings for yoga instructors, I encourage them to continue their education, not only through yoga classes and other modalities, but also by paying rapt attention to life itself. Everywhere you look you'll see a signpost pointing back to yourself, and the aware yogi will begin to see patterns within the seeming randomness of it all.
My students learn to discover what I call their own "core message," the major, overriding aspects of spirit they feel called to express. Then, in taking action from their message and living in alignment with it, they become experts in some unique perspective that has been formed by their experiences, interests, and studies, and that they alone are qualified to share with others in a powerful way.
All the master yoga teachers have made it clear what they stand for, and their voice is recognizable. For example, if I say "kidney loop" or "inner body bright," you're going to think of John Friend and Anusara Yoga. Teachers like John have honed in on what they were meant to do, and they don't veer from that path by teaching wildly different styles or presenting different messages. Even if you're not a yoga instructor, you can look within yourself and see that you have your own recognizable voice and message.
Yogis might call this dharma, or life's path. There may be more than one path for each of us, such as having kids, being a painter, and taking care of an elderly parent. And your dharma can shift according to the different seasons and cycles of your life. Yet if we're still, and practice listening beyond the cacophony of life and the mind, it becomes easier and easier to detect where the currents of life energy are taking us and to follow mindfully along.
To me, this is one meaning of yoga: to unite--not just with the universal, but also with the personal. We can open ourselves up to serve the greater energy by streaming it through our creativity and personality in a vibrant way. As we transform, so does our unique song, yet some elements will remain the same. Those are the sutras, or threads that run through our lives.
We all have our own sutras, core values that provide some cohesion to our lives, helping to explain the things that attract us, illuminating the lessons we've learned, and also moving us into the path of challenges that keep appearing over and over until we bring them into line with our core values. One of my sutras is self-realization. I call it "core strength" to make this concept more accessible to the masses, but what I teach is so much more than an abdominal workout. It's a road map to find the way home to ourselves, and a process of turning away from over-reliance on things outside of us. I teach students to circle back to their own inner knowing, through movement, philosophy, cheerleading, and sometimes, by simply sitting back at the right moment.
My spiritual sutra stems from my own lifelong journey towards deeper understanding of my true nature, often sparked by massive challenges and discomfort, other times through the organic breeze of inspiration. As I teach, I learn about others and about myself, and become more skilled in discerning the ego from the soul.
To find my current sutras, I ask myself: To what or whom am I dedicated with all my heart? And, to distinguish all the other mind chatter from my core message and the ribbons of action that spool outward from it, I might also inquire, "If I had only one sentence I could say to all the world, what would it be?"
When an answer comes that expands my heart and makes me feel more alive instead of less, I follow it to the end. And I trust that if one thread ever runs out, if I simply quiet down and look inside, I will find the next sutra waiting for me to pick it up and run with it, as far as it will go.
Core Pose: Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) with Side Stretch
Next time you're in Uttanasana, try this variation. It will help you pick up the sutra of your side body, and follow that line into more freedom as you gain flexibility along your outer shins (peroneal muscles), outer thighs (Iliotibial, or "IT" band), side waist and ribs (obliques and intercostals) and more!
Come to the front of your mat. Bend your knees and fold forward over your legs. Cross your left ankle over your right and ground both feet fully into the mat. With bent legs, begin to walk your fingertips on the floor (or palms onto blocks) over to the left, sidebending your spine as the hips stay facing the front of your mat. Your right hip may want to push forward, but keep it anchoring back as if you were in your regular forward bend. This will cause a more dynamic lengthening through the right side.
As you breathe into the right ribs, straighten your legs until you access a stretch along the outer right leg. See if you can connect it all the way up into the side waist and perhaps even under the right arm. Take 10 breaths or more here, releasing tension and enjoying the new space and energy that you're creating by following the thread. Come back to center, come up, and then repeat on the other side.