Dancing with the Divine: A John Friend weekend

This past weekend I took part in the John Friend workshop, Dancing with the Divine, as it made its way through Cincinnati, Ohio.  This weekend came at an interesting time, since it was the first workshop since the hubbub of activity surrounding the resignations of the Anusara certifications by three of the leading teachers.  Personally I was also dealing with a flurry of activity after just coming off of a multi-day training at Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy in Vermont and had barely had a chance to assimilate that experience before packing up again and heading down to the workshop.

While I have spent over a year studying with an Anusara inspired teacher and have enjoyed practices with Anusara teachers via video I hadn’t yet had a full experience in the flesh so I was excited to see what this was really all about.  A couple friends and I had signed up for the intermediate/advanced track and our day started mid-morning on a sunny Saturday.  We arrived with time to browse through the plethora of clothing, books, jewelry, and statues that was for sale and while many of the wares were unique and beautiful I really couldn’t open my wallet yet again to fork out $40 for another tank top or bracelet.  In light of reading about the “commercialization of yoga” so much recentlyespecially the commentary regarding the fees surrounding the Anusara certifications I wanted to stay away from being involved in the perpetuation of this ideal.

The workshop started with an intimate gathering around John Friend as he welcomed us and spoke some of the theme of the tour, Dancing with the Divine.  Many people were furiously scribbling down his every word, but I found that I preferred to take it in and really listen, not just taking what he said as the gospel and instead deciding for myself what to take and what to discard.  Anusara is rooted in Tantric yoga philosophy, an embracing of all and an opening of the heart to whatever is and whatever will be.  I align myself and my yoga philosophy with this school of thought, yet there is still much room for interpretation within it.  Specifically Anusara is rooted in Shiva-Shakti Tantra, a marriage of the divine-polarites with the intention of the practice to be an alignment with the Divine.  As we prepared for the asana practice much of this dharma was imparted on us as well as throughout the practice.

The hour and a half practice began abruptly and coming from a practice where I combine Vinyasa flow with Anusara principles of alignment I didn’t feel ready for the intense backbends that were the focus.  I however took this as a chance to get deeper into my connective tissue and practice from a different place.  The central part of the practice was a series of nine-deep variations of Urdhva Dhanurasana, or Upward Bow and I surprised myself with the ability to get into Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana, or Upward Facing Two-Footed Staff Pose as well as Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, or One-Legged King Pigeon Pose!

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I pushed myself to find my edge and I definitely found it!

Following the morning we had a long break before we reconvened for another two hours in the late afternoon.  In a typical “blissed out” fashion my friends and I found it difficult to drive after all this intense work.  There may have been an incident that involved a coffee cup on a moving car, a wrong way on a one way street, and almost driving into oncoming traffic!  Whew, we somehow managed to get lunch and back to the workshop in one piece.

The afternoon was much less physically intense, involving a lot of slow and long forward bends as well as pranayama, meditation, and chanting.  However this is where things started to rub me the wrong way.  While less intense on the outside I started to get turned off by the intensity and tone that John Friend used in talking about philosophy and the movement towards enlightenment.  While I hate to say it I felt a strong sense of his ego and almost felt as if he was regarding himself as a guru.  As the afternoon closed with chanting and a long savasana I felt myself itching to get out of there and wondered about even coming back on Sunday.

I spent the drive to my boyfriend’s thinking about this experience and why it felt so off.  I ended up deciding to come back for the morning session, but approaching it with a

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different attitude.  Sunday opened with a longer discussion about religion versus spirituality and while I didn’t agree with some of what was said I did find some good takeaway points.  The asana practice was again oriented around backbends, this time moving towards even deeper variations.  My back wasn’t going to have much of that, but I did accomplish a few more advanced poses in spite of the soreness.  I didn’t stay for the afternoon session, deciding that I needed to head back to Columbus and have some unwinding time.  The past couple weeks have been such a whirlwind of activity that I was finding myself feeling very ungrounded and my head seems to be a jumble of everything that I have been learning.  This may have factored some into my experience with John Friend as I just wasn’t in a place to hear anything else.

While life still seems to be full speed ahead I am looking forward to letting all of these experiences settle for a bit!

 

Photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/sparklebot/, himalayaninstitute.org