Monday, May 5, 2008

Karma, Samskara, and the Fourth Toe

Had a fabulous weekend in Denver, at a workshop with John Friend, the illustrious, sparklingly awake, and wacky founder of Anusara Yoga, whom my mom called the Yoga Preacher. Here is a rather charming picture of him that Google images helped me to find, dancing a little jig in Scotland. This photo does not seem uncharacteristic, as John could have been a stand up comedian-- of the goofball variety, no dry wit to be found. This is a huge change for me, as I have studied diligently with Kofi Busia for 12 years or more, who does indeed have a sense of humor, but it absolutely arid, and often shrouded in such obscure references that it can't penetrate my yoga trance. Kofi is immensely thorough, sagacious, and scholarly. In fact, if you want to know a bit about BKS Iyengar, and wonder how Kofi would tell the tale, go to his website, and you'll find an amazingly detailed biography of him. Kofi is an amazing melange of a human: poetic, phenomenally erudite, deeply personal, and remarkably intuitive. With awe-inspiring ease, he simultaneously gives deft adjustments and regales his students with tales from the Vedas and teachings from the sutras, with an incredible knack for speaking about precisely what one needs to hear, and drawing one (well, me, at least) into deeper and deeper reflection upon the nature of karma and samkara, and how they are playing out in one's little life. Kofi can offer a little comedic relief, too- but with kind of a dry and slightly cynical edge, perchance absorbed from his fellow students at Oxford, where he studied for many years. John Friend, on the other hand, switches with great facility between his southern California voice and his frat boy voice and his Indian Guru voice, making a parody of all, as well as of himself. I found myself contented simply absorbing some of his silly glee, and not too worried about the details of my own life. So perhaps this is one of the great gifts of this particular Guru- he possesses the power to distract. Still, he is hugely inspiring, and particularly emphasizes the Tantric approach of using all challenges to grow stronger, fuller, and brighter within. The strongest trees, he reminded us, are the ones that have some obstacle in their way; the ones who have to work to survive. Yoga is the tool, the technology, that gives us the power to see through and beyond samskaras, our habituated tendencies, and grow into more skillful, powerful, and honest humans - for yoga gives us access to, or awareness of, grace, and an understanding of our true nature: Svatantrya, or infinite freedom.
In the midst of the inexhaustible stream of uplifting banter, John gives immensely precise alignment instructions. I am used to the loops and spirals by now, so I was somewhat more interested in his philosophical rants, but there were a few details about poses that I really liked– such as his extra-enthusiastic emphasis on the 4th toe. He insists that the spreading of the fourth toe is the key to Eka Pada Koundinyasana 2. Um, okay. I knew something was getting in my way. I myself have long been obsessed with the big toe, and particularly the big toe ball, as many of my students are well aware. This is Kofi's influence. Kofi convinced me that the big toe ball is the portal unto infinite freedoms, the passageway to the resolution of all our wordly troubles - the key to enlightenment, even. I have developed a special fondness for the baby toe, too... but the 4th toe had yet to really make it onto my A-list. Until now... Also, on the topic of toes and how to best enjoy them, John asked us to sit with our legs extended out in front, feet up so that legs were about at 45 degrees from the ground. And he asked us to point our big toes and flex our baby toes. Try this at home. This, he proclaimed cheekily, ought to keep you busy. He also stated unequivocally that this is the secret to bakasana. Many arm balances and backbends and 48 hours later, my quads, hamstrings and traps aching, I crawled out of the building, feeling an inner lightness which I'm sure was not obvious from my odd gait.
I'll be with him again in July, in San Diego– I look forward to another infusion of giddy grace! Meanwhile, I'm here in the Bay Area- preparing for the Mother's Day Benefit this weekend. Read on, below- we still have some space!

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