And now (belatedly), back to the Yoga Journal conference. Don't worry, I made most of these notes AT the conference, so I'm not relying solely on memory. Notes on return to ship life on Monday- but so far, no disasters.
My conference began with a two-hour class on backbends. Now, I actually like backbends a lot, but note to self- in the future, backbends first thing in the morning may not be the world’s greatest idea. A week later I’m still feeling a muscle I tweaked. This workshop was in the Anusara style of yoga, a relatively new, very American school of yogic thought pioneered by John Friend, an Iyenger-trained guru who has gained an almost cult-like following by simplifying Iyengar’s alignment teaching into a clear, five-step system, and combining it with a warm, positivist spiritual bent. (Anusara translates as “opening to grace”) The teacher was Desiree Rumbaugh, a senior Anusara teacher based in Phoenix.
Now I know she’s from Arizona, but in person Desiree came across as quintessentially New York Jew, in the good way- witty, a little bit sarcastic and absolutely exploding with energy. She opened by asking where people were with backbends, and what specific personal issues and goals might be, then she briefly introduced Anusara’s alignment system.
We spent the first hour focusing entirely on the shoulders and thighs. Odd for a backbending class? Not really. First, it’s dangerous to go right into backbends without properly warming up. Second, if you stop to think about, say wheel (our target pose), most of the actual work is being done in the upper arms and legs, and the back itself is passive; if it’s working, it’s probably straining something you don’t want to strain.
An Anusara workshop is very easy to follow, because their alignment system means that the teacher is repeating the same four or five instructions over and over again, in every pose. Here, draw your leg and arm muscles in towards the center of the body and roll your shoulders down your back towards the heart (called inner spiral), then send the muscles in your upper arms and legs (and often sitbones) away from each other (called outer spiral). There’s more, but I don’t want to screw it up. And it can get a little tedious to hear the same thing thirty thousand times, but the beauty of the system is that it really works. As we got further in, and the poses got more involved (hanumanasana, aka splits, king pigeon pose, and finally wheel or dwi pada viparita dandasana), the instructions stayed remarkably similar, and the body was able to assimilate these same ideas as it moved into more challenging scenarios.
And it moved- I think Anusara teachers pride themselves on the “aha” moments students get in their workshops. I didn’t have one, but I saw a couple of people achieve poses they had never been in fully before. And it has definitely changed the way I do backbends- the alignment instructions left me with a much better idea of how the back should feel in backbends, with a real evenness through the back, and a feeling of expansion all the way through the bend. (Imagine a slinky expanding down a staircase rather than paper being folded) One workshop down, and so far so good. Except for that tweak...