Editor’s note: This post was submitted to us from Maryl Baldridge, an Anusara-Inspired Yoga Instructor from Washington D.C. who attended John Friend’s 3 day workshop – The Dharma of Relationship on Feb 12-16th, Advanced Intensive: The Body’s Sacred Geometry on Feb 15-17th, and a Weekend Workshop on Feb 18-19th.
Her first two posts were published on Feb 15th and Feb 18th. They can be found here:
John Friend’s First Workshop post Controversy: A Report from Miami (days 1-3)
John Friend’s First Workshop post Controversy: A Report from Miami (day 4-5)
I wake up early and walk along the ocean. I feel I am floating even as my feet settle into the sand. The rhythm of traveling between these two states creates a sense of peace in my core. I am immersed in gratitude and this connects me to other blessed moments, I imagine my heart unraveling like ribbon along the shore as I watch them emerge. I remember the sweet spirits of the elementary school kids I worked with briefly in graduate school, the ones who were labeled as Severely Emotionally Disturbed. I am experiencing a similar sense of awe now, watching the waves come in and out, as I did swinging on the playground with them. For a moment I am back on the reservation in Montana, noticing the spectacular mountains framing bleak poverty, beauty and pain at the same time. I feel the calm rhythm of my body swinging back and forth.
In the workshop my awareness is deep inside. I see the teacher, I see the community, and my attention is only pulled when I recognize a familiar essence, a portal to other moments of my life.
The teacher demonstrates a handstand. There is no other reason for him to do this than that he wants to do it, I interpret his decision to reflect a wildly independent spirit, and I notice my reaction to this – admiration and concern. My body knows this feeling in relationship to my wild sisters, and I am watching them with my mom, feeling both admiration and concern. We want to tell them what to do, and we want them to do what they do anyway. The polarities in our personalities provide a rhythm in which we all get to swing.
For the past three days we are practicing in short cycles. Asana, pause, Pranayama, Meditation, Asana, pause, Pranayama, Meditation – the cycle of one traditional practice is not rhythmic enough now. In my body I feel a faster beat: Change. Change. Change.
When the teacher finishes his next demo, he stops and looks to a trusted student for feedback. “Tell me,” he requests honestly, “What would be a good thing for me to work on?” The student speaks wisely and with respect.
“And now,” says the teacher, “please tell me more.”
I watch and remember the love of my boyfriend that was only available after he cheated on me and I did not leave. I imagine the worst thing about leaving a person after they hurt you is that you don’t get to experience the love they offer as they heal in the light of your forgiveness.
We move toward backbends and the teacher offers three options: 3 drop backs with partners, 10 drop backs, or 54 drop backs. I close my eyes and see my teacher Batya with the most hypnotizing drop backs, rocking back and forth, and I realize that the only way I could do this is if I let my body swing. When the bell rings my hands have patted the floor thirty times and I am trembling. I feel the space in my chest where the time I was not able to offer my forgiveness to a person who had hurt me lives. I could not offer it because she did not want it. I had to find my forgiveness and return to love on my own. This was one of the loneliest experiences of my life. I let my hands shake and I breathe.
We cycle back into meditation, I feel my spine being rocked in its circles. I am transported to the Western Montana Mental Health Center where I sit coloring pictures with the woman who rocks in circles. She does this constantly, because of her medication, spins and spins and spins. I know there is more than medication moving her, though, and she is my favorite person to see. She only colors rainbows, and one day while we are coloring, after telling me a story about getting thrown out of a car, she pauses and looks at me. “I wish that you had been my babysitter when I was a kid,” she says. As I come back to the room, to my body now, I feel the tears from that moment in my eyes.
The grand finale is Natarajasana, an opportunity to express all this rhythm with a dance. We watch a demo and then try on our own. The teacher wanders through the room offering his assistance. At one moment I begin to fall, and I feel his hands, steady, catch my ankle and my arm. “Look up.” He tells me, and my leg ascends toward the sky. I recognize in this moment the support of my dad. I have a clear understanding that in my life; I have never fallen, because even in his moments of forgetting to care for himself he has never once wavered in his support for me. My body has never so fully embraced this truth
Natarajasana becomes a teardrop, our teacher explains, representing tears of compassion from God.
This morning John speaks of order. Pain is not random, he expresses, it is a response to our misalignments. I feel a new sense of trust in his declaration of this truth. I remember hearing him say this before, skepticism in my mind about what I imagined was confidence that he had it all figured out, that he was so well aligned. I was sometimes confused by how he often seemed happy while speaking of painful things. Now I see consistency. His eyes are sad when he says “pain,” and they brighten when he speaks of hope.
We move through a powerful and fluid practice. We work in partners for a backbend. My partner witnesses my unfolding and says with surprise, “Wow, this is a happy place for you.” I smile for a moment in agreement, and then pause, noticing I am confused. “Happy” has never been a word I have associated with opening my heart. I am struck by how strange this seems.
A woman near me with a flexible body returns to a backbend on her own as the rest of the room continues to work together. She is beautiful and smiling. John sees her and offers guidance on how to extend her foot toward the floor, she wobbles, still smiling, and falls. “You have to hold to the midline,” he says, almost as though to himself, and I sense disappointment in his voice. I imagine it he is tired of watching smiling people waver so easily. And then I realize that is my own feeling, not his.
During Savasana, the stage is set up and a band begins to sing. I remember it is still winter outside of Miami and I feel their songs like benevolent snowflakes dusting kindness on my heart. They sing with the sweetness of a mountain band and I feel the warmth of a small bar in Glacier Park, full of kind people with lives full of flaws. I miss my home, and I am grateful for this. I recognize that the kindness of the humble people in my community has somehow affected me. It’s unfortunate that I spent much of my life looking down on them.
Today is Purna Huti. John explains this as a moment of Culmination. He reminds us that the end of one cycle creates momentum for the next cycle to begin. He expresses his gratitude that this has been the end of his cycle, before he leaves. “I’ll be in my own darkness for a while now,” he says, and I feel confidence in him to be fine with this. I experience only softness in the room. John’s lips quiver all morning as he speaks. Sometimes he pauses and they do not stop quivering for a very long time. His presence is so genuine that I wish I could be near him. His kindness so available, I want to sit by him and hold his hand.
We practice a handstand with a partner, the focus is on softening the shoulders and melting the heart. As we balance, I notice how imperfect my partner’s assist is. And I notice that she can be imperfect and I can still melt my heart.
The workshop today is calm even when it is a challenge. There is no urgency, just a steadiness that says we will be doing this work for a very long time. “Just do your best.” John says several times.
I experience him as being present. I experience his offering as love.
For a more complete overview on what’s been happening, please visit: Anusara Controversy: Overview and Timeline
Creative Commons photo via Flickr by Filipa Machado