yoga philosophy

Richard Freeman: Asana-Poet and Embodied Philosopher

It is my position that the great, traditional asana sequences are like the epic poems of Homer, Hesiod, Virgil and Ovid. Richard Freeman is a voice uniquely situated to interpret the various Ashtanga Vinyasa series, often by breaking them into sonnets and haikus in order to reveal hidden structure and meaning. Richard’s 60- or 90-minute classes might focus on, say, the first third of second series “Nadi Shodhana” or the last third of primary series “Yoga Chikitsa”. As students, we are blessed by the opportunity to read these gigantic works of physical poetry through the lenses of a master teacher.

Richard Freeman’s approach to teaching yoga is a consistent re-envisioning and re-imagining of traditional yoga techniques, particularly those found in the various series of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga system Richard studied with his guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. With equal love for physical, contemplative and philosophical practice, Richard has devised a completely unique and idiosyncratic teaching that invites each student constantly back into the “beginners mind” -- forget what you know, and practice into the open mind. You can hear straight from him about his method and history of practice here.

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 11.25.53 AMIn the recently released The Art of Vinyasa, Richard and his partner Mary Taylor collect the condensation of the vinyasa method unique to the lineage and innovation of the luminary T. Krishnamacharya, teacher of Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar and others. Correct vinyasa for entering and exiting postures extends into a method for sequencing postures into the yoga mala, or garland of practice. The Art of Vinyasa begins, not with Sun Salutations or an introduction of asana technique, but with a chapter entitled “Natural Alignment: The Internal Forms of the Practice,” wherein the question is asked: if asana is as old as we think it is, how was physical practice taught without our modern knowledge of anatomical alignment?

One answer given is that the practice of visualization was key: visualizing deities, remembering teacher demonstrations, sensing into systems of the subtle body (nadis, bandhas, mudras, cackras, etc). These internal forms create a deep core of listening in and around the body, wherein the rhythms and pulses of the nervous system itself can be the teacher. We can see this key turning in the lock of Richard’s teaching when we hear in class about the heavy golden coccyx (tailbone) and the four angels of the pelvic floor, undulating the torso like the “peacock who swallowed a snake,” spreading kidney wings and lifting cobra hoods, coiling around the sun in the belly and tasting nectar at the root of the palate.

RichardFreeman_AdamWetterhanA precise knowledge of the power of sequencing asana with the internal forms of the practice has led Richard to emphasize the transitional space between each pose, lengthening out the boundary-points between one pose and another. He says, “The best poses are the ones with no name,” such as the one I’m demonstrating here, a preparatory position and first vinyasa for Trikonasana B (revolved triangle), Parsvottanasana (pyramid, or intense side forward bend), and Parivrrta Ardha Chandrasana (revolved half moon). This in-between-pose is usually only practiced for one inhale “on the way” to some destination; but as a posture in and of itself it opens the line from the back foot crossing the psoas to the top hand, a relationship integral to proficient performance of the asanas that might follow, and one that just might trick you into utilizing those elusive bandhas. Richard sometimes refers to this posture as “Challenging Indra Pose, not to be practiced on golf courses during thunderstorms.” Indra, being the Indian equivalent of Zeus, sits above the clouds and hurls thunderbolts at potential threats, including powerful yogis whose arms grow miraculously longer during asana practice.

Richard’s method of teaching has been particularly useful to me for my work teaching Ashtanga yoga to incarcerated men. Re-envisioning each asana and vinyasa as a sacred moment of listening, we grow closer to the wisdom inherent in our own nervous system. This fine-tuning of the inner ear not only leads to a perfection of asana -- not that the poses are perfect, but that the person practicing is already perfect; listening in this way demands that we begin to live within the shelter of the yamas & niyamas, the ethical precepts of yoga.

Internal forms of practice “turn the light around” from external perception to internal feeling. Many prisoners begin practicing yoga with an eye toward physical improvement or rehabilitation of injury, but then find their way into the more contemplative pursuits of pranayama, visualization, and meditation via methods informed by Richard’s teaching. As stated on page 9 of The Art of Vinyasa: “Visualization helps you to organize sensations and perceptions so you can release habitual, self-centered perspectives on these sensations and relate to the world as a composition of interconnected parts.”

Perhaps the power of the imagination harnessed in Richard’s technique is best explained by the French philosopher and student of Sufi mysticism, Henry Corbin, in his doctrine of the “mundus imaginalis” or imaginal realm: “Between the universe that can be apprehended by pure intellectual perception and the universe perceptible to the senses, there is an intermediate world, the world of Idea-Images, of archetypal figures, of subtle substances, of ‘immaterial matter.’ This world is as real and objective, as consistent and subsistent as the intelligible and sensible worlds; it is an intermediate universe ‘where the spiritual takes body and the body becomes spiritual.’” (Henry Corbin, Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi).

What I most want in my own practice, in my teachers and in my own teaching is this ability to mediate between the worlds -- inner and outer experience, hard physical reality and energetic subtlety, progress in practice and return to the basics. Perhaps all of these require an abundance of that magical faculty, the imagination!

Come explore this synthesis of anatomical precision and internal form with Richard Freeman & Mary Taylor at Yoga on High this May, including specific insights into backbending, hip opening, twisting, the Finishing Poses and a section entitled “Restorative Ashtanga,” which I personally cannot wait to experience!

Art of Vinyasa Teacher Day | Friday, May 26
Art of Vinyasa Weekend | May 27-28

Adam Wetterhan is a yoga instructor at Yoga on High, Blue Spot Yoga, and through Healing Broken Circles at Marion Correctional, where he is also Director of Programming for a community center inside the prison.  Adam has been practicing yoga for most of his adult life, holds a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Comparative Religion from Capital University, completed his 200-hour certification at Yoga on High in 2015 and is currently enrolled in their 300-hour program, where he has concentrated on Ashtanga, pranayama, and yoga therapy.

 

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Patterns of Consciousness

DeborahForsbloomDuring my 200-hour Teacher Training, I began to see more and more that being Present suffused every part of yoga.   When I needed a topic for a paper on Yoga Philosophy, I decided to see what Patanjali had to say about being Present.   Stephen Cope’s The Wisdom of Yoga became my guide to the sutras of Patanjali.  This is part of that query.

For 3000 years, renunciates in India have been trying to discover what causes human suffering and how humans can live a happy life.  Through trial and error, they decided that the answer to suffering was Liberation, which meant “freedom from all sources of conditioning that bind us to small ways of thinking and being.  Liberation means being entirely awake and fully alive.”[1]  I am calling this being Present.

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The Timeless Wisdom of Sanskrit

The lease on the space that would become Yoga on High was signed on October 13, 15 years ago. To mark that occasion, this blog is a reprint from YOHI’s first newsletter and schedule. Those newsletters always contained one through provoking article, this one by Martha Marcom. It’s about the timeless wisdom of Sanskrit, a thread back through YOHI history and a nod to the fact that the studies and practices done at Yoga on High are indeed timeless.

Atha—now is the time for an auspicious beginning.

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Ahimsa—The state of the heart that is free of enemies.

By Marcia Miller

Ahimsa, often translated as nonviolence, is the first Yama (ethical guideline or precept) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It is one of the foundations of yoga and something I have practiced and thought about for many years.
At a recent retreat a Nonviolent Communication trainer, Francois Beausoleil, translated ahimsa as “the state of the heart that is free of enemies.”. Somehow my whole body knew that this translation offered me some keys to deepening my practice of ahimsa. In his presentation Francois taught a skill called “Dissolving Enemy Images” that was simple, effective and very powerful. I immediately re-committed myself to this practice which I had learned previously but had let go. I felt absolutely buoyant and excited about the possibility of more peace in my own heart.
And as is so often the case when I commit to a new practice, within a day a situation arose in my life that gave me the opportunity to test my commitment and hone my skills. This was not a tiny misunderstanding but something that was extremely painful for each of us involved. When I looked at what was true for me in the situation I felt feelings of anger, confusion, disappointment, annoyance, concern and a very deep sadness. I was longing for connection, trust, consideration, respect and communication that might lead to a true understanding between us.
The funny thing is that when I tried to see the situation from her side I imagined that she shared these exact same feelings and longings with me! What I know for sure is that when I am in conflict with another and I have a sense of blame, my whole body, especially my heart, feels hard, tiny and cold. This is NOT a feeling I enjoy, even if there is the momentary thrill of feeling righteous. I want to use the skills that will help me feel more curious, open, accepting and compassionate. This is not easy and it requires a deep personal honesty and an attentiveness to all parties involved. I am invited to notice the moment my mind goes to a negative judgment about someone or I have the feeling of being “right.” But “being right” means having a heart that is hard instead of loving, so I’ll pick up my righteousness and trade it in for compassion as often as I can. I have to admit I’m a bit nervous to write this publicly because I fail at this so often. And yet, I am longing for a community of seekers who can support each other in a powerful commitment to ahimsa.
One of my absolute favorite feelings in the world is that moment when something shifts in my understanding that allows an “enemy” to become the “beloved.” It is such a relief and my cold heart floods with the warmth of compassion, love and gratitude. Ahhhh.
Some of you know my favorite yoga text these days is the Vijnana Bhairava translated by Lorin Roche as the Radiance Sutras. Because I couldn’t find a sutra that exactly talks about my experience I decided to write my own.
Your heart is stone and
Your mind is full of outrage.
Your whole body is ELECTRIC—buzzing with righteousness,
You have been wronged!
There is power in this righteous stance but also pain.
The hardness carries a price—
The pain of disconnection with another.
Right here
The moment of transformation.
Breathe, ahhhhh
Remember, all is not what it seems.
Now, see under the waves of distress
You have strong feelings and deep needs—
Go slowly, name them, pause, feel them, pause and rest here.
This is the gift of anger—to know what you most care about.
The other also has strong feelings and deep needs—
Name them, feel them, rest here. ahhh
The moment of softening the heart toward an “enemy”
is as sweet as a kiss on a baby’s fuzzy head.

Marcia has created a class for the fall to share some of the skills involved in practicing ahimsa. Please visit Ahimsa Yoga if you would like more details.

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