I arrived in Guangzou, China during a huge heat and humidity wave in September of 2017. Every day the sun would scorch me or drenching rains would pour down with no relief in sight!. At my host, Chen Ya, yoga studio, 26 enthusiastic teachers from all over China greeted me, ready to participate in a 50 hour intensive Advanced Teacher Training Module for Anusara Yoga. This training was part of a 300-hour yoga teacher training being taught over 12 months at Chen Ya’s studio.
Chen Ya’s yoga studio is a beautiful studio filled with light. Originally the studio offered facial treatments and massage, but recently Chen Ya shifted her business to teaching yoga and training yoga teachers. A group of Chinese yoga teachers offer Anusara yoga classes in her studio. The downstairs room is a bit darker and is great for the restorative classes that are so popular there. The upstairs room is larger and brighter and mostly used for training teachers and workshops. The modules I taught in Chen Ya’s yoga teacher training included 50 hours of Ayurveda, Meditation, how to teach yoga classes with Heart Themes and teaching yoga to Seniors.
I Focused on the Habit of MeditationPrior to the training, I made the decision to use one of the most important Body Thrive habits I learned from Cate Stillman, meditation, as the foundation of the week-long intensive I would be teaching. When the training began, I told everyone to act as if we were on retreat, and do the following, stop drinking alcohol, eat lighter meals at night, go to bed early and get up early. I asked everyone to start and end their day with meditation to assimilate all of my instruction and to prepare for the following day. The regular meditators were on board right away. Non-meditators, not surprisingly, experienced and expressed resistance! Each day I asked who meditated, and every day more and more hands were raised. When we got to the heart theming module, the students realized that meditation actually helped each of them to have the contemplative ability necessary to weave heart language into the physical practice of asana. As the meditation “energy” grew deeper and deeper, the group reported experiencing seeing lights and colors, feeling a vibration and rocking sensations. These experiences are called Kriyas. They occur in deep states of meditation, as meditation energy begins to move in the physical body. I became aware of the powerful Kriya energy moving through the group as the training progressed.
Meditation Creates a FireOne of my meditation teachers, Rudrani Farbman, talks about the field of energy of the kula (sacred community) becoming like a lens for meditation energy or Shakti. If you put a lens over dried leaves, the leaves will catch fire. The lens of shared energetic practice intensifies the meditation energy in a group. Once a student has experienced meditation energy moving inside the begin to awaken to their true essence. Getting a hit of this inner blissful state,they become more and more curious to meditate to find it again. The group began to share their dreams. The meditations were affecting their subtle bodies. One teacher came back after teaching meditation in her class for the first time. She described how it tremendously shifted her yoga instruction. Every day I had the teacher trainees practice teaching meditation to a friend in mediation dyads. Their confidence and love for meditation grew and grew during our time together.
Once Upon a Time in ChinaThe students were asked to bring in stories from their lives and their culture to share with the group in order to learn the art of storytelling. The stories began… “Once upon a time…” A sweet look came upon the yoga teacher trainees as if they were all in Kindergarten gazing upon the teacher reading from a story book. As they got more confident, the trainees practiced telling their stories to the group. Giggles and looks of recognition came upon each of their faces as they found universal themes in everyday circumstances to share with their students. As their confidence grew, humor emerged to bond the group, everyone began to relax and have fun together. An ease settled over the KULA. We were bonding.
THE WEEK WAS DEDICATED TO HANNAHIn the beginning of the training, I learned that a favorite kula member had died over the summer and that not everyone knew of her death. Hannah was 28 only years old and a mother of 2 young children. Tragically she had died of an unusual heart disease. I took time the first day of the training to connect with everyone in the group through a healing circle. We made a puja, an altar filled with sacred items that I brought from home. The altar had Mala beads, a small Nataraja, some healing crystals, Padukhas-the guru’s sandals, a candle and some incense.) I asked people to put items on the puja that had meaning to them. My translator bought Hannah, the deceased student, a sweet woven straw sun hat from Taiwan. We put the hat on the puju and honored Hannah, dedicating our week together as an offering to her. We invoked blessings to her and from her for our gathering.
I led everyone in creating a magical pot in which each person put in a word that described Hannah. Some of the words placed in the magical pot were “Sweetness,” “Love,” “Compassion,” “Loving Kindness,” “Steadfastness,” “Adhikara – great studentship.” I told the students to emulate these qualities during the week as a tribute to Hannah. I also told them that embodying these qualities was a way for Hannah to live on through us. As the tears flowed and some of the grief was processed, the group bonded in a deep and authentic way. We dried our tears and felt a renewed rigor in our work together. This is the essence of the first Principle of Ansuara Yoga. “Open to Grace.” Open to the teaching that was already present the moment I walked in the door of Chen Ya’s studio for the training. My job was to guide the Kula to open to their tender-heartedness and their love for their classmate. We were able to turn the grief into a powerful honoring of Hannah’s legacy.