Caring for Her Students Above All Else
Linda-Sama Karl’s Metta Yoga methodology rests on
Buddha’s Four Foundations of Mindfulness
BY MAGAZINE EDITOR SUSAN MAIER-MOUL
Linda-Sama Karl Metta Yoga
Doyenne of the yoga blogs Linda-Sama Karl is a well known, much loved and respected, “ageless hippie chick Buddhist yogini.” Since 2005 Linda’s Yoga Journey has steadily catalogued and confronted the shifting currents of yoga everywhere it shows up, from mass media news coverage to her own practice. Fans describe her as “ripe to write the “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” of yoga books!””
Linda-Sama’s frank, smart commentary and sincere, fearless engagement of controversy in the yoga community has won her loyalty and friendship across a wide spectrum of practitioners and teachers. Her teaching, however, shouldn’t be seen as second chair. The Magazine of Yoga welcomes the opportunity to bring attention to the philosophy Linda-Sama’s students appreciate and depend upon to deepen their practice of yoga.
We’re delighted to share this conversation with Linda-Sama Karl on Metta Yoga teaching and practice styles.
The rhythm of repetition takes us deeper
Linda-Sama Karl So I love your post Interval Yoga for Focus and Fitness. I ALWAYS repeat poses making them very dynamic, and I hold poses longer than some teachers do. This morning I mixed in a few 5 Tibetan Rites to shake things up!
The yoga that I study in India emphasizes repeating each side (like in triangle) 5, 6, 7, or 8 times…my students really like doing that.
Susan Maier-Moul Shiva Rea builds classes around a peak posture and Kofi Busia sometimes builds classes around returning repeatedly to a posture from a variety of other postures. I love my trainings with both of them.
What I really resonate with about Kofi’s approach is he watches what’s hanging us up in the posture the class is built around. Then he has us move to a complementary posture that releases that hang up, and brings us back to the class’s core posture.
Kofi and Shiva both use asana to release us into asana. It’s so educating – especially when you take it off the mat! You realize that you can come and go from challenges, getting to know what to do gradually returning with love and faith instead of fear.
LSK I believe Shiva Rea studied with Srivatsa Ramaswami, did she not?
Because one of my main teachers is also Ramaswami. He comes to the studio in Chicago where I trained and it was his first workshop that I took in 2004 that inspired me to go to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, Desikachar’s school in Chennai, India.
There was something about Ramaswami’s yoga, Vinyasa Krama, that felt so right and totally resonated with me. Krama is a Sanskrit word meaning “stages.” It is a step-by-step process involving the building in gradual stages toward a “peak” within a practice session. This progression can include asanas of increasing complexity or gradually building one’s breath capacity. As Ramaswami says,
By integrating the functions of mind, body, and breath. . .a practitioner will experience the real joy of yoga practice. . .Vinyasa krama yoga strictly follows the most complete definition of classical yoga.
Then when I got to the Mandiram, everything just clicked. The classes are only 60 minutes and are sequenced to build to an apex pose and then to “come down” from there.
Vinyasa and yin combination classes for balance
LSK What I love about the VK or the KYM style as I call it is that the poses are repeated 4-8 times on each side which I believe gets one “deeper” into the pose as opposed to “Americanized” flow classes where one is constantly moving with no attention paid to the breath, you stay in the pose for one breath — constant movement, up, down, triangle one side, then the other, down dog, up dog, move move move. Where is the mindfulness and attention on how your body is feeling and changing moment to moment?
My practice is also informed by my spirituality, Buddhism, so I am using Buddha’s Four Foundations of Mindfulness — breath-feelings-thoughts-dharma — as constant teachers. How can one “feel” deeply if you are moving so fast?
SMM I totally know what you mean about helping students overcome dissociation.
Still, I don’t discount ecstasy as a path – think of Sufi dervishes. Kundalini yoga is also movement intensive in a completely unique way. I’ve been in and taught classes where wordless genuine prayer arose spontaneously as we built speed. I can’t think of another way to describe it – soul tears and joy.
LSK And I agree with you! I don’t want to make it sound as if my yoga classes are in slow-motion. I am a huge fan of the Nia movement technique, I love moving and dancing in a free-form style, I’m all about Isadora Duncan style of movement. With the right mix of music it’s just like you say, “soul tears and joy.” My own personal practice is more free-form and flowy with a mix of yin and VK — I am very eclectic in my home practice.
All that being said, however, I think people nowadays are so accustomed to MOVE MOVE MOVE, mult-tasking, driving helter-skelter all over the place, we need to slow things down a bit. I think very yang personalities need some quiet soulful movement and yin personalities need to speed it up, just like in the ayurvedic dosha model. Too much yang all the time and we burn up, too much yin and we become too lethargic. Balance is the key, which is why my favorite classes to teach are a combo of both yin and vinyasa. People are usually amazed at how both feel in the same class.
Nurturing practices that respect difference
SMM I have to be careful not to bring my assumptions and prejudice to teaching. We just don’t know what everyone is dealing with. I’ve learned that for some people, for example, closing the eyes is an invitation to terror because of post traumatic stress and it’s just not the way to begin centering for a class.
LSK Very true. One does not need to meditate with closed eyes. One does not even need to sit to meditate or go inward. Look at walking meditation.
When I taught in Africa we were outside in a beautiful field surrounded by an acacia forest. I incorporated walking meditation which most of the students had never done before. Afterward a few students talked about the remarkable ephiphanies they had by just walking slower, concentrating on a single step, or stopping and concentrating on a single leaf in a tree. They said they really felt a part of the Whole. It was very heart-warming for me to see their reactions to such a simple thing as walking! Or I should say, simple but not easy….;)
SMM I met a young woman doing seva at Kripalu; she’s now a fabulous teacher. I had such affection for her. She was a very straightforward person. She has a perfect kapha body, very curvy and substantial. She was practicing quite physically poised Kripalu-style yoga until she discovered flow. Vinyasa set her free in a way that slowness could not, because she already had that.
Our energies need complements as well as validation to be fully realized. Our physiologies and early experiences vary widely.
One of the things I love about Paul Grilley’s work is his demonstration of individuality of bone shapes and anatomy.
LSK Yes, I love Paul! He is also one of my main teachers. My first workshop with him was in 2003 when I was a newbie teacher and it was like a light bulb went off over my head. I thought, “Why isn’t every teacher listening to this guy?”
New students who come to class saying “I can’t do X because I’m not flexible” feel liberated when I tell them Paul’s theory of “yoga is all in the bones.” They feel very relieved from their construct that there is something “wrong” with them because they can’t do a certain pose when it’s just the way they are put together. And of course that is especially helpful in yin classes.
SMM There’a also this wonderful book by Lori Arviso Alvord The Scalpel and the Silver Bear, a surgeon who reveals, “each person’s organs are as unique as their eyes or the shape of their nose.” She and Atul Gawnde write about the harm inflicted on patients when physicians think these differences are metaphorical rather than embodied.
Tomorrow: Part two of our conversation with Linda-Sama Karl
Linda-Sama travels widely to present and teach, and she welcomes studios and retreat centers to contact her to develop work with them. Her Metta Yoga workshops can be found on the Metta Yoga Facebook page; private lessons are available as well.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.