I recently trekked the four and a half hours from my home in Freiburg, Germany to Munich, to participate in an introductory workshop on the Bowspring method, taught by its founders John Friend and Desi Springer and organized by long-time Anusara teacher, Barbra Noh.
I heard the first whispers - which have become a buzz now - a couple of years ago. Some call it Sri Daiva, which is the name for the more holistic lifestyle that includes a regular Bowspring practice—with descriptions of a very abstracted asana practice that looks more like a sensuous tribal dance than what we recognize as modern postural yoga. Then here and there some flickers on social media, creating a fuzzy outline for me that I was eager to bring into sharper focus.
So I was curious. Curious also about the pariah, John Friend. Like anyone who has spent some time generating and managing media, I am aware that spin and sensationalism are as intrinsic to Press as the preservation of our lumbar curve is to a Bowspring practice. So who knows—really knows—the details of the digital fall from grace of undoubtedly one of the most influential Yoga teachers of the 21st century?
The two day workshop was a teaser—we were introduced to the skeleton of the practice: a belief that in order to be to lightest, most dynamic and 'springy' versions of ourselves we should work with the natural, double-S curve of our spine, and encourage our ribcage to be wide and forward of the hips, a three dimensional form (no melty heart that is tight in the back and open in the front), our glutes to rise (no long tailbone to 'protect' the lower back), long, strong belly, and our hands and feet to soften (no scaredy-cat spread fingers and toes and no Anusara-signature 'flointed' foot).
It was a lot of information to digest and the first day was spent recognizing (and being humbled by) the rigidity of my own patterning when it comes to postural yoga. Try not spreading your fingers and toes in a practice and focusing on bringing the shoulders forward to support the powerful outward curve of the upper back! For those of us who have been practicing modern postural yoga in its many iterations for some time, these movements-within-movements are such a part of how we execute asana that it took the greatest presence and care to shift my patterning in the minutiae.
We learned simple 'Katas' (conscious movement patterns)—how to move from standing to the floor using the Bowspring method—and this took most of the six hours we spent together on Saturday. Lightly touching fingernails to the floor (dome hands) then making contact with finger mounds and pads (bright hands). Our feet became 'paws' with sharp focus on the front section of the foot—pads and mounds—the lateral and longitudinal arches of the sole which allow us to 'cup' our foot (a new take on pada bandha, perhaps?).
There's lots more and I could go on, but what stayed with me after this first toe-dip was, most saliently, the bright and absolute flame that both of these teachers carry for the method they are creating. They believe fully that this works, that it is a way to experience and optimize our living body. Of course I have questions. Because the overhauling of the typical postural cues is so absolute, I wonder if in the fervor of making it new some overhauls are perhaps unnecessary? This seemed reflected in, at times, an overzealous need to rename and reinvent everything that has become a 'known' for regular yoga practitioners in the west.
I took a cue from my own body which, after two days on the mat and immersed in this practice, at times excruciatingly intense in the most minute movements, felt light and buoyant. I didn't have sore muscles. And while I'm certainly not ready to incorporate these very new ideas into my teaching, my exposure to the Bowspring method has brought a new and a delicate sort of presence and renewed mindfulness to my own practice. I will continue watching the evolution of these teachings with openness and the willingness both to experience and also to question.