Move with grace at the end of the race.
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on July 27th, 2010

The July 25, 2010 edition of the NY Times Magazine has an article about John Friend, the originator of Anusara, the fastest-growing yoga “brand”  in the US. I have moderate familiarity with Anusara, having taken classes with an Anusara-trained teacher since 2004. I’ve also noticed an increasing number of “Anusara-inspired” teachers at yoga centers I visit in my travels. Still, I knew relatively little about it, beyond instructions to “rotate your thigh bone outward.”  Here are several excerpts, including one that suggests an interesting parallel with TI:

“Friend’s timing could not be better. Some 16 million Americans now practice yoga, a 5,000-year-old mental, physical and spiritual discipline brought to us by Indian gurus. Nowadays there aren’t just hourly classes in major American cities but also in places like Deephaven, Minn., and Hattiesburg, Miss. . . .  If yoga began as a meditation technique with poses, or asanas, devised to assist in reaching a transcendentally blissful state, it has . . . become much more about doing than being . . .  a weight-loss technique and a stress-management tool . . . an exploding market for workout clothes and equipment. “

“Friend set out to build his brand by straddling yoga’s two poles: he is trying to enhance yoga’s spiritual aspects by training teachers to speak inspirationally as they teach postures. Friend spends a great deal of time on philosophy and writes that the spiritual effects of yoga are more important than the physical ones . . . in language that draws as much from Dale Carnegie and the American idiom of self-improvement as from Hindu philosophy.”

“Friend’s yoga is based on classic hatha-yoga postures — he has refined them using what he calls ‘universal principles of alignment’ — but it can be as challenging as a student wants it to be. His classes are less about toned abs than about self-expression and enjoyment. Adjustments don’t make the poses ‘right,’ for instance, they make them “more beautiful.”

The intention to make an asana more beautiful rather than ‘right’ is one I relate strongly to. From my first day of coaching, in 1972, I had an instinct to coach esthetically more than energetically. My experience as a swimmer suggested that races were decided primarily by how long and hard you worked. My slight exposure to principles of technique left me with a sense one might need an engineering degree to really understand them.

But from literally my first hour on deck observing my team in the pool, I found myself magnetically drawn to visual impressions and to feeling that clean lines and flowing movement would produce faster times. Even as articles and clinic talks continued to describe technique like rocket science I grew steadily more convinced that that any instruction that made a swimmer look taller, sleeker or smoother deserved recall and reuse. Over the years what was initially instinctive and experimental developed into a method.

Striving continuously to make your stroke more beautiful obviously has far greater potential for engagement and uplift than striving to make it technically correct.

According to TI-Japan Head Coach Shinji Takeuchi,  the promise that draws the strongest response there is Learn to swim with more grace.  Though I’ve spent 45 years as a competitive swimmer and coach, nothing moves me more than seeing a truly beautiful stroke. Shinji’s Youtube video is both the most beautiful swimming and the most popular on the web, making it clear over a million others feel as I do.

What I take from this is that a holistic and crystallizing goal for many swimmers and triathletes would be to “Move with grace at the end of the race.”

One Response to “Move with grace at the end of the race.”

  1. Peter says:

    Late in the marathon of my first ironman distance last week the most inspiring comments from spectators where “You are looking good!”, not comments on my pace. This came into my mind when reading your post. As I said in German: “Mit Würde ins Ziel kommen.”.

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