(Sianna Sherman with Chris Calarco after Deepening Your Practice Workshop Series, Yoga Union, Portland, OR)
After spending my weekend immersed in a series of deepening workshops with Sianna Sherman and her student Chris Calarco, I was able to speak with them on the wonderful dynamics of the Teacher-Apprentice relationship. It was such a fun, inspiring conversation that encourages opening the heart to understanding the greatest teacher, ourselves, and the physical teacher that is the reflection of ourselves in the universe. Read on 🙂
Sondra: Throughout the weekend you have mentioned some of your greatest teachers that have influenced you in your pilgrimage: John Friend, Paul Mueller-Ortega, Richard Freeman, Douglas Brooks and a few others. Could you define what it was that drew you to them?
Sianna: Definitely. I have had a lot of teachers along the way for yoga and also in the shamanic world and in the herbal world; a lot of nature based teachers as well as the yoga teachers. Really it’s all kind of one spectrum for me, so I think the main thing that I listen for (because my teachers have all been very different from each other) is that when I feel the space in my heart, an aching longing feeling to want to be near them and a recognition opens inside of me, than I know it’s my teacher. I meet them in all different ways, sometimes I even meet them in the dream world first before I meet them in the physical world. It’s where my whole being swells with a knowing, and I know that I have met a teacher for my path at this time. Sometimes those teachers are for many years or just a day, it doesn’t take away from the impact that happens. Even if it’s just for a short time, that teachers lives with me always.
Sondra: Chris, you have been apprenticing with Sianna for some time now, I would love to hear how that unfolded; did you know in that moment that you first met her that she was your teacher?
Chris: Well, the way it unfolded was me studying at Yoga Union with some of Sianna’s students. Annie and Todd, the owners of Yoga Union, had been with Sianna for 4-5 years already. So I was in many ways studying with Sianna before I was studying with Sianna. She had come to Portland for a couple workshops and then announced that she would be doing an Anusara immersion in San Francisco, and that was something that I really wanted to do. So I was like “I’m going to go down to San Francisco and I’m doing this”. That is how we met. Then we got to know each other over the course of that time and towards the end of that time, we were talking about music actually..
Sianna: Haha music leads to everything!
Chris: I was giving her different music and we were sitting down at lunch and she asked me kind of like, what my deal was? She was like, “so tell me who you are”? When I was explaining it to her, she asked me if I wanted to work with her. I was expecting that we were meeting about music and it suddenly turned into a question of: Did I want to apprentice with her? I was totally shocked and blown away. I didn’t have to think twice about it and said yes immediately. That was the impotence of that.
Sianna: And it was spontaneous. It wasn’t anything I was thinking about, it was just in the moment. I just looked and I knew.
Chris: That’s how she rolls, haha!
Sondra: That’s wonderful! So Chris how has your practice has grown just from studying with Sianna?
Chris: It’s grown exponentially but the main way that I knew that it was meant to happen was; the thing I needed to work on the most in my practice, Sianna embodies every moment of her life. It’s sort of just the idea that to grow in our practice sometimes we have to work smarter rather than harder. My tendency is to overwork. I came from an athletic background and it was like the harder I worked the more I got. It worked for me to a degree in the physical practice of yoga for sure. Then when I met Sianna. I got so excited to study with her, I think it was literally the next day when I began to work with her I was like “OK, so next time when I come back, what do you want me to work on, every time I’m with you I want to work on something, every time we are together you’re going to tell me to work on something” and she was like “alright buddy just calm down a little bit”.
She texted me the next say saying “Just breath like soft moonlight” and that was the only instruction I got, and honestly that was the only thing I tried to work on for the first 6 months of our work together. And then one day out of the blue she texted me and said “Ok you have got the breathing, now you can work on hanuman thigh stretches”. But for 6 months it was just breathing. That’s what I mean by working smarter and softer in my practice. I needed to do it, I needed to breathe, rather than strain and struggle and push my way through the practice.
Her practice physically is so amazingly strong, but she is never straining, Sianna may be working but you never see an external moment of strain. We were practicing together the other night in Istanbul at her friends house, and I was watching her practice. She was doing ardha chandrasana bound, and she was hardly making a sound. I was almost not breathing because I didn’t want to make a sound the whole time, I was just trying to soften. That has been my whole practice with Sianna, softening.
Sondra: In that same vein, Sianna how has your teaching grown by guiding Chris?
Sianna: Chris has been with me in my biggest threshold of my yoga career since I began teaching in 1993. I have had lots of challenges and growing pains along the way, it has been a great journey. The last 15 years I’ve been in a pretty steady service with Anusara yoga and so right at the beginning of our time together much was collapsing and dissolving. Chris showed up right at that divine timing and just held solid ground for me. As the world was sort of being completely challenged and confronted in my inner personal spheres of teaching, because he has been so steady and so grounded and so clear of a space holder, it allowed me as a teacher through probably toughest time, being out there knowing people saying whats going on what do you teach, what style; and its like what am I actually offering? Because of his steadiness it allowed me to grow as a more clear channel. of being a channel for yoga as it wants to move through it, exactly as it wants to move through me regardless of outer stucture, organization, or what anyone else even thinks.
There was certainly quite a lot from the outer world at this time about who I was, and who I wasn’t. Chris got to see a lot of that, and seeing me challenged to my utmost degree, and just staying really steady. It was because he was staying steady that it allowed me to be at each edge of my teaching and to actually take the seat again and again even in the times when I didn’t want to.
Even recently we were at a big conference where I was invited to teach, it was with some extraordinary beings, teachers who I revere personally, would study with every single one of them the rest of my life. I was invited to this when Anusara was still at its peak a year and a half ago. When I showed up, I wasn’t even sure what I had to offer because I was like “well why would they choose me, I dont have this whole backing of this system anymore that I represent”. Chris just kept saying you just do what you do, and he just kept holding that steady ground so even when I got afraid or hesitated, I kept moving forward and holding the solid ground inside myself and being ok with the unknown.
There have been lots of times this year where people have asked: “So what to do you teach?” and we kind of just look at each other and laugh because I don’t even have the answer necessarily I teach YOGA as the mahashakti wants to move through. I respect all traditions. I don’t have a certain name or form, and i may never, again. It will just be the one family of Yoga, and that is what I stand for. Being in that together has been intense and fierce and great and probably some of my most extraordinary growth as a teacher.
Sondra: What do you think would be the most vulnerable thing about the relationship between teacher and apprentice?
Chris: Taking photos of me in my euro speedo?
Sianna: Haha! All of it is about the practice, he is my teacher completely. It is such an intense reflection of each other. We are around each other a lot and when you walk through a tumultuous time that fire kind of polished the relationship to a very intense degree. It has been everything this year from total loss, to my getting married; we have shared everything. I think what we do for each other even when we feel really shaken, is that we are the reminder to each other to go to our practices, and practice, and we really do that. I’m holding space for you go do your practice.
Chris: For me, its when I do things that I think Sianna is going to be disappointed in. How she responds to that is full of love and full of grace. So when I do things that make me feel vulnerable, for my own stuff, she responds by holding me. That to me in the most vulnerable thing.
Sondra: What helps you to feel most connected in your relationship, where you just need to feel more grounded together?
Chris: When Sianna asked me to apprentice with her, she said “If you travel around with me you have to have a meditation practice.”. So I went and studied with her mediation teacher and that has been a huge factor in this whole year for me, is me committing like I never had before to meditation. It is what I always hear from Sianna. She is on the road 80% of the time, and that is the only thing that keeps her sane.
Sianna: That’s the big glue. I love the feeling of the practices and an integrated whole, but the big big glue is mediation. Just sitting and letting myself see from inside out. A lot of times, even if we are not physically together I will sit in meditation and actually see Chris sitting too, like I can just see him through the other field.
Chris: Then I will text her about something, and she will respond with: I know.
Sondra: So great! You traveling a lot together, what is your favorite things about traveling together?
Sianna: Haha, Coffee in Berlin?
Chris: Honestly the people we are around are my favorite part because you get to see yoga from a different angle; people that have these big open hearts, just the people. They can be joyful, struggling, funny, all these different people from all these different countries. It has been unique to be in a room full of German people learning yoga and it’s great!
Sianna: And being asked to show up in different ways. It’s like in Berlin, they really wanted us to do an all day teacher training about helping their teachers to speak from the heart which for them, they felt was very challenging. They like to go with the technique a lot, which we of also love. It was just a fun day to move through the space and the continuum of just being with different cultures, and everyone having the yearnings for their happiness, for love, for clear expression in a way that’s meaningful, then finding the ways of connection.
When we went to Istanbul we brought different communities together that normally don’t have much collaboration or connection, and maybe sometimes even a little resistance to each other. We made an offering like “what if we all come together”? So Seane Corn was being hosted by one studio, I was being hosted by another. Through our conversations we all decided to do it together and the studios then joined. We shared the teaching and Chris was there through the whole thing. To see things like that, to be able to bring hope and new possibility where the mind would say “well this is mine, this is yours” and even in the yoga world to be curious about opening the conversation up was amazing. We wanted to see if we could encounter a collaboration in this way, we are willing if you are willing.
Chris: There was a moment where one of the studios was a larger and the other a smaller studio, and to see the two just kind of doing what ever needed to be done in that moment to make sure the event came off was just really sweet. It seemed to be real big evidence of the lack of ego.
Sianna; And all the big festival events, and small intimate events, and the pulsation of every sort of thing that we go on the road with. It’s how to hold the space and bring the teachings through depending on what the event is, and who is showing up. It’s being able to move our own technique, the way that Chris will assist people, and the way that I will bring the teachings through depending on the event. We have to be connected in ourselves so that we hold the space together in a way that lets people come forward rather than us having an agenda to put on. We are listening to how we can facilitate opening in that moment.
Sondra: What would you say to the students that are curious about finding their teacher and exploring that part of growing their practice?
Sianna: I think ultimately the greatest teachers are going to point every student back into themselves as the source and the teacher really lives inside. Even if a student doesn’t feel like they really have a teacher they actually do because they are their own teacher. If they really want a physical teacher, I would say go in and listen. Start calling for that teacher to appear, and really open your mind to how that teacher might appear. Every single thing that happens in our life is a teacher, every person is a teacher so be super open to how the teacher feels. Its the great old adage that when the student is ready the teacher appears And if a student takes a step towards that teacher, than the teacher will take two steps towards that student.
Chris: If students are really desiring an external physical teacher, I can only say what I did’ which is follow the practice My practice was leading me deeper here at Yoga Union, and then Sianna was here, so my practice led me to her. The opportunity to practice more deeply showed up in my life, so i was following the steps of my practice. If that’s something that you desire, follow the path of the practice, you know? Where is it taking you? Is it taking you to one teachers class over and over again, is it taking you down the direction of mediation, whose name do you keep hearing, where is the practice leading you? Follow the path of the practice.
Next stops on the pilgrimage..
Sianna and Chris will also be continuing their pilgrimage by traveling to Tulum, Mexico on December 2-9th for a Alcehemy of Elements Retreat along side Shakti Sunfire, Saul David Raye, Theodore Kyrakios, and Devine Harmony. A wonderful opportunity to stir your soul on the waters of the Mayan Riviera!
For more About Chris: Chris Calarco Yoga
For more About Sianna: Sianna Sherman and Open to Grace
So much Gratitude,