The Roots

John Friend’s Story

I met Desi Springer at my Anusara yoga weekend event at the Baptist Church in Denver in the Spring of 2005. Her several years of consistent yoga practice was evident to me in the workshop as she was very steady and open in her poses.

Image by Cory Ench. Ench Gallery

Six years earlier, in 1999, Desi and her sister, Micah opened their first yoga studio in Denver, Colorado to teach and practice Bikram Yoga. In 2007, after a few years of practicing other styles of hatha yoga particularly Anusara yoga, the sisters converted their studios in Denver and Golden, Colorado to Vital Yoga, which was dedicated to a healthy life-style and grounded in the Universal Principles of Alignment.

Subsequently in 2008, Desi and Micah created a 90-minute signature postural series for Vital Yoga, which they named, “Vital Roots”. They both fully realized that a set postural sequence, which everyone could learn as their basic yoga routine, was a winning strategy from Bikram. So, they created a very strong, basic yoga sequence composed of about half standing poses, many of which are one-legged balancing poses.

The sequence of the Vital Roots was modified by Desi in 2011, and then presented to me a couple of months later for my review. In early 2012 I practiced The Roots for the first time, and was immediately impressed at the degree of focus and muscular squeezing it took to perform the routine gracefully. The base poses did not require a lot of flexibility, yet the sequenced balancing poses on one leg or on my arms forced me to draw strongly to my core in an extraordinary way and challenged my endurance.

From that first practice I began to analyze the sequence to see how it could be further modified and improved. On paper I separated the 50+ bases poses into their own mini-routines, and then looked at transitions, modifications, and apex poses within each postural mini-cycle. I later offered my few suggestions to Desi and Micah, which then led to the current edition of The Roots sequence.

John’s Background with Sequences

To better context my refinement of The Roots it is helpful to know my study and practice of set asana sequences. I have been studying and practicing various asana sequences since discovering Pattahbhi Jois’ Ashtanga Vinyasana Yoga sequences in the early 1980’s in Houston, Texas. I was intrigued that these sequences were purported to have a special yogic effects on the mind-body, so I started practicing the 75+ pose Primary series to experience them for myself. In 1987 Pattabhi Jois graduated me to Second series, and I learned the pros and cons of performing regularly that new set of poses.

During the late ‘80’s I also was deeply into the practice and study of Iyengar Yoga, which opened me to a greatly expanded range of poses and to a biomechanical analysis of postural sequencing in hatha yoga practice. Both BKS Iyengar and K Pattabhi Jois learned some of their root knowledge about asana krama (postural sequencing) from their guruji, TKV Krishnamarcharya in Mysore, India. So, I investigated and studied some of Krishnamarcharya’s other teachings on sequencing through his son, Desikachar and what he was calling “Viniyoga” at the time.

In ’99 I wrote a long postural sequence named, ‘Eye of the Tiger’, which was a template that was filled in by a full syllabus of poses ordered by difficulty. It was a routine designed to be practiced once a week in order to take a hatha yogin to an expert level of well-rounded strength, flexibility, and mind-body coordination within a full gamut of asanas. It took between 3 – 4 hours to complete the Eye of the Tiger routine in its full rendition. It was an advanced routine that started with 108 jumping Sun Salutations and 5-minute handstands, inspired by my regular asana practices in The Woodlands, Texas with George Purvis and Sam Dillon.

Eye of the Tiger was too advanced for all but a very few in the Anusara yoga community. So, some senior teachers in the community, particularly in Arizona, Colorado and Southern California, condensed the Eye of the Tiger to a 2-hour advanced practice and renamed the sequence, “the Tigress” or “the Practice.” These very challenging practices helped build strong pockets of advanced students in the Anusara yoga community. However, no other set sequences were offered to the main segment of the Anusara yoga community until January 2012 when I distributed my 100-pose sequence “Ignite the Center.” This set sequence was designed in 2011 with various stages of poses to be a comprehensive routine for all levels of hatha yoga practitioners within the Anusara yoga community. However, a downside of the routine is that it often takes over 2 hours to complete, so it does not fit into a standard class time slot of 90 minutes or 2 hours.

What is The Roots?

Like the Ignite the Center routine, The Roots practice is designed to help tune the mind-body for any level of yoga student. The 54 base poses of The Roots are accessible by everyone, teenagers to 80-year olds, while the additional 54 advanced poses will fully challenge all experienced and expert practitioners within a 90-minute period! All the poses are performed using universal principles of alignment, which help to avoid injuries and to make the poses particularly therapeutic and transformative.

There are 11 one-legged balancing poses in the base sequence of The Roots, which can be challenging for mind-body even for the experienced practitioner. Moreover, many of the one-legged standing poses are organized together so that you can shift from one foot to another immediately, which requires the cultivation of a strong and enlivened nervous system with disciplined determination. At the same time, the base poses have progressive stages so that modifications can be made to accommodate any student’s limitations. The base sequence covers key fundamental poses of modern postural yoga, except for Headstand and Shoulderstand.

The progressive stages also branch out from the base poses into an additional 54-advanced poses making a complete routine of 108 possible different poses, including 14 advanced one-legged standing poses and 12 hand-balancings plus 6 handstand poses.  The full Roots practice challenges the full range of the body’s backbending, forward bending, and side-bending capacity. The intensity of any of the Roots poses, held for 30 60 seconds per side with short one-second intervals between poses, helps to cultivate a sharp, clear mind and a powerfully vibrant body with regular practice.

The first time you do The Roots you will undoubtedly waver and falter in some of the poses. Be prepared to struggle a little and sweat some in your first 90-minute practice. Balancing poses on one-leg or your hands always make you face your limitations, both in your mind and body. Because The Roots contains so many balancing poses, an inner strength of will is naturally cultivated and you become more rooted in the spiritual core of yourself when you regularly practice. Additionally, the natural heat and the pressure of stretching fully with muscular resistance is cleansing to the tissue, organs and glands of the body.

From practice to practice you can directly witness your progress and your embodied improvement. In turn, your confidence and self-accountability is empowered. It becomes self-evident that regular focus of mind and body for a committed time period of 90-minutes for 6 days a week leads to a radically positive shift in one’s health on all levels.

I am proud to be professionally associated with the Springer sisters since they embody compassion, a strong conviction to healing and healthy living, and creative excellence.

Their yoga practice is well-rounded with a diet of whole foods, daily meditation, and seva in their community. I am grateful for their deep support in my own healing and resurgence.