Tag Archives: yoga

The Seed

28 Jul

Much time has past since my last post – an entire year, in fact!  During that time I launched a new food business with my partner, and continued teaching the Mysore program at the Life Centre in Notting Hill.  Needless to say, life has been extremely busy!  Presently, I am back in Boulder, Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, for the first time in seventeen years.  It was here that I attended my first Hatha yoga class in the mid-90’s while studying at university. Now I’ve returned to attend a one-month teacher’s intensive yoga workshop with Richard Freeman and his partner, Mary Taylor.  The seventeen years in-between have been filled with many experiences and yoga practice, and I am excited to be back where the seed was planted.

flatirons

Catching a glimpse of the Flatirons on the way to yoga class

Now I get to spend a month in Boulder slowing down from my hectic life in London.  It is a moment to reflect and deepen my practice.  I have been teaching the Mysore program at the Life Centre for two years now.  It has been challenging to maintain this routine while building up our new business.  My own practice this past year in London has been more of a ‘maintenance’ practice, keeping me going amidst the demands of my everyday life. This ebb and flow, is typical of the ashtanga practice where one sometimes moves forward, learning new asanas, challenging oneself or at other times, when life becomes very demanding, one may simply continue with the sequence and postures they already know.  Of course, new things can be discovered each day, even in a posture one has been performing over a decade.

I feel blessed to be here with Richard and Mary.  They are incredibly generous human beings as well as teachers.  They have a profound knowledge of yoga from decades of practice.  Their approach is undogmatic which is refreshing with a fixed-sequence practice like Ashtanga.  Newer practitioners of Ashtanga can often become obsessed with performing an asana precisely ‘as it should be’.  They want to know exactly how a position is done (‘where does my foot go? should my chin touch my leg?, etc’).  But Richard and Mary do not say, “the asana is done LIKE THIS”.  Instead they give direction and actions with which to work.  One is forever moving into a particular posture; there is no real ending to a pose, but an infinite unfolding into the posture.  This keeps one’s body and mind active and engaged.  Each posture has a primary and secondary action, and one works with these actions constantly when performing an asana.  The ideal posture cultivates both Prana (upward-flowing energy) and Apana (downward-moving energy), so that the pose expands and grounds infinitely.  And this feels really fantastic!

We are also spending time studying philosophical texts such as the Upanishads.  The Upanishads are a collection of philosophical Hindu texts which reveal truths about the nature of ultimate reality (brahman) and human salvation (moksha).  Recently focusing on the Kena Upanishad, Richard told is that if we have read it, and understood it, then we have not grasped it’s meaning.

Hunh!?

That is an example of the paradox inherent in studying such texts.  The term Agya (not to know) is explained in the Kena Upanishad.  It is similar to the idea of coming to the mat with a beginner’s mind.  That is to be open to what will arise during one’s practice, allowing the new to come forth, allowing for a more joyful experience.  Pratibodha, or a ‘continual waking up’ is also explained.  This refers to the idea of not becoming complacent or stuck in one’s yoga practice (or life for that matter) and to constantly awaken to that which is unfolding in the present moment. The opportunity is there for discovery with each day’s practice, as the dialogue between prana and apana unfolds on the mat.

With three more weeks of the intensive to go, there is sure to be much more unfolding.  Check back soon

and till then…

enjoy your practice!

RMskeletor

Richard & Mary adjusting Skeletor in Downward Puppy Pose

Richard will be in London in mid-September and if you haven’t had the opportunity to study with him before (or even if you have) you should grab the chance!  You can access more info and the booking page here:

http://www.yogacampus.com/attend/yoga-intensives/yoga-practice-in-the-mirror-of-buddhism

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Vinyasa Count

3 Jul

If you travel, you will arrive

If you remain, you will grow

This quote comes from one of my favourite books, Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House by video artist, Bill Viola. If I remember correctly, he grabbed the quote from a Sufi poet. The book is a collection of his writings from 1973-1994 in which he explores his medium of video, as well as his development as an artist. The quote, a prelude of what’s to come, has stuck with me over the past many years as I have moved my life from New York City to Berlin and finally London with several trips to India in between. The one constant in all that time has been my Ashtanga Yoga practice, which has helped me to understand that Home is on my mat where I come back to mySelf each day.

The above quote also has particular relevance to life in London where one’s mind is constantly pulled to the next new thing. Having new experiences is important, but to truly understand something one must stay with it for a long period of time allowing one’s knowledge to expand and wisdom to develop.

This first week of July marks one year that I have been teaching the Mysore program at the Life Centre in Notting Hill. It has been a very fulfilling year in which I have learnt a great deal. This past March I returned from one of my regular journeys to Mysore to study at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute (KPJAYI). At KPJAYI, every Friday brings a led practice of the primary series. It is at this time practitioners are able to check that they are performing the correct vinyasa count during their own self-practice. Sharath, Pattabhi Jois’ grandson, leads the class through the Primary Series counting in Sanskrit. This led class helps the practitioner learn the correct breath count to accompany their movement. By using the correct vinyasa count during practice, one remains ‘on track’ with the sequence allowing the meditative aspect of the practice to develop. Vinyasa refers to a series of body movements linked together by the breath. Every moment is counted in the Ashtanga practice. Each asana has a particular number of “vinyasa” counts for transitioning into, holding and transitioning out of each position. For example, Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle) has five counts, whereas Navasana (Boat Pose) has thirteen counts. These assigned counts give another level of focus to the practice.

Similarly to a musical score or the choreography for a dance, the Ashtanga sequence follows a particular arrangement, and in doing so, focuses the mind. With its set sequencing system, Ashtanga is a very accessible way to develop a regular yoga practice. Through repetition of movement, breath and postures, practitioners can turn their focus inward. The practice becomes a dialogue, a conversation between you and yourSelf on the mat. When you allow yourself to think in this way, it enables you to simply do your practice without judgment. Wherever you are in the practice on a particular day is where you are meant to be. You may not get into Marychayasana D as easily today as you did yesterday or at all, but that’s fine. That is simply where you are today. Tomorrow may be different and it may not. This helps us to deal with the things that life throws at us more easily without reacting so strongly, leading us toward greater contentment. Additionally, this practice brings greater focus into our daily lives so that we follow through with completing tasks, projects and anything else we put our mind to!

Depending on your level of experience with Ashtanga, the monthly led class will give the opportunity to learn the correct vinyasa count or to help one memorize which asana comes next in the sequence. Just when you thought you had learned all there is to know of the Primary Series! There’s more!

Stayed tuned till next time when I will write about the most spoken word in Mysore this past spring… SURRENDER!

(and I won’t leave you waiting for months!)

Guruji leads practice in Mysore in 2004

Guruji leads practice in Mysore in 2004

Please visit: http://elinore.info/yoga/timetable.html for more info on joining these classes!