However, I do want to say a few words about being adjusted in class – primarily in an ashtanga class, but equally in any yoga class where you receive adjustments.
In ashtanga, in particular, there is a culture – or even an expectation – of strong physical adjustments. Teachers provide adjustments to help a student feel the correct alignment or to help a student go deeper into a pose.
I know there can be a ‘no pain no gain’ mentality in ashtanga but we must be kind to ourselves – there’s the yama ‘ahimsa’ meaning non-harming or non-violence.
A good adjustment doesn’t have to be forceful. A good adjustment will:
facilitate an opening in the body, allowing perhaps a little extra length to be found
create a more solid foundation in a pose.
Many adjustments can be intimate. There’s a lot of body contact. Here are some examples:
So if you’re receiving an adjustment and it doesn’t feel good or you feel it’s overstepped a boundary, you must tell the teacher. I know it can be hard to speak up but it’s your body and you know it best.
If you don’t want to receive adjustments, that’s ok. You can tell the teacher or perhaps they have some sort of consent process – Norman suggests using playing cards.
This is a biggie: A teacher also needs to know if they’ve injured you.
There’s a lot of talk in yoga about the importance of paying attention: how your feet feel on the floor in samastitihi, how the weather impacts nature, how your actions and words affect others. It also means paying attention to the darker issues facing the yoga world.
We must be aware. We can’t bury our heads in the sand. And we must be empowered practitioners, in control of our own body and practice.
Do you have anything to add? Any observations/experiences to share?
If you teach, feel free to share this with your students.
I was talking to a neighbour this week about how I’d cried on my mat that morning. “You’re so not selling yoga to me,” she replied.
I’ve just done a week of Ashtanga Mysore practice with Lucy Crawford at BAYoga in Berkhamsted. Since giving birth to Jacob almost seven months ago, I’ve managed to get to a handful of Mysore classes. My home practice has mostly involved soft bolsters and cosy blankets.
Lucy was wonderful as always. She talked a lot about coming into relationship and how to live and practice according to the yamas – the yogic principles for right living or ‘observances’.
This resonated deeply. I have a new body and I don’t recognise it. Looking after a baby takes its toll physically, let alone coming to terms with the physiological changes that happen during pregnancy and breastfeeding. My rib cage has expanded outwards in all directions, my shoulders and hips are broader. I’ve lost a lot of strength and a friend called my breastfeeding boobs “magnificent” the other day. I’m doing my pelvic floor exercises as I type this.
Lucy talked about ‘sukha’ or joy. Was I able to find joy in my practice? The first three days felt distinctly lacking. It was all an effort – sorting childcare drop-offs and pick-ups, getting to Berko for a 9am start… and then I had to do sun salutations?!
She spoke on ‘satya’, the yama relating to honesty. I feel really tired at the moment so why push it? As a result, my Monday practice was surya namaskars and standing poses followed by some yummy restorative poses. Lucy: “Right Clare, this is what we’re going to do with you. Let’s put this bolster here…”
And can we let go of the grasping – the yama ‘aparigraha’? The wanting: wanting to be ‘better’, wanting the pre-pregnancy practice. Lucy spoke about when Guruji would give her a new pose, she’d feel anything but excited (“Ugh, not another one!”). She said she’d much rather hang out in restorative poses although she knows her body needs to move. I can relate to this.
On Wednesday morning the tears came even before my first surya namaskar A. Steamy tears falling silently down my face during our breathing practice. More tears after attempting purvottanasana – feeling like I’d left my cervix on the mat as I lifted my hips up. “You’re very wobbly around that whole area,” said Lucy with loving eyes and a gentle smile. “That’s to be expected. Give it time.” The yama ‘ahimsa’ has various translations including non-violence and non-harming. Essentially it’s about being kind – to ourselves and others.
I was trying to explain the tears to my neighbour. I said about how we move and breathe in the poses. The emotions we’ve been holding in our bodies are released. It’s almost like a wringing out of all the stuff we’re carrying around. It’s cathartic. There’s no hiding on your mat. Everything comes out. It’s very positive.
My yin teacher Norman is fond of saying “shift happens”. And it certainly did for me. After Wednesday’s tears, I found my rhythm. There was a lightness, I had more energy both during and after practice and I was smiling more (sukha).
I had come into relationship with myself. I found ‘me’ again. My body is more open and I am less creaky. My thoracic no longer feels stuck. My jaw has softened. There’s a spring in my step. I feel stronger picking Jacob up and my happiness makes him happy. This body is slowly recovering.
I have so much gratitude for this practice. I bloody love yoga.
Two more yin workshops in 2017 before I go away on a little adventure:
Sat 2 Sept at BAYoga, Berkhamsted: info
Sat 9 Sept at The Studio, Mid Herts Golf Club, Wheathampstead: info
I’ll be back teaching regularly from January 2018.
What a week! Cathy and I would like to thank everyone who joined us at Can Dream in northern Ibiza. We think it was the best holiday yet. Thank you for your good humour, dedication to the practice and for generally being good eggs.
I’ve been reminded recently of a conversation I had with some friends in a pub many years ago in South London. At the time, they were triathlon-mad and I just went to a weekly yoga class after work. They were talking about how they were yet to start training for their next competition and I said, “Well, if you don’t think you’ll be ready in time, just don’t do it.”
They laughed. “Oh Wener, you just don’t get it, do you.”*
But what represents progress? Achieving faster finish times? Putting our body into more complex yoga shapes… and posting the results on social media? The recent news about advanced Ashtangi Kino MacGregor is a case in point (read Matthew Remski’s brilliant article about Kino).
To an outsider, my physical ashtanga practice may look like it’s taken a step backwards lately. It has to be a really good day for me to attempt chakrasana, I’m barely binding in the janu sirshasanas, and some days, my practice is just a few cat/cows and yin poses.
But I know that I’m making progress. My lower back and pelvis plays up and I’ve got wonky knees. If I push it, I believe I’ll end up needing knee replacements and have a constant bad back. I want a practice that:
nurtures my body
is honest and kind
lasts a lifetime.
That’s progress for me.
I’m spending time tuning into the subtleties of the practice: am I moving my groins together? Am I engaging mula bandha and uddiyana bandha? And when I do these things, I feel stronger and have a solid foundation. I’m not merely hanging in my joints and there’s no pain at the end of my practice.
You can’t see any of this stuff on the outside. It’s all internal. But when you make these changes inside, the stuff outside starts to fit into place.
Less really is more. And that is indeed the lesson of yoga.
This week I’ve seen a YouTube film shared on Facebook by a number of people and it just hasn’t inspired me. You know the kind of thing I’m talking about:
Young, fit, athletic, woman in skimpy clothing doing advanced asana in a stunning location accompanied by suitably calm yet inspiring music.
There’s no end of debate about the commercialisation of yoga, the sexualisation of yoga and a focus on beauty and the aestheticism of the practice.
“Wow, isn’t she amazing. I wish I had a practice like that. I wish I had a body like that. I like her top…” These films may be viewed by some as inspirational – or indeed aspirational – but I feel they take us away from accepting what is. What is possible in this body today?
Yes, the woman in the film has a stunning practice and it’s obviously taken her many years of dedication and hard work to reach this point. I’m sure she’s faced many hurdles along the way too. And I’ll put my hands up – I’m no stranger to watching yoga porn on YouTube. But give me something I haven’t seen before. I’m getting so bored.
For this reason, the thing I’m choosing to share is This Girl Can: an amazing government advert showing how, in a nutshell, this girl can. It’s honest, refreshing and shows what the average woman looks like when she exercises.
Alternatively, you could come along to February’s yin yang workshop at All Saints Studios this Saturday. The theme for this month is celebrating imperfection. Visit the workshops page for more details.
I’ve just taught my first weekend retreat. It was a yin and Ashtanga retreat and many of you were new to Ashtanga. Some of you were new to yoga!
When assisting the led Ashtanga classes I noticed lots of stuff going on throughout the room: glances and voiceless looks of “I’m in pain, come and rescue me” and whispers of “I can’t do this.” There were baffled looks of “you’re expecting my body to do what?!”
When we go about our every day lives, we encase ourselves in a suit of armour. We smile broadly and up goes our facade. We have our coping mechanisms.
We might be successful at work, we might have a wonderful loving family. On the surface it might look like we’ve got it made.
But we all have issues with our bodies and minds. They carry our habits and histories.
I’ve heard it said that we’re at our most honest and ‘authentic’ when we’re on our mats. We’re laid bare. We’re vulnerable. There’s nowhere to hide.
Ashtanga, without a doubt, is a demanding practice. Moving your body in unfamiliar ways is challenging. Finding your breath in these postures can feel near to impossible.
How do we approach these situations? What goes through our minds? There’s fear, feelings of not being good enough, worries about getting it wrong or hurting ourselves, thoughts of being the worst in the room. Do we give up or do we give it a go?
You all did so well. You experienced the Ashtanga primary series. And maybe this weekend you weren’t able to sit in half lotus (let alone full lotus) but that doesn’t mean you never will. You just can’t do it… yet.
But to be at your side, listening to your fears and concerns, and offering little words of encouragement while you took your first Ashtanga steps was a privilege. It’s wonderful to pass on bits of knowledge I’ve had shared with me over the years.
Thank you for letting me in. Thank you for your honesty. Thank you for giving it a go and exploring and playing. You’re amazing.
This weekend David Garrigues will be teaching at BAYoga Studio in Berkhamsted, near London.
David Garrigues is the director of the Ashtanga Yoga School of Philadelphia. He is one of a few US teachers certified to teach Ashtanga Yoga by Sri K Pattabhi Jois. As an Ashtanga Ambassador he bases his teachings on the idea that ‘anyone can take practice’ – a core idea in the teachings of Sri K Pattabhi Jois.
We asked BAYoga students to submit questions for David and we spent an evening chatting on Skype. I asked him students’ questions and added a few of my own. Here are his answers. Enjoy…
Cathy’s question: How did you discover yoga?
DG: It was when I was 16 in my first job. I started washing dishes in a diner in Seattle. In these restaurants there’s always the eccentric dish washer guy who’s older and gone off the path of life and so they have to be a dish washer!
There was one of these fellas at the diner and he was into different stuff: anarchy, books, UFOs, philosophy and yoga.
He took me to this local park one day and we did the sun salutations. Immediately I loved it. I started doing it by myself and I’d only do it outside. It felt really elemental, to be outside saluting the sun. It felt right to me.
I lived in an apartment by the beach with my Mom and I’d go to the park near us and I’d do it every day at sunset.
I kept doing that for ten years before I actually got to a yoga class. And when I did finally get to one, it was because I was running a lot and I got real stiff.
I loved the class and it wasn’t long before the yoga replaced the running. I went to this class regularly in Seattle with a teacher called Marie Svoboda and it was in her studio that I got hold of a tape of Guruji (Sri K Pattabhi Jois) teaching ashtanga.
When I saw that, I was completely hooked. At around the same time, I saw in the Yoga Journal that he was coming to California on a tour and so I booked to go spend a month in Santa Monica taking led primary with him in 1993. I was 28 years old.
The experience was completely mind blowing. I followed him for two weeks to Maui, Hawaii, and then a year later I went to India to start my serious study with him in Mysore.
I ask: Who or what inspires you?
DG: Although he’s no longer alive, Guruji still inspires me. His voice, his person and what he taught me lives inside me and that totally inspires me.
I’m inspired by anyone who is serious about their spiritual path. Yogis, BKS Iyengar, Peace Pilgrim and anyone who’s fully devoted to living the path.
Creative people inspire me – people who truly looks inside and find a way to express themselves.
It’s a funny thing but some of my past friends have really inspired me. The bassist in Guns and Roses – Duff McKagan – he was a good friend and his whole way of being is inspiring. He’s so positive and he’s made such a great life for himself.
There are so many people that just see the possibilities for life and go for it. They make it good for themselves and good for others.
There’s so many areas of need in the world – the environment, animals. Anyone who’s devoting themselves to those areas inspires me.
My students are also so inspirational. They’re so amazing. Their practice inspires me. Their whole life, how they manage to find time to practice and do everything else they have to do in their life.
Last but by no means least, my partner Joy inspires me. She’s more right in the front lines of inspiring me every single day. How hard she works and what she values and the connect we have, it’s so inspiring.
April‘s question: What do you think about when you practice?
DG: I try to remain absorbed in a few techniques so I try to eliminate all thinking. Or I limit my thinking to the ‘allies’ or the root techniques. These are pranayama (conscious breathing), vinyasa (positioning), bandhas (locks), drishti (gazing), and dhyana (meditation). I work to stay directly absorbed in these.
I also contemplate the greater context, the image of self and try to realise or have a wisdom about that. A contemplation of eternity, and beauty are really large. They form the background. That’s the ultimate experience that’s beyond thought.
Jo‘s question: Does the ashtanga practice ever get easier?!
DG: Putting it in those terms kind of misses the point. The concept of ‘easy’ goes with ‘hard’ and those are opposing terms. In Sanskrit they’re called ‘dvandvas’. They’re opposite pairs.
Asana gives you the ability to not be harangued by opposites. It’s like, “So what! It’s hard or it’s easy” and that ceases to lead your thinking or where you’re orienting yourself from.
So that might seem like dodging the question because it’s a difficult place to be or taking a stand point from a high place but you need to contemplate those places – even when you’re not there because eventually you’ll be there.
If you’re in the mindset of ‘this’ versus ‘that’, then no, the practice does not get any easier! But it doesn’t matter because you’re on the path of transcending that whole way of thinking.
And of course the opposite of practicing is not practicing and then it’s even harder. You find that out fast by dropping your practice!
Jo’s question: How do you get through a home practice when your brain is saying go and drink coffee?!
DG: Well there’s a couple of things.
You might need to go drink coffee! You don’t want to be divided in yourself in terms of what’s important to you and how you want to be spending your time. You have to carefully observe that dividedness and resolve it.
Or put the coffee thoughts aside.
Or you can change things behaviourally. So for instance, I never feed my cats before noon. If I fed them at 7am, then I know that at 5.30am that would be when they’d start wanting food.
They’d be waking me up at 5.30am so instead I back it out. So it’s fine for me that at 10.30am they start bothering me for food.
So if you’re really thinking about coffee, then maybe you should wait longer to have it. So your practice will be done before you start wanting it. You’re anticipating that kind of thing.
If you’re used to drinking coffee at 9am and you start practicing at 8.30am, then that’s a problem. Maybe start drinking coffee at midday and make room for your practice.
Make it a habit to do your practice at the same time and clear out everything else so your mind doesn’t get distracted by wanting to go do something else.
Kev‘s question: What does going to study in Mysore give you that you can’t get from normal Mysore classes?
DG: Well, it gives you an experience of the roots of ashtanga yoga and the opportunity to be within the community that exists today. People are very serious about their study and that’s a nice environment to be in.
The feeling in the room, and Sharath and Saraswati are the direct line from Guruji and they’re carrying on the tradition. There’s a lot to benefit from having that experience and feeling that.
And the city of Mysore is amazing. Maybe it’s the best city in India in many ways. It’s beautiful and the experience of India itself.
The thing is, now that Guruji is no longer alive, the practice can tend to get more and more removed from that source. It can lose track of some continuity and the roots of the practice. Going to Mysore can help to personally give you the sense of those roots and connect you to the practice more.
It’s not essential though.
Martin‘s question: How can I work towards a stronger connection to mula bandha during my practice?
DG: The allies are important: pranayama (conscious breathing), vinyasa (positioning), bandhas (locks), drishti (gazing), and dhyana (meditation).
It’s all interconnected. So when you study breathing, it leads you to bandhas. When you study alignment along the central axis, again that leads you to bandhas. When you study the foundation of the asana, it brings you to mula bandha. Every technique contributes to that.
I see the practice as a labyrinth and mula bandha is further in the interior of that labyrinth. And so to start on the outside and start to talk about mula bandha is challenging. You got to walk through the labyrinth and work on the techniques and then mula bandha is easier to make sense of and work with.
One thing is to have a very dynamic centre. This area of the body has got to come alive. Your movement, your breathing, your awareness and consciousness emerges and returns to that centre.
And also that you consider the two words as mantra. ‘Mantra’ means mind instrument. Mantras are for japa (repeating) and so what is this ‘mula’?
Mula is foundation or first basis or root or earth and so contemplate what that actually means in terms of your physical body and your psychology. What is the root of my mind?
‘Bandha’ itself has many meanings and that’s why it’s used for japa because you have to think of it over and over with all its different meanings. It’s to shut, to lock, to close, to redirect.
It’s an energetic thing and it’s about shutting off the energy and redirecting it. It happens at the base, at the pelvic level. You have to contemplate what that actually means.
Olena‘s question: At what point into your ashtanga practice did you start pranayama (beyond ujjayi) and did you notice it having any effect on your asana practice?
I feel really strongly about this subject and that’s why I’ve produced a double DVD and book on pranayama.
The first DVD contains exercises for anyone. You can work on these exercises from the day you start practice. So you can begin a study of breathing right away that’s not within the practice. I would not do it instead of the asana practice but you can do it right away.
Disc two teaches the ashtanga pranayama sequence and there’s five pranayamas in that sequence. That I recommend waiting for. It’s variable, but I would say 3-5 years of practice before taking it up but it has an incredible effect on your practice.
Breathing is the link between the body and the mind, and the mind and the spirit. To learn to centralise yourself in your breath in the asanas kind of is the whole show. That is it. The breath is also known as ‘elusive’ as it’s so challenging to stay with it.
Pranayama allows you to see where your breathing fits. The breathing is actually meant to create the asana. You create the positions and so you notice a big difference when you separate and isolate the breathing.
When you learn the ashtanga pranayama sequence you add kumbhaka (retention) and that gives you a whole new experience of stopping the body and the breathing and noticing what happens in that interval, in the space when those things are no longer happening. It provides you with a whole lot of adventure.
Niki‘s question: How do you feel about the use of props? Should we cast them aside and find ways of adjusting the posture to our body’s limitations or do you feel they have a place in helping understand the asanas?
DG: Props are really important and valuable. There’s a whole art in the study and the use of props and so they’re used very thoughtfully and economically.
Sometimes they’re not necessary and they can cultivate a laziness. A certain vigilance is needed when you use them. I have a saying: props are like the dhow – the one begets the ten thousand things. One begets two, and two begets three.
So you use one prop and all of a sudden you need a second. And then that second leads to a third. And so you have to be very judicious in your use of props.
But on the other hand, to me, there’s a whole reorientation of thinking needed about what constitutes a posture or a final point of a position.
There’s so many factors that go into making a limitation. There’s injury, age, genetics, level of commitment, and asana skill.
So there’s so many variables but we tend to get fixed on one idea of what the asana should look like and then we cram our body into that shape no matter what. That is a dangerous and unyogic method.
So when you let go of that, when you work with the principles of alignment and open up to what the shape is trying to be or what you’re trying to express through it, then it will automatically bring in props at some point because they just fit in terms of bringing out the meditative quality, or aligning the body, or being able to breathe, or feeling a certain thing.
It’s important to remember that if we have injuries, we need to work with where we’re at. Binding, feeling like we have to drop back, grab our ankles – you know it skews in a harmful way and it leads to injury and a shortsighted way to see things.
Your practice is for life and if you include the possibility of props, you extend the life of your practice and that is in your interest.
I ask: How does the physical practice of yoga make you feel?
DG: I mean there’s nothing like it. Incredible! It’s incredibly hard work and discipline and a challenge but the feeling inside the body is unmatched. It’s a funny term but it’s bliss. It’s ananda.
But it takes a lot of suffering to get to that. But asana is everything. It gives you physical health, it clears your mind, it’s very subtle. You get a mastery over the body, the senses, the breathing. Like, wow!
It’s the most incredible set of techniques and it offers you total freedom for your whole life. I cannot imagine not doing asana. To me, that’s just pretty much unimaginable. Even though there’s so much sacrifice and renunciation and discipline that it asks for. It’s still unmatched.
I ask: What makes you happy?
DG: Practicing yoga makes me happy. Teaching yoga makes me happy. Joy makes me happy.
I’ve got three cats now and they all make me happy. We’ve got Bunny, Karmakazie and Lexster. It’ll be hard to leave them when we visit Europe.
Other things that make me happy: reading great books, seeing great movies and listening to great music.
I ask: This is the second time you’re visiting Berkhamsted. What do you like about the town?
Well, it’s a very cute English village. Just the feeling, the landscape, and the people. Everyone’s been very welcoming and eager to learn and enthusiastic. You guys have a good sense of humour and I like that.
And there’s a great host there: Cathy! She made us feel welcome at BAYoga Studio and she is an excellent person. She was eager to have me come and that helped! It feels like a good community to share yoga with.
I’m aware that I offer a slightly unique approach. There’s some traditional things but I emphasise some particular aspects. It’s not exactly ordinary and I felt that people were open to that and eager to learn from me. And that’s always exciting.
I ask: What do enjoy about visiting the UK?
Well, London for one thing! We’re looking forward to spending some time there. I think I’d like to answer that question in a few years as I think we’ll need a while to explore the place as much as we’d like to.
But I think the UK is an amazing place. There’s a lot of beauty, culture and history. In my experience, the ashtangis there are a good bunch of people.
Introducing a new initiative: AA stands for Ashtanga Anonymous. It’s a support group.
Who is AA for?
It’s for people who have more than just a little penchant for Ashtanga yoga.
It’s all they think about.
They eat Ashtanga – but only a little before practice. The Marichyasanas on a full stomach? You only make that mistake once.
They sleep Ashtanga – savasana in pyjamas.
They breathe Ashtanga – well, ujjayi, mainly.
And they drink Ashtanga – two for one on Vita Coco water?! Get in.
AA is for people who, when faced with decisions such as a date with a potential suitor versus a date with a yoga mat, have been known to choose the latter.
It’s for those who’d swap cooking pasta for their husbands with making chapattis for Sharath Jois. It’s for people who would rather eat beans for a week than miss the Sweaty Betty sale.
How do I become a member of AA?
Membership is simple. You make a single payment of £22.
In return, you receive an organic bamboo tshirt and you can join the Facebook page and follow on Twitter.
For your initiation, you introduce yourself to fellow members by taking a photo of you wearing your tshirt and post it on the FB page or via Twitter.
Alongside your photo, you share three pieces of information:
1. Your name
2. How long you’ve had your obsession
3. The extent of your obsession i.e. just how bad have you got it?
Eg. Hello, my name is Maureen. I have been an Ashtanga addict for five years and a yoga addict for ten. I was three hours late to my own wedding because I got stuck in garbha pindasana.*
Your fellow members will not judge you. They will provide support and guidance. Anything you say will be treated in the strictest confidence.
You will be welcomed with open arms. Our scapulas will be drawing together, our trapezius will be sliding down our back body and we’ll be feeling the stretch in our pectorals.
Welcome. You are home. Put the kettle on and make yourself a nice cup of yogi tea.
Join AA today!
Email Clare with the subject heading: ‘I need to join Ashtanga Anonymous’.
Please specify which tshirt size you require. They are currently available in womens small, medium and large.
If Clare does not see you at classes, she can send your tshirt to wherever you are – from Southwark to South Africa, and from St Louis to Sweden. Where addicts are, AA will follow… (postage and packing rates apply).
*Maureen is a fictitious example. Alternatively, you can just buy a tshirt and wear it with pride.
Cathy Haworth runs BAYoga Studio in Berkhamsted, Herts. She teaches Ashtanga vinyasa yoga and particularly enjoys teaching ‘Mysore’ style classes. I’m one of her Mysore students and I asked her a few questions about this style.
CW: Where does the Mysore style of ashtanga yoga come from?
CH: Mysore is a town in Southern India where the founder of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, Shri K Pattabhi Jois lived. Since his death in 2009 his grandson Sharath continues running the shala and each year thousands of ashtangis go to Mysore to practice with him. I’m planning on visiting for the first time this summer and I can’t wait.
CW: How would you describe Mysore style?
CH: Ashtanga yogais a dynamic style of yoga where movement is synchronised with the breath. There’s a set sequence of poses which are held for five breaths and you then move onto the next posture.
To practice ashtanga yoga ʻMysore styleʼis to practice the ashtanga sequence in a class situation but at your own pace. You follow your own individual length of breath, receiving guidance and adjustments from your teacher on a one to one basis. I, or whoever is teaching, don’t lead the class as such.
Learning the ashtanga sequence may at first appear a little daunting, but myself or your teacher is there to assist and we take it slowly.
As you learn and grow confident in each pose, you’re given new poses by your teacher, making this a very personal journey. Once learnt you have a practice for life.
CW: What’s so special about a Mysore practice?
CH: Moving with your own breath at your own pace enables you to work at your own level, extending the breath as it suits you. We all have different lengths of breath and this way of practicing enables you to be in charge of your own destiny.
It is a disciplined approach to yoga that allows for no opt out of poses because you find them challenging. You have to face up to every eventuality that the pose may bring.
Thereʼs no hiding, and by working with your own breath you can really connect to what may be happening both in the pose internally and externally. By bringing this discipline into your life enables you to be more focused and present not just on your yoga mat but in all aspects of your life.
It gives you the space to be you.
Whilst on your mat, working and moving with your breath, you are able to let go of the outside world and be in the present moment, allowing the real you to shine through.
Once off the mat we take on board the many outside influences that we have accumulated over the years and often act in a very different way to who we really are.
Being on the mat allows us to be true to ourselves and the more you practice, the more you are able to let go of this external ʻbaggageʻ and allow yourself the space and freedom of just being who you really are.
CW: You’ve mentioned before to me about the versatility that these classes offer. How is that?
CH: You don’t have to be on your mat at the very start of a class. You come when it suits you. If you get stuck in traffic, if you have to drop the kids off at school… that’s fine, no rush. The latest start time is one hour before the end of the class.
Classes vary in length from 2-3 hours at BAYoga Studio and if you’re a beginner you’ll need to allow approximately an hour to do your practice. Eventually, as you progress you will build on this to 1.5-2 hours.
One of the many joys of a Mysore practice is that it is very portable. I know that wherever I may be in the world, I’ll have the opportunity of going to a class knowing exactly what to expect from an ashtanga Mysore style class. Get on your mat in Paris, Sydney, New York or India and you know that you will be just fine regardless!
CW: Thank you Cathy.
Cathy teaches Mysore style classes at various times throughout the week. Find out more by visiting bayogastudio.co.uk. On a Tuesday morning she teaches a Mysore style class from 9.15-11.15am and then I teach a yin yoga class from 11.30-1pm at BAYoga Studio. Come along to both classes for only £16. It’s a bargainous morning of yin and yang.
Cathy and I will be teaching an ashtanga/yin retreat together 3-5 October 2014. Visit the retreats page for more details.
Do you practice Mysore style Ashtanga? What do you enjoy about it? Feel free to comment below.
Recently I’ve been reminded of a situation that happened a couple of years ago on my 500 hour teacher training with Michel Besnard.
Every morning we’d spend two hours making our way through our tailored version of the ashtanga primary series. I was new to the practice and found every day hard. The breath was different, the poses were different, the intensity was definitely different. The strength and stamina required for the practice in the Thai heat was unlike anything I’d experienced before.
I was surrounded by people from all over the world and some were very familiar with the practice. Michel drip fed second series poses to them whilst others like me looked on gawping.
One morning I was struggling to lift my back knee in the twisted version of Utthita Parsvokonasana. Wobbling ridiculously, bringing my palms together in prayer, attempting to open my chest upwards, I sensed Michel approaching me.
Now imagine this: A cheeky Frenchman in his seventies, over six feet tall. He’s got steely blues eyes and the ability to make me laugh simply by calling me ‘Fromage’ on account of the cheese jokes we both enjoyed over meal times. But this time he looked deadly serious. There I was twisting, wobbling and sweating, trying to stay focused.
He crouched down by my side and brought his face very close to mine. He stared into my eyes and said, “You are better than you think you are.”
Immediately I lost it. Hot tears streamed down my face. My pose went out of the window.
It’s funny, I’ve listened to a podcast recently with Ryan Spielman and other Mysore teachers where they say that when you see someone practicing on a mat, that’s the real person. When people practice, it’s an opportunity to see the person as they really are – their true self – compared to the person you may have a chat with at the end of a class.
Michel knew that I needed to hear those words. And for this, I am grateful.
Who would you like to say this to?
“We have to learn how to be non-violent towards ourselves. If we were able to play back the often unkind, unhelpful and destructive comments and judgements silently made towards our self in any given day, this may give us some idea of the enormity of the challenge of self-acceptance.
If we were to speak these thoughts out loud to another person, we would realise how truly devastating violence to the self can be.
In truth, few of us would dare to be as unkind to others as we are to ourselves.”