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.
As part of a new series on the blog, I’ll be interviewing various yoga teachers – each with their own story to tell. The first of these is Lila Conway.
I first met Lila on my Sivananda teacher training in 2010. Having signed up for the month-long course in the Himalayas, I simply wanted to deepen my understanding and learn more about the practice. I had no plans to ‘be a yoga teacher’. In the final week, she sat us all down and said that it was our duty to share our new knowledge with people back home and teach. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Here she talks about her love of India, Sivananda yoga and teacher training.
CW: Tell me about your first experience of yoga.
LC: In the early 90’s I was living a typically fast paced, hectic lifestyle working 24/7 in the London fashion industry. It was really demanding and competitive and I often used to feel physically ‘burnt out’.
It made me start questioning the meaning of life and I started searching how I could lead a more peaceful existence. I found ‘The Book of Yoga’ by Sivananda and started practicing at home. Although I found it a bit weird at first, I really began to feel a sense of peace after chanting mantras and practicing Tratak (candle gazing).
Soon after, I made the decision to leave my London life and take a year out travelling. Everything moved quickly from then on. I went to a yoga class in Thailand and was hooked… it was really my first deep experience of true connection, peace and healing.
CW: How do you bring the practice of yoga into your every day life?
LC: Yoga is a way of life, it’s not something we do only when we step on a yoga mat. And so I try to see everything as an offering – whether it’s preparing a meal, teaching a yoga class or gardening. We are divine consciousness itself and yoga is a means and a method to awaken to that realisation.
The moment I wake up I offer gratitude and repeat a mantra. I do the same before I go to sleep. My daily practice routine is that I start the day with a small Puja (devotional worship of deities) to connect to my spiritual teachers and God. I think it’s a beautiful way to begin each day – offering light, incense, flowers and water to the divine. I then sing some devotional mantras, do some breathing exercises, mantra meditation and yoga asanas.
The practices we do in yoga are varied according to the path you follow. Flexibility, peace of mind and improved health are all wonderful side effects of the practice. However, keeping the ultimate goal in mind keeps me motivated and committed to the practice.
Yoga is a process of awakening consciousness, removing the layers that obscure our inner divinity and ultimately returning to the eternal abode of love. Every small act we do helps in this process of evolution.
CW: Who or what inspires you?
LC: Wow, so many things inspire me! Nature, life in all its forms, seeing the transformation yoga brings to people. My students inspire me so much too. I’m also inspired by spiritual texts such as ‘The Bhagavad Gita’, the healing power of raw food, plants and herbal medicine.
I have such deep gratitude and inspiration for my first teachers – Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnudevananda – for giving me a strong foundation in my spiritual life.
I also am inspired by various spiritual Masters and their service, humility and pure love: Bhaktivinoda Thakura for the poetry and beauty of the Bhakti yoga tradition, Amma for her message of love and service, and BKS Iyengar for being a living legend in Hatha Yoga.
The list really could go on and on!
CW: You’ve spent lots of time in India. What do you feel makes the country so special?
LC: It’s the land of the Rishis (sages), saints and yogis. The ancient texts of the Vedas were revealed to the Rishis in India. Lord Krishna, Buddha, Jesus and many incarnations of God have appeared in this sacred land.
The people of India teach me so much: patience, tolerance, acceptance, surrender, simplicity, devotion, faith, family values… so many qualities.
India has a wonderful way of magnifying my inner stuff and things I need to deal with in my life. Although not always comfortable at the time, it definitely helps to have an internal spring clean and I always feel better for it!
My greatest moments of inspiration often come in India. The place makes me feel alive and at home. I love the culture, food, language, temples, music, colours, smells (well… most of them), smiles, frustration and the joy that this magical country brings.
CW: How come you’ve spent so much time there?
LC: I first went to India to study yoga and stayed in the Sivananda ashram in Kerala. I stayed so long my teachers advised me that the next step was doing a teacher training. I completed the course in 2001 and it was a huge journey and personal transformation.
It didn’t just ignite a spark but a raging fire! I couldn’t walk away from this whole new world that had opened up to me so I stayed on as voluntary staff. Three months became nearly eight years spread across both India and Canada.
Every year I was actively involved in many yoga teacher training programmes, including advanced teacher training courses. I would assist the main Hatha yoga teacher in all classes and demonstrated postures, adjusted students and taught a little. I was trained slowly and systematically over a period of seven years.
In 2007 I was given the authority to teach yoga teachers and taught my first course in Canada. Although I left the ashram in 2008, I continued to return to India each year to teach on training courses at the Sivananda ashram in the Himalayas – where I met you! This year I am very happy to be back in India teaching my own teacher training course in Rishikesh.
CW: What do you enjoy about training people to teach yoga?
LC: Swami Vishnudevananda beautifully put together a month-long intensive yoga teacher training course unlike any other. It is an intense programme which is a systematic introduction and direct experience of the traditional yogic lifestyle and system of learning in the Gurukulam way (meaning teachers and students live together).
As the course is residential and the programme is from early morning until evening, we spend the full month working with the students and supporting them. I feel very blessed to be part of this journey in people’s lives and I do my very best to represent my Guru and his teachings. It’s a wonderful exchange of energies.
I feel alive and challenged and even though I have been teaching for many years, I always learn so much every time. We go through the highs and lows together and by the end of the course students are always positive, inspired, shining and full of energy. It’s so good to see and it really inspires me seeing the effort, commitment and heart that each teacher trainee puts into their practice and the course.
CW: What qualities do you feel make someone a good yoga teacher?
LC: The highest quality is humility. When a yoga teacher is humble, they remain open for the divine energy to flow. A yoga teacher is a channel for the ancient teachings and always has the student’s best interests at heart and never teaching to impress or for name and fame.
A good yoga teacher always remains a student and shares from direct experience and a proper understanding of the spiritual teachings and discipline of this beautiful science.
CW: What’s in store for you over the next few months?
LC: Excitingly, I am in the process of writing a new manual for our next teacher training course in Rishikesh in October. I am also busy in communications with Swami Guruprasad in India – we are running the course together.
We are also working on some short videos of Swamiji so students can get an early peek of his wonderful words of wisdom.
My Bhakti Yoga teacher from India is coming soon so I will be fully immersed in his teachings for a week. This will give me a huge boost of inspiration ready for our August weekend yoga retreat near Bath, ‘The Heart of Yoga’ for which I am preparing some beautiful heart opening practices and have some amazing friends also coming to give talks, kirtan, delicious food, massage and more!
I’m also getting ready for a new term with Yoga Prema in Bristol. And then before I know it I will be on a flight to India for the October yoga teacher training course!
CW: Thanks Lila. Good luck with it all!
To learn more about the Rishikesh teacher training course Lila talks about, visit the Yoga Prema website.
Last week I received an email offering me the opportunity to help on a yoga teacher training taking place in October in Northern India.
The email came from Lila Conway, a wonderful yogi who first taught me how to teach a few years ago in the Sivananda ashram in Uttarkashi in the Himalayas. We’ve stayed in touch and I even bumped into her in Kerala last November.
The course will be wonderful. Based at the Yoga Niketan Ashram on the bank of the Ganga in Rishikesh, it will be four weeks full of devotion, fun and hard work. It’ll be a memorable and life-changing experience. I thought long and hard about whether to accept such an incredible opportunity.
I declined. On this occasion it doesn’t work with other commitments I’ve got at home in October. I know we can make it work another time and I know this will be the first of many that she’ll run. If you’d like to find out more, visit www.yogaprema.org.
But what is it about the pull of India? I was talking to a friend the other day who came back around the same time as me last December. She’s returning later this month – for how long, she’s not sure.
I know I’ll be back. If not October then perhaps at Christmas. India is an addiction. It does your head in, assaults you in every possible way but she’ll win your heart and you’ll keep going back for more.
Another yoga friend came back to the UK a month ago and, like me, she’s considering whether life in London is for her. She’s turning her back on a stressful job and instead wanting to do work that makes her happy. She wants to rent out her high rise flat in East London and move somewhere a bit more green.
It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in my thinking. Staying connected to my practice will keep me grounded until I book that flight…
Yes, this is my last day away from the UK. In the early hours of tomorrow morning I’ll fly from Trivandrum to Mumbai and then home to London.
For the past two weeks I’ve been at the Sivananda ashram at Neyyar Dam, Kerala, and today I’ve come to seaside Kovalam for some present buying.
I’ve only just realised that it’s Christmas. In shops I’ve spotted my first tinsel of 2012 and Indians celebrate by hanging star-shaped paper lanterns outside their houses.
The only hint of Christmas at the ashram was on Friday evening when some ‘carol singers’ turned up. I use the term loosely as it comprised ten children and adults standing around banging drums and singing something incomprehensible. A Santa dressed in a creepy mask, pointy red hat, red robe and white surgical gloves danced manically hitting his ankles. It was like Morris Dancing gone even more wrong.
From the nearby temple you could hear 84 year-old Swami Gayatriananda (a small Indian lady and regular at the London Sivananda Centre) and others chanting the 1000 names of the Divine Mother. It was very surreal. So no Noddy Holder shrieking “It’s Chrisssmaaaaaasss” for me yet this December.
Home sweet home
It was lovely to be back at the Sivananda ashram. I was last there in 2009 and that visit prompted me to do my teacher training at their small ashram in Uttarkashi in the Himalayas the following year.
The ashram is pretty basic. There were about 60 of us in the women’s dorm but at least we had bed frames (a step up from Amma’s). They have recently added air-conditioned rooms which I feel is going against the spirit of staying there.
The first bell of the day rings at 5:20am getting you up for morning meditation and chanting. During the two daily meals (10am and 6pm) you sit on the floor in silence eating food with your hand from a metal plate. The schedule is intense and everyone gets rather excited about the chai (with sugar!!) served prior to the morning asana class. Lights out is at 10:30pm. To stay in the dorm, you pay £6 a day for everything. It’s a yoga all-inclusive and serves as a good introduction for those who want to know more about yoga as a way of living.
About ten days ago I bumped into Lila (who taught me how to teach at Uttarkashi). She suggested I asked if they needed any help teaching and before I knew it, I was dressed in white and yellow assisting the afternoon intermediate class. I ensured that people flexed their feet, followed the eight steps into headstand and relaxed deeply in savasana.
Lila and I
Over the next few days they got me teaching parts of the classes so the main teacher and I worked as a tag team. In some classes there were 50 or so people and the main Shiva Hall was rather intimidating with its high ceiling and busts of masters Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnudevananda looking down on you. When they were short-staffed I taught the full two-hour class. It was a great feeling to be back where it started for me, but this time playing a more active role.
The silent walks to the lake were magical and I led a couple of chants during satsang. We had a musical group entertaining us one evening and, on our day off, some of us visited Kanyakumari – the southern-most point of India and a pilgrimage site for Hindus.
People at the ashram were from all over the world and who’d have thought that I’d be practicing my Italian sitting in chai shops or discussing the sights of Highgate in North London. I even met a lovely man but that’s all I’m saying about that for now.
Chai with the Italians
Have you been to the ashram? What are your memories? I’m off to pack my bag for the final time…
When I decided to go on Lila Conway and Dory Walker‘s new year retreat near Glastonbury it was all rather last minute. I had another trip planned but at almost the eleventh hour, it fell through
I put thoughts of lying on a Zanzibar beach to the back of my mind and before I knew it, I was getting off a train from Paddington and waiting for a taxi in a damp and grey Castle Cary, eagerly awaiting a few days of sattvic rejuvenation.
And the retreat didn’t disappoint. Lila and Dory’s asana classes are wonderful – both energising and meditative, taught in the Sivananda hatha style. I read books, went on countryside walks and relaxed in the hot tub and sauna. We set off lanterns around a bonfire, there were reiki and massage sessions and Nick’s astrological readings for 2012 made us feel.. well, erm, hopeful and a tad depressed about the nation’s outlook for the year ahead.
Now I’m not saying that I didn’t notice the mention of ‘five rhythms dance’ on the website, I guess it’s more that I didn’t pay it a huge amount of attention. I started to regret this when I was standing in the yoga studio with about eight other women and one of the three men on the retreat – a loyal boyfriend. Liz the movement therapist had her mac and music lined up and I heard her say, “We’ll start by bringing the awareness into our toes…”
I opened one eye and caught glimpses of people swaying. And then she said, “… now bring the awareness into your feet… connecting with the sides of your feet, your heels… start to discover new ways of walking.” I had never done anything like this before and I could only think that I looked like a complete muppet as I attempted to do as she said.
It was now that I realised why I’d never been tempted by friends’ suggestions of going to five rhythms classes in Vauxhall on a Thursday night. I mean, give me a wedding and I’m the first on the dancefloor. I’ve done swing and salsa classes but the idea of free, expressive movement has always felt scary and fills me with dread. But then give me some Sanskrit mantra chanting accompanied by a harmonium and I can’t get enough of it. Hare Krishna eat your heart out.
It continued. “… now move your knees… be free in your body… allow your knees to interact with another set of knees in the room…” Closest to me was the sole male. I began to move towards him with slightly bent knees. I looked up at his face and I saw It in his eyes: the look of fear. I recognised it immediately because I felt it too. I looked at the clock and only five minutes had passed since the music started.
As the music picked up the pace, people closed their eyes, spun around, slid around the room on their hands and knees, reached for the sky, lost in their own internal rhythm. And then I too gradually became lost and succumbed to the movement. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply and brought my attention to how my body could move. I stretched my fingers, rolled my neck, placed awareness in every single step, let my wrists and knees and head relax. I moved my hips and waist, all the time flowing, locking, bending, stretching, grasping and I found comfort and release through the simplest movements. I felt grateful for being fit, healthy and most of all, I felt grateful for being alive. The remaining 55 minutes flew by and I felt happy.
That night, in the run up to 2012, we wrote down our positive intentions for the year ahead. As we placed them into the fire I resolved to care less about what other people think and be more open to trying new experiences.