Earlier today I had my last yoga practice in Goa. I was on the roof of a one-storey building – the kitchen for the beach huts where we’re staying. As I went through my standing postures, an old bloke was shimmying up the surrounding coconut palms, sending ripe coconuts crashing to the earth below. I faced the ocean and breathed with the waves.
Tomorrow we leave Goa and head to Mumbai for two nights before flying home to London. I’ve been thinking about the yoga I’ve practiced over the last two weeks. Here are some things I’ve learnt and perhaps you’ll find them useful too.
Drop-in classes: a mixed bag
You just really don’t know what you’re in for. On Christmas Day morning I went to a led Ashtanga class with an Indian guy called Deepak. His adjustments were a little unconventional (verging on dangerous) and I felt my body tense whenever he moved near me. He was as bendy as the bendiest bendy thing and didn’t seem to show much empathy for Westerners in their first ever yoga class.
Other classes were lovely but just going to one class then trying a different class the next day doesn’t allow a student/teacher relationship to develop. Consistency is key.
Immersion is good
Katharine and I stumbled upon the Indian Shanti Yoga Festival and it became one of the highlights. At a plush beach resort in Ashwem, we spent three days surrounded by yoga addicts and a schedule that ran from 8am to 10pm… all for £25.
I reconnected with Sivananda yoga through classes with Nataraj, the Director of the ashram in Kerala where I’ve spent time previously. Witnessing him in his baggy Sivananda yellow t-shirt and white trousers just made me feel so happy. He looked a bit at odds with girls wearing tiny lycra shorts but the atmosphere was very welcoming and inclusive.
There was a lot of bhakti (devotional practices). The festival opened with a homa (fire ceremony) to Lord Ganesha. We all offered something to the fire – something we wanted to cast aside for 2014. Swamis from various Indian ashrams taught classes and led the chanting of Sanskrit bhajans.
I also went to a Bhagavad Gita talk, taught by an elderly New Yorker with a huge white beard, long hair and piercing blue eyes. He reeled off the slokas (verses) in Sanskrit. Hearing the words of Krishna to Arjuna with his accent: “Hey Arjuna, so you gotta fight people you care about. But you just gotta do your duty!”
Acroyoga is awesome
Acroyoga founder, Jason Nemer, taught at the festival.
With one person being the base, another the flyer, and another the spotter, we did some therapeutic flying. We practiced giving each other massages in ‘folded leaf’ and worked on backbends suspended in the air in ‘high flying whale’. We did handstands holding onto the backs of your partner’s ankles while they were in a high plank.
I like the philosophy behind the practice. It’s about building trust and confidence through letting go. The flyer has to resist any urge to control and you are totally in the hands (and feet) of your base. It’s playful, fosters closeness and you learn a lot about your partner. The sessions open and close with kirtan – chanting in a circle, developing togetherness.
Jason will be teaching five days of acroyoga at Triyoga in London later this year.
The final day included four hours of Thai Yoga Massage run by the acroyogis. Thai massage is seen to be a complementary practice to the more acrobatic side. I like this. It’s the yin and yang idea. The massage is the yin (calming, cooling, slow, soft) and the acroyoga is more dynamic, energising and fast-paced.
Some of my most enjoyable yoga moments have been my self practices but I’m also looking forward to going home and getting back to classes – both teaching and being a student.
I know this trip has been about relaxing, spending time with my sister and also doing some yoga, but if I were to return to India for yoga, I’d do a period of study with someone who can help develop my practice. I’ve got my eye on David Garrigues’ intensive in Kerala in 2015, a trip to Mysore or even a retreat with David Keil at Purple Valley in Anjuna.
That’s the joy of yoga. There’s always more to learn and India is always calling.
Classes start back in London and Hertfordshire from 12 January and the first yin/yang workshop at Breathing Space in Harpenden will be on 18 January. My first BAYoga Studio yin workshop is on 1 February.
Happy new year everyone.