Mysore India – Ashtanga Yoga’s Headquarters – Guest Post by Jennie Gorman

Helen has asked me to write a short guest blog about my trip to Mysore last December but keeping this short has proven to be something of a problem. To capture the magic of your first trip to India, with all its wonderful mix of smells and colours, spices and smiling faces, free roaming cows and honking horns, temples and palaces, is something of a challenge, especially as this is the first blog I’ve ever written.

 

Anyway at the end of last November I jumped on a plane bound for Bangalore to spend a month practicing at the Pattabhi Jois AYI in Mysore with Sharath. Some useful advice from Helen before I left was invaluable so I wasn’t completely taken completely by surprise when I arrived, only a little! After my first walk round Gokulum I did wonder where were all the western style cafe’s Helen had mentioned. However after a second tour round the streets by the shala with my trusty guide Kevin the delights of Gokulum were revealed, all the shops and cafe’s I hadn’t noticed before. All either part of houses or set back in gardens behind, the only giveaway was often only a small sign on the gate.

 

Having travelled all the way to India I was keen to get started practicing yoga so registered at the shala the afternoon I arrived. It was also a Sunday so had the opportunity to attend my first conference with Sharat. These are held every Sunday afternoon and provide many insights into the physical and spiritual practice of Ashtanga yoga not normally covered in a traditional class. This was also my first introduction to shala time. The clock in the shala is set 15 mins fast so this needs to be remembered for anything held at the shala, practice times, conference times, class times. It can become a little confusing when trying to convert from Indian time to British time to shala time, especially as none are in full hours.

 

After conference I filled in my registration form and waited in line to pay my fees and receive my registration card with start time. I was starting practice at 9 the next morning. After a good night’s sleep I made my way to the shala for 8.35, 10 mins early for my 8.45 start (9am shala time). I joined the queue in the hall and waited for a space to become available as those practicing finished one by one. Finally it was my turn and I entered the shala to Sharat’s call of ‘one more’. I laid my mat down in the newly opened space and went to the changing rooms to change. And so my first practice began. Adjustments were given by Sharat, his mother Saraswati and a few assistants at key poses such as hasta padangustasana, marichasana D and sputa kurmasana. Sharat stopped me at sputa kurmasana and so I went to straight to back bends followed by the finishing sequence. 2 days later my time had been changed to 8.45 shala time and I was completing the full primary with drop backs. Friday was led primary practice for everyone while Sunday was led intermediate for those at this stage with another led primary for everyone else. Another compulsory class was chanting at 10.30 three days a week. At first this involved chanting some Sanskrit prayers, counting and asana names. Optional additional classes were also available, including Sanskrit, yoga sutras, Bhagavad Gita and hatha yoga pradipika. All of these were run by Laksmish in the evening 3 times a week each.

 

As the month progressed the shala and Gokulum became busier and busier, soon it was becoming very difficult to find accommodation. This was slightly difficult to arrange from England. There are a few guest houses and a handful of hotels that can be booked from the UK but most rooms / home stays can only be arranged once you get there. There are a few fixers that can help you with this once you arrive. For me I went to Shiva just opposite the shala and got a room sharing with fellow yoga students within few days of arrival. It was also only 3 doors down from the shala, very handy for the early morning starts.

 

While a typical day can often involve not much more than getting up for practice, going for breakfast, attending some extra classes, going for chai, fresh coconuts, lunch and wondering round the streets of Gokulum or a trip to the pool there is certain plenty of things to do while staying in Mysore. A visit to Mysore palace, both during the day and again on a Sunday night when it’s all lit up. Sightseeing and shopping around the city. Chamundi hill is worth a wallk up / down for views across the city. A trip to Mysore zoo or just relax at the swimming pool at the Regalis hotel. For Saturdays and moon days it’s well worth making a trips further afield sush as to the hills of Ooty or Coorg, or the Tibetan settlement of Bylakupe.

 

Well while I could easily continue on I’ve probably made this blog long enough now so I’ll leave it there but if anyone is planning a trip or just interested in hearing any more I’d be happy to tell you more.

 

Om shanti, shanti, shanti

 

Thanks for sharing your experiences Jennie. I many people will find this interesting. Below is a brilliant video of of Mysore by Kino MacGreggor, so you can see it for yourself. Enjoy, Helen

 

 

Why Do You Practice Yoga and Does it Matter?

For me yoga is a spiritual practice with physical benefits.  I enjoy it and I practice daily because I have found it transformative.  The term spiritual draws differing responses from each person, depending on how they interpret the meaning of the word. For me its meaning is somewhat fluid, as it exhibits varying qualities at different times.  I like yoga and meditation as they allow me to discover things for myself rather than being told what it is about. Although I also like to read the teachings, it is the fruit of my own practice that leads to understanding.  I find that fairly scientific but it is also very subjective, as all my experiences are interpreted by me.  Yoga certainly helps me to see through these illusions though and to question and experience more of what actually is.  For me mostly I am just trying to get beyond my thoughts and experience more of what actually is, be it spiritual or physical.

 

People practice yoga for all sorts of reasons.  As a teacher, here are some of ones I have come across: inner calm, relaxation, spiritual, losing weight, recovering from injury, increasing flexibility, help with sport (cross-training), help with sleep, anxiety, stress, increasing general health and wellbeing.  The list of reasons is endless.  For me any reason is valid.  Yoga is great and I feel many people can benefit from it.  Yoga in the West is sometimes criticized for having lost its spirituality for the sake of commercialism.  Whilst reading the Hatha Yoga Pradipika with Christine and her students we discussed this as it is brought up a number of times in Swami Muktibodhananda’s commentary

 

“Originally, a sadhaka practiced hatha yoga  for many years to prepare himself for the awakening of kundalini, or in terms of raja yoga, for the experience of Samadhi.  However, in the last fifty years, with the revival of yoga in the West, it seems the real goal of yoga has been overlooked or even completely forgotten.  Today, yoga is generally practiced to improve or restore health, to reduce stress, to prevent the body from ageing or to beautify it.  Hatha yoga does fulfil these of objectives, but it should be kept in mind that they are certainly not the goal.” Swami Muktibodhananda, The Hatha Yoga Pradipika

 

While I think this is a valid point, I feel that more people are practicing and getting benefit from yoga than ever before.  I feel this is a good thing, whatever the reasons and generally people’s reason for practicing changes with time, I know mine has.  As a yoga teacher I try my best to make yoga accessible to the varying needs of my students.  I sometimes feel that this openness does mean that spirituality and philosophy are not discussed as much as they could be.  I make an effort to connect with my students and hope that they will feel they can talk to me about the deeper aspect of their practice.  I am always interested to hear about other people’s experiences.  I also hope that this blog serves to broaden what I share about yoga and what we discuss both here on the blog and in class and so far I am finding this to be the case.

 

If you are interested in exploring yoga philosophy I highly recommend readingThe Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice, which contains a translation and commentary of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras at the back.  It is a wonderful book and a great starting point for this vast subject.  If you are practicing yoga to get fitter or loose weight, good for you – you may find you get even more from it than you expected…

 

Why do you practice yoga?  Have your reasons changed since you started practicing yoga? What is your experience about the physical and spiritual aspects of your yoga practice?

Yoga with a Bump – A Guest Post by Lyn Marven

Yoga with a bump

Pretty much the first thing I asked my doctor when I found out I was pregnant was whether I could carry on with yoga. I’ve been practising for around 15 years now, most of which has been ashtanga, and I couldn’t really imagine 9 months without yoga, however good the cause. Luckily medical advice these days is that you can carry on with any exercise that you are already used to doing, and Helen was happy to support me and give me information about the necessary modifications.

 

I had no idea what pregnancy would throw at me, and no expectations about how long ILyn Marven balances on one leg practicing yoga pose tree, 39 weeks pregnant would be able to carry on practising. But I’ve just come back from a Mysore style practice, and at 39 weeks I’m aware that it might actually be my last before the baby arrives! I’ve reached the point where my bump touches the floor in chaturanga dandasana (though sadly being supported in the middle doesn’t make it any easier); my camel pose (ushtrasana) has a real hump; and my forward bends neither go forward, nor really bend… but I’m glad I’ve kept going.

 

At first I felt quite self-conscious about missing out or modifying so many poses, especially early on, when we hadn’t told people about the pregnancy. Luckily in Mysore classes everyone is absorbed in their own practice so no-one really noticed. My body didn’t feel any different in the beginning too, so it was frustrating leaving out so many things, from jumping back / forwards, through the cross-body twists and most inversions, to anything that would overwork my stomach muscles or compress my non-existent bump (bye-bye bhujapidasana and supta kurmasana). Mind you, I wasn’t sad to wave goodbye to navasana…

 

In the second trimester I started to notice some changes – all that extra blood circulating made moving more strenuous, I had to stop lying on my back, and binding and bending became much more difficult as my growing belly began to get in the way. Since then I’ve been gradually adapting the poses to accommodate what I can now do – as yet another one changed, I couldn’t help hearing ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ in my head. Not the most relaxing soundtrack to yoga! But no more distracting than some of the a capella choir singing from the floor above on a Monday evening…

 

There isn’t a single posture that I haven’t had to modify over the last 8 months, even Lyn Marven practices warrior 2 yoga pose pregnantincluding dandasana and shavasana (corpse pose). But the essentials of yoga haven’t changed – breathing, focus, working with what my body can do on that particular day. And I’ve developed a new relationship with the postures I can still do – I’ve concentrated more on alignment, and grown to enjoy the poses that show off my bump, like tree posture, or virabhadrasana II (warrior 2), which was never my favourite pose before but now really does make me feel warrior-like.

 

I’ve been lucky that I haven’t suffered too many ailments and have been able to keep on practising –and no doubt practising has staved off some of the aches and pains that I might otherwise have had: I can’t prove anything, but I’m sure it’s a virtuous circle. I would certainly credit yoga with helping me to avoid some of the pregnancy side-effects like backache and high blood pressure, and with keeping me supple and active. (I have also been swimming and following a specific pregnancy yoga class.)

 

And I do know that yoga has helped me through pregnancy in a number of less tangible ways: it has kept me in touch with my ever-changing body, helped me adapt to what I can and can’t do, and to my shifting centre of gravity; at the same time, it has also kept me in touch with my pre-pregnancy self – in that sense having yoga as a kind of continuity has really helped me to get my head round everything that has changed (and will soon change even more!). And hopefully the strength, relaxation, focus and not least the breathing will stand me in good stead for the big push any day now!

 

By Lyn Marven

Lyn also attended some Pregnancy Yoga classes with Jenni Jones  which she found most helpful.  I trained to be a yoga teacher at the same time as a lovely Midwife Ann Blower who now has a Pregnancy and Postnatal Yoga Class.  If you are new to yoga and become pregnant it is recommended that you only attend dedicated pregnancy yoga classes.  If you are an existing student of mine please talk to your doctor and contact me before coming to class.  Each individuals needs need to be addressed differently.

Lyn, hope all goes well with the birth, look forward to meeting your daughter.

Helen

 

 

Some Yoga Is Better Than No Yoga – Guest Post From Claire Sanders

I first discovered ashtanga almost four years ago and was immediately drawn to the physical challenges it provided; I practised rigorously and with enthusiasm finding that, for awhile, physical improvements in the asanas were a regular occurrence.  As somebody who had never felt particularly physically capable this was a real ego boost, ego being the operative word.  But inevitably, after a time, my practice began to plateau and I was faced by my own limitations.

 

To me this is yoga; finding that gentle space between effort and struggle, the difference between loving corrections and violent scolds – connecting the breath and body with acceptance.  And yet in my experience it is far easier said than done; I still catch myself internally berating my efforts in my practice, a pattern repeated in daily life when left unchecked.  Yoga allows me to engage with and answer this voice, to silence it with a smile, and occasionally when my practice has been absent for awhile, a few tears.  Conversely when I do not practice regularly my body feels heavier, but the biggest change I feel is not in my back, hips or hamstrings but in my thoughts, actions and awareness of the wider world.

 

Despite this I often find that I have tricked myself out of the practice I deserve.  Ego’s don’t like to be quashed and mine frequently tells me “But you don’t have time…” followed by a long list of other important things I have to attend to that day.  This appeals to my rational side; my practice takes around 90 minutes after which I need to shower and get dressed which brings it to roughly two hours.

 

“Two whole hours?  Do I have a spare two hours today?  Not really, it can’t be helped, I will practice tomorrow.”

 

This is a familiar conversation in my mind.  To combat it I have begun answering it with “Some yoga is better than no yoga”.  In saying this I persuade myself to step onto my mat, knowing that any time spent there is time well spent, a shorter practice does not mean a less meaningful one. Perhaps I will not work on supta kurmasana that day but I will deepen my breathing, focus my mind, connect with my body and make peace with my ego.  This is why I really practice.  This is why it is important for me to make some time, any time to practice.  How do you experience making time to practice, are there internal/external obstacles to negotiate and what methods help you to overcome them?

By Claire Sanders

Hatha Yoga Pradipika – Sharing the Reading Experience

Christine Weise teaches and practices Ashtanga Yoga in Gainesville, Florida.  She is also the author of the Blog, Ashtanga Yoga in Gainesville, which I have read over the last few years.  I love the way that the practice of yoga connects people.  To me the wider Ashtanga Yoga Community is like a big family of people who do the same practice and as such go through similar experiences.  The internet enables us to connect and share our experiences with people who we may not otherwise meet.   Christine has decided to take this medium and use it so that we can share with her and her community, as they study the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

 

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is thought to have been written in the fifteenth century C.E by and the Indian yogi Svatmara.  It is considered one of the classic texts of yoga.  I first read the Hatha Yoga Pradipika during my yoga teacher training course.  The version I read was translated by Brian Dana Akers, he original text is in Sanskrit.  At the time I liked this version  because it is a does not contain a commentary, just a translation, leaving me to think about the text in my own terms.   The text has four chapters asanas (physical yoga positions),  pranayama (control of prana/ energy), mudras (symbolic gestures) and samadhi (state of oneness).  It explores the spiritual and practical aspects of the practice of hatha yoga, some of the practices explained are extreme and if I remember correctly some of the benefits of the poses are  far out if taken literally.  As much as I like to explore these texts I always like to do so from the point of view of my own experience.  As the Buddha said

“Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances.”

Picture of the book the Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Christine is doing a shared read of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika with her students and she opened this up to the wider yoga community via her blog.  The idea is that we all read a section of the book and then discuss it on Facebook.  I love to read books and the idea of sharing the experience with others appeals to me. Christine is reading a version of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Swarmi Muktibodhananda. This version contains a commentary as well as a translation. I decided to buy Swarmi Muktibodhananda’s version, so that I could delve into this text a little deeper and join in their discussions, I am also re-reading Brain Dana Akers version so that I can compare the translations. If you are interested in joining in that would be great, I intend to write about my journey with the book here on this blog as well as joining in the discussion on Ashtanga Yoga in Gainesville’s Facebook Page. There is no need to have any prior experience of yoga philosophy to join in, just an interest.

Have you read or are you interested in reading The Hatha Yoga Pradipika?

 

Impossible Possibilities – From Yoga To Life

 

As I have been practicing yoga for many years I am able to do things with my body that would have never seemed possible in the past.  People often look at flexible people and think that they are born that way and sometimes they are. If you practice yoga regularly, changes inevitably occur.  It is the inner change that is important not the result.

 

Some degree of flexibility is healthy and enables us to move our joints  freely without pain.  So to some extent flexibility is functional.  However many yoga poses go beyond this functional range of motion.  Yet I find people wish they could do such and such a pose and I myself have been susceptible to the allure of a challenging asana myself.  But when you can do crazy stuff with your body it doesn’t make you any happier, more spiritually progressed or whatever.  It just means you can put your leg behind your head now, it isn’t really important but the journey is.

 

There are many things that I used to think were impossible both on and off the mat.  My yoga practice allows me to attempt the impossible every day and over time see it change. The pace of modern life is fast and yoga has taught me the patience necessary to work at things which seemed impossible to me.  The greatest result isn’t my outer physical flexibility but my flexibility in life to see past any limitations I may have otherwise placed on myself.   Many if not most impossible things are possible with work, this is one of the wonderful things I take from yoga to life.

What has yoga taught you that you are able to bring to your life?

 

Balancing Yoga Practice With Life, Love and Challenges

As is the tradition in Ashtanga Yoga, I practice yoga six days a week. The only exceptions are illness or injury, but usually that just means I modify what I practice. Practicing this often is great, for me it’s like brushing my teeth; it’s a non-negotiable part of my day that I love. Practicing daily brings the benefits of practice into my daily life but finding the time for it can still sometimes present a challenge.

 

Helen and Marc walking in Wales

Helen and her partner Marc walking in Wales - After yoga

I have just been to Wales to spend the extended weekend with my family and my partner, I had a lovely time. As I was there to spend time with those I love I found myself thinking about how it can sometimes seem such a selfish act to practice daily.  It is a luxury that I am very grateful to be able to experience fully.  My friends and family are very accepting and know it is part of who I am.

 

In this modern world, full of over productive schedules, taking the time for me can seem selfish. This is especially the case if I or my loved ones are going through challenging times in life. There are obviously occasions when not doing yoga may be the most ethical or safest thing to do. If my house was on fire, for example! In most cases, it is possible to practice yoga and do the right thing by the rest of your life. I am reminded now, of practicing on the day of my father’s funeral, it seemed such a strange thing to do but it helped me stay calm when I read a poem at the funeral and it helped me through the challenging day.

 

Experience has taught me that I am more aware of myself and others and better able to keep calm from practicing yoga and I am therefore able to make a better contribution to my world. I think it is important for everyone to make some time each day to connect with themselves, in whatever way they choose even if it is only 5 minutes. It can seem selfish but in the end I hope it helps everyone. I am very grateful for the time I have for myself and the impact that has on the rest of my life.  How have you overcome challenges in practising yoga?

Inner Heat – Mysore Style Ashtanga

This morning I went to a Mysore style class at my teacher’s shala in London.  As you can imagine, due to the recent weather, the room was hot!  The heat of many bodies practicing this dynamic style creates a heat, which combined with my own inner heat and our recent heatwave created a steamy practice.  When people are new to Ashtanga Yoga they sometimes think the sweat is a problem but actually you are meant to sweat in Ashtanga Yoga, this internal heat is part of its cleansing benefits.  Personally I love practicing in summer as my body begins to unravel after the winters practice.


How hot people get depends on many factors but some people just sweat more than others.  I have never been much of a sweater but I can imagine it can be a little distracting.  You may find you slide on your mat a bit.  If this happens a Mysore rug
 or a yoga towel would help you a great deal.  My preference is Manduka eQua® Mat Towel and I was glad I packed mine this weekend!

It was lovely to practice with a group today.  I love the energy and focus of a Mysore style room.  For those of you unfamiliar with this way of teaching, Mysore style is the traditional way to learn Ashtanga Yoga as it is taught in Mysore India.  It is self practice in a group environment with teacher’s assistance.  Individuals practice as much of the sequence/ sequences as appropriate for them.  Physically it allows each body to work at its own pace and get very individualized assistance.  So a complete beginner can practice next to someone who has been practicing for decades.  What I love most about it though is that it develops an inner focus because you don’t have to externalise your awareness to follow the teachers instructions like you do in a led class.  The focus of others in the room also helps me to pinpoint my own awareness and take me deeper into the practice.  I love it!

How have you found practicing in this warmer weather?