A Breathing System

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I’ve been posting some new classes and after rereading I thought to myself how does anyone really now what I’m talking about?  I keep saying Mysore like everyone has this clear understanding. I use the word to describe something, a style of practice and if you practice in this method you understand what goes on in the Mysore room.  One way to learn about it is to observe a session or class however the best way is to participate.

The Mysore Room is the Yoga Room and the *Shala is the Yoga Studio.  Mysore is a city from which the practice originated and also where yogis in the Ashtanga method go to practice with their teacher. It’s a pilgrimage to the source.   A Mysore session is where you get to do a self paced practice.  That’s after you learn the sequence in the Mysore room under the guidance of your teacher. Your teacher also gives out the new poses and will let you know when it is time to add on to your practice. This applies to all levels of practitioners. There are hands on adjustments, verbal cues and lots of learning.  New sensations, sweat and sometimes the mind is on overload. Your practice is your own and you are instructed in the asana (poses).  The count sounds funny and instructions are brief.  Sanskrit is used for the names of the poses mostly.  For a first timer there are a lot of new things happening.  First timers get instructed, then they get to be independent, but they are not sure that they want to be. The mind is more active for someone new to the mat. Students are instructed to breathe, to let the thoughts go, come back to the breath some more and to come back to doing the vinyasa.  The vinyasa is the coordinated movement with the breath.  Last week someone asked me what I practiced and I said, “Ashtanga Yoga”. They remarked, “Oh is that the one with the breathing?”  I was pleased and replied, “yes, yes, it is.”  and continued to explain that she had given it a perfect description.

The Mysore room is also a place where the teacher can teach you in a semi private way.  The teachings are built off where you left off the last time you practiced at the Shala.  Many times we get in our own way and we opt out.  We leave too early, we try to do it on our own. We don’t trust that this method will work or that we will ever learn what to do. That it’s too hard. Yoga is not easy however in the Mysore method you only are instructed to do what you can do. There is support of the teacher, support of fellow practitioners and a shared energy that helps on the journey. Anyone can practice this Mysore method of Ashtanga Yoga . . . you just have to want to do it.

*Shala is a Sanskrit word meaning, “home, abode”. A Yoga Shala is a ‘place of yoga’. It is a gathering place for students of Traditional Yoga to practice, share, experience and grow.

Practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa

I have been inspired to practice and encouraged to practice differently these days.   It’s been hard to change old habits and to come to the practice with a new set of eyes.  To take what I thought was good enough for myself and to expand into new depths of the practice.  I started to understand that these self imposed limitations may be just that – self imposed.  Could I go deeper, could I get through the discomfort and sometimes pain have been attached to? Was I able to see the light at the other side of whatever I was working on?

This yoga practice, the Ashtanga yoga method is a wonderful tool that we have to work towards letting go and controlling the mind and to healing. The breath being the guide and this method of having one prescribed movement with each breath.  I thought about what the description of vinyasa is and what we say when we refer to Ashtanga as a vinyasa system of moving with the breath.  The key point that one may ask is; What is the harm in taking an extra breath here and there? What about taking our time getting into poses and even getting out of them? We are still moving and breathing.  For me, it gave me an opportunity to dwell and to think and to do something besides what I set out to do . . . YOGA.   I understood that every time my hand went down to the floor to touch habitually, every time I looked down or I did something else like touch my hair and clothes, that I was just using delay tactics.  I was stalling.  I always thought that I respected the vinyasa of the Ashtanga method . . . the primary series at least. I may have respected it but I wasn’t doing it.

I have been working on actually doing it for a few months now with a teacher.  She is a rock and is instilling in me techniques that I am able to incorporate into practice and translate.  She doesn’t see or believe in my limitations and only shares in the possibilities.  In actuality they are only my self imposed limitations and her strength and “apana” is catchy.  The firmness is catchy and after years into this practice I am amazed at the power of the practice to heal.  It has been a challenge for me.  I knew it was doable and instead of being disappointed in myself because I could not do it, I kept trying.  I have to keep reminding myself to let go of judgements and expectations and my thinking.    The prescription is the practice.  Today I had FUN.

It is a continual ebb and flow just like your days at the home, office or studio.  Enjoy the ride!

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Sill working on utthita trikonasana

Photo Credit:  Christine Løve Hewitt/Mysore 2014

 

The Seasoned Ashtanga Teacher

There are many qualified teachers in the Ashtanga system and I happened to find myself in the company of Boulder’s finest.  Here is what the website says about them, “Located in the heart of downtown Boulder, the Yoga Workshop, which was established in 1987, is the one of the oldest and most well established Ashtanga yoga studios in the United States.”  I also thought I saw something about it being unassuming and welcoming and so peaceful but perhaps that is my spin on it.

Being from the East Coast I certainly had to adapt.  Anyone who has taken a class with Richard or studied with him can understand the concept.    I tried to soften enough to fit in, slow it down, enjoy the time there and my practice.  Although Richard was not present you could certainly feel his prescence.    The first time I met Richard I was so excited to practice.  Little did I know what I would be in for.  On the first inhale I was out of breath long before him and I realized then that he would be different and that his focus was different.  At the time, I did not have the patience nor the experience with the practice as I bring today.    So looking back I have to laugh at my immature thoughts of what he was trying to teach us.   I knew little of bandhas and breath in the beginning and had enough strength to “just do it” if you know what I mean.

Since my first meeting with Richard,  I have attended workshops and classes and have worked to understand his teachings and methods.  Putting them into practice is not easy.  Things are different but things are the same.  I know the sequence, I teach the sequence, I’m working on what I need to work on and meeting myself there.  So in this room of practitioners who float, fly and bend (well some anyway), there are also those who are new to the practice, new to the system, stiff and unable to bind, bend or balance.  They used the wall, props and had really little assistance to “get into” the asanas.  They came to practice what they need to work on and seemed to be meeting themselves there.

I’m grateful to be able to find places to practice the method like the original in Boulder and to also be a holder of a space, a shala, a studio in Montclair, NJ where people can come and meet themselves on the mat and am honored to be holding the space for them to do just that.  I love being a student of the system always and passing on the knowledge that I learn from being a student.

Magical Mysore Rooms

When it comes to practice we have choices.  We know the sequence; we know what we are setting out to do.  We are teachers and we are students.  We seek out other yoga practitioners and flock to a Mysore room to do our practice.   We go across the country to practice for a weekend or go across the world to practice for a month.  Who am I?

I’m an Ashtangi.  When we enter a space to practice with a teacher or on my last experience a group of teachers and they happen to be the pioneers of the system you stand tall.  You want to do your best and you want to practice with all the best intentions.  You want to make every breath count, flow through the sequence, stay focused and tap in to the source.  You have someone watching.  You have teachers teaching.  You have this talented group of lineage holders watching you to see how they can impart something of the teachings to you and have it touch you and have it make a difference.

Turns out we are human.  When we are in the Mysore room we just want to do our best.  Someone is watching, someone is there perhaps to help or to support us with our struggle.  No one is there to do anything for you; instead they are supporting you in your personal endeavor to do the practice.  There is a shared energy in these rooms that most of the time is very helpful with doing your own practice.   It is just natural to bring everything you have to the practice in the Mysore room.

When we think about practice, it sometimes can be a big undertaking.  It’s overwhelming on your own and the system has built in support around the world.  Today I practiced, alone, and not even in my own home.  I was glad to take practice and yet feel so much gratitude for the Mysore room that I call home at AYM and for the practitioners who share their energy and come to do their best no matter where in the world we gather.

Namaste to that and see you on the mat!

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Patience & Grace

I was thinking the other day how we all just want to get it.  Patience and grace are traits that sometimes do not come naturally to me personally and it is something that I observe in myself given the opportunity.  For which, I might add, are many.  Life has a way of testing us and testing our limits.  Testing how we handle situations, circumstances and relationships and when we handle these things with patience and grace we sort of feel like we handled it well.    When you catch yourself breathing through those certain situations that cause us to pause that is when the yoga is working in our life.  We may even feel like we are evolving and give ourselves a pat on the back.    So be it, it is well deserved.

The thing is, life is always changing.  People around us change, circumstances change, weather changes and we grow, we age and we evolve.  When I get on the mat, I know that all I can bring to my practice is what I have that day.  No matter how much experience one has, it is the same thing.    It is an evolution and every day we are learning more about ourselves and trying to find the peace within or just trying to get through.   The thing is that you have to keep showing up for it and showing up for life.  I mean you don’t say okay I get  this life and now I can go on and do something else.  You keep living right?  You keep having these experiences, through the joys as well as dissappointments and just keep on keeping on to see what is on the other side.   Yoga practice seems to be my metaphor for life.

I think that practice is about enjoying the evolution of the practice.   In Ashtanga, there are obstacles that are put in front of us, just like the tree or the live wire you sometimes have to step around.  You know that that tree that is blocking the road or the live wire will not always be there.   I started yoga on this day some years back not knowing how taking that fork in the road would play out.   I looked at it as a sign when the class started on a milestone birthday those years ago.  I remember the blockages, wondering how I could achieve the asanas that were put in front of me or even how I could possibly keep showing up for this.  I had my obstacles that’s for sure.   It is interesting to look at the evolution and ponder the years passed but then feeling like it was only yesterday that I could not stand on my head.  I keep showing up for practice and more importantly I keep showing up for life.   I don’t feel like I have to get it in one practice or on one day but if I keep at it, all is coming and what more do I need.

 

 

Faith in the Struggle

I notice the struggle these days more and more and instead of feeling paralized by it, I am encouraged to work throught it.  I have to say this is not always easy and it is surely not meant to be, otherwise I suppose it would be called something different.  We can hear a word and put anything to it as we have these samskaras that remind us of how we are to be and how we have always reacted to thought, emotions, words or actions.   Just like a record we can choose to repeat these patterns and feed the thoughts or emotions or we can try not to deepen the groove and move toward other patterns of reacting.

I am practicing letting go both on the mat and off.  I got emotional today when I reflected on the struggle.  Not my own today, although I did struggle, but that of others.  I reflect and only try to pray and send good energy and thoughts.  I still feel amazed when I see the energy shift.  I still say the word coincedence even though I am starting to believe there is none.

I have a practice and so many times I bring that struggle to the mat only to let it go through my breath and through the various asanas that I am presented with.  I love the blueprint that I have in my pratice to help me through whatever difficulty I may face.   I am grateful for the time to struggle through and to sometimes find the freedom in whatever I am doing.  Nothing is really easy for me and I know that people are struggling all over the world.   In my little world I think about my partner, my kids, my extended family, my friends, my students and even business associates.  It is sincerely the ebb and flow of life I imagine and what keeps me even is my practice.  There is no second thought for me these days as I am seeing what practice does and how much I can take a step back and have faith and trust that what I do on the mat centers me and gives me space if I let it.  I allows me to tap into my God and my higher self again if I let it.

Sometimes the struggle is so difficult, whether it is pain in the body or in our emotional bodies, it can be very hard.  I remember hearing from a friend who was struggling to let the tears wash you clean.  I think about that and I am grateful for tears.  I myself have used them a lot but I think less and less as I get older and get more grounded in practice.  My faith has helped with this and trust in God that I am starting to see just about everywhere.