teaching

2015 By the Numbers

I started running one year ago today; I ran 1.8 kms and it took me 20 minutes. Here’s my first year of running and yoga in numbers:

  • 88 runs totaling 488.1 kms
  • more than 6079 m of elevation gain
  • over 66 hrs and 45 min of running
  • 20 races ranging from 4.1 kms to 11.8 kms (see below)
    • fastest 1 km: 5:44 (Captain Carrot)
    • fastest 5 km: 34:44 (Rosemary Hill)
    • fastest 10 km: 1:17:42 (Nogwaja Ezemvelo)
  • 64 yoga practices (this is waaaay down, but still averaging about once/week)
    • 70 Yoga for Runners classes taught
  • 3 bike rides, which is up 300% from the last 10 years

My absolute favorite race this year was the My Road Less Travelled Nogwaja Ezemvelo where I learned I could run further than 8km as long as I wasn’t aware of it ahead of time. Also the stunning views and the pictures from that race were uniquely African, and reinforced my dedication to trail running over road running. Honorable mention goes to the Spring Break run, nice trail, but very bad time keeping. Worst race: the Merrell Day Run through the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens. Never again. I was so sick that day. I will also never do Hedianga again (Beast and Rhino Run), nastiest trails ever.

Date Race Distance Time Pace
18-Jan-15 Biogen Resolution Run 5.9 52:56 8:52
25-Jan-15 Leafy Greens 5.3 42:22 7:53
22-Feb-15 WildTrailSA Hedianga Beast 4.9 45:27 9:13
01-Mar-15 MRLT Vivobarefoot Run 8.5 1:04:40 7:34
12-Mar-15 Merrell Night Run 5 39:39 7:51
14-Mar-15 Merrell Day Run 5.4 1:09:14 12:38
19-Apr-15 WildTrailSA Rosemary Hill 6.4 45:42 7:06
05-May-15 Southern Trails Klipriviersberg 4.1 32:25 7:50
10-May-15 MRLT Nogwaja Ezemvelo 11.2 1:29:10 7:56
17-May-15 Biogen Chase the Sun 6.6 54:25 8:12
14-Jun-15 Spur #1 B’Sorah 6.7 52:53 7:51
21-Jun-15 Spur #2 Hennops 4.5 42:59 9:10
05-Jul-15 Spur #4 Leeuwenkloof 8.8 1:27:47 9:44
19-Jul-15 MRLT Captain Carrot 7.2 1:08:35 9:33
23-Aug-15 MRLT Scrub Hare 8.6 1:26:11 9:57
13-Sep-15 Action Gear Spring Break 11.8 1:44:38 8:48
20-Sep-15 Rhino Run 10 1:54:45 10:36
11-Oct-15 MRLT Rock Rabbit Run 9.5 1:44:33 10:57
18-Oct-15 Southern Trails Klipriviersberg 10.5 1:52:28 10:59
20-Dec-15 Mindful Runner Summer Spruit Charge 11.3 1:44:56 9:15

On to 2016.

First race coming soon

I don’t know when I decided this, but I entered the Biogen 6km trail run on 18 January. I don’t think I’ve ever run 6km (how many miles is that?). And I haven’t been in any sort of race since I was 16 or so. Should I start training or something?

This week’s 5km botanical gardens jaunt: 42:27 minutes. I’m running twice a week now and I also managed to practice yoga 3 times this week. And I’m still managing to get through my work days. My feet hurt, and my calves, and also my right arch from my big ankle sprain back in 1997. Also I’m running in these, the vivobarefoot trail freak ladies. They’re light and lovely, but they slip a bit, which I’m trying to solve with socks.

trailfreak

They’re also purple, unlike my watch.

I’m also agonizing and planning for these Yoga for Runners classes. They’re only an hour long and I’m realizing I have so many sore spots to address with specific asanas. Hamstrings and hips, shoulders and feet. So I did a free style practice to cover them all. A freestyle practice. So not “ashtanga”.

It felt really good, and it felt right. And I was to find out later that people really liked it!

This is so last year…

I’m beginning retrospective posts from when I decided to jump on a training regimen again in December. All part of the New Year’s Resolutions stuff I usually blog about, but I’ll leave it out this year and instead just link to it here.

The real reason for my renewed blogging is to document and describe my attempt at combining yoga and running into a complete practice. And the story it really starts in 2014.

2014 was real a real drag for the following reasons:

1. I had to close Ekam at the end of June, not enough people supported the studio to pay the bills, and my landlords found a buyer. So…

2. I had to move in July. At first I was looking for a space with an extra room to teach from, but in the end I think I made the right decision to walk away from teaching yoga for a while.

3. My family came in August. Not a bad thing, but an added stress. Work also got pretty stressful around the same time.

namaqualandfamily4. My dog got cancer, again. We started radiation treatments in September, then surgery in October, which she never healed from and required frequent cleaning and bandaging. We finally got the wound closed in February 2015.

5. In December, my computer and car decided to die at the same time. Along with all the vet bills it made for a sticky financial situation.

But I was able to get back on my mat regularly again in mid-December when my place of work closed for the holidays. I had three weeks off to reflect and make my plan to take back my mat (and the rest of my life)! I have been fighting some injuries for a few years now and through the last few months of 2014 I took a different approach to my ashtanga practice- one of therapy and healing. I got rid of the ashtanga agenda (but not the ashtanga practice).

I love yoga, and I love practicing ashtanga vinyasa yoga, and I love the philosophy and practice of ashtanga yoga, and I was heartbroken that:

  1. I was having a really hard time, battling in every forward bend of the primary series and in constant pain during my entire practice, and,
  2. People have such strong opinions about what makes you an “ashtangi”.

So this year is about saying a big “screw you” to the haters.

Also, for some reason, I decided to start running.

Ashtanga forever

This article is just too important not to post in multiple locations. I am becoming more and more convinced that my ashtanga practice is essential as I grow older. It’s not just for youngsters, it’s not a fad practice. Check this out…

Where I found it, with nice pictures:

http://ashtangapictureproject.com/teacher-started-ashtanga-fifties-now-authorized/

And the original source on FB:

https://www.facebook.com/notes/stair-calhoun/ashtanga-yoga-its-not-just-for-the-young-by-karen-cairns-kpjayi-authorized/657201010995139

 

 

 

Beginner’s mind is a crock

‘You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state...’ – Sharron Gannon

What my practice is not.

What my practice is not.

None of us, really, are beginners to yoga. We’ve just forgotten our true state and we’ve returned to yoga seeking answers to questions like: how do I stay fit and strong and resilient? How do I heal this physical and/or spiritual injury? How do I calm my mind and stay focused? Yoga can and will inevitably answer these questions if you stick with it for long enough.

Whenever I hear a yoga teacher say ‘beginner’s mind’, I wretch a little (and I’ve actually blogged a lot about it here). Returning to my mat now, with some significant, complex, interrelated injuries, and a healthy cynicism for the current climate in the yoga community, I cannot forget how I got here. My body and my mind are intensely aware of my past abuses. Their bitching and moaning is a huge distraction to an ego that thinks even one of my feet can still be placed behind my head. So, NO, I can’t get on my mat every day and pretend I’ve never been here before and everything is fresh and new and my mat is the idyllic field of buttercups and daisies it once was.

I have a new approach: I am not a beginner, I have been here before, and I am my own best teacher. Because recognizing you’re on the wheel is the first step to getting off. When I practice I am the practitioner and the teacher. I watch myself go into the asana, I observe the breath, I count the vinyasas, all as student and teacher. Would my teacher allow me to skip that vinyasa? Would my teacher approve of practicing that posture out of sequence? The teacher me sees injuries before they occur, because teacher me has been here before. Above all this teacher side of me is observant, supportive and compassionate, and far more forgiving than I am.

This method has worked so far, I’m not getting re-injured, and some of my injuries have started to heal. Most of all I don’t sweat the small stuff, because I have faith in my teacher and in the practice, it will eventually bring about healing, and strength of body and mind. You are not, nor were you ever a beginner, so get off that wheel and have faith in yourself!

1.2 yogasgchittavrttinirodhah (Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.)

1.3 tada drastuh svarupe ‘vasthanam (Then the seer abides in its true nature.)

If you’re interested in the deeper discussion of how to detach yourself from your karma, read Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras Sadhanapadah (Chapter 2) and check out these links:

What’s made me happy this week: I’m still rocking out to MC Yogi’s Mantras, Beats & Meditations! And thankful for the reinforcement offered by the track ‘Truth Seeker’. Pay attention to those you meet on your journey, you don’t have to experience everything personally to gain knowledge or make good decisions.

Renewing my practice, my 5 values:

I’m blogging again. Shocking I know, after such a long hiatus. But it’s time. I’m embarking on a 12-week mission to renew my practice and reclaim my inner yoga space. Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with a long dark night of the soul kind of story, that’s not what it was. But needless to say we all lose our internal compass sometimes. We allow life’s burdens to build up rather than fall away. So I’m getting a little help from Jo at kalavati.org and looking forward to strengthening myself, body, mind, and spirit. And what better tool than yoga for the reawakening?

I’m not a self-help or life coaching kinda girl. As you all know I’m a goal setter, a list maker, a DOER. But somewhere along the way the goals stopped being interesting and I updated my New Year’s Resolutions this year out of habit rather than out of a true contemplation of where I really wanted to be.

Enter Jo! After a priorities check-in, Jo had me identify my values, so here they are:

  1. INTEGRITY: the closest yoga concept is satya or truthfulness, essentially I must live my truth, aligning my actions with my beliefs.
  2. PASSION: my favourite niyama, tapas, the internal fire that drives us to act.
  3. ACTION: karma, or affecting change in the world, I’m not the kind of person that just sits back and let’s it all pass by.
  4. GENEROSITY: complain as I might about having no money, I still offer my skills and whatever else I have to those in need. This niyama (roughly translated) is dama.
  5. CONTENTMENT: santosha is being happy where you are. Happy people don’t complain. I hate people who complain! I hate complaining!

What are your 5 values, those concepts that you come back to as fundamental to your being, the good habits that you practice and repeat, even if they’re not exactly self-serving?

Things that have made me happy this week:
MC Yogi released a new album: Mantras, Beats & Meditations! Rock the block party, manipulate the body!

Along the same lines, some old parkour/freerunning friends of mine were recently in a very visually interesting Skrillex video “Ragga Bomb”. For my friends and family abroad, this is what normal daily life is like in Joburg.

Mysore Myths, part 2

Look at your Mysore self-practice teacher, now back at your mat. Now back at your teacher- is your teacher practicing? Are you practicing? Eyes back to your mat. Sadly, your teacher is not practicing. Your teacher would be practicing if there were someone else to teach Mysore self-practice this morning; but, there is not. Eyes back on your mat. Your teacher is now looking at you and wishing that they too had a teacher to assist them during their practice. Are you present in your practice? You’re now realizing that your self-practice is possible today because of the sacrifice your teacher has made. So honour them by focussing on your practice.

“Mysore-style is where you get adjusted.”

Some practitioners have had yoga teachers who like to jump on, climb on, or otherwise man-handle a body into a posture. Some people like this because they feel they’re being ‘pushed’, ‘challenged’, or ‘opened’. (I have also seen the word ‘cranked’.) This style of adjusting is not in line with the first yama ahimsa (non-harm), and I can assure you, experienced, long-term practitioners of ashtanga vinyasa avoid these teachers like the plague they are. No good can come of forcing a posture into a body (or mind) that is not ready.

So what am I paying for?’ you might ask. First, a dedicated space and time to practice. Because we all know that rolling out your mat at the foot of your bed every morning hasn’t been working so well for you. Second, Mysore-style teachers observe a practice as a whole. If you’re struggling with something, we can usually help. And by ‘help’, I don’t mean ‘jump on’, ‘force’, or ‘crank’. ‘Help’ sometimes means redirecting the student’s focus (i.e. breathe!), or leaving the student alone to figure it out on their own.

Third, and this is the big one, teachers share the shakti energy of the lineage absorbed from their teachers and amplified through their own practice. We are here to share the practice with you, not to force our own practice on you. When we adjust manually or verbally, we do it out of love for the practice, and because we love our students. And love shouldn’t hurt. Nor should it be demanded like some sort of commodity.

So do not come into my space with an agenda of ‘getting adjusted’. And to further manage expectations, I’ll let you in on my adjusting philosophy:

1. If you’re new, I don’t adjust you. Even with beginners I won’t adjust until an understanding of the initial sequence and breathing has settled in, and that you are committed to coming. This rule also applies to people I’ve worked with before who have gone missing. So don’t expect anything from me until you’ve been coming regularly for a few weeks. Yes, weeks.

2. I start with verbal adjustments, because if you don’t listen, how can we build a relationship? Being able to process verbal adjustments demonstrates knowledge of your left from your right, and that a mind-body connection is present. It also gives me an idea of how easily distracted you are. 

3. Before manually adjusting someone, I look for a minimum amount of strength and flexibility required by the posture and an awareness of where the posture is going. I also look for correct breathing and a sense of calm. Because if I add my asana to your asana and you’re not strong enough or flexible enough, things are going to go pear-shaped and injury will occur.

4. I adjust more intensely on Mondays and Tuesdays and then I back off as the week progresses. I want to see that the effort invested has been retained and incorporated in a practice. Friday is an adjustment-free day. Yet another benefit to daily practice.

Lots of hard adjustments aren’t bad, but they’re not suitable for every day. If you want to be challenged, go to a workshop and get adjusted. Or even better, go get a massage! Afterwards, return to your mat and maintain your daily practice, which usually translates to fewer injuries when you attend those challenging workshops. In order to maintain a daily practice you can’t always be limping to your mat from all the adjustments the day before.  And to be honest, I don’t have the energy to adjust you every day in every posture, because I have to get on my mat too!

Ultimately, ashtanga vinyasa is a self-practice. Come to Mysore-style classes with the intention of self-development and the pursuit of peace and meditation on the mat. You will never leave disappointed.

Mysore Myths, part 1

There have been a few issues recently that have made me very, very grumpy. Hrrumph! Blogging fingers ACTIVATE! Stay tuned because this is just the beginning.

Queen of the East Village recently wrote a fabulous ode to the humble Mysore-style teacher here. I’m thankful for this blog post because sometimes I would love to remind travelling yogis everywhere of who it is who stays home and keeps the home fires burning (shala space/practitioner base) while we wait for your return.

More on that later. But first…

“Mysore-style is not for beginners.”

At Ekam, Mysore-style is for beginners, and I have gotten rid of any and all ‘beginner’ labelled classes. I’ve stopped targeting classes to those who brand themselves ‘beginner’ when really they are just uncomfortable or inconvenienced with being outed in a yoga class as either inflexible, weak, unbalanced, or all three at the same time. I also consider it a form of molly-coddling and generally patronizing to the practitioner. One thing Mysore-style classes clearly demonstrate (if I could get people to come) is that we’re all beginners. But you can’t be a ‘beginner’ until you take that first step and get on your mat!

Lately, in this New Year’s Resolution/Goal setting season, I’ve received emails asking if I do privates, or if I run beginners classes, workshops, boot camps, etc. I DON’T because:

  1. I don’t like the intention/expectation behind ‘private’ classes; you/your practice is not so special that you need me to personally watch you do it. I’ve run so many ‘private’ Mysore-style classes and I can assure you, it’s uncomfortable for both teacher and practitioner. An ashtanga practice is a self-practice, not a one-man/woman show.
  2. Short workshops/weekends/camps are simply a short spurt of activity usually followed by a lengthy down time wherein the student searches for their next yoga fix. One leaves these sessions thinking they’ve ‘learned’ something, but if they don’t have the self-discipline of a daily practice there’s nowhere to invest what they’ve ‘learned’.

Both of these situations ignore the fact that ashtanga vinyasa is a daily, personal practice. And the only thing that reinforces a daily practice is a daily practice. So my response to inquiries about private classes or beginner workshops is to come to Mysore-style classes! Especially for those with no experience. Mysore is an effective combination of both a private session and a workshop. The teacher gets to work with practitioners personally, and the practitioner receives benefits from other practitioner’s experiences, as well as reinforcement of the practice in a group setting. This traditional method is hundreds of years old and it wouldn’t be around today unless it really worked. In the past few years of maintaining a Mysore-style shala, I have developed a profound respect for this method and the practice. It keeps me honest as a teacher and a practitioner. As long as you get on your mat, it will work for you, I promise!

After a few weeks in the Mysore-style self-practice setting, I encourag new practitioners to start attending weekly led classes; usually around the time they reach paschimottanasana. Led classes feel like a wonderful vacation after a week of hard work. But again, the daily practice has to be there for the method to work. For those who attend only led classes once or twice a week, ashtanga can feel a bit brutal and unrelenting. The beauty comes is in finding harmony between the two.

The inspiration for this blog came from here. Love the meme!

my first yoga teacher

Ekam Yoga ran its first yoga teacher training last year. On the whole it was successful; but I was left feeling like 200 hours just isn’t enough. Yoga is vast. 200 hours feels like the blink of an eye.

Lately I’ve been thinking: what makes a good yoga teacher? Then I think: what makes a great yoga teacher? And I remember my first yoga teacher.

Her name is Debbera Blackwell and she is still teaching yoga in the Svaroopa style in Boston, where I started taking classes with her 15 years ago. Back in those days yoga was yoga and if someone were to ask me what style I practiced, I wouldn’t have understood the question. (I’m still not exactly sure what Svaroopa yoga is.) Debbera had a direct teaching style, a grounded approach, and put my flexibility and gymnastics training to the test. It wasn’t awe I developed for her, it was respect. She grounded me in proper alignment, she knew just how to build a posture so that I was challenged throughout, and she kept me coming back for more. She created such a strong foundation in me that to this day I still remember her and what she taught me.

I am inspired when I watch DVDs of advanced practitioners of ashtanga vinyasa yoga (Kino MacGregor, Richard Freeman and David Swenson to name a few). I am indebted to those who have invested time and effort to writing about ashtanga (Lino Miele and Gregor Maehle have some particularly excellent contributions). And I am grateful and humbled to practice with inspiring teachers like Michael Gannon, Eddie Stern, and Sharath. To me they are all great teachers.

To be honest, I don’t aspire to be a great yoga teacher; I only aspire to being a good one. To me it is more important to be the teacher who created space and encouraged a practice to take root and grow rather than be a towering pinnacle of how far you may get (if you practice and study hard enough for long enough). I don’t need to be the teacher who offers exclusive getaways, packed workshops, or sells lots of DVDs and books; but I’d love to be the one that points a student in the right direction and then gives them a shove down their own path. I have no desire to be the teacher that everyone’s dying to take a class with; I want to be a teacher that everyone remembers their first yoga class with. Remember? That first class where everything clicked and you said to yourself, ‘I like this, this is where I want to be, this is what I want to be doing.’

So to Debbera- thank you, you still inspire me! And to all the good yoga teachers out there who may not be in some exotic location or selling lots of DVDs, never doubt that you aren’t just as inspiring as those who are. It’s tough to be first, but it’s a lot more memorable.