Mysore myths #3: Ashtanga is hard

A week or so ago I almost got into a knock-down-drag-out argument (in public) with a friend over this myth. She’s currently training for a half marathon, and is known for readily volunteering for 100+km ultra races (both of which I would define as ‘hard’). From her perspective ‘ashtanga is hard’ and she, and others, keep trying to get me to agree with them. It won’t happen.

There is a consensus out there that ashtanga vinyasa yoga is hard. It might be the earnest clarification that the class you are about to waltz into is an ashtanga class. It could be the concerned look the teacher shoots your way when you walk in; a pained expression that conceals the incorrect assumption that you might not be ready for this. Or you might have heard it announced by a practicing ashtangi who perhaps needs a pat on the back and a thumbs up for getting on their mat today.

If practiced traditionally, ashtanga vinyasa is a set sequence of postures practiced six days a week (there are a few exceptions). Accepting a 1-2 hour daily practice is a commitment, but does it make ashtanga hard? Another observation is that the postures themselves are hard. In the traditional method, postures are practiced in sequence and as they become accessible to the practitioner. A new student would not dive into pincha mayurasana (see below) or nakrasana on the first day, but they would certainly be ready for these postures when they arrive at that point in their practice. The ashtanga series of postures are accessible to anyone willing to develop a consistent practice.

A daily practice and challenging postures don’t make something hard. I have witnessed beginners to ashtanga, to yoga, walk into a class, complete an entire primary series, and walk out again none the worse for wear. I have worked with students as they develop their practice, and I have maintained my own practice through the years, and I can tell you: ashtanga vinyasa yoga is not hard. It is the mind that makes something hard. It is the mind that says doing something six days a week is impossible. It is the mind that insists you will never get into that posture. It is the mind that tells you that repeating the same sequence every day is boring, boring, boring! What would you be able to do if your mind wasn’t so busy telling you something was hard? Instead of blaming the practice, or the style of yoga, gain control of that rogue element in your mind that has duped you into believing you can’t do it. [Helpful Hint: a consistent yoga practice assists in gaining mind control.]

I sometimes tease beginner students that they have chosen one of the most challenging forms of yoga practice. But I never doubt that the ashtanga vinyasa sequences, schedule, or lifestyle is not accessible to anyone who seeks it out.

And here’s Kino, proving it’s not hard.


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:

And the original source on FB:




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.


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!


the beginning of the Ekam Yoga YTT blogs

i’ve been in a bit of a rough patch lately, family deaths, work overload, travel, illness, mammograms, starting a new business, restarting an old one. that kind of thing.

but i’m really super excited for the upcoming Ekam Yoga Practitioner Training starting 1 july, which i’ll be teaching with my colleague 8LimbYogi. i’ve been hauling out all the books i haven’t read and re-reading the ones i know and love. and i know, deep down, that this is going to be a great experience for the practitioners and for me. but…

‘the practitioner will succeed, the non-practitioner will not. success in yoga is not achieved by merely reading books.’ -hatha yoga pradipika

the hatha yoga pradipika then goes on to say: ‘success is achieved neither by wearing lululemon nor by talking shit. only getting off your ass brings success. this is the truth, without a doubt.’ you can google that: chapter 1, verses 65-66.

one of the requirements of the training is that practitioners blog, tweet, write, journal, etc. their experience, and i’ll be joining them- blogging here about my experiences in delivering a quality yoga practitioner training. in one of my many journeys down the wikipedia rabbit hole i discovered that this is an important part of experiential learning. essentially: experiencing, reflecting, analyzing, decision making/problem solving and continuing on in the cycle. and i realized how fundamental this process is to an ashtanga yoga practice (or any yoga practice, or any practice). that is, the time and place to have the experience and to experiment with one’s experience, to reflect, analyze, try new things, make mistakes, change viewpoints, and then move on with the knowledge learned and apply it to the next experience. this thought process is very important in developing critical thinking.

the (western) yoga community these days is up in arms over injuries, scandals, and the complaint that a 200-hour teacher training just isn’t enough anymore (pssst: it never was). i think this is because of a lack of emphasis on providing an intellectual scaffolding within which to have an experience and a lack of interest in deepening a practitioner’s personal experience by allowing them to do the interpreting. and how can a (western) yoga teacher really provide that scaffolding when they themselves are trying to sell yoga mats and yoga towels and yoga socks to pay rent?

yes, many yoga teachers out there, for many reasons, are focused on selling their brand of yoga. someday i’ll tell you why. caught up in the practical workings of yoga, sometimes we forget to reinforce a student’s individual experience and encourage them to reflect on what it means to them. for example a student complains that their back hurts; a yoga teacher might respond: ‘it’s an opening, embrace it!’ and in that moment we’ve closed the door to critical thinking and experiential learning by solving the problem for them. in addition, we’ve limited ourselves and our own reflective practice as teachers. we could have asked so many questions: is this a new experience? was it a positive pain or a negative pain? does it remind you of anything? did anything else hurt? was it a physical pain or an emotional pain? let me know tomorrow if it’s still there… so much could have been discovered on both sides.

but yoga teachers are under a lot of pressure these days, to promote their brand, be competitive in the marketplace without selling their soul, avoid scandal, try not to get injured or injure someone else. we’re under pressure to have answers. logical, western answers to questions brought about by eastern practices, sometimes very much outside our cultural framework. yoga teachers are challenged with providing interpretations for personal experiences that perhaps would better be left to the person having the experience. after all, many of us have spent a lot of time on our own mats trying to assimilate our own experiences, shouldn’t we allow others to have the same pleasure? dear yogis, i can provide the space for your experience (when we open again), and i can even provide a philosophical framework for you to hang your experience on. but as for your experiences…they’re for you to reflect upon.


little things (matter!)

i’m training. that’s really all to report. training, training, training. there’s a certain relief (and release) that comes in the back of your brain when you figure out that, you don’t know how, you don’t know why, but whatever you’re doing is working. all you need to do is to keep showing up and it will all work out ok. ‘work out’ being the key method to working it all out.

how do i know?

  1. i stopped wearing insoles in my pk shoes. the mornings after jams when i put my feet on the floor and take those first steps- it doesn’t hurt anymore! ah, sweet bliss!
  2. my landings are quieter. usually.
  3. i have so much more confidence moving around the environment. it’s all starting to fall into place.
  4. i’m practicing more frequently, but getting fewer and fewer scrapes and bruises. radular!
  5. i realized a few jam sessions ago that i actually am strong enough in the shoulders to get over those walls- no need to stop and curse and switch gears before moving on. there are a few other technical difficulties, but i can’t blame weak shoulders anymore so will have to find another excuse.
  6. i can get one of my legs behind my head again (eka pada sirsasana to the yogis). yiHAH!

Here’s an appropriate yogi quote for you: ‘Before you’ve practiced, the theory is useless. After you’ve practiced, the theory is obvious.’ -David Williams

keep practicing. it will all work itself out eventually.


pk training log blog: strength 2Q12

since people are asking, here’s my next two months of training for parkour. my first two months of training this year is outlined here. remember everyone is different, so make sure you adapt your program to suit your goals, but i can say this is working well for me. ok it’s only been a week, but i know it’s going to work for me. and i can’t wait to see the results at the end of april!

  • first (and foremost): i’m practicing yoga again regularly; it is magically delicious. i’m still recovering from injuries and it’s painful, and frustrating, and it hurts sooooo goooood.
  • second: i’ve started lifting. the schedule is every other day swapping from an A schedule to a B schedule, so they don’t always fall on the same planned lifting day. does that make sense?
  • third: i’ve started running.

so here it is…

The Training Schedule (March – April 2012)


  • AM: 1-1.5 hour yoga practice in the gym (i’m going to ditch this practice, you’ll see why when you get to sat/sun, monday is going to be a snzzzzz morning now)
  • PM: 2 hour pk technique session at WITS


  • AM: 1-1.5 hour yoga practice
  • PM: Lifting Schedule A: squats, presses, dead lifts. warming up with 2 sets of only the bar and then 3 sets of 5 reps at maximum weight, essentially so my legs and arms shake a bit on the third set. full rest in between sets


  • AM: 1-1.5 hour yoga practice
  • PM: 20-30 min run


  • AM: 1-1.5 hour yoga practice
  • PM: Lifting Schedule B: squats, bench presses, power cleans. warming up then 3 sets of 5 reps at max weight


  • AM: 1-1.5 hour yoga practice (feeeeelss soooooo goooooood)
  • PM: evening off, or 20-30 min run, or avoid running, depending on mood


  • AM: JAM!
  • PM: Lifting Schedule ?, as the routines skip days it will depend which one i’m on. or if i even can lift after jamming for 2 hours


  • AM: JAM! yes, 2 days of jamming in a row
  • PM: 20-30 min run, steam, maybe practice yoga. maybe lift if i missed yesterday. essentially, whatever i can manage after jamming for another 2 hours

to sum up: eat, sleep, train, jam.

for the last 2 weeks i’ve jammed over the weekends and then done the technique session on monday evenings and i feel tons more confident about my movement and ability. i’m really amazed and really loving it! and i’m lucky i don’t have that pesky yoga studio to worry about for the next few months. or a family (my dogs are in the kennel). or a relationship. i mean- i still have time to, you know, work. and eat. and sleep. sleeeeeeeeppp.

for inspiration check this out:


ekamyogini, gym bunny

i joined a virgin active gym. all i can think is: what’s a yogi like me doing in a place like this? long story short: my seamless transition from one yoga studio location to another didn’t go as seamlessly as i’d planned. so i’m studio-less for a few months. also, my parkour training has brought me to the point where i’ve realized: i’m just. not. strong. enough. but more on that later.

the real purpose of this post is to note a yogini’s observations of the gym as a practice space and yogic environment.

  1. oom-tss oom-tss oom-tss… vande gurunam…oom-tss oom-tss… charanaravinde…oom-tss oom-tss… good thing mantra goes with any beat.
  2. mondays are BANGING, literally. but as the week goes on there are significantly fewer people. every morning i was able to park closer and closer to the entrance. where did everyone go?
  3. OMG…BREATHE! a yogi will note, almost immediately, that everyone is breathing wrong. just wrong. so much effort, so erratic. it’s actually painful to hear. no wonder so many exercise regimens fail.
  4. there’s a lot of standing around, drinking water and generally ‘resting’. as i’m about to learn with strength training, yes, you do rest in between sets. but for many it’s like a loss of focus time. they wander around, eyes glazed over, sucking on their water bottles. yep- they’re in the zone alright.
  5. this is going to sound uncharitable, but most of the people in the gym don’t actually look like they spend much time there. maybe the ones in better shape escaped! except for the scary guys in the free weight corner, darkly flexing and grunting.
  6. yoga room = spillover conditioning room or cool down room. i might be busting my ass in bhuja pidasana, but everyone else is using my tranquility to foam roll or in one case…srlsy- to SKIP ROPE! [OMG the beautiful wood floor!] and hey don’t bother to remove your shoes.
  7. upon being kicked out of the yoga room i rolled out my mat in the weight machine area. the amount of testosterone being pumped into the air there fueled an incredible primary series practice for me.

honestly, the gym isn’t such a big step from mysore-style practice. especially if you’ve ever done it in mysore or at one the bigger mysore-style studios around the world. you have to listen to people breathe, grunt, and take the occasional tumble, feel people sweat, dodge flying feet and hands (i’ve actually smacked people in the ass on both sides of me coming up from back-bends). if i hadn’t spent the last 5 years practicing in airports, hotel rooms, hallways, dining rooms, pool sides, hotel gyms and dark corners i wouldn’t have developed the pratyahara to actually enjoy my current situation. there is never a good excuse, you can practice anywhere!

and as for those guys flexing and grunting…i’ll be hopping over into their corner soon.


the 10 things i wish i had known before opening a yoga studio

today, Ekam Yoga closes its (current) doors (temporarily) for ‘renovations’. it was a fun 2 years, but i’m ready for a cleaner, better-maintained, cheaper, homier space and a more consolidated, minimalist lifestyle. the insane running around of the last 2 years is finally at an end (whew!). i can now look forward to 1 june, when Ekam will begin a new phase in Parkhurst.

i opened Ekam Yoga in March of 2010. i had these beautiful fantasies of introducing johannesburg to the joys of traditional ashtanga vinyasa yoga. i had practiced in Mysore and NYC and those places were always packed! i thought, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; the traditional ashtanga practice and teaching method is beautiful, practical, and it works. people here are going to love it!

looking back on the last 2 years, here’s the reality:

1. everyone that you need to get your studio up and running is ‘un-yogic‘. the shortlist: landlords, contractors, builders, financial advisors, interior decorators, branding agents, your own family, etc. it’s business as usual, and no one knows (or cares) what ‘yogic’ means. it’s ok. remember: you’re yogic and you understand the nature of karma.

2. your practice will disintegrate, rebuild itself, disappear, become transparent, rise, fall, and spin in circles. just like everything else in the world. you will then come to realize that you’re always practicing. and that is a priceless learning experience.

3. your practice will take new forms, for example: cup washing, mat cleaning, snack sourcing, flower arranging, website updating, email answering, budget balancing, etc. each new form reveals itself through a love of the practice.

4. you will have over 600 followers on FaceBook, but no one will show up at 6am in the dead of winter. on the up-side, you can use that time to practice! or go back to bed.

5. that person with the 2, 3 or 12 friends who can’t wait to experience your studio? they’ll never pitch. it’s the same with those who said they were coming to your workshop, your retreat, your class on saturday, etc. and then there are those that call to ask you if it’s ok to come to class (‘sure!’) and they’ll see you tomorrow am (‘bright and early!’). i’m sorry to break it to you: they’re just teasing. but there will be lots of nice surprises that walk into your studio too!

6. you will teach more private yoga classes than you thought possible, and your students will love you for it!

7. you won’t make as much money as you thought with those famous yoga teachers who pass through town. but they will draw numbers and gain recognition for your studio. they’re a lot of extra work, but they’re worth it.

8. if you stick with it, keeping true to your vision, you’ll lose friends, but you’ll make friends too. be grateful for both.

9. it will be a rough ride for a while, and you may not make it. but,

10. you will never, ever regret it.