self-development

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

 

 

 

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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.

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.

so you want to practice intermediate series?

below is an article i wrote about 2 years ago when an occasional student insisted i teach them 2nd series. i intended it for the Ekam website but couldn’t figure out how to tone it down enough for general consumption. i’ve had my personal battles with learning intermediate series, especially without a qualified teacher. perhaps this was a way to vent my own frustration with learning 2nd series on my own- a process that is still ongoing after 3 years. i did do some research when i was writing the information below- this isn’t stuff i just made up because i think i’m a bad ass. i sympathize with those learning intermediate on their own, it’s a truly devilish sequence of postures and the risk of injury is greater than that in primary series. so if you want to learn intermediate series (from me) i’ll refer you here first. and i’ll be very honest that i’m still on my own journey though this sequence. i truly believe in the criteria outlined below, which is why i am currently not practicing 2nd series, but i do assist others (and believe me, i recognize the ethical issues of this).

‘primary series is for students, intermediate is for teachers, advanced is for demonstration.’ – Sri K Pattabhi Jois.

The intermediate, or ‘second series’ of ashtanga vinyasa yoga is a challenging set of asanas that work deeply into the body and the mind. This series of postures, known as ‘nadi shodhana’ or ‘channel cleansing’, requires the ‘yoga chikitsa’ (yoga therapy) learned in the primary series to create a grounded physical base for this more energetic sequence. The intermediate series is a much deeper practice than the primary series, while being complimentary to it. Just as primary series pulls and twists your physical body, the intermediate series pulls and twists your nervous system and the energy channels that run throughout the body- the nadis. And like the primary series, each posture in the sequence prepares you for the next.

For many students of ashtanga vinyasa, beginning to practice the intermediate series will be the first time the student has experienced the traditional method. Many people (like me) learned primary series all at once from a DVD, a book, at a gym, or at a yoga studio during a full primary series led class. So learning one posture at a time, slowly integrating it into your daily yoga practice, may be a new concept. Like the primary series, the intermediate series of postures can take years to learn- perhaps a whole lifetime.

Learning the intermediate series is rewarding, but takes a serious amount of physical, mental and emotional commitment. If you don’t have the strength and the stamina to complete the primary series and feel energized afterwards, you will not be able to advance in your second series practice. Second series postures are added, one at a time, to your primary series practice, testing your physical and mental endurance. To be truly ready to embark on this next level of your practice, you should be able to answer ‘Yes’ to the following statements:

  1. I have been practicing the primary series at least 4-5 times/week for at least a year. In addition, I am capable of sustaining a 4-6 day/week practice indefinitely.
  2. I know the correct vinyasas for entering and exiting all postures of the primary series.
  3. I can perform all jump backs and jump throughs between each posture all the time, every time, throughout the entire primary series.
  4. I am capable of binding myself in Marichyasana D and Supta Kurmasana. I am able, or nearly able, to stand up from Urdhva Dhanurasana and drop back into the posture unassisted or with very little assistance.
  5. I have the time for my daily practice to run up to two hours in length.
  6. I have attained yoga chikitsa (yoga therapy) and my life is in balance. I am content in my current yoga practice.

Also, review the first two limbs of Ashtanga, the yamas and the niyamas, and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Ahimsa (non-violence): Do I knowingly bring myself to the point of injury in my current yoga practice? Am I able to recognize an injury before it manifests and change to avoid it or ask for help?
  2. Satya (truthfulness): Am I honest with myself with regard to my capability within my practice?
  3. Asteya (non-stealing): Am I taking away time and effort needed in my primary series practice?
  4. Brahmacharya (going with God): Is this truly a good use of my energy? Do I have constancy in my practice, offering it as a prayer or meditation rather than just a physical effort?
  5. Aparigraha (non-grasping): Am I trying to acquire 2nd series rather than seeing it as a daily meditation and act of humility?
  6. Saucha (purity): Am I approaching this new level of my practice with purity, having uncluttered my primary series practice? Am I open to the benefits the practice will bring?
  7. Santosha (contentment): Am I content with my current practice, regardless of whether or not I ‘advance’ in 2nd series? Would I be happy practicing primary series for the rest of my life?
  8. Tapas (austerity): Do I have not just the desire, but the discipline to carry my practice further, despite what it may bring?
  9. Svadhyaya (self-study): Do I seek 2nd series as a way to know myself better? Regardless of what it uncovers?
  10. Isvara-Pranidhana (surrender to God): Can I surrender my practice to a greater power, open to what each day may bring, whether great advancement or serious setback?

Finally, students wanting to learn intermediate series postures will need to attend Mysore-style self-practice at Ekam Yoga for at least a month before any postures are added. This is so we can observe your current practice, work with you where necessary, and ensure an open, honest relationship between student and teacher moving forward. Traditionally, postures are given by the teacher, not asked for by the student- are you ready to surrender your practice and trust another to guide you? We as teachers are also slowly deepening our own practices with these postures and that resources regarding the intermediate series are currently thin on the ground in South Africa. We are doing the best we can, grounded in a respect for ourselves and our practice, and with awareness of our own strengths and limitations. We are all a part of the journey.

every practice is beautiful

i’m still high from an amazing jam i had two saturdays ago. after a week of rest from strength and conditioning i felt like i was floating that day. there’s nothing like a nice float through things you once thought were impossible to encourage you to dig deeper. but then i saw the video. yes, the video footage of my so-called floating. and there i was, mentally, back at square 1.

there are a lot of parkour and free-running videos out there- most of them are not very good. people are quick to film themselves doing something they think is awesome, but they forget to add the awesome. i’ve been on a mission lately trying to find those few and far between videos of traceurs/euses that really get to the essence of beautiful movement and combine it with the art of photography and video. so i’ll save you from wasting 2 minutes of your life watching me until i’ve created something worth watching. you’re welcome. but if you’re willing to waste a few minutes of your life on worthwhile parkour/videography, here are a few links:

i’m thankful that the yoga community isn’t about posting videos of awesome yoga tricks. oh wait, they are. for the most part yoga videos have stayed instructional or inspirational rather than being promotional. ok nevermind, upon review, it really is mostly about self-promotion. recently i told a friend that if i ever said i was making a yoga video or writing a book about yoga to please, please stop me. i’m going to leave inspiration to the masters.

so how did it happen that my practice that saturday felt amazing but looked like crap? because every practice is beautiful. and this is my message for today- your practice is beautiful whether you were flying through the air with the greatest of ease or crumpled on your mat in a pile of blood, sweat and tears. any practice that is a true expression of your current state is beautiful. all those bodily fluids are just as much a part of you as the wind in your hair. and however good or bad you feel while you’re practicing, if you can live in that moment, you have found your moment of truth.

beginners claim to me that their practice looks terrible, that they’re not as good as [that person on the mat next to them], that they will never be able to jump through to sitting, they will never be able to get that bind. when i watch a practitioner, when i see the evidence of passion, frustration, exultation, or pure doggedness, i see a person whose practice is real, grounded in truth, and who is experiencing transformation on a molecular level. and that is a beautiful thing. sometimes, one of my jobs as a yoga teacher is to refocus the practitioner’s awareness from the actual, physical practice to what is going on deep inside and to help the practitioner transcend both the ‘good’ practices and ‘bad’.

i’ve never seen myself practicing yoga, but i feel amazing when i do it- that’s real. i’ve reached the point where my yoga practice is fulfilling whether i’m lying in snot on my mat or flowing from one chaturanga to the next (sometimes both are happening at the same time). so for my parkour practice, i’m resolving to take the perceived difference between how it feels and how it looks, and transcend it. i know i’m getting stronger and more agile, and sometimes i really do feel like i’m floating. so i’m going to avert my eyes from the video evidence and keep my mind on the practice itself and its transformative effect on both my physical form and my mental self-doubt. and someday i will make that video worth watching.

Goal Setting Part 4: FAILURE is inevitable

hate to break it to you, but it is. failure is part of life, like the non-existence of santa. i probably won’t ever have a  6-pack no matter how many sit-ups i do, or how many months i don’t drink.

we’re a week into the new year and already i can bet you rands to onion rings that 99% of the world’s population has already defaulted on 50% of their new year’s resolutions. i myself had to finish the last 3 beers in the fridge before i could start my unwritten ‘no alcohol until 1 may, unless i’m out at a restaurant with friends’ resolution (see that big loop-hole? that goal has failure written all over it.). and my friend can’t start training with me until monday, because, well, that’s the day when she starts new training programs. so, what do you do when you fail?

first, it’s not a failure! remember when i mentioned that you shouldn’t be able to attain 50% of  your well-written SMART goals? in the end it’s not about the goal- it’s about the journey to the goal, the process of defining what you really want, how you’re going to get it, and why it’s important to you. the goal-setting process is really just self-awareness, self-discovery and self-mastery all wrapped up in a clever disguise. so rather than beating yourself up because you didn’t climb kilimanjaro or get a puppy this year (2 goals i wrote down for 2012), take a step back and reassess.

did i go about it in the right way? like my ‘6-pack in 6 months’ goal it was not well-defined and poorly planned. i didn’t clearly articulate what i wanted and i wasn’t able to do what was required to attain it. the take home message: get better at breaking down the goal into easily identifiable, doable tasks. get better at knowing what you’re capable of and what you’re willing to sacrifice. self-awareness, self-discovery, self-mastery.

did i really want this?  i looked at my goals from last year and read the bit about the puppy and wondered: who wrote that? my life has changed so much in the last year, it would have been totally inappropriate to add a puppy to the mix. so the goal has been marked undone (no gold star, sad face) and i don’t feel any sense of failure around it. take home message: things change, in retrospect- not all goals are appropriate, cut your losses, move on. self-awareness, self-discovery, self-mastery.

i only made if half-way. only half-way? awesome! rather than dwell on the half that you didn’t achieve, look at how you got as far as you did. what were your incentives? how did you motivate yourself? what was the difference between what you accomplished and what you didn’t? could you have gone about it in a different, more efficient way? self-awareness, self-discovery, self-mastery.

you know how we always say ‘survival of the fittest’ or ‘whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’? goal setting is a winnowing process that separates what we’d like to have from what we really desire and need. and it gives us the knowledge to identify these things more readily when they arrive in your life unannounced and unwritten. who’d have thought that my 2010 goals to reduce my ‘stuff’ and live a more minimalist lifestyle would only resolve after i was laid off in july of this year. it was ironic to look back and see that written goals like ‘downsize my truck’ and ‘clean out my closets’ happened when i was faced with a much larger, more pressing, unwritten challenge of ‘GET A JOB NOW!’ and ‘FIND A SMALLER PLACE TO LIVE!’

past failures made me more capable and adaptable, and more readily able to recognize opportunities to make necessary sacrifices to do what needs to be done. when i look back on all my years of goal setting, i don’t remember what i didn’t accomplish, i only know i’m where i am today because of what i did. and it’s a good place to be.