Saturday, January 22, 2011

10) My first Mysore Ashtanga Yoga Class experience

When I first started to investigate about Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga after completing my Sivananda Advanced Yoga Teachers Training Course ( ATTC ) in 2004 , I came across Louise Ellis through the net .It was quite an accident that I came across her name at the site and when I went through her website I was thrilled that she too had a back ground at the Sivananda System and had done the Sivananda Yoga Teachers Training Course (TTC ) in 1971 directly under its founder Swami Vishnu devananda .Soon I was in touch with her through emails /chats but could never meet her directly until September 2010 . As my interest in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga was not very great in 2004 I dropped it and started to focus on the Sivananda System of Classical Hatha Yoga itself .  But in 2010 after I completed the Sivananda Sadhana Intensive Course ( SI) in Jan 2010 for the second time ( I did the first one in Jan 2009 ) ,I decided that it is time to move ahead of the Sivananda System and came across Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga in Summer of 2010 .I have detailed in my earlier blog post  titled "2 How my Ashtanga Vinayasa Yoga practice began " about this journey .
So in the summer of 2010 when I started seriously getting interested in the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga I decided to learn it myself using Books , DVD's as there was  no proper Ashtanga Shala in my City ,Chennai .In fact in India itself there is no proper Ashtanga Shala except the one of Pattabhi Joise  in Mysore run now by Sharath and Saraswathi .Of course there are few others in Mysore and other places but those are being run by people not directly Certified by Pattabhi Joise . So as a first step I got the relevant books related Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga like David Swenson's Ashtanga Yoga Manual ,Gregor Maehle's Ashtanga Yoga books ( both Primary as well as Intermediate series ) , downloaded the Ashtanga Surya Namaskar A,B Charts as well the entire Primary series Charts from the internet , downloaded David Swenson's Primary series videos from you tube and started learning on my own and practicing the same . As there is a wonderful online ashtanga community on the net  ( and some even maintaining detailed blogs of their practice right from the start ) I could very much connect with the way many people have started their ashtanga journey ,the challenges they faced etc etc .
Once I got bit familiar with the Ashtanga Surya Namaskar A,B and the standing poses I felt the need for a guided audio practice and got hold of Sharath's Ashtanga Primary Audio CD (Available from the site ) and started to practice the same . It felt as though Sharath was personally instructing me . Though my practice was only up to the completion of the standing sequences ,I felt that I have got a good start as far as my ashtanga vinyasa practice was concerned .It took me a while to get used to this Ashtanga Vinyasa Practice as I come from a different style whose sequence and method are very much different from that of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and whose style I have been practicing for more than  10 years . Even though I was happy with my personal  Ashtanga Vinaysa practice I felt the need for a direct initiation of the practice under a proper certified ashtanga vinyasa teacher  as I felt that while books , DVDs ,CDs can give you knowledge , inspiration and instructions they cant give you the energy of a live teacher . So while I was probing over how to solve this problem of finding a proper live ashtanga teacher to initiate my Ashtanga Journey I came across again Louise Ellis and got to know from her website that she is giving her Mysore style ashtanga classes in Rishikesh from September - December 2010 . This was like a spiritual call to me as Rishikesh in the land of Yoga where my first spiritual Guru Swami Sivananda started his Global spiritual mission and since Louise Ellis also started her Yoga journey with Sivananda Tradition in 1971 ,I felt that nothing better can be than having my first proper ashtanga initiation at Rishikesh ,the land of Yoga under a senior Ashtanga Vinyasa Teacher  who also has a Sivananda background .So I immediately booked my ticket as well as the hotel reservations to Rishikesh for end of september 2010 and luckily a friend of mine also wanted to join me ( though he was not interested in practicing ashtyanga yoga and  he wanted to just have a spiritual break in Rishikesh ) .Luckily for me the flight was available at very cheap rates and the hotel was also not expensive( I stayed at Hotel Narayan Kunj , Swarg Ashram , near Ram Jhula Rishikesh ) and  since it was being shared by my friend  I have to pay only half the rate and I felt like things were all falling in place . As I was visiting North India itself after a gap of 14 years and Rishikesh after 19 years and I was full of excitement .I sent an email to Louise Ellis informing my confirmation of my trip to Rishikesh to take her classes .
Once I landed in Rishikesh on Mon 27 September 2010 evening ,the first thing that I did was to  visit the Holy Ganges river and wash my hands ,legs and sprinkle few drops of the holy ganges water  on my head as a symbolic holy bath and then  visited  the Samadhi Shrine of my spiritual Guru Swami Sivananda at Divine Life Society to receive his blessings before starting my Ashtanga Vinyasa Journey . When I came back to the hotel I got in touch with Louise Ellis over her cell and informed her of my arrival and she told me to come for class the next day at 7 a.m at the Yoga Hall at  the Divine  Ganga Cottage near Laxman Jhula in Rishikesh .
I went half an hour early and when Louise Ellis came I informed her about my lack of real life  training in Ashtanga and she told me not to be worried about the same and just relax as this was a Mysore class and there is absolutely no pressure on me to be intimidated by other's performance .She handed out to me a photo copy of Ashtanga Primary series sheet as well as the copy of Ashtanga Prayer sheet .

The class started it at 7 a.m ( Tue 28 September 2010 ) with the Ashtanga Prayer and after that everyone started to do their own self practice and I started doing on my own Ashtanga Surya Namaskar A-5 rounds and B - 5 rounds and Louise Ellis was watching me over and she said they were correct and after that she demonstrated one by one each of the Standing Sequence and asked me to do the same . I had no problem in doing most of them except  Utthita Hast Padangushtasana ( Upright Hand to Big Toe Posture )  .After the standing poses were over , she introduced  to me one by one  the basic sitting poses  along with the Vinyasyas between the sides as well as between the postures up  to Navasan and said  that for any beginner to Ashtanga Vinyasa practice Navasan is the stopping point and after that one can continue with the concluding postures.For me the sitting postures some were easy and some were challenging  and it was quite a new challenging experience for me doing the Vinyasas between the sides as well as between  the postures  and finally  and I did the concluding postures on my own  and I got wonderful adjustments from Louise Ellis for Paschimottasana( Intense Western Stretch )  and Urdhva Padmasana ( Upwards Lotus Posture ) .The concluding postures were not a great difficulty for me as I am used to head stand , shoulder stand , halasan etc as part of the Sivananda Asana routine .Then I had a very good final relaxation for  10 mts .The entire session lasted 90 mts and I concluded around 8.30 a.m and she told me that this will up my regular practice for the next few months and I need to master all the postures up to Navsan before proceeding to the other postures in the primary series .
So this was my first ever real life Mysore Ashtanga practice in a Shala under a real life teacher and happy that I got my formal Ashtanga Initiation under Louise Ellis and I can never forget this first ever Mysore Ashtanga Class experience  on Tue 28 September 2010 at Rishikesh  under Louise Ellis and I consider that date to be my date of formal initiation in to Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga .

Sunday, January 9, 2011

9) Yoga Beyond the Mat

While most of us are aware of the type of yoga to be done on the mat but when it comes to practicing Yoga beyond the mat many of us are confused as to how it should be done . Some consider Yoga to be just what is being done on the Mat and nothing more than that . So when someone says that they are practicing Yoga they mean that they are practicing Yoga on the Mat and nothing more than that and they evaluate themselves as to how far they have progressed in Yoga by how many postures they have learnt , how long they can hold the postures , how many rounds of Surya Namaskar they can do , whether they can stand upside down in Headstand or  do advanced balancing postures like Peacock ( Mayur Asan)  , Scorpion , Crow etc . Some measure their yogic life by how many time a week they practice Yoga , how many times a week they take sattvic food , how many times they meditate , how many yoga sutras or Bhagavad Gita verses they have mastered  etc etc .First of all we must understand that Yoga means joining or integrating and hence when we say that we are practicing yoga we need to include in it all aspects of our life and not just confine it to yoga on the mat .While Yoga on the Mat is the very visible part of this journey ,there is a larger invisible yogic journey that is happening beyond the mat but since it does not have a structure like Ashtanga , Iyengar , Sivananda ,Anusara etc it is never discussed much and many do not know what it means to practice yoga beyond the mat . Yoga beyond the mat varies from person to person and situation to situation and there can be no standard yardstick for the same .Take for example the topic on Being Honest or Truthful . While we need to be honest and truthful in our speech most of the time but there are circumstances where we need to lie ,say for example your friend/family member  is seriously ill and admitted in the hospital and while the Doctor says to you personally that he/she will not be alive for long but request you not to reveal the same to the patient , you must not say No No I practice honesty in my speech and if the patient asks me what they Doctor is saying ,I will reveal to him the truth that he will not live for long . This is the most cruel way of practicing Honesty or truth in speech .So in each and every situation in life we need to weight the pros and cons and act accordingly and there is no standard rule for everyone /every situation .While scriptures like Bhagavad Gita , Yoga Sutras talk about Good /Bad , right /wrong ,standard set of universal values  like Yamas ,Niyamas etc etc but kindly note that  life is no black and white where all things are either all  black or  all white and there are hundreds of shades of grey between them and it is these  grey situations that are tricky and need to be handled and no scripture can come to your Guidance under these grey circumstances .So what is to be done under these circumstances ? There is no easy answer but Sages of the past have given 2 tools to be used when we are confronted with a difficult situation :
1) Put yourself in the shoes of the other person and see what you would do in a similar situation 
2) Introspect yourself as to your  motive behind doing anything i.e are u doing it for some seeking some rewards ( monetary or otherwise ) , are u doing it to seek love , approval or appreciation from the other .

 Putting urself in to the  shoes of the other person and verifying whether you are doing anything for selfish reasons will help you un condition your mind and give your more mental space and this extra mental space will help you get the necessary clarity to take proper decisions appropriate to the situation . But this is easily said than done as the mind has been conditioned  for centuries to think in terms of what benefit it will get directly or indirectly and suddenly asking it to revert to an unselfish situation will not work so easily .But all said and done this is the only way we can see things for clear as they are and not what we want it to be .

While the entire yoga market is flooded with Books and DVDs related to yoga postures only few are related to practicing yoga beyond the mat and I found the following 2 books very good ( links given above ):
1) Bringing Yoga to Life : The Everyday practice of Enlightened Living by Donna Farhi 
 2) Living your Yoga : Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life by Judith Lasater

Both Donna Farhi and Judith Lasater are seasoned yoga practitioners and teachers and have a rich experience of  not only yoga in general but life itself in particular and the wisdom accumulated by them in their many years of teaching yoga to people from various walks of life in various countries world over  are very much reflected in both these books and  I suggest every serious Yoga practitioner / teacher  to have these books as a guiding tool in their yoga journey as many of the tricky situations we encounter in our yogic life either as a practitioner / teacher have been already encountered by them before and they have given their own insights as to how they have handled them .