I enjoyed such a slow practice this morning - at home, by myself. Just a candle, some incense burning and my mat. Perfect.
I caught myself during the practice wondering what it was that I was enjoying so much about it. To be truthful, my regular practice is about 90 minutes in Ashtanga yoga. But this morning I felt the need to pull right back and take my time through just 6 rounds of Sun Salutations.
I took the practice so slowly. Every movement and every breath was very intentional. I felt the urge to connect on a deeper level than ever before. I’m not sure what led me to a practice like this today, but it was exactly what I needed. It’s been a busy time as of late, and my practice has been very disrupted, so perhaps this was my body nudging me to return to myself. To care for myself a little more.
With every step, every breath, I felt nourished. I felt connected and truly present. Of course there were many times when my mind wandered off into the distance - wedding planning is front of mind at the moment - but with the steadiness of each pose I was able to quickly bring myself back. To return to my body and pay attention to what I felt physically, emotionally and energetically. In a word, the practice was - peaceful.
There is something to be said for slowing right down. Personally, I find this difficult. As a go go go person, I like to get in and get out. That’s the classic story of my life. And I know many would relate. This is perhaps one of the reasons I’m drawn to Ashtanga yoga. It’s quick, dynamic and powerful - all of which are reasons that force me to focus, which I generally find difficult to do.
But today was different. I’m not sure why, and I guess I really don’t need to. Rather, I just felt into my body and decided to take it slow and enjoy the gentle, but no less powerful, transitions and holds in the Sun Salutation. I also didn’t pressure myself to go too much further into my practice for today. A couple of forward folds, triangle pose, a detoxifying twist and then of course, savasana. It was perfect. A few moments of bliss and self love that was just for me.
This is what yoga is all about. It’s not about feeling pressured to do 60 or 90 minute classes. It’s not about tricky poses or looking awesome in a sports bra. If we make yoga about the asanas, or the ‘achievements’ then we’ve missed the point. Yoga is purely about union. And sometimes you will feel that union, as I did today, and other days you won't - as I often experience also.
The key is not to get frustrated with yourself if you didn’t get on your mat for long. Remember - it is far more meaningful and beneficial to practice one pose with presence then to practice 100 unfocused poses.
Take time to enjoy the moment, one pose, one breath at a time. x
Today was the final day of a weeklong intensive Mysore Style training with Peter Sanson. One of the original Ashtangis here in the west who lives in New Zealand, it was an honour to be guided by this man.
Training with Peter has been very confronting for me. It has raised many questions – all of which I have no definite answers for – and it has left me with a far deeper expression of compassion toward myself than I’ve ever experienced.
Peter has been practicing in Ashtanga yoga since 1985, so we can confidently assume this man has some phenomenal knowledge. To be in the presence of such a devoted practitioner is something else. We are surrounded by teachers who have completed weeklong teacher trainings and now call themselves yoga teachers – but the reality is, these people could not possibly know what it means to practice let alone teach yoga. And unfortunately yoga centers pumping out these courses are not helping the epidemic of missed opportunity. With back pockets and reputation commonly at the forefront of most teacher training courses (lets not beat around the bush here), these generic courses have sadly become more about the business of yoga. No student can possibly know themselves or what it means to practice yoga in a week, or a month, or even a year. What is yoga to these people? Any fool can get a teacher training certificate in yoga, but it takes something special to actually practice and experience the art of yoga. This man, Peter Sanson, is the epitome of yoga and what it means to live the life of a yogi. Humble, present, skilled, compassionate, genuinely non-judgmental, and excited about the possibilities the practice of yoga can bring each and every day. And this has not been achieved through an express course, I can assure you.
To be under Peter’s skilled eye, over the past week I've felt things I’ve never felt before. Some things good, others not so good. And each day I’ve spent quite some time pondering why I felt a certain way, what it meant, what did I do differently, what could I do differently next time, how does this translate into my life? As you all know, I’ve always considered yoga to be symbolic of how we live our lives and let’s just say my Type A personality was far from concealed from this man. Our first encounter is with Peter’s hands around my waist in preparation for drop backs. The only words spoken are by him and they are cues to guide me through the next posture - “inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale, drop hands to the floor…. one, two, three, four…. inhale, come up”. Peter told me I was on a mission – he could feel the tension, determination and pride I was holding in my physical and emotional body. It was like I was unconsciously wanting to prove something to him about my capabilities to the point where he almost knew more about me through this single touch than I knew about myself. He could feel the strain I was inevitably causing myself, not so much in my physical body, but in my mind.
As I drove home from that initial class, my clothes soaked in sweat, my eyes heavy and my body tired, I thought over and over about the comment that I was on a mission. What was I on a mission for? Where was I going? Why did he feel this?
It took asking myself some uncomfortable questions before I came to a possible answer. Whilst I can never know his true intention behind the comment, I chose to seek my own conclusion about what this means for me. That for as long as I can remember I’ve always felt broken, lesser than or not good enough. Chronic pain in my back coupled with sciatica leaves me feeling frustrated and disappointed in my body – on most days. I work hard to feel differently and that is a huge part of my journey, and the reality of it. So when I had the opportunity to be in the presence of such a master of yoga, I felt the need to not only prove to him that I can “do it”, but also prove to myself that I am worthy of being in his presence by “doing it”. Now that was some heavy, neurotic stuff right there! And I’m going to need to sit with this for much longer than a week – more likely the rest of my life – to try and unravel and let go of these feelings. But this is the reality of it. This is what yoga is teaching me, is showing me. These darker parts of myself that I must accept, befriend and keep under control.
As my week continued with Peter, I worked hard to practice compassion toward myself more and more. I set very high standards for myself and I really need to let that shit go. Because the reality is, yoga is not about how we look in a posture, or achieving a posture. It is about how we feel in a posture. How we experience it and what we clear out of the physical and emotional body in doing so. This is yoga. And I am so grateful to this wonderful man for reminding me of this.
Next time you step onto your mat – let go of the idea of what yoga should be, and just let it Be.
Big hugs and so much love,
Photos courtesy of @AshtangaYogaMelbourne, @tinainserra, Peter Sanson
I’ve never been precious about the fact that not all students will resonate with me as a teacher. Some people will come to a class of mine and love it, feel connected and that they’re exactly where they need to be whilst others will feel completely out of sorts, uncomfortable and never want to set foot in another class with me again. From the perspective of a student – I get it. I’ve travelled near and far to find my teacher(s). I’m particular about who I practice with and I must feel connected with them and their philosophy toward the practice. Over the years, as I delved deeper into the practice I’ve come to understand that all teachers are different. We tend to expect that going into any yoga class should result in a sensation of complete bliss, connection and calm. Whilst this can be the case, should we not trust or feel connected with our teacher then the experience can be quite the opposite. One of frustration, worry and inadequacy. The reality is, the relationship between a teacher and student will never be egalitarian and so it is crucial we feel this positive connection to ensure we feel supported in our practice and safe to be vulnerable. For it is only when this has been achieved, that we can experience the true benefits of our practice, hence why I’m so particular and why I encourage others to be particular also.
If you’ve ever walked into an Ashtanga Shala/studio, you would know it can be a little intimidating at first. The discipline possessed by these students is admirable and I thrive on being surrounded by it. This morning I was introduced to one of the most wonderful Ashtanga teachers who too practices in Mysore. I connected with her immediately and felt right at home in her presence. Tick!
Her calm, soft demeanor makes her so approachable and yet there is a strictness that one would never question or disobey. I respond well to this type of teacher as it forces me to remain focused. There is no time for my mind to wander. I am here, in the moment and connecting with each and every breath. Considering I teach most 6.00am classes at the Jessica Dewar Yoga studio, I am restricted with my ability to train with other teachers. Recently I have been granted this freedom and since training under the guidance of an expert, my personal practice has been revitalized. As I maintain a self-practice at home 6 days a week, it can be difficult to progress without the guidance of another. It is also very challenging to maintain motivation to continue with a strong practice. And I know I’m not alone when it comes to motivation. Whilst I have my morning rituals, that I would never neglect, I’ve recognized that I’m becoming stagnant in my practice. That I’m not moving forward as I would like – and I know this is because I don’t have someone assessing how I move and helping me to push the boundaries.
Well – this morning those boundaries were pushed. Full body-to-body adjustments, forcing my hips open, my spine to lengthen and my breath to come under control – I came out of my practice feeling reinvigorated. Excited to learn the new boundaries I’ve just reached. I can only be with my new teacher once weekly, but I achieved more today that I have in the past two months since returning from India.
Many new students come to our studio with similar concerns around motivation and a lack of progression. As I maintain with each of them, I believe two things to be true:
Making time to come into a sacred space once a week, and really dedicate that time to themselves without other distractions is important for mental clarity, inspiration and learning.
Maintaining a personal practice where the principals learned in class are then applied at home is key to progression.
I do not believe anyone should feel tied to a Shala/studio, but rather know that our space is there to support students as they deepen their self-study and to reinvigorate their practice also – just as I know my teacher’s space will be there for me when I can be with her. At the end of the day, we are all human and sometimes motivation does dwindle. So make some time in your diary to step into a class and/or get on your mat, be present in the moment and just Be. There is only good that can come from this place.
Sending big, positive and invigorated hugs to you all,
Many people have asked me why I practice Ashtanga yoga. Whilst I have deep respect for all styles of yoga (Hatha yoga in particular) Ashtanga has taught me many life changing lessons and I want to share three of those lessons with you today.
Lesson 1: Discipline is key
In Ashtanga, we practice the same sequence six mornings a week until given permission (traditionally) from a qualified instructor to progress to the next series. There are six series in Ashtanga yoga and each series is carefully designed to develop the right amount of balance, strength and flexibility within your body that will prepare you for a progression to the next. With this understanding of the sequences, I fully respect that I need to maintain a consistent practice in order to progress. The discipline is in the commitment to the physical practice regardless of how tired, bored or sore I am; the ritual of getting up every morning at 3.30am (I need to do this as I am teaching at 6.00am) and; most importantly, the discipline of my mind to maintain the (at times monotonous) unchanging sequence.
Lesson 2: My practice has the power to develop deep self-awareness
I continually working on the same sequence I have come to notice some deeper, subtler changes in both my body and mind. I have noticed how little niggles shift daily, how my balance is effected by my thoughts, how my breath strengthens and relieves pain in my back. Before practicing yoga, and with a very irregular practice years ago, these subtleties remained hidden. And whilst I’m mindful I have barely scratched the surface in terms of deepening my self-awareness, I do feel that I’m now heading in the right direction!
Lesson 3: Just the slightest shift in perfection will determine my day
Let’s get something clear here – I am not overjoyed when my alarm goes off at 3.30am. I’m no different to anyone else when it comes to the dread of pulling myself from my cozy bed and onto my cold mat in the living room. But what I have learned over the years is my mind will dictate my practice every morning. Without a structured practice, I would often find myself lying on my mat not doing a whole lot. Whilst I may feel tired, if I tell myself I will have a strong practice that day, then I shall. If I give in to lazy thoughts, then that is exactly how I will feel on my mat. And because Ashtanga is repetitive, I always know the difference between a focused and intentional practice, and a lazy, ‘go-through-the-motions’ practice.
How I choose to think in the morning – strong and focused or lazy and weak is exactly what I bring into the rest of my day. Whilst I’m only human and I too give into the lazy thinking, I’ve definitely recognized the power of my mind to change the direction of my practice, and my entire day, with just the slightest shift in perception.
So there you have it – three key lessons the practice of Ashtanga yoga has taught me. I lead Ashtanga classes five mornings a week at the studio to help others who are also committed to a regular practice and I welcome anyone who is keen to try. Whilst it may seem a little intimidating at first, given time, it could totally transform your life in the same way it has mine.
Well I’ve made it to the end of week 3 successfully. Not gracefully I might add - I’m bruised, have scuffed elbows, I’m sleep deprived, I can barely cross my legs, and I’m sick with a cold… but I’m still here which is testament to me!!
Although my practice was a little slow this morning, and I was a little over emotional, the rest of the day has ended quite nicely. For starters, we were given the afternoon off to study and relax. Woo hoo! I think the entire class was thrilled with the bonus free time. But before I get into that, I have to give an update on my favourite 22 year old, Brittaney, from class…
Well, today a lovely Spanish woman, Rosa, presented. Although she struggled with her English, her knowledge was excellent and she was clearly well prepared. I was the reporter for her performance today and I made sure to highlight what a wonderful job she did, from technique to understanding the benefits etc of each posture. Long story short, I wondered if Brittany would be an absolute cow toward me after yesterday or actually behave like a mature adult and take on the feedback I gave. Well - if ever I have seen a back flip in attitudes and behaviour, it was today. Her feedback for Rosa was really positive, and more importantly the criticism was constructive. Also, apparently I am the new best friend, where I couldn’t help but get the feeling she was trying to impress me. To blow me away even further, she who is too cool for taking notes or reading our manual, sat next to me at the front of the class taking notes during the technique class which followed. What the! I was so pleased. Her response to my feedback is not what I expected at all, and I feel bad for not having more belief in her potential to improve her behavour/attitude. Turns out I was wrong - and I’m glad I was. I don’t know how she will be next week, but for now her actions today are what count. Brittany wasn’t a problem at all in the end. It was two others in my group, David and Francis, who had a dummy spit at one another over a technical question. This turned into a big and inappropriate argument whilst trying to give feedback to poor Rosa. Francis ended up storming out of the shala. (I giggled internally when Brittany looked at me with a look which said, “…what childish behaviour”). What was going on with people today? I don’t know. Good thing Bharath was nowhere near..
I spent this afternoon relaxing as we were told. There is the stress case side of me which wants to spend every waking moment studying however, as my sister Alex reminded me, don’t miss the other precious moments I wont get back, like actually taking time out to enjoy the place. So I did that! After not one, but two strawberry, banana and coconut smoothies I wandered home and relaxed for the afternoon.
As it’s Chinese New Year, some residents had planned to hold a small party up in the common dining room, and as I had the afternoon off from class, I could go!
Up on the fourth floor of the building I walked in to see a number of people sitting around a table making dumplings from scratch (the pastry also), a lovely Chinese man was in the kitchen boiling and frying them, some lovely Chinese ladies were preparing various salads, chips and soups. It was really lovely what they pulled together. As I am vegan, and one other girl, they even went to the effort of making vegan dumplings - both fried and boiled. Although stuffed with coriander (my most despised herb - it tastes like poison to me) when food is being cooked for you and this means not having to leave to get dinner, you eat it. Doused in soy sauce to try and mask the flavour, they weren’t too bad!
The group all moved from the kitchen/dining area to the rooftop of the building where we sat and watched the sunset. It was really magic. The sun is a tangerine colour here (behind the haze of smog), and the lower the sun gets to the horizon the more vibrant the orange becomes. As soon as the sun was gone, there was an incredible back light over the city, and a glittering quarter moon appeared with a single star below it.
I met some lovely people this evening. In particular, I met a lovely young Indian woman, Jagriti, who is from Delhi. Jagriti, myself and a couple of Chinese people climbed to the very top of the building where we got the most magnificent view of the sun setting over Mysore. And as it was beautifully warm evening, it was so lovely sitting up there chatting.
Jagriti and her husband live in Kuwait, as her husband is an engineer for an oil company, but she will be here in Mysore training in Ashtanga for around two months. A petite woman, Jagriti and I chatted for hours about yoga, her life in India and her new life in Kuwait. It’s not often I connect with people, but I really felt she and I connected. I was excited to hear about her life and she was excited to tell me about it. I learned of her arranged marriage, what it’s like living in an Arabic country, the challenges for being an educated person in India as there is so much competition for work - mostly for men, the things I should be careful of when traveling to Delhi (this place does not sound safe at all for foreign solo women). Jagriti has also offered to take me to Lakshmi (somewhere….) where i can go shopping for some traditional clothes, bed linens etc. Maybe next week when I finish part one of my training.
Interesting fact about Kuwait - they pay people the equivalent of about $500AUD for completing each level of study (the higher the level you complete, the more money you get paid). The course is also free! Jagriti is studying Arabic and when she completed Level One, they paid her! It doesn’t happen like this in Australia. Good old Abbott has done quite the opposite! Apparently they have money to burn in Kuwait. The frustrating part is people there apparently know how to spend money but have no idea how to earn it. Interesting.
It started getting late (after 7.00pm) so we decided to call it a night. (Us yogis try to be in bed as early as possible). Although I’m not feeling 100% still, it was really nice to stop and just be for a while. I’m feeling quite relaxed after such a nice evening. It’s also nice to actually have the time to meet other people. I haven’t really had a chance to do this yet, so this has been a real bonus.
So thank you Chinese New Year. I had a lovely time celebrating with you.