Archive for the ‘correct method’ Category

Mysore MC – Getting ready to ride again

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

Mysore MC designI’ve just finished this t-shirt design project called Mysore MC. The project was inspired by our last trip when I hired a motorcycle for the month which reminded me of wilder biker days in South Africa, nearly 20 years ago now.

We’ll be in Mysore again at the end of September and will be staying 4 months. We’re looking forward to catching up with old and new friends and diving deeply into the practice.

Method to the Madness slogan on a banner

If you’d like to know what the coconuts and diamond symbolise or what the message on the back of the t-shirt ‘method to the madness’ means you can check out my blog post Is there method to the madness? on Wildheart Media.

sharath london conference notes

Friday, September 27th, 2013

Sharath London conferenceIt’s been a month now since Sharath’s visit to London. I’ve finally got round to transcribing the first part of his Sunday conference. At the end of this talk there’s a Q & A session which is really interesting. Hopefully I’ll get round to transcribing the Q & A session at some point too. Just a note about the picture I’ve chosen. This was taken by Bill Brundell in August 2013 when Sharath was teaching in Stockholm.

Sharath Sunday conference

Asana is just one limb of ashtanga yoga. It’s a very important limb. But asana is not itself the final stage of yoga. It is just the beginning. But everyone has to begin from somewhere.

You can’t get a degree in university without first going to school. Not everyone goes straight to samadhi. If you do a teacher training you won’t go to samadhi.

So it’s a process which should happen slowly. Through asanas we have to cleanse our body and mind. That is the purpose of doing asana. That is the purpose of asanas to purify the body and mind. While we are doing asanas we need to adopt yamas and niyamas. Yoga is for self-transformation. Patanjali says “chitta vritti nirodhah” (Patanaji’s Yoga Sutras 1:2) means to withdraw your sense organs to control your mind.

The process is to start with asana practice. Then you need to apply the yamas and niyamas, then the transformation starts happening in us. Once we put more understanding towards the yama and niyama.

Guruji always used to say: 99% practice 1% theory. Many people misunderstood this to mean that you should do asana all the time.

99% practice means that we should practice in our daily lives that means yama and niyama. All these things you should apply in your life. Don’t just keep talking, talking should be only 1%.

Only when we have a better understanding of the yamas and niyamas and practice, that becomes abhyasa. “abhyasa vairagyabhyam tat nirodhah” (Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 1:12) Once we have a proper practice within us then it is possible to withdraw our sense organs.

When it comes to asana there are thousands of asana in this parampara. Krishnamacharya. In this lineage we have seen 600 – 1000 asana. This system is totally different from other yogas. There are many different states of yoga. When someone puts their surname next to yoga then there’s a new type of yoga.

There are many many asanas, why? These particular style of yoga is differnt than others. This is the traditional practice which has come from many generations. This system is called vinyasa system. Vinyasa means lots of movements in the postures and breathing techniques. Other yogas don’t talk so much about breathing, they just do the postures.

Why is vinyasa important. Vinyasa is used to purify the nervous system. Asana as I told you is the process to purify the body and mind. So this vinyasa process, by doing this we generate internal heat – which removes the toxins. Once the toxins are removed from the body the body becomes healthier. So by doing asanas it’s like a meditative practice and it gets deeper and deeper when you practice for a long time.

Then it becomes like a meditative practice so you can withdraw your mind, or control your mind slowly. I know many postures are difficult for you, whenever that posture comes you get fear. But practice “sa tu dirghakala nairantarya satkara adara asevito dridhabhumih” (Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 1:14) – practice you can’t do two days in a week – start and then stop. it has to be “sa tu dirghakala” that means long time for many months/years. Nairantarya – continuously, with respect and gratitude. Then only you have a proper foundation. Once we have a proper foundation then we can go to higher levels of yoga.

So this vinyasa system can’t be understood in a few months, it takes years. The body has to change and the breathing technique you have to understand and by applying that when you do asanas. The process takes a long time to understand and practice.

So this is Krishnamacharya’s lineage which as come to us from now.

A Weekend with Joey

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

joey-milesSat 1st – Sun 2nd Sep 2012

Check out Joey’s October weekend workshop in Hebden Bridge

I was really looking forward to Joey’s weekend workshop as I knew it would be inspiring, engaging and intense – and he didn’t disappoint! He likes to work people hard and has a really good understanding of the physics of the body but he also encourages a sense of exploration and enquiry into your practice.

Samasthiti: The art of verticality (Sat am)

The first session was a detailed examination of the standing sequence. We broke each asana right down, focusing on alignment and directionality, constantly questioning which way our hips, ribs, thighs, shins, etc. are moving in each posture. We also looked at the confusion caused by directionality when we move into a bend or inversion!

Joey continually encouraged us to be curious about our practice. He also invited us to practice vivisection of awareness of the body, focussing on each body part in turn, whilst always experiencing at least one breath as a whole, unified, being in each posture.

We did a lot of work exploring the movement of the shoulders and arms and were enlightened as to where our shoulders are located on the body (seemingly not where most people think!) We were also encouraged to lengthen and create space at all times in the spine, the ribs, the neck, the torso and the legs.

Chanting the Yoga Sutras and Pranayama (Sat pm)

After lunch we spent a couple of hours chanting some of the 1st chapter (Samadhi Pada) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. We then broke down small sections of the sutras and looked at the meaning, interpreting how we could apply the guidance to our daily practice and every day lives in general. I found this fascinating as, although I’ve chanted the whole of the Yoga Sutras before (in Monica Marinoni’s Brighton workshop in June 2011), I’ve never really explored the translation in detail. I was struck by how relevant and meaningful Patanjali’s advice is, even in modern Western society.

We put one of the sections into practice as we briefly tried out the meditation techniques referred to in sutra 17. First we meditated on an object in front of us for a few minutes with our eyes open (vitarka), then we closed our eyes but tried to keep the object in our mind’s eye (vichara). Next we let the object go and meditated on a feeling of bliss conjured from a memory (ananda), and finally we let the bliss go and meditated simply on a sense of “I am” (smita). I found this a useful practice in developing a stronger sense of chitta vrtti nirodhah (the quietening of mental activity), which is the fundamental essence of yoga.

Counting Vinyasa in the Primary Series (Sun am)

joey-milesThis was a led primary session practising the correct vinyasa to a Sanskirt count – or at least attempting to! Again, we broke down and repeated some sections, which included some partner work, to understand the count correctly.

I found this really useful, as I had been counting through my own practice for a few months following a week of led primary with Sharath in London last September. However, I wasn’t sure I was counting correctly so I stopped, rather than get into bad habits. It turns out I was counting some of it wrong!

There are various breaths that don’t have a number assigned to them and various anomalies so it’s difficult to remember it all correctly. I had forgotten, for instance, that every seated posture begins on sapta (7) as this is what number you’d be on if you did a full vinyasa to standing between each asana. There are patterns, though, so the 1st side of a seated pose is always astau (8) and the 2nd side is always pancadasa (15). Joey encouraged us to remember this by constantly asking “What number are you on?”, which we sometimes managed to answer correctly!

Inversions (Sun pm)

I was feeling fine by Sunday lunchtime but the final session finished me off! It was all about inversions, namely shoulder stand, headstand and handstand. We explored lots of prep postures and exercises for headstand, which were mainly focused around the shoulders and upper arms. In particular, interlacing the fingers behind the back and pulling the shoulder blades together, as in Prasarita Padottanasana C, is great prep for shoulder stand. This encourages the action of standing on the musculature around the spine and tops of the arms, rather than standing on C7 at the base of the neck, as is so common in shoulder stand.

Joey explained that handstand is great prep for headstand and we experimented with kicking up against the wall (which I found impossible!) and working together to achieve a straight line against the wall so we could replicate it away from the wall.

Overall, it was an intense, but enjoyable, weekend. I learnt a great deal about technique, alignment, breath, Sanskrit counting and yoga philosophy, which I intend to try to apply to my own practice.

Thanks Joey for an inspiring and informative workshop!

Check out Joey’s October weekend workshop in Hebden Bridge

An invitation to daily practice

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

ashtanga daily practiceSo you’ve been practicing yoga for a while. You love it. You’ve bought a nice mat, a fancy mat bag, you have the right clothes, you may even have one of those little scented pouches to put over your eyes when you’re in savasana at the end of your practice. You may even get up early a couple of mornings a week to practice Mysore style Ashtanga yoga. Maybe you’ve not quite managed to get up early to practice in the traditional way, but it intrigues you and you’d like to give it a go. Is this you? Well then dear reader you’re in for a treat!

Daily Ashtanga practice

Firstly lets clarify what daily Ashtanga yoga practice actually means: It’s practicing early morning Sunday to Friday with a rest on Saturday. Easy eh? It’s not even daily! But wait a minute! We also don’t practice on new or full moon days either – Bonus! And if you’re a lady you also get the first 3 days of your period off. By now we are all punching the air as we get ready to unroll our mats right? But hang on a minute, why the heck should we practice 6 days a week? What are the benefits?

The benefits of daily practice

The benefits of yoga postures are well recorded. Guruji, the late K Pattabhi Jois documented the benefits of the Ashtanga primary series in his book: Yoga Mala. Although the practice affects different people in different ways it will make anyone stronger and more flexible. I’ve never been overweight by western standards but I’ve also lost and kept off a fair amount of weight (around 15kg), My body is toned and my skin is healthy, my immune system is strong – meaning that I suffer from a brief mild cold once every 18 months, my hair and nails grow at a rate of knots, I have good posture, balance and core strength. Harder to measure are the mental/emotional benefits which I consider to be: an increase in humility, patience, sense of humour, perception, honesty, empathy, and self discipline. I’ve also directly witnessed someone with bowel difficulties, indigestion, excess gas and irritable bowels experiencing dramatic immediate alleviation of these symptoms as a direct result of daily practice of the Ashtanga primary series. All of this however is anecdotal and I can’t say specifically what the benefits will be for you but I can share with you my journey to daily early morning Mysore style Ashtanga yoga and invite you to experience it yourself at a shala near you. The chances are if you’re still reading this then it’s something you’re interested in.

Getting it

I’m not one of those lucky few who got it (it being daily practice) immediately. For me it was a slow progression to daily practice – one that could have been quicker. So let me say this: If you are serious about giving the practice of Ashtanga yoga a good go – I’d like to encourage you get up early tomorrow morning, go to your nearest shala and present yourself to the teacher there regardless of having ever done any Ashtanga yoga. Do the same thing a minimum of 5 days a week for at least two months. After that make an informed decision as to whether it’s something you’d like to pursue. Put aside your reservations and find out for yourself! There is nothing more compelling than your own direct experience. Go for it!

If you still have reservations and/or like to read blog posts then lets move on:

How early?

There are a number of natural obstacles that appear along the road to daily practice. First off if you’ve never done an early morning Mysore class there’s the ‘getting up earlier’ obstacle to overcome. This is how I did it:

Firstly I’d like to say that I’ve never been a ‘morning’ person. I’d been going to led beginner’s evening classes for a month or so with a friend. I loved the intensity of these led sessions. The teacher noticing that we were coming regularly, encouraged us to come to the early morning Mysore style class. So my mate and I decided at the end of a week that we were going to take the plunge and agreed to meet at the yoga studio at 6:30am the next Monday morning. I found it quite exciting getting up early – like I was going on some exotic holiday. Everything was the same but it looked different at that time of the morning.

My friend soon moved away from Brighton but our pact was very useful to get me over the hump of getting up early. The only way to get up early consistently is to go to bed earlier. Doh! While you’re getting up early and going to bed late it’s going to be a bit of a bumpy ride. It’ll take a while for your body clock to adjust.

Know what you want

You can’t make a big change like practicing daily without it affecting other areas of your life. It will bring into focus what you really value and then you can make decisions based on what’s important to you. You may discover that that you really love cycling and swimming.

To begin with I was practicing on average 3 times a week in the morning and also doing regular martial arts classes 3 times a week. While this may sound like a good balance in practice it meant that I couldn’t fully commit to either activity. Eventually I decided to let go of the martial arts to fully immerse myself in the practice.

You may have another physical activity that you enjoy in your life besides Ashtanga yoga – and you don’t have to give it up. The fact is that we can’t do all the things we enjoy in life as much as we’d like to. In my case I asked myself what I’d still likely to be doing when I’m 70 or 80 and the answer for me was clearly yoga. In fact my inspiration was meeting a 72 year old at a weekend yoga workshop some years earlier. My first yoga teacher was also in his 60s when I met him. In the end it was a relief rather than a sacrifice to make the decision.

Keeping it going

The other thing I was struggling with was consistency in my practice. My ‘flexible’ schedule meant that if I missed practice on Monday I could still make it up later in the week. The problem was I tended to be too ‘flexible’ and then would practice Wed, Thurs and Friday followed by 3 or 4 days off. The body craves routine and there’s nothing quite like consistent daily practice. It’s difficult to emphasize how important this consistency is when it comes to yoga practice.

Hard times

When it comes to daily practice over a long period of time – pain and upset is unavoidable. You can’t dramatically change your breathing pattern, stretch your muscles and open your joints and not expect there to be consequences of such deep and profound body work. It also seems very likely (if you consider Body Psychotherapy) that we store and process our experiences both mentally and in our physical bodies.

Yoga therapy

The work we do on our mats can have a powerful impact on our emotional states as we begin the healing process of breathing deeply into our deepest and tightest places: be they hips, shoulders, chest or back. I’ve shed many tears on my mat and at times collapsed with exhaustion or stomped off my mat in anger and frustration.

Practice with faith

Hopefully by the time the hard times come you’ll have built up enough faith in the practice to know that it’s really a processs of deep healing rather than destructive pain. Very often medicine doesn’t taste nice but it’s good for us so we take it. Being part of a community of fellow practitioners is really important because you very quickly discover that there are many that have gone through nearly exactly the same thing as you are. Ask any practitioner who you admire or respect and they’ll recount numerous harrowing experiences about knees, hips, wrists, shoulders… you name it.

Again not everyone suffers the same difficulties and some are blessed with seemingly minor troubles. It’s best not to judge and instead to cultivate an attitude of gratitude for your own health and practice despite your difficulties. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Good luck!

ashtanga police

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

This makes me laugh!

But it’s true – with incorrect method you will not get the benefits. Enjoy ;-)
I’ve even added a new category to the blog called ‘correct method’.

Register

Sign up to receive a monthly email about upcoming workshops and our latest blog posts.

* indicates required

Let us know what you're interested in:

Share your thoughts

Login here if you have already registered.