Archive for the ‘daily practice’ Category

Going for a dream and then letting it go

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Guy Andefors practicing Ashtanga YogaEver since I started practicing Ashtanga yoga 8 years ago it’s been my dream to teach early morning Mysore style self practice. 3 months ago I started a Mysore group and last Friday I taught my last class. Here’s how it all played out.

A bit of background to this post can be found in my earlier post from a few months back titled Big Changes.

Running a Mysore room

One of the first big challenges any morning Mysore teacher faces is: When to practice?
I considered 3 options:

  1. Rise at 03:30 and practice from 04:00 – 06:00
  2. Practice after teaching 10:00 – 12:00
  3. Be flexible and practice less

Rise at 03:30

Pros: There is nothing else to do at this time of the morning besides practice – so there are likely to be less distractions and interruptions – besides email and social media of course!

Cons: You have to go to sleep at 19:30 to get a full 8 hours sleep. This will affect your relationships at home. Your body still thinks it should be sleeping so you’ll be a little tight. You may also feel isolated and lonely in your practice.

Practice after teaching

Pros: You don’t have to go to bed at 19:30. Your body is a little more open later on in the day.

Cons: The rest of the world is awake and rolling. The phone will ring, deliveries will arrive and emails will be piling up. Students will also want to grab you after class for a coffee to discuss issues they’re having with their practice. Basically there are more distractions and it can feel a little self-indulgent to use this prime time during the day to practice.

Be flexible

Pros: There’s less pressure to try and maintain your daily practice. You’ll be able to practice during the evening as your schedule permits. You’ll have more time and energy for teaching and balancing the other areas of your life.

Cons: You’re more prone to injury and you’re less likely to make progress in areas where you’re a bit stuck. Particularly if you’re working on some deep back bending or hip opening. Raise your hand now if you’re not working on one of these.

What did I do?

I decided to start offering Mysore classes 3 days/week on Mon, Wed and Fri. This meant that I still went to practice as usual at the BNHC with Sarah. So I opted to keep my schedule of rising and going to sleep as steady as possible. This meant practicing after teaching. The first month was really tough with the change of schedule and was made more challenging by a visit from my Mother, Sister and nephew which meant I wasn’t able to maintain a daily practice. Circumstance led me towards being more flexible (Against my own wishes I might add!). But I thought it was ridiculous to give myself a hard time about missing practice when I had so much on.

Our original plan was that I would build up the Mysore group and a new digital agency: Wildheart Media with Leia at the same time. This totally didn’t work out as planned. Teaching both morning Mysore classes and 3 other led classes a week was just too demanding.

It became clear in the second month that I’d taken on too much, doh! As I write this it seems so obvious that I’d never be able to sustain it all, but I didn’t want to face this at the time. I wanted my cake and to eat it. I wanted to live my dream. It’s been a great lesson in how not to keep things simple.

In the 3rd month we had booked two trips away, in the run-up to our wedding in Sweden and with no one to cover my Mysore classes it was going to be impossible to build up the numbers. This got me thinking more about our planned trip to Mysore later in the year and how I felt about sacrificing going to Mysore in order to teach Mysore classes.

The relationship between student and teacher in a Mysore room are very intimate and not easily transferable. So there tends to be a drop off in attendance when the main teacher goes away even with an experienced cover teacher in place. I also didn’t have the numbers to make finding a cover teacher financially viable.

Although very tiring, teaching the led classes was covering the rent for the Mysore classes but I wasn’t able to take any money home to live on. This had to come from our new company. Finally Leia and I sat down and decided to let the Mysore classes go in favour of establishing Wildheart Media. It’s simply a more viable way to support us in a much more flexible way. So we’ll be able to go to India for 6 months and earn an income. With proper nurturing it’ll also provide a viable way to provide for a future family.

How does it feel?

I have mixed feelings about it all. Relief, disappointment, gratitude, hope and excitement. I’ve also learned a lot about myself and about teaching Mysore style Ashtanga. I’ve had lovely feedback from a few students and my confidence as a teacher has grown. I feel that the experience has taken me deeper into my own practice and I’m more focused than ever. I’ve had a good scratch at an itch and I know that if I’d never had a go, it would have niggled away at me.

I feel grateful for the support and encouragement I’ve had along the way.

The whole experience has shown me how important timing is. Good timing makes the difference between music and noise. I’m reminded of the Clash song: Should I stay or should I go. Well for now, we’re going…

See you in Mysore.

big changes

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

origami birds and butterfly2014 is shaping up to be a year of big change for me. The one big change already booked in the calendar is Leia and I getting married in July in a forest in Gothenburg, Sweden. What I didn’t foresee at the beginning of the year was wrapping up my digital agency: zero G media after 6 years of business. What happened and what am I going to do now?

I was reminded again that my heart wasn’t in the business after our senior designer handed in his notice in early January. This prompted me to take another good, hard look at where I was in my life and what road I wanted to be on. Jon’s resignation gave me permission to re-evaluate my own goals and vision for my life.

Running a business full-time with the associated overheads of office space and several salaries takes a lot of work, commitment and energy. As the business grew I’d made more and more sacrifices in my personal life and my yoga practice. Without corresponding financial rewards. There were many days when the stress, early client meetings, working late and trips to London took priority over daily reflection and my own daily practice. By Friday evening each week I was completely wiped out.

My hope was that I’d be able eventually to take a step back from the business and that the hard work would ultimately result in more time for myself and a family. So by putting in the work I was investing in our future. But looking back, particularly over the last 3 years and it’s not clear that this investment was bearing fruit. In fact, the reality was quite the opposite. As the business grew so did it’s demands.

This would have been fine if I was 100% motivated by running a successful business, but this was something I only stumbled across when a then client offered to become business partner to help me grow the business. At the time I told them that my heart was in my yoga but I was willing to have a go and see how things developed for a few years.

Turning 40

One of several factors that I think has played a part in my decision is my impending 40th birthday. I’ll be 39 this April and for several months my 40th birthday has been on my mind. Birthday’s particularly big ones (like my 30th) are times of reflection for me. I think this significant birthday has been in the background reminding me that I’m not going to live forever.

Trip to Mysore

In November last year I made my first trip to Mysore – traveling with my Mum. It was a wonderful experience. You can read about my first 24 hours in India here. I had been waiting years for the chance to make what for me is something of a spiritual pilgrimage. It was the first time that I’d taken a break more than a week long away from work. I think this trip contributed in so many ways to my decision.

The chaos and noise of India was like therapeutic shock treatment after life in England where everything is monitored, regulated and controlled in the interests of public safety, security and maintaining economic stability.

A month in India also afforded me a view of economic freedom, which was also so liberating. The cheaper costs meant more options and less pressure compared with running a business in England. On some level I’ve always felt that I needed to earn more. But India reassured me otherwise. She accepted me with a smile and a wink. I was rich enough for her and most welcome for it.

But the single biggest inspiration were the families we met and hung out with in Mysore, couples with young children who bravely scooped them up onto their scooters and motor bikes and who were doing long stints in India. Of course I have no idea of their financial circumstances but it broke the limitations in my mind and opened up new possibilities.

While I had business partners running zero G, I didn’t have a creative partner. Leia and I have been working together for some time and decided to start our own business. Wildheart Media, a small digital agency weaving my digital strategy expertise with Leia’s video storytelling skills. Over the last month or so we’ve been lovingly crafting our website which should be live in a couple of weeks.

I plan on working part-time as a digital strategist and dedicating my mornings to practicing and teaching Mysore style Ashtanga Yoga. In fact I’m starting morning Mysore classes on Monday 31/03 upstairs at the Mad Hatter’s Cafe. It’s a lovely little venue where I used to run a self practice group a few years ago.

I have a few other ideas up my sleeve too which Leia and I are working on which is also really exciting.

The wind down of my agency has been a really testing process and is still not quite complete. Despite this and the financial uncertainty we now face I still feel like I’ve made the right decision. I feel a lot more free than I have in years and my outlook on life and practice have been transformed. I’ve even given up chocolate! – those of you who know me well will be shocked by this revelation – and I’ll be blogging about this soon under the title: ‘How giving up chocolate transformed my practice’ in the not too distant future.

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.

Emotions are held in the body. Fact.

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

open-your-heartI’ve always believed that we hold emotions in our bodies. And there’s no greater proof than having a daily Ashtanga practice. When you’re on the mat doing your thing, there’s literally nowhere to hide. It’s just you and your emotions. And the practice of course.

As any experienced practitioner knows, a morning Mysore room can be a hotbed of emotion. There can be tears, grunts, screams, heavy sighs and even howls of laughter rippling through the shala at any given moment.

And it’s hardly surprising. As we move through our practice and begin to open our bodies, all the emotions that are held within our joints, muscles and cells are going to be released. But better out than in as the saying goes!

It’s long been known that our bodies are closely linked to our thoughts and feelings and this is fundamental to many complementary therapies. From personal experience I know that both craniosacral therapy and sensorimotor therapy are both based on ‘reading’ the body to give an indication of what’s going on at a deeper level.

Our bodies also have cellular memory and I’ve experienced this myself many times, both during my Ashtanga practice and when I used to play the sax. There I am, moving through the asanas or the musical notes and suddenly I realise I have no idea what I’m doing! My brain has disengaged and my body appears literally to be moving by itself. It can remember what posture or fingering movement comes next, but as soon as I engage my brain again I lose it! It’s like my mind is trying to take control but to a large extent this doesn’t work – I just need to let go and trust my body to make the right movements.

These last few weeks have been very difficult as I’ve been dealing with various family issues, career issues, relationship issues and general life issues! This has been reflected in my practice which came to a head a couple of days after my grandmother’s funeral. It had been a stressful and emotional couple of weeks watching her decline and fade away and then helping to organise the funeral. I’ve had days of feeling very tired, drained and heavy – like a sack of potatoes on the mat!

On this particular day I got to the end of my practice and went to do my dropbacks as usual. Now, anyone familiar with dropbacks will know that they’re a heart opening posture. As well as bending your back, you also need to open across your whole chest and shoulders, whilst at the same time keeping a strong foundation through your thighs and rooting through your feet. As I started to bend backward, and hence open my chest, I felt suddenly very fragile, very vulnerable and very weak. I pulled up immediately, instinctively bringing my arms around my chest, as if to protect my heart, and the tears started to flow.

I knew I couldn’t push my body that day and just had to surrender. Luckily my teacher could see that too and (after I’d been to the loo to sort myself out!) he gave me a reassuringly strong forward press. Although it’s tough going through things like this, I’m a firm believer that they only make us stronger and it’s a great reminder to stop and listen to our bodies every now and then, in case we lose sight of what’s really going on.

– Hannah Moss

Moving through disillusion and disappointment

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

Sumiya BashaI came to Ashtanga yoga later in life. I had been practising other types of yoga for a number of years. It just so happened that a friend taught ashtanga and I was looking for a practice I could do on my own, without relying on class timetables or teachers staying in one place.

It came at a time when I was making changes – I was planning to take time out from working as a lawyer and to move back home from Sydney

I immediately knew that I loved the practice and I worked diligently with my teacher. It gave me a focus, grounding and a structure at a time when a lot was happening. My progress was fast and within a few months I had applied for and has been accepted for my teacher training during my sabbatical from work.

I loved my teacher training. It was physically the hardest thing I had ever done. I felt a great sense of achievement. I felt a deep sense of connection with myself and the world around me. I felt very free.

I had no aspirations to teach, just to continue to learn. Through a coincidental series of events, I returned to Sydney after some travels and started teaching at a dedicated ashtanga studio. Again, I loved it. I was challenged in a very different way to the law and I had to learn quickly to find my feet.

I decided not to return to the law, at least not for a while. I moved back to the UK and to Lewes. I continued to teach a few classes. My classes evolved into non traditional ashtanga classes with music and candles, as it just felt right for the students and for me.

My own practice continued to be ashtanga. But my enthusiasm for the practice was not there. Somewhere along the line I had started to question what I had taken as read.

I had started to see and hear things in the ashtanga world that didn’t feel right. For me, yoga in its true sense was free from agendas and all the things that were in my world before. It was free from human shortcomings.

And it made me think. I felt let down and disillusioned. For what was the point of all the hard work and dedication if it was not for something different. For a different way of doing things. Not for the same all over again dressed up in the name of yoga.

My practice started to slip away. I prioritised teaching over my own practice since I had made up my mind that I couldn’t do everything. And why would I work so very hard for something that was not all it was cracked up to be.

At the end of last year I had pretty much decided that I was done with ashtanga. It had been an interesting journey. But it was no longer making me feel good. In fact all I ever seemed to feel was guilty for not having a daily practice and often inadequate for not being able to do it. It was time, I felt, for a change as it was clearly something for others but not for me.

But there was still a glimmer of something I couldn’t shake. I decided to give it one more go, just to satisfy myself. A new space in Brighton had caught my eye.

I made a New Years resolution to practice there for a month. Just a month, to see what happened.
So I turned up early one day. And then the next day and the one after…and I just got my mat out and practiced how I knew how to. And I saw someone quite different on the mat. Someone who was enjoying the practice for whatever it was.

I found much support and guidance from the teacher. I felt very grateful for not having to do it on my own any more. Thank you Jess!

And I came to realise that maybe it had always been that simple. Just showing up, rolling out my mat and seeing what happened. And the rest really did not matter. And so I continue to turn up, roll out my mat and to see what happens…

Sumiya x


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