Archive for the ‘daily practice’ Category

Baby steps: practising after childbirth

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

Louise and ArwenAshtanga practitioners are taught not to practise for the first three months after giving birth. That can seem tough when we learn to rely on the practice to see us through life’s challenges. Just when we face one of the biggest changes life brings, practice – that rock of stability and continuity – is off the menu for a while.

My daughter Arwen was born in May last year. When it came to it, those three months without asana practice flew by. I came to see that stage, not as a break, but as part of the practice. A friend said to me “You use discipline to practise every day – now it’s time to use that discipline to not practise every day.” That made complete sense. Sometimes not practising is part of our practice and requires the same processes – like commitment and non-attachment.

Finding (some sort of) stillness

At the same time, having a baby brought me the rollercoaster of hormones and emotions that all new mothers face. I needed a way to avoid becoming completely submerged in that, so I started sitting in meditation for half an hour each day. A major emotion I experienced as a new mother was sorrow at how fast life changes. Change often works in a more subtle way in adults, at least most of the time. But babies change before your very eyes. I was hit hard by that sense of transience and time passing – and sitting helped me find the sense of inner stillness and stability I needed.

When it was time to restart asana practice, I took it very slowly. As I practise at home without a teacher for long stretches of the year, I created my own ‘re-entry programme’ – starting with the standing sequence and adding three new postures a week. That kept things safe and stable and I experienced no injuries. I also found my body remembered the postures again quickly.

As much as I can do, every day

Arwen in Krounchasana In terms of finding the time to practise, I couldn’t do it without having a very supportive partner who keeps Arwen busy, happy and fed until I’m finished. But there are always days when I have to stop early. I’ve really learnt that ‘dailyness’ in practice is the key to everything – not how much I do.

I now stick to the Mysore schedule like glue, but many of these practices are shorter than they were. Before having Arwen, I would sometimes practise later in the day and switch around my rest days. Now I’ve got a stronger sense of the need for regularity and consistency – same time each day, as much or as little as I can do. If I miss that slot, there probably won’t be another chance. So if I want to keep up a daily practice it has to be first thing in the morning, straight after waking up.

Best start in life

Right now I’m in Maui practising with my teacher Nancy Gilgoff. It’s amazing to be here with Arwen, knowing that she’ll get to meet Nancy and maybe even see the yoga teaching room and the incredible work that goes on in there – when she’s still only eight months old!

– Louise Jolly

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Learning the language of Ashtanga Yoga

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

Over the last two years there have been a lot of changes in my life on every level: work, love and even which country I call my home. I started a new company, got married and then moved to Mysore, precisely in that order. How is this all connected you may be wondering? Well, I’ve had to start learning not just one but two new languages. I’ve also found some interesting parallels with my own daily Ashtanga practice.

Learning Swedish

Keep Calm och lär dig Svenska posterMy motivation to learn Swedish came from meeting Leia who recently upgraded to become Mrs Andefors. Within a week of meeting her I had downloaded an app that taught me one Swedish word a day. I soon learnt very useful words like ‘säkerhetsbälte’ (safety belt) and ‘arbetsskada’ (work place injury).

I was not deterred by Leia’s roars of laughter when I tried these new words out on her by casually dropping them into conversation. I can’t think how I would have managed to drop ‘arbetsskada’ casually into any conversation, but it must have been pretty funny. About a month later I downloaded Rosetta Stone and began learning Swedish seriously.

Rosetta Stone, for those who don’t know, is a brilliant software programme for Mac and PC designed to help you learn one of 30 languages. Learning a language is multi-faceted and you need to cover core areas such as vocabulary, comprehension, grammar, writing and speaking. Rosetta Stone covers all these bases nicely. It’s very repetitive and can therefore get pretty boring the twentieth time you spell out ‘the boy is drinking juice’ but it does have a working method and you notice that all of a sudden that phrase allows you to build other sentences later on. So, like the Ashtanga practice, it’s highly structured and progressive.

Learning Kannada

kannada-alphabetWhen arriving in Mysore for the first time I quickly realised that most locals in Gokulam speak pretty good English, but as soon as you travel further afield this is not the case. I quickly started picking up phrases in the local language Kannada. ‘Thank you’ was the very first expression I learned, followed by ‘How are you?’, ‘I’m well’ and the very important and frequently asked ‘Have you had lunch?’ The way I learned Kannada was in stark contrast to the structured way I learned Swedish; it was through waiters, shopkeepers and neighbours.

Whether I was in Sweden or Mysore, it was very clear how much people appreciate it when you make an effort to speak their language. In Sweden I sometimes play a game I like to call ‘Pretend to be a Swede’. I go into a coffee shop, order a coffee in Swedish and see if the staff answer me back in their native tongue – and mostly they do! It gets a bit more complicated when they start asking about what food I would like or making conversation but I quickly learned how to say ‘card’ or ‘cash’ when asked how I wanted to pay. The game ‘Pretend to be an Indian’ doesn’t quite work for obvious reasons, but the happiness that shines in people’s eyes when I say a few words in the local tongue is even more obvious in Mysore than in Sweden. Stern guards and tired shopkeepers beam brightly or laugh and repeat what I just said with warmth or offer a new phrase for me to learn.

Language vs Yoga

Here are some interesting parallels I’ve observed between learning a new language and practising yoga:

  1. You are going to look silly: not always, but especially in the beginning or when learning a new or tricky posture or phrase. You will say something so wrong that people will laugh out loud! You might fall on your arse, face or arms – literally when it comes to the practice – quite a few times before you get it. You’re going to have to learn to be ok with this. You have to surrender to the fact that you’re still learning even if you’re not a beginner. You don’t know it all and you’re going to have to be humble. Learning a language and practising Ashtanga can both teach you humility (with the right attitude of course).
  2. Once you think you know it, something shows you that you don’t: you thought you nailed that grammar or that posture and then one day your muscles tell you something else, or you hear a new way of saying what you thought was the only way to form a sentence and you go back to point one and accept that we’re all beginners, even after years and years of practice.
  3. Keep at it: regardless if you’re learning from a book, a DVD, in a classroom or on the street, it’s important to keep it up otherwise it starts slipping away. Learning a few phrases is easy but to actually be able to build sentences you have to go deeper. It’s the same with yoga: we can all pretty quickly learn how to throw a few shapes around the room but if you want a deeper and more flowing practice, you have to practice, practice, practice.
  4. Do it with someone who is better than you: when I say better I mean someone more experienced. When it comes to language, a native speaker is always preferred – practice with them to get the right pronunciation and grammar. You can also surround yourself with native speakers and pick up a word here or there from what they’re saying, although this is harder. When it comes to yoga the same principle applies and it’s also a good idea to practice with someone who is more experienced than you and knows how to instruct in a way that resonates with you. Just like with the language, you can observe people who have gotten further than you and how they do things for inspiration and help, but beware you can also pick up on people’s bad habits!
  5. Overcoming boredom: getting good means you’re inevitably going to get bored, because by the time you’ve done enough repetition to become accomplished you would have done the same thing over and over again many times. Guruji used to say you had to do a posture 1,000 times to master an asana. I believe that the deep learning happens beyond boredom. Well that’s what I tell myself to keep going anyway!

A year in Mysore

Photo of Guy in Uthita hasta padangustasanaAs Leia and I are staying in Mysore for a year we’ve decided to start weekly Kannada lessons with a tutor so we can take our conversations with the locals to the next level. The Swedish lessons have taken a back seat, apart from a few sentences here and there with Leia, but we’re talking about moving to the northern hemisphere at some point and by then I will have plenty of time to practice.

When it comes to my yoga practice I’m making the most of being based in the heart of the Ashtanga world. I completed 3 months with Sharath at the end of 2014 and am exploring other teachers and places to practice in Mysore. Every day is an adventure here, even the days that are repetitive and a little bit boring, because at the end of the day life is all about practice, practice, practice.

– Guy Andefors

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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.

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