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28 days in Mysore

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

diwali candleI can’t believe it’s been 28 days already! The days just seem to blur into each other. Last year was our first trip to Mysore and my Mother and I arrived on the last day of Diwali which was an exciting and slightly hallucinogenic experience. It’s Diwali or the festival of light again now and there’s a light shining brightly in Mysore too and it draws Ashtanga practitioners from around the world, to practice at the source at the KPJAYI.

First impressions

Last year Bengalaru airport was very much under construction. I was impressed on our arrival this year as we were met by a brand new airport. The latest technological innovations abound, including my personal favourite: The self-flushing toilet. I first discovered one of these wonders at Landvetter Airport in Gothenburg. It seems these are all the rage in airport design and if you’re well travelled this is probably old hat to you by now. But coming from South Africa, these do impress the hell out of me.

We were whisked off by our driver in a fancy white 4×4 – always a good way to travel in India. As we drove through the early morning traffic in Bangalore I noticed improved roads, more completed construction projects and new construction under way. India is galloping into the 21st century at pace. The change was noticeable in just 10 months!

Settling in

We arrived in late September giving us 5 days to settle in before the shala opened. This is a really nice way to ease oneself into Mysore life. It takes me at least a week to get into a decent sleeping pattern and the first few days are always the toughest. Quiet home practice in the Indian heat was a also a nice way to start a new rhythm of practice.

Accommodation

Leia sitting on the fronts stepsThis year we’ve got good, reasonably priced accommodation and a lovely Indian landlord. The best thing of all is we have a backup generator so even during the frequent power outages we’ve had wifi and electricity. It took us 3 weeks to get our own broadband installed which feels pretty reasonable seeing as it was the 9 day Dasara festival was just kicking off on our arrival.

Changes at the shala

KPJAYI shala signThe big change from last year is that Sharath has moved the rest day to Sunday with weekly conference on Saturday afternoon. On registration we discovered that Sharath would be teaching led primary for 4 days. There were two led classes each morning 04:30 and 06:00. Leia and I were given a 06:00 start time so we went to the 2nd led class. These 4 days of primary were a great way to get us all breathing and moving together and felt like a great start to the season.

Connecting

Joey Miles Gokulam street chaiIt was great to reconnect with friends we made on last year’s trip and make some new friends too. It’s been great to hang out with our friend Joey who’s also here for the month of October before heading off with his family to teach at Purple Valley in Goa.

Practicing at the shala

Last year we practiced with Saraswati at her shala. We both really enjoyed this. It has a lot going for it. It’s more relaxed and there’s more space. Practicing at the main shala is intense. The focus and energy is full-on. You really do feel like you’re right in the centre of the flame. It’s a special place to spend time for sure.

Fever

Of course no trip to India is complete without some sort of digestive disruptions and Leia and I have both caught a mild stomach bug over the last week. Nothing too serious and thankfully it passed quickly. I remember getting a very similar bug last year at around 4 – 5 weeks in to our trip. I’m hoping this has strengthened our immune systems, I guess time will tell.

Akash

gluteus medius with AkashLeia’s been suffering from a hamstring injury over the last few months and decided to go see a body worker called Akash. I’d heard tales of excruciating, but healing sessions with him that left me intrigued. Leia came limping back from her session singing his praises but also offering a warning that it was indeed agony. I decided to book myself in and see if he could help with my chronic back ache.

I was blown away by the session. Akash has in depth anatomical knowledge and the multi-media presentation to back it all up. While he talks his assistant pulls up 3D anatomical illustrations of what he’s talking about. He was very quickly able to formulate a theory of what was causing my pain and then put it to the test with the hands on body work. In my case my right side gluteus medius is super tight and this was what was so excruciatingly painful during the body work. But I did experience immediate relief and was able to forward bend in a way that I have never done in 8 years of practice.

gluteus medius release exerciseAkash was quick to say that the road to recovery wouldn’t be instant and he gave me a routine of stretches and massage exercises to help me continue the release and recovery process.

I feel greatly encouraged by the experience for three reasons: firstly, Akash has given me the tools to aide my own recovery, secondly he didn’t try and sell me 10 sessions for the price of… and thirdly I’ve felt a big difference and no back pain over the last week.

Saying goodbye

Sadly next week we say goodbye to some of our friends who are only staying for a month this year. I remember feeling like I was only just finding my rhythm last year after a month and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to stay a full 3 months.

A deeper materialism with Michael Stone

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

This is an inspiring talk by Michael Stone at TEDx Toronto in September 2013.
Michael was in London this week and Leia and I went to a screening of his new short film called Reactor. There was an interesting Q&A session with Michael afterwards and it was nice to catch up with some of the London yoga community too.

You are not your ego and your ego is not you.

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Hello folks.

Well it’s a long time since I’ve posted on here, but I’m moving back to Brighton this weekend and looking forward to getting back on my mat by the sea. Thought I might share a blog post I made a while back:

How good are your non-attachment skills? And what exactly does that mean anyway, non-attachment?

On the most basic level, we are all attached to stuff, whether it’s a favourite item of clothing, a piece of jewellery, a vehicle (self-powered or otherwise), electronic equipment, handbag, or whatever. We’ve all experienced that feeling of anger mixed with sadness (possibly even anguish), when something ‘bad’ happens to one of our favourite pieces of stuff. The more valuable the item, whether in financial or emotional terms, the greater the depth of feeling engendered by its loss, but what real difference to our life does this loss actually make? In many cases, absolutely none, yet the negative emotions can stay with us for periods ranging from hours to days, months or even years.

That’s not to say that these feelings aren’t completely natural or indeed to be expected, but holding onto them is nothing more than sadomasochism, no matter how little control we may feel we have over the state of affairs. Being child-like doesn’t mean behaving immaturely, although that can certainly be quite therapeutic in itself. Rather it means experiencing a negative emotion, then letting it go. We’ve all seen how a screaming child instantly forgets what is troubling them when given a treat of some kind. We were all able to let go of negative emotions like this when we were children, so what has changed as we age?

In a word; EGO.

Our ego, like Satan (if you believe in that kind of thing), has pulled off the trick of making us believe that it does not exist. We cannot distinguish between our true selves and our ego, and so this skewed picture we are being fed becomes who we are, and not only that but we will defend this false picture with every molecule of our being. We are not attached to these things I have mentioned, it is our ego that is attached, and wants to be attached, for these things nourish it and make it feel good. And that is what the ego is all about, being massaged and feeling good. It is the ultimate sensual-pleasure seeker.

A few years ago, when I was living in London, I had an experience that brought home to me just how powerful non-attachment can be.

I had gone into a shop to pick up a couple of things, and when I got to the till I pulled out the change in my pocket, along with my house keys. As I selected the correct change the shop assistant commented on how nice the key-ring was, an aluminium dolphin with a blue glass centre, and then asked if she could have it.

I was completely stunned at her cheek!

‘No, of course you can’t have it!’ I said as I proffered my cash. Who on earth was this woman to just go asking for another persons belongings, especially a customer she was serving!? The keyring had only cost a few quid, but held a lot of sentimental value, as I had purchased it on a trip I took to France with kids from the first school I worked in after qualifying. Not only was it beautiful, but it brought back the happy memories of that time.

As I walked home my incredulity at her brazen request played over and over in my mind, but another through crept in. Why was I so determined to keep hold of this item (because it was mine, I remember my ego shouting)? The memories would still be with me whatever happened to the dolphin. What, exactly, would change in my life if I no longer possessed it?

Absolutely nothing, as far as I could intellectually determine, but I still felt a deep discomfort I could not explain.

I made my way home, but I could not shake these questions and feeling of confusion that her request had raised, the experience popping back into my mind at random intervals over the next several days.

I don’t remember how I came to the decision to give up the dolphin, but I remember very clearly walking back into the shop a couple of weeks later, going up to the till and placing it on the counter, saying something like ‘I don’t know if you remember me, but you can have this if you’d like. Please take good care of it.’

She said thanks, although seemed nowhere near as grateful as part of my brain thought she ought, but these feelings were almost completely submerged in the quite shocking feeling of absolute joy I seemed to be experiencing. I remember having to work very hard to stop myself from bursting into tears as I walked down the street, grinning like an idiot and marvelling at the depth of feeling giving up this meaningless piece of ‘stuff’ had produced.

I would love to say that my non-attachment skills have gone from strength to strength from this point on, but alas it seems that the lesson needs re-learning over and over. I still find my state of mind being tugged about by attachment to things as well as how I would like situations to turn out. Attachment to events, and how I perceive they should be, turns out to be far more difficult to give up than my attachment to stuff, but if relinquishing a piece of metal shaped as a dolphin can make me so happy, I can barely imagine how blissful my existence will be when I am able to be happy with things as they are and not how my ego tells me they should be.

Mysore in Maui

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

We recently heard the exciting news that our dear friend Shari Berman has opened an Ashtanga shala in the heart of Maui’s North Shore. I’m sure those who have had the pleasure of meeting and practising with Shari while she was here in Brighton the last two summers will agree with us when we say that she is an extremely dedicated practitioner,  a thoroughly inspiring teacher and a very lovely lady indeed!

She has extended her warmth and generosity to all Brighton Ashtangis by offering to put up anyone who travels over to Hawaii to practice at her shala. I don’t know about you, but Guy and I are preparing to get on that plane just as soon as we can!

– Hannah Moss

Kirtan in Brighton

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Narayani Playing the HarmoniumLast Friday Guy and I went to a Kirtan evening led by Narayani of OneBodyOneSound at the Jing Institute on Bond Street in Brighton. My only previous experience of singing with Narayani was at the Santosa Yoga Camp last September where she led a Kirtan on the final evening. This was a beautiful experience where most of the 10-day camp participants all crammed into the candlelit Bhakti Dome, making space for each other on the slighty damp carpet. There were a few meditation cushions and blocks lying around which were quickly planted underneath buttocks, and the few chant sheets that got passed around were barely readable in the dim candlelight anyway. It was definitely a family affair, as children of all ages sang, listened, giggled, squirmed and wriggled their way through the evening.

All of this made for a very intimate, very informal and very spiritual atmosphere. Narayani’s beautiful and at times haunting voice carried through the tent and across the field and surely couldn’t fail to ignite something mysterious deep in the hearts of all who heard it. I loved the fact there were no instructions, no rules and very little talking in between chants, other than simply an encouragement to join in. Even if we didn’t know the words, we were encouraged to feel the vibrations of the Sanskrit sounds moving through our body, mind and soul and to try to reach that part deep inside us that we’re rarely able to access. I found the continuous, repetitive nature of the songs meant it was easy to lose myself in them, to lose myself in the beautiful sounds within and around me, until I felt I was almost in a meditative trancelike state and feeling very peaceful indeed.

My first taste of an urban Kirtan evening was quite a different experience altogether. As we arrived at the centre, we were instantly greeted by one of Jing’s founder members and told where to pay, where to put our coats and shoes and to sit as far forward within the studio as possible. We were a little late so the Kirtan had already started when we entered the room and found space on the floor to squeeze in. The electric lighting and the hard wooden floor, with only a folded yoga mat for cushioning, seemed a harsh contrast to the carpeted, candlelit canvas dome at Santosa.

I was also struck by how much more structured the evening felt. Rather than Narayani and her two fellow musicians simply playing and encouraging us to join in at any point, this was very much a call and response type affair. Narayani would sing a line and then indicate that we should copy her, or at least attempt to. She would let out the occasional gigglewhen the response line trailed off in an uncertain or out-of-tune melody. Although this helped the evening feel more relaxed and less formal, it did add to the sense that we had to get it ‘right’; that we were being taught how to sing the lines properly, almost as if we were in a choir. Personally, I preferred the Santosa approach of just singing and letting people join inwilly-nilly, as it felt more continuous and really enabled me to lose myself in the music. I guess there’s no reason why I couldn’t have done this, but it didn’t feel like the ‘done’ thing and I was feeling a little self-conscious in the unfamiliar surroundings.

Santosa Yoga CampNonetheless, the evening was thoroughly enjoyable and Narayani was as mesmerising to watch and listen to as always, her voice blending beautifully with the harmonium, violin and tabla. There was a good atmosphere in the room, even if some people seemed a bit tentative at first. I left the Kirtan feeling totally blissed out, and in fact a bit spaced out, as we stepped onto the streets of Brighton late on a busy Friday evening. I’m looking forward to the next Kirtan, which will be led by a different musician, but most of all I’m looking forward to the next Santosa camp where I hope I’ll have another magical experience of singing with Narayani in a field, under canvas, in the dark.

– Hannah Moss

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