Here’s the poster for the upcoming workshops at Maadi and Zamalek. These will be the last of the workshops in Cairo. Excited…and a little sad that my time here is almost at an end. It’s been a very special teaching experience…
On Facebook today, a student in Cairo observed the irony between the region’s complex history of wars, conflicts, killings, assassinations and bombings and the region’s common greeting: “May peace be upon you…”
It made me think how we need light the most in darkness–and how light shines more brightly in the dark.
Perhaps the greeting–born out of darkness–is trying to ignite in the hearts of each individual a sense of peace, or at the very least, the need for it.
Sadly, sometimes the-powers-that-be promote fear and confusion, which obscures the light of hope and justice, and the work of peace falls on the individual. And this isn’t only in the Middle East, but everywhere.
We must ask ourselves then how do I bring peace into my own life? What can I do to shine a light of peace in the dark? And trust that our light will inspire others to shine as brightly.
And more light means less darkness…
The yoga practice, I feel, is an important tool for seeking some personal peace. My time here in Cairo is helping me feel, however, how this personal peace has to expand from the individual to the communal, that our external actions must promote peace around us also. Still, yoga is good place to start. Practice and turn on that night light.
CLASSES: I continue to teach in Cairo for two more weeks, until December 15. Ashtanga Yoga Cairo in Zamalek: Sun/Mon/Wed 6:30-9pm. La Zone, Maadi Degla: Sun-Thurs 7-10am. Final ashtanga workshops in Shanti Yoga Cairo, Zamalek and Maadi December 6-7.
Photo: Little light show is from a shop in the Souk at Khan el Khalili, Old Cairo.
It was a soft inner dance last night in Shanti Yoga Cairo in Heliopolis, my second offering at the space that regularly holds meditation classes every Thursday evening.
Soft and subtle, there was little movement–externally anyway. And as a facilitator, I have to remind myself that the moving meditation doesn’t require getting people to stand up and boogie. That there are all kinds of movement, many of which we cannot see. This process is so deeply internal. I continue to be surprised by it, where it goes for each participant.
When we reentered the circle the share there was weightlessness and relief from suffering, exploration of gravity, a delineation of mind and body, a release of emotion, and a timeless sense of being. Connecting us all: a deep sense of gratitude for the experience. When we look beneath the surface there is so much to be thankful for.
The cosmic party was still on, just only very privately!
Hope more will join next time! There will be at least one more Inner Dance in Cairo, Thursday, December 12, 7pm in Ashtanga Yoga Cairo in Zamalek.
There are different factors that make up the energy of a mysore space: the attitude of the students, the number of practitioners, the architecture of the room, the artwork and accoutrements. Even the other uses for the space outside of class hours can contribute to the feel of a room, what vibe it gives. Then, there’s the teacher.
Over the last few years, I’ve spent a good chunk of time practicing in a too-crowded room so hot that steam collects on the windows and ceiling. I love it, practicing alongside die-hard ashtangis, beginner or advanced practitioners, devoted enough to take time out of their lives to travel to a small city in India to practice with one teacher.
The shala in Mysore has history. The students that go bring a lot into the mix. But it’s teacher Sharath Jois who is the lynchpin, it is his energy that directs the practice and facilitates these mental and physical shifts. Sharath, grandson of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and director of KPJAYI, holds the space–quietly, powerfully, and beautifully.
Even in a smaller scale, this is true. These months, traveling and teaching, stepping into other teachers’ existing mysore programs and spaces has been very interesting in that respect.
Each teacher imparts a certain quality to their students’ practice. Everyone has a unique teaching style, varied experience and their own vast wealth of knowledge. Each teacher has a distinct personality that feed into first their personal practice then their teaching. The teacher’s hand is visible in the practices of their students.
And then when a visiting teacher, like myself, comes into the mix, I notice it brings a shift too. New ideas get introduced and there is a different focus on techniques and methodologies. A new teacher comes with a fresh set of eyes, and a whole different way of seeing things. But even more important than the details that come with teaching, it’s the new energy in the room that propels the practice. It is a total sum of yoga and life experiences (one’s yoga journey, consistency of self practice, life style/life choices, struggles and victories, love for the practice itself, etc…) that holds the space, that directs the efforts and energies in the room.
It’s exciting, the things, the events, the people that move the practice. I know that when I go and when Iman “Amy” Elsherbiny returns to her students after months of deep and soulful studying in Mysore, she too will have a renewed and vibrant energy to share with her students.
It is so subtle and surprising this relationship between teachers and students. There’s a lot of magic between transmission of teaching.
I feel particularly blessed teaching now because I recognize that the relationship is a two way street, as I am equally nourished by the effort, dedication and love that students put into their practice. Their movements, their internal and external shifts, inform my own understanding of ashtanga yoga.
Photo: Start of evening mysore at Ashtanga Yoga Cairo in Zamalek.
Today, I’ve been here one crazy Cairo month. It’s gone by fast–not surprising as this is a very fast city. Like any big city, Cairo has a lot of edge, in its buildings, in its politics, in its character. And life on the edge can be hard.
Three times a week, however, as I make my monster commute between the areas of Maadi and Zamalek, something softens each time I see the Nile River.
The Nile cuts through all this crazy, maneuvering around obstacles adeptly. It knows its course and moves with ease into the sea.
It reminds me that navigating a place such as Cairo, or for that matter life at large, requires being a bit of river, being light and agile, soft and fluid. But also remembering there is weight in water, that it is a force of nature, that as it moves it generates a great deal of power.
Photo: The River Nile.
It may not seem so, but it takes courage to get to class sometimes–to subject yourself to Cairo traffic (even on lighter Fridays), to leave your family for a few hours in the middle of the weekend so you can have a moment to yourself to feel your own body and breath.
But the result is worth it: victorious, we enjoyed the two-hour half primary exploration working on breath, workshopping a little this elusive thing called bandha.
Next Friday, 1PM, November 29 will be the last of the Friday Led classes in Maadi. In December, La Zone schedule will be Sunday to Thursday mysore mornings 7-10am until December 15.
Photo: This Friday’s led class at La Zone, Maadi, Cairo.
We are thinking creatures. And have been blessed to be so. We are able to think, to process, to be conscious living beings.
Having beautiful complex brains also means thinking. A lot. Sometimes the mind is like a riot of thoughts, noisy demonstrations for all sorts of causes. It can be distracting, to say the least.
I can’t help but hear my teacher’s voice in my head, “Too much is thinking is there…”
In our yoga practice, we often sometimes aim to “get out of the mind,” to quiet the thoughts in order to find peace and stillness within.
But what does that mean really “getting out of mind” when our main tool for doing so is the mind itself?
Our mind, the faculties of the mind, are important to finding equanimity. We cannot just simply get out of our head. But we can focus our thoughts, our efforts into one stream as we practice. And that mindful awareness makes us more present.
The result is a robust mental experience, where one’s focus moves in one flowing direction, and other extraneous thoughts either fall away or are absorbed into this one stream.
This is yoga. A balance of opposites. The fullness of thought, the practice of attention, creates spaciousness in the mind. And in such fullness, the mind is not so much empty, but definitely more quiet.
Photo: Darb 1718 in Old Cairo. I will be sharing inner dance and ashtanga workshops in the yoga space near here soon! Watch out for announcements.
We strive for perfection. That’s built into us by our schooling, our upbringing, our culture and society. We come in to class and pour our bodies into shapes we’ve seen in magazines, posters, in youtube videos, and in the demonstrations by teachers we look up to. And we want our postures, asana, to be perfect!
But when it comes to yoga, what does it mean to have a perfect posture or asana?
Everyone’s bodies are built differently. We have different proportions, different ranges of motion. Some of us are stronger and have sturdier muscles. Some of us are softer and are more flexible. Our bodies have different gifts and along with that: different challenges.
There are certain issues of alignment, certain goals with each posture, and we must proceed with awareness of how to place the parts of the body in a way that is nourishing and supportive. We move to work certain areas, to open and balance. These principles are important to observe and practice.
Perfection, however, is not in the posture but in the practice. If you practice with presence, with love and awareness, if you breath full and even breaths, if you create the opportunity for the body to feel itself steady and easy, then no matter what your posture looks like at that moment, it is already perfect.
The truth is that what the posture looks like doesn’t matter as much as the effort in which we hold and move ourselves. And as our bodies change, what is perfect changes too. Such is practice, such is life.
Photo: Hala in downward facing dog, La Zone, Maadi, Cairo.
There are days that practice is full of light, it is illuminating, and we stir from our rest (or savasana) with a sense of being one small step closer to enlightenment.
Then, there are the other times, when practice is like navigating the shadows and we feel obscured by our thoughts, fears, habits, or patterns of behavior.
When we have a light practice, we often rejoice: “Ah, I had a good practice!”
When we have a dark moment: “Oh, I had a hard practice!”
It is all practice. The light. The dark. The shades in between. We appreciate the light because of the darkness, we can discern the dark because we know light. They make the big picture, they make seeing full, nuanced, interesting.
Photo: Mysore practice at La Zone, Maadi