Cairo, Two Sides

Sun over Dashour's Bent Pyramid.

Sun over Dashour’s Bent Pyramid.

Nearly full moon above Cairo's congested streets.

Nearly full moon above Cairo’s congested streets.

I am so glad that I didn’t listen to the news, or the concerns of my worried mother (sorry, mom!), or the incredulity in which people responded when I said I was going to teach in Cairo, which had just had another tumultuous overthrow in government. Had I done so, had I taken the safe and secure choices laid before me, I would not have had this wildly brilliant experience of sharing here these past two months.

There are two sides to every coin.

My flight into Egypt arrived in the early hours during curfew and I could not leave the airport for ages. A strange welcome, yes, but this same curfew allowed me to enjoy a much edited version of Cairo social life my first weeks here, one that was unusually compatible with my morning yoga hours.

I was harassed by a taxi driver–the fourth or fifth one I’d ever ridden with on my own. Yet, the lovely man Muhammad who drives me around now is the taxi driver who witnessed me hopping out of the slow-moving vehicle after I had fended off a very poor attack on his part. And like everyone else I have met here, Muhammad has looked after me with such warmth and sincerity. That we can barely have a conversation, his English is sparse and my Arabic is non-existent, makes no difference. (I want to add that I haven’t experienced any other harassment since that incident either).

These last days, being a tourist, visiting the Pyramids and the places of worship that date back thousands and hundreds of years, have shown me a calm Cairo so different from the Cairo’s chaotic streets that I’ve become so familiar with since my arrival here. Same soulful, high frequency sort of energy, just two very different sides of it.

Living in Cairo is not easy. The politics of instability has created day to day chaos, on the roads and in the more subtle byways, the minds and bodies of its people. There is a lot of pollution, repression, trauma, frustration, a lot of dreams deferred. And with that, there’s a also a lot of spirit! I have to say that this is a part of what makes teaching here so very rich, what makes this work so incredibly worthwhile.

In its little-BIG way, yoga offers its practitioners an experience of centeredness and stability, of quiet and peace. And that’s a whole lot when the world is like constantly shifting sand in the desert.

There are two sides to every coin. What you see it depends on how you see it. What I see: so much good here, so much love, so much potential.

So…Self Practice


Self Practice: a wild beast, appearing like an inconceivable task for the student used to guided classes or mysore spaces held by teachers. It can seem daunting and difficult to go through the practice on one’s own with no assistance, no adjustments, no corrections, not even the watchful gaze that keeps us on the breath, keeps us intentionally in the zone in which yoga happens.

With me preparing to leave Cairo and with my friend Iman still studying in India, there is a short gap of time in which there will be no present teacher for the Ashtanga Yoga Egypt students and the choice to self-practice will arise.

I can only hope that most will choose this path for the short term–it is a wonderful opportunity to connect with the guru within, to get to know yourself, to grow with your practice.

I cannot stress enough the importance of having a teacher with whom you deeply resonate with and with whom you are willing to trust your body and your process. But in the times when there is no teacher, when there is no mysore space to rely on, the responsibility of practice falls into the hands where the practice of yoga belongs to the most in: your own.

It’s true, a solo mat practice has its challenges but its rewards are incalculable.

In my own experience, over the last 7 years, I have been blessed with instructors who passed through where I was living; they would come and they would go, but always leaving me with so much. In 2010, I then started practicing in India with Sharath Jois, who I now consider my main teacher. Since then, I have been in the presence of my teacher for three months out of the year, and then I am on my own again and self practice is often the only option.

It’s ok, because there’s plenty of “homework” –lots to cultivate, to practice until the next time. This time of self study (svadyaya) can be a wonderful experience of integrating the practice into the system, into the body and the mind.

These gaps have been very rich. They have allowed me to take responsibility for my own practice, they have taught me to be independent, to be inquisitive and discerning. I have learned the difficulties of self-motivation. And, yes, I have at times stumbled and lost my flow. I’ve also felt the joy of returning to practice, how my body rejoices at the breath and movement, how my mind stills and empties, how grounding it is, how expanding.

More than anything, self practice establishes the relationship between you and your own practice, that whether your teacher is present or not, your practice is yours–recognizing this is so very important.

Sunday is my last class in Cairo. The first Aswan retreat starts on December 19 (to the 22), the second on the 24-27 December. Spaces are still available in the second batch.
& Iman Elsherbiny will be returning to Ashtanga Yoga Egypt from a very fruitful Msyore, India season in February.

Photo by Zeinab Lamloum. Bakasana during my own self-practice after teaching.

Meeting in the Mysore Space



One class day to go here in Cairo. The countdown, I have to be honest, makes me sentimental. While my stay here has just been shy of two months and I recognize that in many aspects I have just been skimming the surface, there is such a great depth built into this work, into this practice of ashtanga yoga.

As we breathe and move in space, taking shapes with deliberate awareness and attention, we embody this process called yoga.

The mind and its trappings come into play, our issues and injuries–physical or otherwise–come to the surface. Our desires and attachments bubble up…and then the practice attempts to burst them.

The practice shines a light on the shadows: tension in the body often reflecting tension in the heart or mind, the dark of the ego lurking in the corners…

Teaching in a Mysore space is like getting to know someone very intimately without any context–and without any judgement. It’s like knowing nothing about a student’s life story yet observing personal symptoms of life and signposts of living.

The joy, particularly, is seeing how it gets physically worked out through this incredible whittling down process, sometimes with grace and ease, while other times, let’s face it, it’s a shit fight!

Sharing in this quiet personal process makes people who practice together incredibly close, sometimes without any of the usual friendly exchanges. We feel each other’s struggles and we celebrate each other’s victories on the mat, which is really a metaphor for our lives.

As for being the “teacher”, I feel incredibly blessed to take part in this process. Often, I do little other than being there. And there are times I need to admit to myself that there is nothing I can do other than to back up and give someone space.

Then there are the little moments that amount to so much: jump starting someone’s practice, moving someone in a different direction, aligning the body to feel secure and spacious, holding someone in a difficult posture…

Understanding and trust are built on this straightforward physical exchange and a very special relationship is formed between a teacher and a student.

I love meeting like this, in such a space that is both so real, so organic, so surprising; this is a space where yoga happens.

Photo: We ease into each other’s company with fluidity that comes with breathing in the same pace. The regular practitioners (Ashtanga Yoga Egypt, La Zone, Maadi) and I engage in the most common post-practice practice: having breakfast fit for champions at Lucille’s on Road 9.

Self-Heating Practice



Last week, we were at a high of 30 degrees, today: a blistery 7 degrees. It is cold! Winter has come suddenly to Cairo.

It may be nippy to the bone and the cold can be stiffening but don’t dismay because the practice creates this wonderful internal heat.

Breathe deeply that breath with sound. Move with thoughtful, deliberate breath. Ignite the body furnace with deep and deliberate inhales and exhales. Allow your breath with sound (ujaii) to heat and move the body safely from one posture to the next. And melt into the collective energy of a room in practice.

Turn up the heat, breathe fully and steadily.

Reminder: please keep yourself warm during practice, dress appropriately and it is recommended to cover up after practice! Last class for Maadi and Zamalek is this Sunday. Yalla!

Photo: Four can heat up a space. It was such a pleasure to be warmed by the four Maadi regulars yesterday morning. I found myself in a funny yoga clothing strip tease, removing first my scarf, sweater, then leg warmers each time someone entered the room to start practice. La Zone was practically toasty by the end of morning practice.

Night & Day


ImageAshtanga Yoga Egypt in La Zone, Maadi, Morning Mysore Program 7-10am


Ashtanga Yoga Egypt in Ashtanga Yoga Cairo, Zamalek, Evening Mysore Program 6:30pm

Practicing in the morning and in the evening are as different as night and day–or, rather, day and night.

The body is different. Having woken up from a night of sleep, the morning body is a little more stiff, sometimes: a lot! But then there’s a freshness in the morning practice. In the early evening, the body is warm, more flexible, but also more tired. There’s a certain depth to stretching and willingness to surrender after a full long day.

The mind is different, too. The morning mind is less cluttered, emptying out during sleep. In the evening, the mind can be churning from a day of activity, stress, work, etc…The opposite can also be true, the anticipation at the beginning of the day can also create turbulence in the mind, while the tired mind can at times relax more easily.

The energy, of course, is different depending on whether it is the start of the day or the end of the day. Morning is a jump start while evening is a wind down.

And while practice is most ideal in the morning–very early morning, as the sun rises (aghast! totally unreasonable, I know!), and the air is fresh and vibrant, prana (vital life energy) is up–it’s more important to just practice, to find the time to show up on your mat for your own personal well-being whether it’s in the morning, at noon or at night…

Classes in Zamalek and Maadi continue until December 15. I will be heading to Aswan for 2 yoga retreats, December 19-22 and 24-17 (there are still spots for the second retreat) at Fekra Cultural Center, followed by a stint teaching at Deep South at Marsa Alem to ring in New Year 2014. 

Practice Light and Dark




There are moments we feel full of light. We are at one with the shimmering wonder of what is. We feel well.

Then there are the other times: the dark moments when we feel disconnected from the more positive aspects of our lives. We feel disintegrated, we feel as if the world around us is—or worse yet, we ourselves are–falling apart.

It is so with practice. We have light and dark moments, moments of cohesion and of just plain messiness. Often, we aim for one and avoid the other.

But never completely– because the dark moments continue to come. That is the nature of the world we live in.

The practice is both, light and dark. These two shades work together. The light is a reference point. While the dark, as difficult as it is, is where the real work happens. Practice with presence and love and the falling apart becomes a peeling away, a shedding of superfluous layers, allowing ultimately for a deeper sense of lightness

Sun Powered Practice


Usually, I am a fan of “controlled” environments for yogasana practice. Enclosed spaces that are safe from the wind and other elements.

But on occasion the call to practice in the outdoors is irresistible. And there is something lovely about breathing through the surya namaskara with the warmth of the sun in your face.

I bow to the light of the sun, I feel gratitude for the warmth and the energy it gives, for the illumination and the nourishment…

Photo: The sun beaming above my rooftop practice today.

Practice Everywhere



We love sacred spaces. We seek out places that vibrates with energy, where it is easy to get into the zone. We travel to such spots. Sometimes, long distances: the shala in Mysore, India; to favorite teachers, who have put a lot of love in their teaching spaces; to exotic locations around the world.

The real challenge, however, is to practice anywhere. To be able to lay your mat down wherever you land, whatever space is available.

Then, there’s the “practice” that the practice prepares you for. The one that happens in gridlock in the middle of a commute, in the middle of a crazy work day, or amidst a rowdy bunch of party-goes or protesters or people in general.

Always, we find ourselves in the middle, sandwiched between opposing forces, the occasion challenging/inspiring us to breathe, to steady ourselves, to find our center. And practice happens. It comes naturally, a reflex, a response system. Real life, day-to-day yoga.

Photo: My friend’s Maadi rooftop converted into a makeshift yoga space.

Give yourself a gift: Ashtanga in Aswan, Batch 2



The response for the Aswan Retreat has been really wonderful. The December 19-22 Retreat is already full. As there is still interest, Fekra Cultural Center and Ashtanga Yoga Egypt have decided to hold a second batch! We’re very excited to be able to extend the program for others, regardless of yoga experience or level.

The second retreat will be on December 24 to December 27. It will be the same set up, starting in the afternoon of the 24th, ending after morning class on the 27th, the full two days will have a morning class, brunch, free time to tour beautiful Aswan, and an afternoon talk/meditation/workshop class.

The retreat cost is 1500L for accommodation, food, and yoga classes.

To reserve your spot, we are accepting full or deposit payments (50%) up until December 14. Call 0122 371 7729 or email me at

Below is the program for the retreats. In the spirit of the Nile, we’ll keep things pretty fluid, but roughly this will be the flow…

Ashtanga in Aswan Program