Happy Chinese New Year: Unleash the Horse Within


This Chinese New Year, Unleash the Horse Within

Photo: Untether the horse within. Sweet surrender to the wind, Aswan, Upper Egypt.
All Rights Reserved Karina Al Piaro Ⓒ

I wrote last night, at the eve of the Chinese New Year:

“I enter the year of the horse
hair loose, heart singing,
wild imagination running
free with possibility…”

en Español (un traducción simple):

“Yo entro el año del caballo
pelo flojo, corazon cantando
imaginación salvage corre
libre con la posibilidad…”

I was going to start this post with Kung Hei Fat Choi, which loosely translates to “well wishes, may good fortune come your way,” which is the standard greeting during the Chinese New Year festivities. All well and good, but not actually what I want to say.

Whether you put any credence in Chinese Astrology or not, the horse is a rich archetype that has a deep resonance in many cultures around the world.

We think of the horse as strong, willful, loyal, courageous and fast. It can be gentle and it can also be dangerous.

Carl Jung identifies the horse archetype as our unconscious, animal side. This great beast symbolizing passion unbridled, the powerful forces buried deep within our psyche.

So, in this, the start of the Wood Horse Year, let’s celebrate the wild Earth spirit within us that wants to run free. Let us face this great beast of our own passions, of our hidden desires, of our hopes and our dreams with the same courageous spirit. Let us bridle it with great love, attention and tenderness; and ride! Ride with speed–finding the joyful “yoga,” or balance, between control and surrender.

Naked Truth


There are times that when I get to the end of practice and there is only me, the mat, and an empty room.

For a moment, nothing else, no one else exists. Everything has fallen away, shifted from the mind and body, dropped during a series of movements, or melted away by the breath. If it doesn’t drop away so easily, the practice finds a way to peel it back or to pull it out. Weight is shed.

And in the end, there’s this feeling of lightness, of nakedness. Beautifully, wonderfully naked, it is easy to sit with myself.

Photo: Last student, for the morning session, Alejandro coming into finishing sitting postures. Morning mysore practice is Monday to Friday, 7am-9:30am here in Pazzifica * Ashtanga Yoga, Espacio Vacio, Plaza Verreina.

Taller de Yoga “Desde el centro a la expansión”


Como cada primer domingo del mes los invitamos a nuestro taller de práctica y teoría, una mañana de clase guiada de la primera serie y una charla que nos ayudará a profundizar y y comprender otros aspectos de nuestra práctica de yoga.

En esta ocasión Kaz ha querido compartir su pasión por la literatura y los textos sagrados del Bhagavad Gita con nosotros en una oportunidad única que espero todos pueda aprovechar.

“Desde el centro a la expansión ”

El Bhagavad Gita, un texto atesorado desde la tradición del yoga, se inicia con un héroe en crisis. Arjuna se enfrenta a su batalla más dura, y justo momentos antes, duda, pierde su determinación y arroja su arma. Su amigo, aliado y maestro, Krishna , comparte con él las enseñanzas de yoga, le ayuda a encontrar su centro, para que pueda seguir adelante y enfrentar los retos del futuro.

Pero, ¿Cómo nos conectamos con nuestro centro?, ¿Cómo usamos el centro para expandirnos y crecer en todas las direcciones?

Conversaremos brevemente algunos principios claves a aplicar en nuestra clase guiada, exploraremos algunas de las enseñanzas atesoradas de Krishna, con énfasis en la pregunta: ¿cómo encontrar nuestro centro en este torbellino de mundo en constante cambio?
La clase cerrará con el canto de mantras que celebran la energía de Krishna, de integración, el yoga.

English Description:

“From the Center, We Expand”

The Bhagavad Gita, a treasured text from the yoga tradition, starts with a hero in crisis. Arjuna is faced with his toughest battle. And just moments before, he doubts, looses his resolve, throws down his weapon. His friend, ally and teacher, Krishna shares with him the teachings of yoga, helps him find his center, so that he can move forward and face the challenges ahead.

How do we connect with our center? How do we use the center to expand and grow in all directions?

Program: We will briefly discuss some key principles that we will apply in our guided half-primary class. Afterwards, we will explore some of Krishna’s treasured teachings, particularly how do we find our center in this whirling world of change–closing by chanting mantras celebrating the energy of Krishna, of integration, of yoga.
NEW DATE: Domingo 2 de MARZO
8.30-11.30 hrs.

20 euros
25 euros ( para quienes no son alumnos de Pazzifica* Ashtanga Yoga)


Little Lights


Little Lights

In the morning class, I start with minimal dim lighting. An alabaster lamp in the corner, one overhead in the back by the doors, and the candles and fairy lights on the altar. Not a lot. Yet over the last two mornings with the room’s electricity not working, I realized how much illumination we had.

Monday, I arrived to find that power was out, luckily Paz had left me with a bag of tea lights and I resorted to sprinkling some 10 candles around the edge of the room. It was amazing to see the room glow, dim as it was. The lights just popped out in the early morning darkness, reminding me that it’s in the darkest moments that we most appreciate the smallest glimmers of light.

And then as dawn comes, streaming inside through the windows, these little lights cease to work in the bright and then they are forgotten. But by then, they’d already lived out their purpose.

These times, when you are given little light, do not fill your mind with worry or frustration that you cannot see clearly, instead allow yourself to see differently. Allow yourself to go into the quietness of such precious little light.

Photo: Pazzifica Ashtanga Yoga at Vacio Espacio by candle light. Happy to report that power is back on as of this evening. We may continue to play with candle light practices but heating will most definitely be on tomorrows’s agenda!

View From Above


Gray Skies

Trek up a mountain–or scale a building or climb a tree, anywhere high-like–and survey the world around you.

How big it feels from that vantage point. How much more expansive the surrounds appear from such heights.

Sometimes it’s not the world that changes but rather how we see things.

Practice is a process of moving forward, except often times it’s an uphill battle. But then, over time, as you look around you, the way you see things changes.

Classes resume after full moon and weekend. Morning Mysore: Monday-Friday 7:00-9:30; Evening Mysore Monday & Wednesday 18:00-20:00, Tuesday & Thursday 18:30-20:15. Espacia Vacio is located off Placa Verreina in Gracia. http://www.pazzifica.com

Trek a una montaña – o escalar un edificio o trepar a un árbol, en cualquier lugar de alta como – y contemplar el mundo que te rodea.

¿Qué tan grande que se siente de esa posición ventajosa? ¿Cuánto más expansiva la rodea aparece desde tales alturas?

A veces no es el mundo que cambia, pero cómo vemos las cosas.

La práctica es un proceso de avanzar, salvo muchas veces es una batalla cuesta arriba. Pero luego, con el tiempo, como se mira a tu alrededor, la forma de ver las cosas cambia.

Reinicio de clases después de la luna llena y de fin de semana. Mañana Mysore: Lunes-Viernes 07:00-09:30; Mysore Tarde Lunes y Miércoles 18:00-20:00, Martes y Jueves 18:30-20:15. Espacia Vacio en Placa Verreina en Gracia. http://www.pazzifica.com
Photo: Surveying the village and farmland below Castilla de Montoliu, Catalan, Spain.

Artful Ashtanga Yoga Cairo


Ashtanga Yoga Egypt evening mysore program in AYC.

There’s a certain quality about the artfully decorated Espacio Vacio, where Pazzifica Ashtanga Yoga classes are being held here in Barcelona, with it’s bursts of delightful design elements and color set against the spacious whiteness, that reminds me a little of one of the spaces where I was teaching in Cairo: the Zamalek studio Ashtanga Yoga Cairo–a beautiful little yoga oasis in the desert of crazy city life that is Cairo.   

Each practice space is different and unique. With studios that are mostly dedicated to a particular school of yoga, the energy of that system has an energetic stamp on the interior. Each spot also vibrates with the energy of its locale, its stakeholders (the students and the teachers) and especially of its owner–particularly when that person is a yoga teacher themselves. 


Serene life size Buddha bust on the table.


ImageBefore even meeting Mira Shihadeh, who sits at the helm of this yoga vessel, I met her yoga space. 

My friend Iman Elsherbiny (Ashtanga Yoga Egypt) teaches a 3-day-a-week evening Mysore program at Ashtanga Yoga Cairo. She set up a workshop for us to co-teach at AYC just as I’d arrived in Egypt. As we took the taxi into Zamalek, she said she was sure I would like it, that it was a very special space. 

It was day 3 in Cairo. As we zoomed onto the Loop Road–my first trip out of El Maadi, it was a Friday and traffic was fairly light–I felt the massive scale of urban Cairo. Huge buildings emulating the dusty, rocky landscape. With the exception of a few brightly painted balconies and hanging laundry, there seemed to be an absence of color. 

So, for someone like myself, who has either been living in India or squatting in various yoga spaces and alternative communities for the last three years, entering AYC was like taking a breath of fresh air.

It was a splash of India squeezed into a studio space. Color everywhere. In the front room, the waiting area/changing room/gathering place, the top of the walls were bordered with  the pantheon of Indian deities, all dramatic and colorful. Everywhere there was some kind of eye-candy. Lots bright colors. Lots of art. Lots of quirky little treasures hanging on the walls or peeking out of nooks and crannies. Lots of everything. So very India, but also so very … I didn’t know exactly, but something else. 

And then I met Mira and understood that she had infused her own artistic sensibilities into the place. A street artist, this spunky woman has been teaching ashtanga yoga in Cairo for nearly a decade. For me the space feels most complete when Mira and her dog Bindi are also present. 

When possible, I would come and stay overnight after my own class on Monday night, so that I could practice with Mira the following Tuesday morning and enjoy the benefits of being a student, which after months of solitary self-practice is like manna from heaven. It makes me smile now to think of those too-few mornings enjoying Mira’s adept assistance along with her quirky sense of humor and natural yet very Mira-brand of motherliness. Bless her, she always offered me bananas and dates after practice. 



The front room of AYC, cozy and inviting, serves many purposes: waiting lounge, locker room, hang out. I’ve slept in this room a number of times. I sleep very well here.

And Bindi…well, Bindi would always make an appearance towards the end of practice. Sometimes insisting on sitting on my mat as I went for an inversion. Once, she lay down with me in shavasana and Mira draped a blanket over the both of us. Those were blissfully sweet and deep practices in Cairo, mornings that I could focus on my self and have someone as lovely as Mira support me.

Mira teaches mysore-style self practice Sunday to Thursday at Ashtanga Yoga Cairo. For updates on classes, see Ashtanga Yoga Cairo on Facebook. 

Iman Elsherbiny will restart evening classes at AYC in February, see Ashtanga Yoga Egypt on Facebook for updates. 


AYC is low key. There is no grandiose signage. Just a little silhouette of a practitioner in tree pose beside the stairs leading up to the building. It’s not about the fancy signage, it’s about the practice!

Yoga, Egyptian-style…


Since I started traveling last year, Pazzifica Ashtanga Yoga is the third mysore program I’ve subbed for. It’s been a full season for me: Osaka, Cairo & Barcelona. It’s fascinating to see how, although the essence is the same everywhere, the yoga practice adapts to to the different needs and cultures of the people in each place. The character of practice changes according to the personality of the people and the flavor of the place.

My time in Japan, confirmed what many teachers shared with me. My students in Osaka were incredibly keen, present, disciplined and attentive, especially to their teachers. They worked hard to deepen their practice and got the results to prove it. I miss them still, it was a real joy to work with them.

And Egypt…well…how to explain…

Needless to say, Egyptian students are not the same as Japanese students. This was apparent in the first workshop, which I co-tought with Iman Elsherbiny. Some students had interrupted the flow of the class to negotiate their way out of doing a certain posture. Iman and I locked eyes. She smiled and shared with the class that she had just briefed me on how Egyptian students were unique and here we were in negotiations, right in the middle of class. Everyone laughed, the students especially, they seemed to agree that they would sort of be a handful and, in their way, were consoling me about it.

Fast-forward to the end of my trip as I led the Aswan retreat, half peopled by regular students, some I met on that very first day. Already, my first morning of silence was thwarted. Everyone agreed to it, sure. But no one seemed to remember come morning. For this group of 17, I could sense that their combined energy didn’t make for silence, so I just rolled with it.

And then, on the final evening, just as the bonfire was being stoked into existence, I’d just barely turned around to fetch a cup of tea when a giant speaker was brought out. Before I knew it, students were taking turns playing smartphone DJ–attention deficient ones at that, we’d make it through halfway or maybe two-thirds of a song before someone changed the track. Still, everyone was up and dancing! Really joyfully dancing!

On one hand, I wondered: how had I so completely lost control of the group, how would I maneuver them into the thoughtful sharing at the closing circle and soulful kirtan that I had planned?!

On the other hand, it’s pretty freaking hard to get people’s energy up in this manner! And here they were just clapping and singing and laughing and dancing because that’s what Egyptians do at a party. And our retreat had become a party, a celebration, a gathering of new and old friends, who had seriously bonded over three days of yoga classes, meditations, great food and amazing sightseeing. We genuinely loved each other and reveled in each others’ company. I had to admit, I could not have done better.

There’s more to that evening: a yoga retreat theme song that was improvised at the spot and a special Egyptian style warrior pose that I can’t even begin to explain…so totally fun and awesome, yet so totally wrong and outrageous at the same time—a feeling that replicates for me when I think of Egypt, so totally indescribably strange and also very eerily perfect.

Yoga, Egyptian-style…It is what it is, so much like the people there and Egypt itself, it’s got its quirks but it’s got a lot of heart! I look forward to returning!

Today, just finished my second week here in Barcelona. Starting to get to know the students, a mixture of the global community that make up this very unique city. I look forward to getting to know this magical place through this group of students. So far: Me Encantada!

Photo: Wall art carved into Philae Temple walls in Aswan, Upper Egypt.

Playful Spaces


Playing Outdoors

Yes, there are such things as ideal conditions for practice: a windless place, even floors. If you’re going to get all picky about it, you can go for wood floors and a temperature-controlled environment that duplicates the degrees produced by 65 bodies practicing in the shala in Mysore, India between the fall and winter months of the year.

Wherever you practice, you want to be able to cultivate focus and create a healthy platform for the body.

Recently, however, as I traveled between Aswan in Northern Egypt and Naweiba in Sinia, I found that outside the constructs of the “yoga studio”, spaces have a life of their own. They were often outdoors where cold, wind and sunlight  invariably come into the practice. Objects, passers-by, animals come into view, tugging at the focus. Noise calls for attention. In Naweiba, the most even ground was carpet atop gravel.

During the retreat I was teaching, there was one day we thought we had sneakily secured a chance to practice at a sweet spot in the Philae Temple in Aswan. The floor was stone, hundreds of years old. And even. I rejoiced at the flat surface on which we could go over the finer details of jumping forward and back in the vinyasa. That was until the guards totally panicked as they saw us get started on our colorful mats and we were only just standing and breathing. They freaked and ran us (infidels) out of the temple.

As a teacher, I wanted to be able to provide my students with the best learning experience. The space is a crucial part to that experience. And so far, we had no space and our poor logistics had resulted in unnecessary drama. As we chugged along in our boat to another island on the Nile River where our local guide said he knew a spot, I wondered whether I was failing my students in some way.

Said island was amazing. And sandy. Unevenly sandy! I tried not to panic. Instead, we started where we’d left off in Philae, “Aummmm,” getting on with the afternoon workshop program.

It wasn’t what I had planned–as I’d planned for having a nice stable ground to work with. But the result was so much better than I could have planned or anticipated. We adapted to the environment and adopted a sense of fun and playfulness that you can’t help but feel when you are out of doors, enjoying the afternoon sunlight, feeling the sand at your feet. It was probably the most fun class we had that weekend. It was spontaneous, light-hearted, but also quite challenging physically.

Sometimes the conditions for practice is far from perfect. Try not to scoff at it; for all you know it might be better than perfect!

Photo: So successful was our class in this spot that we planned the same outing for the second retreat in Aswan. This is batch 2 retreat participants enjoying their savasana in the late afternoon sun on the slope of this picturesque river beach.

Masks We Wear



We all have different masks we wear. Some, we hide behind. Some, we use as a shield to protect ourselves. These figurative masks can be tools of evasion, of subterfuge, of inauthenticity.

But what of the mask of practice, this mask of yoga which we put on each time we get on the mat? The face inevitably changes as we get into the flow–and at times, some kind of strange, indescribable thing happens. And we call it “yoga.”

What is this? Is this real? Or are we just pretending for the moment, wearing a guise of yoga?

In Africa, traditional masks, such as these pictured above, are used in ritual practices often with music and dance. The mask helps the wearer conceal his human identity and helps him transform into a medium between the earthly and spriritual realms

The mask of practice works similarly.

We come into it, this sacred ritual: the steady gaze and breath, the stoic expressionlessness of the face, only to disengage with our identifications with the self and attachments that come with that self.

And then, we dance. We dance to the most primordial sound, the rhythm of our own breath, communicating, connecting for that brief moment with something that exists beyond ourselves.

Photo: Traditional African mask collection in a shop in Aswan’s (Upper Egypt) souk.