Playful Spaces

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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.

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Thank You, Cairo

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Last Sunday, I taught my final classes in Cairo. And while my time in Egypt has not yet drawn to a close–In a few hours I will be taking a plane to Aswan in Upper Egypt. My first retreat there will start tomorrow afternoon. The second on the 24 of December (which there is still spaces for!)–the last couple of days have been about wrapping up my time here in Cairo.

It will take more than one article to express all that I’ve experienced and learned here. But for now, just a moment to express my deep gratitude.

First and foremost, thank you to Amy/Iman Elsherbiny, who invited me to come and teach in her place while she studies in India with our teacher. Who knew that one casual conversation two years ago in Mysore would give birth to this incredible life experience?! I feel honored that you would trust me with your community here. Before you left, you made sure that I would have a life, friends and family here to help navigate the Cairo craziness–and that has made an incredible difference in my time here. And even in your absence, you have been totally present in this adventure of mine, assisting me all the way from India, being my springboard, advisor, and friend.

I want to thank the amazing students that I’ve met here. It has been such a pleasure to share with you all. I am so happy to take part in your yoga evolving journey–even for such a small sliver of time. Thank you for surrendering to me, for trusting me with your bodies and your practice! I have learned more from you all than you can possibly imagine! Your love, curiosity and excitement about the practice, your perseverance in times of change inspires me.

I am grateful to all who have genuinely and lovingly welcomed me, you know who you are! You opened up your homes, offered up your friendship, almost always upon the first meeting. You warm my heart so. You have translated for me, supported me, helped me go beyond just living to teach, you have reminded me of who I am off the mat, and have taken a great role in the greater yoga practice in which I am constantly challenged by: how to live a more balanced and integrated life.

And finally, I must thank the city itself, Cairo as a whole has been so incredibly welcoming. So strangely instructive; it has been a great teacher these last couple of months. I am challenged by you, also blessed, fascinated and everyday just a little bit more in love with you. Thank you, Cairo.

So much love to you all! I won’t say goodbye, because I know we will all meet again!

Photo: My last Mysore class in Zamalek, December 15, 2013. Amy/Iman Elsherbiny will be returning from her Mysore adventure in February.

So…Self Practice

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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

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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.

Give yourself a gift: Ashtanga in Aswan, Batch 2

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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 kaz.castillo@gmail.com.

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

Workshop: Expand & Flow in Maadi and Zamalek, Cairo

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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…

Egypt-Maadi-Zamalek Workshops

Workshop: Peaceful Warrior at Shanti Yoga Cairo

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Shanti Yoga Cairo is hosting one last workshop for their growing yoga community. The workshop is beginner friendly but will also be informative for more advanced practitioners too. Will be sharing a special theme also, one that I feel is so important today, not just in Egypt but everywhere!

Egypt-Shanti Yoga Heliopolis