Light Crossroad

The light crossroad where intentions and the magic of practice meet. Above our heads: fairy lights and prayer flags taking wind.

To think! A million or so possibilities. Probably more. All things, meetings, happenstance, accidents, hard work, chances and blessings that assemble us under such bright stars.

PHOTO: Above: lights and prayer flags. Below: a potluck celebrating the 4 years anniv of Mysore SF; the certification of Magnolia Zuniga, making this strong lady the only certified Ashtanga teacher in San Francisco; and the new teacher…me. Thrilled to be joining both the teacher and the community.

Another World: Mysore SF

There are no signs here. No glitzy window dressings or clear glass where one might peek through and see yoga bodies. There is no merchandising. There is a door with a push-button code. Ok, the building, a dance annex, isn’t exactly non-descript, but the eye-catching yet abstract design that swirls and flows on the edifice mysteriously pulls one in—just like the practice that is going on upstairs in the early hours of the morning. This is Mysore SF.

Many Mysore spaces that I’ve visited has that in common. It’s low key. Usually not affiliated with a mainstream yoga corporation. It doesn’t dress up the practice. oys got its own energy, attitude. There is usually a great deal of condensation on the windows. The feeling of shanti or peace is not accomplished by burning incense or the sweet tones of new aged devotional chanting; it happens through consistent daily practice, a lot of patience, hard work, and on occasion a healthy dose of struggle just to remind you that you are alive and still well up for fighting the good fight. It is a room where people breathe and move. And if you stick with it, it’s a place where a kind of alchemy starts to happen.

I am always impressed and in awe of how practice evolves and translates in different countries, in different cities and spaces, and in the hands of different teachers–who, especially when they are teaching authentically, are all pretty unique. How distinct it feels and yet how it remains constant and true to the essence of Ashtanga yoga. So it is here, the same as everywhere, and yet also different. 

Like the fog here in San Francisco, students surely but quietly roll in, unfurling their mats like wings, breathing and moving, fogging up the windows, then rolling up their mats, returning the next morning to repeat the process. There is a steadiness to it, it’s substantial but also light. Like the morning fog rolling into the city, you can count on it. For me, coming into work these days is like watching the day break, seeing the world waking.


For more information, visit: http://www.mysoresf.com.

Pre-practice Practice

IMG_3664

For a week, my friend and I walked from our bungalows in Haad Yuan overlooking the Andaman sea, onto the beach, where we would take off our flip flops and press the morning sand still heavy from the previous evening’s wetting with the pads of our feet. We’d hoist ourselves onto the rocks and the wooden walkway that creaked with weight and wound around the large rocks that lined the corner of the beach. We would then go up the dirt path, up the small hill, then down the small hill, to the next cove where we would stop, take coffee and water at the Sanctuary, before taking the dirt trail that went up another small hill, which would open up to Why Lan beach–sublime and pristine–and the platform that overlooked the shifting waves of blue, where we would finally practice.

A striking change from the first three months of the year, where going to the shala in Mysore, India entailed, hopping on a scooter and taking a 2 minute drive so dark and so early in the morning that most people would consider the hour nighttime. These mornings in Ko Pangyan, that hour of travel between my doorstep to my practice mat, reminded me of how precious it was to go to practice. And how going to practice is one of my favorite times of the day: usually in the morning, when the hour between night and day is shifting, when it’s quiet, not much of the day has yet happened, and everything feels ripe with possibility.

When you practice at home, this transition is so very subtle. Even in India, it happened so fast, there was barely time to note it. In Thailand, however, this process for me was lengthened–not to mention given color and freshness by the natural environs. Something shifts in this time when we go from our day to day (largely automatic) living to doing things concertedly.

By the last couple of days, I was savoring that walk through the elements. Undeniably, it was a beautiful path and I was absorbing the sights of the morning, the sunshine, the beach, the trees and island brush. But I also came to appreciate it as a preparation for practice, where I was moving from the ordinary, everyday world to one that is quite exquisite and extraordinary, where the breath extends time and softens the body, the world quiets, not to mention the mind, and calm presides, reminding me that the getting on the mat itself holds its own journey and process. How when we observe this time before practice, how sacred it is, we start to invite the essence of practice, of mindful loving attention, outside the parameters of our rubber mats. How in this spirit, we feel the sanctity of post practice, of waking up in the morning, of going to bed at night, and an infinite number of other poignant moments…

PHOTO: Wooden walkway, Haad Yuan. Actually nearing sunset rather than morning. So grateful for my dear friend Clara who brought me to magical bay in Ko Pangyan, also to the lovely teachers Kerstin Berg and Mitchell Gold who support the practice so beautifully during the season there. The week on the island was a great reminder of how much beauty there is in the world. There is so much to take in, to love, to appreciate.

Catching Wind

P1270556

The wind of practice–how to explain this, how even in the most humid of rooms (such as the one I am currently practicing in here in Mysore, India) there is this light energy that sweeps one up, and we fly, breezing from one posture to another, flowing through the different layers of body: the physical body, the mind body, the pranic body.

It is the energy of the room, we are lifted by the breath, our own and the collective breath, as well.

For some years now, I have relished this phenomenon here in Mysore. I have enjoyed being blown about; surrendering to it has been a journey, and I have often greatly delighted and surprised at where this wind has taken me. Furthermore, this wind blows quite far and has propelled me to all sorts of places, all sorts of life lessons and experiences.

The time comes, however, when we must pilot these winds, when we must actively participate in our own flying, when we must take responsibility for determining our directions, for the strength of our own breath, when soaring whichever way is a choice not a matter of happenstance.

And when this time comes, do unfurl those sails, do allow the wind to power you, as you steadily take the wheel, steering yourself to wherever new or old lands you feel compelled to go to, taking support from the wind but– all the same– doing your own flying.

PHOTO: Among the toys and trinkets for sale at Nanjangud’s Shiva Temple during Shivaratri last month. Karnataka, India.

Reconstruction

2015/01/img_2794.jpg

 

Sometimes, we break down. We wear out our bodies with habitual misuse and patterns of misbehavior, which more often than not sneaks into even the most-mindful of asana practices.

I arrived in India all set to dig deep into my personal practice but also incredibly worn out. My back spasmed, an early warning sign, I feel now, asking me to reassess my approach to my body’s habits amd movements. And since then, practice here in Mysore, India has been about slow and steady healing, rebuilding and reconstructing a practice–so that it might be better than before, more sustainable, more long-lasting.

The great lesson of this time has been about the healing properties of practice, particularly primary series, which is apply named “yoga chikitsa” or “yoga therapy,” the space that the breath creates, the heat that slowly allows the body to mend. It has been a great exercise in patience and acceptance, an amazing opportunity to observe the pull of the ego and my own attachment to the physical aspect of practice.

There has been pain of all sorts: body, heart and mind–though what remains is this: a great sense of reconciliation and harmony between the three. Of course, there are all sorts of pains and varying degrees of injury, but this recent experience is a reminder for me that each difficulty, each challenge is a gift, that we are called to have courage enough to unwrap it.

PHOTO: Tower on Kukkarahalli Lake, taken nearly 2 months ago. Today, scaffolding is already off the renewed structure. My back is also very well now, after 7 weeks of practicing only primary series, I returned to practicing intermediate poses pain free . Everything changes with time–so long as we give it space enough to do so.

The Wonder

20141010-015522-6922497.jpg

We seek out these moments, where we stand before these massive monuments of wonder. And we stand with awe, speechless, feeling the thing that appears greater than the self.

We want to be shaken. We want to stir that something deep within the self. We want awakening.

In the beginning, our yoga journey is filled with such a-ha! moments. But later, over time, as practice steadies, they come with less frequency. And we long, oh how we long for such moments, for such great openings.

What if we looked upon the everyday with as much wonder? What if we celebrated each and every seemingly insignificant moment? What if we felt the wonder of the act of waking up each morning, felt the reverence of standing before our mats with the sun shining in, the sanctity of simply moving, of simply breathing, of simply being, of simply living, glorifying the wonder of everyday things?

PHOTO: Dashoor’s Bent Pryamid. My visit there last week reminded me of the power and mystery of life, but also reminded me that I should look at my life, in all of it’s greatness and ordinariness, with a similar awe–how amazing it is to be alive, to simply be. Looking forward to a month of weekly classes at The Shala here at Maadi in Cairo starting tomorrow till the end of October.

Being a Student

IMG_8506

The last three weeks in New York has been a special time to simply be a student. To relish the experience of the morning ritual, the anticipation of standing before one’s mat, to bow down and be guided by one’s teacher.

It’s been a joy to experience this in various ways.

With my teacher Sharath Jois as his US tour swept through New York for a week of led intermediate classes. Where my body, used to a self-paced practice, was pushed to move through intermediate in crisp unison to a symphony of asana postures counted to the beat of such a master conductor.

With a final week, practicing at Ashtanga Yoga New York at Broome Street, where I enjoyed the treat of practicing with others, with the support of such experienced teachers, with the rich history of ashtanga yoga on the walls, and with the blessings of the Hindu deities housed in the space which also doubles as a temple.

And with my sister and family in the week in between, foregoing practice for the rigors of wedding schedule. It was a different kind of sweet surrender, that week of intense and beautiful family gatherings celebrating my sister’s forthcoming nuptials, and finally with witnessing my sister exchange vows with an equally beautiful person.

There are many ways to practice, many different kinds of unions, many different opportunities to be a student.

Be willing, when you are called. Surrender to it. Study well and learn from each and every experience.

IMG_8511 IMG_8702

Egypt, Return to the Desert

IMG_2468

Ushtrasana, Camel Posture in the sand dunes of the White Desert last April 2014.

Landing in Egypt today marks a return to work. Here are some of the exciting things lined up for the next couple of months:

* October Classes at The Shala & Ashtanga Yoga Egypt
* October 30-November 2 Ashtanga in Aswan w/ Iman Elsherbiny at Fekra Cultural Center
* November 9-14 Nun Center Detox & Yoga Retreat
* November 19-23 Siwa Yoga Adventure w/ Iman & Freedom Travelers 

More are in the pipeline. Will post info as soon as.

If you would like to join or would like more information, email at kaz.castillo@gmail.com.

Gambatte! Do your Best!

IMG_5108

Friday morning led class is followed by Satsang here in Spirit Yoga Osaka. This is a time when the Mysore group can meet to practice other aspects of ashtanga yoga, whether it’s chanting or discussing yoga philosophy. Yesterday, July 4, 2014, was my first Friday here. It was a full power led primary; and I actually had fun counting the vinyasa-s! I particularly looked forward to discussing the Japanese word “ganbatte,” often translated as “Do your Best!” — which I realize can differ slightly in meaning depending on context. I wanted to explore “ganbatte” in the context of yoga and how I mean it when I say it in class. Here is a written expansion of yesterday’s talk.

I ask the circle of students (with the help of Naoko-san translating) gathered after Friday’s led class what they feel when someone tells them: “Ganbatte.” Many nod in agreement that it is a motivation, a cheer to go on, to do better. Hiroko-san, sitting across from me, nods too but also adds that depending on the context it can also come with a lot of pressure.

The Japanese are renowned for their work ethic and discipline, it is deeply ingrained in the culture–and beautiful to see when applied to the yoga practice. When taken to an extreme, it has a dark side. In Japan, karōshi, 過労死, or death from work, is legally recognized as a cause of death. People in their thirties have strokes or heart attacks due to working long hours and suffering from extreme stress–they’re just doing their best, right?!

This, of course, would not happen with the skillful yoga students here attending class and practicing with great awareness. Still, it begs the question: What does it mean to do your best in the yogic sense? What does ganbatte mean for the yogi?

Ganbatte is an encouragement, often translating to Do your Best! or Do well! or Be courageous!

It is supposed to inspire courage. In her famous TedTalk on Vulnerability, my favorite researcher/storyteller Brene Brown speaks about how the root of the word courage comes from the Latin “cor,” which is the heart. That in its early form, to be courageous was to speak from one’s heart.

These days we look at courage as bravery, having guts or gumption, daring to do what is difficult. All well and good. But to be truly courageous we must act according to what is true to our hearts as well, and from that place of authenticity we are able to act with greater awareness and equinimity. When we are true to ourselves, then we are in satya, one of the five yamas, the foundation of Patanjali’s ashtanga, or 8-limbs.

Now: what is best exactly? We often confuse what is best for what we think of as what is perfect. We often look towards some future ideal or goal. In our yoga practice, we often think of perfection as the final expression of the posture the way we see it in some yoga video, on YouTube or on Instagram.

Patanjali’s first sutra in the Yoga Sutras is “atha yoganusasanam.” Yoga is happening now. It does not look towards the future. It exists in the present moment.

Never does Patanjali outline the particularities of what an asana looks like, he doesn’t go into degrees or alignment, but rather on each individual’s feeling in the pose. “Sthira sukha asanam,” The posture is both steady and easy. And this will depend on the truth of each and every person, as they discover the balance between strength and flexibility, steadiness and comfort.

So wherever you truly are in your practice, so long as your put the right effort into finding that “sthira” and “sukha,” the right presence and awareness, no matter what the asana looks like, it is perfect for that particular moment.

So: Gambatte! Gambatte!!! Practice with true courage, practice from the heart! That is already the best practice.

PHOTO: Friday’s Led Class here at Spirit Yoga Osaka.