And We Are Back

Classes are back in session here in Cairo. We are happy to get things started this September. It’s a full month.

On top of our regularly schedules classes, Sunday to Thursday 7-10:30am and our two led classes on September 14 and 28 at 8:30am, we are starting our second Ashtanga Yoga Introduction Course, a 4-week course that includes 3 workshop weekend classes and unlimited Mysore classes for the month. It’s a great program for starting or refreshing your yoga practice.

We’ve added “Mysore+”, additional self practice sessions on September 7 and 21, these classes are for quiet exploration of your practice. I will be available in the room while self practicing myself. It will be a nice time to practice together.

Mysore Zamalek classes are at Nūn Center, 4 Shafik Mansour, Zamalek, Cairo. We accept drop ind from experienced practitioners, please contact us to make an appointment if you are a new student. Our email is mysorezamalek@gmail.com.

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The Thread of Practice

Parampara, the unbroken line of lessons from teacher to student, is one of the most striking things about our yoga practice. It is a thread that runs through the practice, that holds it together. Many question this, especially these days. But to say that this has no part in modern day Ashtanga yoga, I think, would be a step in the wrong direction. While I often have long stretches of solo self-practice, I could not do this without a teacher.

Is this system perfect? Well, is our practice perfect? It is all just a process. We’re constantly learning, constantly evolving and innovating.

As I take time off from teaching my own students for the next couple of months to visit my own teacher at the source of Ashtanga yoga in Mysore, India this thread becomes ever more present, ever more felt, ever more experienced.

Yoga becomes alive in such learning spaces. I learned long ago that I had to give up my aspirations to teach. Period. To be a student is one of the greatest gifts, to be in a position to receive, to learn, to grow, and to be guided when undergoing such a precious journey is such a blessing. And while I feel the separation between myself and those who I meet daily on the mat, I know that for now it is time for me to learn, to nourish my own practice, and that the long arms of these two months ahead will extend far longer than one might imagine.

Mysore Zamalek is closed from today till early August. We look forward up restarting with you then!

Practice Self Forgiveness

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Photo by Michael Tutaan, Boracay, Philippines

The great irony, perhaps, of diving deeper into this physical practice is how metaphysical it becomes, the more advanced the posture, the more subtle the mind and the heart. How, for example, taking one’s leg behind the head is less about the openness of hips, the ability to internally rotate the leg while lifting the center and, with it, the back–though all fundamentally a part of the process–than it is about cultivating patience and perseverance.

Once in a while, I ask myself, what have I learned? What is new, especially when there are no new postures to investigate or obsess about? It has been two years, almost, since I’ve studied with my teacher in Mysore and my practice seems to be greatly about establishing a steady rhythm, building strength and getting comfortable. Some days are tougher than others, I must admit, developing strength seems to have come with loosing a certain amount of bendiness. And establishing a life in one place, as I have done this year in Egypt, comes with an entirely different set of challenges that sometimes get in the way of the smooth flow of practice.

For me, I think one of the greatest lessons of cozying up to the intermediate series these last two years is learning to forgive myself.  I may have not overcome my own expectations, they creep up on me still while on the mat (not to mention off the mat!), but it’s never so hard as before. Mostly, because I’m not as hard on myself as I was before. Often, I find myself humorously observing the struggles, the days I ate pasta and how that feels in titthibhāsana, the days I can’t get a good grip on the mat in karandavāsana and fall, the days I get on the mat late and I’m so tired that I’m practically crawling through the practice. It’s all ok, I can’t always be my best physically though I can still put my best effort forward based on the conditions that I am given and that I allow myself.

We cause so much undue suffering with unforgiving thoughts: why can’t I do it, what’s wrong with me, why am I not good enough? Such fluctuations of the mind are debilitating, they stall us, not just mentally but physically too, they keep us from moving forward. And thus the relationship between the mind and the body continues. So, instead, let’s be kind to ourselves, let’s be sweet and also honest. Be honorable, admit when it’s hard but do not harden because of it. Forgiveness in itself is a deep and fulfilling practice.

Ashtanga Yoga and Ramadan

Last year, I decided to teach through the first 3 weeks of Ramadan. It was the first time any of my trips to Egypt coincided with this period. I hadn’t planned for it, but was happy to have a new teaching experience.

I had been told that it would be different, a few teacher-friends based here advised me on what worked best for them and their students during the month-long period where practicing Muslims fasted from sun-up to sundown.

I scheduled classes with a bit of trepidation, a shorter morning class as usual for non-fasters and another afternoon session before the breaking of the fast, iftar. It wasn’t my ideal to break up our already-small group and work the extra hours, but, in my gut, I felt that traditional ashtanga practice would suit Ramadan, that it could be a good compliment to the season as a meditation and as a physical support system.

In truth, the entire rhythm of Cairo changes during this time, the breaking of the fast determines the working and living hours of its 9.5 million residents, regardless of one’s faith. Energy consumption becomes a serious issue among fasters, but non-fasters too take on some of the rigorous social schedule dictated by meal times. Also, revised office hours creates time, particularly in the hours before Iftar. The clubs and bars cease to serve alcohol and everything quiets down or turns inwards.. A totally different energy and pace blankets the city.

Teaching during Ramadan last year reminded me how important it is to be flexible as a teacher; and reinforced my belief that the mysore-style self-practice is designed to be flexible itself, how it can give students the space to tune into their personal needs, and to practice in a way that is nourishing and safe.

In the end, I really fell in love with the experience. I’m happy to say that the students did as well.  The afternoons were hours of exploration through which I could experience Ramadan through my students. Together, through the practice, we tuned into the body, worked with the various phases that comes with fasting, from the lightheadedness and fatigue early on to the lightness of body and bursts of energy that came later.

I saw how the initial effects of fasting effected practitioners and we were careful to respect and honor them especially during the first week of practice. We focused on a softer breath and slow steady movement, careful not to push bodies. We approached postures, like standing forward-bends, carefully to avoid dizziness. We spoke about the yamas and how important it is to practice with non-violence, with honestly, with non-attachment, in a way that we aren’t stealing from ourselves and in a way that we are using our energy wisely.  I encouraged students to honestly tune into their available energy reserves, stopping early on in their practice if they felt low energy. With new students, we learned the sequence slowly, pretty much as we would do in the regular Mysore sessions.

By the second week, students were over the headaches caused by caffeine withdrawal. People were more used to breathing after a day of no water. The body was more used to fasting. Students could do more and proceeded further than the week before. By the third week, students were actually light and lithe, often more so than before Ramadan started. The practice was energetic but also stable and focused.

I saw the effects of the practice in a concentrated form with a group of people on a particular spiritual journey. How the Mysore practice, so often villainized as being a difficult-hard-as-nails sort of yoga method, could be used as a gentle tool for personal introspection as well as a means for students to condition their mind and body, developing flexibility and strength steadily over a period of time.

In a week, Ramadan will start. I’m looking forward once again to teaching those hours before iftar, on top of the morning sessions, experiencing the shifts and learnings that come with it, which inevitably make us not just better students, but hopefully better people in the process.

Mysore Ramadan Schedule (May 27-June 24)
Sunday to Thursday
8:30-10:30am
4:30-6:30pm
Month Pass: 1600LE/ 1 Week Pass 550LE
We accept Drop-In Students who have existing practices already 150LE
(If you are a beginner to the practice, you will need roughly an hour and a month pass)

NŪN CENTER is located at 4 Shafik Mansour, Zamalek. Call or email us for questions or to book for Ramadan: 0122 398 0898 / we@nuncenter.com. http://www.nuncenter.com

Practice of Pieces 

 

 

 

Should you come to a “mysore” self-practice class with me for the first time, I’ll most likely ask you to close your eyes and breathe. First, with your ordinary breath. And from there, we start to extend each inhale and exhale, sipping the air from our nostrils until we create a soft sound, which slowly heats the body. We’ll probably do a few sun salutations, maybe some standing postures, but the real lesson on that first day is breathing. It is the most basic unit of learning in the traditional ashtanga method.

Over time, we introduce other units: the engagement of our core muscles or energy locks called bandha. vinyasa or movement-breath, and various postures that condition and open the body differently. On a more subtle level, there are lessons in focus and awareness, effort and conservation of energy, dedication, devotion and self-love–all these units are actually inexhaustible, we return to them over and over, each time more in-depth. Slowly but surely the lessons expand over time.

When we start, it’s a little like learning something in pieces and it’s hard to see the big picture. Many get impatient or frustrated that they can’t see where it’s all going. People get bored of the pace, or angry at the level of concentration we often ask from beginners, or afraid of the level of commitment we ask from all students.

I ask new students to commit for the month, recommending them to practice the 5 teaching days, at the barest minimum 3. And here, in Egypt, I’ve actually seen people physically recoil at my suggestion as if I were some yoga sadist. Yes, I do know life is hard here, that Cairo traffic is ridiculous, that a morning practice is counterflow the nocturnal rhythms of the city. I totally understand. And yet…

I also know that people want to be healthier, they want to have better habits, they want to be more flexible and strong, they want to have peace and focus. So I ask anyway, daring aversion to such structure because I know that this is a formula for change that really works. For those who practice regularly, the pieces come together relatively quickly, and the yoga practice becomes wholesome, full and giving.

As I approach March and another month of teaching here in Cairo, the questions I want to ask from new and old students are the following: Are you willing to show up for yourself on a regular basis? Are you willing to breathe and move, everyday learning something new about the practice and maybe about yourself, everyday recognizing that you are this amazing creature that can get stronger and more flexible not just in the body but in the mind and heart too? Are you willing to stand before the difficulties so that we can piece the practice together?

 

Regular Teaching continues here at Nūn Center:
Mysore Mornings is Sunday to Thursday, 7-10:30am.
Evenings are Monday & Wednesday, 8-9:30pm.

We have some special programs at the start of this month at Nūn:
Full Led Primary
Friday, March 4, 9-10:30pm

Ashtanga Yoga: Tool For Change
Saturday, March 4, 11am-1pm

Inner Dance, Sound and Movement Meditation
Saturday, March 4, 6-8pm