The Shala Seeding

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It’s my second to last self practice morning in Cairo and I walk through the Shala door, instantly struck by heat–the unmistakable warmth that comes from consciously moving bodies, from that deep breath with sound. I look down and am excited by the numerous pairs of footwear, more than what could fit on the shoe rack behind the door. I cannot help but smile in excitement, “it’s really happening!”

The Shala is the new yoga space, opened by my friend Iman Elsherbiny and her partners Lina Almari and Fadi Antaki, which partly drew me back to Cairo this last time. A little known yoga treasure in this part of Cairo, The Shala boasts of the only regular traditional Mysore program in Maadi (Mysore is a self paced way of instruction that empowers students to own their practice, to move consciously with breath, to learn the practice that is perfect for their body at the present moment) while also offering children’s yoga, TM meditation courses, kirtan, and vinyasa flow classes.

It’s been a joy to see the how each day is different, how the classes are filling up over the months. And then to come into a room that’s heating up, well, it’s pretty exciting stuff.

Of the teachers within the Ashtanga yoga tradition, I fall into a particular breed that move, from one place to another, covering programs, guest teaching–I do my part in the propagation of the yoga practice, spreading yoga dust with my traveling yoga mat.

However, a different kind of work awaits the teachers like Iman, brave enough to open shop and hold space on a regular basis (the gold standard amongst Ashtanga teachers)–they are like seeds, rooting themselves into the ground so that they can build a proper foundation in which a space as well as people’s practices can grow. It means overriding the wanderlust, it means showing up each morning no matter what. This is where the magic of daily practice happens, under the care of those willing to seed.

It’s been a very special time, this seeding of The Shala. It’s been really special to see this space at its infancy, to see it at so many “firsts”. I look forward to seeing it grow.

PHOTO: Mysore mornings at The Shala: seeding, growing! Mysore classes with Iman are 8-11am Sunday to Wednesday. The Shala is located at no 6, Road 200, Maadi.

Kirtan This Thursday

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Kirtan… I truly love this practice.

I love how singing together in a group invites us to embody divine energies: love, courage, openness, expansion. How it helps us breathe and builds community, creates understanding. In one such soulful/songful gathering in India some years ago I met this beautiful woman from Egypt, a teacher also, Iman Elsherbiny. And over the course of the two months we would see each other in practically every Kirtan gathering in Mysore, so blissed out, hardly exchanging a word. It’s amazing how the world works, how I return now to Egypt, my third trip in a year thanks to Iman’s support/healthy prodding.

What a pleasure it is to celebrate Amy’s new space The Shala here in Maadi with song, the very thing that drew us together. If you’re in Cairo, please join us! If you’re not, throw us a blessing-filled “Aum” from a distance

We kick things off at 9pm, Thursday, October 16. The Shala is located at Road 6, 200 — directly in front of the South American embassy. 

Egypt, Return to the Desert

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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.

A Look Back: Ashtanga Yoga & Detox Retreat in Gouna, Egypt

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This retreat with Nūn Center in Cairo was a total surprise. The day I decided it was time that I finally book a ticket out of Cairo, where I have been lingering for nearly over two months, Nada from Nūn called to see if I would like to lead the retreat, thus happily extending my time in Egypt.

The week-long retreat was a marriage of so many beautiful methods, all promoting nourishing the body, mind, and soul. Meditation, breathing exercises, Sanskrit chanting, yogasana (ashtanga and gentle classes for those on juice fast) were woven through an expertly planned and executed nutritional program with a juicing or (delicious!) vegan detox diet and body work. Inner Dance, particularly, moved participants to new depths, allowing people to feel free, release and flow in new ways. Everything just dropped so beautifully into place.

 

 

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There were a variety of yogasana classes. We started with a gentle welcome class introducing many to their first taste of yoga. The following mornings, more experienced practitioners opted for ashtanga class with the first two days being foundation-building led classes, followed by mysore-style self-paced classes, while juicers and beginners were treated to gentle flow and yin-style classes, focusing more on allowing students to cultivate greater awareness of their bodies.

 

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One of the best things about teaching a week-long retreat is the luxury of time. There is time to develop a stronger connection with students, to cultivate greater awareness in the body, to dive deeper into the multifaceted yoga practice. We had time to meditate each morning, to practice chanting mantras like the Gayatri Mantra, to sample yoga nidra and kirtan.

AND There was time to dance–inner dance, that is. In all, there were three sessions. The first session was an (inner)eye opener in which participants felt awe and surprise at the experience of their own healing energy. The second, which was a partner session, was a playful and loving exchange between participants. The final dance was one of deep surrender and beauty, spontaneous and heart-opening.

 

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I love how after the week, I could clearly see the transformational power of yoga combined with a rich slew of holistic practices, how everything beautifully supported each other. Grateful for this final offering in Gouna, Egypt. Excited at the possibility to work further with Nūn Center in the future.

PHOTOS: Nada in headstand, background is The Palace pool in Sheraton Miramar and the Red Sea behind it. / Asana classes. / Partner inner dance session. / Chanting together. / Final group picture.

 

 

 

Finding of Treasures

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IMG_4150Last day and I weave my way in and out the vibrant souk Khan el Khalili in Old Cairo. There is a lot to see and it’s easy to get lost. I have a particular goal, buying presents for family members, but along the way there are many distractions. Lots of shiny things. Glitzy miniature pyramids, faux pharaonic treasures used to bait tourists. Store sellers calling our attention in English, in Spanish, in all sorts of languages except the local Arabic. I am happy to have a guide, who knows her way around.

There’s a delicate balance to be maintained. Focus enough to keep to our main purpose–in this case, belly dancing costumes for my nieces–but with an openness, spontaneity enough to allow the magic of the souk to happen, wherein the unexpected treasures hidden there may also be revealed.

It takes skillfulness to navigate a bustling market place, teeming with possibility, with novelties and antiquities. It is exciting and inspiring. It can also be exhausting and frustrating if wondered haphazardly.

There is a need to be centered, so that you can spend time, energy and money wisely. Likewise, there is a need to simply be in the moment. To enjoy the souk, which in itself is a delight and a treasure.

Reminds me of (guess what!?) practice! Practice is a bustling souk, full of everything, amazing finds, incredible energy, but also dead-ends and traps. Navigating it can be tricky. It’s good to know our way around (as in self-practice) or to have guidance (with a teacher). It’s also good to go for a wander, to allow ourselves to get lost a little, because this is how we learn.

We aim to practice with concentrated effort. Too much focus on any one particular thing, and we may miss the unexpected treasures along the way. Too little focus and we allow ourselves to get caught up; we get distracted from the main goal, deep connection through practice.

Practice like going to the old souk demands/inspires a balance between skillfulness and surrender, the two facilitating the finding of treasures.

PHOTO: Alley-side stall with an array of old and new trinkets and treasures. No trip to Cairo is complete without diving into the dynamic old Islamic Quarter. So blessed to have such a great guide and companion on my day out at Khan el Khalili. Thank you, Sumaya!

Waves on Water, Power of Transformation

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Waves on Water, Power of Transformation

This week I am in Gouna. And all around me, there is water: inviting poolsides, the Red Sea, the manmade lagoons that break the desert landscape here with different shades of cooling blue.

I am here to lead the yoga program for Nun (pronounced “Noon”) Center’s Yoga and Detox Retreat. Nun, it turns out, comes from the idea of water. Nun spells out the ancient letter N, the hieroglyphic symbol of which looks like waves on water, like so: VVVVVVV.

Water is a powerful element. Without it, life would be impossible. In the Pharaonic tradition, water is the source of life. From the water, the lotus came into existence and from the lotus, light, everything… Water is the primordial stuff, from which all is created.

And so, it feels apt, that we return to the water. To cleanse. To wash away the grime of daily urban existence. To deeply undo the unhealthy patterns of living, from the food we eat, the activities we engage in, the thoughts we have or the ideas we take in. To create new patterns: healthy and sustainable ways of engaging with our bodies, our emotions, our minds, the food we eat…

It is said that water has memory and that it is a great conductor of information. So, I’m excited. It feels a little like we are diving into this great transformative soup, with many elements to support positive shifts: the different aspects of yoga (yogasana, meditation, breathing, chanting) combined with inner dance, nutrition (organic food, vegan or juice fasting), and body work.

We jump in the water, so to speak, later this afternoon. I am eager to get in, to see the waves on water, to experience the ripples of transformation.

PHOTO: Gouna, Egypt, the site for this week-long yoga and detox retreat with Cairo’s Nun Center.

Practice is a Window

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Practice is a Window

Sometimes the body is a dark room. Practice is like an open window that allows the light to shine inwards. Fresh air wafts in. And we can breathe.

A few days ago, I came into practice with a certain heaviness. Something personal had gotten to me, just the night previous. I knew that I was over-reacting to the news, that my emotions were stirred up in a way that didn’t quite equate the situation.

During such moments, practice can be intense. It has a different flavor; the movements doing a different, more focused work. I found myself feeling emotional standing in the very first samasthitihi even and then incredibly vulnerable in kapotasana, which left me winded, breathless.

When I finally lay down to take rest, letting myself go on the mat below me, it suddenly dawned on me where my emotion was coming from, the root of it. The whole issue was suddenly laid out so very clearly before me.

I hadn’t consciously tried to uncover the mystery of it, I had hoped for some relief at best. However, practice had simply, seamlessly uncovered it, skillfully teasing it out through breath and movement. And with new light, fresh air streaming in, I could better rest.

I am constantly surprised by this amazing thing, this incredible tool, inner detective, problem solver we call our yoga practice…a window to who we are, to our deep internal processes…

PHOTO: WIndow at Nun Center, Zamalek. I will be teaching at the Nun Center Yoga & Detox program between 28 May and 4 June in Gouna. Very excited to be leading a week-long ashtanga retreat complimenting a vegan diet and gentle yoga for juice fasters.