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

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Shifting Sand

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Yesterday, I took a walk on the beach in Soma Bay before our last afternoon class. Just the day before, I led our yoga group on a meditation walk at the very same spot. And I was struck by how much the landscape had changed, how the sea and tides had reshaped the sand. It was so different from the previous day; it was another world.

Everything changes. When we surrender to the flow, when we stop resisting the natural forces that move us, we simply shift.

Leaving Soma Bay now and as I reflect at the week that passed, I can see how everyday was different. How the various elements (detox diet, treatments, meditation, community, yoga) have been forces that have worked subtly on each participant. How, as our inner-scape changed, so did the body, the face, the light in our eyes.

Yes, everything changes like the beach constantly resculpted and reformed by the tide.

PHOTO: Beach, Soma Bay, Red Sea, Egypt. Grateful for the shifts this week.

Natural Teacher

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Nature is a great teacher.

So many inspiring lessons from the Nun Center Yoga and Detox Retreat at Soma Bay. One afternoon meditation we took the class to the great outdoors, meeting on the beach before sunset for a walking meditation.

There, each participant walked quietly, with presence and awareness, each taking their own time to feel each barefoot step on the sand as the Red Sea lapped at the shore, meeting at one spot where the sun ducked behind the mountain ranges.

With little instruction other than to breathe, to feel their feet and be in the present moment, each person set off on their own small journey.

Each experience was different from the another, but what was clear was how nature became their teacher that afternoon. How the sand, the water, the epic far off mountain ranges, the air and the sun took part in a range of subtle and spectacular lessons. How when we relax into nature, it holds us, and leads the way.

Nature is a great teacher.

PHOTO: Retreat participant Amber and her son Jonas watching the sunset at the end of our walking meditation.

The Yoga Bridge

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For nearly a week, three times a day, I’ve been meeting with our Yoga and Detox group here at The Thalasso Spa Soma Bay yoga room, unimpressively called Gym 2.

From day 1, we’ve been building something, though at the start, well, it seemed indistinguishable.

Bits and pieces if this thing we call yoga. Shapes and forms with the body. Sanskrit Mantras. Breathing techniques. Meditation.

And with our group of mostly beginners, some entering the retreat midstream, even I wondered at the mysterious structure, I wondered how the yoga portion of the retreat would take form.

Now, nearing the end, I see that we have been building a bridge. That in this setting of detox, of clearing the body and mind and emotions, of letting go, the yoga practice has been about building a bridge between one way of seeing, living and being to another more wholistic approach.

We are between two varying paths. Yoga is a bridge. And I’m looking forward to seeing myself and this group on the other side.

PHOTO: Bridge at Soma Bay. Excited to lead the group over this bridge later on our afternoon walking meditation. Though the retreat is soon coming to an end, I know that whatever has started here will continue to move people forward. Happy to also know I will continue to have contact through classes as NUN Center this month and an Ashtanga and Inner Dance Workshop there at the end of the month. It’s going to be great!

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.

 

 

 

End is the Beginning

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End is the Beginning

It’s surreal to be back in Manila, an entire year since I first set off. Again, coming to full cycle.

So ends an incredible journey of both teaching and learning, which has taken me to North Yorkshire, the Spanish Pyranees, Barcelona, Japan, Egypt, Barcelona again, London, and Cairo for a second time. So ends a series of sharing in Egypt, so begins new opportunities to share and grow. So ends a year of travel, so starts a new adventure. Always: the end is the beginning.

Over a week ago, I was leading a retreat in Gouna, Egypt through Nūn Center. There, away from life in Cairo, overlooking the Red Sea, we found respite from the day-to-day madness. We were coaxed deeply into process: the detox diet coupled with yoga and inner dance facilitated some deep purging. Some kilos, tears, and a lot of old limiting ideas were shed. We were all sad to see this special time come to an end.

In truth, however, the end of the retreat marks the beginning of the real work ahead: the challenge of how to bring the lessons and impressions of that week into our “real” everyday existence. Returning “home” carries the weight of our old samskaras, our old patterns.

Sometimes, these cycles may make us feel like we are on some strange loop, things interminably repeating. And we struggle when we see that we ended up exactly where we started.

But nothing stays exactly the same. Change is inevitable–even if we appear to be revisiting a similar place or moment. One teacher/friend likes to point out that these cycles become more and more refined over time. It’s true; as I sit in my old room here in my family home, where nothing appears much to have changed, I cannot help but notice the biggest difference: me! I am different, and through me, things will continue to change.

 

PHOTO: Closing Circle for the Ashtanga Yoga & Detox Retreat with Nūn Center in Gouna, Egypt.

Into the Sea

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Into the Sea

I love it when yoga and inner dance are a surprise. Yoga, particularly, has hit the mainstream. We all know what it quote-unquote looks like, and from there extrapolate certain ideas. But when we really experience it, everything changes…

It’s a little like walking down a long pier and then getting to the end and seeing the expanse of the sea before us. We can look at it. Observe its beauty. Be in awe of it. We can take in its coolness, its freshness with our eyes.

Or, with a little courage, a little effort, we can walk to the pier’s edge, and plunge in, bathing in the cool clarifying waters, being surrounded by it, being in it. It is a different experience altogether.

The sea and its depths may continue to be a mystery, but we have a deeper (more sea-level) understanding of it. There is an experience of the sea, which often–in the yoga tradition–is a metaphor for Consciousness–with a capital “C”.

Yesterday, when we closed the Ashtanga Yoga and Detox Retreat in Gouna with Nūn Center, more than a few people expressed what a wonderful surprise the whole process was, particularly the yoga and inner dance process, how both supported the detox but also opened up the body, heart and mind.

I loved teaching this group for a week. A week program gives people time. It allows to people to slowly get their feet wet, to take a dip, then wade, until they are ready to dive.

Into the sea. Of consciousness. Of change.

PHOTO: Steps to the ocean. Off the pier near Sharaton Miramar’s Palace, the setting of the week-long retreat. A beautiful end to a very special time here in Egypt. And I think also a beautiful beginning, no, many beautiful beginnings… Gratitude abounds!