BEING Ashtanga Yoga

When Filipa Veiga, Portuguese ashtanga teacher and writer, asked me to join the contingent of yoga teachers offering classes at the Being Gathering 2017 at Boomland in Idanha-a-Nova, Portugal, it put into motion a plan to spend the summer in Europe. I wanted to go see my teacher in mid August in London, I was suddenly committed to my first festival date in early July, what to do then with the time between?

Before I knew it, I had before me a bit of vacation, time to spend with beloved friends, a restart to a personal project that had been put on hold, and a small offering of teaching dates in Portugal, Romania and Vienna. I’m excited for this period after a 7 month stint in Cairo, where I will return to continue teaching after August.

These breaks from routine, the opportunities to connect with other teachers, especially to be a student myself, to tap into the global movement having to do with yoga and healing, allows me time to recharge and also ruminate on what exactly we are doing in our day to day, what is this practice, what is it’s purpose, why do we come to the mat day after day?

On the last day of the festival, I introduced ashtanga yoga as a tool for BEING, for being a better person, for being more focused, more attentive, more present. I alluded to the great Patanjali, to the first line of the Sutras: “Atha yoganuśasunam” Now, begins yoga. It brings us to the present moment. I ended the class with Patanjali, as well, and how he described yoga practice as “dirgha kala nairantarya asevitam,” a long time, without interruption, with whole hearted devotion.

And so begins the summer for me, starting with a most extraordinary of gathering of people, from healers to storytellers, green warriors to spiritual seekers, but also with a great sense of what it means to BE in yoga, how we have a responsibility to be as present with ourselves, our relations, our fellow creatures and planet as much as possible and how practice doesn’t end after our hour and half of sweating and grunting on the mat, it goes on into our day, in every action, in every breath.

Join me in this extraordinary experiment of being through the ashtanga yoga system. I teach in Yoga Lisboa July 11, 12, 13 (www.yoga-lisboa.com), Asociata Ashtanga/Ashtanga Yoga Romania (info@anahata.ro) on July 17-30, then finally in Mysore Vienna from July 31 to August 8 (www.mysorevienna.com).

Photos taken by Clara Lua, Being Gathering, July 2.

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Aditya Hrdyam: Shine Your Light

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This morning before class, the sky was like a gray soup; the air unusually chilly. Hours later, the sun shines, melting the early autumn coolness. Once again, it is summer.

The power of the sun. Energizing. Warming. Nourishing us with light.

Today’s satsang topic, Aditya Hrdayam, the Heart of the Sun, is all about this. How when we shine the light of presence and awareness, we are able to dispel the shadows, so that we might see ourselves in our fullness.

How it is with such light that we are able to destroy our own egoic demons, just as Rama does the 10-headed demon Ravana, by calling on the powers of the sun.

Over the last week, leading up to the satsang today, I have been chanting this hymn at the start of each class. And some students have commented that they feel something different when they hear it.

I too feel something when I chant this. It’s like a clearing of the clouds in my mind and my heart, and having the warm sun shine on my face.

Even in the foreign Sanskrit, the hymn has the power to move, touch, inspire–without even knowing the words or meaning.

Perhaps the Aditya strikes an internal chord, we recognize in its vibrations our own heart and history, we recall some deep memory that we too, like the sun, are light beings destined to shine.

Aditya Hrdayam.
The Heart of the Sun.

PHOTO: Rest and shine. Students taking rest after led primary. It was a pleasure to share a part of the Ramayana with the students today. Excited that some have expressed an interest in learning the Aditya and reading the Ramayana! This makes me happy.

Gambatte! Do your Best!

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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.

 

 

 

Weekend Warriors

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It may not seem so, but it takes courage to get to class sometimes–to subject yourself to Cairo traffic (even on lighter Fridays), to leave your family for a few hours in the middle of the weekend so you can have a moment to yourself to feel your own body and breath.

But the result is worth it: victorious, we enjoyed the two-hour half primary exploration working on breath, workshopping a little this elusive thing called bandha.

Next Friday, 1PM, November 29 will be the last of the Friday Led classes in Maadi. In December, La Zone schedule will be Sunday to Thursday mysore mornings 7-10am until December 15.

Photo: This Friday’s led class at La Zone, Maadi, Cairo.