Mysore Meeting Place

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There may be no words, no looks. No exchange of names. No memories other than bodily shapes in space, movement, and breath. Yet, this is where we meet.

This place where there is no dress code, no make up, there are no formalities. We are allowed to be ourselves, different and at the same time feel as if we are in perfect harmony, no matter what culture we hail from, what body type we have, what age group we belong to, whatever our range of flexibility might be, whatever our skill or talent or experience.

We meet here: in this sacred space of unifying energy, sadhana, practice.  

PHOTOS: Spirit Yoga Osaka, Morning Mysore. These images of Melissa and Naoko practicing remind me of the profound unifying energy of practice. The poetry of what happens in a mysore room. 

Soaking up the inspiration here in Osaka! I am in my second and last month of covering for Veronique Tan here in Spirit Mysore Osaka. Mysore Morning schedule in August: Sunday 7:30am, Monday to Thursday, 6:30-10am. Friday 6:45am Led Primary, followed by Satsang. 

Do Your Homework

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Kaz Castillo assists Veronique Tan at Spirit Yoga Morning Mysore

Kaz Castillo and Veronique Tan with the dedicated practitioners at Spirit Yoga Morning Mysore.

Last week, Veronique Tan, whose program I am covering here in Osaka, distributed a sheet explaining “homework” to each regular student. I was with her, as she explained to each student what she recommended they work on over the next two months that she is away in Mysore. And how I would be here to help.

On Thursday, one student, Akemi-san noticed that I had my own sheet–actually, sheets plural! A neat stack stapled together, on each page was the profile of two students, each a regular Mysore pass holder, their current posture, their work in progress, their challenges and their “homework.” She pointed with delight and laughed!

“Yes,” I smiled and laughed too, explaining that I also had my own “homework” from Veronique-sensei!

And so work begins. Homework in tow, I will be going to Spirit tomorrow morning, my first day of a two month covering stint here at Spirit Yoga Osaka.

The Mysore program here is not new to me. Past teachers that have taught here are friends. The first to hold the program, Ursula Scott was instrumental in inspiring me to make my first ever trip to Mysore, India. Then, last year, I became the interim covering teacher here between August and September. Returning now after nearly 9 months of teaching in Egypt and in Spain, of traveling and having what I can best describe as an epic romantic adventure with myself, I feel a little like I’m returning to the classroom after having done quite a bit of homework myself.

Sure, it’s been a little “off book.” There’s been a lot of practice–but a lot of the prime yoga  experiences lately have happened off the mat. Self-study is not an isolated activity that is happening at home, it is happening all the time in life.

One never really knows what to expect or what our practice will be like or what the class will bring each morning. And it’s best not to have any expectations. But we certainly can come to class, to our mats, to our lives a little more prepared each and every morning…

The Schedule of Morning Mysore: Monday-Thursday 6:30-10:00am. Friday 6:45-8:45am Led. Sunday 7:30-10am.

PHOTO: Spirit Yoga Morning Mysore. Photo by: Veronique Tan.

Practice: The Lonesome Road

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Practice: The Lonesome Road

Yesterday, Full Moon Day/Valentine’s Day, I took a day trip to nearby Montserrat, famed mountain of Catalan dotted with sacred sites, hermitages and churches, as well as the beautiful Basilica of Santa Maria de Montserrat. I got up the easy way, taking the Aeri, which just zipped a cable car full of us tourists up the mountain.

In the late afternoon, an hour and half before sunset, I decided to walk down to the pueblo of Montserrat, where I could take my train back to Barcelona. Easy enough, I thought.

It’s interesting how I little understood the hugeness of Montserrat, the height of it, until I took the time to walk it.

Not even a quarter of the way down on a narrow, zig-zagging dirt path on edge of the cliffside of the venerable mountain, looking at the dot-like municipality of Montserrat far far down below, I start to freak out just a little bit. I start to wonder: can I get there before sunset? What if something happens to me, what if I trip and twist my ankle? I am out here on my own and have not seen another soul on this little road.

I debate whether I should scale back up the path, take the Aeri or the furnicular down, like the rest of the reasonable tourists–none of whom seemed to hatch up the same plan as myself.

This is when the yoga kicked in for me. This is when I start to breathe slowly, when I start to bring mindfulness back into every step. I reason with myself: isn’t this, after all, what I wanted when I set out that morning, to spend time with myself, myself and the mountain?

Like yoga practice, some paths are meant to be walked alone. There are times when we have companions and times when we have guidance. Then there are the other times: when practice is a lonely road. It is useless to panic and counterproductive to back track. We simply need to move forward and enjoy the gift of isolation.

Had I not moved forward, I would not have seen the view from the side of the mountain, not seen the beauty of the world below, not understood the scale and grandeur of Montserrat or have developed the reverence I have for it now. And then, there’s the relationship with myself, with my self-belief and trust in my own abilities…

Practice can be a wonderful community experience, one connected to the collective. But it can also be a lonesome road. When that time comes–and it is a sacred and precious time–we must be brave to walk that path alone.

PHOTO: Spectacular view from Montserrat, as I start to make my way down this awesome mountain.

Wide Open Spaces

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7:00am, January 7, 2014. I turn the key, turn the lights on, place Guruji’s photo on the altar, I light two candles. Students start to arrive, they lay down their mats and they start to breathe. The room heats while students move between standing postures. At a quarter to 8, we stop for a moment to fill the room with “Om” and the opening mantra.

What was an empty, dark room fills into my first mysore class in Barcelona, the beginning of a whole new teaching adventure.

Photo: The room and the mysore practice. I love this open space in Yoga con Gracia where Pazzifica Ashtanga Yoga has daily morning and evening mysore classes. Big windows, high ceilings, the room lends itself to the spirit of potential. Mysore mornings are Monday-Friday, 7am-9:30am.

So…Self Practice

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Self Practice: a wild beast, appearing like an inconceivable task for the student used to guided classes or mysore spaces held by teachers. It can seem daunting and difficult to go through the practice on one’s own with no assistance, no adjustments, no corrections, not even the watchful gaze that keeps us on the breath, keeps us intentionally in the zone in which yoga happens.

With me preparing to leave Cairo and with my friend Iman still studying in India, there is a short gap of time in which there will be no present teacher for the Ashtanga Yoga Egypt students and the choice to self-practice will arise.

I can only hope that most will choose this path for the short term–it is a wonderful opportunity to connect with the guru within, to get to know yourself, to grow with your practice.

I cannot stress enough the importance of having a teacher with whom you deeply resonate with and with whom you are willing to trust your body and your process. But in the times when there is no teacher, when there is no mysore space to rely on, the responsibility of practice falls into the hands where the practice of yoga belongs to the most in: your own.

It’s true, a solo mat practice has its challenges but its rewards are incalculable.

In my own experience, over the last 7 years, I have been blessed with instructors who passed through where I was living; they would come and they would go, but always leaving me with so much. In 2010, I then started practicing in India with Sharath Jois, who I now consider my main teacher. Since then, I have been in the presence of my teacher for three months out of the year, and then I am on my own again and self practice is often the only option.

It’s ok, because there’s plenty of “homework” –lots to cultivate, to practice until the next time. This time of self study (svadyaya) can be a wonderful experience of integrating the practice into the system, into the body and the mind.

These gaps have been very rich. They have allowed me to take responsibility for my own practice, they have taught me to be independent, to be inquisitive and discerning. I have learned the difficulties of self-motivation. And, yes, I have at times stumbled and lost my flow. I’ve also felt the joy of returning to practice, how my body rejoices at the breath and movement, how my mind stills and empties, how grounding it is, how expanding.

More than anything, self practice establishes the relationship between you and your own practice, that whether your teacher is present or not, your practice is yours–recognizing this is so very important.

Sunday is my last class in Cairo. The first Aswan retreat starts on December 19 (to the 22), the second on the 24-27 December. Spaces are still available in the second batch.
& Iman Elsherbiny will be returning to Ashtanga Yoga Egypt from a very fruitful Msyore, India season in February.

Photo by Zeinab Lamloum. Bakasana during my own self-practice after teaching.

Meeting in the Mysore Space

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One class day to go here in Cairo. The countdown, I have to be honest, makes me sentimental. While my stay here has just been shy of two months and I recognize that in many aspects I have just been skimming the surface, there is such a great depth built into this work, into this practice of ashtanga yoga.

As we breathe and move in space, taking shapes with deliberate awareness and attention, we embody this process called yoga.

The mind and its trappings come into play, our issues and injuries–physical or otherwise–come to the surface. Our desires and attachments bubble up…and then the practice attempts to burst them.

The practice shines a light on the shadows: tension in the body often reflecting tension in the heart or mind, the dark of the ego lurking in the corners…

Teaching in a Mysore space is like getting to know someone very intimately without any context–and without any judgement. It’s like knowing nothing about a student’s life story yet observing personal symptoms of life and signposts of living.

The joy, particularly, is seeing how it gets physically worked out through this incredible whittling down process, sometimes with grace and ease, while other times, let’s face it, it’s a shit fight!

Sharing in this quiet personal process makes people who practice together incredibly close, sometimes without any of the usual friendly exchanges. We feel each other’s struggles and we celebrate each other’s victories on the mat, which is really a metaphor for our lives.

As for being the “teacher”, I feel incredibly blessed to take part in this process. Often, I do little other than being there. And there are times I need to admit to myself that there is nothing I can do other than to back up and give someone space.

Then there are the little moments that amount to so much: jump starting someone’s practice, moving someone in a different direction, aligning the body to feel secure and spacious, holding someone in a difficult posture…

Understanding and trust are built on this straightforward physical exchange and a very special relationship is formed between a teacher and a student.

I love meeting like this, in such a space that is both so real, so organic, so surprising; this is a space where yoga happens.

Photo: We ease into each other’s company with fluidity that comes with breathing in the same pace. The regular practitioners (Ashtanga Yoga Egypt, La Zone, Maadi) and I engage in the most common post-practice practice: having breakfast fit for champions at Lucille’s on Road 9.

Self-Heating Practice

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Last week, we were at a high of 30 degrees, today: a blistery 7 degrees. It is cold! Winter has come suddenly to Cairo.

It may be nippy to the bone and the cold can be stiffening but don’t dismay because the practice creates this wonderful internal heat.

Breathe deeply that breath with sound. Move with thoughtful, deliberate breath. Ignite the body furnace with deep and deliberate inhales and exhales. Allow your breath with sound (ujaii) to heat and move the body safely from one posture to the next. And melt into the collective energy of a room in practice.

Turn up the heat, breathe fully and steadily.

Reminder: please keep yourself warm during practice, dress appropriately and it is recommended to cover up after practice! Last class for Maadi and Zamalek is this Sunday. Yalla!

Photo: Four can heat up a space. It was such a pleasure to be warmed by the four Maadi regulars yesterday morning. I found myself in a funny yoga clothing strip tease, removing first my scarf, sweater, then leg warmers each time someone entered the room to start practice. La Zone was practically toasty by the end of morning practice.