The Practice of Flight


Ashtanga has this gravity defying reputation. All over social media there’s a plethora of photos and videos of ashtanga practitioners displaying incredible aerodynamic feats, floating/levitating in and out of postures. All around there are workshops that focus on these technical aspects, of jumping forward and back, of engaging bandha to the point of slowing down time, of achieving this lightness of the body that mimics flight. And why not, it’s fun and looks amazing, and moreover it builds a particular awareness in the body.

I remember in my earlier years of practice, I loved it, I loved the feeling of height, and flight, that moment of suspension as I moved my body forward on the mat, before landing. I remember a fellow student once compared me to a grasshopper. And, if I remember correctly, I rather liked the comparison.

I’m not much of a “flyer” anymore. I’d probably still enjoy it, but over the years of studying with Sharath Jois in Mysore, India, that among other bits and pieces have dropped off the program.

I think for some strong practitioners this comes quite naturally. What I realized, however, for me, it did not. A lot of extra energy went into that one particular inhale, the effort was disproportionate, and practice is about an evenness of breath and effort. And extra effort in jumps, meant extra work for shoulders and arms which then resulted in tighter albeit stronger muscles.

Letting go of it, and for sure attachment was there, was just as much a part of me growing as a practitioner as it might be for someone else who chooses to develop these abilities.

Over recent years, practice has been more about streamlining, taking out the extra flourishes, those dramatic flares, which– when they are effectations–are simply distractions from the meditative flow of sadhana. It’s been about efficient use of mind and body (at 40, I am more concerned with being able to have a healthy and sustainable practice).

With a practice like ashtanga yoga, I think there is more than one way to fly. There’s the kind of flight that’s physical and really stunning to see. Then there’s another kind, and this is the one I find myself more and more impressed with, the practice that glides with such ease it barely registers. These belong to the super heroes in disguise practicing quietly beside you in the shala, so subtle until that one sliver of a moment you note with much surprise that they are doing something quite extraordinary. Likelihood is that there are even more practically invisible yogis who are totally going unnoticed, soaring above us all.

Whatever our mode of flight (I think different ways suit different people), ashtanga simply inspires us to take off to greater heights–and to greater heights we must go, no matter what that looks like.

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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!

The Mysore Movie

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The Mysore Movie

The mysore space is like a movie. The independent kind with its own special narrative woven into one frame, a unified theme: practice.

Each mat contains a different story, a different protagonist. A different antagonist too. Some are dramas, others are comedies, and since this is ashtanga, the thriller and action variety are very much alive in the mix.

I am not the director, though I come to assist here and there. Somehow, I have been tasked to piece the montage together, to hold the space in which all the stories can run their course, tell their tales.

Really, though, each story is independently created. And together, as a whole, it is a collaborative process, act of co-creation.

And like many art house films, it does not have a typical ending. It just goes on and on…epic little stories, both continuous and totally new each and every morning!

PHOTO: Second day of the month of February here at Pazzifica Ashtanga Yoga, Barcelona. It’s always exciting to see the room fill at the start of the month. It’s a joy to see more and more of the regulars recommitting to regular practice.