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.

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Oh, My! How They Grow!

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IMG_4748I recently came home to Manila after a year of travel and teaching. The most striking of changes were seeing my nieces and godchildren, two of whom were newborns when I left the Philippines. I was shocked and delighted to see them walking, talking (though the words are not formed yet).

Returning to Osaka after nearly nine months, I feel a little similar, seeing how things have changed and how the program has grown.

It was a beautiful and easy re-entry to Spirit Yoga last week, as I assisted Veronique between Tuesday and Thursday. I loved seeing some of the older students with whom I had worked with grow deeper in their practice. And I was thrilled to see how many new faces there were also. It is a real joy to see one’s practice evolve. It is likewise so heart warming to see a whole program become bigger, more robust.

It’s a real pleasure to be back. It’s an honor to hold this space once again, in the teacher’s absence, this time Veronique Tan, who has been guiding the program here since October 2013. I feel blessed and inspired to see how much a program can grow!

PHOTO: Thursday’s class was an all time high: 27 practitioners. We had to draw open the curtains to the changing area to make space for people to finish. I love the enthusiasm I see here in Japan. Could clearly see how happy the students were to send Veronique off so she could herself study with her teacher. I start leading the Mysore mornings tomorrow, Sunday, June 29.

The Teacher’s Energy

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Veronique coming into Virabhadrasana A

Veronique coming into Virabhadrasana A

I love that precious time in the morning, when everything is quiet, and the teacher self practices, breathing his or her energy into the space, laying down the blueprint for the class to come…

Things have gone full circle again as I return to Osaka, this time to cover for Veronique Tan, who took over the Spirit Mysore program after I subbed for it 9 months ago. For the last three mornings, I have worked the mysore room with Veronique, assisting some familiar practitioners but also a lot of new ones.

And I am inspired–just as I imagine many of the students (there was a record number of students today at 27) who came to class this morning to send off their teacher. It’s amazing what one person can do in 9 months. And while Veronique herself relates that the program did not begin to grow until the spring months and humbly points out she’s not done much out of the ordinary–as an outsider with an inside seat I see things differently.

Barring certain logistical restrictions and external factors, for students to show up, the teacher must shows up first. And mere attendance will not do. For a teacher to truly show up they must practice in the same way they want their students to attend to class, with consistency and dedication, with flexibility and also compassion. First and foremost, the teacher must practice, really truly wholeheartedly practice–not for the student but for one’s self, not with any attachment to any particular goal other than to simply practice. Ideally, he/she must teach as he/she practices; ideally, he/she must live as he/she teaches–at least, as best as humanly possible.

In the last year, I have learned a great deal from not just the experience of teaching and the interaction with students but also from the teachers I have had the good fortune to cover for and learn from. I know I will continue to learn in this space even with Veronique all the way in Mysore, India. Lots to look forward to here at Spirit, where I will be subbing the Mysore program from July 1 to August 31.

Dance Like Shiva

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We are all dancing.
We are always dancing.
We are dancing with ourselves.
Dancing with our friends, colleagues,
family, even strangers we meet on the
streets.
We are dancing with our work.
We are dancing with our practice
and in our playtime.
We are constantly dancing with this/in this
Whirling Wonder we call Life.

PHOTO: Nataraja, Shiva dancing with Osaka City in the background. It’s a pleasure to be back in Japan. I will start teaching for Veronique Tan here at Spirit Yoga on Sunday as she goes to India. Will be teaching the Mysore program here until the end of August.

No schedule yet for Inner Dances but am excited to offer the moving meditation and healing modality as well!

“Enjoy Your Practice”

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Enjoy Your Practice

Another three little words that packs a powerful punch.

As a student myself, I have surely heard these words before from the mouths of other teachers who I’ve taken class with, at least one, I’m sure of. And for me, it’s a most natural follow up to the opening chant, along with “ohayou gozaimas” or good morning these last couple of months.

I left Osaka yesterday with a happy heart, knowing that this little reminder to find ease and joy in one’s practice is part of my contribution to this inspired and inspiring yoga community in Japan.

It’s so plain, it’s so simple, and yet sometimes really easily forgotten. We must be in joy-fullness as we practice. Without it, it’s an exercise in struggle. The attitude we bring into the practice dictates how our yoga practice takes shape.

Even when it’s hard, even when there’s struggle, the joy is always there, always waiting to be discovered, to be experienced, this blissful feeling, a jewel in the rough.

Photo taken with me and some of the students early Tuesday morning before my departure at the studio in Osaka. 

Self Practice is ON! Spirit Yoga

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Self Practice is ON! Spirit Yoga

This week, Spirit Yoga Mysore is on self practice mode. Students are helping each other. Cheering each other on. Practicing as usual, with their whole hearts, bodies and minds. With or without a teacher.

By next Sunday, authorized Level II teacher Veronique Tan will lead the program on. Just one week after my departure.

Before I arrived in Osaka two months ago, I asked my friend Ursula Scott, who was the first mysore teacher in Spirit Yoga, for her advice. She told me this: share everything you know!

And so it ended last Sunday, later that planned, as I poured as much as I could of myself, of what I knew into a preparation workshop class for Self Practice, knowing that for a week, students would be directing their own energy, exploring the joys and difficulties of self practice without a teacher.

It was an odd end. I felt empty. But now, after a few days rest, I feel so full from that last class, and from the two months of sharing with such amazing, attentive, and loving students. I’m excited for them, for the opportunity to learn with Veronique.

But also for the chance for them to explore the depths of practice on their own–this is where so many jewels and treasures lie, in the solitary depths of self practice.

Light Changes

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Light Changes

The mornings are starting to get darker in Osaka and the natural light usually streaming into the room at this hour was most definitely dim.

The practice, however, has its own light. It draws from a different source of power. Like the sun, yes. But also, unlike it.

It is life giving. Subtle. Illuminating. Warming. Powerful. It can be overpowering too if we’re not careful. It helps us see. And, at times, it can blind us. It deserves our utmost attention and respect.

As we practice, we generate the light of our hearts. When we practice skillfully, we can direct this light. With practice, we are never in the dark.