Present Practice

Ah…to be present–easier said than done.

How often are we pulled into future projections, expectations? On the flip side, how often do we hold on to old feelings, stories? How many of us are haunted by memories?
How much do we actually live in the presentness of our lives–in all of its wonder, joy, messiness and complexities?

A couple of weeks ago, I was embroiled in a decision-making process that had me  mulling over numbers and future scenarios, as well as past difficulties–all really good tools in terms of making well-informed choices. But I was distracted and confused by it all. In the end, however, it took settling into the present moment, weighing my own feelings about the things I actually know and experience to get to an answer that I could really sit with: that I am happy where I am and that I am little pressed to change that. It seemed so simple, just at that moment.

I am often baffled by my own mind, how it is pulled so easily in so many directions. Once again, practice is an amazing antidote for this. We get on that mat. We do our thing. Our focus and attention may wander here and there, but eventually they are pulled back into our center, and slowly over time we are training ourselves to experience THAT exact breath, THAT exact movement, to stop looking at others or beyond our current practice or our current posture, to trust that change will come when it’s time. When we start to live this experience of being present on our mat, we start to repair the damage of a world that cajoles us into seeking out some future happiness. That’s not to say we aren’t allowed to direct our energy, or even want things for ourselves–its about cultivating that harmony with simply being.

This, I feel, is also what Pattabhi Jois has so famously imparted on us: “Practice, practice, all is coming.” Again, easier said than done. Yet, they key is in the doing. Just practice–the strength, the flexibility, the āsana will all come, but also, perhaps most importantly, this appreciation for the present moment, whatever it looks like.

 

 

 

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The Light Is On, Mysore Room KL

 

In the mornings that I was teaching there, turning on the lights at Mysore Room in Kuala Lumpur was a bright reminder of what my teacher Sharath Jois calls the 4 D’s of Ashtanga Yoga. “Devotion,” “dedication,” “discipline,” and “determination” would light up the room, which was still dim before sunrise. These four attributes make a good ashtanga student, to be sure. The kind of student who gets up 6-days out of the week to meet their physical/mental/emotional edge sometimes before the crack of dawn, and then get on with the rest of their day. Truth is most students don’t come with these D’s built in.

Practice itself cultivates these characteristics over time. When I started practicing ashtanga yoga, I had no idea what it meant to be devoted to a spiritual method, I certainly didn’t know what it meant to dedicate myself to any one particular thing, nor did I have the discipline or determination to do so. My relationship with ashtanga started with one class, which eventually turned into three to four classes a week, and usually in the evenings after work. I would even take up other yoga styles, once in a while, for fun. Eventually, I was practicing in the morning daily. Over time, I was practicing more and more with devotion, dedication, discipline and determination. They came naturally with practice–sometimes with ease, sometimes with difficulty, but always quite naturally.

So if you’re feeling lacking in the 4 D’s, not to worry, everything comes with practice.

It was a pleasure to cover for my friends Yan Ong and Manuel Ferreira in their school Mysore Room in Kuala Lumpur. These two have created a very special place of learning ashtanga yoga in the heart of the city. Once traveling teachers, their move home to set up shop in Malaysia is so inspiring for me. For information on their classes, see www.mysoreroom.com.

 

The ashtanga lineage: Patanjali, Krishnamacharya, Pattabhi Jois and Sharath Jois watching over Mysore Room.

 

The Practice of Finding Those Wide Open Spaces

 

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About a month ago, I was feeling so cramped up being mostly in the small the suburb of Gokulam in Mysore, India. I felt this incredible restlessness that could only be quieted by riding my scooter out into the fast road out of town, towards the open rice fields and farmland along the Cauvery River. I was nervous at first, unsure of the way, because I rarely ventured out alone. I had gotten complacent and comfortable in my surroundings, little noticing until that moment that I craved for more than yoga practice, houses, wandering livestock and fellow yoga students.

I remember feeling great relief when the landscape opened up. It was a reminder that wide open green space, fresh air and nature was so readily available so long as I was willing to leave my comfort zones.

This is often what I feel in my own practice and body. How the body I sometimes think I have is a little different from the body I actually have. How, at times, I perceive my limitations as permanent state of being.

Our yoga practice helps us find space where we might think there is none. These spaces can be small, or big, or so subtle that they appear to hardly exist in the body. It can be the difference between comfort and dis-ease, lightness or suffering. At times these spaces are in our minds only, and when we respond to challenges better, we create space and this, too, reflects in our body.

In no way is pushing a good thing. Knowing our limitations is also a good thing too, it keeps us safe. Do not push, but rather be willing to explore, to step beyond what is comfortable and easy, because beyond that bit of uncertainty these is so much space.

When It’s Tough to Practice

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Life is not always so accommodating towards practice. There’s, of course, a work, personal and domestic life balance that needs to be maintained. And we learn to negotiate between them.

There are the other times, however, where it is not a matter of time as much as it is a matter of space–emotional space. When the factors above close in on us, it takes a toll. And the tool, our sadhana, which we so often rely on to help us deal with stress and tension, amplifies our emotions, whether it’s anger, or frustration, or pain, or sorrow, or…the list goes on. At the best of times, practice can be a slow uphill battle. When under emotional duress, it can be total carnage.

What then? The teacher’s answer would be to practice anyway. Easier said than done, I know. But when it’s tough to practice, this is when we need to be practicing the most. The mat, the practice, is a sharp yet subtle mirror, and facing it when times are challenging is difficult but ultimately helpful because it does its job. It allows us to see ourselves and the issues that weigh heavily on us.

Practice anyway.

Practice any way. It may not be your optimum, it may not even be your full practice, perhaps it’s simply getting through sun salutations, maybe it’s just getting on the mat and breathing before the thoughts and feelings crowd in on you. Then, come back and do more the next day, giving your body and breath the space to expand. The sheer guts and determination to show up for yourself can become a wellspring of inspiration and strength.

If you have the courage, the heart for it, watch carefully, observing the places of discomfort and the places where there is space. Each day watch as it gets better because everything changes. The practice itself becomes a vehicle for these small or big shifts. Slowly, what was originally disempowering becomes its opposite. When it’s tough to practice, just practice.

Turning Wheels

Things go round and round. It is a constant, this wheel of life, constantly, surprisingly changing. And yet, there is a cycle to it all. Some motif that repeats, a reminder or a landmark, which often gives us a certain context: this is where we were, this is where we are, this is where we are going.

In many ways, practice is like a wheel in movement. It is the constant in a changing self-scape. It is also the vehicle physically moving us from one shape to another, but also moving us from one state to another.

There seems to be innumerable “wheels” and such out there, tools for transport, for self-exploration, for greater understanding. San Francisco, where I have landed–or, rather, where I am still landing at–feels like that kind of place for me. I arrived here at the age of 10 as a young immigrant with my family. I returned as a university student at Berkeley. Some years ago, I arrived quite lost, an accidental tourist with the sole intention of securing a ten-year visa to India to study yoga, which at that time was all I could think of. And now, here I am again. This time, to do what I love, which is sharing from the rich yoga tradition that has both changed me in so many countless ways and has made me more tuned into who I really am.

It is a sight. When we see these wheels turning. That is a great part of the joy of teaching for me: to see glimpses of other people’s wheels in action through their practice. But to see it one’s life, to observe it, to feel driven by it, and to eventually also take the wheel…

A great part of this new turning is me coming to teach with Magnolia Zuniga at Mysore SF. For more information: http://www.mysoresf.com

The Wonder

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We seek out these moments, where we stand before these massive monuments of wonder. And we stand with awe, speechless, feeling the thing that appears greater than the self.

We want to be shaken. We want to stir that something deep within the self. We want awakening.

In the beginning, our yoga journey is filled with such a-ha! moments. But later, over time, as practice steadies, they come with less frequency. And we long, oh how we long for such moments, for such great openings.

What if we looked upon the everyday with as much wonder? What if we celebrated each and every seemingly insignificant moment? What if we felt the wonder of the act of waking up each morning, felt the reverence of standing before our mats with the sun shining in, the sanctity of simply moving, of simply breathing, of simply being, of simply living, glorifying the wonder of everyday things?

PHOTO: Dashoor’s Bent Pryamid. My visit there last week reminded me of the power and mystery of life, but also reminded me that I should look at my life, in all of it’s greatness and ordinariness, with a similar awe–how amazing it is to be alive, to simply be. Looking forward to a month of weekly classes at The Shala here at Maadi in Cairo starting tomorrow till the end of October.

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.