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.
Spent the last weekend in Dashur, in the outskirts of Cairo. It was awesome to drive to our destination and to have the Dashur “bent” pyramid pop out of the landscape–the pyramid serving as proof of how incredibly mysterious and surprising life is, how much of it we don’t understand, how compelling it is, so full of untapped power and potential.
And so it is with practice. It can feel everyday, the landmarks looking so familiar. With regular, daily practice, we already know the way. It’s easy to take things for granted. To go on automatic.
Then something shifts. And we are suddenly aware of its power. It pops up like a great pyramid, an enigma, that pushes boundaries. It wakes something within us with a sort of strange understanding that goes beyond words. And we bow to it, with humility, with grace, and let it work its magic.
PHOTO: Dashur Pyramid. Speaking of magic: Inner Dance in an hour and a half in Ashtanga Yoga Cairo in Zamalek. 5pm. Yalla!
So ends the first teaching week of the new year. Some folks are slow to restart their practice after the holidays, while others–like myself–want to get on with 2014 with guns blazing.
Whatever pace we begin with, one thing is certain: this fresh start has us making intentions, resolving to do this or to do that, to NOT do this or NOT do that. Maybe it’s to master a posture or, at the very least, perform it with some sort of adequacy. Maybe it’s to practice daily or twice, or thrice a week.
The thing is, when it comes to practice, you just need to practice. Show up–whether it’s on your own to self practice or to a mysore or led class with a teacher. Show up. Be present. And it simply starts.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois said it best: “Practice, practice, all is coming…”
Feliz Fin de Semana a todo!/Happy Weekend to all! Fresh start again next week, hope you see yourself on your mat!
Photo: Pazzifica signage greeting students at the studio foyer. I am teaching here in Barcelona at Espacio Vacio in Yoga con Gracia till March 7. Monday to Friday morning mysore starts at 7am and finishes at 9:30am. Evenings are Mon/Wed 6-8pm, Tuesday/Thursday 6:30-8:30pm.
There I was at kapotasana (pidgeon pose) yesterday morning nearly a week since touching heels. The New Year’s revelry in Sinai, trek back to Cairo, and travel to Barcelona–where it has taken some days to settle in both in life and in practice–had taken a toll on me. Needless to say, it was an intense five inhales and exhales.
As I sprung out of it, I felt an old emotion in my chest, a soft explosion, a subtle but potent release. I gasped aloud, grateful that I was alone self-practicing because crying came so very naturally with the breath. I felt my heart. I was surprised and relieved to feel a release from an old ache, which had been hiding so very stealthily in my body.
There you are, I thought, pulling myself together and getting on with the rest of practice–still crying, mind you.
Sometimes we can see it coming, this wave of emotion from some deep down place, moved out of its hiding place by one or a combination of unpredictable factors: real life events, an hour and a half of deep concentrated effort, strong intentions, a deep stretch or posture…
As a teacher, it’s quite a sight when you’re watching from a distance. The signs can be so clear, the flow of practice perturbed by the movements of the heart and mind. We actually look as delicate as we feel at these moments. The breath changes. The vinyasa stutters. The posture wobbles. Brows furrow. The face changes.
Other times it catches us unawares, and it feels a little bit like being an innocent bystander observing some great but secret shift happening in the mind, heart and body. And then it passes…sometimes softly, other times not so.
When it comes–and if you practice long enough and with enough consistency, these moments certainly will come–we must honor them. We must give ourselves enough space to observe this process called yoga, to learn the lessons that come, to work out what needs to get worked out. But this too needs to be balanced with a healthy amount of surrender, of letting things go and simply getting on with it, returning to the breath, returning to the steadiness of practice.
Photo: Mat laid out for my own practice this morning after the mysore class at Pazzifica Ashtanga Yoga in Barcelona. When I look at this photo I see a very special meeting place, where me and the deep down parts of me get to know each other intimately.
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.