There’s a certain quality about the artfully decorated Espacio Vacio, where Pazzifica Ashtanga Yoga classes are being held here in Barcelona, with it’s bursts of delightful design elements and color set against the spacious whiteness, that reminds me a little of one of the spaces where I was teaching in Cairo: the Zamalek studio Ashtanga Yoga Cairo–a beautiful little yoga oasis in the desert of crazy city life that is Cairo.
Each practice space is different and unique. With studios that are mostly dedicated to a particular school of yoga, the energy of that system has an energetic stamp on the interior. Each spot also vibrates with the energy of its locale, its stakeholders (the students and the teachers) and especially of its owner–particularly when that person is a yoga teacher themselves.
Before even meeting Mira Shihadeh, who sits at the helm of this yoga vessel, I met her yoga space.
My friend Iman Elsherbiny (Ashtanga Yoga Egypt) teaches a 3-day-a-week evening Mysore program at Ashtanga Yoga Cairo. She set up a workshop for us to co-teach at AYC just as I’d arrived in Egypt. As we took the taxi into Zamalek, she said she was sure I would like it, that it was a very special space.
It was day 3 in Cairo. As we zoomed onto the Loop Road–my first trip out of El Maadi, it was a Friday and traffic was fairly light–I felt the massive scale of urban Cairo. Huge buildings emulating the dusty, rocky landscape. With the exception of a few brightly painted balconies and hanging laundry, there seemed to be an absence of color.
So, for someone like myself, who has either been living in India or squatting in various yoga spaces and alternative communities for the last three years, entering AYC was like taking a breath of fresh air.
It was a splash of India squeezed into a studio space. Color everywhere. In the front room, the waiting area/changing room/gathering place, the top of the walls were bordered with the pantheon of Indian deities, all dramatic and colorful. Everywhere there was some kind of eye-candy. Lots bright colors. Lots of art. Lots of quirky little treasures hanging on the walls or peeking out of nooks and crannies. Lots of everything. So very India, but also so very … I didn’t know exactly, but something else.
And then I met Mira and understood that she had infused her own artistic sensibilities into the place. A street artist, this spunky woman has been teaching ashtanga yoga in Cairo for nearly a decade. For me the space feels most complete when Mira and her dog Bindi are also present.
When possible, I would come and stay overnight after my own class on Monday night, so that I could practice with Mira the following Tuesday morning and enjoy the benefits of being a student, which after months of solitary self-practice is like manna from heaven. It makes me smile now to think of those too-few mornings enjoying Mira’s adept assistance along with her quirky sense of humor and natural yet very Mira-brand of motherliness. Bless her, she always offered me bananas and dates after practice.
And Bindi…well, Bindi would always make an appearance towards the end of practice. Sometimes insisting on sitting on my mat as I went for an inversion. Once, she lay down with me in shavasana and Mira draped a blanket over the both of us. Those were blissfully sweet and deep practices in Cairo, mornings that I could focus on my self and have someone as lovely as Mira support me.
Mira teaches mysore-style self practice Sunday to Thursday at Ashtanga Yoga Cairo. For updates on classes, see Ashtanga Yoga Cairo on Facebook.
Iman Elsherbiny will restart evening classes at AYC in February, see Ashtanga Yoga Egypt on Facebook for updates.