The Thread of Practice

Parampara, the unbroken line of lessons from teacher to student, is one of the most striking things about our yoga practice. It is a thread that runs through the practice, that holds it together. Many question this, especially these days. But to say that this has no part in modern day Ashtanga yoga, I think, would be a step in the wrong direction. While I often have long stretches of solo self-practice, I could not do this without a teacher.

Is this system perfect? Well, is our practice perfect? It is all just a process. We’re constantly learning, constantly evolving and innovating.

As I take time off from teaching my own students for the next couple of months to visit my own teacher at the source of Ashtanga yoga in Mysore, India this thread becomes ever more present, ever more felt, ever more experienced.

Yoga becomes alive in such learning spaces. I learned long ago that I had to give up my aspirations to teach. Period. To be a student is one of the greatest gifts, to be in a position to receive, to learn, to grow, and to be guided when undergoing such a precious journey is such a blessing. And while I feel the separation between myself and those who I meet daily on the mat, I know that for now it is time for me to learn, to nourish my own practice, and that the long arms of these two months ahead will extend far longer than one might imagine.

Mysore Zamalek is closed from today till early August. We look forward up restarting with you then!

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Practice Self Forgiveness

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Photo by Michael Tutaan, Boracay, Philippines

The great irony, perhaps, of diving deeper into this physical practice is how metaphysical it becomes, the more advanced the posture, the more subtle the mind and the heart. How, for example, taking one’s leg behind the head is less about the openness of hips, the ability to internally rotate the leg while lifting the center and, with it, the back–though all fundamentally a part of the process–than it is about cultivating patience and perseverance.

Once in a while, I ask myself, what have I learned? What is new, especially when there are no new postures to investigate or obsess about? It has been two years, almost, since I’ve studied with my teacher in Mysore and my practice seems to be greatly about establishing a steady rhythm, building strength and getting comfortable. Some days are tougher than others, I must admit, developing strength seems to have come with loosing a certain amount of bendiness. And establishing a life in one place, as I have done this year in Egypt, comes with an entirely different set of challenges that sometimes get in the way of the smooth flow of practice.

For me, I think one of the greatest lessons of cozying up to the intermediate series these last two years is learning to forgive myself.  I may have not overcome my own expectations, they creep up on me still while on the mat (not to mention off the mat!), but it’s never so hard as before. Mostly, because I’m not as hard on myself as I was before. Often, I find myself humorously observing the struggles, the days I ate pasta and how that feels in titthibhāsana, the days I can’t get a good grip on the mat in karandavāsana and fall, the days I get on the mat late and I’m so tired that I’m practically crawling through the practice. It’s all ok, I can’t always be my best physically though I can still put my best effort forward based on the conditions that I am given and that I allow myself.

We cause so much undue suffering with unforgiving thoughts: why can’t I do it, what’s wrong with me, why am I not good enough? Such fluctuations of the mind are debilitating, they stall us, not just mentally but physically too, they keep us from moving forward. And thus the relationship between the mind and the body continues. So, instead, let’s be kind to ourselves, let’s be sweet and also honest. Be honorable, admit when it’s hard but do not harden because of it. Forgiveness in itself is a deep and fulfilling practice.

Mysore Zamalek, October Schedule

October MYSORE ZAMALEK Schedule

We are super excited to be publishing our second month’s schedule. Consistency is key in practice, and the same goes for teaching. And the synergy between teacher and student is grounded in the commitment we have to the practice.

Community will build in any kind of yoga class, but the potential for community in a Mysore Program, where practitioners are regularly studying in the same space, is huge. We hope that students can come to Mysore Zamalek @ Nūn Center and find a kind of home, this is a place where we can grow, sweat out our issues, seek peace, and cultivate health.

If you are interested in joining our Mysore program located here at Nūn Center (4 Shafiq Mansour, Zamalek), please message me at mysorezamalek@gmail.com or book through we@nuncenter.com.

BEING Ashtanga Yoga

When Filipa Veiga, Portuguese ashtanga teacher and writer, asked me to join the contingent of yoga teachers offering classes at the Being Gathering 2017 at Boomland in Idanha-a-Nova, Portugal, it put into motion a plan to spend the summer in Europe. I wanted to go see my teacher in mid August in London, I was suddenly committed to my first festival date in early July, what to do then with the time between?

Before I knew it, I had before me a bit of vacation, time to spend with beloved friends, a restart to a personal project that had been put on hold, and a small offering of teaching dates in Portugal, Romania and Vienna. I’m excited for this period after a 7 month stint in Cairo, where I will return to continue teaching after August.

These breaks from routine, the opportunities to connect with other teachers, especially to be a student myself, to tap into the global movement having to do with yoga and healing, allows me time to recharge and also ruminate on what exactly we are doing in our day to day, what is this practice, what is it’s purpose, why do we come to the mat day after day?

On the last day of the festival, I introduced ashtanga yoga as a tool for BEING, for being a better person, for being more focused, more attentive, more present. I alluded to the great Patanjali, to the first line of the Sutras: “Atha yoganuśasunam” Now, begins yoga. It brings us to the present moment. I ended the class with Patanjali, as well, and how he described yoga practice as “dirgha kala nairantarya asevitam,” a long time, without interruption, with whole hearted devotion.

And so begins the summer for me, starting with a most extraordinary of gathering of people, from healers to storytellers, green warriors to spiritual seekers, but also with a great sense of what it means to BE in yoga, how we have a responsibility to be as present with ourselves, our relations, our fellow creatures and planet as much as possible and how practice doesn’t end after our hour and half of sweating and grunting on the mat, it goes on into our day, in every action, in every breath.

Join me in this extraordinary experiment of being through the ashtanga yoga system. I teach in Yoga Lisboa July 11, 12, 13 (www.yoga-lisboa.com), Asociata Ashtanga/Ashtanga Yoga Romania (info@anahata.ro) on July 17-30, then finally in Mysore Vienna from July 31 to August 8 (www.mysorevienna.com).

Photos taken by Clara Lua, Being Gathering, July 2.

Ashtanga Yoga and Ramadan

Last year, I decided to teach through the first 3 weeks of Ramadan. It was the first time any of my trips to Egypt coincided with this period. I hadn’t planned for it, but was happy to have a new teaching experience.

I had been told that it would be different, a few teacher-friends based here advised me on what worked best for them and their students during the month-long period where practicing Muslims fasted from sun-up to sundown.

I scheduled classes with a bit of trepidation, a shorter morning class as usual for non-fasters and another afternoon session before the breaking of the fast, iftar. It wasn’t my ideal to break up our already-small group and work the extra hours, but, in my gut, I felt that traditional ashtanga practice would suit Ramadan, that it could be a good compliment to the season as a meditation and as a physical support system.

In truth, the entire rhythm of Cairo changes during this time, the breaking of the fast determines the working and living hours of its 9.5 million residents, regardless of one’s faith. Energy consumption becomes a serious issue among fasters, but non-fasters too take on some of the rigorous social schedule dictated by meal times. Also, revised office hours creates time, particularly in the hours before Iftar. The clubs and bars cease to serve alcohol and everything quiets down or turns inwards.. A totally different energy and pace blankets the city.

Teaching during Ramadan last year reminded me how important it is to be flexible as a teacher; and reinforced my belief that the mysore-style self-practice is designed to be flexible itself, how it can give students the space to tune into their personal needs, and to practice in a way that is nourishing and safe.

In the end, I really fell in love with the experience. I’m happy to say that the students did as well.  The afternoons were hours of exploration through which I could experience Ramadan through my students. Together, through the practice, we tuned into the body, worked with the various phases that comes with fasting, from the lightheadedness and fatigue early on to the lightness of body and bursts of energy that came later.

I saw how the initial effects of fasting effected practitioners and we were careful to respect and honor them especially during the first week of practice. We focused on a softer breath and slow steady movement, careful not to push bodies. We approached postures, like standing forward-bends, carefully to avoid dizziness. We spoke about the yamas and how important it is to practice with non-violence, with honestly, with non-attachment, in a way that we aren’t stealing from ourselves and in a way that we are using our energy wisely.  I encouraged students to honestly tune into their available energy reserves, stopping early on in their practice if they felt low energy. With new students, we learned the sequence slowly, pretty much as we would do in the regular Mysore sessions.

By the second week, students were over the headaches caused by caffeine withdrawal. People were more used to breathing after a day of no water. The body was more used to fasting. Students could do more and proceeded further than the week before. By the third week, students were actually light and lithe, often more so than before Ramadan started. The practice was energetic but also stable and focused.

I saw the effects of the practice in a concentrated form with a group of people on a particular spiritual journey. How the Mysore practice, so often villainized as being a difficult-hard-as-nails sort of yoga method, could be used as a gentle tool for personal introspection as well as a means for students to condition their mind and body, developing flexibility and strength steadily over a period of time.

In a week, Ramadan will start. I’m looking forward once again to teaching those hours before iftar, on top of the morning sessions, experiencing the shifts and learnings that come with it, which inevitably make us not just better students, but hopefully better people in the process.

Mysore Ramadan Schedule (May 27-June 24)
Sunday to Thursday
8:30-10:30am
4:30-6:30pm
Month Pass: 1600LE/ 1 Week Pass 550LE
We accept Drop-In Students who have existing practices already 150LE
(If you are a beginner to the practice, you will need roughly an hour and a month pass)

NŪN CENTER is located at 4 Shafik Mansour, Zamalek. Call or email us for questions or to book for Ramadan: 0122 398 0898 / we@nuncenter.com. http://www.nuncenter.com