Ashtanga Mysore Yoga

A powerful practice

Ashtanga Mysore Yoga - A Powerful Practice

In the last weeks I was in India practicing under the guidance of the wonderful teacher Sharmila Desai in her beautiful and earthy shala Ashtanga Yoga Morjim. Taking this time, stepping out from daily responsibilities, not having plans for the day besides practice in the morning (the only similarity to my normal life, although I mostly practice alone at home), the calm and peaceful guidance of Sharmila, the healing power of all other practitioners breathing next to me, the sounds of abundant nature around, swimming in the Arabian Sea…was utterly sourcing and insightful for me: it allowed me to just be while not trying to be anywhere in particular – there was much time and space to let things unfold and to see a lot about the practice, and how much it has given to me and those around me.

One day after practice I came to reflect on how much has changed for the better in my life since I had started with this practice many years ago and how grateful I am for this practice and that I took and take it serious – this practice truly does transform and there is something to “tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam’ – knowing / seeing your true nature.

In my past I was much driven to achieve outward goals and outward success leading to many titles and hard-to-achieve-trophies, I also could be found at any event and party (I know…if you didn’t know me then this really does seem like I am writing about someone else….), didn’t want to miss a thing and wanted to know (and liked by) everybody. I was pretty much all out there and my worst critic, I pushed my body and mind to perform at high stakes, analyze and rationalize (no pain no gain was something I ascribed too) while I had a rather poor relationship and understanding with and of myself and my true needs.

Sadhana

This practice is also referred to as sadhana which is to come to know who you are, to understand who you are. This practice has allowed me to land in my feet and in my body, to feel my body and inhabitate it with respect and care rather than force, and to move it through this world with more love and care for myself, for the folks around me and the planet. This practice has given me a direct understanding that all is interdependent of and influencing each other. My consistent practice over the years made me understand that I matter, that what I do matters and because my actions matter (for myself, the folks around me and the earth in total) and bring about a reaction, it also made me understand on a very visceral level the interconnectedness of mind, body and spirit and that taking care of my first home (my body, mind and spirit) will bring about care to all other areas of my life. That in fact, I have responsibility for my actions in this world inside and out.
After starting practice “things” started to change slowly slowly – seemingly by themselves. I started to make different choices about how to spend my time and energy, with what and whom and where. I started to be more loving in my self-talk. My senses and body became more alive. Overall I became more perceptive to feel, allowing me to understand in my body what was beneficial and not so beneficial for me, my needs and priorities, not having to rationalize it but truly knowing it inside. I became better attuned to myself and my surroundings. 

Coming back to my last few weeks practicing at Ashtanga Yoga Morjim!  Here I also talked to some folks who had just recently started the practice, and alike newcomers at our school in Groningen, were sharing about their experiences with a glow in their eyes, faces and bodies – so beautiful to witness, always, people finding their way home to and in themselves.

Those experiences all come with personal differences yet all share the underlying sentiment of coming back home through practice – and also: that the Mysore style of practicing yoga is very different compared to the led type class, but utterly beneficial – in the most fundamental aspect that you learn to be with your own breath.

Learn to be with your breath.

This is really something. It allows to establish a relationship with your breath, to really listen and tune in while not being entertained by someone’s program and merely follow it to cross off another to do activity.

The practice starts at the root of being: breathing.  The breath, so powerful yet so-not credited mostly and the breath itself, quite mysterious: giving space to yourself on various levels while taking in outside space and giving back to it, utterly relational (this is another post…).

Breath

How beautiful to witness the realization of newcomers to our practice to how powerful and fundamental the breath is, and how powerful it is when applied to movement consciously (in our practice the breath is synchronized with movements, spaciousness of the breath is important,  ….the breath is the base for all), how breathing consciously provides space, peace and calm in body and mind and connects to spirit – and how also most have never given it much credit and attention before. (there is much much more to the breath, and we will go there another day!)

Silence

Moreover, the newcomers realize how powerful it is to practice in silence while hearing the breath of everyone else (which is very healing by itself) and gentle utterances by the teacher as necessary. We practice in silence and teaching is mostly non-verbal, largely taking away language – language has to be encoded, engages us in analytical capacity and can lead to misinterpretation, there is a great great benefit using as little language as possible as it keeps us more within than directing attention and senses outward. Most of us are constantly numbed by noise distractions of all sorts. Silence is powerful to direct awareness inside.

Learning at your own pace & the teacher-student relationship

Lastly, not to forget, the observation of newcomers how powerful it is to learn the practice at one’s own capacity and breath, all under one-on-one guidance with a teacher, herein really working together with a teacher. In our practice one learns the practice, step by step, with one-on-one guidance from a teacher while others do their practice in the same space.

One starts with the very basics….and slowly slowly practice reaches deeper levels and although still receiving guidance from the teacher, the practitioner also learns to be independent of the teacher. This requires a basic willingness to learn and be present rather than following a script and be led. It requires that the practitioner is doing her/his work, it makes the practitioner an agent rather than a follower.

This is very very powerful. We all have different bodies, minds, histories and needs – with a one fits all approach (which can be ascribed to frontal teaching, aka: led class) it’s (more) difficult to scratch below the surface, cannot attend/start to understand their personal needs and really come to harness self-knowledge that comes from learning the tools and applying them yourself.  Everyone has a unique path, the same tools don’t work for every path and may need to be adapted according;y.

Thus, the relationship between practitioner and student and the working together is very important for the process of yoga, to come to self-understanding and self-knowledge.  In some yoga studios (notice also how I call them studios and not schools) teachers don’t even know the names of their students, the student’s history (of possible illness and or injury), in most yoga studios there are 24/7 classes where different teachers teach their (led) classes and students attend to different classes / teachers … so there is no way to really establish a student – teacher relationship, to know the students’ needs. I am not saying that these classes are not beneficial, but it is inherently a very different way of teaching, being and learning. In our practice it is utmost important to see the person in front of us and to teach to the unique needs (and not to the ego) to who is in-front of us, this requires commitment of practitioners and teacher, of the practitioner to show up regularly and to do the work and of the teacher to be fully there with the practitioner and serve them as best as possible.

In modern society with all our convenient technologies, with our high standards of living and often-times exorbitant expectations on ourselves and the world around us, in this society where it is made easy for us to merely consume good and experiences and be out there with all senses, in this modern world it is utterly beneficial and powerful to take a little time every day to be and serve ourselves in the most basic yet powerful way. To be with our breath and listen inwards.

I often hear people say but how can I practice if I am restless or not calm already?
To start to practice one doesn’t need to be in any particular way, one doesn’t have to be calm, strong, flexible or young.
To start one simply has to make the choice to give some time back to oneself, to make that a frequent priority regardless of how one feels…
and the rest will come.

Most people start practice with an underlying sense of something in life being unfulfilled / some sort of disbalance / some sort of seeking for meaning and peace.

No one ever started practice feeling all zen.

A healthy and joyful new year to all.  May this year be filled with all the treasures of the heart you may wish for

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