A chat with Juan Carlos Galan and Greg Nardi

The season has started, with its usual ups and downs… and once again it is really wonderful to open up our gates to all the yoga practitioners who are planning on coming to Purple Valley.

In the month of March, we have 2 new lovely teachers visiting the center, Greg Nardi and Juan- Carlos Galan, both dedicated practitioners since many years. I have not yet had the opportunity to practice with them, but having heard so much about their teaching, and also by following them online -through their yoga interviews and travels- I am really looking forward to spending time with them in March.

To find out more about Greg and Juan-Carlos, we decided to ask them a few questions, and reading the answers helped me understand more about their approach to yoga, which filled me with warmth and joy…

For those interested in chanting and philosophy, this is the perfect retreat to attend.

An extract from the website of Greg and Juan Carlos

“Greg is an internationally renowned teacher of workshops in Yoga asana and philosophy. He and his husband Juan Carlos founded Ashtanga Yoga Worldwide a Yoga shala in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. in the United States.He is an autodidact who perpetually studies Sanskrit chanting and indian philosophy. He counts Georg Feuerstein, Dr. M.A. Jayashree, Narasimha, and Vyass Houston amongst his influences in this field. He teaches yoga philosophy and Sanskrit mantra chanting as a faculty member of John Scott Yoga.Greg’s view on yoga respects the indian roots of the Yoga tradition and the parampara method of transmission while making these traditions intelligible to the western practitioner. His style of teaching assists students in finding the approach to the practice that is most beneficial for them.

Juan Carlos has studied closely with KPJAYI level 2 authorized teachers Greg Nardi of Ashtanga Yoga Worldwide and Fiona Stang of Ashtanga Yoga Vancouver. He is a graduate from The University of Texas at Austin and has a Master’s degree in Industrial Psychology.

He travels regularly to Mysore, India to continue his journey as a student of yoga under the guidance of his beloved teacher Sharath Jois.  Juan Carlos has been blessed with the authorization to teach from Sharath.

Juan Carlos teaches Mysore style daily.  He celebrates his devotion to his teachers and fellow students around the world by honoring the tradition of Shri K. Pattabhi Jois.  He believes in the energetic and healing aspects of this practice.  His intention is to share this yoga with anyone inspired to seek it.”

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*What brought you both into yoga? 

GN: When I was 22 years old, a friend invited me to take a class with her. She had never done Yoga before and she didn’t want to go alone. I mostly just expected a fun, social experience. During that first class I was absolutely taken by how wonderful I felt on all levels. As a child I was severely asthmatic and had been certain that I wasn’t capable of enjoying physical activity. That first Yoga class changed that. It was also the perfect medium for me to project a search for meaning that was ongoing for me since an early age. While I only had a vague idea of what Yoga tradition was about, I was able to connect with aspects of the class that felt spiritual to me and seemed to give a depth of meaning to the experience. It felt like being invited into a special space where it was ok to nurture, heal, inquire, and share that experience. I know that sounds like a lot to take away from a first class, but I felt from the very beginning that this was something very special. It really blew me away. I took every class I could after that. It took me about two years before I found Ashtanga Yoga, which just felt like a natural evolution for me. I was on a search to figure out why Yoga felt so powerful and what was the most authentic practice I could find. The methodical nature of Ashtanga Yoga helped me to narrow my focus and process my experience. It also presented a clear path and guidelines to work within.

JCG: I started dating this guy I met online when I was 24 years old.  We were really excited falling in love and getting to know each other.  About one month after I met him he invited me to take his Yoga class to share with me what he did for a living.  That was my first time on the mat ever.  Mysore style Ashtanga Yoga with Greg Nardi. I had never been in a Yoga class before, and I was not coming from physicality or movement at all, so I had no expectations other than sharing the experience with my new boyfriend. I remember the energy of the space felt elevated. That was surprising to me. I also remember finishing early and watching the rest of the class. There was this moment when I saw someone in garbha pindasana, someone else in kurmasana, and another person working hard in standing. It was a busy class, but everyone seemed so focused and present. They all looked like whatever they were experiencing was completely unfiltered, real, and raw. It seemed powerful and intense, and I left feeling great and wanting more.

* Since I have not practiced with you yet, what is specific in your way of teaching? How would you explain it to a new student? 

GN: As a KPJAYI authorized Ashtanga teacher I meet those students who are interested in learning the traditional method because it works for them. In a non-dogmatic way, I help them find the approach to the ashtanga method that supports their journey of personal growth. I’ll offer my experience and skill through verbal cues, hands on adjustments, individualized feedback, attention, presence and the considered application of standards and boundaries to educate them in making sound decisions for their body and mind during practice. I also believe in the importance of tradition in passing wisdom. By sharing my own experience working within the tradition I hope to inspire students to look deeper into the implicit wisdom of this practice.

I believe that teaching comes from inspiration and empowers students to make intelligent decisions around their practice. There are certain approaches to Yoga that are more or less effective depending on the student’s goals. I try to partner with students and offer them the benefit of my experience and presence to help them progress towards their goals. Reasons for practicing Yoga often evolve over time. I try to be there through a student’s process to help them physically, mentally, and emotionally do the work they need to meet their goals.

JCG: I think that teaching happens in relationship. One of my favorite aspects of teaching is being able to connect with others. In order to transmit something of value at least some level of connection must established. I think what I find most beautiful about the Mysore style method of teaching is that we get to truly work with every person in the Shala.  As a KPJAYI authorized teacher, I feel my role is to honor both the tradition and the person in front of me

* What does the practice mean to you? How is it enriching your daily life? 

GN: Guruji often told us that it was rare to receive a human birth and implored us not to waste our life. In the daily routine of trying to get by in life, the time and ability to reflect on what it’s all about are rare. Motivation is often unconscious, and action can be compulsive. What the practice does is give me some time each day to orient back to myself, to slow down and rebalance so that when I go out into the world I am coming from a more centered place. At this stage, I’m not convinced that life has meaning in the sense of purpose, and therefore I don’t know if the practice has meaning beyond what we project onto it. It can be interesting to notice my projections in an attempt at self-awareness. What I do know is that life has rhythms and cycles. Life seems to have an order that my practice helps me to be in sync with. When I am more in sync, then I tend to feel more content and accepting. Interestingly enough, it also frees up a lot of vitality that might be wasted in worrying or compulsive action. It generally makes me a better person.

JCG: I’m grateful to have this practice.  I have moved so frequently, and I have lived in such drastically different places in the last 5 years that I feel the practice gives me a sense of home and stability.  My husband and the practice are the only things that have stayed constant.  They are my “totem”.  It provides me with routine, which can be so grounding through the endless changes in our daily lives.  I recently visited Tiruvannmalai, and I immediately was plugged into a network of Ashtangis and connected with others.  I love how this practice keeps us more connected to the world around us.

* How can we apply the physical asana practice into our daily life? 

 GN: Some asana are to restore and maintain physical health, some are for purification, and some asana explore the limits of human potential. The practice of Ashtanga Yoga will mean different things based on our level of engagement with it. It’s important at some point to assess why you practice, what you hope to gain from it, and to be aware as your reasons evolve.

For many, Ashtanga Yoga is a dynamic series of asanas linked to the breath. If we practice a couple of times a week, or mix it with other yoga styles and activities, then it may stay in the realm of physical exercise and we will receive all the associated benefits of that.

For some, Ashtanga Yoga is a method of practice that is done 5-6 days per week. It is a discipline that begins to influence other areas of their life such as how they socialize, eat, rest, etc. It becomes a lifestyle.

For still others, Ashtanga Yoga is part of a comprehensive sadhana that influences every aspect of their being. It becomes a lens through which one can experience and process life. It can be one’s very reason for being. At this stage, even attachment to the practice needs to be examined. Defining Ashtanga Yoga becomes a very personal practice between the student, the teacher, and the inner guru. As a spiritual discipline, Ashtanga requires a high level of discipline in all aspects of daily life. It also requires the mental and emotional maturity to undertake the practice with compassion and contentment to temper the intensity of the practice.

One should apply asana in their daily life based on what they are ready for and what they hope to achieve from it. The most important thing is that it fits with the student and that it does not cause excess stress or strain. Overall, the discipline necessary for Ashtanga Yoga shouldn’t feel like a deprivation, but rather a movement towards wholeness that enhances one’s daily life and all of one’s interactions and relationships.

* The importance of being familiar with the yoga philosophy? 

GN: We all have a personal philosophy that guides our actions and experiences in life. Philosophy is something that, as thinking beings, we all do. However, our personal philosophy can often be left unexamined and so it is hard to know if it is based in our conditioned beliefs or if there is some more fundamental truth upon which it is based. Upon examination, we often find that things are not as certain as they appear. Philosophy is a tool that helps us see beyond appearances and sort through the complexity of subtle phenomena.

Since Yoga is traditionally about human potential, it often describes phenomena that we don’t have direct experience of yet. For most of us, the metaphysical view underlying the yogic ideas of consciousness and being exist in the realm of theory. Many of us are familiar with Pattabhi Joi’s famous quote that “Ashtanga Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory.” Yoga has always been the practical application of theory. Without practice the theory can be ungrounded fantasy that leads to delusion. However, without theory, the practice can become undirected and overly rigid. Yoga philosophy gives us tools to evaluate our experience and give context to the practices.

Along with Yoga philosophy, one should study its history. Tradition holds that Yoga is an eternal practice revealed through seers in ancient times. Recent scholarship however has pointed to a more nuanced approach that shows practices evolving over time and according to social pressures and cultural needs. A study of Yoga’s history can help us to contextualize our practice and evaluate it for modern times.

Studying the history and philosophy doesn’t necessarily give easy answers, but it does offer tools to understand our own practices.

* The importance of implementing meditation and chanting into your practice. Do you feel that everybody is ready for this? 

GN: Ashtanga Yoga means 8 limbs and offers us many techniques that take us on a journey from a sensory experience of the world to a subtle experience of reality. It’s a journey that we all have regular albeit limited experience of, but Yoga takes us through it in a methodical way so that we can be conscious of the process.

In the Samkhya Darshana, which is the metaphysical partner to Yoga, physical reality is made of 5 elemental forces. Space is the most subtle and is the medium for sound to travel. Chanting can be a wonderful tool to focus the mind and orient us towards the more subtle aspects of reality.

The mind is the subtle aspect of the individual. It is often times scattered and undisciplined. Meditation is the gradual process of focusing the mind for progressively longer periods of time. A focused mind can understand and explore reality in a much deeper and more efficient manner. Many people mistake meditation for relaxation or sitting practice, both of which are useful preludes to the state of meditation.

In any event, chanting and meditation can hold benefits for all aspects of the individual. When choosing practices we are guided by our inspiration and readiness to engage them. Teachers are necessary guides to help us navigate this new territory of experience. Not everyone is ready or needs to take on these practices, but if the desire within the student is strong then they will begin to practice and seek out the appropriate guidance.

* I feel that a lot of people are finding the ashtanga practice through asana practice, for many after a few years, an interest for the other limbs of yoga is born, do you feel this is a normal pattern?  

GN: Asana is the most prevalent aspect of Yoga practice outside of India. Yoga was popularized as a system of alternate health and fitness for many years and this is what most people have learned to expect from a Yoga practice. The consequence is that the first aspect of Yoga that students encounter is asana.

Sharath Jois is fond of saying that asana practice is only a few hours a day, but Yoga is 24 hours. Once you begin to practice the method of Ashtanga Yoga, it is quite common that an interest in the other limbs will begin to grow out of that.

JCG: I think it’s up to every individual to decide how they want to use their practice in their daily life.  I will help however I can to facilitate that process when I’m in the teacher role. The universality of the practice is Guruji’s greatest gift I think.  We can all use the practice how we see fit.  Ashtanga yoga is eight limbs.  And the rest of the limbs are available for us if we want to search for them.

* On your website it is written – Greg’s view on yoga respects the indian roots of the Yoga tradition and the parampara method of transmission while making these traditions intelligible to the western practitioner. You feel there is a very big difference between teaching ashtanga to Indian students vs Western students. ( we have been having a discussion regarding this on our facebook page, with Indian ashtanga practitioners)

We are granted permission to teach from our Indian teachers, who claim Yoga is India’s gift to the world and has universal appeal, however I think it is very difficult for non-Indians to understand the tradition in the same way as Indian people who have been raised in the culture from birth.

I believe that it is quite common to view learning as a process of acquisition whereby we seek to internalize something that we find outside of ourselves, whereas Yoga is traditionally considered a process of Self-realization. Yogic techniques are primarily designed to help us look within.

Many non-indian practitioners consider Yoga to be foreign and from the ancient past. This necessarily directs attention away from the present moment and circumstance within which one finds themselves. This Yoga is based in the textual traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.   So when we begin to study Yoga, depending on the practitioner, western practitioners may believe they either have to adopt Indian cultural and religious norms, or divorce Yoga from its traditional roots. I feel we should approach the tradition with reverence and gratitude, acknowledge what is universal and eternal in the practice and what is culture bound, or in the case of the textual tradition, what is time bound.

Much of the commercialization of Yoga in west over the last 20 years has been about making Yoga more comfortable for westerners. Yoga is appropriated when non-Indians authoritatively represent Indian tradition in a way that is more palatable for westerners. I find it important to have humility and acknowledge the cultural lens that I use to look at Yoga.   Honoring India’s gift to the world means seeking methods to effectively address the very real concerns that are relevant to western practitioners. We are trying to be more fully who we are, to lift the masks of identity while understanding what a deep influence our culture has in the way that we view ourselves and our world.

* Juan-Carlos, you are  talking about energetic and healing aspects of the practice. Could you expand this? In which way?

I remember during the earlier years in my practice I think within the first three months when I was getting a lot of help binding ardha baddha Padma paschimattanasana, Marichiasana C and D.  That felt so intense on the shoulders, on the hips, on the ankles.  It wasn’t pleasant, but it certainly felt therapeutic.  After a few more months I felt my shoulders were changing so much.  They felt more available, more connected to the body.  They felt stronger.  And eight years later my shoulders are still changing. Everything is always changing. In my opinion, there is something both therapeutic and energetic in some binds, like a pranic seal or a healthy conduit of energies.  Guruji was a genius, and he gave us a strong medicine.

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The benefits of Coconut oil

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THE HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF COCONUT OIL

In the first of a series of articles on health and wellness, we highlight today some of the benefits and uses of coconut oil. This tropical oil is one of the most versatile and healthy substances on the planet. It is freely available in India, especially in Goa, and has such a wide range of health benefits that one can easily make it a way of life.

Coconut oil is considered a superfood is because of its unique nutritional profile. It had a bad name for years because of its 92% saturated fat content but recent research has shown that its reputation was needlessly tarnished.

• Virgin coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, which is a proven antibacterial and antiviral agent. Lauric acid is also found in human breast milk, which makes coconut milk the best alternative to milk-formula foods.

• The anti-parasitic property of coconut oil is particularly helpful for those suffering from infestation with intestinal parasites and Candida albicans. Coconut oil has been known for many centuries to prevent yeast infections as well.

• It also greatly aids in digestion by keeping the intestinal tract clean. It cleanses the colon by gently softening and loosening old accumulated fecal matter, and helping to remove it safely and naturally. It is easily digested, by the young and old, even by weak and compromised digestive systems. It is one of the healthiest and safest oils for consumption. It helps with most digestive disorders such as Crohn’s disease, IBS, stomach ulcers and ulcerative colitis.

• Coconut oil lends a delicious flavour to food. Unlike most oils, coconut oil will not oxidise upon heating. It is a great cooking oil with a high smoking point, making this the ideal cooking oil.

• It has a strongly alkalising effect in the body, which is beneficial for every disease process. This tropical oil contains a substance that has been shown to raise HDL cholesterol levels (the good cholesterol), thereby lowering the risk of heart attack.

• It is shown to improve memory function, and so it is used in the treatment and prevention of diseases such as Alzheimer’s; it is also known to improve antioxidant levels and can slow ageing.

• Other diseases and disorders that are alleviated by the use of coconut oil are HIV+, hypertension, UTI, kidney infections, cancer, inflammation, arthritis, type II diabetes, osteoporosis, gallbladder disease and pancreatitis, gum disease and tooth decay, skin problems, insomnia, thyroid function, and a host of others.

• Coconut oil improves energy, endurance and increases metabolism. When we consume it, its MCFAs are sent directly to the liver to be converted into energy. This is precisely why many athletes today use coconut oil as their source of fuel during triathlon training and events.

• This oil also helps in dissolving and eliminating toxins that are trapped in fatty deposits, thereby making fat accumulation increasingly unnecessary. This is how coconut oil helps to build lean muscle. A lot of body builders, personal trainers, sports persons and others use it for building lean body mass.

• Coconut oil helps in weight loss. It is made up of medium-chain fatty acids, which are easy to digest and therefore speed up metabolism whereas long-chain fatty acids (in polyunsaturated oils) take much longer to break down and get stored as fat in the body. Coconut oil slows down digestion and keeps us feeling full for a longer time; this discourages snacking. Coconut oil is a detox agent and cleanses the body of toxins, keeps the digestive tract healthy, and nourishes the cells. All of this is essential for restoring the body’s optimal weight.

• Using coconut oil benefits the hormones as well. It helps naturally balance hormones because it’s a great source of saturated fat. Research indicates that coconut oil may be an excellent fat to consume during menopause and also may regulate oestrogen levels.

All these beneficial properties of coconut oil make it a superfood and a powerhouse of health. It adapts well in cooking, beauty recipes, natural remedies and can be used extensively around the home.

Coconut oil in food and cooking
Use it for everyday cooking instead of other vegetable oils, in baking, stir-fried foods, or as a dairy-free replacement to butter.

Add to foods or smoothies for energy.

Use in sandwich and salad spreads instead of high PUFA vegetable oils.

Use in kids’ brain-boosting snacks.

Adding coconut oil to a drink in the morning can help improve mental performance all day.

You can sprinkle a tablespoon of grated coconut over your food to improve its taste and add to its nutritional value.

massage-smallCoconut oil for external application

The antimicrobial and antibacterial properties make it helpful topically to kill yeast or yeast infections and heal minor cuts and bruises. This is why it can be effectively used anywhere on the skin, scalp and hair.

Use on the skin as a basic lotion. Coconut oil is a natural moisturiser. Its antioxidant properties help prevent formation of wrinkles and improves skin tone.

Totally safe for infants and children, coconut oil can be rubbed on a baby’s bottom as a diaper cream. Dip a cotton ear bud in this oil to speed up ear infection healing in children. Lactating mothers can use it to soothe sore nipples. It’s great for relieving skin problems in pets too.

Use as lip balm, a natural personal lubricant, shaving cream or after-shave lotion. It helps soothe an itch of chicken pox or a bug bite, and can be safely used to remove delicate eye makeup.

Apply it on cuticles to help nails grow, and to soften in-growing toenails. Rub into elbows daily to help alleviate dry, flaky elbows. Use as a natural hand lotion to avoid dry skin, use it to get relief from cracked heels, use as a natural sunscreen lotion, to heal sunburn, and to reduce chlorine exposure while swimming.

Coconut oil is a great tanning oil too. To make a relaxing massage oil, add a few drops of a fragrant essential oil to warm coconut oil. It can be used with other oils or whipped with shea butter for a soothing body balm. It’s a salve for cracked heels. Its antibacterial properties make it suitable for use as a natural deodorant.

When used consistently on the skin, it can resolve acne, help fight cellulite, lighten age spots, and help avoid stretch marks during pregnancy. Its anti- inflammatoryproperties can help lessen arthritis, and reduce the pain of haemorrhoids and varicose veins when used topically.

Apply on the hair and scalp to treat dry hair and dandruff. Coconut oil has the perfect fatty acids to help improve these conditions. Coconut oil application or massage greatly nourishes the hair. This oil is a wonderful natural conditioner – rub into dry hair and leave it overnight before shampooing off. It can be rubbed into the scalp daily to stimulate hair growth.

Some natural remedies using Coconut Oil
• Use coconut oil for oil pulling for oral health and to check gum disease and tooth decay.

• Ingesting this oil can boost blood circulation and help those who often feel cold.

• Coconut oil application on the skin can help soothe eczema and psoriasis.
• Coconut oil and apple cider vinegar, when rubbed into the hair and scalp, even helps keep head lice away.
• When rubbed on the inside of the nose, coconut oil may help alleviate allergy symptoms.
• A tablespoon of this oil melted into a cup of hot water can help soothe a sore throat and hasten recovery from cold or flu.
• Remove dry skin on feet and ankles by rubbing sea salt mixed with coconut oil.

Household uses of Coconut Oil

Coconut oil can be used as a base in making homemade natural products such as soap and deodorant, sunscreen lotion, toothpaste, insect repellent, lip balm, body butter and baby lotion. A little coconut oil is even sometimes used to soften leather articles.

— Sunita Kripalani

(Sunita Kripalani is a Goa-based writer and book editor who has helped authors structure books on subjects of health, wellness, Ayurveda and natural healing.)

Embracing Impermanence, by Sharmila Desai

 

Embracing Impermanence

an interview with Louise Ellis by Sharmila Desai on Ashtanga Yoga and Menopause

Thank you Louise for taking the time to talk to me about menopause and the Ashtanga yoga practice. As a woman the most useful information I have gathered from ladies holiday to fertility to motherhood has been from other women. Everyone needs rode models – wisdom from the heart – that nurtures, heals, invigorates, inspires as she moves through the different stages across life.

Since our early days when we were roommates in Mysore you were always that someone I turned to after practice to discuss life, family and the world spiritually around us. Discussing this topic together feels very fitting.

What are some basic signs of perimenopause and around what ages does this happen?

Some of the signs may be mood swings, changes in the length or character of menstrual periods sometimes heavy or very light periods. Sometimes when there are existing fibroid tumors, an increase or sudden appearance of PMS symptoms or irregular cycles may start when they were previously very regular. The hormones start to fluctuate. Hot flashes and weight gain not related to diet can also happen. The age where some of these might happen varies but late forties early fifties commonly.

How should we practice as we experience the first onset of irregularities?

At first I would advise just sticking to the practice while symptoms are not very intense. Not all women experience all symptoms and sometimes they can be managed easily enough – especially at the beginning since this is happening over a period of years. Secondly relating to the experience as a normal process and not a disease is key. It’s my belief that women need to to share more openly with each other. It seems to be the last big taboo subject since it connects directly with the fear of aging already so poorly dealt with culturally.

If and when a woman is going through very hard symptoms there may be loss of energy or strength.  My advice and it applies to aging in general is to note that without judgment and do stick to a routine. It’s a specific skill or art to learn when it’s appropriate to do a shorter practice and when it’s not. In order to do that, listening to the body is key because the body gives much more clear signals then the ego/mind. We already have a practice of working with the body so once in actual practice it becomes much easier to perceive. Also avoid an adversative or clinging attitude if you can toward the process…..raga/dvesha. Clinging to the past images and struggling with that can lead to further dukha there.

How does having an ashtanga yoga practice make us more attuned to what is happening in the body at this time?

Well I think that it really helps that we are already working with the natural cycles and bio-rhythms such as the moon days. Additionally we are used to increase in body temperatures which helps us to regulate easier. Then there is the sweat and purification aspect which is also very helpful. Of course as with all deep hatha yoga practice,  mental and physical awareness is greatly enhanced.

When does the shift move from perimenopause to menopause?

I believe that after one has not had a period in a year she is considered post menopausal. I considered it to be actual menopause when I started to skip periods every other month. As far as symptoms are concerned, I found the early fifties to be possibly the toughest time.

I found that in birth if I rode the waves of labor my body embraced the rite of passage it was naturally going through…if i resisted or feared their arrival it was harder to integrate myself.  I am wondering if there is a similar approach of surrender to when hot flashes occur.

Yes I think that’s a good way to cope along with layering clothing:) There is the primary symptom and then how you choose to react to it. The attitude towards it. There is so much going on that we can’t control. We can investigate the attitude we are holding that fact in. All of this takes place at a time when we have had years of experience in this and that helps.

How do we approach our practice our practice during this chapter?

We need to sharpen discrimination as to what originates in the body and what is extra. You may feel a lack of energy for instance. If you get on the mat with complete acceptance and compassion you will know when it’s appropriate to honor the body and do a shorter practice. It’s really difficult to do that just from the level of mind so I recommend just get on the mat and see. There have been many times for me that once there I found it not to be centered in the body but coming from a belief that i was holding. When it actually is a body centered fatigue it should absolutely be respected. It’s so important and not to think that it’s always going to be that way…it won’t. The point is that it provides a good ground for developing discrimination.

Is perimenopause and menopause a linear experience​?​

No not at all. So many different things are happening on so many levels simultaneously . It’s also not constant but comes and goes.

How do we engage the energy – prayer, visualizations, ritual, mantra, supplements, looking within to seize this moment as an opportunity for growth?

Well for myself I combine mantra and devotional practices with and during the asana practice. For me this works well because I won’t be willing to give them up no matter what else is going on. I will do those regardless and since it involves the asana it keeps me from rationalizing reasons not to practice physically.

Some women experience incontinence  – I imagine the practice and developing bandhas helps in its prevention. Is this related to earlier pregnancies/birth?  Yes I think the problem when it exists is a pre existing one and definitely bandhas are very important. Women should really work with this diligently after pregnancy and childbirth.

 

​Could you describe your personal experience through perimenopause and menopause? How was it connected to your ladies holiday and births?​ what is the thread between the three chapters if at all?

In my mid to late forties I noticed the onset of PMS symptoms which I had never ever experienced in my life prior and actually had dismissed as whining in others. Also I had an ovarian cyst around that time, very painful, but went away. The doctors said that it was not related to anything to do with peri menopause but my intuition was that there definitely was a connection. They also said there were uterine fibroids which since not causing heavy bleeding could be left alone and would most likely disappear with menopause. This was true.

My cycles continued to be absolutely regular but there was a gradual lightening of the flow and duration through yearly fifties. I had the weight gain not too extreme but very noticeable to me and difficult. Even total fasting for a few days had no effect. I also felt very emotionally unstable at times. I had the hot flashes mildly but it wasn’t much of an issue for me. So this went on until I started to miss every other period but still very regular cycles every other month.

Eventually, I started to regain my energy. My weight went back to normal around that time. I felt better mentally and emotionally. The periods stopped coming at age 56 . So physically not too bad but then I felt a sort of grieving process which completely surprised me for a few weeks. I had had my family and all of that so it took me aback. I realized though peeling back the layers that the root fear was one of dissolution and death. Big surprise again as I thought I had already dealt with this. I had but this is at the deep level. In any case it was what needed to happen for me to go into that in a deeper way. I’m grateful for it now and it didn’t last long, that phase.Though very strongly recommended I chose not to further interfere with hormones in keeping with my feeling that it’s a natural transition not a disease process.

I think the thread is that if we can stay open to change it’s a teacher. Lifetimes are a very long procession on a scale hard for our minds to grasp. If we leave the current life with just a small amount more wisdom and freedom then we entered it it’s a life well lived. I would really like to stress that in the postmenopausal years I have felt great  – energetically free, Whatever happens remember impermanence. Step back relax and broaden the view.

How do we understand the metamorphosis during this time from a yoga philosophy perspective?

Fearlessness is the quality of yoga so we develop and cultivate that. The wisdom of Dhumavati can be embraced at this point. We can appeal to all of the wisdom aspects of the Divine Mother to great effect here. For those for whom this sort of devotion doesn’t resonate they can turn to the many non dual forms of practice but the common thread here is turning towards and not away from the fears that are arising. This is the perfect time of life to turn toward Maha Kali, Shani Deva, Shiva etc as All forms of Time in the big sense.

As practitioners of yoga many of us are familiar with these forms and practices but any type of mediation or practice true to the heart works. It may or may not involve specific ritual. though I am partial to them myself. The form it takes will depend on the karma of the individual. It may take forms which have a connection to well known wisdom traditions or not. It makes no difference what the habit momentum (karma) is. There is just a broadening of the view so to speak.

How do we nourish ourselves naturally – diet, environment, yoga and meditation?

Meditation and practice are the mirrors showing us where we are stuck. What we are believing at a given time and how we hold those beliefs. I think diet is very individual but my practical advice is avoid over eating especially if you have a pattern with that. One thing that would have helped me was to be assured that any weight gain which is not related to diet will normalize when the process is basically complete. if you don’t realize that it’s easy to suffer unnecessarily.

What does menopause spiritually represent?

Well so much really. Even if we have a positive attitude about aging intellectually and philosophically, such a huge marker of entering the last phase of the current life can be profound on a visceral level. It has the double issue of being connected to both sexuality and aging. It calls into question some primary identity structures.I see it as a chance to continue the inner processes of learning to embrace groundlessness and impermanence that hopefully are already underway through life experience and spiritual practice.

Louise Ellis is a Certified Ashtanga yoga teacher and director of the Ashtanga Center in Rishikesh, India.

Embracing Impermanence is an interview that belongs to Sharmila Desai’s ongoing research work in Ashtanga yoga and biorhythms across a woman’s life.

Louise with a group of women she taught in Estonia, Europe.

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A Magic Trio

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Take a melting pot with 60 students, throw in 3 teachers with unique approaches, sprinkle it with breath and a combined focus on the practice, let it bubble away for two sunny weeks and watch the force work its magic….

When one combines teachers with unique personalities, backgrounds, experiences and different insights into Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, one is bound to bring out something special…

The fourth course at Purple Valley was one of the highlights of the season. Kicking off December on a high note, David Keil, Gretchen Suarez and John Scott got the retreat centre buzzing and high on prana.

The balance of male/female energy (both with teachers and students) worked perfectly well in the shala, with Gretchen bringing a soft but firm and assertive touch to classes. Her background in psychology and insights into one’s mental approach to practice was very helpful – her intention to bring a sense of self awareness and loving kindness to students’ practice and attitude on the mat was welcomed, perhaps because it is a lesser focus in the Ashtanga world. Gretchen offers the mindfulness and meditation elements into the practice: on the mat, she reminds students to become aware of their ‘own judge’ and of that feeling that so many of us have of not ‘being good enough’… She encouraged students to recognise the negative thoughts arising through practice, without judging them. So no-one got away with excuses such as ‘I’m not strong enough’, ‘I cannot do this/that..’, ‘I used to be able to do this’, and so on….

Gretchen reminded students that love and compassion are also practices that each and everyone of us need to carry on and off the mat.

On the other hand, David’s observant and non invasive approach was one many were particularly fond of. David runs the well-known Yoganatomy website, which in my opinion, has the best, clearest, all rounded advice and tips for most practice related issues – search ‘knee pain’, ‘psoas issues’, ‘back pain’, ‘pelvis alignment’ or any other niggle that troubles you and a list of articles, short clips and diagrams will pop up. With such an in-depth knowledge of anatomy, combined with years of Ashtanga practice, one could easily come up with certainties and firm conclusions on technique and/or alignment, thus offering one way of doing things. David, however, is quite the opposite and offers a wholly non-dogmatic approach. He suggests alignment cues or tips based on his experience -both his own and observed in classes- and these are made only once he has carefully watched students in their practices. As a teacher, it does not take long to see patterns appear in people’s anatomy, movement and technique. And with a fun, friendly approach, David always managed to keep a sense of humour even in the most interesting moments. As I struggled in a deep hip opening pose, he stated ‘oh, so this is the fun side’….

As for John Scott, he appeared like the thread in that beautiful yoga mala. Tying every single element of the retreat together – from the early morning sit, to high energy handstand twirls- he buzzed round the shala, adjusting one student whilst keeping an eye on another, and counting through vinyasas without losing track of any movement. If Peter Pan practiced yoga, that would be John…

The advantage of having three great teachers is one space, is all the attention, feedback, energy bouncing and feeding off each other. The risk would be confusion and contradicting approaches, but this was not the case here and the combination worked its magic.

The way each of them held the space, giving attention to all the students, spending time and effort, observing and feeling what could be brought in, was mind-blowing. Taking care of approximately 60 bodies practicing, all at different levels on practice is a hard task to pull off.

Thank you, Gretchen, David and John. See you all in 2016!!!

World Yoga Day, Summer solstice, Refugee Week and Warriors for Women!

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If you have not yet noticed, there is a lot going on in the world of yoga today – not just in India, but on large, global scale. Fueling much debate in India, the first ever United Nations International Yoga Day is however something to celebrate. Raising awareness on a global level on the benefits of yoga can only be a positive thing, no?

People all over the world are putting together events to celebrate the UN’s recognition of Yoga as an integral part of the path toward health and well-being in our modern world.

Over in the UK,  the ‘Warriors for Women’ campaign, organised by the Ourmala charity, has connected with Refugee Week 2015, to encourage the London Yoga community to to raise funds and awareness for asylum seeking women. Many yoga studios and teachers and teaming up to donate their time and gift their class proceeds to Ourmala – the London based charity dedicated to empowering women refugee and asylum-seeking women so they can rebuild their lives. What started as a local, London-based initiative has now lit up the Yoga community on an international scale, with people joining in from places such as Ibiza and Texas.

These types of initiatives really highlight the power of the practice and the global reach Yoga may have when employed for wonderful causes.

So perhaps it is time to simply skip the debate and just get on with the practice – on and off the mat….

Learn more about Ourmala and how the London Yoga community is making a difference here: www.ourmala.com/warriors-for-women

Ourmala provides a safe space to breathe, practice therapeutic yoga, improve language skills and access others services and education. Most of the women Ourmala serves are survivors of torture, sexual violence in conflict, trafficking and FGM and are registered with the UK Home Office. This group is vulnerable, marginalised, under-represented, and live in poverty with a prevalence of mental and physical health issues, language barrier and lack access to services and opportunities.

Two weeks with John Scott

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Two words. John Scott.

Beyond the household name, the yogi superstar, the one who effortlessly floats through complex vinyasa sequences, and one of the first who brought Ashtanga yoga to the world though the eyes of the media, there is a very humble, deeply respectful student and teacher. He honours, loves and seeks to share the practice that his own guru, Sri K Pattabhi Jois, taught him in the 1980s.

Those who have never met or practiced with him before may not know nor understand the importance he places upon the method of vinyasa count. For him, it is the key to attain depth and focus of the practice, and perhaps taming that wandering mind.

He is also very aware that this method is not one that is commonly taught these days, so may bring up frustration, irritation – or in his own words ‘push some buttons’. Hopefully by triggering this reaction in students, he may encourage questioning, thinking and a greater understanding of the meaning of the practice. Guruji would call it mind control.

In the shala, he is incredibly present. His eyes focus, his voice maintains control of the space, as he skilfully manages to work his way round students, keeping an eye (sometimes at the back of his head!) closely monitoring the room, giving instructions, directions and counts when needed. He juggles adjustments whilst guiding others through a led class, checking in on both students and assistants.

John’s adjustments are spot on. He seems to know exactly when and where to push further and where to slow down. There is a sense of absolute trust in a person who has been teaching and practicing for so many years, and still gets excited by sharing his knowledge with others.

Unlike many Mysore trained teachers, there is less emphasis on deeper backbends – a relief- and more on stability and core strength. On the outside, yes there are a LOT of handstands, he throws in so many combinations (like in the ‘old days’) that involve floating in and out of postures. Not for the faint hearted. But that is besides the point. There is a fuss about hand-balancing in the yoga world these days (and Sharath clearly states that they are unnecessary, and just reinforce the ego), but from a logical, structural point of view it makes sense to balance all that flexibility with strength. At the right time in one’s practice. Extreme backbends day after day, year after year, with very little thinking going into them, can be the source of injuries.

So there is a lot of handstanding in John’s classes, and no ‘catching’ /ankle grabbing. A relief for many, a shock perhaps for others.

It also seems that every single element, word and process in John’s classes are there for a reason. Everything makes sense – perhaps not initially, but eventually it does. His melodious voice slowly counting, his deep breath slowly following each person and the twinkling eyes focusing on aligning bodies.

Like all great teachers, he will inspire many to go deeper into the practice. He has the ability to trigger that sense of intense trust both in him and the practice. He treats everyone with a sense of intensity and full attention. He also believes that a true teacher has the responsibility to offer guidance and support to his students.

Out of all the thinking and processing over the course of two weeks, some questions came up.

Why the importance of handstanding and strength in your approach to practicing?

A slightly long winded answer revealed that working on strength – besides the feeling of exhilaration- provides structure and stability.

Strength based postures like handstands captivate people on the earth and the physical level. The ‘showy ‘ stuff was just for demos, and to some extent, was there to captivate people to seek much further the physical aspect of yoga.

The ability to move seamlessly and with grace through asana practice can be a reminder of swara, flow. Through the continuous process of inhale and exhale, one develops greater harmony and flow.

And finally, he explains that every asana is in fact yoga chikitsa – therapy and structure. The entire practice is about aligning and stretching the nadis. Strength is part of this and provides a stable foundation.

Most importantly – how does he manage to keep up so much energy when teaching so much?

Power naps.

And he gets a lot back from teaching. Sharing his practice with his close team of assistants. He once said his practice was his rock. Well that is one steady and strong rock for sure!

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Photos by Coni Horler: http://www.chphotography.ch/

What we teach is what we should learn most…

One of the guests arriving to Purple valley for the last retreat of the season with John Scott asked me with interest: ‘You must be a very experienced practitioner? You have been in India for such a long time, working at Purple Valley for a few years…. ‘

This brought me to consider….what makes an ‘experienced practitioner’?

I am usually very good at offering advice, but yet I struggle to follow any myself. I wonder why it is so difficult to think clearly when it comes to oneself. For as long as I can remember, my mind and my thoughts have been spinning in at least 200 km /hour.  A friend of mine said to me the other day, when I came to his place to share my thoughts…. “all this yoga and you still think so much, you think too much. Looks as if the yoga is not helping”

I wonder if it is the case, or if, through the practice and meditation, I have managed to at least, slow down the pace of my thinking

Yogaschitta vrtti nirodaha – translating: Yogah – yoga;  chitta: consciousness; vrtti: patterns; nirodhah: blocking or stopping

The second Sutra in the first chapter of Patanjali yoga Sutra asks: What is yoga?

Yoga is the tool which helps one to stop the disturbances of the mind. This is yoga. Through the practice, we are try to slow down the activity of the mind and thoughts, to reach inner stillness or self realization. This is the aim, at least, as I understand it. Patanjali follows by offering many different tools for us to reach self realisation – yamas and niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.

This all seems very accessible in theory, but why is it not working for me in practice? Or is it working and I am simply not aware of it, how would it be if I was not practicing? I have been practicing ashtanga yoga, in a very dedicated way since the age of 29 – a 6 day a week practitioner since the age of 29.  The past 2 years, I am, as well, practicing pranayama and meditation daily.

And before all the ashtanga practice I was experimenting with different forms of yoga. With these years of practice…can I really call my self an ‘experienced practitioner’?

One would assume that I have the most fantastic tools to take care of my own reality issues. Is it really so?

Hmmm, so lets just do a fast reality check. How do I respond to stressful situations and the invasion of thoughts into my life. And what do I actually teach in my classes ?

This year has put me in quite few situations where I have been having the opportunity to actually use the different tools suggested by Patanjali to ease out stressful situations. Have I done it? Well, at least I have tried. Has it been successful? I guess this is the question. The answer is that I do not know.

At the present moment when I am starting the classes that I am teaching, we start with breathing exercises, so far so good.

Then it comes, the full relaxation of the body in a comfortable sitting position, allowing yourself to notice the different sensations that are arising while you are sitting. Also allowing your thoughts to come….watch them, observe them, without reacting. Notice all the different emotions that the thoughts are giving birth to, notice them – but do not react. Just witness, be the observer… Be aware of the present moment, be present in THIS specific moment since the past is nothing we can do anything about and the future is unknown…

It all sounds so good, but in reality, what HAS been happening over the past 2 months is the fact that the witnessing has not been happening. Instead, my thoughts have been spinning at 200 km /hour. They are definitely allowing emotions to flood my being and I am for sure not only observing – but I for sure react to them. There is no meditation happening there at all…and unfortunately it takes me hours, and sometimes days to put my self back on track again, and when the track is found, I lose it very fast. And this is not the first time this is happening, it has been a recurring pattern over the years

I find my self sitting on my wonderful porch, in Goa, surrounded by beautiful greenery and flowers in full bloom, instead of deeply breathing in the fragrance of the frangipani, and remain in the present moment, I find myself biting my nails, having this extra glass of wine with thoughts much more ahead in the future than they should be. Or I find my self running round the block for 2 hours with loud fast music in my earphones, trying to release all the excess energy, which I could have been directing through the Shusumna Nadi towards the crown chakra, to reach higher enlightenment…

I am comforting myself with the thought – without the practice it would have been worse.

The same happens in the asana practice, my full attention should be on the breath, the drishti… instead the thoughts are taking over here as well. Some days it takes me 1,5 hours to quieten my mind. I have days where in the end of the practice I am exhausted from all the thinking.  Exhausted from trying to accept the present moment just as it is, without changing anything, exhausted from trying to be present.

Also here – I am comforting my self with the following thought – without the practice it would have probably taken me the full day to quiet the mind.

Is all this making me a bad teacher? A bad student of yoga? Or is it just showing that I am a human trying to evolve, accepting how I truly am, and making my self aware about habitual patterns which are happening over and over again. Observing the ongoing patterns of my behaviour, what I do notice is that the periods of feeling lost and stressed are shorter and shorter, it must be a good sign…and perhaps even a sign that the yoga actually is working. ( or perhaps I am just getting more experienced with age) I am no longer getting stuck in deep lows created by the continuity of life.

Observing my own reactions and my being, I notice that I teach what I need most. The silence of the mind, awareness and observance.

One week ago, John Scott arrived to the retreat and we started our last retreat of the season. I am so, so, so fortunate to be able to practice with this greatly experienced teacher. Who as well is so human, caring and understanding. John held a wonderful short talk, and for you who did not know this, John was the first ever teacher to teach at Purple Valley in December, 11 years ago. Since then he has visited the center a large amount of times, and this season he came twice. I think he feels home here. In fact, he almost started the retreat.  Next season he is coming twice as well, and in april he has promised us 3 whole weeks.

Words of John – in my own interpretation

‘Home is a place where we reside within, we need to be home within our body’ – from  my understanding, the self is using this physical body as its temporary place to reside. So why not take care of it.  Be healthy, not destructive. Do things in life that support the daily living. Because we will live this life in our physical body, and we will experience all the pains created to it by our selves.

Also surround ourself with people that are lifting our being and not taking it down. We are so good in doing it ourselves.

 The yoga John is teaching goes beyond the physical practice. He is teaching mind control. From his understanding this is what Guruji was teaching. Many of us have just misunderstood the practice, and we just see postures, just asanas. With John we explore the postures in a different way. The class transforms to a room filled with birds, small dogs, long dogs, short dogs… He teaches us to feel the postures. Perhaps like the old Himalaya yogis were doing when they first gave name to the asanas.

When John is teaching he is doing it in a very intimate way. He is sharing his life experience, both the ups and the lows. He makes the complex philosophy of yoga accessible to all of us, in a very playful way. I love practicing with John. I love john. His energy reminds me of Rolf Naujokat, my main teacher. Both of them are teaching from their hearts. They see is as their mission in life to share their knowledge.

For me John is like Peter Pan. He will never grow old, he will always remain the experimental teacher with a playful sparkle in his eye. Always remembering how it is to be a child exploring his first steps…..

So coming back to my question…what is an experienced practitioner….it must be John. And Rolf.

Somebody who will never forget to explore all possibilities in practice. And perhaps life?

The wonderful yet challenging paths of yoga

I think that many people today see yoga as a physical practice only. This is because the physical practice was what they were originally exposed to. And the Western world mostly focuses on physicality. In many ways it is fine, but for me, yoga is far more than that.

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Our Patanjali in the PV garden…

 

I have been teaching ashtanga to a few students recently, and they have been wonderful, very dedicated, showing up on their mat every morning for the past 6 weeks, even though the practice has been totally new to them. Since we were a very small group, they have been progressing very fast on a physical level. In 3 weeks we were able to complete the primary series -with some modifications-  and manage their own practice. After just five days, they would do a Mysore style practice, with one led class every week. Of course, there is always some polishing to do, but as my very good friend Deepti wrote in a very recent article in Huffington post recently – you can complete the primary series in one month, but it takes a life time to polish it.

And this is so true.

Watching them develop, as a teacher I realised that the physical practice may come so easily to some, while others have to struggle with it. But it also reminded me of the different parts of yoga that have to be incorporated in a daily practice, because there is so much more to it, than just the physical aspect… and the deeper part of it can be difficult for some students to integrate in their daily life.

Yoga is challenging us on different levels, and it should. Not only the physical level. Yoga, for me, is making us aware about the possibilities that we actually can connect with our selves on a much deeper level, than the physical part only. Is it making us better human beings? I do not know. I would like to think that we are all born into this world, as  innocent, illuminated souls, and that through our conditioning and surroundings, we take shape as the humans  we become. But the base, the trunk, what is the real self, although shadowed by the different situations we are exposed to, will always remain the same, pure and bright.

Personally I have been working a lot with my self, with yoga as a tool. And I would like to say, that as a tool to become aware about my self, both the good parts and less upbringing parts, it has been excellent. Still I am struggling with my self at many points, and here, I really mean many, but I would like to believe that I am more aware about what is going on, and how I react to incidents in life. For me in a life that already is filled with a huge amount materialistic illusions, it is so important to stay true to one self. And this is very difficult.

So lately I have been thinking of the most important part of the yamas, that for me, often are a struggle.

Satya – commitment to the truth.

This might sound so very easy. But for me it is not. I am the last one to lie, be unfaithful, dishonest to anybody else. I would say that I am the most honest person you will meet or employ, I would never take a penny from anybody, and IF i would lie, I my face changes colour.

BUT, towards myself I am the first one to lie and tweak reality. It seems my world so often becomes shadowed by fantasies and illusions that just exist in my own head. It is often as if I am living in a fantasy, convincing myself that this will happen or might be true. Sometimes I am even convinced that I have a very good intuition. But when reality comes…. all of this is for sure not true.

So being true to myself, is one of the biggest challenges.

Ahimsa – compassion towards all living beings.

Usually translated as non-violence, ‘do not kill or hurt any other human being or animal’. And I would like to say, that I am a very “ahimsa like person”, although I do admit becoming very frustrated with my neighbours’ cat during the monsoon, when they all decided to move into my house and make it their toilet.

For me ahimsa is about being able to remove all unkind, unhelpful, destructive and judgmental comments. And sometimes we throw out comments or loud thought that in our world, are nothing of importance, but to the person involved they can be the most painful things to hear. And they may be good to hear…but may also hurt so much. That is violence. There is a very fine line between being honest, and not creating any pain to the other person. Sometimes it is just best to remain silent. Because to hurt somebody verbally can be even worse than hitting them straight in their face. It is a statement that say – I know better then you…but in reality, you have no clue about their background.

We need to be so careful with our words, because the power of words is one of the greatest powers of all.

As Donna Farhi writes in her book,  ‘Yoga, mind, body and spirit’, any thought, word, or action that prevents us, or somebody else from living freely, is one that is harmful.

We need to see all circumstances in life, all attitudes and behaviours with an eye of compassion, removing our own ego, trying to see the world through the other persons’ eye.

There is no right or wrong in this world, there are just different approaches and backgrounds. We are all individuals, and have to be approached in an individual way.

Those two Yamas in particular have made me realise, while teaching, how vast and difficult it is to be non-judgmental – and approach every student, just at the moment where they are in life. Without hurting their emotions, self esteem or self image.

It is so important to keep in mind the diversity of all living beings, with out mirroring your personal views and approaches on them. Life is a living, transient process changing daily, there in no right way, or one way….there are just so many different ways to pursue what one hopes to achieve.

To teach is a constant development of ones’ own being. If we are just open to it.

So, coming to an end of this season, we have only one retreat to go….John Scott is arriving tomorrow.

For me, personally it has been a season of roller coasting, but I assume it is good to experience this as well. Life is a roller coaster, or like an Indian road, it is having many ups and downs. sometimes we get too focused on the ups or the downs. We get to attached to them, especially the ups….and then the downs become quite obvious.

Here the practice, with all it strength and its power is lifting me and carrying me forward. Although, I do have my doubts in between.

In the end, the inner silence, always created by the practice, shows to be the strongest tool to move on and see the world with new eyes….again :)

And in case you missed Purple Valley this year… we will be opening again on the 25th of October.

Love and light

Karolina

Me in the fields with the sunrise… wonderful mornings of Goa. Thank you Matthew Parker for this wonderful morning on our scooters.

Also remembering that everything that is suppose to happen will happen…. and everything that is not suppose to happen will not happen, try as you may….

Always.

// Sri Ramana Maharshi

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Sri Ramana Maharshi with Pattabhi Jois and Sharat, our little alter in the Shala. Meaning – Inspiration…

 

 

 

January at Purple Valley – two weeks with Kino and Tim

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Coni Hörler Photography

Each retreat brings new teachers, students and a brand new energy. January in itself beckons a new start and it seems that Purple Valley is always ready to greet new batch of guests and teachers with friendliness and of course, fresh flower displays.

Starting the year in Tim Feldmann’s company was not only a gift, but a true learning experience. Kino’s presence in the Shala half way through the first course was a buzz of excitement and enthusiasm, but the background energy felt constant and smooth.

Although I believe that one should spend time with one teacher, there should also be space to seek for understanding, and keep the learning process open on a constant basis. All teachers are passing down to us -students- what they have learnt, and this can be a real gift, when one is open to receive. Not all teachers choose to impart their knowledge with as much generosity and kindness, but those two certainly did….

During these two weeks with Kino and Tim, the focus was on guiding students – regardless of level or ability- and time was always given for a helpful tip or adjustment to take each person where needed into the practice.

Kino has had a lot of bad press for being such an exposed personality in social media, but in real life, she has a discreet, quiet and yet strong presence: none of this hyper-energized online persona came through in the shala. Her knowledge is incredible and she is constantly giving and sharing information. That is quite a feat for someone who travels so much and knows that she will probably not come across some of the students again. Many teachers choose to give a little and leave people figure things out for themselves, on their own and in their own time. Not here. Kino is wholly implicated in each person’s practice, and does like to push people beyond their limits – or rather the limits they have imposed on themselves. She is a firm believer that one can do more – try harder, do better- and why not? This may be the best place for most people. There are no commitments, work to get to, nothing to rush to nor stress about, so this is THE place and time where each student can give their full energy to the practice. It is a nice thing to observe and experience. I would never bother to try tricky arm balances so many times (either because I know what is coming next or I feel I should save myself for the rest of the day) or try tic tocs with so much dedication. But after all that efforting, she also clearly reminds everyone, that yoga is not a destination but a journey to be experienced and explored….

Some words that would normally make me cringe (‘squeeze the abs’… ‘really pull that foot…’ etc.) stayed with me for a long time and worked more effectively that anything else. Simplicity and clarity. Full stop.

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Coni Hörler Photography

On the other hand, Tim’s humorous, soft and yet incredibly strong presence simply seemed to make everyone feel at ease and relaxed. So relaxed in fact, that one would actually want to believe the impossible could be possible. His adjustments were (are) intense but with a gentle, deep slowness that makes one able to relax into postures. After all there is no rush.

One thing that struck me and stayed with me until now, was the act of softening into asanas, whether tricky strength-based postures or simple, basic, asana. By relaxing fully and allowing the body to sink into a position, this creates space for the muscles and bones to align themselves, to then allow the asana to reveal itself in its fullest. Let’s say you are trying to lift your entire body off the floor in Kukutasana – before using brute strength to push up, try sinking down and then lifting up.

So this all mostly stayed with me – even after returning to a cold climate with less leisurely time to practice – as did the attempt to find that soft balance between effort and subtle steadiness in asanas… As Tim rightly noted, one of the keys is “not getting tricked by the relative toughness of these asanas and to approach exclusively from effort, but balance the abhyasa and vairagya” (practice and non attachment… Yoga Sutras, 1.12 – 1.16)

His focus on the slowness of the breath and his consistent slow counts when adjusting, is a reminder that all ‘this’ is a breathing, energetic practice. Perhaps it is also a way to soften that stiff, muscular shield we all tend to build and carry through our lives and on our mats.

All in all, it made practice a whole lot more interesting. Becoming aware of the vastness of things to work on and to let go of. Going deeper into poses without a sense of rushing and hardening. Softening and allowing the body to fully release into postures.

Both their inspiration and full commitment to the practice of yoga as a whole transpires and really makes them shine as teachers. Beyond Kino’s seamless glow there is deep knowledge and faith. Beyond Tim’s playful character, there is immense love and desire to share.

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Coni Hörler Photography

Teachers:

http://timfeldmann.com/

http://www.kinoyoga.com/

Photos:

http://www.chphotography.ch/