Monthly Archives: April 2015

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…