Tag Archives: mysore style

A Magic Trio

Whole group C4

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!!!

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/

Where a yoga dream becomes a yoga reality….

 

I used to love reading One Thousand And One Nights when I was little….. 

In fact, I still do though it does not happen nearly as often as it used to.Tales of kings and queens in far away places, of forbidden love and endless passion, of magic lamps, flying carpets and mystic sadhus walking on fire…The never ending adventures of Aladdin, Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba got me completely spellbound, and I had no problem picturing myself in their exotic world of spices, crowded markets, beautiful palaces and colorful garments.

During this past week at Purple Valley, I was brought back to this exotic world again.With its amazing rooms, terraces and beautiful gardens, the resort could be the palace of king Sharyar and his queen Schereazade, or maybe princess Jasmine. It is indeed a lil’ taste of the world of Aladdin, though slightly safer and without the stressful markets and sadhus walking on fire (ok, so a fire was lit when this week’s teacher R. Alexander Medin did a fire puja, or an “oma”, on the terrace, but that involved walking around a fire rather than on top or through one).

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Santosh and Krupa preparing the Oma altar

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Rangoli painted for the Oma ritual

The day would start off with half an hour of “jappa”, followed by Mysore practice. The stroll down to the shala, snuggly situated all the way at the bottom of the garden, was a meditation in itself and set the mind in just the right mood for what was to come. After a well-guided practice by Alexander and his lovely assistant Kaiza, breakfast would be served on the main terrace, a buffet of exotic fruits, nuts, toast, home-made musli, juices and hot drinks. On some days, there would be delicious banana muffins fresh from the oven, or if lucky, the chef’s chocolate-avocado-strawberry porridge, a dish that made me have seconds and thirds when I thought I was full.

Between breakfast and lunch, one could take one of the many scooters to the beach, or read a book by the pool in the garden.The latter became a choice of preference, as one wouldn’t want to miss lunch…The meals at this place are a culinary heaven and beat those of One Thousand And One Nights by far. A variety of fresh salads, chutneys, dips, pesto hummus and normal hummus, vegetable soups, various rice dishes, vegan tiramisu, fruit salads..Every day would offer new, healthy surprises on the table, always a combination of Western and Indian vegetarian dishes. If you’re on a diet, this is not the place to go as you would miss out on an essential aspect of the Purple Valley experience.

At 16 p.m., the day’s second yoga session would begin. Led by Alexander’s melodious voice, class started off with chanting in sanskrit, followed by a lecture in Yoga philosophy. Alexander’s knowledge in the classic works of Yoga is beyond what I have ever encountered and it is always just as captivating to hear him speak of the Yoga Sutras or the Bhagavad Gita with such enthusiasm. The class would end with a little bit of “soft” yoga asanas, just in time for a quick shower before the gong called for dinner.

When on a yoga holiday, one heads to bed at a reasonable hour. However, for those wishing to postpone the journey to bed with an hour or so, they could settle comfortably among purple cushions on the terrace as a movie was on the repertoire every other night. In my case, I preferred sneaking up to my balcony for a lil’ hour of reading or dreaming under the stars. If I had brought One thousand And One Nights, this would be the perfect time to get absorbed in its magic. But since I didn’t, I had to do with my own, dreamy mind. And that seemed to work just as well.

Katinka Sætersdal Remøe is an adventure-seeking, wine-loving yogini with a passion for the unknown. Her curiosity has led her into many peculiar situations, from having tea with Sudanese ministers and road tripping through India’s heartland searching for guerrilla soldiers to crossing the Alps on skis. She loves contrasts, which is why you find a mix of high heels, climbing shoes, cowboy hats and yogamats in her closet, and strongly believes it enriches her life. Katinka made a visit to Purple Valley Yoga Center in Goa. where she joind the Alexander Medin retreat, now she is back musing on her mat in Mysore but will be back in Romsdalen, Norway, in a couple of months to continue teaching at Romsdal Yoga, bake apple cake at Sødahl-huset, and daydream on mountaintops. Check out her website and blog or connect with her on Facebook.

Below you can see one of interviews we made with Alexander Medin, while he was in Purple Valley in Goa…

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