Alex: Tracing the Source
|We are all students of life and Yoga puts us in contact with who we truly are - beyond our wildest imagination, expectations and fears - and hopefully instils an integration of something that is uncluttered by our conditioning, something that is real at all times. But we live in a world of ups and downs, time and space, name and form so any definition we give to Yoga will naturally be coloured by our environment, exposure and context. I feel grateful to Pure Yoga for the invitation to join their Teaching Faculty. But I'm first and foremost a student of Yoga who lives nine months of the year in Mysore, India where I study Sanskrit and Yoga, and where the legendary T. Krisnamacharya began to teach Pattabhi Jois, BKS Iyengar, Indra Devi etc. |
All of these blogs may be personal reflections, wild ramblings and fancy, but they will also give an account of interviews with other Yoga teachers, as well as common practitioners and seekers of Yoga. Yoga displays a great diversity all over the world, but hopefully in our shared efforts to articulate it, maybe we can all become a little wiser to what the great heritage of Yoga truly has to offer us?
For Alex's bio, please click here
|24.06.08 Mysore Traveling around|
|Another trip to India is being rounded up. Leaving for Bangalore tonight and then flying out of India tomorrow. Why do I keep coming back I often ask myself, what is it about India that has such a pull on me that I'm ready to spend months on end here? What am I really seeking that I can't found elsewhere?|
My ambition when I first come here was to try to trace a source and become a little clearer about what this thing called yoga really is. But the more I've inquired into various traditions and met many of the so-called greatest yogis of modern India I've also come to know how exceedingly difficult it is to define, understand and become clear what this thing called yoga really is. It manifests in various ways and is being interpreted even more and who can really say what is right, better or worse when everybody is really just doing their best to make sense of what they are doing? There are of course a million buts, and so easy to find many faults with all the various traditions, but whatever way we look at it it's always a matter of perspective and to criticize is always easy, but to more constructively embody principles of yoga in all our actions, now that's the hard part.
India still has a magic pull, not just for the yoga, but for the sacred and profane that exists side by side here. For some reasons it helps you find your own focus a little better and is a good counterbalance from falling into any extreme. It's the same with reference to yoga, you can find some truly remarkable people, but they are usually far off the beaten track and don't loose themselves in the many seductions too much money, fame and publicity usually give. They stay true to their principles and focus more on embodying yoga in their daily lives rather than merely talking about it or being busy projecting themselves into something they are not. Keeping it simple is always hard, but the greatness of yoga usually flows through much stronger when we do.
So if we've learnt just a little bit, then all we can really do is to follow that scent and trust that is enough to take us through each step of the way until greater clarity shines through a little brighter. Even if it doesn't, it's just a matter of time if we can first learn to peel through the many layers of delusion obstructing our own pure-view. For that to truly awaken, we don't really need to travel or go anywhere, all that is needed is to be present with what is and within that a tremendous energy is stored up that heals and transforms when we can truly see and have the strength to examine the many subtle plays and intricacies of our own mind. If we can only bypass that there is certainly great yoga to be found everywhere.
|15.06.08 Mysore Know that to be Yoga...|
|So it was time for conference again today. Guruji was also present, but he was quietly seated in his chair while Sharath did most of the talking. The Shala was filled as usual with more than a hundred people gathered to hear the latest news from the custodians of the tradition.|
It is always a bit of a funny energy at these gathering, there's always a certain nervousness in the air, many people wants to ask questions, but when you finally sit there in a group of hundreds and have the Guru staring at you ones articulation often tends to falter a little. So unfortunately some questions are asked just to please the teachers, and let them harp on about matters close to their hearts. Like the complexity of this practice, how many years it takes to say you know a little bit, the importance of patience, not be carried away by our egos, neither loose oneself in the madness of the world, but keep consistent in the practice and allow that to reveal to you over time an increased awareness of what really matters and through that sharpen all your faculties in the process, phew! Now, all of that is fine; at least there is a heartfelt awareness here in Mysore about the complexities of yoga and how difficult it is to really know it. But there is also a growing problem here that certain people consider themselves more authentic than others just because they have the great privilege of belonging to this particular tradition and therefore easily slag off other schools and practitioners as being too crazy or being practicing yoga wrongly! It's indeed delicate issue, when many famous yoga teachers in the world got nourished at the cradle here in Mysore for many years and then suddenly marketed themselves internationally and became traveling yoga globetrotters that developed their 'own style' and then continued to wonder the globe professing the greatness of their newly developed system that was suppose to be more easily accessible to hungry newcomers.
Then there are questions about enlightenment and Sharath narrates in his friendly manner the story of Dakṣinamūrti and how he once sat under the Tamarind tree in a village, instructing a group of scholars through the medium of silence. They had all come to him in their proud knowledge wanting to question the young teacher on various aspects of truth, but when they finally came and sat in his presence, all their questions melted away and all they could think of was the sweetness the young teacher was embodying.
In a similar way we may all have hundreds of question in reference to what is right and wrong about a proper yoga practice. But who can really give the answers? Are you ready to perceive a different answer or are you busy just projecting your own ideas on the matter. Who can really say what is right and wrong after all when it comes to the great diversity that is now yoga? Perhaps we must first make ourselves more perceptible to get beyond all the hangups in our own mind of what is right and wrong, better and worse? A person in the audience suddenly address Sharath and asks him why he doesn't have more compassion for other styles and disciplines and asks if there is not a danger to be too self righteous within ones own school? Sharath keeps his steady cool and answers with the warmth of his heart that yes he respects other schools, but he's also been around the yoga block for a long time and can see what works and don't' work and hence he feels it is his duty to convey to his students when he sees somebody is spoiling a tradition.
It's a complicated matter indeed and a heated dialogue begins of where is the fine line to be drawn in having greater compassion towards other and their various practices or raising ones voice if you feel they are wrong. Guruji who have been sitting quietly for the whole time suddenly sits up in his chair and says:
Taṁ vidyād duḥkhasamyogaviyogaṁ yogasaṅjñitaṁ |
Sa niścayena yoktavyo yogo ' nirviṇṇacetasā || BG 6.23||
Know that to be yoga, which is free from any association with suffering,
That yoga is to be practiced with perseverance and without dejection of spirit (BG 6.23).
For anybody who would like some more explanation on this verse I urge you to go and look up the Bhagavad Gītā and compare some various commentaries to better understand what this verse really means, but in my limited mind I would like to believe that what Guruji was trying to tell us was that we should not worry so much about who is right, better or worse with reference to the many styles of yoga, but practice that which is yoga so the veils, ignorance and confusion in our own mind can finally ease off a little and the greatness of yoga can shine more triumphantly within us.
|10.06.08 Mysore Meet Mark Ansari|
Mark Ansari started teaching yoga thirteen years ago and was one of the instrumental teachers to make yoga popular in the UK. He has run yoga retreats and workshops world wide, Teacher training courses and is also co-author of the best selling book 'Yoga for Beginners'. Now he has taken a sabbatical from his hectic works schedule in London in order to seek fresh inspiration and deeper understanding of what yoga really is. He has come to India, not quite sure for how long he'll stay, but he knows for certain that he does not want to re-enter his previous busy life style of endless teaching in various places, just to make the money go round.
Why did you start practicing Yoga?
It made me feel better. I came to it quite late at the age of thirty, but I found that the practice of Yoga, which was primarily physical, once the āsana practice was completed I felt a greater calm, sense of well being, greater clarity and stability on all levels.
When did you start teaching?
I started teaching at the Portobello Green Fitness club in 1995 and because I just discovered Ashtanga Yoga and found it such and amazing practice, I wanted to simply pass that on to people so they could have a similar experience and reap the same benefits that I had from the practice.
Can you please discribe your life for the last thirteen years?
For the first ten years I didn't' teach very many classes I only taught the classes I wanted to teach. I had a very cheap lifestyle and I managed to take time off and travel for three months every year. This was very beneficial for my own practice. All of these traveling incorporated a lot of intense yoga study in India and other countries. The last few years however things changed, when I bought a property in London and gat saddled with a big mortgage I lost focus in what I was doing because my attention was all about making money rather than teaching and passing on something that I loved and practiced.
Why did you stop teaching?
It came to a stage where I was teaching between 15-20 yoga classes per week, running from one to another and getting very stressed. Let me give you an example, I was teaching a very well of woman in Chelsea who would practice together with her personal assistant. However when she felt tired or lazy, she would lie down on the sofa and fall asleep and get her personal assistant to do her practice for her. And let me give you another one: I was often approached by female yoga students who would ask me if I would come to teach their husbands/boyfriends privately. The usual reaction when I arrived was one of total horror that his wife was going to subject him to such a humiliating experience.
So in short this was not about me wanting to teach yoga, but rather about the substantial fee that I would charge for such services and cash in a hundred pounds on the spot, which always helped to pay bills and mortgages.
It was great if you were purely into making the money, but I suddenly found myself in a trap that I didn't have the time and energy to practice yoga, I lost inspiration and ultimately felt my teaching suffered because of this. In order to get through the day of up to five to six classes and I my teaching became stagnant and automatic which I'm sure some student most have picked up on. So I decided to give it all up in order to seek fresh knowledge and inspiration, because I basically hadn't studied yoga under anybody for five years. Which is why I'm back in India.
What are your future plans now?
I plan to take a year sabbatical, study yoga intensively during this time and perhaps run some yoga retreats and eventually start up a yoga center in the south of Spain with my fiancé. There we hope to live a much more simple life and because the work will be seasonal there will be a lot more scope for time off in the winter months, during which time we would study yoga and perhaps run yoga retreat in and around the world.
How is your own practice like these days?
I don't have has much stamina as I did ten or fifteen years ago so pushing myself too hard in the practice is not something I do. Instead I practice for shorter periods of time and the emphasis being on slow, steady improvement as opposed to becoming Mr. Super Flexible, which I gave up on after reaching the age of forty. Now I use the practice of yoga to enhance my life in order to create steadiness and stability rather than projecting my own well being to what I could do in the practice. Now I'm happy doing less, because I feel that less is more as I approach this advanced stage of life.
|06.06.08 Mysore Ass-ana Practice?|
|Yoga is a mysterious subject. One day after practice we may feel on top of the world and feel like we are ready to take on any problems - at least for a few days - until you find yourself crawling on the ground asking God for mercy because you cannot handle all of the intensities. Or you simply give up and don't' give a f#*$, but that's not really and option is it? So yes, we better be careful what we wish for, but although this glorious practice of yoga is suppose to help us find greater stability in the midst of all the intensities that are going on I must honestly admit I feel like I'm slipping and sliding all over the place actually quite frequently!|
Or maybe it's all part of the lesson, but I watch my life slip, at least that's what it often feels like. I'm a failure for not being able to fulfill all the tasks I had promised to complete and the various deadlines to be met. Ah I know it sounds so pretentious and ambitious, but if we don't get up off our ass-ana some times and engage more fully with life of what use is really all the so-called yoga we engage in?
Maybe I'm getting old or maybe I've come to cross-road, but my dilemma is that I still feel it's necessary to engage in these daily practices of sitting on our behind, although sometimes I keep asking myself "What are we really going to do with it all in the long run?" When are body start falling apart and we can no longer even sit up straight, what was the use of all this?
Ok yes, so we have other limbs to engage in, but unless the defilements of this decrepit body is washed away in the purity that comes from the fire of a transformative practice, on what practical basis can we even utter a syllable of understanding in the matter?
But ok, I keep on practicing, because I certainly know that when I do I feel much better off then when I don't! This practical life that we live is never really quite what we expected it to be, but imagine how boring it would be if it was! So I try to keep my faith consistent in the practice because yes, there is certainly a tingling sensation from within that tells me this is right. Ok our mind can be very deceptive, but a gut feeling is usually right. It was never about the thinking mind anyway, but rather how to gain greater clarity from within it. Than can ever come from just chasing our desires, in the practice or in any other aspect of life, but I trust that as I become more steady in the practice perhaps some greater clarity will shine forth from within that is not dependent on any external sources, but just shines brilliantly in itself. Then all of our duties and obligations will perhaps also be a little easier, when we get a better grip on ourselves and realize that this is all there is to it right now. Yoga is not going to save us, neither is Santa Claus or God, but they may be standing on the side and wonder: "What took you so long to make up your mind?"
|01.06.08 Mysore A new Conference|
|For the last three Sundays, Sharath has been holding Conference at the Shala. This Sunday I could finally make it and it was interesting to sit and observe what is going on. When Guruji was holding it, up to about a year ago when he underwent some complications, there was a natural weight and authority in the room, whatever Guruji would say and do always had a certain depth and resonance that would make you go home and think and if you were lucky, gradually start to understand what he was trying to tell you, like 'practice, practice and all is coming! Or 'Don't think so much, you do, then understanding is coming!' Hmm ok the cookie crumbles in various ways.|
But now it is Sharatht's turn and things naturally have to be a little different. Sharath speaks better English and can naturally understand some of the questions better so it's more of a dialogue rather than a personal discourse on various themes. Both ways are equally interesting and what I really like about it is that both of them are never afraid to display their human qualities. That as humans we are frail and although sitting on a podium speaking to a crowd of hundreds, it's of course easy to hide behind dogmas, but genuinely I feel they would try to take in each student and really try to answer as honestly as they could to the various individuals asking.
What's fascinating about Sharath is that yes, he's young and certainly has plenty to learn on many levels to give more weight to his arguments, but it seems he's genuinely trying to be honest and tells us straight what he knows and leaves all the other things that he don't know. That's a great quality indeed and it's like he's searching like all the rest of us to become a little clearer about what this practice really is. When we say we know, we're always in trouble, but when we accept the fact that we don't' know, there is great potential for real learning to take place.
|29.05.08 Mysore Shirley Kao|
| Meet Shirley Kao, a former high school teacher that gave up her teaching career to explore the deeper aspects of yoga a little better. So she came to India, certainly got a little overwhelmed by the new culture, not to mention all the dust and pollution, but found a new sense of purity from within that was better than any fancy Spa treatment could ever provide. She started to trust the unfolding of life and although at present she is without a steady job and income, she feels more connected to life than ever. Here follows an interview with Shirley where she openly express some her personal insecurities encountered on the path and equally how many people have wondered 'Why the heck do you want to be in India for?' Well for Shirley it's about following her path and without necessarily knowing the outcome she feels connected to something that is real and trusts that will grow in clarity as she learns to embrace it.|
How did you come to yoga?
I was a "gym rat." I went to all kinds of classes at the gym from Pilates, to kickboxing to step class and yoga. I didn't really understand the different types of yoga. I had one teacher who I found out later had lived in Mysore for 4 years and studied Ashtanga with another teacher. In her gym yoga flow classes she slowly taught us full primary. She never said anything but I found something really "right" about the flow and sequence of her classes. It just made sense for my body. It felt right. I began going to her classes on a regular bases. After a while I went to her because I had a question of what next or where do I go with this from here. I wasn't sure exactly what I was asking but knew just that I wanted to learn more. She said if this is working then don't need to find more. I still knew that there was something to this new yoga I found and wanted more. Just didn't know where and from who. Decided to further my yoga experience by maybe signing up for a yoga retreat somewhere. Around this time I was feeling the need to get away, from what I am not sure. Questions about my life also started to appear. Talking to friends about maybe joining me on this I soon realized that they wanted to go on a glorified spa vacation and I somehow wanted more. I looked on line and almost right away found Paul Dallaghan's place at Yoga Thailand. I liked what the website had to say. It seemed like exactly what I was looking for even though I didn't know exactly what that was until I saw it. I decided instead of a 2 week retreat to apply for the 5 week teacher training program. No sure why but it just felt right. Ended up getting accepted and going to the teacher training almost a year later.
What made you decide to go to Mysore?
Showing up at Yoga Thailand for the teacher training was a bit overwhelming to say the least. I had never done a day of Mysore style self practice before and seemed to be in a group of people who know so much about Ashtanga yoga and I was still not sure how exactly that was different from other yoga styles. All I knew was I liked the purity of primary series. While at Yoga Thailand we watched the movie "Guru" one night. I did not know who Pattabi Jois was before watching the movie. Half way through the movie I knew I would be going to Mysore. After the teacher training I went home and packed up my life in San Francisco in about a month and planned to go to Mysore for 6 months having never been to India before.
What is (was) your (previous) profession?
I am educated and trained as an elementary school teacher. I taught for about 6 years before deciding to explore what else of interest there was for me. It was not an easy decision as previously life seemed to be planned as school, teach, retire! I left my hometown of Sacramento, and my teaching job about 5 years ago. I moved to San Francisco to explore my other interest of fashion and maybe owning my own boutique someday. I had an amazing time working in fashion in San Francisco for about 4 years. Then I found Ashtanga yoga and that interest took me to India where my main interest the last year and more has been to learn this practice.
Why do you come back here?
I spent a year in Mysore my first time here. When I came here I had only been practicing about 2 months. I really feel that Guruji is my guru and Sharath is my teacher and Saraswathi is just an inspiration. I went home to San Francisco from Mysore and spent about 7 months there practicing and working. It just came to a point about 5 months into it that I felt a strong desire to return to Mysore to see my teacher and continue my learning. It was just a feeling. I connect Mysore and AYRI with learning the practice properly. This is where my teacher is so as long as I want to continue to learn this practice this is where i will return to learn. I was not sure how I would feel about returning to Mysore and India. India can be a bit intense and I left without putting any pressure on myself to come back or continue the practice as intensely. However when i was home in SF the desire to continue the practice was so strong and the desire to return to Mysore to see my teacher was just as strong. Now that I am back here I really feel like I have returned home. I feel more then ever the faith in the system of learning of Ashtanga and in my teacher Sharath.
It is really difficult to describe the feeling inside, that desire to return to the source. It is especially hard to understand for my friends at home who said things like "but you have already been to India, why would you want to go back again?" Sometimes these voices and influences cause doubt in my mind but in my heart I always knew I had to return. Now that I am back I am filled with the complete confidence that this is where I am suppose to be right now.
How does yoga change your perspective on life?
Awareness. I think the daily practice on my mat has made me more aware in all aspects of my life off the mat. I grew up Christian and felt family pressure to go to church which left a "bad taste in my mouth" for religion. However I always felt love for God. This practice has really made me feel so much closer to God. Lessons I learn on the mat such as doing without over thinking, and working through the fear has translated to daily life. One example is back-bending. I sometimes feel an illogical fear and do not want to open my heart. It is like this instinctual self protection not to open up my chest and expose my heart. However when i do it without fear my backbending is much better and there is no pain. Instead there is almost a beautiful high. I try to remember this in life when I want to be closed off because of fear. Only good can come from opening our hearts and giving to others.
What does it mean to be a responsible citizen?
Being a responsible citizen I think starts with awareness. Being respectful of God, yourself, others and nature. Trying to take only what I need without waste or greed. Using the energy from what I take to give back to the world in a positive and loving way.
Can yoga be a form of escape?
This is a question that I struggle with often. When I am over thinking I often wonder about this. My friends at home often say that I am very extreme and anything I take on I take on with an all or nothing attitude. One of my friends always says that life is about balance not going all out for one thing. Other non ashtanga friends have questioned me about why I go to India. Am I going to escape from my life? Am I running away? Am I taking on the practice so intensely to not have to deal with other aspects of my life? I take their questions and concerns seriously and have thought long and hard about it. In the end I can only go with my heart and my feeling. For now it just feels right to be here, learning this practice with sincerity and whole heartedly. With the practice I have found a greater stillness and a new inner peace. Without being able to put into words the path of learning this practice fills me with the feeling that I am doing exactly what I should and want to be doing right now.
Can yoga improve the quality of your life?
Doing my daily practice has taught me patience, perseverance, how to be brave, open and many other qualities that carry into daily life. Some days it is so hard to get on the mat to do the practice whether it's laziness, too much thinking, tired, or hurt. However just the commitment and determination to do it carries over into my day. Also on a physical level it has improved the quality of my life in so many ways. Doing yoga has slowly, slowly made me want to make changes in other parts of my physical well being. It has also just made me more aware of, respectful of and in tune with body and how to care for it respectfully. I am mindful of my sleep and there is something truly special about getting up so early and doing the practice before most people are awake. I have naturally become a vegetarian and have a more loving and respectful relationship with both food and my own body. I also feel the physical asana practice is slowly clearing away both physical waste and toxins in my body and also clearing away a lifetime of emotional and other traumas that our bodies carry. It's really simple, but the practice makes me feel physically light and free and finally not to mention, feeling connected to something that is real.
|22.05.08 Mysore Back at the Source|
|There's a new vibe here in Mysore. Guruji is away in America and Sharath is looking after the classes here by himself. It is of course a little strange not to have the energy of the old man hovering around, but if anybody can do justice to his absence it is Sharath. So after finally being back, after all the travels, for two days I've now been coming into practice, rolling out my mat in the usual way and just moving through the sequence of posture according to capability. Although I occasionally get side tracked by new people and old friends making funny faces I cannot help to acknowledge what a pristine calm energy that prevails. There are only about 90 students here now, of course the energy in the room is always intense, but Sharat handles all the students with such patience and just walks around giving one steady adjustment at the time and cracking a few jokes when there is room for it. A beautiful energy is prevailing and it's great to finally be back at a source that heals and uplifts in mysterious ways if we can only strip away and loosen some of our funny notions and finally make ourselves more accessible to the healing juices that flow from the practice.|
For many people at first this place may appear just like a sweat factory where you come to knock off some poses. That is also being done, but for those that have patience and are willing to peak a little beyond the mere appearance, a whole new field opens up. Once you enter there a new support is found in your being, slowly and steadily and you enter back into the world and will see more beauty, more grace and hopefully a little less suffering.
Ok, ok, we're all caught in the web of Samsara, but when Yoga works there is healing and growth on all levels and the body is charged with a new energy that will support and uphold what is true. That is not so easy to find in these days, but here at the source, when you learn to breathe and relax in the midst of the practice something very sweet comes forth. Now what we choose to do with that is up to each individual, but whenever caressed and sustained some of the struggles of life loosen their grip and a new light shines clearer from within.
|12.05.08 Beijing Walking around|
|I'm in the capital of China where things are happening so fast that nobody seems to know what directions things are going. There's a tremendous momentum here and the city looks more polished and clean than ever in anticipation of the great games flaring up in three months time. Streets downtown host new buildings of interesting proportions, showing off the latest skill of clever architects. The shopping malls and fancy boutiques make Hong Kong seem lame in comparison, not to mention the fancy cars gliding around. Whatever views I had of Beijing as the quiet cycling city, have been shattered by the modern buzz of high tech and affluence one experiences all around.|
In spite of all of this, I have been seeking out the trails of the ancient China that fascinate me, its high culture coupled with wealth, corruption and intrigues. I wonder around the gardens surrounding the Forbidden Palace, then finally enter the heart of this city and become overwhelmed by the reminiscence of an era since long passed. I make a visit to the Temple of Heaven where the previous Emperors prayed for good harvest, good governance and the intervention of the Gods to rule the land according to principles of Universal good. I come back to Tian'an Men square and marvel further about the Cultural Revolution here in China. I survey the grandiosity of this square and contemplate the work force of this nation; I can't help to think: "What's next for this emerging super power".
But I'm just a simply yoga teacher coming here to teach a little Yoga so who am I to contemplate such great questions? Regarding the Yoga and the scene, however, here, I feel more like a rock star than the normal flimsy teacher that I am. I have signed more autographs than ever and had to bolt the door of the room in the studio where I'm staying every night in fear of wild cats pouncing on their prey. I could of course strut around like a cocky rooster in a chicken farm, but I feel inspired by upholding the principles of universal good rather than diving into a pool of self indulgence for no other purpose of transitory pleasures.
So I come out of my room and try to teach aspects of yoga that resonate and ring true (or at least how it does for me). But as we roll around on the floor, engage in various stretches and ways to improve our introspect breathing somebody suddenly asks: "Why do we have to practice so much? When can I become a teacher? This teaching seems so much more fun. I want to become a yoga teacher! When can I become that?
I pause for a moment wanting to give a proper reply, but I find it quite awkward and realizes that I can't, so I smile and say: "I've great faith in Yoga when that inspires us and consumes us it will probably lead us down mysterious new paths that may open up new vistas within your being - and when you finally get there perhaps teaching yoga is less interesting and living it is rather what really matters. But ah things are complicated and often we have to sweat on all levels to become clear, but seek clarity then things falls into place by themselves".
I realize I'm preaching again, my thoughts always colored by my own stuff and judging others according to my own hang ups in the process. Perhaps I should try being a rock star instead, play, party, and live it up. That could be really fun, or maybe not, regardless, things are never quite what they appear to be so we just have to walk our path as steady as we can and hopefully things reveal themselves in the process.
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