Answers To Some Questions Someone Asked Me…

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Someone asked me about my practice. It is hard to articulate and I don’t think I’ve expressed it as well as I can. It’s hard for me to express something that I do so intuitively. But here goes – I hope you find this informative and inspiring! 🙂 Peace!

What brought you to devote your energies to yoga?

It wasn’t really my decision. I think all my life had been directing me that way. Since I was a child, I had this feeling that I was to heed the call of the universe but obligations in regular life kept me from seeing my path clearly. It took me years to follow the calling. And when I did, it threw my life into a tailspin. I lost friends and my family because they could not understand the direction my life was taking. I sacrificed a lot but gained so much. I attained a disposition that is contentment itself. I could not have experienced this without the pain and sacrifice, without the missteps. I devote my energies to yoga, because all there is – is Yoga. Everything else is Maya; superficial; unreal.

How does it “in-form” [sic] the person that you are?

If Yoga speaks through me then there is a truth that is in my eyes. I cannot hide or “get rid of” the organism I am; the human I am. I cannot ignore that I am a very sensitive human being. Not only in emotions – because I’m not as sensitive that way as others – but my organism is sensitive. I taste more, I smell more, I feel more, I vibe more. This, when attached with an ego, can get very irritating and precarious and at the same time, can make me acutely aware of my surroundings and the other humans near me. Yoga takes my hand and leads me through the jungle, swamp as my teacher likes to call it. So yoga doesn’t take away the uncomfortable moments as it doesn’t take away the blissful moments. Yoga doesn’t distinguish one from the other. It is all experience. It is all about being human. Being a restless spirit. Yoga informs my organism by allowing my humanness to express itself without judgment. I feel the embrace of god no matter what I do these days. Yoga – as I become transparent – accepts the incarnation of whatever happens through my ego.

How does it relate to seeing in terms of sacred and profane and to your quest to integrate these poles?

Yoga then is ultimately a heart path. It is not just an intellectual path. It is not just a physical path. It is not just a mindful path. Once the ego has been exposed to the Yogic path; after all the fighting and resisting, the heart opens up to all possibilities of expression; that there is no right way or wrong way to attain Yoga. The heart, in the ego’s evolution to spirit, casts a wide net and sees which way to turn next. All movements toward deepening are accepted and in line with the dharma – whether it is sitting in meditation or learning a (big or small) lesson from a decision made. The stronger the heart path the more sincerity, with sincerity there’s honesty and humility, with honesty and humility comes equanimity. With equanimity, there is acceptance of all. Integrating the sacred and the profane in one place, one organism, is to practice non-dualism or advaita and that is what I think is the truth of the universe. The restless spirit goes through stages of evolution and revolution to reach Yoga and anything can get you there if you are listening and done with sincerity.

 How is your practice related to architecture?

When I was practicing architecture, I was concerned with how the ‘spirit’ was expressed through building. I turned to a lot of the modern architecture of Europe but also and more importantly of Japan.

Japanese architecture always fascinated me – at least when the architectural space expressed the concepts of opposites and their juxtapositions through materials, expression of space and how they use it. The Zen garden was a part of that as well as placing cool water in relationship with warm wood, or stone floor as transition between garden and tatami mat. And so on. To me, this created an experience of balance between sensations of the senses. A yin yang of living if you will. It reminds me of Hatha yoga – balancing energies through the physical manifestation of opposites.

As well, I studied a lot of medieval architecture and urban landscapes because they showed how humans met their needs in built form and at that time it was unstructured (to a certain extent), unhindered by intellectual notions of design and unself-conscious. Take gothic cathedrals for instance – they were built simply to express their devotion to the Divine. And like gothic architecture, the spiritual path takes time, patience, devotion (to the work as well as god), vision, concentration, and contentment (because you might not see your efforts come to fruition in this lifetime).

And finally, Sacred Geometry and Alchemy. My studies informed me that there are unseen forces which can be expressed through certain parameters – that the Divine is revealed through them. In built form, sacred geometry harnesses the energies from the universe – the sun and stars. The architecture then becomes the energy field. It is then interesting to compare the practice of yoga asana with this harnessing of energy of the universe. Sacred geometry is expressed through form and mathematics. I suppose you could say that asana can be and, in theory, is that precise and practical. Sacred geometry and its expressions need to be precise in order to harness these energies. Hatha yoga need not be – precise – in form. Every body is different and can not express postures in the same way. Then what is it? It needs to be precise in ‘energy’. Energy to me equals mindfulness (or right-mindedness) plus perseverance (dedication) plus forcefulness (effort) with breath. Enacting Hatha yoga postures in this way is the harnessing of divine energy from within – not without. Where sacred architecture draws from outside and then contains the energies within, a human being creates the energy within and contains it. This is known as Prana, created through breath and enacting the postures with force (Hatha yoga – the ‘forceful’ practice). Both the architectural space and the individual contain the energy within.

Is yoga as you practice it a kind of embodied, spiritual architecture?

I suppose if I read this like: that the practices of yoga and meditation are a kind of architecture which endeavors to express the restless spirit – so in a way, to find new form by building or by practicing; by sensing the changes that are needed and making adjustments; by recognizing the potential and limitations of what you have to work with; by harnessing and containing these energies (prana) within, and finally, by knowing that this kind of embodiment is much bigger than you. To that, then yes, I’d say so.

How do your Buddhist meditative practices relate to or complement your yoga practices?

Buddhist meditation practices complement my yoga practice because of its simplicity. I practice Zazen, which really means to “just sit”. I take that into my asana practice and although I’m very aware of structure, my meditation practice helps me to “just practice” and breathe. We sometimes like to put values or qualifications on our practice – do this and you will be healthy or fit or whatever; do meditation and you will be calm or mindful and so on. Really there’s no guarantee that any of that will happen for you. We say, build your core and you can do handstand easily or this or that arm balance. But in truth there’s a lot more going on in an asana, which does not relate at all to how strong your core muscles are that would hold you back from realizing that goal. So then, in the “just sitting” or the practice of Ashtanga (in my view) is the means to the end. The practice or rather to practice is the goal. And you do the best you possibly can in your body, your organism with sincerity.

How do you see the evolution of your path?

Really to just keep doing. Keep making myself available to my own practice, to the universe, to others. Making myself available to others also drives me down my path. Making myself available to the universe means to cultivate intuition, heart and mind. So on that note – thank you for asking these questions because it has helped me to articulate these things that I do intuitively.

I hope I’ve answered your questions for you. Please feel free to ask me to clarify anything that you are unsure about.

Peace!

Christine

Ashtanga – Primary Series – Practice

Ashtanga - Primary Series - Practice

The past two weeks, I have focused on the Primary Series. Haven’t done it – consistently – for a while. Wanted to get back into it – really missed it. It was so hard to do in the beginning years ago when I first started to practice. My body and system did not like all the forward bends. It really effected me – and not in a good way. I remember how I would not be able to do ALL of the postures. It took years upon years of practice to get me to a point of feeling good in the practice.

But it came at a price. I mangled my body and stressed it out just by working into the postures.

I have a very sensitive system – even my bodyworker whether it is a chiropractor/thai massage/SOT therapist, says that my body has extreme reactions to adjustments. In other words, the work that I do in my practice can really set off a chain reaction of pain. Shoulder pain, back pain. Stiff neck and back. Sore hips and aching legs. So I had to lay off for a while.

Now – it’s all back. The shoulder pain especially. It’s because my right shoulder leans more into the forward bends and it puts it out every time. Even when I am totally conscious of it.

That’s a part of the practice then isn’t it. The physical practice is easier – I know the postures I can get into easily, I know the postures I can get into with some effort, and I know the postures, for my body’s sack, I shouldn’t push. It is a part of the practice to know these things.

I need to work like this for a while and let my body slowly work out the kinks again.

I know that if I were in Mysore practice I would try to push myself too much – spurred on by the energy of the room. Although I really love that – being with all those people. It has never served me.

Today I practice quietly in my home – I’ve got a great little spot – breathing and working through the aches in my body with a clear and calm mind. I do not push. I listen and learn. And I love every minute of it!
Peace!

Sharath Jois in Copenhagen…

Lovely vid of Sharath in Copenhagen. Wish I were there…

vid by Alessandro Sigismondi.

Yoga: It Is The Practice That Teaches Not The Teacher

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Ashtanga yoga and Iyengar yoga have a few things in common:

1. They both come from a very traditional background and were developed from ancient understandings of yoga. They come from students of Krishnamacharya.

2. They have been taught without variation for decades (except maybe variation of teaching styles to accommodate level of student and time spent in class) and there’s a silent agreement that the form and process of the practice would not be altered. Meaning that: say the Ashtanga series would not see any variation or addition to the main idea and postures of the practice. Teachers knew way-back-when that yoga was not about them.

A lot of derivatives of these practices of yoga have developed since

because of this particular person’s predilections or perhaps that person’s understanding of what it takes to bring Yoga (not only asana) to the masses. Whatever the case, these yogas became things like Vinyasa, Jivamukti, Anusara, etc., and the idea of yoga (asana) expanded for better or worse. We see an explosion of these variations because Asana yoga has become very popular. As it becomes more popular with the “Thinspiration” generation it is more about the body and looking good than ever before. Yoga (asana) is changing because the students have changed.

Is There A Place For Traditional Yoga (Asana) Practice?

Being a fairly traditional Ashtanga teacher, the traditional and strict aspect of both styles can turn off newbie and young students, and those who are looking for self-gratification. I find that it is more the aspect of “I want to feel good about myself and look good” which seems to be paramount for most students these days. Precise instruction and conceptualization is not what students are looking for because somehow it makes some students feel “less than”. It sounds like criticism and doesn’t add the students’ narcissistic vanity of “how good I am for being here and doing this”.

I have found that these days having a good sweat is not enough. The classes have to appeal to the aspect of personal power. So the more challenging postures in a class the better.

I tend to balance my classes (this is when I teach Stylized Vinyasa) with a style of teaching that challenges and at the same time, I do not introduce postures like some arm balances or things like the splits, etc., unless I see that the majority of students are a little more seasoned and I’ve taught them for a while and gotten to know them. I have witnessed classes where teachers will put beginners into some poses at risk of injury without any concern and the students just love it. Conversely, I have challenged those who just wanted to really do a restorative class (wasn’t even advertised as one but they expected it (?)) and gotten my head chewed off because of it.

Just Teach As The Practice Dictates – Not What Your Or Your Students’ Egos Dictate

There really isn’t any way to predict students’ preferences anyhow, and I have to say that Iyengar and Ashtanga stay steadfast in maintaining the traditional way of teaching as much as possible – and no, I don’t mean yelling at your students or calling them names – that is the style of the teacher not the practice, and doesn’t come from the deep understanding of the practice. I mean that the process through which the student is guided is as much about the practice as it is about the student.

It Is The Practice That Teaches Not The Teacher

Iyengar must stay as Iyengar as possible. Otherwise it starts to get confused. I have taught Ashtanga for years now and have trained in it extensively. I know the practice beyond the postures just because of the practice itself. That is what I’m teaching. I know some “Ashtanga” teachers who do not practice it and therefore do not know the practice as a practice. They do not know the intricacies of it. These teachers bow to the pressures of students’ to add postures which do not belong in the series, make it harder or easier, and let go of the rhythm of the class to appease those who just want to “feel good about myself” to the detriment of Ashtanga. I have had great difficulty teaching Ashtanga after these teachers because students are not being educated in it.

Yoga Is Yoga First And Foremost

But teachers will try anything including risking the injury of their students because for some reason we have decided in this culture that yoga is about popularity and money instead of teaching simply and with humility.

It is the teacher’s role to teach their students about the practice beyond the ego-ic need to be appeased and catered to (Spa-like). The most essential teaching for us as teachers and for our students is that: It is not the practice that makes you feel bad nor is it the teacher’s responsibility. Feeling good about yourself is an inner conflict and learning that and coming to terms with it is revealed in the practice.

The teacher must teach the practice as it is because the practice is beyond the teacher and the student. It is bigger than them.

Peace!

This post is an extended version of a comment I made to a post by a fellow Yogini. Here is the post:

http://yogaspy.com/2013/07/08/can-iyengar-yoga-attract-the-masses/

Thanks Lucy.

Christine

The Process of an Ashtanga Practice…

The Process of an Ashtanga Practice...

 

I go through what’s on the graph in a split second every other day. 🙂 And it continues to be like that no matter how I advance in my practice. Ashtanga is a complex and very layered, deep practice. There’s always room for improvement, and there is always signs of improvement. It keeps me humble and it fills me with such joy too.

I love Ashtanga … no matter what.

I miss going to Mysore classes…

I miss going to Mysore classes...

I miss my Mysore classes. I miss the feeling of doing yoga in a room with people who are doing similar things. Although it was not a very communal atmosphere; everyone was there for themselves really. So was I. It just felt really good to be in your own practice with people around you. I practice at home alone. Different. I’ve been doing that for about 9 or 10 years now. I’ve become my own teacher finally. I thank all my teachers and teachers of the lineage for their work and guidance throughout the first 20 years of my discovering my own practice. I keep you in my heart.

Picture is from a studio in Boston. I just liked the interaction of the assisting teacher and the student. It was like that sometimes.

Ashtanga and Vinyasa Classes in Oakville Ontario, Canada

To reiterate: Ashtanga and Vinyasa Yoga Classes Oakville ON.

Starts week of September 25th 12-week programs. Sign up today!

PLZ call: 905.845.2332 – Leave a message. (name, number and which class you’d like to join)

Tuesday 10:30am – 1pm A-Z of The Astanga Primary Series (12 wk program) All Levels

Tuesdays 7pm – 8:30pm Rockin’ Vinyasa – Vinyasa class with great contemporary music! Level 2

Wednesdays 8:30pm – 9:30pm – Vinyasa Core – Vinyasa class with focus on Core work! Not to be missed. Level 1/2

Thursdays 11:30am – 12:45pm Vinyasa Core – Vinyasa class with focus on Core work! All Levels or an Ashtanga class (we’ll see which class everyone wants) All Levels

All classes held at the IGITA studio on Lakeshore in Oakville Ontario.

Christine U at the Shama-Bhakti Yoga Centre