Full

The full moon was November 17. In traditional Ashtanga Yoga practice, we take rest on the new and full moon. Many believe that because humans are made mostly of water, we too, are affected by the pull of the moon. The moon’s relative position to the earth creates energetic atmospheres, and the full moon’s energy is characterized by an expansive force which can be powerful and full of emotion, but often lacks the feeling of grounding. These are some observations from the full moon day in Mysore…

 

I’m full,

Floating against this evening’s pale blue sky.

I’m whole,

my illuminated orb

hangs steady,

moving easy over your horizon.
You take rest.

 

I am dogs barking:

Huddled in packs on the street’s

red clay corner.

Growling, lips curled above canine teeth

until one’s distracted by your smile,

tail wagging, at peace again.

Then pulled back to the wrestle

with a quick bite, a sharp yip.

 

I am this little boy’s mischief:

Reflected on his dilated pupils

and the rocks he throws –

like insults beyond his age,

tied to firecrackers,

two weeks past Dwali.

 

I’ve waxed on this energy,

Your nerves

Pulled up like the tide

against chewed finger nails.

Your creative storm surge:

the volume of your chants,

the ferocity of your smile,

the depth of your tears.

Inspiration, Motivation, Action

Kino Dana

On my way to India…

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I’m inspired every day, which is a wonderful thing to be able to say. But even amidst the inspiration, it’s easy to get caught up in the mentality of New York life…the excuses of inaction roll off the tongue easily: I’m too busy. I’m so tired. I’m broke. There’s not enough time.

Where is that magic moment when inspiration becomes action?

For me, sometimes it takes just a little extra-ordinary moment to push inspiration towards motivation and finally action. This month was certainly packed full of those little something extra moments. I was able to take a few workshops that seemed perfectly timed to motivate some positive action before my third trip to India.

Early in the month I enrolled in an anatomy workshop at my home studio, Land Yoga. Noah McKenna was in the US (visiting from Mysore, Inida, where he lives) and we were lucky to have him give a short weekend workshop on how anatomy and asana yoga blend together and inform each other. I’ve taken anatomy before, but I was really inspired by the way he blended yogic philosophy and practice with practical anatomy ideas. Asana in the Human Form, as his classes were collectively called, took us through the body: symmetry, posture, the skeleton, muscles, connective tissue and the nervous system (to name a few places we explored), and constantly connected back to the ways that asanas fit into the broader experience of what yoga is. I left the weekend with a refreshed sense of some fundamental ideas on anatomy, but more importantly, with a serious inspiration to continue to treat my personal physical yoga practice with a deep awareness.

Two weeks later, right on the heels of the anatomy workshop, I made a trek from NYC out to Montclair New Jersey for a weekend workshop with Kino MacGreggor at Ashtanga Yoga Montclair. A lovely friend I met in Mysore, Deb Williams, organized the workshop, and it was a nice chance to reconnect with her and see her shala (which, sidenote, reminds me so much of the first shala, Urban Ashtanga, in Orlando Florida where I learned the practice). The fall leaves were beginning to show autumn color in the quiet town, and it was a definite pace-change from the constant busy rumble of the city. Kino was…well…just like her YouTube videos, which is to say: positive, informative and extremely well spoken. She was also tough. In addition to Led Full Primary Series and Mysore style classes, we spend time on headstands, Intermediate Series and twists. The Intermediate session was wonderful, because it was a chance to work on some of the postures I’ve most recently started to tackle. But I most enjoyed the headstanding workshop. Closing postures, where sirsasana is practiced in Ashtanga, are often a time I personally find myself rushing. In the class we prepared and took an extended hold in the posture, over three minutes, which is the minimum time the Hatha Yoga Pradipika recommends you stay in the pose to reap benefits. A simple encouragement like that inspired me to start making more time in my day for closing postures, and I’ve been holding headstand longer since. And it feels amazing.

Kino Dana
Adjustment with Kino in Dhanurasana.

So as the month comes to a close and I look ahead to November, with some more subtle awareness in my practice and more time spent upside-down, I can say that I’m finally ready to start thinking about trekking across the globe this Sunday to study for five weeks in Mysore.

Journeying to India each year has become sort of a second new year for me, a time to take a look at my personal resolutions and motivate the inspiration I experience throughout the year into action. Staying in Mysore is like one long extraordinary moment of inspiration that can really impact my actions for the rest of the year.

So my intention for this journey is just this: to allow the simple experience to inspire and motivate me, and take action to more fully live my wonderful life.

I can’t wait to share some of my experiences with you! This year in addition to studying asana with Sharat at the KPJAYI Shala and continuing my chanting and Sanskrit classes with Lakshmish, I’ll hopefully be taking some more anatomy with Noah, and beginning studying the Yoga Sutras with a highly recommended teacher.

Stay tuned for weekly blog updates here on my site and daily photos on both Instagram (@danaelyseyoga) and on Facebook (on my page Dana Tarasavage Yoga & Pilates).

A special thank you to my amazing student Paula, without whom this trip really would not have been possible!

Stay Inspired!

Check me out on Harlem Gal!

Check it out and share the love! Harlem Gal gave me the nicest shout out on her site! She’s a devoted yoga practitioner and featured my Yoga Journal photo on her fantastic Harlem local blog. My friends and I are always reading her blog to find out what’s happening in the neighborhood. Between new restaurant openings, arts, and events, it’s really the go-to place for all things Harlem!

She says:

“If you haven’t met or taken one of Tarasavage’s classes at Land Yoga in Harlem, you’re missing out. I have personally taken her class many times and enjoy it very much! Dana Elyse Tarasavage is at Harlem’s Land Yoga Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and Saturday morning.”Harlem Gal Yoga Journal

 

Ashtanga at its Roots: Studying Yoga in Mysore

The original version of this article was written in August 2012 and appears on yogamodern.com.

utthita hasta padangustasana
Photo by Christine Hewitt

Is it really important to travel to India to study Yoga?

I’m sitting on the rooftop of my apartment, watching an orange sunset through the coconut trees. A cool monsoon breeze rustles the leaves as scooter horns honk in the distance. And I can just make out a cow as she meanders her way up my street.

Yup, I’m in India.

I’m in Mysore, to be exact. Mysore is a city in the south Indian state of Karnataka, located about 90 miles from the tech hub of Bangalore. It was the home of Sir K Pattabhi Jois (Guruji), the world-renowned teacher of Ashtagna Yoga. Today Guruji’s grandson Sharath and daughter Saraswati continue his legacy as they teach traditional yoga at the Krishna Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Intitute (KPJAYI).

This is my second trip to Mysore to study. I made my first journey less than a year ago, and plan to come back again. I’ve left jobs, an apartment, friends, family, yoga students and the comforts of home (washing machine, anyone?) to come dip my toes into tradition.

Someone asked me what the difference is in practicing here as opposed to practicing at home. After all, the asana portion of Ashtanga Yoga is practiced in a memorized, self-led style and includes the same postures every time.

Why make the journey to Mysore? What makes it special?

For any discipline worth pursuing, there is a root. Japan gives us Karate. France, Ballet and classical cooking. Capoeria is uniquely Brazlian, though its dance roots are distinctly African. Nashville is the headquarters of country music. And India gives us the beautiful practice of yoga, and that’s one of the things that makes it so special to me.

A few years after I began practicing yoga, I realized I wanted to learn from the source. I felt terribly unsatisfied with the way yoga was presented in the United States. The English names for poses sounded empty to me, and learning from teachers that treated it only as a way to stay fit felt belittling (it is, by the way, a great way to stay fit).

I wanted to understand the culture from which yoga comes.

I wanted to see India, to feel its pulse and to understand how this very Indian practice truly translates to me.

Here, actually in Mysore, I’m at the pinpoint of something universal. The practice room is full to the brim with yoga students from every corner of the globe. It’s hot and sweaty. It’s intimidating and at the same time so incredibly inviting.

Although it’s almost too crowded these days, I feel a sense of space among the masses. Most importantly, traveling here becomes a sort of pilgrimage. I’m able to devote time to really practicepracticing yoga, just as Guruji did here for his entire life.

I believe that anyone practicing yoga should have some knowledge of or exposure to the Indian culture and circumstances in which the discipline evolved.

But not everyone is interested in coming to India to study, and I think that’s perfectly fine! I simply felt the need to come.  I also feel that just because a teacher or a student has come to India does not mean they are a good teacher or a better yogi.

In fact, there’s a whole myriad of things that go into being an effective teacher

But I want to be a teacher who has seen India.

Last Sunday in the weekly group conference with Sharath (our teacher) a student asked how often we should come to India. He asked her why she had returned to study after almost two years. She answered honestly that she “felt the need to come back.”

He smiled and told us that was our answer. Come study here “whenever you feel that you need to come.”

Have you traveled to India to study yoga? Would you? 

Do you think it’s important for a yoga practitioner?

What about a yoga teacher?

Adventures in Parisian Yoga: Episode 3

Rasa Yoga Rive Gauche & Be Yoga

As you all know I’ve been slowly making my rounds through the Parisian yoga scene, trying classes here and there to get a taste of what it’s like to practice in this city. My ventures these past weeks have been two great studios, Rasa Yoga Rive Gauche and Be Yoga.
Rasa is simply a beautiful space. It’s located near Metro Saint Michel, on the left bank in the Latin Quarter. This section of Paris is home to the Sorbonne and has been the hub of student culture in Paris for centuries. The studio, like many in Paris, is nestled in a courtyard, between buildings. I really like this about Paris…the street view is never the whole story…there are gardens and calm alcoves located just between the exterior facade.
Once inside Rasa is bright, white and calming. There’s a large retail and reception section, with chairs and benches. The main studio has windows right into the lobby area, so you can actually see what’s going on in the class. I stopped by for a late evening led Ashtanga class with Charley, an American teacher, who also runs their morning Mysore program.
The class was quite full, but not overcrowded, and I enjoyed the energy of the other students. Charley keeps a great pace in his class…pretty fast, but not rushed at all. In fact, the class is scheduled for an hour and 45 minutes…and we used the time! He challenged us with specific details on refining our jump backs and throughs, something that weaves his strong teaching style together.
The next week I got a message from my teacher Lara telling me that her dear friendDorion was in Paris teaching. I was excited to make it over to Be Yoga for her evening led class. Be is really adorable. It’s located in a cobble stone alley off the main road, and is covered in a perfect little arch of trees. The front of the studio is painted a jovial green color and it was the perfect, warm, welcoming place to end up on a rainy Parisian night!
Dorion is just about one of the loveliest ladies I’ve ever taken class with. I was happy to catch up with a friend of my teacher! Her class was smart and detail oriented. We took the Ashtanga standing series and some of the primary seated series and slowed it down a bit, to focus on the ease of each posture. I was really happy to see the joy, lightness and care she takes in teaching.
Last week we moved apartments, from the super trendy Oberkampf area in the 11th district to the Gambetta metro stop in the 20th district. It’s a little further out of the center of the city, but still super accessible. I love our new apartment, which we’re renting from the acting coach from Michael’s production. It’s got a great energy partly because it’s been arranged using the principles of Feng Shui, something I’ve always been interested in, but never taken the time to implement fully. I challenged myself to take home practice this entire past week, and have really enjoyed it in this space. This week, however, I think I’ll venture back out to practice in some more studios around Paris!

 

Adventures in Parisian Yoga: Episode 2

Mysore Yoga Paris

I’m finally setting (and sometimes even obeying) my alarm again. I’m trying to get up 7:30am as opposed to sleeping in our haven of a bed till 10:30 with Michael (who deserves that, btw- he doesn’t get home till midnight and after dinner and organizing his thoughts, often doesn’t sleep till 3).

So I’ve finally been able to enjoy a morning Mysore practice here in Paris. One notable difference I’ve seen between NYC and Paris is that here mornings don’t start quite as early. Teachers are at shalas in the US and elsewhere often by 4:30 or 5am (or 1am if you ask Sharath) to practice and then begin teaching by 6. Here the earliest Mysore program I’ve seen is 6:45…Which is fine, by the way, with me!

After India this time around, morning practice is getting a little easier. A little. I’m up early in NY by 5:30am to teach Pilates or yoga, but I normally prefer to practice in the afternoon. My body feels more awake, less painful, less shaky and more ready to find some stillness.

But these days, being on the mat in the morning is fairly enjoyable. I might just be turning into a morning practice person! How’d that happen?!

Anyway, I dedicated a week (last week 9.17-9.21) to exploring this particular shala after getting a few recommendations. Mysore Yoga Paris is located on the right, north bank, along the canal St Martin in the 10th district. From my house it’s a 12-minute velo ride past the quiet water and quaint bridges of the canal to reach the shala.

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The practice space is located in Paris’ Shambala meditation center, a perfectly zen atmosphere that’s got palpably calm, sacred vibes going on. It’s adorned with dozens of tea light candles.

Kia Nadermier is the owner and main teacher, and she’s just lovely. From what I can gather, she’s Swedish, but we speak English in the shala. She’s kind and attentive with all of her students, and her adjustments are really top notch. She’s also a professional photographer, and on the website you can see some portraits of the yoga students she’s done over the past year.

I’ve been having some (normal) back pain, and she’s very helpful in offering advice on how to avoid it and work with the postures, instead of letting them work against you.

The shala is a large room and There are several white Indian cloths (like the men wear as skirts in India, called lungis) in the back that we cover ourselves with for rest after practice. I bought an eye pillow (a frivolous thing I’d never considered until I saw this one and am now quite enjoying it!) and rest after practice is really sublime here in the morning.

There’s a glow about the space and the people at Mysore Yoga Paris. I’m thinking I’ll continue to go back for regular practice, though next week I’m going to check out a few other shalas. I’d really recommend this place for anyone in Paris or visiting that’s looking for a peaceful atmosphere and a very kind, attentive teacher.

Adventures in Parisian Yoga: Episode 1

Ashtanga Yoga Paris, Samasthiti & Make Me Yoga

I arrived in Paris two weeks ago, only to leave again for a few days in Switzerland with Michael’s grandmother. When we finally got back to our apartment, I was feeling a little sick. Let’s just call it the too-much-cheese-chocolate-and-travel syndrome. :/

Last week I was finally feeling almost back to normal and was ready to start exploring the yoga scene in Paris. I’ve gotten a few recommendations from friends, colleagues and fellow ashtangis about where to practice in Paris, but there are quite a few places, so I’ve decided to explore little by little. Yoga is even more expensive here than in New York, so before I buy an unlimited month or delve into a place, I want to try around.

My first stop was Ashtanga Yoga Paris, which happenes to be about a two minute walk from our apartment! I attended the mixed Mysore and Ashtanga Level 1 class, taught by Agatha. The studio, I found out from one of the owners, Linda, has recently moved to a new location. It really is a lovely place, tucked into a courtyard between buildings. The walls of the lobby space are a deep, rich turquoise. The main practice room, the Krishnamacharya Room, is bright, with a ceiling full of skylights and walls tastefully adorned with black and white photos of teachers.

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A class was just finishing as we waited to enter the room, and once in the room Agatha asked those of us doing our own Mysore practice to go to the front of the room while she led the class of semi-beginners behind us. There were probably five of us doing self practice, and more than ten in the led class.

She’s a very talented teacher, and I liked hearing her soft French instructions peppered with Sanskrit. I was a little distracted being in a mixed Mysore and led class, but the language barrier helped me tune that out. I wonder how the experience is for those who understand French..? I’ve never been in a class like that, but it’s certainly an interesting concept, and definitely a good use of time for students wanting an evening Mysore program. Kudos to her for leading a class and giving individual attention to the rest of us!

She gave me a few wonderful, strong Mariychasana adjustments (though only on one side so I felt rather unbalanced). When I got to backbends she encouraged me keep my feet much more parallel that I had them, which I tried with varying degrees of success. Then instead of holding my waist in drop-backs, she helped me keep my feet parallel by pressing in and down on my thighs, which felt pretty lovely.

The biggest surprise was when I stood up she asked if I’d be doing handstand! Sure I thought, why not? I told her that I don’t practice that, but I’d give it a go! Though I’ve never heard of that and it’s certainly not traditional, I suppose it must be a way to begin practicing for tick-tocks, which come sometime after second series. Her adjustment was great, and there I was, doing a handstand in Mysore class.

I liked the studio, the atmosphere and the students. Agatha is a smart, busy teacher! I will certainly go back, especially since it’s so close to our place. I’d also like to try the morning Mysore classes with the owners, Linda and Gerald.

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Next I checked out Samasthiti Studio, also pretty close to our apartment. It’s located right near La Bastille, so I hopped on a velib bike for the 10 minute ride to take an evening Mysore class. In true Dana fashion, I was really early, and happened to meet a fellow student while waiting for the door to be unlocked who had been in Mysore the same time as me! Small Ashtanga world.

This studio is a simple one room space. The practice area is a nice size and takes up most of the space, and in the back there’s a small changing area and place for shoes and bags. I met the owner Caroline, who was actually practicing with us while a young man named Eric taught.

This class was a self-led Mysore style, however, I couldn’t help but be distracted by the completely non-traditional sequence of postures my fellow students were practicing…!

Full disclosure: I got distracted. I know that I should have been focusing solely on myself, but my dristhi began to wander as soon as I saw full splits between standing postures, a warrior three thrown in after parshvotanasana, and an out of order mix of primary, intermediate and third series poses! It was really quite remarkable.

I must say that despite my confusion over why they were doing what they were, all the students were practicing earnestly, calmly, quietly, and breathing beautifully. I guess they’ve just been taught an adapted, non-traditional series of poses…!

Eric, the teacher, was kind and attentive. He was a little insistent with some alignment details and often uneven with adjustments, but he clearly cares and knows quite a lot about what he teaches. He did think I should keep going after my last pose, which I kindly declined to do.

Drop backs were again a new technique (for me) that I quite liked, where he used his whole forearm to support either side of my spine as I went down, and simply pressed into my thighs as I stood up. When he suggested hand stand (I guess it’s a thing ), I this time declined.

I liked the studio, the location, and the teacher, but I’m not sure I will go back to practice there. It’s a bit too distracting to be amongst people doing such completely non-traditional things…I totally love that they are! I just think I’d be better served going there for a vinyasa flow class if I’m feeling creative.

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My next stop was Make Me Yoga, which is literally right across the street from my apartment. I didn’t notice it at first, but as Michael and I were taking a walk the other evening, there it was! It’s got a great location, and a good class schedule. They have only led classes, no Mysore program, but I figured it was worth a visit since it’s so crazily convenient.

I dropped into the 8:30pm led “Ashtanga Vinyasa” class and was very impressed at my use of French.

“Bon soir! C’est ma premiere fois ici. Je voudrais prendre le classe d’Ashtanga.”

The instructor, Laetita, was kind when I explained that I’m an American yoga practitioner and speak limited French. I told her (in French again – points for me!) I’d love to just follow along and listen to the class in French.

There were six of us in the cute little space, and the others were mostly beginners. It was a very slow, basics-type class, which was nice for me to practice physically, clear my mind mentally and hear teaching in French. We practiced meditation, discussed bhandas, and moved through surya namaskaras and the 6 fundamental standing poses before sitting for a bridge pose and then rest.

Laetita was perfect. She made sure I understood a few words after class that might help me teach in French one day, and she gave me gentle suggestions as adjustments, not hard ones. I was more focused in this class, so my drishti wasn’t wandering to the other students! It’s a perfectly cute, kind studio, but not exactly what I want from a class. I think I will definitely go back…you can’t beat the location.

I still have the morning Mysore programs to check out. That’s where I think I will find my perfect Paris fit and I’m really excited. I want to check out Mysore Yoga Paris and Rasa Yoga…but I need to change my sleeping schedule around a bit to accommodate that…right now I’m staying up late, practicing at home in the evening or at one of these places for a night class and sleeping in late in the morning!

More to come from the Paris Yoga Scene…

Why am I in Mysore?

Screen shot 2016-01-10 at 6.28.06 PMI just finished reading The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin, and one thing that struck me from her many insights was a really simple idea about identifying passions.

Think about what you enjoyed doing when you were 10 or 11 years oldThat’s probably your passion.

This is not what your parents thought you should be doing, or what your friends did, but what you honestly liked spending your time on. For Gretchen, it was always writing and journaling, and though she spends her life as a professional writer now, it took some time for her to realize that her passion and her deepest joy is really in books and writing books.

I began to think about my passions and why I was really here in India. It’s harder than you might expect, because, as Gretchen points out in her book, a lot of our ideas about ourselves are actually things we think we should be doing. (ie: We think we should love listening to Jazz, art and fine dining, when what we are actually truly happy and passionate about is a little less exotic or classy sounding: staying home to read, 80’s pop music, cartoons.)

I thought about yoga, the practice to which I have devoted my life and the reason I’ve traveled to India twice in the past year, and wondered if the seeds of my practice were in fact planted long before I took my first class at age 16. Suddenly I was struck with memories of me as a child (something I don’t actually have much of)…

At age 10, I loved the idea of travel and I loved reading about different cultures. There was a period of time where I completely immersed myself in studying ancient Egypt. I had book after book on the subject, I would play outside in elaborate ancient Egyptian fantasies, I pretended to learn to write in hieroglyphics and I even dressed up as Cleopatra for Halloween (mom, let’s see if we can find a photo!)

I had the same deep interest in Japanese culture. I played in tea ceremonies, wore kimonos, almost perfected origami, and created homemade sushi with my dad (I think we still have the sushi roller).

Coming home after school around 3:00 or 4:00pm, I’d be thrilled that I’d just made it in time for my favorite TV show: Lonely Planet Globe Trekker. I was obsessed with that show. I soaked up any and every country the hosts (Ian and Justine were my favorites) traveled to: India, Greece, Australia, Cambodia, Thailand…I loved them all.

So I thought back to the original question: why I am here in Mysore? The answer for me, is seeped in my true passions, which are more complex than just ‘I like to travel.’ I’ve always longed for immersion into cultures other than my own. I longed to feel included in practices that are foreign to me. I love the idea of learning something from the masters.

A few years after I began practicing yoga, I realized I wanted to learn yoga from Indians. I wanted to understand the culture it comes from. I wanted to see India, to feel its pulse and to understand how this very Indian practice translates to me.

A lot of adults I know think that high school or college were the best years of their lives. I am shocked when I hear this. Being an adult has meant, for me, the beginning of the realization of my passions. My yoga practice is a mirror, a tool, I am using daily to connect with my passions, while creating stillness and stability in me at the same time.

And that’s why I’m in Mysore.

What’s your passion?

Wandering Towards Gratitude

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I was lying there on the upper floor of the dressing room, finally in rest after Mysore practice the other morning, when my mind began to wander.

My mat was slick with sweat, and I’d used one end of my towel to cover my eyes. I was perfectly still. I’m sure I looked serene. But, let’s be honest, my thoughts had been wandering all morning. Though I find the exquisite power of dristie to be an incredibly useful tool to keep overall concentration in check, that unsettled mind of mine has some pretty elusive tricks.

But instead of scolding myself into a forced, shallow ‘meditation,’ I began to follow my mind. To watch it wander. And to play a sort of game: what could I unearth in the layers of my mind?

I followed my mind as it thought about food, what would be for breakfast, omelette or porridge? And then I said to myself: “Yes. Nice. You’re hungry, and food will come. And what’s beyond your hunger?”

I dug past the dull pain in my lower back, and left knee. Again: “Ok, and what’s beyond your aches and pains?”

I dug a little further and missed my boyfriend and my family. “Yes, valid. You will be reunited and separated many times in this life. And then what’s underneath that short-term longing?”

I played this game, allowing my mind to ramble through every distraction it wanted. I meandered around all of these temporary diversions and continued to pose myself this question: “but what’s underneath that? What are you left with if you take that away?”

And, as I alluded in the title, I was left with gratitude.

It was as if I’d sifted through the mud and been left with a shimmering piece of gold. Thankfulness. I wrote about gratitude last year, when I was here in Mysore on Thanksgiving, but this fell a bit different. This didn’t feel forced, it felt unearthed. It didn’t feel circumstantial, it felt all-encompassing…

I smiled, and allowed myself to sink a little deeper into gratitude.

What are you left with?