Mysore Trip Four: Yamas and Niyamas, Pillars of the Practice

Every morning I wake up, rub the sleep from my eyes, make a cup of coffee and try to practice Ashtanga Yoga. I start with a few hours of asana. I inhale and exhale, bending my body into different shapes and experiences, and hopefully removing some of the samskaras stuck between my joints. I try and I fail and sometime I fall flat on my face. And after the yoga rug is rolled up and the laundry is hanging out to dry, I keep trying to practice Ashtanga Yoga.

Because this yoga thing doesn’t end at the corners of my mat.

I’m attempting to allow the remnant feelings from the ritual of asana practice to spread like butter on bread throughout the rest of my day. I try to be nice. I try not to do harm. I try, through interactions with others and with myself, to practice Ashtanga Yoga. I try and I fail…

Pillars at Melukote Temple
Pillars at Melukote Temple

For the past few weeks in conference, between beautiful discussions about guru and mula bhanda, Sharath has continually brought our attention to the first two limbs: the Yamas and the Niyamas. (If you’re a Land Yoga student or following me on Instagram, you might have participated in or seen The All Eight Limbs Movement’s first few monthly focuses: the Yamas, where Lara invited us to share photos about non-violence, truth, non-stealing, energy conservation and non-greediness.)

He keeps coming back to this starting place. We can do all kinds of “yoga practices,” but if we don’t place attention on the first two limbs, the foundational pillars on which the rest of our practice is built, something big will be missing. So I’ve been spending a lot of time with them. Recognizing my failures and seeing my efforts…

“How will you know the depth of the sea if you continue to sail around on the surface?” Sharath asks, echoing one of his favorite analogies. “You have to dive in to know the beauty of the sea. Just like this you must apply all the Yamas and Niyamas to your practice in order to experience an in depth understanding. This process won’t happen suddenly…”

Pillars at the Venugopala Swamy Temple
Pillars at the Venugopala Swamy Temple

 

The Yamas are:

Ahimsa, non-violence:

Yoga Sutras 2.35 “As a Yogi becomes firmly grounded in non-violence (ahimsa), other people who come near will naturally lose any feelings of hostility.”

Being non-violent is important. Sharath says that our asana practice creates heat and strength, but it is important not to misuse the strength! Grounding ourselves with peaceful thoughts and actions off the mat is vital.

Satya, truth:

Yoga Sutras 2.36 “As truthfulness (satya) is achieved, the fruits of actions naturally result according to the will of the Yogi.”

We should be true to ourselves and to others.

Asteya, non-stealing:

Yoga Sutras 2.37 “When non-stealing (asteya) is established, all jewels, or treasures present themselves, or are available to the Yogi.”

Sharath reminds us that a yoga brand that steals postures to create its own yoga “style” is not practicing this yama!

Brahmacharya, celibacy or energy conservation:

Yoga Sutras 2.38 “When walking in the awareness of the highest reality (brahmacharya) is firmly established, then a great strength or vitality is acquired.”

 Aparigraha, non-greediness:

Yoga Sutras 2.39 “When one is steadfast in non-possessiveness or non-grasping with the senses (aparigraha), there arises knowledge of the why and wherefore of past and future incarnations.”


 

The Niyamas are:

Shaucha, cleanliness:

Yoga Sutras 2.41 “Also through cleanliness and purity of body and mind (shaucha) comes a purification of the subtle mental essence (sattva), a pleasantness, goodness and gladness of feeling, a one-pointedness with intentness, the conquest or mastery over the senses, and a fitness, qualification, or capability for self-realization.”

This applies to internal thoughts and our external environment. Asana helps to clean the internal body, but we must also do our part: keep our mat, our clothes, our home and our thoughts clean. (Also, it’s important to shower before asana practice!)

Santosha, contentment:

Yoga Sutras 2.42 “From an attitude of contentment (santosha), unexcelled happiness, mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction is obtained.”

This niyama asks us to be happy. To be deeply, internally, happy and to think good thoughts and not compare ourselves to others or to what we don’t have. We should relish each moment in this human life and find happiness that comes from within! “Santosha does not come from the iPhone 6…because next week iPhone 7 is coming!” Most of our stress and delusion will melt away with the practice of santosha.

Tapas, discipline:

Yoga Sutras 2.43 “Through training of the senses (tapas), there comes a destruction of mental impurities, and an ensuing mastery or perfection over the body and the mental organs of senses and actions.”

This niyama is related to the Sadhana, the practice and leading a disciplined life. “Without discipline,” Sharath says, “it’s impossible to learn something.”

Svadhyaya, self study:

Yoga Sutras 2.44 “From self-study and reflection on sacred words (svadhyaya), one attains contact, communion, or concert with that underlying natural reality or force.”

Self-study is the art of doing internal research and putting effort into understanding what your teacher has told you. We should become a Sadaka, one who does Sadhana.

Ishvarapranidhana, surrender to the divine:

Yoga Sutras 2.45 “From an attitude of letting go into one’s source (ishvarapranidhana), the state of perfected concentration (samadhi) is attained.”


 

So we have our work cut out for us! These foundational concepts are deep and complex. I love hearing Sharath talk about them and reminding us of the well-rounded life we should aim to lead. Which is why I say each day I wake up and try to practice Ashtanga Yoga… Some changes have been easy for me, like maintaining a vegetarian diet based on ahimsa…others not so easy, like keeping a disciplined schedule.

What about you?

How are the yamas and niyamas working in your life?

What are you trying to practice?

Mysore Trip Four: Travel Update and Conference Notes

“A Beautiful Habit.”

Shala Card

To get to Mysore from New York City takes roughly 30 hours. Between taxis and planes and layovers and delays I notice a sense of internal calm I haven’t felt before. This is my fourth trip. I’ve already done this three times. As my boyfriend says, it’s not a coincidence anymore… I’m not going to India on a whim. I’m consciously choosing to make this trek year after year after year.

I arrive in early morning of October 1st, stumble into a taxi and sleep for most of the 3.5 hours it takes to drive from Bangalore to Mysore. Sharp stops and turns and then,

“Madame! Sleeping? Mysore coming!” says my driver.

I pull myself upright and recognize the stretch of road we’ve entered. By the time we reach Gokulam (the neighborhood where I stay and where I practice Ashtanga Yoga), I’m ready for a proper nap.

I find my small studio apartment, shut the curtains, settle into another typically hard Indian bed, and snooze until the shala opens at 3:30pm for registration.

I have my passport photos ready and copies of my Indian Visa. I’ve printed my confirmation letter which grants me access into the increasingly in-demand shala. I have my rupees counted and stacked to pay tuition.

Because it’s the opening of the season (my teacher only opens the school for western students to practice for part of the year) it’s a week of led Primary Series classes to begin. Jetlag wakes me up at 3am the next morning. In the pre-dawn dark I make coffee and prepare for practice.

Class just feels right the next few days. Strong and soft at the same time. The shala rugs feel a faded shade of familiar. I place my mat in the front row and listen to my teacher chanting the opening mantra just a few inches away from me. I practice with a smile. I see friends from past seasons, meet new ones from all over the world, and surrender to jet lag. I get my only-in-India pink elephant print bed sheets out of storage and make my bed. I walk around with wonder still in my eyes at the sights and smells of India. I try a new Eggplant curry at lunch and marvel at how they’ve cooked the vegetable just right so it actually does melt in my mouth.

Right now everything feels comforting here. The familiar and the unfamiliar. I want to keep this beautiful habit of coming to India year after year…

As the week of Led Classes (classes during which our teacher calls out each posture and we practice together as a group) gives way to the regular classes (called ‘Mysore Style’ classes during which each student practices only the postures they have been taught, individually without a teacher leading) my back starts to ache. I see a sweet Canadian for acupuncture sessions and the pain slowly melts into comfort.

This year the day off is Sunday instead of Saturday as it has been in the past. Conference with our teacher, Sharath, is now on Saturday afternoon. It’s a small change that funnily enough has most of us wondering what day it is – constantly holding to that old, conditioned pattern of ‘the week.’

So we adapt to our new week and pile into the shala each Saturday to listen to Sharath’s wise words…

Some Conference Notes October 11, 2014

“Yoga is the greatest gift,” Sharath says to start this season at the shala. Words so simple and true we all smile softly in a reply to him.

He explains that yoga is special because of the breath and the vinyasa system, the art of placing the breath in a special way connected to your movement. This process of breathing and moving takes time to learn. It must be tuned like an instrument or like a singer might train to tune her voice.

Once one has learned to control the breath, automatically control of the mind happens.

Student questions begin to flood the room.

“Is it possible to practice with perfect vinyasa?”

Sharath says yes, it is possible and we are all working towards it. But this is something that you must do one posture at a time, slowly. At the beginning we might spend two weeks on just Surya Namaskar A and B. The first day to complete a sun salutation it takes 25 breathes! But the more we practice, the more we train to breath correctly, and over time we can complete it with one breath per movement, the nine vinyasas required to complete a sun salutation A.

A question about the importance of alignment prompts Sharath to remind us that of course the alignment of muscles and bones are important, but so are the movements, the breathing and the heat that this helps to create. These moving asanas help to purify the lungs and nervous system and create a spiritual transformation within us.

Some Conference Notes from October 18, 2014

During the second conference of the season Sharath reminds us that there is no recoded birth date for yoga. For as long as there has been this universe, there has been yoga.

Almost universally it is agreed that yoga is for calming and controlling the mind. These initial stages lead to deeper understanding and ultimately higher consciousness.

In order to begin to control the mind, Sharath spent time talking about the importance of the Ashtanga Tristana, the three points of focus. They are asana, pranayama (breathing, which brings control to the mind) and dristi.

Sharath specifically mentioned the power of the gazing point, dristi, and it’s ability to bring more focus to our practice. Our attention is always on others, on the outside. The more we bring the focus inside the more potential the practice has to become a meditative experience which can lay the groundwork for deeper spiritual growth.

Pranayama can be described as the expansion of prana. In one day we take 21,600 breaths, he says. But we can expand the breath. And if we can expand the breath we can expand our life.

The ancient risis knew this, he reminded us, because of many, many years of practice, research and experimentation. He told a story of Guruji’s village, Koushika, where the great sage Vishvamitra did many thousands of years of meditation and research. Now everyone is rushing, but this research takes time!

Sharath reminded us that “yoga cannot be described. Yoga cannot be purchased. Yoga is all that happens within you.” And without the yamas and niyamas asanas are useless. He spoke of the importance of especially satya, to be truthful to yourself and others and asteya, not to steal. He also mentioned ahimsa, nonviolence. He warned us that asanas make us strong and create heat, but it is extremely important not to misuse the strength!

One of the points that made the biggest impact on me was a question regarding the global community of teachers and practitioners and the unfortunate but sometimes unavoidable conflict and competition that arises. Sharath really encouraged the community to commit to be wise enough not to fight, and instead to unite. To have an internal focus and not worry about the actions of others. To not get worked up in politics and external distractions, but instead to correct our own actions and build a supportive community that way.

 

Serengeti Namaskar: Yoga on Safari in Tanzania

driving into nothing
Driving into nothing…

We’ve been driving into the nothing for hours, it seems. Our caravan is made up of three Jeeps. Three amphibian Jeeps: vehicles that can be almost fully submerged in water and still run, I’ve learned. This can be particularly important on a safari, I’ve learned.

My companions are sixteen Israelis, one of who is my boyfriend, none of who want to speak much English. Our Tanzanian drivers are experts: they know this journey intimately. I can’t yet imagine knowing this nothing. It’s still an alien landscape on our first full day out on Safari.

Rumors bubble back and forth through the three Jeeps in Hebrew, crackling from the radio and gossiped by my boyfriend’s niece and her cousins. Bits and pieces are translated from sweet relatives for me, the lone American:

“We should arrive to the lodge by sundown,” I learn.

“Someone was attacked by a Buffalo there just last week,” I’m told.

“We’ll each have a tent,” I understand.

Before this phase of the journey into the uniform nothing landscape, the terrain has been varied. We drove through the lush rainforest-like mountains that surround the Ngorogoro Crater, then entered rolling hills and plains where Maasai grazed cattle outside our windows.

Maasai
Maasai children herding cows

 

“Can you imagine being Maasai?” our driver asked. “He walks all day. He is headed from nowhere to somewhere and back.”

And I can almost imagine it for a moment as I peer out the windows and see 360 degrees of nothing. Pure grey clay dirt stretching for miles. The scrub trees have long stopped decorating the terrain, and the herds of giraffe we came across a few hours back are nowhere to be seen.

Giraffe
The Lone Giraffe

 

But suddenly in the distance I see those flat-topped trees starting to appear again, adorning the earth, and as we approach the drivers make a sharp left turn. No signs. No indication that this might even be a road.

We drive slower now, the Jeeps staggering in parallel formation to avoid the other’s billow of white dust. We wind past the setting sun into thickening brush and suddenly take another left turn, this time at a small sign: Lake Masek Tented Lodge.

Lake Masek is a small lake several hours northwest of Arusha, at the corner of the Ngorogoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti National Reserve. This is where we’ll spend the night, right at the crux of these two legendary wildlife regions.

tents
Lake Masek Tented Lodge

Our caravan pulls up, and my heart skips a beat. We’ve arrived to a collection of tents, majestic, as they appear to float on top of stilted platforms among the trees. We unload in front of the main tent, my group of Israelis and me, powdered with dust kicked up from the nothing terrain and blown into our open Jeep windows.

Rumors percolate easier through the group outside of the Jeeps, and the translations come in again:

“It was a driver who was attacked by the Buffalo, just here, where we stand!” I learn.

“Do not leave your tent alone at night for any reason!” I’m told.

“Ring the main tent and an escort will be sent!” I understand.

My boyfriend hugs me close as we’re assigned to the Duma tent, Swahili for Cheetah, and escorted through the dusk by a Maasai warrior with a spear and a flashlight, checking the pathway for animals.

Once inside the mosquito nets the celebration is huge! We are in a tent, its khaki fabric spires draped above us, cascading around a white-netted four-poster bed. We’re shown a shower outside, under the stars, and a tub inside, under our canopy.

We smile like teenagers and skip around our tent, giddy.

“It’s like a dream!” we cheer.

Nighttime is colder than expected and we huddle under extra blankets. No insulation from the elements in our magical tent. I’ve set my yoga mat out and my alarm for just before sunrise, when I’ll practice on our deck, safe inside the screened netting, facing Lake Masek.

But something unplanned wakes me from deep, Jeep-rattled sleep. The bellows of a huge animal seem to be coming from directly under the raised platform of our tent. In the deepest dark I can’t tell if my boyfriend has heard it too, so I lay still as the beast, making noises that seem to signify some immense dissatisfaction, makes a temporary home underneath us…

After falling back to sleep post-buffalo, I rise with my alarm before the sun comes up but it’s too dark and cold to practice just yet. I wait a few minutes, listening to see if our nighttime visitor’s still around before stepping out of the bed onto cold wooden floors to roll out my mat on the front deck.

Masek Sunrise
Masek Sunrise

 

To the east the sky above the lake is just beginning to crack open with the first rays of red sunrise. It’s a scene I swallow up whole. I raise my arms with the first Surya Namaskar and smile towards this golden African dawn. I’m thinking suddenly that this is quite possibly my favorite place in the world so far. The deafening quiet of the stars. The simplicity of sleeping in a tent. The impossibility of this lodges’ existence in the middle of hours of driving through nothing. Even the visit from some huge potentially dangerous animal in the middle of the night has charmed me.

upward dog masek
Upward dog on our deck at Lake Masek

 

I take rest on my mat as the sky turns from golden-black to pink then inky blue; the sun casting rays across Lake Masek.

As we leave the tent with our Maasai escort (still wielding his spear) we see definite evidence of our visitor: huge buffalo droppings, just next to our stairs!

The group reconvenes, bleary-eyed from the excitement of it all, and possibly from lack of sleep:

“The mosquitoes kept me up,” says one.

“There was a hyena outside our tent!” reports another.

I tell them of our Buffalo visitor and of my early morning yoga practice.

We set out again that day, north towards the Serengeti and the Kenyan boarder. No longer driving through nothing, the terrain turns from rusty orange grasses to green fields and dried streams. Our safari will see Elephants and Giraffes, we’ll see Ostriches mating and Wildebeest migrating across the Mara River. I’ll even teach the group yoga in a sparkling glass-windowed room deep in the Serengeti. The magic of this terrain and this country will flicker in our eyes for the entire week. But still, I think I’ll hold on tightest to the memory of our first night in tents along the lake, after hours of driving into the nothing. Of our escort with a spear, of the Buffalo under our tent and the next morning’s practice with the African Sunrise…a Serengeti Namaskar.

lululemon Lincoln Square: March Studio of the Month!

lulu newsletter
Studio owner Lara of Land Yoga has been chosen to be lululemon Lincoln Square’s newest ambassador and to celebrate we’re featured as the studio of the month! Every Sunday in March you can catch either Lara or I teaching a FREE Sunday Salutations class at the 1928 Broadway location (near 64th street). Class starts at 9:30am sharp – and they fill up so get there early! Last week there were over 35 yogis in the store for my class.

I was also asked by the nice folks down there to be a ‘new product model’ for their February 26th newsletter (which also happens to be my birthday, fun surprise:)) which went out to over 19,000 people on their mailing list. Check out the newsletter, visit the store for some new yoga gear, and come join me for one of my FREE classes, schedule is on my Teaching Schedule page!

Post-India Daze

Dana Colors

Dana Colors
It takes me roughy a month to decompress from life in India and settle back in to the peculiar comforts of western life. I love these post-India days. I remember my time in Mysore vividly through my jet lag. It was truly inspiring. As I grocery shop in Harlem at 6am because I can’t sleep, the days seem to swirl together, peppered with the smooth, polished sounds of Sanskrit chanting and the peculiar rhythms of the Indian tabla drums. They burn bright in my memory with Indian sunshine. They were fueled by the crispy masala dosa, and buzzed with the caffeine from sweet chai.

My physical asana practice felt steady, challenging, but surprisingly pain-free.

My boyfriend was able to join me there for the last half of the journey and we bonded over our deep love for the country, zooming through town on a rented scooter, marveling at the perfect chaos of each intersection we somehow survived.

And I started to study the Yoga Sutras with a wonderful teacher. After the talks I’d ride home on the back of Michael’s motorcycle, grateful for the helmet on my head, which seemed to be guarding not only my actual skull, but also my thoughts from spilling out of my ears as they ran wild with philosophical questions, realizations, revelations.

I tried, as my teacher Sharath says he does, to practice yoga 24 hours a day. I’m sure I failed, but I’m sure that doesn’t matter.

I started to examine what it means to “have a practice.” I’ve been bending my body for nearly ten years now. I’ve been dedicated to a spiritual practice for about five. I’ve been trying to seriously apply the principles of a yogic life to my life for about three years.

And I feel small.

I feel like I’m a total beginner.

I feel I know nothing of the depths of practice.

And it’s thrilling.

So I dive deeper.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali describes Practice as ‘Any effort entered in the direction of restraining the tendencies of the mind,’ and says that practice should be ‘long-termed, continuous and done with dedication (love and respect) to be fruitful.’

In that way the physical asanas start to change the patterning of our outer material body. The yamas and niyamas shape or reshape the way we interact with the world and treat ourselves. As we withdraw our minds from the chatter, we’re practicing feeling the stillness.

And in that way, in anything and everything, in each moment of our day, we can practice.

How do you practice? How do you  still the fluctuating tendencies of your mind?  Do you do it with love and respect?

*photo by Christine Hewitt of Yogic Photos

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.

Screen shot 2012-09-25 at 6.14.17 PM

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?