Ashtanga in Bali

I’m just back from a magical time in Bali. I spent  10 days in the lovely Ubud attending the Ashtanga Yoga Bali Conference, with a few days in Canggu practicing with Nick Evans at Samadi Bali, a really magical practice space.

I feel I might be processing all that I learnt for a long while to come!  What a profound and beautiful experience, learning from such wonderful teachers in such an incredible place.

The sweat, the humidity, the neon colours of Bali.  The stories and the complete immersion in yoga, with sudden bright flashes of clarity and insight.  All of it with so much lightness, kindness and laughter.

Thank you a million times!

Villa Mandi pool Tropical colours Shala Mysore mornings The panel Ombre Ubud Buddha Tanah Lot

Whoops!

Sorry for the nonsensical post earlier this morning!  I was showing some newbie bloggers how easy WordPress is to use, and just like that I clicked ‘publish’ instead of ‘preview’.  Easy indeed!

Anyway, here is a real post with limited gobbledygook!  And a very happy post too!

A spontaneous set of clicks (seems I am prone to a spur-of-the-moment click!), led me to purchase a ticket to Bali and a space at the Ashtanga Yoga Bali Conference 2013  taking place in Ubud.  How amazing!?  

I am beyond excited! (Even if I will be eating courgettes and rice for the foreseeable future!)

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Okay veganism

I’ve been a vegan before (for about two years in my late teens), and I’m 95% vegan these days (the other 5% made up of the odd bit of eggy/buttery cake, Sunday croissants, dinners cooked lovingly for me where the pasta may contain eggs, the odd scoffed piece of milk chocolate, and social gatherings where I can’t be too sure if there’s parmesan in the pesto).  I’m reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer at the moment,  have watched parts of Earthlings again, and am enjoying the insight of South African Veg-IT, and all are leading me further down the path of a fully plant-based diet.

The hardest bit is the social aspect: most people can cope with cooking for a vegetarian, but few manage the idea of vegan cooking without a little blanching.  In actual fact though, it’s really not that hard.  There are MANY wonderful blogs dedicated to the art of tasty and nutritious vegan cuisine, The First Mess being one.

I made an utterly mouthwatering dinner today based on a recipe on The First Mess (spaghetti squash noodle bowl with lime peanut sauce), although I swopped out the squash for what I had in the house (orange sweet potatoes and carrots).  I’ve made the dish with butternut squash before though, and it’s sublime.  I used baby spinach instead of kale (kale seems exceedingly hard to come by in SA), used almond butter to replace the peanut butter (this makes very little difference to the deliciousness of the dressing, while boosting the nutritional aspects a bunch), and replaced the grapeseed oil with extra virgin olive oil.  I also added some smoked tofu.

So much yum factor.

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How to practice

I read this great article the other day about the importance of a daily practice.  I’ve been practicing ashtanga and teaching for a while now and I’m faced with the same questions from students again and again.  Ashtanga requires some serious commitment – I get it – so here are my answers on how to get that daily practice, wherever you might be right now.

I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible.  That’s much like saying you can’t run around the block because you can’t run a marathon.  Flexibility comes with the practice – it is not a prerequisite.  In fact, inflexibility might be your greatest teacher and allow you to tap into yoga’s lessons so much faster than flexy-bendy girl.

I can’t get up so early in the mornings.  Hey, it’s never easy.  In winter it’s cold and dark; in summer it’s warm and light – staying in bed is always comfortable and seductive.  David Swenson taught me this: just get up and put your yoga clothes on.  If you’re still tired, go back to bed.  If you make it to your mat, just do some sun salutations, and if you’re still thinking about your duvet, go back to bed.  I often use this strategy and tell myself I’ll just do the standing and finishing sequence today – by the time I get to the end of standing though, I’m awake and ready to carry on with the whole 90 minutes.  Just get up.

I can’t practice six days a week.  So don’t.  If you have a young practice or have just returned to ashtanga after some time apart, don’t set yourself up for failure.  Committing to a six day a week practice and expecting to go from zero to hero is self sabotage (again, are you going to run 20km four times a week when you currently only run 5km once a week?).  Three days a week is ample.  Allow your practice to grow organically – over time you’ll naturally start adding days and building up to that six day a week practice.

A dedicated six day a week practice is no mean feat.  In fact it usually involves some dramatic lifestyle changes – eating habits, sleep routines, relationships and perhaps even career changes.  Often these happen quite easily over time though – the more you practice, the more you change.  Allow your practice to change you.

Mysore freaks me out.  Yes, a Mysore class can be intimidating.  Or rather, the thought of a Mysore class can be intimidating.  Once you are on your mat, moving in a room filled with people breathing and practicing, this intimidation falls away.  The thing to remember here is that everyone in the room started out not knowing how to do one sun salutation.  No one knew the sequence and those people busting out the crazy postures are the ones who have been practicing their butts off for years, and most likely have the most respect and compassion  for anyone beginning their ashtanga journey.  Give your teacher and the other practitioners in the room the benefit of the doubt.  Give yourself the benefit of the doubt.

Can’t I just self-practice at home?  Self-practice is the end goal, sure, but hell it can be hard. When your practice is still young, it’s important to practice in a studio with a teacher who can help and advise you, and a community who can support and inspire you.

I can’t do X, Y, Z posture. The thing to understand here is that you’ll never be able to ‘do’ any of the postures.  Sure the more you practice, the closer to your toes you’ll get, and binding and jumping through/back for instance might become possible. But there is no end game to a posture, no perfection, only more layers to explore – slower, deeper, stronger, with more extension and consciousness.  As with life, wherever you are in a posture is exactly where you need to be – can you be okay with that?

How you are on your mat is how you are on in your life.  Do you constantly compare yourself to others, berate your body, shy away from things that are hard or that scare you?  Do you ignore your body when it tells you something hurts or is wrong?  Do you make excuses instead of doing what you know you need to do?

Treat yourself with some compassion and kindness.  Allow your ashtanga journey to teach you about yourself, to change you over time and to be your drug of choice.  You know it: practice and all is coming.

x

Body Worlds

Over the weekend I went to Sci-Bono to have a look at the Body Worlds exhibition. It was quite extraordinary – a whole universe within each of us.

There’s a moment of the ick factor knowing the bodies were once real people, and then just pure wonder at the magnificence of the human body, the intricacies of the systems keeping us moving, thinking and feeling, and the importance of ‘using it or losing it’.

I was again reminded of the reasons I practice yoga (which I from time to time forget after practicing pincha mayurasana again and again for months on end ;-)).  A strong, flexible body (and a strong, flexible mind) will go a long way to easing the path to old age.

I’m finding getting older quite a tough thing to deal with, an adjusting and readjusting of my sense of self.  The twenties are filled with feelings of immortality, brazen youthfulness and incomprehension of years passing and the body changing … until suddenly you notice a wrinkle that doesn’t unwrinkle.

It’s such a small portion of our lives that we spend young.  Here’s hoping though that with the help of yoga, I’ll spend a large portion of my life feeling youthful.

 

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Managing the crazy

Most days when my alarm shakes me from sleep at 5.30am, and later when I’m breathing through my panic in kapotasana, fighting with my hips in dvi pada sirsasana and wondering if I’ll ever be strong enough in pincha mayurasana, I question why I practice ashtanga.  It’s gruelling.  It’s taxing.  It’s 90 minutes or more, 6 days a week.

And then I have weeks like the last few and I realise that without yoga I’d be a public (and personal) liability.  On good days I dance with anxiety; on bad days I’m a straight-up bitch, unfocused, compulsive and preoccupied, nail-biting, temper-flaring and 3am ceiling-staring.  And although it’s fighting a big fight at the moment, ashtanga helps me moderate life’s vagaries, hurts, mediocrities and disappointments.

It’s the discipline that keeps me sane.   It’s the moments of magic that keep me coming back.

 

 

Ashtanga bootcamp

I’m aware of the oxymoron.

But still.  The month of July sees my once-weekly ashtanga students challenged to a month of a dedicated (6 days a week, less moon days) ashtanga practice.  And because they are competitive, achiever types, a ‘bootcamp’ challenge seemed like the right thing to do to get the end result of a committed self-practice … Machiavellian yoga?

Okay, and it’s a little about me too.  It’s winter: cold and dark.  I needed some motivation to get up in the morning.  And a daily adjustment in supta vajrasana.  

They’re half way.  And it’s amazing to watch as the layers begin to peel back … falling down the ashtanga rabbit hole 🙂

xx

Beyond November

It’s a case of over-commiting and under-delivering, which is not a great place to be as a freelancer.  It’s where I find myself now though, with the end of the year hurtling towards us.

I have a string of jobs on the go, with every minute of every day accounted for.  I also have a whole lot of amazing ideas crashing around my head and I’d love to devote some proper time to them (and get a business plan penned), but there isn’t any.  So I am waiting for the beginning of December when everything should start settling – the schools break for the year (no more kids yoga), one of my contacts ends, and work pretty much starts winding down to shutdown, Kenton, Cape Town and Mozambique.  Holding on!

One thing I’m tying my hardest not to cut (when all I want is more sleep) is my practice. 

Ashtanga is usually practiced in a studio without mirrors, which is something I like.  I’m not terribly fond of the observation of my reflection, although there is something to be said for it, as I discovered:

  • My chaturanga is a bit odd in terms of symmetry and I can’t decide if that’s why my elbows are sore (golfer’s elbow, can you believe it?!  The irony: I go out of my way to avoid golfers, who eat away weekends walking with their mates, chasing little white balls)
  • My practice is different – sometimes I forget (although I say it to my students all the time), but the more you practice, the more your body changes (it’s actually a no-brainer)
  • I have muscles and my body has changed considerably in the last 3 years
  • A look in the mirror really illustrates the point: We can sometimes feel so very different in our body’s to how we look to the world and how the world perceives us
  • A mirror is a distraction: good for alignment and a lightbulb moment, but then it’s better to put aside reflections.  And that goes for every day.  Throw away mirrors and scales 🙂

Thanks Kino:

Yoga retreat in Mozambique anyone?

Some sun, sea, sand and asana … yes please!  Here’s the info:

Join Olivier and Sarah for eight days in relaxing Tofo, Mozambique this September! Daily Mysore-style Ashtanga Vinyasa practices in the mornings, Acro-Trust Yoga on the beach for all the Acro-Trust yoga junkies, and yoga workshops (pranayama, meditation, etc.) in the evenings.

When you’re not on your mat you can explore the local reefs teeming with manta rays and colourful fish, enjoy an ocean safari swimming alongside whale sharks, learn how to surf, or just relax on the beach or beside the pool with your favorite books and tunes. Rustic accommodation at Turtle Cove; vegetarian/vegan meals available.

Space is limited so contact us today: info@ekamyoga.co.za!

Where: Tofo, Mozambique

When: 17-24 September, 2011

Cost: Sharing R5440.  Single R7200

Included:

  • Accommodation at Annastasea house and Turtle Cove chalets
  • Continental breakfast and dinner at Turtle Cove Lounge
  • 2 yoga classes/day + Acro-Trust Yoga play sessions
  • The ocean breeze in your hair and sand in your shoes!

 

Not Included:

  • Airfare and airport transfers
  • Drinks
  • Diving packages and Surfing lessons (contact us if you’re interested as we will obtain group discounts)
  • Incidentals and extras

Your hosts:

Olivier David

Olivier has practiced Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga daily since 2004 and started teaching in 2006 after obtaining his 500-hour yoga teacher training at the Ki-Atsu Institute in Las Vegas, USA. He has practiced under yoga masters Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, R. Sharath Jois, Doug Swenson, and currently practices under Sri V. Sheshadri of Mysore, India. Olivier also teaches vinyasa and hatha yoga styles, pranayama, mudra, yoga philosophy and Trust Yoga, a mixture of yoga, Thai massage and acrobatics. Website.

Sarah Yates

Sarah opened Ekam Yoga in 2010, the first yoga studio in Johannesburg to offer Ashtanga Vinyasa Mysore-style practice sessions and led classes teaching in the traditional method established by the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. She has practiced Ashtanga continuously since 2007 and is a Yoga Alliance registered E-RYT 200 yoga teacher. Website.