Jul 24, 2012

How to wake up for yoga by Elise Espat

A dose of encouragement and honesty for the doubtful.

The first thing to realize is that many other people (myself included) find the act of waking to an alarm incredibly painful.  It is okay to feel this way.  It is also okay to feel this way and wake up anyway.  Here is how...

In general:
-Keep a routine.  Whether you intentionally set one in place or not, you already have a series of morning rituals.  It is easy to do what is familiar, even if it isn't helpful.  At the beginning of a new routine, it will be difficult because it is new.  But as time goes on, it will become  more natural and perhaps even effortless.  The truth is it might always be painful, but never impossible.

-Join a community.  Being around other people who keep the same schedule will both inspire and challenge you to stay with the program.

-Never underestimate the power of eating well and keeping good company.

The night before:
 -Plan ahead.  Set out clothing and other things you need so you can get out the door (or onto your mat) quickly.

-Sleep well.  Having a solid night's rest makes waking up the next day much easier.  If possible, use your bed only for sleeping, avoid the pm caffeine fix, and unplug at least an hour before you hit the hay.

The morning:
-Never hit snooze

-Take a shower.

-Think happy thoughts.

-Brush your teeth & clean your tongue.

-Listen to positive, upbeat music that makes you smile.

-Avoid the internet, your phone, or anything else that will get you worked up.

So when do you start this new habit?  The clouds probably will not open up with a shining banner held by birds telling you tomorrow is the day.  You just make the decision to commit to it and that is all.  You don't have to be special, you just can't be lazy.  Waking up early is a practice.  It takes time and discipline.  There will be easy mornings and there will be hard mornings.  They come and they go and tomorrow is one more opportunity to wake up for yoga.

Jul 23, 2012

Mexico Retreat FAQ: How to Get There by Elise Espat

We picked Xinalani as the location for our upcoming yoga retreat for many reasons including the fact that it is relatively quick and easy to get to.  Any questions, feel free to get in touch.

Book Your Flight
You'll need to book your own flight to Puerto Vallarta International Airport (PVR).
Look for flights that arrive at PVR before 4:30 pm on Saturday.
For your departure flight, find one that is leaving after 11 am on the following Saturday.
Once your reservation is complete, send us your itinerary so that Xinalani can make arrangements for your airport pickup service.
If you'd like to find a travel buddy, post on our retreat page on Facebook.
Note:  Please make sure we have confirmed your registration before you book your flights.

Airport Pickup Service
As the retreat dates approach, we'll email you detailed instructions about your pickup service.
You'll have a prearranged car that will take you and possibly some other fellow retreaters from the airport to the marina.  The ride is about ten minutes.  
Note:  VIP pickup service is included in the total price of your retreat. 

Banderas Bay Boat Ride
Depending on when you arrive, the boat might take you straight to Xinalani.  Or, you'll need to wait a little while for a few more fellow retreaters to arrive.  There is a little restaurant located in the marina where you can grab some tasty food and juices while you wait.  They'll take US dollars, however, you'll get a better exchange rate it you bring pesos.  
Once everyone booked for your boat ride arrives, off you'll go to Xinalani!  The ride is about 45 minutes.  We recommend wearing sun block for the ride and placing important items in plastic bags so that they don't get wet or ruined. 
Note:  This boat ride is included in the total price of your retreat.  

Arrive at Xinalani
Depending on weather, you'll either land on the beach or at the dock a little ways down the coast.  If weather allows for a beach arrival, be ready to get wet!  We recommend wearing shorts and easy to remove shoes.
If you arrive at the dock, you'll walk about 10 minutes through a small village to Xinalani.

Check In
You've arrived!  Retreat!

Jul 21, 2012

Mysore Conference Notes: 1st Conference of Season by Suzanne El-Safty

Sharath’s First Conference of the Season 
By Suzanne El-Safty
22 October 2011
Source http://suzanneelsafty.com/2011/10/22/sharaths-first-conference-of-the-season/


Last Sunday Sharath gave his first conference of this season (it’s taken me forever to write this up – too many classes and too little sleep this week). The conference was short as it was the first day and Sharath didn’t want to overwhelm the new students (‘lot of new students, is good, means Ashtanga Yoga is spreading’).

He started by speaking about appropriate behaviour in Mysore – appropriate dress (not beach clothes, women should wear a shawl to cover themselves), not standing in big groups at the coconut stand, avoiding making unwanted ‘friends’.

Sharath then described how yoga first came to Mysore (I’ve added a few details here in order to be precise and complete; additional details have been taken from the book ‘Guruji’):

In the early 1900s Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (a yoga teacher and scholar, often referred to as ‘the father of modern yoga’, his students include Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar and T.K.V. Desikachar) was touring India to try to spread hatha yoga. In 1927 he went to Hassan to give a yoga demonstration and, fortunately for us, watching in the audience was a 12-year old Pattabhi Jois (the grandfather of Sharath). Pattabhi Jois was so impressed by the demonstration that he asked Krishnamacharya if he could become his student and the following day began his yoga practice. At that time yoga was not held in high regard and Pattabhi Jois had to keep his practice secret from his family.

In 1929, at the age of 14, Pattabhi Jois ran away from home with just 2 rupees in his pocket and went to Mysore to further his study of Sanskrit at the Maharaja Sanskrit College. In 1931 Krishnamacharya also moved to Mysore and Pattabhi Jois was able to continue his studies with him for the next 22 years, until 1953 when Krishnamacharya moved to Chennai.

In 1937 the Maharaja of Mysore set up a yoga department at the Sanskrit College and appointed Pattabhi Jois as its head; Pattabhi Jois then taught there until his retirement in 1973. And in 1948 Pattabhi Jois established the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute (the predecessor of KPJAYI) at his home in Lakshmipuram, a suburb of Mysore.

Prior to Krishnamacharya all of the great yoga masters had been in the north of India, and people at that time believed that yoga was only meant for sadhus and sannyasis (wandering monks, renunciants), that in effect the practice of yoga led to a withdrawal from society. Krishnamacharya changed this – he demonstrated that anyone can do yoga.

Sharath finished by saying that this lineage from Krishnamacharya is not anywhere else in the world and that in order to learn Ashtanga Yoga we have to study through this lineage.


 Conference – Asana as the Foundation of a Spiritual Practice – 1st January 2012 by Suzanne El-Safty


Jul 19, 2012

Video with Kino MacGregor about the Mysore Experience

Going to India, Mysore practice, yoga.

Interview with Krista Shirley by Xinalani Yoga Retreat

 Interview originally published here:

Asthanga and Mysore, tell us more!

Our first retreat of the 2012-2013 season will be hosted by Krista Shirley and Elise Espat, an Ashtanga Adventure!  We wanted to find out more about Krista, Ashtanga, and the Mysore teaching method. Get excited, their retreat will surely prove to be an amazing experience!
Xinalani: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with us and allowing our readers to learn more about you and your upcoming yoga retreat.  Tell us a little about how you found your practice.  How did it all start for you?  
Krista: It all started at a World Gym in Altamonte Springs, Florida my junior year in College. I decided to try a new yoga class that appealed to me because it appeared to be quite a challenge. It was a modified led Ashtanga Yoga class and I loved it. After a couple of weeks of classes at the gym, my teacher introduced me to Winter Park Yoga where she practiced each day and where they taught traditional Ashtanga Yoga in the Mysore method. I committed to come six days a week for one month and then I was totally hooked. The transformations I went through mentally, spiritually and physically were truly life changing. The rest is history…I eventually started teaching this method because I live it each day and it seemed a natural progression for me to share this passion with the world.  I love waking up each day and doing my practice, then teaching this practice to others. I feel truly blessed in this life to have this yoga to help me be the best me I can be, and to be able to do what I love for a living.
Xinalani: You teach Ashtanga Yoga. Can you tell us about this particular style of yoga?  

Krista: Ashtanga Yoga is a 5,000 year old discipline that explores, develops, and integrates the body, mind and spirit. Ashtanga Yoga purifies the body, the nervous system, the internal organs, and the mind through the use of vinyasa (breath with movement), asana (physical postures), deep breathing, and drishti (looking place or gaze). Practicing Yoga Asanas purifies the body and strengthens and gives flexibility to the body. Performing deep breathing purifies the nervous system. Drishti is the place where you look while performing asanas, or postures in order for you to concentrate on one specific place; also helps to stretch the eyes. The goal of incorporating drishti to your practice is for purification and stabilization of the mind. Daily practice of Ashtanga Yoga promotes weight loss, vitality, mental clarity, stress reduction, deep relaxation, and overall health and wellness to the practitioner. Our beloved Guru, Shri K. Pattabhi Jois was the modern father of this yoga method and taught students from around the world in his home in Mysore, India until his passing in 2009. Now Guruji’s grandson Sharath is the primary lineage keeper of this yoga method and is my and Elise’s teacher. 
Xinalani: How do Ashtanga and Mysore yoga relate to one another?  
Krista: Mysore is a specific way to teach the Ashtanga Yoga method. Ashtanga Yoga is a specific ‘yoga style’ that consists of breathing, bandhas, drishti and a specific sequence of postures that make up the primary, intermediate, 3, 4, 5, and 6 series.  This ‘yoga style’ can be taught in a led setting or a mysore setting. In a led setting a teacher will verbally guide an entire class from start to finish (Surya Namaskara A to final rest). Students must start at the same time, move at the same pace, and end together.  Unlike led classes, mysore classes are very unique, very individualized, and truly the absolute best way to learn and practice yogaThis unique method of instruction is suitable for beginners as well as longtime practitioners because every student is taught individually. In other words, each student is given a one-on-one lesson in a group setting in order that he or she can progress through the Ashtanga Yoga series’ at their own pace and according to his or her individual needs.  Timings are also flexible so people can come to their mat when it works for them and are not mandated to get to their local studio by a specific time.  For example most mysore rooms will have a morning program from 6am to 10am, for example, and students can literally show up and start their practice anytime between 6am and 9:00am as long as they finish practice by 10am.  This allows students flexibility in their schedule, and helps in the natural functionality of the mysore room because different students need help with different asanas and the spread out timing allows teachers the ability to help all students when they need help – if it were a led class one teacher could not help 20 students in drop backs in a timely manner but in a mysore room he/she can.

This is the way that yoga is taught by our teachers, Shri K. Pattabhi Jois and R. Sharath Jois in Mysore, India and why it has come to be known as “Mysore Style” teaching. For more information on Ashtanga Yoga please visit www.kpjayi.org

Xinalani: In the fitness world, experts often say you need to change up your workout in order to constantly challenge your muscles in new ways so they don’t become accustomed to the same movements.  Why is Ashtanga different, even though you follow the same series repeatedly?  
Krista: I’ll try to answer your question from a purely physical perspective:  In Ashtanga Yoga asana practice you do repeat the exact same series of postures in the primary series until you master those asanas (postures) – until you are indeed accustomed to the movements and your body has not only physically mastered the ability to do the movements with grace but also mastered breathing fluidly without strain while doing the postures with grace.  This is not cross training, this is yoga and one of our goals is to steady the body by training the body and breath so that we can then work to steady the mind.  But it takes a long time for a person doing the Ashtanga Primary Series 6 days per week to truly master that series and be ready to move onto the next.  During that period of working towards mastery the student is doing the same sequence each day struggling to find balance and agility, stamina, control, coordination, build strength and flexibility and much more.  And over time, doing the practice consistently, for a long period of time, without break, a student will eventually become master over those movements that make up the primary series – as that is part of the process.  If we took the approach of the general fitness world, we would never master any yoga postures– to me there is little benefit in that.  While physical fitness is certainly a benefit of yoga practice, it is only one of many – the process should take us deeper and deeper, not keep us on the surface level.  But please don’t mistake me, this asana practice is an intense physical challenge.  Once a student does master primary series he or she will slowly build up second series postures and later 3rd and so on, and each series is progressively more challenging and demanding on the body.  One thing that really makes this yoga method unique, even for fitness buffs, is that the student can gauge their own progress in their practice each day – as they get deeper into postures, attain more balance and flexibility they can see that on the mat because they are repeating the same sequence over and over until it is ‘mastered’ so that their body and mind is ready to embark on the next series of asanas to continue to challenge their body, mind and spirit.

Xinalani: Is there space for creativity in an Asthanga practice?  
Krista: Absolutely!  I can guarantee that not one day is ever the same on your mat.  Let’s say you are working to master primary and have three poses left in the sequence.  Sunday-Friday you do your practice exactly the same each day, but on Sunday you focus on keeping with the Vinyasa count, Monday you are extremely tired and move much slower than the count and holding postures a few extra breathes, Tuesday you are short on time so you have to leave out your final three seated postures before moving to finishing, Wednesday your mind is all over the map thinking about a deadline at work and you are not very focused on asana but you show up and do anyway, on Thursday you are totally connected with your breath and bandhas and nothing in the world can distract you in practice and you attain a true moving meditation session on your mat, and Friday your teacher leads your class through primary series with proper Vinyasa count and you end in final rest with your eyes closed, clothes drenched in sweat, smiling knowing tomorrow is a rest day.  Every single day is different and YOU make it what it is.  You put in the effort or you don’t, show up and do or you don’t, allow the distractions in the room or in your head to affect your practice or not, go to classes outside your local studio when traveling or chose to roll out your mat in your hotel room…While Ashtanga yoga does not allow for creativity in sequencing of postures in the series, that doesn’t mean the practitioner cannot be creative within the structure of the sequence in each series.  If Ashtanga did allow creativity of sequencing, then it would no longer be Ashtanga Yoga – it would be power yoga or flow yoga or power flow yoga or Vinyasa or any of the many names people have made up in recent years to describe their own creative diversion from this traditional Ashtanga yoga method.  In Ashtanga yoga the creativity comes from within you.  Each day is a blank canvas and you get to color it how you wish. I see my practice exactly the same way – my Ashtanga yoga practice is my canvas – I get on my mat and take my prescribed practice and the outcome of that practice is totally up to me – the lessons I learn, the stuff I release the thoughts I have or don’t have…New styles of yoga that ‘mix things up’ remind me of today’s toys for children.  Toys today are so detailed and so intricate there is little room for creative freedom on the part of the child.  Today’s yoga classes are so mixed up and flavored with this and that, there is little room for yoga practitioners to go deep within themselves to have their own creative experience.  Simple is best – allows more room for growth, change, transformation and joy.

Xinalani: Each year you go back to Mysore, India to practice and learn.  What are some of the more valuable bits you have taken away from your recent trips?  
Krista: Ha, funny question for me personally because my most recent trip with my son (then 1 and a half), and the trip before I was six months pregnant with Kaiden.  Regardless of my condition, I can say with certainty that India is a magical motherland that feeds your soul and each trip I make fills me to the brim with adventure, mystery, struggle, joy and faith. 
I return to India each year to study with my teachers at the Krishna Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga institute to ensure my practice is progressing under the correct path.  Doing my practice alone at home all year, it is a true gift to get to return to Mysore and ‘check in’ with Sharath for a few months, to be a student only, to surrender to India, allow myself to be vulnerable, and to soak in all that India has to teach me.

The valuable bits truly are the ones words cannot describe.  Taking yourself out of your comfort zone, putting your faith and trust into a practice such as this, allowing yourself to be open to learn from every single interaction and experience – these are the things that make each trip so special.   Be it India, Mexico, Morocco or anywhere on this globe that you consider an adventure or something on your bucket list, something that excites you or moves you – remember life is short and you deserve to live it to the fullest.  So whatever it is you wish to experience, wherever it is you wish to travel – do it now!  You might just learn something along the way!

Xinalani: You and Elise Espat will be holding a yoga retreat at Xinalani this fall.  How did you two meet?  What makes you two a good match to lead a retreat together?  
Krista: Elise and I met in the fall of 2007 in Mysore, India.  We were both studying at the Krishna Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore with Guruji, Sharath and Saraswathi.  When I met Elise I loved her spirit.  We hung out that year in Mysore, have stayed in touch through the years, and have met up when we can in India, New York and California.  We cherish our friendship with one another, enjoy the chances we have to see one another, practice and learn together, and we both love travel and adventure.  So when Elise came up with the idea of doing a retreat together I was totally on board.  This will be our first of many retreats together because we know it will be a week full of fun, adventure, hard work, dedicated practice, relaxation, and exploration.  We both love this practice, are both deeply dedicated to our teachers and this lineage, both own our own yoga schools, both work hard, play hard, and practice with devotion.  We enjoy adventure, challenges, problem solving, and fun; we work well together and care deeply for each other and I know our retreat participants will benefit tremendously from our co-contributions as well as our individual ones.  I am very excited about this week at Xinalani with Elise and am eager to share our friendship and passion for this yoga with our group.

Xinalani: What will your group experience during your Yoga Retreat in Mexico?  
Krista: ADVENTURE!  We will start each day with our Ashtanga Yoga practice followed by chanting.  We will then enjoy a wholesome group breakfast.  Participants will enjoy some free time to relax, explore, read or rest until lunch at 1:30pm.  After lunch each day Elise and I will facilitate excursions for the group from body boarding, kayaking, shopping, mule rides, swimming with the dolphins, trekking and snorkeling.  These excursions are optional so participants can join in or do their own thing.  The group will reconvene back on resort property at 5pm for meditation, chanting, lectures and much more and we will end each day with a group dinner at 7:30pm.
After a week of yoga and adventure with me and Elise at Xinalani, our group will leave with some stellar memories, new friendships, and a new found or re-discovered love for travel and adventure!

Xinalani:  What advice would you give from your own personal experience to our readers? 

Krista: Don’t ever look back wishing you had done something…Do…and do without regret…even if the outcome is not what you envision, the experience is wisdom gained to carry forward to the next opportunity…So DO and by doing you will live your life to the fullest.

Xinalani: Is there anything you wish to share with our readers that we have not covered?  
Krista: Define your life by your actions, not your words :)

Jul 18, 2012

Handmade Sanskrit Alphabet by Elise Espat

I made this teensy chart in India a few years ago.  While I don't need to use a reference guide anymore in order to read and write, I still enjoy the process of making them.

Moon Day - Wednesday, July 18

No classes, take rest!

Jul 15, 2012

Ashtanga Retreat Interview with Elise Espat by Xinalani


Interview with Elise Espat

From March 3-10, 2012 we are honored to receive Elise Espat and her group of yogis!  We wanted to know a little more about her before she came down and she was gracious enough to answer some questions for us.  There is still space on her retreat so contact us if you want to come down and join her!
Xinalani: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with us and allowing our readers to learn more about you and your upcoming yoga retreat How did you find out about Xinalani Retreat and why was it important to you to bring your group to our retreat in Mexico, Puerto Vallarta?
Elise:  Thank you!  Well, Xinalani has a fantastic location, which is totally ideal for a week of intense yoga practice, and it is eco-friendly which I feel is pretty important.

Xinalani: Tell us a little about how you found your practice.  How did it all start for you?
Elise:  Jane Fonda, actually.  I think I thought yoga could be a workout alternative but soon realized that something else was happening.  Something bigger.  Just to be clear, I wasn’t athletic by any means.  I was just self-conscious and confused.  From the tape I eventually got the courage to go to a “real” yoga class where other people would see me!  I was pretty worried about sticking out and looking silly and the teacher pointing at me, laughing, and announcing to everyone that I didn’t belong.  Happily, that isn’t what happened.  I think I was in some very gentle, very basic yoga class and was having a very hard time, but I made it through and afterward felt this sense of peace and clarity and I felt fantastic in a really clean way and knew I found something real that I had to hold on to.
Xinalani: What was it like to practice with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois ?

Elise:  I was really nervous when I first practiced with him in New York.  He really had this presence, this glow.  There were so many people in that room and it would get really quiet and you could hear his feet coming toward you…

Xinalani: What is Mysore Yoga?  What about it draws you in?
Elise:  Mysore is a method of teaching yoga where students work one-on-one with a teacher over a long period of time.  Once your teacher shows you some things to work on, you practice them on your own with supervision and the teacher monitors you and helps you along the way giving you verbal queues, adjustments, asanas, etc.  It is a bit chaotic from the outside because there are a lot of students doing their practice at the same time and all of it seems so different.  One person is doing surya namaskar, another is resting, another something else… But it is actually quite organized. 
It is really beautiful to watch students struggle and blossom and shine – to step into possibility and all of that. Of course, I am a student as well and go through all those same things and it is an amazing experience.

Xinalani: After years in NYC, why did you choose to leave such a large yoga community to head to a much smaller environment?
Elise:  New Mexico is a magical place.  The landscape is so vast, kind of moving in a way, spiritual.  I like being close to nature.

Xinalani: Tell us about your classes.
Elise:  Fun, honest, and probably sweaty.  The heart of the retreat will be the traditional Mysore practice with complementary workshops in the afternoons.  We’ll go over technique, tips, and tricks, theory… all that good stuff.  

Xinalani: What is your mantra today?
Elise:  Love!

Xinalani: If you could change one thing about your past life, what would it be?
Elise:    I probably would have liked to be a little wiser but I suppose that “wisdom” implies “experience” so I guess I wouldn’t change a thing.

Xinalani: What is your main goal for the next year ahead?
Elise:  Read more books! 

Xinalani: What will your group experience during your Yoga Retreat in Mexico?
Elise:  A thigh-slapping good time and a whole lot of sunshine.
Xinalani: If you could spread your love of life with the world, what advice would you give from your own personal experience?
Elise:  Follow your heart.

Xinalani: Is there anything you wish to share with our readers that we have not covered?
Elise:  Xinalani rocks!

Originally posted here:

Jul 13, 2012

Interview with Guy Donahaye by Elise Espat Part 3

Part 3 of my interview with Ashtanga yoga teacher Guy Donahaye, author of "Guruji: A Portrait".
Originally posted here:

Reflections on "Guruji: A Portrait"
- Interview with Elise Espat - Part III

Did you ask any of the questions to clarify a question you had?  For instance, whether advanced asana meant advanced practice?  Or what was mulabandha?  Was there a satisfactory answer?

I believe there is a general misunderstanding of the purpose of asana practice - which is therapy. Advancement comes through perfecting yama and niyama, pranayama and the internal limbs - asana practice is the foundation of that process. So no, I was not curious - I had the desire to get the subjects to speak about this so as to dispel this general misconception. 

Mostly the questions were not asked out of personal curiosity but with the intention of  getting the interviewee to speak on a subject of interest. However, I was certainly interested to hear their different perspectives and feel that my own understanding has been enhanced through the process of making the book.

In the Guruji book, it seems that people agreed that advanced asana did not necessarily mean advanced yoga practice.  Do you think that is true?  Through asana, with the tristhana and a good teacher and time wouldn't that lead to advanced practice?  Would a student automatically start doing self-study and such?

Asana practice is therapeutic, purifying and strengthening - both for mind and body. How much purification or therapy is required depends on the individual and what end result is desired. I don't think anything will happen automatically through asana practice alone, but if you have a good teacher, he or she will teach more than asana.

Dena Kingsberg: "Some of us have to drag our bodies a long way in order to facilitate the cleansing process.  Those of us with stubborn, egotistical natures may need to drag ourselves further and twist ourselves harder and bend ourselves deeper in order to appreciate that at the end of the day we just need to focus the attention and open the heart."  

One of Guruji's most capable students (not interviewed in the book) was given a practice of 12 Suryanamaskar A and 12 B morning and evening - this he was told was for treating "insanity of the mind". So there is no apparent correlation between being able to do postures and a particular level of spiritual or mental development. However, developing a practice with Guruji into advanced series and practicing the asanas over time gives enormous benefits. 

If the student has not gained some control of the bandhas by the end of Intermediate Series, she will have no choice but to master them progressing into the advanced asanas. Perhaps this is why instead of teaching the pranayamas after intermediate, as he did in the early 70s, later Guruji wanted students to be established in the advanced asanas first. 

Westerners have such a strong attachment to their bodies and body image that practicing asanas can easily lead to greater vanity, competitiveness and other distractions from the goal of yoga. Sri Shankaracharya warns in his Vivekachudamani:

"Whoever seeks to realize the Self by devoting himself to the nourishment of the body, proceeds to cross a river by catching hold of a crocodile, mistaking it for a log… 

…desire, like a crocodile, instantly seizes the aspirant who tries to cross the ocean of samsara and reach the shore of liberation without firm detachment, and straightaway drags him down." 

One has to consider: what is the goal of practice? After overcoming health problems, our aim is to be able to sit still and quiet with a concentrated mind. For some this can be attained easily, asanas are not required, which is very rare today. Some need moderate exercise and purification, others need deeper cleansing and more rigorous training for the mind.

Guruji taught that Ashtanga Yoga was a step by step method but that yama and niyama could not be perfected until the stage of pranayama. However, in spite of the fact that it is very challenging or maybe even impossible to perfect yama and niyama, an attempt to do so is required, and our success in yoga will be much more closely related to our progress in the first two limbs than the third alone. In a certain sense the yama and niyama encapsulate the whole path - it is said that liberation can be achieved through perfection of any one.

As far as asanas go, what is important in the immediate moment is a practice which gives us a sense of well being and freedom from pain. If we are sick, then we need to purify and strengthen the body. In preparation for pranayama we also need to purify the nadis further through Nadi Shodhona and to be able to sit comfortably in padmasana or a similar asana for a long period of time. 

Where did the notion come from - that advancing through the series would lead to advancement on the path of yoga? It seems like there should be a logical correlation.  However, the purpose of the asanas is therapy. As long as we continue to fall short of following the yamas and niyamas perfectly, our system will require continuous correction from practicing asanas.

Guy Interview

Interview with Guy Donahaye by Elise Espat Part 2

Part two of my interview with Guy Donahaye on his book "Guruji: A Portrait".  And beyond.
Originally posted here:

Reflections on "Guruji: A Portrait" 
- Interview with Elise Espat - Part II

Everyone you interviewed spent time with Guruji in Mysore.  Why is making the time to practice in India so crucial? Or is it?  

If you want to go deep into a subject, you have to go to the source. Spending time in mother India is an incomparable experience and having the opportunity to study closely with a master such as Pattabhi Jois is a priceless opportunity. I believe that it is almost impossible to understand yoga without spending extended time in India, so for a deeper understanding I think it is necessary.

Practicing with Guruji, especially in the intimate setting of the "old shala" in Lakshmi Puram was a very powerful and transformative experience. Receiving the asanas from Guruji and being adjusted in them by him on a daily basis also has a profound impact. Beyond the effectiveness and beauty of the sequences he created, the nature of his adjustments and the way in which he engaged with each individual were teachings on a daily basis. Much more is conveyed through teaching asana than is at first evident.

He would observe our personalities, mental and physical states and engage with us accordingly - teaching us yama and niyama and other yogic truths indirectly or in a practical way. For instance, in some students he was always trying to curb ambition and break down an over inflated ego, in others he was pushing, encouraging, demanding more effort. For each individual on each day it was different. This often caused a lot of confusion, intense emotions and outbursts of anger - either in private or in the shala - one day you though he loved you, the next he seemed to despise you. This caused a lot of self reflection and self analysis.

Prior to 2002 Guruji's yoga shala was very small. In the beginning there was space for eight yoga mats - two rows of four. As the numbers grew we squeezed an extra mat in each row and then eventually there were two in the middle - making twelve. In '91, when I first arrived, Sharath was just beginning to assist, so there were two teachers and eight students in the room. Prior to this and during the summer months there were only a handful of western students, sometimes only one or two - they would get private lessons from Guruji.

With the new shala there was space for sixty students to practice at the same time so the teacher student ratio changed radically. By this time there were many of Guruji's students teaching around the world and students coming to Mysore already knew the practice, so the teaching in the new shala for most students was more about quality control and less about one-on-one teaching. At times there were as many as 300 students present in later years. However, Guruji's commanding presence continued to have a powerful impact on everyone present even though he did not necessarily engage with you directly. It was a common experience that when Guruji spoke to one student - he would shout "straight(en) your leg!" or "touch your chin" - other students in the room felt spoken to also and even though his prompts were not directed at them, they were able to use them also.

Much is made (with good justification) of the ashtanga sequences, however, it makes a huge difference who you learn from and the environment in which you learn. Some say the practice is the teacher. I feel the practice is more like therapy. The guru is the teacher. Even though the teaching may not be explicit, by investing the teacher with a real or imagined superior knowledge, he causes us to reflect on our own limitations. When you are in close proximity to the Guru, these reflections take on a much greater intensity. We used to call mysore a karma accelerator - we felt that enormous transformation was taking place.

How does Mysore influence the practice?  Or does it?

Going to India can help by making practice the central theme of one's day for a period of time. It is also an opportunity to allow the transformations which want to take place in the mind/body to unfold in an environment which does not elicit one's habitual (conditioned) responses. Somehow India has the effect of opening people to greater acceptance and transformation.

I believe it is easier for those who spend time in India to become less materialistic and to start to guide their lives on the basis of a spiritual purpose. While churches in the West are closing, in India every tree or road side rock is a temple to a deity. While many indians crave the same material rewards as westerners, the celebration of and devotion to the divine is everywhere.

The traditional Hindu culture as primarily propagated via the Brahmin caste is based on the same principles as yoga. Guruji's old shala was in Lakshmi Puram, a neighborhood hardly touched by the twentieth century, where people lived much the same way they had been living for hundreds of years. We lived simply without furniture other than a mattress on the floor, intermittent electricity and water. We went to bed when the sun set and got up long before it rose. All around us the local people were all also involved in their early morning rituals, chanting, cleaning, bathing, etc. The target of life for the Hindu is liberation, yoga's target is the same.

Yoga is only one of 64 arts, each of which can bring a practitioner to samadhi and Self realization. Many students learn a musical instrument or study Sanskrit or philosophy - these pursuits take one deeper into an understanding of the science of Self realization.

Guy Interview

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