Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Yoga Practice Options

For those of you who haven't been getting my emails (you know who you are!), here are some great practice options to try while I am away:
  • Natalie Botha, who teaches in Norwood. Call her on 072 198 9798 for more info about her class times, rates etc. She also does private sessions, as some of you already know!
  • Clara Woodburn at Yoga Warrior - many of you know her, and her fabulous new studio will be opening mid-September as far I know. Her website is www.yogawarrior.co.za.
  • My friend and teacher, Ann, whom many of you know, teaches a class at the Ishta Centre from 9 - 10.30 on Wednesday mornings. I f you want to know more, their website is www.yoga-sa.com.
  • Lastly, try the Sivananda Centre in Parkview, where my friend Brian Appleton teaches every Monday at 5.30. Their website is www.yogajhb.co.za.
Happy exploring!

Gurus, God, and carbon emissions

People keep asking me when I will be getting to the ashram. I keep telling them that I am not going to an ashram, but rather a yoga school. Why is it that all yoga learning seems to be associated with ashrams?

Why, you ask, am I not going to an ashram? Well, the short answer is that I don't play well in groups. For the long answer, consider this:

Take a group of people with disparate tastes, circadian rhythms, personalities, cultural backgrounds, belief systems, body types, and tell them you know the way for them to achieve yoga. It is as follows:
  • You must all wear the same clothes
  • You must all wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day
  • You must all eat the same food, at the same time of day
  • You must all do the same asana practice
  • You must all do karma yoga, even if you are not so inclined
  • You must show devotion to the Guru, for it is through the Guru that you will reach God
  • No sex, not in this establishment!
Do you think this cookie-cutter solution will work for all of them? Er, no. A few, perhaps. But not all.

Now take the same group and say to them:
  • You can wear whatever you like, as long as it is respectful of the culture you find yourself in
  • You can wake up and go to sleep whenever you like, as long as you get to your classes
  • You can eat whatever and whenever you like, hey, this isn't a residential program. You can even drink if you are so inclined (not that I am!)
  • We will teach you tools to personalise your asana, breathing, and chanting practice so that it suits you on any given day in your life
  • You can do karma yoga if you find it useful. Otherwise, don't
  • Please show respect for your teachers and the information they are sharing with you, but you can choose your own path to God
  • Sex? Not our business what you do in your private life, just please do it responsibly
OK, I know I am over-dramatising a bit, but let's be honest, option 2 is going to work for a whole lot more people. Still not all, but more. That is why I am going to KYM and not an ashram.

I think often of the anecdote we were told to distinguish between a Guru (one who who shows you the way) and an Acharya (expert teacher).

Guru: Do as I say, don't do as I do
Acharya: Do as I say, because I am doing it too

I am a Westerner, and a stubborn one at that, and the concept of gurus is not entrenched in either my culture or my psyche. I just can't understand why we are so often told we need a conduit to God, when yoga gives us all the tools to find enlightenment on our own, with the guidance of a teacher we trust. Note: guidance. Thank goodness for teachers like Mark Whitwell, who are saying just that: it's all in you right now, you don't need to change anything, and you certainly don't need a guru. Unless you want one, of course!

Now (blush) I must confess that I don't know how to offset my carbon emissions from all the flying, because I haven't done it before. I am running out of time before we leave on Thursday morning, so it may have to wait until we get back. Can any of you offer advice on this one? I would love to know what you have done.

In the meantime, I am looking forward to seeing the statue of Patanjali in the KYM courtyard once again.

Monday, July 23, 2007

December Yoga Retreat

Hosted by my lovely friend Geraldine from 16 - 23 December

Use your VOICE

om, originally uploaded by State Of Mind.

A couple of days ago, Mary was saying that when she returned to yoga class after a hiatus, the asanas came back easily, but chanting OM at the beginning of the class proved more of a challenge. Mmmm, interesting that.

Sometime in early April, I completed my thousandth hour of teaching yoga. That is a lot of teaching, I am sure you will agree. Although I still keep a log in case I need it at some future time, I am no longer totaling the hours, but I would guess that I have taught a few hundred extra hours since. So much teaching has changed many things about my style, but one of the most noticeable changes has been to my voice. Those of you who have been practicing with me for a few years may have observed this: the pitch of my 'teaching voice' has dropped, and, most of the time, I am able to project sufficiently. This was not always the case.

Nor was it always comfortable for me to get up in front of a group and lead the chant to start class. Now I do it all the time, and often chant other things too! I really love vedic chanting, one of the reasons I am so excited to return to KYM. More chants learned and taught, yay!

As my voice has changed, I have observed how others use theirs. Mary's chanting issues are so incredibly common. I notice that many people just can't make a sound issue from their throats, and many others, mostly women, chant from the top of their throats in a falsetto.

Now, think about the link between sound pitch and power. Do you find you are more inclined to listen to a speaker with a low melodious voice, or one with a high, wavering one? Thought so.

Strangely, several people have told me they were taught to chant in a high voice. I will keep to myself my political views about women being taught (not) to use their voices. But if you chant from deep in your guts, the sound resonates powerfully from, well, deep in your guts. And to my mind, this makes it far more effective. Try it, try it at home if you have to!

Chanting OM is a great place to start since it is, after all, the pranava, the great syllable - as Wikipedia says,

praṇava, from a root nu "to shout, sound, praise"

If you know other chants, and like them, chant those. Use your voice - shout, sound, praise!

PS when I return to SA, if enough of you are interested, we can have a chanting workshop. Lots of fun!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Yoga in Paris

Yoga in Paris, originally uploaded by kajo55.

Oh wow!

Look at this amazing photo I found on Flickr. I am going to be in Paris in September! So I can now drool over that gorgeous backbend in that gorgeous city.
(Note to self: Remember, Nadine, that backbend is because of her bones...)

For those of you whom I still haven't told, this is how the next few months look for me:

  • August 6 - 17 - KYM's Yoga For Women 2 course in Chennai
  • August 17 - September 1 - assorted travel around Tamil Nadu and South India, with a possible side trip to the Taj Mahal and Agra
  • September 2 - 19 - London! Yoga in London. Definitely more than vist to Jivamukti London
  • September 20 - 28 - Paris! All the sights but probably no yoga to speak of. This is assuming our visa goes through fine, we still don't know. But we bought suitcases anyway.

Home on the 3rd October.
Lucky us, life is definitely looking up!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Soul Soothing

You know when times are bad? When you feel down? Anxious, tired, yucky all around?
What music do you put on?

A while back YogaGlamGirl tagged me, to which I responded with deafening silence. One of the questions on the meme asked which five songs you know all the words to. I don't know the words to any songs. Not real ones. Only sanskrit chants. I know lots and lots of those, and when times are hard, I chant them. A Lot. The other music I always turn to for comfort is Tori Amos. Any of her work will do, but my favourite is Sorta Fairytale off Scarlet's Walk. I *love* that song. It fixes what's broken. And sometimes, I practice yoga to this song. And sometimes, this is what happens:

A nice, anxiety-releasing backbend sequence, starting with surrender in child's pose, knees apart, feet together.

Inhale into a deep kneeling back arch, as deep as is comfy and safe for you.

Exhale and surrender into child again.

Inhale and flip over your knees into this back arch (kapotasana variation maybe?)
Hands and knees in exactly the same position as for child.

Exhale and surrender forward into a full prostration.
Then follow these instructions backwards to go back to child pose.

Pink t-shirt courtesy of Debbi and Roots.
And look what else Debs gave me: a Just Breathe tee shirt!
She said she had to get it when she saw the logo...
Thanks, honey.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Good Cause

Three posts in a day, what can I say. If you have time, please click on this link to have your say about animal cruelty.

Maybe if we start to to treat animals nicely, we will do the same with people. We can only hope.


Yup, turns out I have the energy for another post!

Svadhyaya (swad-hee-ya-ya) is one of the yoga niyamas, and is usually translated as self-study. Self-study is a way to know yourself better, and through knowing yourself (your Self, perhaps) it is a way to know God, in whatever form that takes for you.

Faith has been prominent in my mind and practice lately, and although mostly I say that belief in God in optional but useful, I am starting to think that, when times are tough, belief in God can make the difference between making it and sinking. But that is a topic for a whole other post!

How, you ask, can I go about studying myself? I am tired of self-analysis, therapy, whatever.
Well, any activity that teaches you more about how you operate is a form of self-study. Obviously asana and pranayama, meditation, the yoga tool kit, are very effective tools for this, but there are others.

For example, I am now a (sic) dyed-in-the-wool knitter. And I have learnt some interesting things about me in my short knitting career. S0me I knew, but needed reminding of. OK, most I knew, but needed reminding of. That is why self-study has to be an ongoing process.

For example, I have observed that:
  • I am a knitter of bunnies, baby clothes, bags, hats and gloves. I don't like scarves (boring) or shrugs (boring) or large garments (tedious). I am fond of projects that are challenging enough to hold my interest, and that allow me to see results almost immediately. I like teaching yoga for the same reasons.
  • I like knitting in the round because there is no finishing work afterwards. Wouldn't want the project to be too challenging or long-winded!
  • I don't like poor-quality yarn, and would rather knit one item in pretty wool than seven in nasty acrylic. I suspect this means I am a princess.
  • I feel guilty that I am producing more stuff the planet doesn't need, and I wish I could find recycled yarn. This I didn't need reminding about.
  • I like clever, elegant patterns where the engineering of the item is effortlessly simple. Knitting that is almost like architecture. This reminds me that I like things to run smoothly and in an ordered way. And that I like understated beauty. It is good to know what manner of beast you are.
What do you hobbies teach you about yourself? Do you cook? Sew? Scrap? Walk? Play Scrabble? Sudoku? Notice how you react to the challenges, your chosen patterns of thought of behaviour when you are engaged in these activities.

Teaching as a Trust

I am trying to maintain a once-weekly entry in this blog, all that I can manage right now, so here goes (although there may be a part two, depending on energy and time.)

Two women came to class this morning, both of whom are experienced yoginis and both of whom had been to a yoga class at the gym the day before where the teacher hadn't shown up. A student took over teaching the class, and it seems to have made people uncomfortable, because they didn't feel confident in his abilities or compassion. This sparked some interesting debate today, and I am left thinking about the responsibility of a yoga teacher. A lot has already been said on this topic, some of it by me, but here are today's musings:

  • A teacher should know more about her topic than her class, even if it is just a little more.
  • As a teacher, you only have the authority you are freely granted. You don't get it just by standing up in front of a class!
  • It is a vital and necessary task for a teacher to have her own dedicated and regular practice and to constantly learn more about yoga philosophy, anatomy, communication skills...
  • Sequencing IS important, really really important. You can hurt people if you do this wrong.
  • Reading the room is important, really really important. Again, if you give asanas that are not appropriate and people actually do them, or you give a bizarre sequence, things can go badly awry.
  • Yoga is a sacred practice, and teaching yoga is a sacred trust. Most people who have practiced for a while begin to feel this. It is not just athletics or aerobics, and you hold that trust when you teach.
I am so grateful that there are some of you out there who are still posting comments! I probably won't respond, but if you feel so inclined, I would love to hear what you think about yoga teachers you have known, what you want from your teacher, what you want to achieve as a teacher...