Vande Gurunam Charanaravinde
Sandarshita Svatma Sukava Bodhe
Nih Sreyase Jangalikayamane
Samsara Halahala Mohashantyai
Sahasra Sirasam Svetam
I bow to the lotus feet of the Supreme Guru
which awaken insight into the happiness of pure Being,
which are the refuge, the jungle physician,
which eliminate the delusion caused by the poisonous herb of Samsara
I prostrate before the sage Patanjali
who has thousands of radiant, white heads
and who has, as far as his arms, assumed the form of a man
holding a conch shell, a wheel and a sword
The original teachings of Ashtanga Yoga Master Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.
It's aim is the purification of the mind and body. It's a perfect way of life. It is an ethic, discipline, and path of spiritual life.
This book is a must for students of Ayurveda. In addition, modern physicians specializing in the treatment of mental illness will undoubtly find it useful.
The parampara of Rama Mohan Brahmachari and Sri T. Krishnamacharya carried on with Patthabi Jois (Guruji).
Beyond asanas, there are the observances of yama and niyama - how we conduct ourselves with the world in a kind and aware manner, and how we abide by our own code of morality.
The unique aspect of Krishnamacharya's teaching was vinyasa karma, the systematic method of linking breath and movement.
In the sacret text of the yogis, the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna proclaims that one comes to yoga in this life only by having practiced it in a previous life, and is pulled toward it against one's will, as toward a magnet.
Guruji taught without hesitation, neither for fame nor money, although these things may have come to him. Pattabhi Jois was a shining example of pure dedication, of what it takes to keep the light of an ancient tradition burning brightly.
Some people even have a fear of practicing it altogether. But this is little different from the opinion of those who look for the faults of sugar without knowing its sweetness. Once they taste it, its sweetness becomes apparant. Similarly, once we practice yoga, we come to realize its ananda (bliss).
And yet the practice of yoga still leaves us subject to doubts and misconceptions, which weaken our minds and sense organs.
If we practice the science of yoga, which is useful to the entire human community and which yields happiness both here and hereafter - if we practice without fail, we will then attain physical, mental and spiritual happiness, and our minds will flood toward the Self.
(K. Pattabhi Jois).
So. I turned 40 and I wasn't feeling bubbly. On the contrary. I felt heavy, stressed out and looking back: I wasn't myself. Even though I just got a new job which I enjoyed and I had my first novel published, I didn't feel exited about life. Given the fact that I'd always wanted to have my own book published, I should've felt proud and ecstatic, but I didn't. I felt tired, and maybe a bit depressed.
I took a three week vacation and all I did was fantasize about being 67 so I could stop working. I counted the weeks before my retirement. If I saw my book in a store, I felt embarrassed. This was not going well.
Luckily, my boss saw my stress and acknowledged her own. We had to get help. She hired an assistant, for her and for me. The first few weeks it got worse, because I had to instruct this assistant and learn her a a lot of things. But I really liked her, we got along really well and she made my work a bit more lighter. This was step one.
Step two: I returned to do yoga. But not Ashtanga. I wanted to relax, unwind, take care of my tired body. So I took Vinyasa, Yin, Jivamukti and Restorative. In a week, I would go to three different yoga studios. It felt good and I started to heal myself. Then one studio started to offer Ashtanga yoga. I thought: maybe I should give it another try. And I did. I took a lesson, a led class half primary, on a Saturday morning. It felt good, sweating and flowing and breathing.
Now my body and mind were up for it. The next week I went back.
I started going to class it twice a week. Next I was practicing a bit at home, with the help of YouTube videos. I got really excited about the practice. My teacher told the class that he was going to go to India, to Mysore. This was the first time I heard about Mysore. I started reading about it. When this teacher returned from India, he told me that he practiced Mysore at 6 AM in the morning in a studio near my house, three times a week. I felt I wanted to do that too. But I hesitated for months. Thought I could not ever jump out of bed so early. Thought it was only for very advanced students. Worried about not being good enough, worried about getting tired, about not being able to maintain a normal life, about how to combine a practice with my job.
One day I set aside my worries, hesitations and doubts. I went to my first Mysore Class at 6 AM. This was three months ago. This morning I could bind in Marichyasana D.
The picture says: It is difficult to make a choice. But sometimes you just have to do it.
"You come to it for one thing and later you find yourself sitting in a room in Mysore."
David Swenson said this in the book Guruji, A Portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Through the Eyes of His Students. It is a great read, this book. His students, who are now well known teachers around the globe, talk about life in Mysore, back in the days. And about Guruji. About Ashtanga Yoga.
I read it for half an hour in bed before going to sleep. And when I wake up, it is my time to do Ashtanga.
Why did you start practicing yoga? Do you remember?
I certainly do.
I'd had an extremely busy time. In September of 2014 I'd started a new job for forty hours a week with a lot of stress and responsibilities. On top of that, I had a book coming out. I'd written a novel, and had sent it to maybe ten publishers. Nobody would wanted to publish it and I'd almost forgotten about it. Especially when I started this new job, I thought: better to forget about the book and focus on my work. It was more than enough. But then: Expect the Unexpected: a publisher mailed me and wanted to talk about the manuscript. I took the train to Amsterdam and had a meeting about a possible book. We had an agreement and they would publish the book on my fortieth birthday (this was in March of 2015). I started panicking because it was already November and the book was not even finished. I had to read it at least ten times, make adjustments, change sentences, paragraphs, whole pages, skip a lot and be satisfied with it. A hell of a job.
From Monday till Friday I worked at the office of my new job, panicking. On Saturday and Sunday I would be working on my book, stressed out. I started feeling not so good. I had migraines and I didn't sleep very well. I was tense all the time. I didn't want to make any mistake at the office, and I wanted to do a good job with the book. There were chapters in the book I hesitated about, but it was too late to rewrite them completely.
Finally, after a whole lot of stressed times, the book was published. I'd expected that I would've made me proud for the rest of my life. It didn't. It was the opposite: the book coming out made me feel vulnerable. Everybody could read it: my parents, ex-lovers, family, colleagues, my boss. I was tense the whole time. I needed something to relax me. The wellness center with the hot tubs was not enough. I went to a yoga studio. They offered Ashtanga. I didn't know what Ashtanga was. I took a couple of lessons, and I quit. I thought it was too demanding, too harsh, too difficult, to rigid. All the things I didn't want in my free time.
To be continued
Maybe it is because I am in my (EARLY) forties, maybe it is because I don't listen to the radio or watch TV, but I do not really know who Miley Cyrus is. I mean, I am pretty sure she is a singer, but you can easily promise me a million dollar if I can name one of her songs, because I simply can not.
I know I've seen her in a lot of pictures. I used to visit gossip websites all the time, and for some period, Miley Cyrus played a mayor role in them. I saw pictures of her with very few clothes on (I don't judge), or of her smoking pot (I don't judge and besides that, I live in the Netherlands) and I mostly remember seeing pictures of her sticking out her tongue (I don't judge but maybe I am a little curious why she did this constantly). Based on these pictures, I don't think she was feeling very great at that time.
But things are looking up. YouTube recommended me this video, where you can see Miley in the Jimmy Fallon Show (sorry, I don't know who Jimmy Fallon is either. But I think he must be funny), talking about her practice and showing him yoga.
I watched this clip and immediately loved Miley Cyrus. She is funny, chatty, has a very cool voice, and she is an Ashtangi! Hurray! The following hour I spent going through her pictures on Instagram. Oh, how I felt jealous. Because she is young, because she has an advanced practice, because she is young and because she is young. I wished I had discovered Ashtanga in my twenties.
I once heard myself say: 'My life would have been different if Madonna hadn't been in it.'
I grew up with her. Not literally of course. I grew up with her music, her videos, her clothes, her style. I am from 1975, she was born in 1958, so the age difference is 17 years. In 1984, I was aged 9, I watched with my mouth open to the tv where I saw her sing and dance in Material Girl.
She's always been a feminist pur sang. And of course there a many more feminists who you can look up to, but she entered my world at a young age, where at that point the women around me like my mother, neighbors and aunts, who were married with children, who didn't work as much as their husbands, who took care of the children and did the housework, who didn't look free and independent to me, Madonna opened my eyes, she showed me what a woman can be capable of, how to be free, how to express yourself, and she has never left my life.
In these days, I consider myself no longer as a huge fan. I don't listen to her new music and I never go see her show when she is on tour, but she is in my heart. I am thankful for what she's done for women like me.
She's always been a pioneer in many ways. Of course she already practiced yoga, when yoga was not as popular in my country as it is now. In fact, her song Shanti-Ashtangi of 1998, I didn't like nor understand it. Now I do.
I searched on the web if I could find something about her current yoga practice. I discovered a picture of her and Sharath. I am not sure of which year it is, but Sharath looks very young in the picture. And Madonna does too. Then I saw a piece of an interview Oprah took. She talked about Ashtanga. It gave me goosebumps. I googled some more and read that she no longer practices Ashtanga. It got me a bit sad, but now I know for sure she once was a dedicated Ashtangi, and this makes me think of the practice even better. I am doing the practice she used to do, six days a week.
Last night I had it rough. My throat ached, I was tired but could not sleep, my eyes burned, I coughed and my nose was running: Hey hey hay fever (Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen. Pollen is a fine powder from plants.) Yes, it is that time of year, and it hasn't been raining for days, so there is a lot of pollen in the air.
When my alarm clock woke me at 5.30, I felt run over by a dozen elephants. My eyes were swollen, my throat felt soar and I felt extremely tired.
I am not going.
Better to stay in bed.
I can sleep for another two hours.
Then I remembered the line I read yesterday: If you don't push your boundaries, you will never get to know yourself.
I changed my clothes and packed my stuff.
In the shala, arriving on m mat, I was still sniffing and scratching my eyes. But I thought: no worries, I can quit at any time if I want to.
I started my practice, and finished it the way I always do. I didn't quit, not even a bit.
And when I lay in savasana, I felt way better than before. I didn't have any symptom of hay fever. My nose wasn't blocked anymore, nothing ached nor itched and I felt awake and fine.
Unfortunately, during the day, the symptoms returned. I am looking forward to tomorrow's practice.
Today's Led Class got me thinking about the WHY of yoga. Two new students came in and the teacher took ten minutes before class to overwhelm them with information. It reminded me of my first class. The teacher asked me to come early, so she could give me the necessary info. That info turned out to be: Here is the changing room, Here is the toilet and questions like: Is this your first yoga class? And: Do you have any injuries?
I changed studios and teachers a few times, and realized today that not once has a teacher told me WHY I should practice yoga. Today I listened to the teacher, filling up the new students:
"Hi, welcome to Ashtanga Yoga. You are going to learn Primary Series (vague look in the students eyes), or at least half of it. This is a led class. This is not Mysore style. I will teach you the asanas (still, the vague look). That are the poses of yoga. But there is more. Did you know Ashtanga stands for eight limbs (students start blinking their eyes)?
Do you know Ujjayi breath? No? It is simple. Can you breath in a way you would fog a mirror? Do it! (...) Yes, like that! But with more power. Again. (...) And again. (...) Yes, like that. Now, with your mouth closed. (...) I want to hear that breath during the whole practice (students start to panic).
Do you know where your bandhas are? We'll start with uddiyana bandha. Just try to hold up your pee. It is about the muscles between your genitals and your anus (students think: who are you and why are you talking about my anus?)
Okay, enough for now. Let's start."