The best yoga-related snippets from the web part 4

Ok I haven’t done one of these for a while but here we go.

First up is a great essay written by certified teacher Tim Miller about his first experiences with Ashtanga Yoga, travelling to India and learning with Guruji. It’s easy to read in just one sitting and it’s always nice to hear long-time students talk about their early days with the practice. I highly recommend it.

Rich Roll, two time top-finisher at the Ultraman world championships has written this article on why every athlete should practise yoga. If he says it, then it must be true!

Further to that video that went viral of Arthur learning how to walk again through yoga practice, his teacher (and former pro-wrestler) Diamond Dallas Page has done this interview talking about his DDP yoga programme. Personally I love his slogan; “It Aint Your Mama’s Yoga” but maybe I’m just crass. Anyway, DDP is more of a yogi than he would let on by the sounds of things. Check it out.

Eddie Stern recently included this in his blog. It’s the story of an elementary school teacher called John Hunter in the USA who invented a game called the World Peace Game. It’s an inspiring example of what is possible through proper thought-provoking education, not just book-learning. World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more.


The best yoga-related snippets from the web part 3

Lets jump straight in this week and start with a video from the New York Times in which Eddie Stern talks a little bit about Ashtanga Yoga. From what we see of Eddie on the web, we really like him.

Canadian teacher, Paul Gold, asks an important question in this article. Fewer practice days or less practice every day? Sharath was asked this same question in London last August and he said ‘You just have to do what you can’.

Two videos of Guruji in Copenhagen in 2006. I’ve already posted these on our facebook page but here they are again for those of you who missed them. First, a short video documenting Guruji’s visit to Copenhagen followed by a 17 minute conference given by Guruji with Sharath and Saraswathi.

We came across this film about bio-dynamic/organic farming in India. It raises a lot of questions about working with nature (as opposed to trying to conquer nature) to produce food. Peter Proctor (the father of modern biodynamics) is a New-Zealander who now lives just outside Mysore at the Bhaktivedanta Academy for Sustainable Integrated Living. We are told in the film that he knows more about soil than probably anyone else on the planet. This is well worth a watch.

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The best yoga-related snippets from the web part 2

So here we are again, there’s a lot of great stuff that we’ve seen in the last ten days or so.

First up, two great clips of Richard Freeman. The first is Richard breathing with sound helped by Guruji’s count. Second is extracts from a much more recent talk that he gave in Germany, where he talks about, amongst other things, injuries and yoga.

Speaking of injuries and yoga, we came across this video from A.G. Mohan (a student of krishnamacharya for twenty years and author of Krishnamacharya: His life and teachings).

And still on a somewhat similar theme, I personally loved this blog post by Alistair Francis (a practitioner of ashtanga yoga and ayurveda) on ‘breathing the practice’.

This is an absolutely fascinating article on the perfection of the Sanskrit language. NASA are said to be thinking of using Sanskrit as a new computer language bescause it is so precise.

But the winner this week, by a country mile is this animated film by Nina Paley. It is a re-telling of the Indian epic, the Ramayana. The music and animation is really top notch and the wit with which the story is told, kept us hooked all the way to the end. Once we starting watching it the other night, we ended up staying up way past our bedtime. It’s absolutely brilliant!!


Free Yoga class and film screening

This coming Friday and Saturday (the 30th and 31st of March) Oscailt are holding  an open day (well two days actually). There is an extensive list of events scheduled, run by the various teachers and practitioners who use Oscailt as their base. The events include introductions to Mindfulness, Qigong, Pilates, Alexander Technique, Hypnosis, Tai-Chi and Yoga. It should be a great couple of days. See the full timetable for the two days at the bottom of the page.

We will be running two seperate events as part of the open days.

On Friday evening from 7pm to 8pm we will be hosting a screening of the documentary ‘Ashtanga New York’. For those of you who missed our screening of this in the Happy Pear a few months ago here is another chance to see this great film. The film follows our teacher, the late Shri K. Pattabhi Jois (the guru of Ashtanga yoga) and his family, as they hold two weeks of classes in New York City in September 2001. While there, they witnessed the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre. The film is both an introduction to the world of
Ashtanga Yoga and Pattabhi Jois, and a testament to the power of yoga in
times of great trauma. It was very well received the last time we showed it, so don’t miss it if you have any interest in yoga.

On Saturday morning at 10am we will be running a free introductory class on the fundamentals of Ashtanga Yoga. We will introduce all the main concepts involved in the practice including the specific breathing system (vinyasa), the postures (asana) and focusing the mind through the use of gazing points (drishti). You should leave with an understanding of the basics of Ashtanga, feeling relaxed and invigorated.

There are some yoga mats available at Oscailt but, if you have your own mat, bring it with you. Wear light, comfortable clothing which you are able to move in and be prepared to sweat. Ashtanga Yoga produces heat in the body which is said to purify the blood and bring all the toxins out.

Drop us a quick email through our contact page to let us know if you would like to attend either or both of these events.

For a full list of events at Oscailt’s open days click here.


Mysore Magic – Yoga at the Source

A new documentary, about Yoga at the KPJ Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, has just been released. Sharath showed the film to his students this week at his weekly conference so we can rest assured that it has his approval.

The film has many interviews with students at the Shala, articulating their reasons for travelling around the world to be there, at the source of the Ashtanga Yoga practice. Sharath appears in the film, speaking about his Grandfather Sri K Pattabhi Jois and also a little about ‘what is yoga’. The film-maker (Alex Medin) also interviews other residents of Mysore; officials and historians from the palace where Guruji and Krishnamcharya were teaching and members of the faculty at the Sanskrit College (where Guruji was a professor for many years).

Anytime we get to hear directly from Mysore, and in particular from our teacher Sharath, it is a blessing for us, here, on the other side of the world. It is great to see that Ashtanga Yoga is spreading to many corners of the world and films like this can only help in bringing the worldwide Ashtanga community together.

Watch the trailer or stream/download Mysore Magic – Yoga at the Source


Articles, Blogs and Tweets of the week

This is the first of a weekly roundup of some of the best yoga-related goings-on around the worldwide web.

  • Great notes from Sharath’s conference in Mysore, via Suzanne El-Safty’s blog. Many thanks to her for her great posts.


  • From @ayvic The Sages & Ancient Yogi Seers Knew This before Science could validate it. Youtube


  •  There’s been a storm (in a teacup?) over the last week due to a certain article which appeared in the New York Times. Many teachers have given their responses and @yogadork has kindly collated them all for us here along with a link to the original article.


  • David Robson of the Ashtanga Yoga centre of Toronto wrote a blog about Ujjayi breath, or lack of it. You may be surprised, I was.

 

  • Yoga Stops Traffick is an amazing worlwide event which is coming into its third year. This year it will be taking place on the 10th of March. Make a donation, roll out your mats and join us in 108 sun salutations (or as many as you can manage). You’ll really feel like your making an effort for those less fortunate than yourself. There’s a story from one of the founders of Odanadi here



Saturday is oil-bath day!

Pattabhi Jois always recommended that students of Ashtanga Yoga take an oil-bath on their rest day (usually Saturday). Castor-oil, when applied to the head and body, removes the excess heat from the body. This heat builds up over the week of daily practice and, according to the Ayurvedic tradition, excess heat can cause disease in the body.

The name ‘oil-bath’ can be a little misleading to westerners as it’s not a bath as we would think of it. Rather, the oil is applied to the head and body and later removed in the shower. It is more akin to an Indian-style bucket-bath, but we don’t need to go there in this post.

Kimberley (Kiki) Flynn has written an excellent article on how to do the oil-bath and has even made a couple of videos which I’ve included below, so I won’t go into the details here (she has explained it perfectly already). I should just mention that I have found it impossible to get soap-nut powder and ‘green powder’ in this part of the world, but that pure neem soap works almost as well for removing the oil (almost!).  Please do follow her guidelines on the length of time you leave the oil on for, as this is very important.

If you don’t want to use castor oil then Pattabhi Jois also recommended almond oil, which is a lighter oil and is easier to remove (normal soap is ok for this), but I think the castor-oil, if you can get it, is the best. The process can be a little bit messy but the benefits are really great. Sesame-oil is also recommended by many ayurvedic doctors but that is lighter than almond-oil and is more for daily-use rather than what we are talking about here (removal of excess heat built up over the week). If you do use almond-oil or sesame-oil make sure it’s not the toasted kind.

Castor oil is available at most health food shops as is the neem soap (get the max strength stuff).

Happy oil-bath-day!


A beautiful verse from 2,500 years ago

As the year draws to a close I thought I’d share one of the most beautiful verses from Indian scripture which I have read. This verse comes from the Isa Upanishad, which is part of the Yajur Veda (the Vedas are the oldest of all Indian scripture).

All is perfect, so perfectly perfect!

Whatever being lives, moves

And breathes on Earth

At every level from atom

To galaxy is absolutely perfect in its place

Precise and choreographed,

Because “That” flows from the Glory of the Infinite

The Lord

The Self

Consciousness,

The Source,

Awareness, Peace, and Love,

And is therefore perfect.

When you have surrendered your ego

To “That”

You will find true happiness.

Never ever envy the place of

Any other man or woman

(Translation by Alan Jacobs)


Yoga and the Isle of Man TT races

I watched quite a compelling film yesterday evening; “TT: Closer to the Edge”. You can watch the trailer here but I can just explain the gist of it to you.

It’s a documentary film which follows some of the competitors in the Isle of Man TT races. The TT races are a series of five motorbike races which take place every year around the winding and narrow roads of the Isle of Man at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. A lot of the riders are injured every year and there have been a lot of deaths over the history of the races.

So why do they do it? Well, obviously, it’s thrilling to take your life in your hands. And of course it takes a certain type of personality to decide to dedicate their lives to the sport. But as I was watching, it dawned on me that the attraction these people have to the sport is not just for thrills. No doubt they are ‘adrenaline junkies’ but it goes much deeper than that.

There is certainly, to my mind, an equivalent here to the practice of yoga. On some level the riders are approaching Patanjali’s definition of Yoga.

Yogaś citta vṛtti nirodhaḥ

Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind

(Sūtra I:2)

Let me put it another way, thanks to a translation by TKV Desikachar; “Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively towards an object and sustain focus in that direction without any distractions”.

Whether or not the riders would use that type of terminology is irrelevant. There is a level at which all thought is absent.

In the film “Senna” (about one of the greatest formula 1 racing drivers of all time)  Ayrton Senna relates an experience he had in the Monaco Grand Prix  in 1988, in which  he had built up an enormous lead over his closest rival, “That day I suddenly realised that I was no longer driving it… conscious, and I was in a different dimension. The circuit for me was a tunnel, which I was just going, going, going and I realised I was well beyond my conscious understanding”.

Many sports require such an effort (whether it’s true sheer physical exertion or total concentration) that these experiences can spontaneously come about. The cyclist Sean Kelly comes to my mind, in particular his famous 1985 time trial in the nissan classic. And also snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan’s record-breaking maximum break in just over 5 minutes at the 1997 world championships.

My experience as a musician has given me glimpses of this level of absorption too. One can sometimes completely forget one’s-self and be momentarily caught-up in the in the act of creating something. Many artists, including painters, musicians, authors, playwrights and dancers are compelled to continue with the pursuit of their art in the hope that they can tap into this level of total concentration. It is the process of creating the art, rather than beholding the finished product, that drives the greatest artists.

So what is this state of consciousness?

It could be described as the seventh limb of yoga. Dhyana. That is ‘the state of consciousness in which concentration (dharana) is continuous’. The reason some of us are compelled to seek out these experiences over and over is that they are fleeting. If we could abide in total absorption that would be the blissful state of Samadhi. Through the creation of art or through focussing our minds via sport we are only ever going to get one step below the pinnacle of human consciousness.

The ultimate goal of Yoga practice is a continuous state of Samadhi. If we don’t know what we’re looking for that then how can we achieve it? The riders of the TT races may think that they are thrill seekers but I believe that, actually, they are truth seekers. They are, perhaps unwittingly, tapping into something of the truth about the nature of consciousness and temporarily stopping all conscious thought. They are willing, it seems, to put their lives on the line to do it.


Ashtanga Yoga: The no-frills approach

Sometimes I wonder what people think when I tell them that I practise Yoga. I think very few of them would have a clear picture in their heads of exactly what it is that I do while they are all still sleeping.

It is my guess that the predominant mental picture that people have, is that I do a few stretches and maybe some deep breathing, sniffing incense, sitting serenely, buddha-like, on my yoga mat and chanting Oooooooooommmmmmmmmmm.

The truth is that, actually, that is a small part of yoga practice but it paints a much-too-comfortable picture.

Ashtanga Yoga is hard work.

It’s not all lavender-scented eye-pillows and getting-in-touch-with-your-emotions.

It is not for pampering yourself. The purpose of Yoga is not relaxation. Some days I feel extremely relaxed after practice, some days I don’t.

People tell me that they’d like to try Yoga but they prefer things that are more physical, or that make them fit, or that make them sweat. Let me just say, for the record, that I have run, cycled, rowed, lifted weights and done thousands of sit-ups in my time. Nothing I have done has been more physical than Ashtanga Yoga. Nothing I have done has produced a more profuse sweat than Ashtanga Yoga has. And nothing I have done has matched the physical benefits I have received from this practice.

This yoga method is a method of hard work and discipline, which is designed to result in the purification of body and mind, through the practice of physical postures and breath control. Purification of body and breath in this way leads to the purification of the mind. The ultimate goal of yoga is to escape from the constant mental chatter, which is going on in all of our minds.

Ashtanga Yoga differs from new-agey spirituality because it is based on something that is very real (we could even say mundane); the body. There is nothing wishy-washy about this practice. You either do or don’t do (to paraphrase Yoda). It is not escapism. You are forced to face yourself every day and observe your own reactions. In this way you get to know yourself a little more all the time. When it becomes clear what your habitual thought-processes are then you can begin to see through them towards the true Self (note the capital ‘S’). This, ultimately, is called self-realisation or enlightenment.

Ashtanga Yoga has great physical benefits but that is not the ‘point’ of the practice. Pattabhi Jois said, “This yoga is not for exercise. Yoga is showing where to look for the soul – that is all”.

So the reason for the title of this blog is that I see that yoga is being marketed as the ultimate in relaxation and serenity, and yes that can sometimes be a pleasant by-product of the practice. But do not be completely fooled. In the Ashtanga practice we are encouraged to take the ‘no-frills’ approach.

You will not be told to ‘feel like you are floating like a cloud’ or to ‘feel like their is a rainbow coming out of your chest’ in a traditional Ashtanga class. But what you will receive is an extremely powerful method, which it is then up to you to practice. As Sharath is so fond of saying; “Anyone can practise”. Eddie Stern adds, “Not everyone wants to practise”.

I can only encourage you to get onto your mat every day and see what happens. If you feel like there’s a rainbow coming out of our chest then let me know. I know a good doctor!

John

No frills in Guruji’s old shala in Mysore


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