The endless debate- do you have to go to India to learn Yoga? No you don’t. Everything is within you, given time you could become an accomplished Yogi without even a book come to that. That said, going to India is always going to be romantic.
A whole month in Rishikesh- what a privilege. The Yoga Capital of the world. And it is so beautiful. When you walk over the bridge you could be walking through a painted backdrop of Heaven. I spent a month just working on my own Ashtanga practice with the teacher Louise Ellis. Who glows as only someone who doesn’t allow themselves to stagnate in their own practice or study can. She is one of the relatively few women accredited to teach by Pattabhi Jois and her teaching style is classical- little interference and low key which was exactly where I needed to be in this month.
The Ashtanga practice is, for me, a Yoga practice that works in ways others have not, again, that is just in my experience. There is an austerity to the practice, a Zen like quality of doing the same thing day in day out, nearly getting to where you think you want to be and then it all goes to Hell and you get frustrated and flounce off to ‘Vinyasa Flow’ but Ashtanga calls you back. And this last month I practiced more intensely than I have in too long and remembered why I love it. Louise did some afternoon Yin classes where she would talk about aspects of the Ashtanga practice. Like the frustration you can feel. And she said two things that stayed with me. One, that sometimes when nothing seems to be changing, change is still happening, just because its not the change you want its still there, still happening and sometimes its your attitude to the practice that needs to change. Two, that you can disengage with your thoughts using this imagery- of diving beneath your thoughts- like going underwater. And it works.
When you stop worrying and just practice with love, things seem to come together. When you do your practice like a prayer, in thanks, and endeavour to get back to source- to disconnect with your monkey mind and practice without the burden of your thoughts and situations, which, in the great scheme of things, are not so important, it feels different. If you have a dedicated self practice, no teacher, this occurs over time. Its not an accumulation of circus tricks like some people seem to think. Its more of a letting go of everything that prevents you. Sometimes when I am doing my asana practice I think of a fresh dead body- before rigor mortis sets in you could pretty much bend it any which way because the personality is no longer there to inhibit the motion. Hatha Yoga comes from the Tantric mindset- that is, body and mind are the same. Our bodies are to some extent a manifestation of our experiences and beliefs just as our personalities are. Hence the emphasis on treating the body with respect, as it is your channel, the instrument with which you can experience the true beyond. And just as religious dogma hinders true spirituality, being stuck in physical/mental patterning inhibits true soul growth. You have to let go of being stuck in a linear mindset and just surrender.
It feels as if I was there for about three months rather than four weeks. And its funny, I don’t think I travelled there with any particular agenda other than to work on my practice, and to meditate, as since early this year in the dark of winter both seemed to lapse and sometimes you get stuck in a wheel of bad habits, like TV, not enough sleep, and its hard to break out of. And taking responsibility for your own health can be a tough one, especially when your human need to socialize doesn’t necessarily sit will with your greater need for space, for practice. Though this was my shortest trip I feel like I’ve learned the most this time.
I was practicing every day and meditating most days, sometimes for 20 minutes, sometimes for an hour and a half. Something about the place. Definitely theres something about the place that makes the recounting of events there without sounding like some Woodstock throwback entirely impossible. I mean, take Shiva, the archetype of him, the stories of him. You feel him in every corner, every tree, every piece of woodland, in the smoke curling skywards from every roadside chillum. The way you can always hear music. The forked white markings in the hillsides. The motorbikes thundering across flimsy bridges. Shiva Lingums everywhere.
I went into a Shiva temple in the last week and it was terrifying. Something about it- I felt like I was walking into a space where really, anything could happen. The statues were on the verge of life and I felt that if I had touched one it would have burned me or something. And this thick thick stillness of the darkest air. This cool and womb like space. And this encapsulates the essence of Shiva- this stillness, this witnessing. The notion of Shiva-Shakti is of course something I am familiar with as a Yoga student, but I never really took it on board that much. And what is interesting is that Shiva, generally accepted as ‘male’ is the stillness and Shakti, the ‘feminine’ dynamism which is the opposite of the archetypes of Western religious thought. And yet I can’t help but think likening these elements to gender roles at all is clumsy and certainly I have met people who use these ideas like coatpegs to hang their egos off. I was talking to some local guys in the last week and we were having a long debate about the nature of this world, the beyond, life, death rebirth, moksha, samsara etc etc… light stuff… and I mentioned that I wouldn’t mind coming back here time and again because life can be so much fun, sensual pleasures, dramas, beauty, etc etc and Ravi said “Well you see, thats Shakti…”. And then I thought of that Thea Gilmore song where she sings “I’m the song and You’re the Radio”, and that could be Shakti the song and Shiva the radio…
I also bathed in the Ganges nearly every day. Which got nicer and nicer as the weather got hotter and hotter. My friend Jane was here and we had a little Beltane celebration here for the fire festival and then a bit of a dance around a Vedic fire that evening. And it is fire in the belly that Ashtanga develops. It is the deepest cleanse. Or you could see your body/energy system as something that sometimes needs to be burned to allow the regrowth to occur as the cornfields are burned. When I started the Ashtanga practice regularly my relationship broke down, my life as it was finished. I was so gutted back then but what has taken over is greener and more beautiful. But you can never rush these things.
What else? Oh, so much. I befriended a slightly dissolute Vaishnavite monk who was just adorable and made me laugh so much. He really inspired me to make some changes too. And I read some more Tantras and made a start on the excellent book on Tantra by Andre Van Lysebeth. Well worth reading, it is wonderful. I discovered that papayas are one of the best and healthiest alkalizing foods you can put in your body. And on my last day I had the privilege of a one on one class with Fernando, a beautiful Italian Yogi who adjusted me all the way through the Primary Series in the deepest practice of my life. And now I am home my self practice has a new depth.
So for Ashtanga classes in Sheffield, at weekends, watch this space- 90 minutes of asana practice, followed by half an hour of guided meditations.Starting in August 2012. For all levels- please email me through the contact section of this site for details..