It’s a moonless sky over Kapsali Bay as I write this. The sky and sea are shades of black and an occasional ship passes through the view carrying a couple of stars to light the vessel up. It’s my unbelievable luck to carry a couple of stars myself and be back here to teach yoga. Since last weekend’s workshops with Beryl Bender Birch I’ve been thinking about how yoga changed my life with what she called its ‘brilliant methodology’ and ‘subtle transformation’. We do yoga to become a little more flexible and it doesn’t occur to us what’s going to happen after we’ve been doing yoga for a short while...
Physical yoga pulls us in but it’s really meditation. What is brilliant about the methodology, Beryl says, is that it is such a subtle transformation. One minute you’re doing the postures but really the training is about learning to pay attention. You’re learning to bring your attention into the present moment.
Beryl Bender Birch is known for inventing Power Yoga and teaching the New York Road Runners club for 22 years. Power Yoga doesn’t mean that you approach yoga like the Incredible Hulk and doesn’t mean a rejection of the non-physical aspects of yoga. It was simply an alternative name to ’Ashtanga’ which she thought would attract no one. Power yoga conveyed that this practice ‘was a strong, sweaty, physical workout, unlike most of what had been presented as hatha yoga in the United States up to that time’. She said of Ashtanga: ‘I believed that there were a lot of tight, stiff, stressed, and searching people who could benefit from this specific method of yoga’.
There are interesting changes she has made to that Ashtanga sequence (she cuts out forward folds where people tend to round the upper spine) but it is still, essentially, the Ashtanga sequence. During class Beryl constantly reminds us to breathe with sound, that Ujjayi breathing turns on the heating mechanism making heat in the body and gets the system heated up. She tells us that ‘Pranayama is not only incorrect, it's impossible without mula bandha.’
And then the philosophy. Here’s an amalgamation of the things Beryl said about yoga: Yoga changes your life when you learn to pay attention and become more mindful. It’s about not becoming a slave to whether you’re comfortable or not comfortable. Think of all the things you do to avoid discomfort which is essential for our journey and contributes to our evolution. Without challenging moments there is no impetus to grow. The definition of yoga given by Patanjali’s second sutra is ‘the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind’. That isn’t really the definition. What Patanjali is saying is that yoga is what happens when you learn to focus your attention. We go to yoga class with tight hamstrings but eventually what drives us is to answer the question who am I?
I’m already here on retreat, doing yoga, running, hanging out in cafes and tavernas! Unless you’re a total last minute-er, you can register your interest for next year. What about May instead of September? Teachers have always complained that they can’t come in September so it’s time to make that change.
If you still want a retreat this year and want to avoid the creeping darkness of the autumn for a little while longer, what about Andy Gill’s retreat in Nepal, 5th -12th October, held in a beautiful Tibetan Buddhist monastery in foothills of the Himalayas! You will become part of a Monastic community for a week, joining monks for morning meditation before Yoga practice. Lovely!
For another week I’m not there to teach so I suggest another The Grove dweller, Savita Khemlani who teaches every Sunday, 11.00-12.15 at Yogi’s Studio, 1 Springbridge Mews, W5 2AB. Your first class is free but email first.
Next weekend I’ll be back from Kythera in time for Kino MacGregor. She’s back all weekend. I’ll go on Sunday 29th of September for ‘the spiritual journey of asana‘ workshop held in the Oval Space near Cambridge Heath, 14:30 - 17:00. Come with me!
Yoga in the News
Right on cue, the telegraph asks: ‘Is Yoga The Key To Becoming A Better Runner?’. Charlie Dark, former globe-trotting DJ and ex-creative writing and poetry teacher, founder of Run Dem Crew running club says: “Yoga is just like running – it’s learning to be comfortable uncomfortable. “Runners need yoga. They need to learn how to be in the present, and that’s exactly what yoga teaches you – to live in the moment, for now.”
“So just like we dedicate our yoga practice to someone or open a vinyasa flow with a mantra – to love more generously, to be kinder, to stay curious, be present – we should also create a ‘run mantra’ to help push us to the finish line, he advises.”
Evening Standard gives us: Somatic yoga is the mindfulness practice burnt-out Londoners are loving. It is apparently ‘designed to reorganise the central nervous system, ground and realign the body and mind’. ‘The Human Method uses somatics and some aspects of Pilates, restorative yoga and yoga Nidra, which is a guided meditation, to kind of wake you up, make you more conscious and have a a really strong powerful practice that’s very in the moment’. Good idea!