The Vinyasa of compassion

April 16, 2018

It's going to be 6 very long weeks until I can get back on my mat at home or AYL. instead of being on my mat next Sunday I'll be waking up after having had this annoying cataract removed from my left eye the day before. No raising blood pressure, nothing dusty, no inversions, no dropbacks, no fun.

It felt like I had to make the most of yesterday's practice, wanting it to be a good one, enjoying each posture, well as much as one can enjoy Navasana! Ustrasana, my last posture twice, wonderfully supported dropbacks with Emma. Well wishes from my teachers.

AYL is the one place where I can leave behind the stress of home, Mum in hospital with a fractured pelvis, Dad at home with dementia, alas I can't escape the effects of the cataract. I'll miss the heat, energy and friendly smiles for the weeks I'm away, I'll really miss Louise and Emma's support.

It was a good last Sunday, instead of the usual croissant and head home, we had yogi breakfast before we returned for Conference with Hamish. As C said later it's as if this conference was for me, H talked about the difference between empathy and compassion. Compassion for others when it's difficult and compassion for yourself. Life at home is very difficult, finding compassion for my Dad when he nearly blew the house up leaving the gas on or flooding the place leaving the kitchen tap running all night. The enforced 6 week hiatus will be compassion for myself, despite potentially going stir crazy, or even "postal" as a certain kale loving New York yogini said. Hopefully in those weeks I'll be able to read books and newspapers again, which I haven't been able to do for a few months. Louise made us laugh when she said she didn't have compassion for the perpetrator of sausagegate!

H also talked about the no new postures on a Tuesday rule, how it's there to protect teachers and students from the powerful effects of Mars, though apparently it's ok to have new students on a Tuesday and give them a posture or two! Apparently according to Guruji there's a colour for each day, someone had actually asked.

Pret will no doubt notice the drop in income for the next 6 weeks, I'll be keeping a connection at the local shala by assisting on Saturdays, well holding up the odd leg in UHP and rescuing those beached in Gharba.

So here's to compassion for all and clear vision for me.


Now I have an excuse

March 19, 2018

Now I have an excuse, or a reason at least for not judging dropback landings, crashed one yesterday, and for walking in to glass doors.

I've been struggling reading small print, newspapers etc for quite a while, probably 6 months or more when I think about it, but I've got away with it by reading on my IPad where I can make the text MUCH BiGGER. I was due my bi annual eye test in January, but had put it off to let the concussion settle down. Well last week I had the test and found that the tiny, irrelevant cataract of two years ago now covers a much bigger proportion of my left eye. This explains the vision problems, depth perception, watering eyes and splitting headaches by the end of the day. The constant sensation I had started to have of a misty outlook, that I expected to be able to clear by blinking, but can't.

The deterioration measured by the test is massive, I've gone from -1.5 when i had the glasses made in Mysore in 2011, to -3.5 in 2015 to -7 , which my optician told me isn't really practical to correct with a lens and if she did the lens probably wouldn't last long against the deterioration.

So now I have to make a choice, a 6 month wait for the NHS to get around to treating me and my vision getting worse, or bite the bullet and pay to probably see the same NHS Consultant privately in weeks.

In the mean time I've abandoned buying newspapers, I've got a magnifier for reading the book I'm trying to get through and after that it will be back to the iPad to enlarge everything.

Frustrations and Miracles

March 3, 2018

Since I returned from Dena I've been forced to practice early mornings in the cold just to get a practice. My elderly parents are becoming a lot of work, Mum broke her pelvis while I was away and Dad's dimentia mean I'm running around between the 2 and going to work inbetween. I'm too tired to practice in the evenings which is my usual habit.

Practice happens, I force myself to get up at 5:30 and by 7:15 I'm on closing, although most of the postures come once I'm warmed a little, Urdva Dhanurasana at that time of day is torture, I've lost the ability and flexibility in my upper back to be able to walk my hands in, which in turn assists my dropback attempts. Anyone else have this backbend problem in the cold mornings, what do you do to help it?

On the plus side a miracle seems to have occurred with Baddha Padmasana. I've never ever never been anywhere near binding that, even after the 2011 Sepsis thing when I wasn't much more than a skeleton I couldn't bind that. While I was at Dena's I watched someone get in to Baddha Padmasana by twisting deeply and bending forward, grabbing one side, then bringing arm two around. So I gave it a try and after a few days of trying alternating the first side grab I have managed to bind, ok side one is a good grab and side two is hanging on to a couple of toes, but I was almost in shock when I had both sides.


February 22, 2018

The Ashtanga community is a global entity today that has evolved from tiny groups of practitioners coming together in small spaces when the pioneers first returned from India and the birth of cyberspace, from the days of the old Ezyboard with its basic green face, where we all had pseudonyms (KFCKEV in case you were wondering), through the start of the blogs on to the Facebook and Instagram world we inhabit now, practising in large corporate studios, but thankfully also the more homely Shala's like AYL and Dena's.

But for all that often distances us physically we are a growing community who share so much in common and just occasionally we manage to get together and meet on our mats far from home, for me I've met a lot of people in Mysore, Karen (aka Donutszenmom), Angela (Inside Owl), Katie (aspiring yogini) to name but a few. So here I am 10,000 miles and 11 time zones from AYL and I practised in a led class last Friday with friends from Germany, UK, Australia and the USA.

I've followed Ashtanga Dispatch virtually from its birth, exchanging occasional emails with Peg, reading physical and online copies of the magazine, the email newsletters and enjoying listening to the podcast interviews. You often, well I do anyway, wonder if people are really like "that" in real life or whether their online persona is an act. Well I can say Peg is just as fun, nice and engaging and great to be around in real life. She joked that she had just come from swimming in this photo, rather than just sweated through a 2 hour practice in an Aussie sauna! And her humbleness extends to delivering her teachers shoes 5000 miles across the Pacific.

The last two weeks have been a chance to just practice without aims, to be able to take my time, enjoy the heat, struggle with the humidity and not feel a pressure to perform while I'm actually at a shala every day, rather than that precious once or twice a week as is the norm where I want it to be a "good one". Coming here is definitely good for my soul, I just hope I don't have to wait another 7 years until I can come back, Mysore was something I loved and enjoyed, but coming to Dena's Shala feels nurturing in a way that Mysore never can be.

I remember 2006, that first 2 week intensive in Bali with Dena, on the last day it felt like being let out of school, freedom, but every time since then, be it Bali, Hamburg, Berlin, Stockholm or Byron Bay it feels like someone is forcing me out of a place that I want to stay in, that I know is both physically and mentally good for me. I may not have any plans to return to Mysore, but I can tell Peg that she isn't the only one already trying to make plans for a return to this beautiful place.

Byron Bay off the Mat

February 20, 2018

Practice has fluctuated, some days there's a fluidity in the body in this humidity, some days it's been like wading through treacle, asanas like the backbends I expected would be easier in the heat, but they haven't been, the twists Marichy D and Pasasana have been way better than they are in cold Europe. One day I shocked myself by managing to half bind myself in Baddha Padmasana, left fingers gripping, right fingers touching the toes, I've never been that near, ever! On days when there has been a breeze in the Shala practice has seemed physically easier, when there's no breeze the humid air saps the energy out of me. I also seem to be slower than most people at the 10am and have been last to finish quite often, today Annette was waiting to mop the floor when I dragged myself up from Savasana, though maybe being mopped wouldn't have been so bad.

Torakina beach Brunswick Heads

Off the mat I've really enjoyed being here, I met up with fellow blogger Susie GB and she took me exploring Brunswick Heads.

Can I fit one in my suitcase

I took a wildlife tour and met sleepy, cute Koala's, evil looking flying foxes and the many Kangaroos.

Wategose Beach

I've loved walking along the beaches, Wategose is beautiful, I'm staying near Main beach which has a view of the Lighthouse at sunrise. Finally today I made it to the top of the Lighthouse, stunning views and a really interesting tour, oh and we saw Dolphins.

Minyon Falls is pretty special after a hike through the forest

Sunset drumming circle

So it's not all been about Yoga, despite this being a Mecca for many Ashtanga's and the reason I chose to come here, it's also because it has a lot else going on, lots to see and it's easy to just "be" here. If I had the odd £5million laying around I could quite happily live here.

By Invitation

February 16, 2018

I knew before I arrived that Dena was teaching one of her "intensives" and that I would be practicing in the open to the public 10am class, taught by Emma and Jack. I also knew that it was pretty likely that Dena would be doing her own practice in the 10am, after the intensive students had gone home. And so it has been, so although technically Dena hasn't been the teacher I know she's been keeping an eye on my practice.

I have arrived each morning as the "intensives" have been coming out, sweat drenched from the sauna like heat inside the shala, by this time the sun is up and the outside temperature is in the 80's. it's a bit of a reunion, global Yoga friends, Andrea and Annette from Germany, Sophie, Helen and Ella from Dorset, Susi, Dena and Jack from this place, they come out, we go in.

And finally getting to meet Peg Mulqueen in the real world after years of chatting online via blogs and ashtanga dispatch, I'm now the proud owner of an ashtanga dispatch top. Thanks Peg.

I've found the heat not as helpful as I'd hoped, to be honest my dropbacks must have forgotten to get on the plane, but binding Pasasana is now easy, I think I've sweated away whatever was previously in the way! There's no need for spray bottles for Gharba, as Jack put it the other day "if you need the spray bottle in this heat you are doing something wrong!". Dena has had me using a stool device for Headstand after she heard about my concussion, I'm still being careful. It's not so much the heat, it's the humidity that's the killer, my t-shirt is 4 times heavier by the time I finish, I seem to run out of energy after Supta K, but cling on and keep going to Ustrasana. Despite all that's happened since last time I practised in Dena's Shala, surgery, illness and accidents my practice has come a long way, doing intermediate in this place feels a long way from then.

Shala dog Loki.

The "Intensive" is full, Dena has taken it off her website it's so over subscribed, but sometimes she lets other people lay their mat in that class. Yesterday she invited me to practice in today's 6:30am Led class. Being invited to join is special, a privilege, it's a gift, she said it was my birthday present! She knows when my birthday is, it's 2 weeks after hers, same month, born in the same year.

The class began with pranayama, before a counted on the breath full primary, the room has that energy and silent, powerful movement, a concentration and focus as we start in the darkness and finish with bright sunshine. It's a joy to be taken through the practice by Dena, after 20 years her words still resonate and speak to me like no other teachers ever have. Her words are not just about the physicality of the practice, but what this practice does for us off the mat, how we are, how we feel, how we are with others.

7 years later

February 12, 2018

It's 7 years since I walked through this gate down a suburban street on the outskirts of Byron Bay. Beyond the gate the stone path leads you to the wooden steps and through the sliding door in to the peace of Dena's Shala, though before I got more than a few steps along the path Dena was welcoming me back. There is no doubt that this place is special and it's thanks to randomly meeting Dena over 20 years ago that this practice has become integral to my existence.

This month Dena is running one of her month long "intensives" , so I'm in the 10am class with just a handful of people. The 10am is taught by Emma or Jack, so I'm not directly under Dena's teaching, however Dena does her own practice in this class and I know she had an eye on everyone, I suppose when you're that good you probably have dual drishte!

My first full practice since I swapped temperatures below freezing and snow as I left home, for the sweltering tropical heat of Australia. The heat in the Shala makes AYL feel temperate by comparison, though the "intensive" group had heated the shala up, so it wasn't just the ambient heat. The windows are open, the breeze ripples the curtains and the usual London din of drunks singing and sirens screaming is replaced by just the birds singing.

It's easy to practice when it's this warm, though energy sapping. There's a fluidity despite nearly a week off and some lingering jet lag, it's also like AYL in that you know whoever is teaching will be consistent and good, Emma is excellent, straightening my feet in some of the standing poses. A super squash in Kurmasana which made doing Supta K on my own easy. Gharba in the tropics does not involve scouring the room for a working spray bottle, there are rivers running from places I didn't know I had places.

I thought about stopping at the end of primary as I did on Saturday, fresh off the plane and tired, but thought ok I'll try Pasasana and see how it goes, Emma's Pasasana binding technique is very supportive and bound easily despite a week since the last one. The fun starts in Urdva Dhanurasana, my rug is a wet, slippery skate park, my dodgy left arm can't keep enough downward pressure before it slides out from under me, somehow I get vertical 3 times before standing and starting my hangbacks. After a couple Emma comes over and stops me, my upper back is too rigid and I'm feeling it all go in to my lower back, so she has me do the cross arm assisted deep hangs, as I come up from the 3rd one I realize Dena is standing behind us watching, she nods and walks off to get changed, then gives me a wave and see you tomorrow as she leaves us to do closing.

It's good to be back, I feel comfortable in this space, it's different to dropping in to random Shala's on vacation, I know where everything is, there's no pressure from within or without, oh and there's a new cafe on the walk back to town that does an excellent post practice chocolate croissant!

Mind the (glass) door

January 19, 2018

It's that time of year, there I was welcomed back to AYL a week early thinking I'm getting a head start with practice for 2018. Ho hum, then a week ago I went to grab my probiotics from the health food store, it was a really dark, wet morning and I remember putting my hand out to pull the door, then suddenly and this is all supposition, I thought the door was already open because of the bright yellow decor and light and wham, I literally walked head first, smack in to a glass door breaking it, I later discovered a push chair had already damaged it earlier that morning. I ended up on my knees on the floor of the shop before realizing people were trying to get me on to a chair. Let's do the concussionasana.

After a little while to recover I carried on my day, even if the day was a bit dizzy, nauseous and generally dazed accompanied by a dull headache and a lump on my forehead . I even went to Yoga at the local Shala and AYL in the following days, though missing out a chunk of the closing inversions. I was hoping this would quickly pass, after all I've crashed plenty of dropbacks on my head over the years and managed to avoid concussion.

This week I've walked in to things, misjudged things and still had dizziness and headache, so after some encouragement (nagging) from a friend who is a trauma nurse I went to see my GP. She checked me over, said I have concussion and it could last a couple of weeks, but otherwise I'm not showing any of the red flags in adult concussion that would get me a trip to A&E, vomiting, memory loss, though she said it's common not to be able to recall exactly what happened. Her parting shot, just to prove GP's do have a sense of humor, was to say it was my fault for going to a health food store, ha ha!!

The lump has gone down, but 8 days later I'm left with a continual dull ache and intermittent dizziness, my problem being that my stomach can't tolerate paracetamol, Nurofen or any other drug that my guts have to take part in processing, so if anyone has any ideas beyond ice cubes of something I can rub on my head to give this headache some help feel free to leave a comment.

Failing that I think I need one of these for dropbacks!

Places that make me happy

January 8, 2018

Yoga, as a Therapist I saw said, is what makes you happy and keeps the wheels of life pointing roughly in the right direction. She wasn't wrong. It's not just the physical practice, but also the places where I practice and the community of practitioners I share this practice with. When Louise sent an email last Friday night to say the Sunday class would begin again on Sunday, a week early I couldn't have been happier.

AYL is one of the three places that without fail give me the space physically and mentally to practice, to find a peace, quiet and stillness I just can't find elsewhere, just walking through the door yesterday felt as good as opening my own front door. Familiar faces mouthing "Happy New Year". Practice followed by a long, chatty breakfast over tea and pastries.

Mysore is obviously a place I would like to return to at some point, but having been twice I just don't feel the pull at the moment, plus it's getting harder and harder to get a place when it is open. Practicing in a room of 70 people does have an energy all its own, but there's just something it doesn't have that AYL does, despite being surrounded by yogis.

There is another place tucked away down a suburban street in Byron Bay, the Shala of probably the biggest influence on my practice, Dena Kingsberg. This place is every bit as special in its welcome and homeliness as AYL. I last walked through the little wooden gate and up the steps through the glass patio doors 7 and a bit years ago. That time Dena greeted me with "welcome home". I asked her years ago should I go to Mysore or should I go to you. She told me there would always be a space for me at her Shala, but that I should go to Mysore and experience its differentness. Ironically I actually ended up in Byron before I had the chance to go to Mysore, I've been to Mysore twice since Byron, I've experienced what Dena talked about, but as I'm not chasing postures or authorization I almost feel like I've got what I can from the differentness that Mysore offers and I'm now at a different place mentally and physically in my practice.

It's been 7 years and now the world has conspired to give me the chance at last to return, I've got over 3 weeks of vacation days to take, Bali was plan A, but having been caught up in the issues of that Icelandic volcano a few years ago, I've no wish to get stuck in Bali, beautiful and cheap though it may be. So in a little over a month I will get to lay my mat in that room again and spend afternoons watching dolphins from the Lighthouse and dip my toes in the sea, no I still can't swim and there are too many bloody sharks in those waters to risk anything more than a toe.


November 11, 2017

It's over a year since I last did a workshop, Harmony in Bristol. I used to be like a kid in a sweet shop doing workshops with all and sundry. One of the first was with Louisa Sear, I was so far out of my depth I almost did a runner during the lunch break and I've still no idea how I got home I was so shattered. I do remember the next morning when my legs refused to take me back downstairs and I pulled a sickie!

I've become a lot more discerning, especially since the fracture and all that's followed, the odd one with Kino, though her workshops are just too crowded with her instagram followers these days. Harmony's was excellent, it was a small group and everyone gained a lot from it. I've got to a point where I don't want specific backbend or twist workshops, I like my practice with Louise at AYL, I just don't feel the need. Workshops have also become VERY EXPENSIVE, especially at studios like Triyoga, who are hosting Annie Pace in the new year, but a room of 60+ at those prices, no thank you.

Dena Kingsberg is the one exception, despite having known Dena over 20 years now, I always feel I come away with something, not always about asana either, some of her subtlest comments resonate far more deeply about our lives off the mat.

Last night I heard that the wonderful Panterhai Shala in Hamburg is closing its doors for good. I've practiced there with Dena every couple of years, something I hoped to do again in 2018.

I checked Dena's website hoping to see Berlin or perhaps Stockholm, 2 other places I've practiced with her over the years, but no. Then suddenly I scan again and see she's in Edinburgh in July, I know she's done stuff there before, but it's only been the odd day or weekend. This time it's a weekend and week long Mysore, I hit register and pay.