Since moving to Dakar in 2012 I had been teaching yoga classes alongside my day job, mainly to expats. I enjoyed it, but at the same time a feeling had been growing inside me. I wanted to share yoga more widely, with people who may never have heard of it or be able to afford a regular class. So in 2013 I went in search of an organisation I had heard of through the grapevine: La Maison Rose (The Pink House), located in Guediawaye, one of the poorest neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Dakar. The founder, Mona Chasserio, is a striking French lady in her 60s, who exudes resilience and a conviction for her lifelong work: she spent 20 years living and supporting women on the streets of Paris, including several years of living on the streets of Paris herself. For Mona, however, this is not so much of a job but a calling. She underwent her own personal transformation in 1988, an ‘awakening’ which has shaped her life’s journey ever since.
One grey Saturday morning in October 2009 we found ourselves in a yoga class, in an unsuspecting living room of an apartment in Putney, South West London. As our first teacher, Diana, tucked us up with a blanket during Savasana and laid an eye pillow on our eyes, we experienced that sense of peace and bliss that draws so many to yoga. At that point we did not know what ‘style’ of yoga we were practising. We just practiced what we were taught and so began our ‘self-practice’ at home, in between our Saturday morning classes. Repetitions of Surya Namaskara A. Learning how to ‘breathe with sound’. As we practised, our curiosity grew. What was this practice we were doing anyway? Ashtanga Vinyasa, Mysore style.
From this point onwards, over the last 5 years, we have been driven by an insatiable desire to learn, to understand and to experience. In particular, we have been drawn to Samahita Retreat in Thailand to study with Diana’s teacher, Paul Dallaghan, now our main teacher. During our first month-long course Paul asked us all: ‘Have you adopted the path of yoga?’ We realised that we were just scratching the surface of the deep layers of yoga philosophy, tradition and practice that there is to explore. It felt both exhilarating and overwhelming at how much there is to learn and experience. Yet a very practical message Paul gave us was the importance of practicing and living with awareness. Perhaps this, we wondered, is the start to ‘adopting the path of yoga’.
Practicing and living with awareness is harder than it sounds. What if you are not aware that you are not being aware? As Paul says, this is why it is called practice. Over a long period of time. There are no short cuts and it certainly cannot be cultivated in a 200 hour teacher training course! The journey is life-long and not always a comfortable one. Our daily meditation, pranayama and asana practice is our ‘practice’ for becoming more aware of ourselves, our natural tendencies, the patterns of the mind and our conditioned thinking. We are learning more and more that practice is also about being gentle with yourself and cultivating self-acceptance rather than reinforcing negative patterns that keep you feeling stuck. Teachers often say that what comes up on your yoga mat is a reflection of what is going on in your life. It is very true if you are willing to listen! So these practices are one way of cultivating an open attitude of enquiry where you are the object of ‘research.’ Then it is up to you what you do with your research ‘findings.’ Hopefully this will involve living a more balanced life, in harmony with yourself and others.
As we sit here looking out at Ubud’s luscious green ricefields, it seems almost unreal that we were in India just a week ago. Not just any old place in India, but Mysore. Magical Mysore, the ‘source’ of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga: the place where Sri T. Krishnamarcharya, the ‘father of modern yoga’ taught at the Sanskrit College and established a yoga shala at the Jaganmohan palace under the patronage of the Maharaja in the 1930s.The place where Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, otherwise affectionately known as Guruji, studied yoga with his Guru Krishnamarcharya in 1927 and who went on to be a Professor at the Sanskrit college of the Mysore Palace until 1973. The place where Guruji then dedicated the remainder of his life from 1974 until his passing in 2009 to teach the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga in his home, the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, first in the neighbourhood of Lakshmipuram then moving to the neighbourhood of Gokulam, to a larger Shala, as the number of international students wanting to practice with him rocketed. The place where Sharath Jois, Guruji’s grandson, now heads up the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, with support from his mother, Saraswati, and to where thousands of students continue to flock each year for the ‘season’ which usually runs from October to March.
…Did that catch your attention? It certainly caught ours. Written by senior Ashtanga practitioner and teacher Anthony 'Prem' Carlisi, this spiritual memoir explores the synergies between the practices of Ashtanga yoga, Ayurveda and Tantra as seen through his eyes. As well as being an honest and entertaining account of his personal journey, a main theme is how the practical application of these practices can help to make sense of and deal with the rollercoaster of life. A few years after first discovering Prem’s book, we met a couple of people on our teacher training course at Samahita Retreat in 2013 who had been to study with Prem and his wife Radha in Bali, piquing our curiosity even further.
We first heard of Sivananda Yoga whilst living in London in 2005. As fate would have it, the Sivananda London Centre was just 15 minutes’ walk from our apartment, down the path along the river Thames, through leafy Wandsworth Park and on into the Putney ghetto, Southwest London. After picking up a leaflet from an earnest volunteer at Putney station (where we took the train most mornings), we decided to attend an Open Day at the centre to find out what was actually on offer. We walked with anticipation into the brightly lit shop, with countless books on yoga lining the shelves, incense filling the air and statues of Hindu deities dotted around. There was a kitchen out back, where people were milling around in warm woolly socks and loose white trousers, hands occupied with bowls of hearty steaming soup. Those who looked like they knew the ropes were all dressed in yellow t-shirts and white trousers. None of the figure-hugging, stylish yoga pants around here. The practice room was light and airy. Large images of two enigmatic-looking Indian men stared down on us. Who were they we wondered?
Our journey to where? Is Samahita a far off distant land, a place that people only dream of, like in the film ‘The Beach’? Or perhaps it is not a place but rather a state of mind, a state of being. Just as Leonardo DiCaprio tells us in the film, it’s how you feel for a moment inside, and once you have found it, it will last forever. In its direct translation from Sanskrit, Samahita means balanced or centred – but can this feeling last forever?
It is 6:00 a.m. The sky is still dark and peppered with stars. In the distance, we hear the call to prayer drifting over the rooftops from the fisherman's village of N'gor towards our open windows. While a single candle flickers, we sit quietly, as we do every morning.
Before we begin our daily yoga practice, we start by opening our day, to offer gratitude and compassion and to ask for guidance. We have been doing this for almost four years now, a simple yet powerful practice that was shared with us by our teacher Paul Dallaghan (and which we have slightly adapted), when we first visited his retreat centre in Thailand in 2010.
As the year draws to a close, and our ‘blog’ page sits empty and hungry for content, we felt it was time to share some of our thoughts and reflections.