At that point we did not know what ‘style’ of yoga we were practising. We just did what our teacher asked. So began our ‘self-practice’ at home, in between our Saturday morning classes. Repetitions of Surya Namaskara A, the Sun Salutations. Trying to remember the Vinyasa count; what breath comes with which movement. Learning how to ‘breathe with sound’; using the Ujjayi technique. First hearing about Bandhas; still in the process of trying to understand and activate them. As we practised, our curiosity grew. What was this practice we were doing anyway? The response: Ashtanga Vinyasa. Mysore style.
So the story goes, the Ashtanga Vinyasa system has its basis in an ancient text called the Yoga Korunta written by the sage Vamana Rishi. This text was orally imparted to and memorised by Sri T. Krishnamacharya (credited as a key figure in reviving the practices of Hatha Yoga) in the early 1900s by his Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari and was later transmitted to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in the 1920s and 1930s. Based on Krishnamacharya’s sequencing of asanas, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois created a 4 year curriculum (grouping asanas into set sequences) which became known as the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga system. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is traditionally taught in ‘Mysore Style’, named after the city in India in which it was developed and taught. It is a supervised self-practice where each student moves through a specific set sequence of postures at his or her own pace and level, as directed and supported by the teacher. Following the passing of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in 2009, his grandson, R. Sharath Jois, who trained with his grandfather for 19 years, has taken over the running of the Shala in Mysore.
Our curiosity grew and we began to go a little deeper into the practice – it didn’t take us long to ask our teacher Diana where we might be able to go to immerse ourselves in the practice a little more. So in April 2010 and 2011 we found ourselves checking in to Samahita Retreat in Thailand, for a week-long retreat with its founder, Paul Dallaghan – our teacher’s teacher and, now our teacher! So in this case Samahita was the destination as well as the journey after all…. Fast forward a few years on to May 2013 and we found ourselves at Samahita Retreat again, this time for a month long teacher training course. ‘Have you adopted the path of yoga?’ was one of the first questions we were asked by Paul. We knew we were certainly diving deeper into the yogic path but had we really adopted it?
Our preparatory reading for the teacher training course with texts such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Maharishi (otherwise known as Pat O’Anjali, the great Irish sage – bit of humour courtesy of our Irish teacher, Paul) and the Bhagavad Gita planted further seeds of curiosity in our minds and hearts. Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah states the second sutra of the Yoga Sutras: Yoga is channelling the thought waves of the mind stuff. Hmm, why would you want to do that? And how do you go about it? Once the thought waves are channelled, the third sutra states: Tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam, meaning that the Seer (i.e. you and me) will be able to abide in his or her true nature and realise the essence of the Self (soul). Clear? Not really – and that’s exactly why a good teacher is essential to help guide us through these philosophical questions, and how they relate to our day-to-day lives. It also makes it very clear that yoga is far more than slipping into the latest Lululemon leggings and performing gravity-defying postures – it’s a journey within, a development of our awareness and mindfulness, an opportunity to dive deeper into the very mysteries of existence itself.
As well as connecting more deeply with the teachings of yoga, we were blessed with outstanding teachers, and in meeting people from all over the world who had committed to learn more about the practise of yoga, in the beautiful setting of Samahita Retreat. It was certainly an intense month – daily Mysore practice followed by an entire afternoon of philosophy, anatomy and ‘how to teach’ lectures and practical demonstrations. If you are anything like us, and most other westerners, unused to sitting on the floor for hours at a time, it was a great opportunity to ‘connect’ with your knees and hips who initially protested quite loudly! It is amazing how the mind and body adapts to a new routine though, as if this is how you have always been living. The challenge is continuing this mind and body practice once you leave the structure of a retreat setting. This started immediately after we left Samahita Retreat at Dubai airport. A fond memory is of our last goodbyes to two friends Hemma and Andrea, sitting on the floor amidst the hustle and bustle, quietly doing our pranayama practice.
During the course we realised how we were just scratching the surface of the deep layers of yoga philosophy, tradition and practice. Yet in spite of this sometimes overwhelming feeling of how much there is to learn and experience, a very practical message Paul gave us was the importance of practicing and living with awareness - maybe this is how we can start ‘adopting the path of yoga’. Everyone is on their own journey to Samahita: to find balance; to find meaning; to feel connected; to be part of a community. We are grateful for our journey and for being able to share it with you.
Love Catherine & Ewan x
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti-i
To find your way to Samahita Retreat, check out this website: http://www.samahitaretreat.com/