Unconditional By: Cara Unrue

My husband has been practicing regularly for a few months now, and he keeps saying things like, “I’m sorry, I am just not having these profound internal experiences that all of you seem to have...”, and yes, there can be times of great emotional release, and self discovery.  But more often, the yoga simply provides a feeling of unconditional love and support.  No matter what condition you show up in, the yoga will support you through whatever you need.  Now of course, this is essentially self love, which can be difficult for most people.  Whether you’re dealing with addiction, mental illness, trauma, or simply showing up to live a healthier life, yoga will support you through all of it.  I’ve suffered from major depression for my entire adult life, and I often experience periods of time that seem hopeless.  This past month has been particularly difficult, and I’ve found it hard to make it through my practice.  With whatever strength I could muster, I made it most days.  Albeit difficult, showing up at the top of my mat was essentially giving myself a big, loving hug.  The yoga held me through the roughest patches, and carried me through to the other side.  Of course this isn’t magic or mysticism, this is simply a practice where in the darkest times, you are shown the strength that is still within yourself.

 

With all of that being said, studying yoga at Ashtanga Yoga Columbus provides all of those gifts, but with so much more.  The system is set, and teachers guide you through each step of the way.  This means more than giving instruction on postures.  This is meeting someone face to face each day who begins to develop a deeper connection with the student.  In practice, we reveal our true nature.  There’s no faking, which means your yoga teachers can truly see where you are in practice and in life.  And just like the yoga itself, the teachers support the students unconditionally.  When you receive this type of support, it transcends the practice, and makes changes to who you are even off of the mat.  Both the students and the teachers at AYC are entirely welcoming, and from the first day that you walk into the shala, you can feel that.  Every person in the room is acknowledged, cared for, and accepted just as they are.  This level of unwavering kindness is given to each student and teacher, regardless of age, race, financial situation, etc… there is a place everyone.  Last week my teacher was having a hard time, so instead of teaching he came to his mat to practice along side of the students, being held up by the same immense kindness that he shows on a daily basis. And he was, of course, supported, unconditionally.

 

We live in a world that is wrought with hate, injustice, and fear.  Often times the negative voices in our heads are louder than the positive ones. It is so very uplifting and heartwarming to not only take shelter on my mat, but to also have a group of people that hold that space for each other.  True human kindness offered unconditionally to one and other.  It’s truly unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

Trusting the Process is Part of the Process By: Cara Unrue

The pursuit of asana vs. the pursuit of wisdom. Does letting go of ego come naturally with age?  It is something that can be taught?  Or is it something that can only be learned through experience?  Yoga is the ultimate metaphor for life, and this topic has been omnipresent in both my personal practice, as well as through my experience as a teacher. I've struggled with writing on this topic for a while now, mainly because I am without answers. There is a fear of sounding self-important, but I don't claim to have the knowledge.  These are simply musings and observations as a student of Ashtanga yoga. 
 

Recently I attended an out of town workshop for "advanced practitioners".  That is absolutely a very subjective term, but according to their guidelines, I met the prerequisites.  Having only been taught Ashtanga for the last several months, being back in this type of environment stirred up all sorts of thoughts of different reasons people practice yoga.  This was a workshop where the teacher mainly "performed", and student's watched.  When it was time for us to "try", I saw people being put into postures that they clearly didn't have any business being in.  It was not safe in my opinion.  There were also the types that would wait until everyone had tried, then do the posture, to make sure that everyone saw that they could in fact do these "advanced" asanas.  Another place that I saw this behavior, and still do is with bright eyed and strong willed teacher trainees.  I will never forget as I sat in class working toward my TT certificate, a lovely young lady stood up and asked the class, "Do you have any idea how hard it is to be a 'level 3' yogi?  Everyone is always judging you for being so advanced in your practice." At the time I thought, "wow, that must be hard..." but in retrospect, what is a "level 3" yogi?  And if they are that, what are they doing in teacher training in Columbus Ohio? How many levels does yoga have?  Is it like a video game?  

 

Fast forward a few years, and I now teach a beginner level vinyasa class that teacher trainees must attend for their certificate.  I can give a 10 minute speech on "emptying one's cup", and "always have a beginner mindset", but without fail, there will always be at least one who insists on pushing a posture to THE most advanced place they can take it.  Who benefits from this display?  Me as the teacher? No, I certainly appreciate humility over boastfulness.  The other "true" beginners in the room?  No, they are being made to feel not good enough for even a beginner class now because "obviously" they should be able to do these things too.  They are serving their ego. Practicing for the performance and admiration... but for who?  At the end of the day, is this a display of strength, or is it a display of insecurity?  Realistically, as these yogis mature, they will inevitably look back and not be proud of this behavior.  I know I am embarrassed at the way I behaved when primarily practicing for my ego. I remember being a couple of years into my practice, I was too cool for slowing down.  I was excited to take a class at a well known studio in Florida, and when the teacher walked in I was super disappointed.  Not only was she very pregnant, she was disabled on most of her left side.  There was NO WAY this class was going to be "hard enough" or teach me anything I didn't already know.  As I'm sure is predictable, she was able to cue me into my first every headstand, as well as bringing up my first ever yoga tears.  Imagine that. 


Fast forward a few years, and I start my Ashtanga practice in the Mysore style.  I would like to think I came in with an empty-ish cup.  I wanted to learn from the beginning, from the best. But wow.  I had never seen real life people doing the postures I saw in the room, and I didn't have any idea who these people were.  Could it be possible that the most "advanced" yogis in the city actually didn't advertise and post their most "advanced" postures on the Instagram for everyone to see and admire?!  Also, these postures are happening right beside people who are just getting started.  AND everyone is content working right where they are.  My teacher has kept me "at the beginning" for what feels like an eternity now.  He is making sure that even though I may be able to do things with my body that come much later in the series, that I am coming there with the strength, integrity, and wisdom that otherwise may have been lost.  Being here has forced me to really think about ego, and what we practice for.  Learning to trust the process is part of the process.  Being content where you are and with who you are is crucial in learning about yourself in practice, and in life.  Building a fire with strength and integrity will produce a much more longer burning flame.  Showing up for yourself, rather than the pursuit of the posture.

The Intangible Stuff by: Cara Unrue

Yoga is good for you.  Ashtanga yoga is, in my opinion, the best option for a strong and meditative practice.  No matter the type you practice, it is likely to bring you some type of benefit, whether it's physical, mental, spiritual, etc.  There is a piece; however, that can only be found in a Mysore room specifically, the intangible and unnamed piece, which I will attempt to explain here.  

 

The world we live in is full of bullshit.  Bullshit relationships, bullshit marketing… most days we even bullshit ourselves in some way or another.  There is a certain something about the Mysore room that strips the bullshit away.  There is no talking, which is the first step in the “cleanliness”, if you will.  Although we may tout “community” or “inclusiveness” in other places, even a group of people talking with each other can make a new person feel isolated or not welcomed.  Through no fault of those chatting, they have inadvertently excluded someone without even trying.  When we are asked to refrain from talking, it puts everyone on an even social plane.  For those of us who struggle to make small talk, this can be a great relief.  For those who use their extroversion as protection and armor, they can take off that mask for a little while. When we aren’t talking, but we show up most days, there begins to form a solidarity, as if these people not only are practicing for themselves, but for you as well.  It is sometimes easier to practice alone at home, but a wise person once said, “Sometimes you practice yoga for yourself, and sometimes you practice yoga for other people.”  

 

I’ve come to the Mysore room in bad shape, recovering from surgery.  Everyone there kept practicing.  Maybe they noticed my shaky and drastically modified practice, maybe they didn’t.  It didn’t matter.  I was happy to step into a room full of people working for themselves and for those around them.  I’ve seen a strong, tall man come to his knees and weep in the room.  He knew no one would rush over and ask what happened, there was no pressure to explain.  No one stared.  He knew he could do that there, no questions asked.  It was better than being alone, and better than having to explain.  People fall on the floor... hard.  No one stares.  We all might send a little bit of concern in our hearts, and that person gets back up and goes again because there’s no shame in the room.  

 

People of all shapes and sizes, young and old, rich and poor working together, for themselves and each other.  What happens in the room stays in the room, for better or worse.  When people aren’t pressured to perform, or put on a social facade, the realness comes out.  We practice to lift each other up.  That type of real kindness and compassion comes with us as we leave the room, and integrates into our lives, real and true support we can offer to the rest of the world as well.  

Bring Your Ass to Your Mat: On Home Practice by: Taylor Hunt

At a recent workshop I did I realized that more than half of the room were home practitioners.Today I want to take a moment and address home practice. This is a reality for many of us who live in areas with no authorized teachers and no ashtanga programs in local studios.

Anyone who has been around me for long knows me for one phrase "Bring your ass to class". It is a phrase said over and over in the mysore room as a means of accountability and a reminder that this is an everyday hustle, a rally cry of sorts. For our home practitioners I would change it to "Bring your ass to the top of your mat." This is an important piece of home practice. Find a practice buddy, a partner to check in with and ask "Have you practiced today?" My next tip for home practitioners is to set a routine. Those who have a practice at a shala struggle to make/find a routine that sets them up for success and getting out the door. This is even more important for the home practitioner. Find a time to practice everyday and stick to it.  Lastly take care of yourself throughout your day. Get enough sleep, eat well, drink enough water, do what you can to minimize stress in your life. So simply put here are three keys to maintain a home practice...

1. Bring your ass to the top of your mat- find accountability, get a buddy

2. Find a routine- same time everyday

3. Take care of yourself: sleep enough, eat well, drink water, minimize stress

 

Find A Routine by: Taylor Hunt

It is said to make or break a habit it takes 21 days. To sustain this practice routine is key.  Everyone is different. Find what works for you (and know what doesn't) and commit to it for 21 days. I've been asked share my routine, so here it is. 

1. First thing, I set two alarms. One for 2:30a and one for 2:40a. This ensures if something goes wrong with one, I have a back up.

2. When the alarms go off I never crawl back under the sheets. I put my feet directly on the floor and say a simple phrase, "Today is going to be a great day." Let's get real, no one likes getting up at this time of the day, but saying something to combat the voice in my head that says "go back to bed" is powerful.

3. I take a shower. This is an important thing especially for early morning practice as it opens the body and sets the tone. 

4. I make coffee. Usually 5-6oz as a pour over, and strong, and stand outside and watch the stars for a moment before heading over the the shala.

5. Light stretching and get to the top of my mat.

6. Give an extra amount of effort at the very beginning of my practice (Surya A and B). It helps set the tone for the rest of the practice and the day and again quiet the voice that says I'd rather be back in bed.

If you find yourself struggling to get out of bed in the morning and make it into class I want to encourage you to intentionally begin a morning routine. Feel free to take anything from mine or make one of your own. Try it for 21 days and see what a difference it makes. 

How Yoga Found Me by: Jen Spangenberg

 

The first time the word "yoga" was ever uttered to me, in this lifetime anyway, I was in the middle of my 

raging teenage youth. I had some friends that were in a Krishna punk band and happened to be devotees at the 

local temple in Philadelphia. Sunday is known as friends and family day. One weekend a group of us went to the temple, unaware of what to expect. That Sunday we learned how to chant, that shoes are kept outdoors and that goat milk tastes gross. I also discovered what yoga was. 

 

We entered the temple to see our friend Mikey, who lived there, doing sun salutations in front of a large stage filled with shiny, colorful decorations and statues for worship. I remember seeing him in his orange/peach outfit and the iconic shaved head with a small patch of hair. He seamlessly flowed through some sort of meditation, totally oblivious to the world around him. 

 

Although that was decades ago, I will never forget that image of him. A time lapse of my past engraved in my memory, replaying over and over. At the time, it didn't seem odd that a group of 14-16 year olds were hanging out in a Krishna temple. But, when I look back at it now it 

seems like a special, unique moment that I was destined to experience. I look back and realize that I was slowly being prepped for the current moment. But, it's just the type of person I am; a slow learner and I still needed more convincing. Yet, fast forward 24 years later and here we are. 

 

My life as an Ashtanga yoga practitioner has been far from easy, yet I wouldn't change it for anything else. It has been the most raw, unforgiving, powerful mirror I have ever had the courage to look through. It was uncomfortable to look at and painful in my body. I was sore, but I never thought about giving up….at least not in the beginning.  But, I will admit there was a time that I gave up on the practice and I am thankful for that time. Without it, I never would have realized just how important it really was. In fact, it made me realize that it wasn't just a choice anymore, it had become a mandatory part of my life.

 

The timeline of my life has pretty much been split into two since than...before yoga, and after yoga. Before yoga, I was a shy, hunched over, borderline agoraphobic mother of two. I had chronic sinus infections, restless leg syndrome that often woke me up all night long and depression that hit me like clockwork every 3 months. By the time I was 35, all of my anger and frustration was building up and waiting for the perfect moment to explode. My friend, Danielle, suggested I practice Mysore with her and I laughed out loud. I had never done a single athletic thing in my life.  After a lot of convincing I agreed to go to my first class. But of course, only to observe. I wouldn't even agree to try it. I only agreed to sit in the back of the mysore room and watch from afar. I figured I could get her off my back by just spending some time watching her practice and have the conversation with her afterwards that it "wasn't for me". However, I was totally wrong. 

 

I watched as they all seamlessly flowed through their Primary, or the Intermediate series, practice. Peaceful, warm, and intriguing. I heard them breathing and it was the perfect soothing soundtrack to life. I want to do that. "That looks easy", I thought only because they made it look so effortless. And I couldn't have been more wrong. Of course, in the beginning it was difficult for me when I could not even get through one sun salutation without gasping for air. I needed constant help just to be able to get through Sun A & B for weeks. I would ask my friend each week about my soreness, or new pains that I had felt. The answers were always "keep practicing" and so I did. If I hadn't paid for the 2 months upfront, I probably would have quit.  In those 2 months I saw several new people who only lasted a few classes, each had quit before their 8 week session had ended. But I was frugal and I am so glad I was.

 

The day that I realized I was doing something more than just physical exercise was a day I will never forget. I stood at the top of my mat, after months of practice under my belt. I was only in the standing sequence, and all of a sudden my mind went blank. I stood there in silence and void of movement. I didn't know what to do. I stared at the ground for a few seconds, though it felt like much longer and still nothing. I looked over at my teacher and again nothing. I didn't have the answers and I wasn't going to be given the answers and so I stood there frozen. I got embarrassed and ran to the back of the room behind a makeshift wall. I sat there on the chair balling my eyes out while trying to be as quiet as possible. The first thing that came to mind was how I could leave the studio without anyone noticing. I needed to get out of there asap. I had no idea what the hell was going on in my head. 

 

After a few minutes, my friend come back to see if I was okay. I couldn't answer her, until she said these words to me, "we have all cried on the mat." I was in total shock. I had no idea it was normal to experience this kind of emotion, let alone cry while doing yoga and in front of other people. That day I knew that the mat was my mirror for life. It was the thing that taught me I mattered. It taught me that I wasn't alone and I was strong enough to find my own answers.

 

One of the most magical things is that it truly is a one size fits all practice. With every new pose, I was able to modify to fit my ability. As I was starting to see progress in my body, my mind eventually started to untangle as well. Things that previously stressed me out, started to not bother me as much. I had patience with other people, and started to weed out all the negativity in my life. I was able to begin breathing through my nose, and my sinus infections went away and have never come back. My depression ceased and all of a sudden I was a more patient, kind and understanding mother, wife, and friend.

 

The practice of Ashtanga yoga changed my life. It continues to show me what I need to work on in my life without discrimination. The practice believed in me until I was able to believe in myself. It supported me when I was alone and made me feel whole. It has shown me the mirror into my soul and showed me how to love myself. But most of all, it has shown me that magic does indeed exist and is inside our own hearts waiting to be discovered.

 

The Angri Yogi by Amber Fogel

 

It’s Friday led class and I’m sitting on my mat, waiting out setu bandhasana (I have neck issues so I skip that pose.). I close my eyes and pray that the next command I hear will be urdhva dhanurasana. Nope. Taylor says, “Pasasana.” Today we are adding intermediate series up to kapotasana. Shit.

I was tired. “But Friday is supposed to be the easier day where I don’t have to do this,” I said to myself, but I wasn’t going to not do it, so in my head I went to the only place I knew to get myself through it. I went to that place that said, “Get mean.” If I get mean, get angry, and use that fire, I thought, then I can make it through this.

I read an article in a yoga journal recently that stated newer students have rajastic tendencies. One of the three gunas or qualities of personality that we are all born with, rajas is an energetic, creative quality. In the journal it was described as “the feeling you get when you’ve had a bit too much coffee.” It can motivate you, but it can also make your mind race. Rajas is associated with the color red, which ties to anger for me. The other two are tamas (black, a heavy feeling, makes it hard to want to practice) and sattva (white, a state of equanimity and calm). A steady practice allows us to move first out of tamas, then rajas, toward sattva, but to move beyond sattva is the goal. Beyond sattva is purusha or nirguna where we are no longer affected by any qualities, or where there are no longer distinctions between the observer and the observed, where we attain pure consciousness.

I was obviously very far from nirguna on this day. Firmly rooted in rajas, I drew on my American experience of sport and competitiveness. In this country we are taught to push through pain, to go hard, to “get mean” to get it done. No doubt that mindset has helped me in past efforts – to push heavy weight or to finish a marathon. The rajastic person “acts through desire, attached to the fruits of action, desirous of recognition and ostentation, i.e. perfection of asana.” This would be revealed to me clearly on this day, but it was this next phrase in the journal that stopped me in my tracks: “If one lets passion take over in yoga practice, and lets one’s anger or desire overwhelm and build, rajas can actually be increased through practice.”

That day’s practice was proof of this. I moved through the poses of the intermediate series, listening to the count, breathing and telling myself I could do this. Holding the count in laghu vajrasana was excruciating. My quadriceps were on fire. I set my jaw (not good), took a deep breath and tried to set myself up for kapo. The count. It’s the count that’s giving me anxiety. I’m used to setting up, giving myself a little pep talk, slowly going into the pose – fidgeting, as Taylor would say. The count is not something that I’ve incorporated into my practice yet. Subconsciously I’ve been telling myself, “Once I figure out how to grab my heels I’ll worry about the count.” This is rajas. I arched back, got my hands as far in as I could, then felt Taylor give me the adjust to actually reach my heels. The count . . . was . . . so . . .slow. I tried to force it all to happen and of course fell out of the pose before the count was done. I was pissed.

I knew right as I fell out of the pose that I’d gone to the wrong place. I wasn’t just angry about the poses, I was angry at myself. I’d amplified it all. Then the tears came. Judgement of myself was swift and immediate. “You did that all wrong.” “You fell out of the pose with everyone watching.” “You made a spectacle of yourself.” Instead of telling myself to “get mean” I would have been better off to say “get kind” or “let go” or “go with the count and see where you end up.” This is what yoga is meant to do. How we approach life is revealed to us on our mat. Steady practice helps us understand where we get stuck. Every once in a while we get a little smidge of sattva, and we understand. The journal says, “Over time, these moments grow closer and closer together. The steadiness of a long-term practice comes from keeping the mind calm and present, whatever arises. The gunas don’t disappear, but one gets more used to the fluctuations, and doesn’t let them take over as easily.”

I finished the rest of the class, sniffling and wiping away tears. There were a few more waves of emotion on the drive home. Even as I let the emotion come I knew that I could let the judgement go, eventually. The tears were just an outward sign of the lesson that day’s practice taught me.  I don’t want to be an angry yogi. My rajastic tendencies will never completely disappear, but I know what the result will be if I let them take over. Practice and all is coming. It really is true.


(The journal reference is “Natures Web: The Gunas of Prakrti in the Bhȧgavad Gītā and Yogasūtra” by Zoë Slatoff-Ponté in the Spring/Summer edition of Pushpam.)

On Becoming a Teacher and Forever Student by Dawn Blevins

    I didn’t go to Mysore because I wanted Sharath to authorize me. I didn’t want to be a yoga teacher. I wanted to be a student and I wanted to have a teacher. I had taught a variety of subjects previously – writing, math, and music. I simply wanted to study, to immerse myself in learning something I knew little about. 

After I attended my first ever yoga class, one of my dearest friends proclaimed, “You’re going to become a yoga teacher!” She was a longtime friend who knew me very well, but I told her that was never going to happen. 

    “That is ridiculous; I’ve only been to one class. I just want to be a student,” I said. 

She disagreed. 

As I took more classes, other friends began saying the same thing. I was convinced they were also wrong. I loved being a student. I spent as many years as possible in college and grad school. I imagined that professional student would be my ideal career. After my final graduation ceremony, my ever supportive husband said, “I’m glad you can’t go any further. It’s time to stop spending money on school.” That sounded reasonable.

Then I discovered yoga and found a new way to be a student. I worked hard at it for reasons I didn’t understand. I started practicing seven days a week until I realized I was only supposed to practice six and then rest for a day. I began studying yoga philosophy and reading every book I could find. I was overwhelmed and thrilled by how much there was to learn.

During my first trip to Mysore, I was excited to be a student and feel like a complete beginner in front of Sharath. I hadn’t felt like a beginner at anything in so long. There were no expectations. No striving. No goals. Only practicing. It was such a relief. I was filled with peace.

But one day as I waited for my shala spot, a voice in my head said, “You’re going to be an authorized teacher.” It terrified me. I didn’t want to try to achieve anything in yoga. I wanted a different way of being in the world for once. And honestly, I didn’t want to work hard enough to become authorized. I felt like I had already done enough hard work in life. I never forgot that voice, but I stuffed it as far back into a hidden corner in my brain as possible in an attempt to silence it. I knew that it could be divine guidance or it could be ego. I decided to err on the side of caution and assume it was ego. I wanted to avoid practicing yoga and traveling to Mysore for the wrong reasons. The way I had opened myself to yoga felt so innocent and so pure. I didn’t want to tarnish it. 

When I got home, I dedicated myself even more completely to the Ashtanga practice. Being in Mysore illustrated that I had only barely scratched the surface of what I needed to learn about yoga, even just to be a student. I still refused to entertain the idea that I would ever teach. 

I made a second trip to Mysore and then began to work even harder when I returned home afterwards. I started assisting Taylor and quickly learned that I knew even less than I thought about yoga. I decided I would never be experienced enough to teach on my own. I studied even harder than ever though. 

I continued that way, and when there was talk of my potential authorization before I traveled to Mysore for the third time, I got angry and insisted that it stop. It felt like pressure–the kind of pressure I had always put on myself. I needed yoga to be different. I still didn’t think I should teach. I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t worked hard enough yet. I went to Mysore actively not wanting authorization, but fearing that people would be disappointed in me if I didn’t return home with it. I detest disappointing people. I was torn.

I sought wisdom in Mysore everywhere I thought might contain it. A few weeks in, I was still confused. Before I slept one night, I prayed that I would meet a wise person to whom I could speak about my dilemma. After practice the very next morning, I crossed paths with a seasoned Ashtanga teacher who I didn’t know well, but who I had always respected and felt a connection with. She invited me to lunch. I told her all of my doubts about teaching and encouraged her to tell me not to do it. That it was too soon. Instead, she said that my doubts confirmed that I should be teaching. It wasn’t what I expected to hear. I trusted her opinion, but I still had doubts.

Another veteran teacher, someone I greatly admired, moved into the house where I was staying during my second month in Mysore. More wisdom. I decided to ask for her advice. Surely she will tell me that it’s too soon, that I haven’t worked long and hard enough. But, she also told me that I was supposed to teach. Clearly these two remarkable women with deeply rooted practices and longtime connections to Guruji and Sharath could not both be wrong. All of my arguments against teaching fell apart before my eyes.

    Although I respected the words of the wise women, I am never one to be fully convinced by someone else. It always has to come from within me. I wasn’t there yet. 

Then, one day at the beginning of my third month in Mysore, when I stood up from my final backbend, I felt more solid than I had ever felt in my life. It wasn’t simply about the poses. I felt my entire self solidify. I believed I had something to share with other yoga students. I knew for the first time that if Sharath authorized me, I would be ready and I would teach.

When it happened, it felt right. Of course I will never be able to comprehend even a fraction of the entire body of yogic knowledge. But I am certain about one thing–we are supposed to teach from our own experience and hard work. That is the only way. The great thing about Ashtanga is that we are all expected to continue our studies and remain students forever. Even though I am teaching now, I am really just a student hoping to share some of what I have learned. And I am learning as much from other students as I learn from my own practice each day. The reality is, this is my dream career come true. I am a professional student.

Thoughts on Parampara by Jessica Hunt

As I’m sitting here in Mysore, India, I’m considering the importance of studying Ashtanga yoga at the source. What brings me half way around the world year after year to study with my teacher?

Ashtanga yoga is founded on the concept of Parampara, meaning knowledge passed down from teacher to student. It's important to have a teacher with a direct connection to the lineage to help guide you through the process of purification that happens in the practice. That connection and transmission can be felt when practicing here in India.

Without a direct connection to the lineage, the potency of the Ashtanga system which is meant to be healing is often lost. There is a lack of understanding in how the method is intended to be taught which often leads to unnecessary modifications, sequence changes, and props that dilute the system's effectiveness. The series is meant to be progressive with each pose providing specific therapeutic benefits. This is why it is so important to learn the system properly.

I came to the practice newly sober with my body damaged from years of abuse. The one-on-one instruction in the Mysore setting allowed me to work through the series at my own pace. Over the years, I have practiced through a couple of bad car accidents and the birth of two children. I am constantly reminded that Ashtanga yoga is a breath practice. It has been slow and steady progress for me, but the therapeutic qualifies of the system have helped me to continue mending my body and mind. One day at a time, I am able to chip away at the layers of myself that no longer serve me.

With correct understanding, the body is purified and the mind becomes calm and steady. When the mind quiets down, we are able to get a glimpse of our true self. While the physical postures have come and gone over the years through injury and pregnancy, the meditative aspect that comes from focusing on the breath has remained constant. And, the postures always return once I am able to let go of any attachment to them. The goal of a yoga instructor is to teach students how to go inside. Before sharing the practice with others, we must go through many years of Sadhana first. We need practical knowledge to experience what yoga is for ourselves so we can share it with others. It's a life long practice and regular trips to study at the source keep me humble and committed to the practice in its purest form.

Advanced Practice by Taylor Hunt

What does it mean to be an advanced yoga practitioner?

This question has been lingering in my head for the last few months, especially after assisting so many people under my teacher, Sharath Jois, at KPJAYI in Mysore. After listening to his conferences every week, I feel like my teacher shares the same sentiment I have.

An advanced practice has nothing to do with the quality of the asana. Asana is only one part of the vast thing we call yoga.  Advanced practice has everything to do with being authentic, with being honest with yourself and the people around you. Honesty and authenticity are part of practicing satya, or truth, which is part of the Yamas, the first of eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga. If you can’t be authentic, if you can’t just be yourself and be okay with it, then you’re missing out and probably hurting yourself and others. That goes against another foundational Yama: ahimsa, which means doing no harm. Ahimsa doesn’t mean just eating vegetarian and not being violent towards others. It’s about your mental state and your words, too. If you are gossipy, rude, and just a plain asshole then you are pretty far away from what yoga is all about, no matter what series you’re on. 

So what is yoga really all about? Is it a fitness class?

Nope. For me it is a daily spiritual practice--a daily reflection. I get to check in every day and evaluate my priorities. I work on myself by looking into the mirror of yoga. Where can I improve? Where do I need to find strength? Where do I need to be more gentle? I focus on my breath. I pay attention to the present moment and I find my drishti. I focus. Every day I get better at it. This is critical for my sanity and perspective. I spend time going inside--instead of on social media channels.

Social media, with its focus on photos and images, can make it seem like yoga is all about asana, or all about fitness. Asana is important, but the way your body looks on the mat has nothing to do with why we practice asana. Asana is supposed to heal our body of diseases and make our sense organs pure so we can engage with God. Perfect form in asana doesn’t mean perfect practitioner in life.

An advanced practice comes out in how the person operates in life, not necessarily on the mat. In my home community, I see advanced practitioners every day, and it doesn’t have anything to do with how many legs they can put behind their head or how deep their backbend is. My community cares about each other. They check in with each other when someone’s been MIA or seems down. They work together on service projects that clean up the community and help those who need an extra hand. They welcome newcomers. They smile at each other.

Let’s all take a step back and realize the true power of what yoga has to offer us. Why do we confuse the means with the end? Why has the question shifted from “How to find your true self?” to “What pose are you on?” I don’t know, but I think we can change it. I think we can rediscover the deeper meaning of yoga.

So, what really makes an advanced practitioner?

Are they kind to others? Themselves? Do they listen to others?  Are they willing to change? Are they willing to ignore the story in their head—that one that says, “you’re not good enough?” Have they worked through their stuff?

I don’t judge my practice by how far I am in whatever series. This is not the circus!  I judge myself based on the questions above. 

Edited by Emma Hudelson

 

New Beginnings by Danielle DePompei

It has taken me far too long to finish writing this blog post.  Truth is I am just really thankful to be here.  I’m thankful for everything in my life.  So I suppose I will tell you how I ended up here.  I came here because of a question I asked.  And I was delivered the answer in the most obvious way.  There was no way I could ignore it.  I needed to trust the signs being put in front of me and move, move out of the stuck place I had been dwelling in for so long.

“If I am supposed to move to Columbus, then show me an eagle.”

I walked down into my parents’ basement after asking this question.   Opened an old life magazine to a random page and there it was the words “Red Eagle.”

“I don’t buy it, that was a coincidence, show me another eagle.”

Immediately after this, I opened a box of my grandmothers.  As I opened one of her journals, the inside of the cover was blank.

Except for two words, in her handwriting. “Gray Eagle”

My parents came home later that day and I told them the story of the eagles.  They laughed like they always do at me and say things like “Where the heck did you come from” but I could tell this time that they actually thought it was a little strange to. 

That same day my parents went to visit Marilyn, a close relative of ours. 

As they were pulling out of the drive way, she stops them.

“Wait, I have something for you.”

She explains to them she had been going through old stuff and found these three prints.  She told my parents, “Give them to the kids.”

It was of an eagle.

I knew Columbus was where I was supposed to be.  I knew even before I asked for the eagle symbol. The eagle just helped me realize that my journey was bigger than the views of the mountains, although at the time it didn’t seem that way. 

Why Columbus? Of all the places I could go, why was there this strong pull to Columbus?

I guess you could say I was afraid of what I didn’t know. I had been holding onto this idea of what I thought my life was going to be.  I was holding onto the person I had created, afraid to change, afraid and unsure what that looked like. 

Unable to let go of the past, and afraid of a future that I could not predict.  

Too often I let fear of the unknown control my life.  And so three days later I put my two weeks in at my job.   Two days after that I bought a vehicle I could afford off of my aunt that was big enough for my dog and I to live out of.  And in just 14 days I found myself driving down to Columbus, Ohio with AYC plugged into my GPS. No expectations, no plan and no idea what would happen next but with the intention to belong and participate in a community that supported my path and to learn more about this practice from someone whose been at it much longer than me.  This practice has literally become my guide.  It started as and continues to be my path toward healing and self-discovery and while everything has seemed to fall right into place, I realize how it has led me to such incredible individuals who are an important piece of that journey.  We are all one.  We are all connected.

I have been in Columbus for three months now.  I almost can’t believe it has only been 3 months, it feels like a whole year has gone by!  And all those things that I could not predict ended up being better than I could have ever expected.  That giant force and energy that pulled me here was the community at AYC, I felt the love the first time I stepped into the Mysore room and it never left me.  I remember wondering what it would be like to be a part of it and now here I am and I couldn’t be happier to be here with you all.  The amount of support that I have received from this community is unreal and my words could never express how thankful I am for each and every one of you. 

I sat on the roof on Thursday evening before class with my notebook in my hand, beginning to write about how I got here.  The sun was warm and the train began to sound.  As soon as I turned around the cart I saw whizzing by was dark blue and sure enough there was a red eagle on it.

I am exactly where I need to be.  And everything I need is already right in front of me.

Thanks AYC,  you continue to be my inspiration every single day.

Jane O'Loughlin Guest Blog

My yoga journey started 15 years ago.  Ashtanga (led classes) was what I practiced for maybe 5 years, but I got bored, I needed variety.  As different styles and studios emerged, I tried them out, played the field.  I did a 200-hour teacher training in 2008 and taught vinyasa and flow classes in various places.  I loved sharing yoga with others, and wanted to teach ashtanga since that’s where I felt most grounded.  When an opportunity came about in 2011, I eagerly took it on.

While I still played the field, I also continued to attend led ashtanga classes and ashtanga workshops.  I tried mysore classes off and on but couldn’t get to them consistently.  I think I liked the idea of “being an ashtangi” more than the reality.  In reality, I was still enjoying the variety; I was a committed uncommitted yogi.  Have mat will travel.  Two summers ago I attended a week-long ashtanga workshop and decided it was time to go steady with ashtanga.  I understood that not committing to one style wasn’t serving me.  Mari D and jump-throughs were miles away, and I really wasn’t making progress in the asanas.  I wasn’t making progress because I was avoiding, skipping over things, enjoying the creativity of others’ sequences but not addressing what I knew I needed to work on.  So more than variety, I wanted quality, and ultimately better yoga.

The mat is a mirror.  When I’m on my mat, I let myself see what I see.  The first thing I see is myself, my life.  My predispositions and reactions, likes and dislikes, fears and limitations, possibilities and courage, joys and hopes.  They’re all right there to observe and explore.  Yoga isn’t my workout and it’s not my religion – I go to the gym and I have religious faith – but yoga connects me to both in definite and substantial ways.  I understand more about my body and spirit and their health (or unhealth) through my yoga practice.

Thoughts come and go during my practice.  Sometimes instead of simply observing breath and bandhas I’m thinking about them, analyzing them (hello, overthinker?).  Sometimes I’m thinking about the likelihood of crashing into the person next to me.  Sometimes I’m focused on alignment and anatomy:  can mula bandha be stronger and are my hips squared.  Sometimes in Sun B [ekam inhale] I think I’m not going to make it through the whole practice [dve exhale], why did I come?  Just get through this salute [trini inhale] and then chatvari jump back, exhale and I keep going, one breath at a time.

Last summer during another week-long workshop I realized how critical a yoga community is for me.  Home practice was never the same as my individual practice in a group, mysore or not.  At home it’s too easy to rationalize a shorter practice and get off the mat.  The presence and energy of others in the same space, helping me to hold my own space, led me to mysore at YOHI, evening mysore during the week and Sunday morning mysore with Taylor before the ashtanga class I taught.  Then because I needed evenings free, I dipped my toe into getting up before the crack of dawn for morning mysore during the week, and lo and behold it didn’t kill me.  This I tried the week before Taylor left YOHI to open AYC.  I was already hooked on Taylor and could move to AYC for Sunday, but weekday logistics were not in AYC’s favor.

AYC is not convenient for me.  It’s 20 miles from home, and 8 miles back to work.  YOHI is about a mile from where I work, really much more convenient.  But after a couple of months splitting time across teachers, it was time to get up even earlier, drive even farther and accept a commute that looked like a swinging pendulum, and commit to one place, one teacher.  So again, I made a change and it didn’t kill me.  It felt like I was losing my grip on stories I’ve told myself about things I could and could not do.  Huh.

Taylor is a gifted teacher.  His yoga is real, honest and believable.  Like life, it’s not all love and light and pretty, feel-good sayings, but it’s work, gritty and messy and imperfect.  Solid and still lighthearted.  There’s room to be human with encouragement to try to do better, and try again.  I stumble to articulate why I’m drawn to him as a teacher and I can only approximate it by saying he’s a “grab your life with both hands and hold on tight because life is a crazy ride but it’s your crazy ride!” kind of teacher.  Yeah, maybe something like that.

So I practice at AYC because of Taylor and because of ashtanga yoga.  I’m a traditionalist.  I like the ashtanga tradition and being part of the shala.  Being connected to generations who have lived before me and to AY communities all around the world makes me feel united with them and bigger than myself.  I like knowing I have a place and that I belong.  Thanks for having me.

Guest Blog, Windi Noble: Unraveling the American Ashtangi…

What is Ashtanga yoga?  Who practices it?  Why do they do it? The marvels of Ashtanga yoga are an enigma to most Americans, including myself.  My first exposure to this life changing practice was through invitation by a dear friend, who we will call Ryan.  Ryan has been practicing yoga for a few years and always recommended that I give it try. 

The world is full of people from all walks of life.  Some people are seekers and some people are content with just going mindlessly through their lives.  Having never been one of the latter, I have been on the path of seeking my whole life.  I enjoy growing, learning and changing.  The universe always brings us what we need–when we need it.  Our part (yours/mine/humans) is to be ready and looking when it blesses us with our next steps in becoming our true self.  With a lifetime of dysfunction and uncertainty, I needed a change.  I had already advanced so many areas of my life: I had overcome my personal dependency of alcohol (10 years sober), I fulfilled my goal of education (degree in applied psychology and marketing), I am a mother of an amazing kid (he’s now 16), I’m in a loving relationship (11 years strong), met my weight loss goal of becoming a normal weight according to the standards of the World Health Organization (that’s right, 38 lbs. lighter) and I longed to be free of pharma (I had been prescribed Lexapro for about 10 years to aid in my social anxiety).   At the beginning of 2015, I began my journey freeing myself from pharma and I am proud to say that I haven’t looked back!

Ryan’s free pass to AYC sat in my purse for about a week before it made its way into my desk drawer.  Every day when I opened my drawer that “free pass” just laid there staring at me.  What was stopping me?  Why didn’t I use it? What was my fear?  I mean it’s only yoga.  Well, that was it--- yoga: scary, awkward yoga.  I had never practiced yoga with consistency.  With that, I decided to look further into this Ashtanga thing; my natural curiosity is always to research something before I do it.  So I googled Ashtanga yoga and came across a video of practice led by Sri K Pattabhi Jois. Whoa, it was both mesmerizing and scary. 

I decided to grow a proverbial pair and use this “free pass.”  My mom had gifted me a new mat, all the signs were present.  “This is your next step.”  As I entered the shala for the first time, I was a wreck!  I had prayed and meditated on taking my awkwardly social self out into the world.  I say awkwardly social because I love people and I am very social, but since 2005 my life has been unraveling. My focus had been on my recovery and the care of a dying family member.  I spent most of my days in the house, sometimes for days on end.  I love people, but had become a recluse. My social circle is small, though I know many people. A change –some growth is exactly what I needed.  I learned a lot about my character in the first few weeks of practicing.  Ashtanga is weird like that, you get all introspective.  You would think that I would “know” me by now; an over-analytical, control freak, perfectionist, who doesn’t give up—yup that’s me.

In my first week it was obvious –this is the practice for me.  I was hooked!  I loved the way my body ached (like I had actually used my muscles).  The discipline that my life lacked (5 a.m. comes early—early to bed early to rise), and getting all the sweat out first thing in the morning set the tone for the rest of the day. I had the focused “yoga face.” I don’t have the “yoga body.”  I’m not thin and bendy.  I have curves and I’m short but I am becoming flexible day by day.  One month into my practice I began doing backbends and attempting “utthita hasta padangushtasna,” huh? (For the common folk that is known as standing on one leg.) These poses forced me to use my body in ways that I hadn’t since my younger days—now in my 40’s I was grateful that my body was still able to remain flexible.

Thirty days into my practice, my posture was better, my outlook on life was better; I was more focused and ready for more.  Sixty days into my practice I was sharing free passes with my friends.   Yup I have become “that person.”  You know the one that is yelling from the roof tops—“Hey, hey you!  THIS ASHTANGA STUFF RULES!”  Today I am almost six months into my practice and I will practice yoga for the rest of my life. I don’t know all of the Ashtanga jargon, but I got a book.  I’m not doing each poses perfectly—but that’s ok because one day I may, with my thoughtfully guiding teacher, Taylor Hunt.  I am part of community of people just like me who are committed to living.  I have discovered the crazy wonders of Ashtanga like the “Bhagavad Gita,” “Yoga Sutras,” “Yoga Mala,” ayurvedic diets, ladies holiday, and castor oil baths. I have been even reconsidering my Midwestern meat-eating lifestyle.  Everyone’s path is different.  Ashtanga may just be exercise to you.  For me it is my spiritual journey and path to my true Self.

When I arrive to my mat in the morning—all of the mysteries of life and yoga go on standby in my head.  The only thing that matters is that I “bring my ass to class,” stay focused on my breath (pranayama) and vinyasa through my poses.  With a room full of sweaty people who are all minding their own mats, I am one with myself. No one cares if your toe nails are painted, no one cares what you wearing (unless it is perfume), no one cares if you look like the poster child for Ashtanga yoga (did I mention I am really short and curvy?), they are just happy that you are there sharing this amazing life changing experience with them.  The community at my shala is inviting and supportive.  This is a place that I can feel normal and be myself—even if it is with sweat dripping into my eyes and airways. If I cry, it’s ok, if I laugh, it’s ok.  If I cuss at myself because I am a control freak and I am frustrated with my body—well that is OK but I can expect that Taylor (and his mindful assistants) to be there to gently remind me that I just need to relax. Obstacles in life come and go.  Ashtanga has trained me to breathe through the temporary discomforts.  This is a lifelong lesson that we all could benefit from in our daily lives both on and off of the mat.

I own this.  I call it “mine” because I am the American Ashtangi.

Guest Blog- Daria Faulkner, Sharing her experience

I’ve never ever been into any physical activities and if somebody asked me what the “psoas” was, I’d most likely say “a programming language”. At some point I had to take yoga class back in 2003 or so in order to avoid PE class in school. After an hour I thought I was totally right about separating myself from the world of exercises and especially from hanging out in this ridiculous pose “down (what?) looking dog” for the same amount of time as would take me to enjoy one delicious french cigarette. Eight years later I packed 1 large bag and 1 medium backpack and moved to the US, to Dennison Ave., the corner of the Goodale park, to be exact. I had a pretty limited circle of friends, who were not even my friends, but my husband’s, but I had a lot of free time. Exploring surroundings brought me to 1) the swimming pool, and 2) the nearby yoga studio ‘Yoga on High”. I started taking community yoga classes and swimming. Exercising didn’t feel that bad anymore. It didn’t take long till I found myself in Joanie Delphi’s “Modified Primary” Class doing the third in a row Surya Namaskar A and thinking “when the hell will we switch to something else?”. I started taking more of these classes and came across Jerry Marcom, whom I liked a lot and who took a great care of me during my first months of pregnancy, adjusting and modifying my practice. It’s been my favourite class for a long time. I could never tell what exactly I liked so much about this practice. After my son was born I was very excited to get back to my Monday routine, as Jerry only teaches on Mondays. I brought my friend to the class, who was struggling with some misbalance in her life and she loved it too. At that time I started craving more. My membership and curiosity made me try other classes. Morning worked great for me so I ended up in the Hot Flow class and was lucky enough to meet another teacher who influenced me a lot - Michael Murphy. Michael got me way deeper into the yoga thing. Although by that time I had heard the word “bandhas”, and even knew what it needs to be engaged, I still felt like Alice in Wonderland (“Alice, this is pudding. Pudding, this is Alice”) when he introduced me to pranayama and brought up other aspects of the practice I’ve never thought of. Michael’s classes took place in studio C at 7am and I always peeked in the Mysore room. I had an idea about what the Mysore was about and even tried it once but didn’t really like it. The intimacy definitely didn’t suit me at that point. Michael kept suggesting me giving it another try. And I finally did.

I remember my first day. My legs were shaking while I was taking my shoes off, just as much as during presenting my final paper in school. I kept trying to think of an excuse, why I should just go home. I asked the front desk girl some stupid questions, hoping that maybe she would say “hey, you are totally not ready for this, go home and never come back”. But instead, she said that the teacher wouldn’t bite, but would take a good care of me. I opened the door, didn’t even want to look around. From the very first seconds of being there I wanted this to end. The teacher didn’t bite indeed, he asked me to sit down and relax. Relax. He must have been kidding. I did as much as I remembered from the Primary series and pretty much got out of there as fast as I could. I obviously wasn’t going to go back. But I did. No idea why. After a few more times I figured that nobody pays any attention to somebody else’s practice and there is nothing more to it besides you, your practice, and assistance/adjustments/suggestions from the teacher. Pretty cool, right? A month or two later I couldn’t imagine my morning starting anyway else. The transition to going to bed early, waking up early, not eating late etc. was very smooth. Most of my old friends (new ones are mostly related to the yoga world) obviously think I’m totally insane, but I love this morning routine. Mornings are very intimate to me and dedicating them to myself is very important. I’m still fascinated by how magically it works: even though there are other people involved, I don’t feel disturbed or destructed - I feel like I’m solely with myself. I like how a lot is being said without any words involved. The mood, the intention, emotions, the consequences of the previous day - nothing can be hidden, its a naked, very genuine practice. I feel like I’ve been trying to hide too much even from myself, maybe even to be someone else, but I’m happy now to be free and face whatever I need to face with the strength I gain everyday through the practice.

The Teachers, Vande Gurunam - My Story, Part Three

A few years into my yoga journey, I was blessed with the opportunity to practice with a devoted Ashtanga teacher.  Her name was Laruga Glaser, a Columbus native. At this point, I was just a few years into my journey, but I was practicing every day and I was finally making some progress in the Primary Series.  My friend, Joanie, told me that Laruga was coming back to Ohio to reconnect with family and wait on her pending status for Swedish citizenship. The best thing was that she was also here to teach.

Since the Columbus studios were in disarray at this time, she decided to teach out of my friend's house. I went every day to practice with Laruga and each day she added more detail onto my practice. I was totally into it. Every day, it seemed like I was being guided, but also pushed to a new level. Looking back, I remember how it felt to be in that room with her. She had power. She was so focused that she made me focused.  Laruga was the first person in Columbus that had been to Mysore, India and I could feel the direct connection to the lineage. I spent a lot of time with her, asking questions and trying to learn as much as I could. Yoga didn't come naturally to me and I needed a lot of help. I felt like I always had to work harder than everyone else.

Having a disciplined practice when my life was in chaos did not come easy. But the practice provided a sense of peace in my daily life especially in those early years of recovery. I remember one time after practicing, Laruga said to me, "I've never met anyone like you before."  In my mind, I knew that was true but I had also never met anyone like her before either. She was a great teacher and we both shared the same passion for Ashtanga yoga.  I was in a spot in my practice that needed a lot of guidance. There was so much passion behind her teaching and so much intensity. I loved practicing with her and if she would have stayed in Columbus, I would still be her student today. She taught me the specifics of the practice like proper vinyasa count, how to connect with my breath, how to remove distractions from my practice, and how to work through my perceived limitations. Practicing with her on a daily basis I could sense the authenticity. Columbus had several people teaching Ashtanga, but no one had ever taught me how she did. Her language was simple, not colorful. Her adjustments wer strong and deliberate.  It was an intense period and there was a lot of cleansing on many levels for me. Her presence in Columbus meant the world to me and she came into my life exactly when I needed guidance.

After about 6 months, she ended up getting her citizenship and moved to Sweden. When she left, I felt like the wind was taken out of my sails. There was no longer any teacher in Columbus that had a connection to the Ashtanga lineage and there was a huge void in me.  She had made such an impact on my practice/life and I had progressed more in those six months than I had in the previous couple of years. Her dedication and depth in the practice had a significant impact on my path and life.

Around this time, I began teaching in Columbus. To be honest, I didn't think that I was meant to be a teacher. I had always felt like a passionate student, but never a teacher. I didn't think I had a lot to offer others. I felt like I was still spending a great deal of time cleaning up my life.  I started teaching intro classes for people new to yoga and soon found that it wasn't my calling. Something about it didn't fit. It didn't feel authentic and I didn't know what I was doing. I did this for several months, but I was really struggling to find my way.  I thought that my teaching should come from my own personal experience. I was searching for something. I ended up teaching at treatment centers in Columbus. This was something that totally felt right. I taught drug addicts/alcoholics  like myself the Ashtanga Primary Series. At first, the people hated coming to class. They avoided me when I came to the centers or they would hide in their rooms but after awhile staff in the center started noticing serious changes.  I knew the type of person that they were and I had make the class hard to keep their attention.  They really didn't want to do it.

After a year of practicing on my own, I began searching for a new teacher.  I found the closest teacher, Matthew Darling, who lived over 3 hours away in Royal Oak, Michigan. I was totally excited to find a teacher with the connection to the lineage. At the time, he was the only Level 2 authorized Ashtanga yoga teacher in all of the Midwest.

I packed my stuff and I made my first trip from Columbus, Ohio to Royal Oak, Michigan. I was there for 8 days, and on the first day I knew that I had found my new teacher. Although he was strict, he had an immense amount of devotion and was grounded in the system. The first day I walked up the front door of Ashtanga Yoga Michigan, there was no sign only a sticker of Ganesh guarding the door. I knew I was in the right place.  I walked into the practice space, big pictures of Guruji  and Sharath adorned the walls. The lights were dim but the power in the room was unmistakeable.  You could feel Pattabhi Jois's energy in the room. There was some mystery there. His straight forward approach to the practice and his ability to navigate me into difficult poses was something I hadn't experienced. His adjustments were grounding and strong, kind of like the adjustments I had heard Guruji gave.  I was able to get some real clarity and understanding from his teaching. His community was the best I had ever experienced. They were close knit: everyone knew each others names and everyone had an immense amount of respect for Matthew. He was a teacher and he was theirs and they were proud.

During this trip, I was having coffee with Matthew and I remember asking him if there were any of his teachers that would consider moving to Columbus to start a traditional mysore program.   He said that he had been teaching for 15 years in Michigan and no one had ever searched him out like I had. He looked me in the eyes  and said, "Taylor, I believe you are the teacher who was intended to carry the tradition in Columbus."  I was totally taken back by that.  He also said that if I was going to teach a traditional mysore program, I should start making trips to Mysore, India to study and "drink from the well." Before making my first trip to India, I went back to Royal Oak several times to study with Matthew and started to learn the intermediate series.

Eight months later I made my first trip to India so that I could "drink from the well," as Matthew had encouraged me to do. I was going to India and this is were I would meet Sharath Jois. My life would be forever changed.
To be continued...

Reflections on Morning Mysore......

Mysore-style Ashtanga is a beautiful and grounding practice. It is for those who seek to be more whole and less fractured, for anyone who wants to find peace with their past and light in their future. This practice helps develop an authentic relationship to the body, and by extension, authentic relationships with others. It also serves as a daily exercise in gratitude that translates off the mat into a rich appreciation for life. Everyone comes from a different place when they first join the Mysore community. The room is filled with brave souls who have chosen to confront difficulty and use the practice to detoxify their bodies and minds. Each Ashtangi has a separate and beautiful story that they identify with, but together the practice unifies us as one unbreakable family. When Stephanie came to Mysore, she found a tradition and community that supported her as she left behind an unhealthy relationship and party infused lifestyle. The group and the practice guided her toward strength and possibility from which she will never turn back. Jesse joined Mysore to help address body image issues and find calm within herself. Kelle joined Mysore to rehabilitate her ankle and found that it also boosted her confidence and helped her with major life changes. Ryan joined Mysore because he was seeking a self-care practice that would facilitate the healing and transformation of his mind, body, and spirit. He found that this self-led and highly demanding practice was exactly what he needed to redirect his yoga journey. Dawn first came to Mysore at a time when she felt like something essential but unnamable was missing from her life, and her practice has led her to a deeper sense of wholeness and self-knowledge. But what is it about Mysore that attracts so many people? The Mysore room is a sacred space that provides the chance to be vulnerable.The practice invites us to isolate emotions and take responsibility for what we feel. The gradual transformation comes with phases of confidence, numbness, frustration, and bliss, and ultimately reveals the most pure and radiant version of ourselves..

Sharon Collaros ----Guest Blog

The day Taylor asked me to write about my experience with yoga I was so excited and proud that my practice became perfect material for a Saturday Night Live skit. I was a hot mess. My breath was erratic so I was distracted, my balance came to a screeching halt and my habitual recruitment of my trapezoids to act as bandhas reasserted itself. I wanted Taylor to see that he had made a good choice in asking me and there I was…in complete antithesis of what yoga truly is…striving for deeper forward bends, a perfectly executed balancing series and a bind in Marichyasana without the need for an adjustment. Such an embarrassing admission but true damn it! To summarize, I was on Planet Sharon’s Brain, all up in my head, and completely attached to an outward appearance/outcome. And so I laughed. I had to! For you see, one of the many reasons I practice yoga is to help me detach. Detach from my perceptions of my own limitations and strengths, detach from my notions of outward appearances and detachment from the habitual judgments of what I proclaim myself to be at any given time, and detachment from my need for validation. One of the many reasons I love Ganesh is he reminds me that the only obstacle in my path is me. So when my mind begins shouting “how long you been practicing, honey?” “for the love of God, Sharon, find your fricking bandhas!” or “where in the hell did your balance go today, sister?” or even “way to go, girl…you had a great practice!” I take myself out of the present moment and start judging and assessing rather than just doing. And then it’s no fun anymore. And I don’t like not having fun. And Lordy am I a tough judge. And I rather wither under such harsh scrutiny. So I go back to the tools…I breath. I breathe again. Increasingly drishti has new meaning and my Holy Grail of a quest to find my bandhas re-activates. And lo and behold! I am out of my head and the letting go begins anew.

I love studying and practicing with Taylor and all of my Morning Mysore friends! I believe deeply in the teacher/student relationship and I value the knowledge and lineage Taylor has going directly to K. Pattahbi Jois. I also value the lessons I have learned about myself on the mat more than any book knowledge I got from college and post-grad work. I have learned that my faith in God is true, my journey on the Eight Limbed path is sincere, and that I am much more strong, capable, smart and beautiful than I ever believed.

Yoga and the Eight Limbed Path is how I go about this quest of finding peace, finding my dharma and finding my true self. (Thanks Stephen Cope) I am more confident not because I can stand on my head, but because of the hard work and albeit not perfect…consistency of my practice. I feel smarter because the practice is intellectually stimulating and the body of written knowledge is so vast that I’ll never get to read everything I want. I feel more beautiful not because my body is more toned and supple, but because I see the seer and she is lovely.

Those who know me are aware that I smile and laugh easily, love people, connections, and have a big appetite for love. You may also know I am anxious as well. The grounding practice of the primary series is a physical, spiritual and emotional mantra to my sometimes-distracted mindbody. I now have more focus; more directed intentional energy and even more love because as I continue to grow as a yogi, my compassion for myself on the mat transfers to others off the mat.

Yoga is life. It’s about how we life right in a world. “It’s how we get together and become natural once again.” It’s about taking right steps and then watching what happens without preconceived notions of what it will look like. Life for me is easier with yoga. It just is. I’m not saying it’s easy. But it’s easier. Life is more joyful with yoga. It just is. And I feel the prana.

I am thankful for Taylor. He has patiently watched me and given adjustments, encouragement, philosophical questions to ponder and occasionally some well deserved shit. I am not an easy student. I respect him and dedicate this small essay to him.

Practice and all is coming!

Guest blog-- Dawn Blevins

My first yoga encounter was a free outdoor class at a mall because I was so convinced that I would hate it that I did not plan to stay for the entire class. It seemed much less rude to walk out of this situation that it would be to walk out of a studio class. I knew absolutely nothing about yoga but something was pushing me to try it and I no longer had the capacity to resist. What actually occurred during this first class was completely opposite of my expectations. I had the immediate feeling that yoga was what I was always supposed to be doing and that somehow I was home. Now this does not mean that yoga seemed easy to me. It felt impossibly difficult and I remember thinking that chaturanga must be Sanskrit for torture, but it also felt like I had no option but to explore this path. The first thing that became clear to me during those initial classes was that I needed to become stronger. Whenever a yoga teacher would ask me to set an intention at the beginning of class mine always revolved around getting stronger and I would feel a sense of desperation around this need for strength. At the time, I thought this was only about physical strength, but really it was a mark of my less conscious and ongoing fear that I didn’t have the inner strength to withstand whatever life might have in store for me.

Yoga entered my life at a time that I now understand was a breaking point. Over many years I had allowed various parts of myself to become so deeply fragmented that I could no longer sustain the separation. I had responded to experiences of abuse and chronic pain by completely disconnecting from my body. While I had done a great deal of psychological work to find peace, I had largely left the physical out of the equation and I truly did not understand what yoga teachers meant when they instructed me to listen to my body. I had simply never done that because I primarily saw my body as a source of pain. My spiritual self was underdeveloped as well. I had always been a spiritual seeker but never found a tradition to which I could authentically connect. The only part of myself I felt like I could truly rely upon was my intellect and I had prioritized that above all else. It was only after I finished grad school for the final time that I realized an incredible void inside. This was partially due to the achievement of a long standing goal and partially due to the misconception that life would change, that I would finally be complete, if I just had a few letters after my name. However, my life did not change; I had the same job, same friends, same everything as before. And none of this was bad – I already had a very good and happy life filled with amazing people, but something was clearly missing and it was only in this newly less hectic life that I was able to experience the emptiness born of self fragmentation.

I have heard and read enough stories from fellow Ashtangis about how they arrived at this practice to know there is no standard path, but still, mine always seems a little backwards in retrospect. After a few months of taking random yoga classes, I happened to read about a city in India called Mysore. I can’t remember exactly what I read, but I felt an immediate connection to this place on the other side of the globe and knew, for reasons that are still inexplicable, that I had to travel there and experience it for myself. Of course, people were traveling to Mysore to study Ashtanga yoga so I decided this would become my practice and did a quick Google search to find a local introductory class and daily Mysore style class. That there already existed in my city a strong Mysore program with a devoted teacher and group of practitioners at the moment I sought it elicits such deep gratitude in me now. But when I first started attending Mysore class, it was a largely unhappy transition. I missed what I nostalgically referred to, at the time, as happy fun yoga. To be clear, I mean no disrespect to these other yoga classes by using this phrase. In them, I had been guided by wonderful teachers, had done tough physical and emotional work, and had begun to experience deep transformation. These classes were an essential gateway to Ashtanga for me; I don’t believe I would have found the practice without them. I only used the phrase to rather angrily contrast that yoga with this new yoga that just felt, to me, like difficult and lonely work. While I was instantly engaged by the challenging nature of Ashtanga, I really worried that I was going to lose my newfound connection to my physical self in the pursuit of more poses. Yoga was the first place I had ever truly allowed myself to accept failure and to let go of the need for achievement, and I worried this system of moving on only after a certain amount of proficiency is realized in each pose was the exact opposite of what I should be doing. However, I could not shake the desire to travel to Mysore, so I decided to trust that Ashtanga was the correct path for me. I also resolved to find some joy in the practice so I would no longer be so sad about not being in the happy fun yoga classes that I could hear on the other side of the wall some mornings.

Certainly when I arrived in Mysore at the end of my first year of Ashtanga, I knew that the practice had changed my life in subtle but significant ways, but I couldn’t necessarily articulate this in a coherent way. I still wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing there, but I knew that I already felt somewhat at home and was relieved that the connection I felt to India had not been imagined and that the trip and the practice was not just a big mistake. I was, of course, intimidated by the idea of practicing with Sharath and with people from around the world who had so much more experience and such amazing practices. But, unbelievably, I walked into the shala to practice on my first day and experienced a profound sense of calm. The nervousness I expected was not there and it just felt like every other practice, with the addition of the incredible energy of the shala. At that moment, I realized that the great gift Ashtanga had given me was steadiness – a steadiness that allows me to remain the same whether I am in India practicing next to a famous teacher or if I am at home practicing next to a close friend, and more importantly it is the steadiness to deeply know myself regardless of external conditions. Steadiness does not sound like the most exciting thing in the world, but it is exactly what I needed to find – a kind of counter to my natural inclinations and an antidote to many of my fears.

Halfway through my month in Mysore I was still feeling like this new sense of steadiness was enough of a gift and not really desiring or needing anything else from the experience, but there was more generosity in store. I happened to be facing Sharath’s office window while I practiced one day and the light was such that I could see my reflection in the glass. I hadn’t really noticed this until I caught a glimpse of myself as I lifted up into kukkutasana and I actually looked strong, so much stronger than I would have imagined. The reflection in the glass was of my present self but it was also of my child self and I saw a little girl who was very strong. The strength had always been there and so had all the other parts of myself that I felt like I had lost in the space between my birth and that moment. From that point on, I have understood that this practice will always demand that I work hard to develop more physical strength. I still frequently doubt that I can become physically stronger and I have a tendency to believe that all arm balances were devised specifically to torture me, but most of my fear that I lack real inner strength has evaporated. I realized that filling the void had always been a matter of finding my way back to myself, my whole and more integrated self. I know I am only at the very beginning of this journey but I also believe that the fruits of this path will continue to be bountiful and unexpected.