When I was living in London, completing my Yoga Teacher Training at The Life Centre, I had the opportunity to study under the guidance of many world renowed yoga teachers.
The 18 month teacher training course asks you to complete at least 2 5-6 day intensive modules as part of your learning.
There are many to choose from and it was a hard choice to make… at first!
Having practiced traditional Ashtanga Yoga for around 5 years at that time, I was obviously tempted towards choosing to learn with a teacher who was from that lineage.
Any Ashtanga Yoga practitioner will tell you that this school of yoga is not only a ‘style’ but also a huge collective of individuals whom all love to sing from the same hymn sheet.
Similar to any ‘group’ or ‘collective’ it can at times become a little too cliquey , but of corse, no one likes to admit this!
(My self included!)
It also had huge plus points…
I loved the sense of belonging and support in a group class, retreat or event.
There was also always so much that united the Ashtanga tribe.
We were the do-ers, the activists, the yogis who were on the ball and ready for a challenge.
I rarely met an avid Ashtangi who wasn’t constantly on fire!!!
So, when I finally had to choose which intensive workshop to go for I even surprised myself when my intuition told me, this time Susan, your doing something different!
At this time I was practicing mysore style with my then teachers, Mark Ansari & Luke Jordon, 6 days a week, 6:30-8:30am.
The opportunity to let this rest for a week and jump on a different yoga train was exciting yes, but more so, made me feel slightly uneasy and unsure…
“What would happen to ‘my practice’? Would I loose my way and have to go back to the start? What if I missed something while I was gone? Was I loosing control?!!!”
It sounds silly now but at this time I was so dependant on this system and routine, it had become one of the only things that helped me survive this crazy city.
The intensive I finally chose was not only different, it was the extreme opposite…
‘Embodying the Flow’ with Shiva Rea
Shiva Rea is world known for her unique approach to the practice of yoga.
She is a leading innovator in vinyasa flow yoga.
Some of us may have heard the term ‘vinyasa’ when practicing the Ashtanga sequences… the repetition of a set cycle of movements linked to the breath… but Shiva’s vinyasa approach is quite different… simply put, you never know what you’re gonna get!
Not only was I going to be practicing with this new outlook for one whole week, I was also going to learn how to integrate this into my own classes and practice after the intensive… hmm, I thought, not all that possible when Pattabhi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga yoga, had quite clearly, specifically and purposefully laid out an exact and precise system.
As far as I had ever seen or understood, no one wants to stray off this path of Ashtanga Yoga or they might just miss the point!
I was already getting funny looks and suspicious side glances from a few of my many Ashtanga buddies, perhaps they were concerned I might be swayed to the other side 😉
But, the more I thought about this intensive, the more drawn to it I became, and when the week of the course arrived I was itching to get there!
What happened over the next 5-6 days was a transformation I will never forget.
50-60 yoga students, young, old, male, female, short, tall, you name it, we were all there together to challenge what ever we though was ‘the way’.
Shivas presence was like a vibrant life and limitless energy had just stepped into the room.
At the same time, her approach to holding the space brought about calm and centredness, something I had always found was missing in such high energy practices I had been part of before.
We twisted, turned, spiraled and even danced our way through the week.
The asana practices were both challenging yet grouding, rejuvenating and elevating.
Breathing in and out of postures, using all kinds of new ways to approach yoga both in and out of the studio…
In all honesty, I had not felt this good in a long time.
A seed had been planted…
By the end of the week I was so sad to see Shiva leaving London and I was already planning my next intensive with her…
2 weeks on the island of Skyros, Greece! This time we would be away from the hustle of London and into a more healing and natural environment.
There was a space of a few months between these 2 intensives with Shiva and after only a week away from Ashtanga I felt ready to go back to the front of my mat, eager to experiment with what I had discovered with Shivas guidance.
I wanted to try to cultivate that same feeling of liberation and freedom, within the set structure of Ashtanga yoga.
At first I noticed my practice had been transformed.
I was more fluid and slow.
There seemed to be more space in my body and my breath was expansive!
I also noticed these changes off the mat, I was smiling more and had more time for the simple yet more important and enriching things in life.
However, these feelings gradually started to fade…
Without my noticing my physical practice drifted slowly back to a similar place it had been before my time with Shiva Rea.
Looking back now, I can see how my body almost ‘had’ to do this to help my mind cope.
In a quest to keep up with life around me I used my physical practice to mirror what kinds of demands I was placing on myself in the ‘real world’ (in those days I called London the real world?!?!).
A few months on and the time was coming to take my next big adventure with Shiva Rea…
Another intensive yet this time for a lot longer and, as I was often a helper on these intensives, I would be staying with the course assistant teachers!
I was so excited and hoped that perhaps this time I could manifest the teachings so deep that I would not allow them to leave like they had before.
I set an intention inside to allow changes to occur on a much deeper level this time, so that when I returned to city life I would not back down to the rat race but bring serenity to the rat race around me… if possible?!
The intensive was again, life changing!
We spent 2 weeks practicing as a huge group of around 80 yogis, sun kissed, lively and open beings.
There was not the pressure of lifes usual demands, like work, travel, time and money… it was all about living in the moment, spontaneity and fun.
By the end of this 2 week immersion I was alive and full of inspiration.
I made it my duty to stick to my intention and try to bring this back to where I had come from, perhaps if we all felt this good all of the time, life would be so much better!?
I returned to London with these feelings deep in my heart.
I was soon to move back to Edinburgh to start a new life, set up some yoga classes and enjoy a smaller city.
My biggest dream was to pass on this feeling of freedom to all my yoga students.
So, what has happened in the last 3 years?
Have I managed to maintain my intentions?
To begin with, settling in a city after being away for some time was a huge challenge, I felt like there was so much to re-learn and although my mind wanted to stay fluid, my reality was much more rigid.
I take full responsibility for this…
When setting up yoga classes I knew I would have to start somewhere where people understood what I was offering.
I used the word ‘Ashtanga’ to draw students into my classes.
Teaching the Ashtanga sequence was easy for me, 7 years of dedication had engrained this philosophy so deep into my being that I passed on all of the best of it without questioning.
After a while I started to yearn to teach more of what I had learned while with Shiva Rea and incorporate some of the approaches I had this time managed to maintain in my own practice.
I truly feel that it was a self practice, at home, away from any external teacher that helped me to do this.
I was ‘allowed’ to feel my way through again, as opposed to ‘do’ as I was told in order to fit into the regime.
This is not to say that I let go of Ashtanga Yoga at all. I still practiced my own expression of the Ashtanga second series daily and primary series on Fridays and Sundays… I simply held that same freedom of flow as a base to all of my actions, both on and off the mat.
As I started to break away from being employed by someone to teach and delved into becoming a self-sufficient yoga teacher, I seeked out new venues and started to introduce more and more variations on the theme of Ashtanga.
Still naming the classes ‘Ashtanga’ and following the basic outline, I added a new posture here, a extra breath there.
Being a yoga teacher reveals so much more to you of what yoga can really reflect from life off the mat.
I often look around the studio and can not only see, but feel what kind of day each student has lived.
It is only human to want to offer those around you a positive change, a little comfort and perhaps some release.
I have to say, that by sticking to the ‘set-sequence’ and not giving something a little extra or different, was not allowing me to do that.
Of corse, any kind of movement, especially yoga, will help loosen off a tightened mind a little, but how to encourage the real essence of letting go…? I am only now starting to see the truth for myself.
Since the end of our 16 day juice feast I chose to perform an experiment on myself…
Only, spontaneous, fluid, vinyasa flow yoga… on the mat, that is.
Off the mat… well, we will come to that in a moment.
I continue to chant out the sequence in my regular classes, beginners to intermediate, yet still throwing in those quirky changes that I feel add a drop of liberation to this form.
While, at home I am back to my mat in Skyros, Greece.
Deep in the flow, deep in the breath, unsure of where I will move to next, guided by what my body feels as opposed to what it thinks it knows.
Not as you would expect…
In an ideal world I would sitting here typing away at how great it feels and how I have found a way to break free from the stress of living in a world of time, money, rules and regulations.
Perhaps a yoga practice like this would balance out all that goes on in a day of our lives? (unless you are a tribesman in the Amazonian jungle you will know what kind of life I mean)…
Well, it does feel great, my body is stronger than ever before, my mind is open and I feel more connected to my source than I thought possible… this is where the truth is… and the truth is this, we cannot go on living like this.
Sorry folks, but no yoga practice is ever going to balance out the level of stress we are all under today.
That is, if you want longevity and vibrant health together with centeredness and peace.
As far as I have come to understand you can use your yoga practice to observe what kind of position your life is in.
As an Ashtanga practitioner, this showed me I was living a fast paced, high alert, treadmill kind of lifestyle.
I had little respect for my transport (my sacred physical body) and was asking it to keep up with something man made and mechanical.
There was the introduction of raw foods to my diet that I feel took me one step closer to real respect for myself but also a respect for the earth I had not truly embraced before.
Since this transition to 100% raw, unprocessed, natural plant based foods my awareness of inner feelings on the physical but more so the mental and spiritual dimensions has become ever more magnified.
Over the past couple of years, I have been slowly journeying towards the realization that no matter how hard I try, no matter how much I scream and shout about it, we are never going to slow down… Not if we truly believe that by earning more money and doing more pointless activities will ever make us feel better, live longer, age less, and thrive…
If we are commited to keeping the cogs turning (we are all cogs if we think about it), the machine will keep on pumping.
These past 2 weeks away from Ashtanga yoga have taught me so much and I feel more inspired than ever to start speaking out about it.
Don’t fear oh avid Ashtangis of my current timetable, I will not stop teaching this beautiful sequence as passed down from dear old Pattabhi Jois of Mysore… but be aware, I am not going to stop telling you that this maintenance cycle is not going to take you to a place of freedom and liberation from ‘the norm’.
It might give you a break from it all, and it’s a dam site better than a pint of Stella (I have tried that too! A LOT!) but it will not give you the true way of life we all deserve as living beings of flesh and blood on this planet.
Yoga is an evolutionary road which will lead you down many paths, each one just as valid as the next but most importantly in my eyes, each journey has a lesson to learn from…
As I posted a few weeks ago, my partner and I are looking to find a road out of a dependent life style.
We look to live self-sufficiently, in touch with the land, the earth, nature, sunlight, moon cycles, rhythms we have forgotten and dismissed through time.
In the meantime, I am so excited to spend as long as it takes for us to move on, immersing you all in a yoga practice that relights your soul.
Your yoga should evolve you. It should show you why you are here. A question we are perhaps all so scared to ask ourselves because we know the answer is so far from where we are at.
The truth is, this crazy cycle we are all in simply cannot go on…
Follow your heart.
Do what it tells you to do.
Ask honestly and listen carefully.
But don’t stop there… change something.
Our experiences should all be a flow of truth from our souls.
The outcome can only possibly be a better world, a healthier planet, a brighter you.
It can be scary and radicle and some of your mates might think you’re crazy.
But think of the endless, limitless possibilities… if you could do what made your heart sing, be what makes you feel whole and go wherever you wanted to go!
The more of us, the merrier!
Awaken into that.
Dive in to it and emerge.
Huge big massive amounts of love and peace to you all
Dedicated to Shiva Rea who planted this slow growing seed a few years ago….