A soul and body shaping weekend of Ashtanga Workshops
London, Triyoga Soho (12–14 August 2011)
I am writing as an Ashtanga novice, therefore possibly skipping some important details, but I try to pass on a piece from the knowledge and power that I received during this weekend from Kino MacGregor. The first meeting with Kino occurred on Friday night under not very quiet circumstances, due to the venue (Soho, especially on Friday night …). She started the lesson by the open windows, but since the windows were overlooking a very noisy bar, soon they had to be closed.
Kino was extremely slender in appearance with a positive charisma and as tiny as muscular. After introducing herself, she asked us to leave our nicely arranged yoga mats and gather around her to help her sharing thoughts with us – anticipating that the conversation would rather be one-sided, as she really liked to talk (I don’t think any of us minded this fact…).
The topic of Friday evening was the short introduction to the Yoga Sutras – the philosophical background of Ashtanga. Broadly speaking she had gone through the four books, focusing on the aim of restructuring the Cit (consciousness) as the base of the yoga practice: as soon as we take control over the three components (Manas, Om para, Buddhi) of our sense, we go through a mind-transformation (Vritti) and we may escape from the Wheel of Samsara.
To summarize the teachings of the evening, we were warned as to when we practice Ashtanga yoga, it is not simply an exercise that we choose, but with it we also choose a philosophy. For starters it is very important to decide why one wants to learn this special series of asanas – if just to have a nicer body, it is not enough deep-rooted motivation. Ashtanga Yoga is a process that requires a lifetime or even more lifetimes of practice and, if successfully matched with conscious thinking brings the power to free ourselves from the continuous flow of Samsara.
On this journey our “faithful companions” will be our affections, external and internal inhibitions, pains and pretentious egos as barriers, but (hopefully) with time and hard work we can leave them all behind. And how long it takes to achieve the inner peace? In response, Kino quoted her much respected Ashtanga teacher, Guruji: “Do your practice and all is coming.” As a piece of advice (but not too seriously), she added: should we pray that we’ll be reborn as a child of Ashtangini parents in India – possibly shortening the time of the hard work that we are facing.
Kino’s sturdy lotus was loosened only once: a little mouse appeared suddenly and ran towards her. Who was more scared of the other, I don’t remember, because that tiny, frightened animal was running around, until a student who had the courage caught it and set it free outside the centre. Kino gratefully thanked him and used the opportunity as a good example for practicing Ahimsa (the avoidance of violence). We began and ended the evening with a series of mantras on a “call-recall” basis. I especially enjoyed this part, because unfortunately in my local yoga centre in Cambridge we don’t practice mantras too often. Kino sung the sacred lines filled with empathy, which turned my tired weekend mood into a feeling of energised well-being.
On Saturday I was at the Triyoga Centre half an hour before their opening time to place my yoga mat to the best possible place for the led Ashtanga practice. Since I am not an advanced practitioner of Ashtanga, I wanted to be near to the “source”. I managed to settle down along the first row and received two small adjustments and help with the headstand from Kino. She was strict in her count and moving around constantly – keeping an eye on the whole group. With a smile, but not accepting resistance she told off everyone who drank during the practice: “That was the last sip of water.”
At the end of the strong Ashtanga practice for our disappointment Kino warned us that we should not use our lunch break for having lunch, because for the three-hour afternoon practice we will need to be able for ease the operation of the abdominal muscles (so much about my list of the local vegetarian cafes, I thought to myself…).
“Burn baby, burn” – or the Story of Almond Baking in Ashtanga style
The original title of the afternoon practice, and my freeform translation. Following up the teachings from Friday evening and to strengthen our postures we started studying the Mula bandha – the base of all asanas in the Ashtanga series. The experience was indescribable… In any case, I was astonished when we were openly touching the (outer) muscles and bones in question. At my local yoga centre, in a polite English style, Mula bandha is always “greeted” at the beginning of the lessons, but its ingredients are never detailed. It was good that I looked up in the dictionary all the necessary anatomical terms, so I didn’t need to peek and copy where the neighbour’s hand was…
We built up the Mula Bandha step by step, then connected it with the Udiyana Bandha. From then on, Kino referred to this double lock as Dantian Centre every time she wanted us to activate this group of muscles for jump backs, jump forwards and asana practice. And how comes the almond baking? It was Kino’s association for the method of when the internal locks are activated and extra heat is produced, which should burn our attachments, bad habits and fears = our inner almonds. That is, if the seeds are heated to a high temperature and burnt completely until they will no longer germinate. It is therefore not allowed to drink water during the exercise: water puts out the internal fire. The series of exhaustive exercise was ended with singing mantras. As usually after the session, Kino remained for a long time and patiently answered questions.
On Sunday, as a beginner of the Mysore-style Ashtanga I was told to start at 9 am, as for the more practiced ashtanginis the start was 8 am. Kino’s helper was Cary Perkins, a practiced Ashtanga teacher from the Yoga Place. Both of them tirelessly kept adjusting and helping where needed. To my surprise, I wasn’t stopped in the midst of my practice, so the first time in my life I’ve completed all the asanas of the first series in Mysore style! Only one, intimate moment drew my attention away from the practice: Kino helped to dropback a girl, who started crying loudly with relief – an almond then and there got burned for sure… I got a few little Atma-experience, too: Kino (using both her arms and legs) “folded me” into Marychasana D, then later I climbed up into a backbend clutched to her ankles. Being full of successful experiences, but running out of energy I curiously waited what Sunday afternoon would bring.
As a start of the afternoon class we greeted the merge of the Mula Bandha and Udiyana Bandha: the Dantian Center. Activating (if succeeded…) this little “group of muscles” we started practicing forward bends – asanas from the Ashtanga first series: first standing (eg Utthanasana, Prasarita Padottanasana) and later sitting (eg Dandasana, Paschimottasana). As it turned out gravity gives major support with the first, while not so much when sitting… As good piece of advice Kino recommended to practice Utthanasana whilst waiting for the water to boil for your morning coffee or tea, warning everyone that the kettle should be generously filled with water (she almost succeeded to set her accommodation on fire in Mysore, when waiting in Utthanasana for the non-existing water to boil). After all the leg stretching we did some hip-opening exercises (eg Utthita Hasta Padangusthasanas, Kurmasana, Upavishta Konasana), and practiced headstands for a short while, because unfortunately the time passed too quickly and on that exceptional day Kino couldn’t stay longer.
It might not have been such a clever idea to keep practicing, as the two-hour-long coach journey back to Cambridge heavily tested the endurance of my nicely loosened, but exhausted muscles. I learned a lot during the weekend and returned home enriched with vast experience. Kino shared a lot of her wisdom with us during this weekend of Ashtanga, out of which there is one more I would like to pass on: to facilitate the challenging way of Ashtanga Yoga and to go forward on our chosen path, each of us should choose a “sponsor” (as in AA programs), to whom one can turn for help if one is puzzled or weakens. As my sponsors I choose my teachers at Camyoga – Howard Daly and Emma Lindsay – and Astangini – my dear friend, who shown me the path of Ashtanga. Thanks to them for keeping me on the path and thanks to Kino MacGregor for the unforgettable weekend.