Ashtanga yoga Blog - This Diary is all about my personal practice of the Ashtanga Yoga. Practice, practice, practice and it all comes. I want to know what comes after, the only way to discover it, is by having a regular practice.
As of April 10th, 2016 I have decided to dedicate my asana practice to the Primary Series of the Ashtanga. Here are my insights, my up and down, my best and worst. - Namaste -
Interview with a long time practitioner - Steven Hyland
Ashtanga Yoga in Thailand
1. What guided you to the Ashtanga Yoga Practice?
It was quite a long time ago now; about 4 or 5 years BC (before computers) I think.
I had been on a kind of search for a yoga class that would be likely to hold my interest. I had tried a couple of classes at a local sports facility and they didn’t seem to be very interesting or challenging. Back then it was purely a physical practice; I had no idea at all how much depth there could be to it.
Anyway, by chance I was in the sports department of a large store, and there was a dvd running of two people practicing first series. One was accomplished, and the other was doing beginners variations, which, although is a different approach to KPJAYI teaching methods, it did make it appealing to try.
There was something about what they were practicing that triggered a deep connection, but I was a long way from being physically capable of 80% of the asanas. I had a desk job back then, and had not been fit as a kid. I had a LOT of work to do but I was up for the challenge.
After a few weeks of stretching and struggling at home, I knew I had to find a teacher and found one, just 40kms from home. That was my seed point really. It was about 1997.
2. Do you think that this practice is for everyone ? Even for a full complete beginner?
It really is down to attitude. Of course these days there’s been a massive increase in awareness, so with a bit of research, not so many go into it like a blank sheet of paper (as I had).
What is needed is discipline, patience, acceptance, compassion and many other qualities that can be left behind in the fast-paced and ever changing lives that most of us seem to have these days.
Many people seem to be over-stimulated these days, without a minute to call their own, so it is a highly appropriate time to start. “I didn’t have time” is probably the most common reason for not taking practice, or going to class, but we overlook that we are in control of what we actually do with our time.
We all have the opportunity to arrange our lives to include a bit of ‘me-time’, and in that window we can take practice.
In the beginning, we don’t have to do too much. It’s much nicer, and sustainable, if we taper into a practice, while making sure that we don’t just play to our strengths.
Many of us have to progress very carefully though, because our joints and our ranges of movement in our day to day life are not ready for many of the asanas.
We’ve allowed ourselves quite sedentary life in most cases, or been driven that way by work and short term opportunities to be comfortable. So, we have to learn how to lean into it, and not push. Guruji always said that it’s a listening practice.
It can be painful when we don’t listen, or when we rush! As a teacher, I don’t like to see people setting themselves up for the mistakes that I’ve made in the past.
All of my injuries occurred in the first year or so, and were entirely caused by me trying to do things I wasn’t ready for; my beginners naivety. The bottom line though IMHO, is attitude.
Anyone with the right attitude can patiently begin their quest. Yamas and Niyamas strongly support correct attitude, but many of us don’t place too much interest there for a while. Odd really, because later on they can become one of your biggest challenges.
3. From your personal point of view, is it really necessary to stop student when they can not bind in Marychasana D or grab in Supta Kurmasana for instance?
There are advantages in both scenarios, so the relationship with your teacher is what really matters to me.
If the student and teacher know each other, and work together for a meaningful period of time, they can work together applying the brakes, or pushing if a push is required. A good teacher isn’t looking at the place, he’s looking at the face. If somebody is really making a mess, or conking out, it’s better for them to rest up at that point.
4. There is this sentence that said "One teacher (or one guru) for one student". Do you consider Pattabhis Jois or Sharath as your Guru?
Most of us think about this at some point, and maybe some of us over think it. I’m kind of at peace with it, in that the Guru system is Indian.
As I’m not (Indian), I don’t use the term Guru. I have enormous respect for Guruji’s work and of course for Sharath, as well as my principal teacher, Hamish.
I deeply respect other teachers that have shed a bit of light on stuff over the years too. Even just one tip that supports me gets remembered at source as I practice, and keeps in evolving and interesting. We are all one voice in the fullness of time, and all here to support and help each other; that’s my feeling anyway.
5. Do you think that it is easy to follow the "parampara" when in Mysore there are more than 200 students to practice with one teacher?
Remaining within a lineage really helps to control confusion and doubt that can set in by hopping around and doing different practices/methods.
Conversely though, staying open to ideas and inspiration is very helpful and healthy, without unbalancing your energy.
If confusion and doubt set in, it can really bugger up my practice, so for me parampara is internal, not external. I hope that makes sense.
Being in Gokulam, really helped me to see a bigger picture, or maybe it was just that my mind was free of work and all other commitments.
The number of people there had no bearing at all on what I came away with. The large numbers of people did make the domestic stuff challenging though; accommodation etc., and of course these days, it has become more difficult to get a place in the Shala.
6. What does the practice bring you on a daily basis or just into your Life?
Once I had accepted that it was going to be quite different every time, and stopped really striving for progress, it became a really special time.
In all those years, it has hardly ever felt like a chore or like I just have to go through the motions. It’s very colourful. From the opening mantra though, everything else goes on hold and all of the support mechanisms that the practice offers, start to show up.
At the end, whether it’s felt heavy, light, spacious or tight, after taking some rest, theres a lovely feeling of settlement, peace and accomplishment etc. I love the way Guruji summed that up in his limited English; “everywhere looking, only God seeing”.
7. What advice will you give to a brand new practitioner?
Be patient and don't have too many expectations or demands. Let it happen, because it will. There will be hundreds of "ahaha" moments that will show up when you are ready. Practice with healthy curiosity and practice with an artful intelligence, while keeping sight of the incredible intelligence that the sequencing of the asanas has built inside of it.
What needs to change, deepen or evolve in you will be supported by each respective asana and vinyasa.
Since I don't have anything else to do while I am in Thailand I am starting to practice 4 hours per day. After my morning practice I usually go for a swim to relaxe my muscle and in the afternoon I start exploring other path outside of Ashtanga.
For instance I am now practicing Pilates, I really missed that practice, I used to practice and teach Pilates when I was living in Paris 5 years ago. I do miss it a lot but I am getting back to it which is a very good news.
Steve Hyland let me borrowing the Yoga Wheel from the studio, and I am discovering how can I use it instead of a Ball or instead of a Reformer for instance. It is pretty intense practice and I am realising that I kind of lost my core by only practicing Ashtanga Yoga.
Or maybe it is because I do not practice well, but Pilates moves are essentially for the core muscle. The passage from lying down to the Teaser is slightly difficult with this manduka travel yoga mat.
Very thin and my sacrum does not like it, therefore I am not stable because of the pain it occurs to my sacrum.
And as a result this morning I did my first "baby lolasana, I was very happy about it but was unable to reproduce it ;-)
So now I am looking forward to the next morning practice.
There are a lot of advantages of not having a proper home, you are free. I like to travel, even thought I now tend to dislike taking flight, but I what I do love after all is to travel for a purpose such as practicing Ashtanga Yoga.
Pattaya is not the paradisiac place that we could imagine when we are travelling to Thailand. Pattaya is well-known for its nightlife, bar and girls. However there is one hidden secret, Steven Hyland a wonderful Ashtanga Yoga Teacher.
When I was in Mysore I was looking for another place to practice and after google it I finally find Steven Hyland. He has been authorised by Sharat and is now dedicating his time teaching in Pattaya. His shala is located in a resort a very quiet place.
The first contact I had with Steven was through messenger, he has been very reactive and even arranged my accommodation at the Mind Resort.
Steve is very quiet, shy, humble. He does not advertise himself, if you want to find him you really have to look for him, he does not organise any intensive.
He just do what he likes, he teaches to everyone and anyone who wish to practice. His students are most of it Thai people, sometimes beginners are coming but the regular students are practitioners. In his shala everyone has his attention.
There are between 4 to 8 students that come for the practice which is just perfect, no one will sweat on your mat except yourself and no risk of being hit by a foot while coming back from Uttanasana.
At Steve's shala everyone has his attention.
Personally I never liked to be adjusted during the standing sequence. I am subject to pressure drop which make my ears "buzzing", therefore I need more break and take more breathing in between asana such as all Prasaritta series.
However when I receive an adjustment from Steve I do not resist, his hands are talking to my spine and I can feel it lengthening instead of resisting.
The sitting adjustment postures are my favorite. He is never pushy and just guiding me to a better extensions, rotations, deepening softly my practice.
I find in Steve the same qualities as with Iain Grysak (with who I will be practicing next month).
I think you can not compare the Asthanga practice with any other yoga style. There is a real community in the Ashtanga world, everyone practice the same series, the same asanas, we all have more or less the same obstacles and having the opportunity to practice with several teachers (which is contrary to what we hear I know) is for me a huge privilege as they are all complimentary to each others.
Also it is very interesting to see how our body and bone structure are changing through the practice. For instance I am in the period where I lost all my backbends.
Therefore I am now practicing in the afternoon not the Ashtanga but exercices inspired by the work of Simon Borg-Olivier focused on the spine mobility. I also add to my matwork the Pilates Method as well swimming.
So yes Pattaya is not a hub of Yoga, neither a paradisiac place in Thailand to visit but in a strange way I feel good here.
If you are looking for a place to practice in Thailand, in a shala where you will have enough space to unroll your mat I can not stop to recommend you Steven Hyland.
The same way there is no 200 Hour Iyengar Teacher Training Course.
1. Dedication to the Ashtanga Yoga System
When you start practicing the Ashtanga Yoga Vinyasa, respecting the series and respecting the order of the asanas, wether it is with Sharat, Sarawasthi or any another teachers following that system you will soon realised that it takes a lot of commitment to achieve the Primary Series.
The Primary Series can not be learn in one month.
The Primary Series should not be teach by non practitioner.
2. Teaching a 200 Hour Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training Course is disrespectful
First toward all practitioners in the world who wake up early morning to practice.
Second toward senior teachers who have a bigger knowledge than any other so call Yoga School in the world teaching that method into a one month format.
Third: you can teach something else, call it as Vinyasa Yoga, Vinyasa Flow, Flow Yoga but using the pretext that you have been watching videos on Youtube, knowing the sanskrit counting for all vinyasas does not make you a practitioner.
Or if you really want to teach it then PRACTICE IT!
That is at least the last thing you can do.
Be honest with yourself and with your students and wake up every early morning, unfold your mat and go and sweat on your mat each day of your life, not only 3 weeks, not only 1 week, no do it regularly, try to understand the concept of Tapas if you are calling yourself a "Yogi" or a Yoga teacher.
3. Selling a 200 Hour Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Course is lying to students
Yes that is a big lie.
Because most of the time students who register to this kind of course have absolutely no clue about Ashtanga Yoga, some of them does not even know who was Sri Krishnamacharya, some of them does not even know what is the "Mysore" Style..... they are fully beginners, and in one month they will become certified in "Ashtanga Yoga" as for most us it takes at least 18 months just to assimilate the Primary Series!
I was one of them, in 2012 I attend a 200 Hour Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training Course. And it took me 4 years to understand that it was wrong.
In the West we have the conception that India is the source of Yoga.
Therefore we tend to believe any yoga teachers who will wear a dhoti, a dot on the forehead and speak in Sanskrit.
From our point of view we will be completely amazed by it.
Then when we come back to our country we will be proud to say "My Indian Teacher", it will give more weight to our resume and to our yogic experience. Because we trust.
The reality is slightly different. Some Indians Teachers know it even thought they have a very limited understanding of the West, but who cares, they start surfing on the wave of Yoga and start making so much money that they won't stop.
They are not even practicing what they are teaching. But under the pretext that they know all sanskrit name of all asanas, that they "know" the Primary Series and the vinyasa counting it is sufficient for them to declare themselves as practitioner of the Ashtanga.
Same for westerners, they come to Mysore because that is the "place to be", take a picture with Sharat or just sit at the entrance of the main shala for the picture and then when they come back home they are claiming to have learned yoga from the source..... after one or three months practice.....
I met a girl in Gokulam who was practicing with Sarawasthi. She then become friend with Sharmilla and told me that after 6 months she wanted to get her authorisation from Sarawasti.
I told her it is not gonna happened. She did not believe me. Not to mention that she was a beginner and a Zumba teacher....
A teacher capable to jump back and jump front does not mean that he/she is practicing. Watch their practice when they are showing asana, if at all they can show.
In two seconds you can see that Mark Robberds, Iain Grysak, Steve Hyland or John Scott are practitioners because they are carrying their practice into their body.
Actually their practices are printed into their body. The body don't lie!
As soon as they move to show one simple asana you notice it.
Catching, not catching?
Some people might say "It is not because you bind in Marychasana D or catch in Supta Kurmasana that you are a yogi". I fully agreed with that!
However, in order to be able to catch or bind take commitment, regularity, dedication, practice.
Because anyone with a regular practice can do it, that is the powerful message of the Ashtanga Yoga Practice.
You can do whatever you want with your mind and your body if only you have the dedication for it.
The same way some people without any practice might be able to lift up in Mayurasana, just by the strength of their arms but certainly not because of a regular practice.
Unfortunately this little circus trick might be sufficient enough to impress beginners students.
Do not become an Ashtanga Yoga Teacher but do become a Practitioner.
Enjoy your practice!
Here are few Ashtanga Yoga Teachers that deserve more than a look:
Iain Grysak (Ubud)
Steve Hyland (Pattaya, Thailand)
Mark Robberds (Australia, or Bali or everywhere else in the world)
John Scott (everywhere in the world)
Laruga Glaser (Sweden)
Nicola Legrez (Paris, France)
Arnaud Kancel (Montpellier, France)
Caroline Bourlinguez (Paris, France)
Ajay Tokas (India)
All of theses brillant teachers are having intensive workshops, training courses. Just have a look, if you want to start your journey with the Ashtanga start it on a good way!