2. In your personal practice experience, what is the most challenging aspect of the practice and how do you overcome it?
If you are familiar with Ayurveda, you have encountered the concept of the “dosha” – or individual constitution – that each person has. My predominant dosha is Pitta, which means (among many other things) that I do not mind working hard physically, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. The most challenging aspect of the Ashtanga practice for me has been learning to cultivate a sense of ease in my postures, rather than just assuming that I can solve everything by working harder. Ashtanga has taught me that the breath is a key aspect of achieving ease with stability in yoga, but I still have to remind myself of this constantly during my practice. This is one of my biggest challenges!
3. We often hear that yoga is for women as they are more flexible. Any thoughts / tips / advice for men who are thinking that about starting Ashtanga Yoga?
The idea that yoga is not for men is a by-product of social and cultural stereotypes that have nothing to do with whether or not men benefit from yoga practice. Flexibility itself is an effect of yoga practice, not a requirement for taking it up! If you are looking for purely physical reasons to do yoga, the main one is to increase circulation.
Each yoga posture increases the distribution of oxygen throughout the body through a combination of extension and compression of internal organs and glands. Regulated breathing ensures that the blood is highly oxygenated; the pumping of the heart moves the blood through the body more quickly than normal; and the compression/extension effect helps push the blood deeper into the tissues, breaking up blockages and improving the functioning of internal systems.
All of this, though, is a happy byproduct of a practice whose main intent is to enhance the ability to concentrate and – with experience – experience greater peace of mind. That is the goal, not flexibility. Naturally flexible people have their own set of challenges in the practice.
4. Congratulations on being Authorised Level 1 on your recent trip to KPJAYI. Please share with us how the journey has been for you and the significance behind the authorization.
Thanks! When I first traveled to Mysore it was because I wanted to experience Ashtanga at its “source”. I enjoy travel, I love yoga, and I am a fan of south Indian vegetarian food. So, on the one hand, it was a new adventure. On the other, I knew that if I were going to dedicate my personal practice and professional yoga teaching to a different method I should feel familiar and comfortable with the lineage as represented by Sharath Jois. The trip was rewarding on all those levels! I also made some good friends among my fellow students at the Shala. Several of them, like myself, have continued to return every year since then. Itʼs a community!
After several trips I did start to wonder if Authorization might be on the horizon, not because I felt like I “deserved” it, but because I felt that if it came, it would be Sharathʼs vote of confidence that he was comfortable that I could start working on teaching the system appropriately. Of course, Authorization is not a magic wand, and you have to put in hard work to teach successfully no matter what.
Luckily for us, there are many excellent, dedicated teachers who are not Authorized who are putting in the hard work on a daily basis. At some point I realized that, just as in my physical practice, I needed to establish a sense of ease around the idea that Authorization would come at its own pace. And when it did come on my fifth trip it felt like encouragement that I should embrace teaching the Ashtanga system as much as possible!
5. How important is food (in particularly Ayurvedic cooking / Ayurveda) in relation to the practice (yoga)?
Ayurveda emphasizes diet as the foundation of all healing therapies, with food being the first and most important form of medicine we have. Ayurveda also suggests that our diet is a reflection of our level of development, and that ideally it should express the higher qualities of peace, love and awareness. A sattvic or pure diet in Ayurveda starts with avoiding any products that involve the killing or harming of animals.
The basis of the Ayurvedic concept of sattva is ahimsa, the principle of non-harming, which is also the very first principle of the Yamas in the Ashtanga Yoga system. According to both Ayurvedic and yogic tradition, eating pure, sattvic food is a critical component of bodily health and peace of mind.
Beyond the idea of integrating the principle of ahimsa into your diet, Ayurveda suggests that we each have an individual constitution, and that this dosha is affected differently by different foods. Once you know your dosha Ayurveda offers guidelines regarding how to start understanding the impact different food items are having on your current state of health.
I experienced this first-hand when, shortly after completing my Bikram teacher training, I started to experience a troubling skin condition that my western medical doctor could not diagnose. After she tried unsuccessfully to treat me with antibiotics I decided to consult with the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The clinician there diagnosed my dosha and presented me with a simple list of foods to favor and avoid in my diet. Within two months of starting to follow these guidelines my condition cleared substantially. The rest I was able to figure out in consultation with the chef at the local Ayurvedic restaurant!
If you ask me whether it is necessary to eat an Ayurvedic diet to reap the benefits of yoga, my answer is: the only thing that is necessary is that you find out what works best for you! What you eat influences your entire being, so it is very important to eat consciously. Just as with your yoga practice, the most important thing is to ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing – why have you decided to move in a certain way in your yoga practice? Or, why have you decided to put x, y or z into your body? How is this action serving you right now?
I found that the Ayurvedic guidelines resonated deeply with my own experience, particularly after taking up a serious yoga practice and seeing that it made my body more sensitive to food. I do tend to be a bit suspicious of diet trends that seem faddish (such as low-carb diets, raw food diets, paleo diets, etc…) preferring instead to look for hints of wisdom in older traditions that have evolved over thousands of years and practiced by millions of people. But that is simply my preference, based on personal intuition. I started with the intuition, and then I tested it. You have to go with your intuition and then make adjustments based on the results that you experience. If it works for you, thereʼs nothing to fix. If it doesnʼt work, keep exploring and testing!
6. Can you share with us about your upcoming Ashtanga Yoga & Ayurveda cooking retreating in Ubud? What can one look forward to when they attend the retreat?
Sure – thanks for asking! Weʼre holding the retreat at the beautiful Narasoma Retreat Centre in Ubud, October 23-29. I am co-organizing it with two people: Prakash Jagadappa – the Ayurvedic chef who helped me over ten years ago, and who has since become my cooking teacher – and our mutual friend Emily Glaser, who is a certified Ayurvedic clinician. Our goal is to give Ashtanga practitioners curious about Ayurveda a chance to keep up their daily yoga practice while getting a taste (literally!) of some of the concepts and practices of this healing science. I will lead Mysore-style practice in the mornings. Prakash will prepare our lunches, all of which will be vegan and gluten-free.
Participants will be able to help Prakash cook if they want, and in the process learn Ayurvedic cooking techniques. In the afternoons Emily will be introducing and discussing the principles of Ayurvedic preventative medicine, and how to apply them in daily life. We will also discuss some of the ways Ayurveda might be used to complement the yoga practice itself. In the evening participants can explore the amazing dining options of Ubud. The retreat centre is located just off Monkey Forest Road, so most of Ubud will be in easy walking distance. And the town has great vegan and vegetarian dining options so people can stick to a more ahimsa-based diet if they want to!
7. Any final thoughts about the Ashtanga Yoga practice?
I would just offer a suggestion that, as often as you can, whether youʼre practicing yoga or not, you leave room in your mind for the space to ask “why”? The answer is not so important, but the perspective you gain from taking a step back and looking at what you are doing in the moment can enrich your sense of self immensely over time. Just remember to do it!
Retreat website: www.sattvicretreats.com
My website: www.simplysattvic.com