My Body is My Medium

Lolasana by  Shelley Zentner

Lolasana by Shelley Zentner

by Laura Josephy

For as long as I can remember, I have appreciated the human body as a form of art.  First through competitive gymnastics and now through the practice of yoga: the kinesthetic has always been my primary medium. The rich palate that the body in space provides is a ritual that guides my attention inward to the subtle realm where sensation, thought, and emotion intersect. Like a book I want to read repeatedly, the idiosyncrasies of the body tell the story of its unique character and wisdom.

I stumbled into my first led Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series class in 2002. I was discouraged by the discovery that students of this method follow a set sequence of postures. My mind settled by a few years of exploring other styles, I returned to Ashtanga in 2005 with a deeper appreciation for the nuances of an established daily practice. I replaced the monotony I initially assumed, with a respect for impermanence. The beauty of memorizing a sequence slowly over time is that the degree of attention that would otherwise be occupied with creating or following a novel sequence, can now be turned toward the internal experience of each pose. The body and breath flowing in tandem, the practice becomes a moving meditation on the somatic experience that plumbs the depths of consciousness and reveals the clear and alert presence at the center of Being.

If human nature plays to its strengths, then Ashtanga Yoga appeals to its blind spots. Sooner or later, the reality of abiding by a set sequence is that all students discover the edge of their physical or mental comfort zone. This seat of friction is an opportunity for awareness and an invitation to do things differently; to respond and not react. Yoga, after all, is a mindfulness training practice intended to illuminate our patterns and free us from deep-rooted conditioning. The yoga mat is a microcosm where the student can explore and experiment with their adjoined physical, mental, and emotional habits within the relatively controlled environment of the studio. How do I react when faced with fear or the challenge of something new? Where do I resist what is? How can I release unnecessary effort? These questions become lessons, which we can applied to the macrocosm of everyday life where the practice of yoga truly begins.

My creative collaboration with Shelley Zentner was born of the intention to bring my experience of the Ashtanga Primary Series to life. When envisioning the Tahoe Yoga Shala’s teacher training manual, it was essential that the energy and anatomy of each pose be represented by images that were educational and inspiring. The combination of the raw and unfinished, with the highly refined and precise styles present in Shelley’s illustrations, draws the eye to focus on the primary action of each pose while simultaneously allowing room for personal expression.

Ashtanga Yoga is a living tradition in that it continues to evolve through first-hand experience. With each original illustration, Shelley depicts the way my body has come to inhabit each pose after many years of consistent practice. It is one, but certainly not the only way, to approach these physical forms. Therein lies the paradox; if in our pursuit of an idealized form we become rigid in our application of technique, it can become yet another external distraction that clouds awareness.  It is my sincere hope that these images will usher yoga students into their personal experience of the practice. Though a visual guide is a necessary tool of learning, it is no substitute for the knowledge imparted through direct perception. We may use symbols and language as direction, but once there, the true nectar is found in being in the moment as it unfolds.


“Art of Ashtanga” Open House & Artist Reception

Sunday, November 3rd from 5 - 7pm

Join us in celebration of the continued collaboration between the Tahoe Yoga Shala and local artist, Shelley Zentner. The Shala and Shelley have teamed up to create instructional fine art drawings of the Ashtanga Primary Series. Each drawing is a study of the poses that comprise the Primary Series and were used as visual guidance in the Shala’s Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training Manual. Every drawing is an original, one-off artwork, created with charcoal on Stonehenge Archival paper. Admission free. Light refreshments served.

All original drawings will be for sale. Custom prints, the Teacher Training Manual and special edition Full Primary Series charts will also be available for purchase. A percentage of the profits will be donated to local causes and charities to which we feel connected. Advance reservations of specific poses can be made by contacting Shelley at shelley.zentner@gmail.com.

Why Mysore Style?

IMG_0111.jpeg

by Annie Davidson

When I went to my first Mysore class, I picked it because the time worked. I had no idea what Mysore meant (although in my American naïveté I thought it meant I might get sore!). I remember Kacey asking me if I had done any yoga before. I said, “Of course! I had done yoga for years and I ‘knew’ the poses.”

Over two years later, I can confidently say that Mysore has transformed my body, mind, and spirit - no joke, no exaggeration. Now, if you asked me, I’d say I am still learning the poses, even the very first sun salutation! I rediscover my body, mind, and spirit every day. I can do things I never thought this middle-aged body could do and still I have so much more to learn. 

For me, the biggest difference - as compared to how I practiced before with led classes - is that Mysore is MY practice. The approach allows me to truly own my practice and this means it has deepened me in every way. I can take it wherever I go - hotel gyms, visiting family, outside, inside.  I am constantly surprised by doing things I never thought I could - like standing on my head for extended time. And along the way I have never been injured or scared off because I get so much support from the amazing, wise teachers who have committed to this journey, too.

I’m deeply grateful to Kacey and Laura for their loving kindness, support and HUMOR in my first two years. I look forward to living the rest of my life with the practice. If you want to explore the universe that is you, step on your mat with the Mysore approach at Yoga Shala. 

Donation Class for Lake Tahoe Humane Society

36273303_1669396439781484_4020762071128866816_o.jpg
Katarra is a 10 year old pure bred Alaskan Malamute. She needs a home as an only dog as she is choosy about her dog friends. She needs to be kept on a leash whilst out walking and on a runner when left in a yard because like most Malamutes she is great at escaping.   Katarra is available for adoption at El Dorado Co. Animal Services – S. Lake Tahoe

Katarra is a 10 year old pure bred Alaskan Malamute. She needs a home as an only dog as she is choosy about her dog friends. She needs to be kept on a leash whilst out walking and on a runner when left in a yard because like most Malamutes she is great at escaping.

Katarra is available for adoption at El Dorado Co. Animal Services – S. Lake Tahoe

In the months of November and December, the Shala's donation based classes will benefit Lake Tahoe Humane Society.  

Lake Tahoe Humane Society Mission: “Dedicated to enhancing the lives of animals in our community through service, education, and, stewardship.”

Find more information on their website at www.laketahoehumaneandspca.com

Attend our weekly by donation (cash or check only please) class to support this resource in our community.

Ashtanga Improv: All-Levels on Sunday at 5:30pm with Laura

The Art of Ashtanga

banner.jpg

THE ART OF ASHTANGA

by Shelley Zentner

When my yoga teacher, Laura Josephy asked me if I’d be interested in drawing every pose in the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series for her teacher training manual, I jumped at the opportunity. I love drawing the human figure. The challenge of making 75 studies felt like an extension of my own yoga practice and an opportunity to deepen my understanding of anatomy. What I hadn’t anticipated was the profound nature of the journey, both artistically and personally. I’m learning so much from the repetition and discipline required to work with this much consistency. The fine nature of the drawing style requires a level of concentration and absorption I haven’t experienced since I was an art student. I have a yoga anatomy book under my easel, along with David Swenson’s seminal Practice Manual for reference.

Uniting other disciplines with art is not a new venture for me. I graduated from the University of the West of England in 1997, with a degree in Art and Visual Culture. The program was an experimental blend of studio art, philosophy, theology, politics and history. It suited me because I love ideas as much as I love making art. To me, they are inextricably linked. I’ve always had a very broad range of academic interests, and am not and expert at anything - I just have a childlike curiosity about things and find connections intriguing.

This curiosity has led me to combine art with many different fields of study, such as science and cultural politics. I also use my art for social and political activism and founded the local group Tahoe Activist Artists in 2017. The imagery that manifests in my work is usually centered on the human form although I like to spend time outdoors, communing with nature. I fill sketchbooks with observations of landscape and nature, working out ideas and emotions with words and images combined.

I first came to Ashtanga around 12 years ago, not long after I moved to Tahoe from Wales. My husband and I had met whilst bouldering our way around Canada and the US. I didn't have my work visa yet, so I took a few classes at Lake Tahoe Community College for something to do and to connect with like-minded people. I took oil painting and figure drawing with Phyllis Shafer and Ashtanga with Amrito Cross. I was too committed to climbing to maintain a regular practice though, and soon ended my daily practice after the quarter was finished.

I began practicing yoga again last October after I realized that I had to let go of climbing after 21 years. I was diagnosed with endometriosis and breast cancer in 2015, and the treatments, trauma and surgeries have changed my life. The transformative nature of the disease has presented me with what I call the ‘dark gift’. Meditation and a new spiritual practice brought me to the realization that I needed physical activity which nurtured my body and soul in a way that climbing no longer did.

Ashtanga initially attracted me because it reminded me of a long, technical boulder problem. Visualization, memorization of sequence, and fine, meditative, detailed work balanced with the big movements or gestures are the qualities of bouldering and art that I love. I find this again in yoga, with a different language that translates to the same thing.

When I can practice regularly, I feel at one with the world. The nature of Mysore style classes allows for a personal journey, supported by caring teachers. I feel part of a community again, and I also enjoy occasional Yin and flow classes. My body feels strong and supple, and I feel nurtured and empowered. The athletic nature of this practice satisfies my need to be physically energetic. The spiritual, meditative aspect of the practice calms my mind, makes me feel connected to the universe, and helps release the tension of my body.

I’m profoundly grateful to have found the Shala, my teachers, and to have the opportunity to explore my practice in more depth through art. It makes me happy to know that the drawings will continue in their journey as a teaching tool, and find purpose in the education of a new generation of instructors.

Shelley Zentner is a professional artist, wife, mother and instructor at Lake Tahoe Community College. Learn more at www.shelleyzen.us

Shelley’s Drawings will be available to view and purchase at our Art of Ashtanga event on November 11 at 6pm.

Manager Spotlight: Sally Sjolin

IMG_8422 2.jpg

Name: Sally Sjolin

Practicing Yoga Since: A long time

1). Tell us about the first yoga class you took?

I lived in San Francisco two blocks from the Guru Ram Das Ashram which is housed in a beautiful victorian. The Ashram was founded by a co-op community of students and teachers and is now known as the Kundalini Yoga Center. I remember walking into the building and being seduced by the smell of food cooking. I signed up for a beginner series and learned that they had a community meal each evening after class. At the time, I was living a stressful corporate lifestyle and was craving balance and interactions with mindful people. I went to class at the Ashram 2 nights per week until I moved from SF.

2). What do you remember of the first yoga class you taught?

Last January, I started managing the Shala which gave me the opportunity to be more involved with the yoga community that I love.

In June, I got very lucky and was accepted into Tim Miller’s Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series Teacher Training in Encinitas. Because this door opened, I am currently apprenticing/assisting one day per week during Mysore class. I have become surprisingly unattached to the outcome. I love yoga and want to learn as much as possible. Thank you fellow Mysore students for allowing me to learn by pushing on you. ;-) I will also take the Tahoe Yoga Shala 200-hr teacher training which begins in April.

3). Who/what are your teachers? Why?

Laura and Kacey, because they are amazing and I love them. They offer a safe space to practice and grow. The Shala Mysore program is growing and thriving. It’s the shared commitment and the love and support from teachers and fellow students that motivate me to practice every day.

I’ve also been able to spend time with the wonderful teachers at Ashtanga Yoga Center in Encinitas. It was eye opening to study at Tim’s studio with people who have been practicing and teaching for so many years. It’s not uncommon to see practitioners side by side doing 3rd series or others working on 4th. The community is inviting, happy to share space and teach no matter which series you are practicing. The energy at AYC is magical and inspiring, but there is so much to learn.

4). In what ways has yoga supported or impacted your life?

Yoga has been a part of my life for a long time, but did not become a lifestyle and spiritual path until recently. Practicing daily has had a huge impact on my body and mind. It has opened my heart, helped me gain physical and mental strength and has reduced anxiety. It’s meditation, spiritual movement, truth, love, and a path to peace. But it’s rarely that simple, because the practice meets me right where I am on any given day. It can be challenging to keep my mind calm when faced with fear, doubt or impatience. Yoga has become a comforting ritual and for me and is ultimately an act of devotion, trust and faith. When I become unmotivated, I remind myself that dedication is a choice.

5). What does your current yoga practice include? Why?

I practice Ashtanga Mysore Style 6 days per week. Mixed in with my Asana practice is pranayama, meditation, chanting and Sanskrit. Like many things in life, it started out of necessity. I was struggling with anxiety caused by a heart condition. I was told by my doctor to stop exercising and not elevate my heart rate, but yoga was ok. Obviously, that doctor had never done Ashtanga because it’s really not that easy. One of my earliest observations was that Ashtanga is a breathing practice and that focusing on breath during Asana would calm my mind and help reduce the anxiety. This was much easier to accomplish in the Mysore room with a self-led practice. Now that my heart is fixed and my anxiety is mostly gone, I still practice daily.

6). What currently inspires you?

My dog Lizzi who has been fighting cancer, but continues to love and make the most out of life despite what she goes through.

7). What is your favorite season? Why?

I love Spring. Mostly because there are baby birds, but also because it’s such a beautiful season in Tahoe.

8). What secret helps you to maintain balance and stay healthy?

Taking time for myself. This has been a learning process, but it’s one of the most important things that I do to keep myself balanced and sane.

9). A fun fact most people don’t know about you?

I love wildlife and have been known to do dumb things to observe them more closely. I wouldn’t say that these encounters were fun, but they were definitely exciting. I’ve been bluff charged by a Bull Moose in Canada, a Bull Elk in Yellowstone and a Male Lion in South Africa. I was trying to take photos and got too close.

10). What do you want to share with the Shala community?

I’m so grateful to be a part of the Tahoe Yoga Shala community. I’ve recently had the opportunity to take a class from each of the teachers at the Shala. What a great experience, they are all wonderful. We are so lucky to have such an experienced team of diverse teachers, each offering their own unique style. It was hard for me to step out of my Mysore comfort zone, but I’m glad I did. Try a different teacher or style of yoga, you might be amazed.

Intro to Mysore

Intro to Mysore

by Kacey Davy

Warning: Practicing Mysore style Ashtanga Yoga might be addicting; it will get you grounded, healthy, strong and flexible.

Mysore Style is the traditional way of learning Ashtanga Yoga. Named after the city in India where it originated, Mysore, is the source of this lineage based yoga method.  To practice Mysore Style is, for most, a different experience than what people think of when they go to a yoga class. The poses are taught individually in a group setting. The teacher is not leading everyone through the sequence at the same time. Instead, you will receive one-on-one instruction from the teacher. When you first walk into the Mysore room it may seem chaotic as everyone is doing something different. However Ashtanga is a set sequence of poses that you learn one-by-one, allowing you to commit the sequence to memory over time. Everyone begins the same way, first learning the sun salutations and then the standing poses, and so on. Repetition is used to help you develop a deeper understanding of the sequence each day and gradually you begin to feel at home in the movement-breath patterns. Then, through a dedicated practice, whether one or several days a week, you learn the entire Ashtanga Primary Series poses one by one. By moving slowly through the series you gain strength, endurance, and a sense of empowerment. Since this is individual instruction, the teachers can offer you modifications and personal feedback.

  The Ashtanga practice is all about the breath, learning how to move the body with the breath to take the shapes of the sequence, it is not about perfection of poses and achievement. The practice is all about keeping the energy moving. Yoga seeks to transform us, to build awareness of ourselves by connecting mind and body together. Ashtanga emphasizes the breath as the connection for self-awareness and over time the practice reveals the many layers and aspects of ourselves. 

The purpose of yoga is to bring peace and balance to our lives. Ashtanga is a sequence of poses designed to detoxify the body, the practice builds strength, stability, stamina, flexibility, and restores range of motion to the joints. It purifies the nervous system and, when done consistently, it helps you to feel balanced and grounded. Anyone of any age can learn Ashtanga. The 4-Week Intro to Mysore Series I am offering in October is an excellent way to learn more about this practice and integrate this style of yoga into your life. 

IMG_8249 2.jpg

Donation Classes for April and May

unnamed2.png

In the months of and April and May the Shala's donation based classes will benefit Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center .  Their mission is to provide quality avalanche and snowpack information to local and visiting backcountry users in theEastern Sierra Nevada with the goal of helping them make better decisions while travelling in avalanche terrain.

More information on their website at www.esavalanche.org

Attend one of two weekly by donation (cash or check only please) classes to support this resource in our community...

1). Chanting on Monday at 3:00 p.m. with Kacey

2). Ashtanga Improv: All-Levels on Sunday at 5:30 with Laura

The Shala is proud to announce that in the months of February and March $450 was raised for local organization, Lake Valley Firefighters Foundation, through our community's attendance in the above by donation classes. Namaste.

Teacher Spotlight: Kacey Davy

Name: Kacey Davy

IMG_7715 2.jpg

Practicing yoga since: 2005

1) Tell us about the first yoga class you took. I had taken a class or two at the gym a few times but I started practicing regularly in 2005. My first class was a really advanced ashtanga class that was way over my head, but I didn’t let that scare me away. I was immediately drawn to the calming and grounding nature of yoga and loved the community environment as opposed to a gym.

Teaching since 2012

2) What do you remember of the first yoga class you taught? My teacher training program was actually an apprenticeship program that was ongoing for several years and so I don’t recall the “first class” I ever taught. My apprenticeship consisted of assisting with my teacher on a weekly basis and after about 9 months I began to sub classes, and then earned my own weekly class. What I remember most is supporting and being a part of our community on a daily basis and getting to know each student and their needs.

3) Who/what are your teachers? Why? My teacher is Zoe Mai, from Trishula Yoga in Collingswood, NJ. Trishula is a unique yoga school that offers traditional Ashtanga Mysore practice, yoga philosophy, Sanskrit and meditation practices.  I feel blessed to have the exposure to many aspects of yoga and a teacher who is established in these practices. I never imagined myself to be a teacher, yet Zoe saw something in me and for her faith, I am forever grateful. 

4) In what ways has yoga supported or impacted your life?  Yoga has completely transformed my life. I worked in the fashion industry and began practicing yoga as a way to balance out the stress from my hectic work life. Ultimately it’s because of the yoga that I transformed my goals and aspirations and ended up living in Tahoe! The practice of yoga brings awareness to your thoughts and behaviors and brings you closer to, or brings you back to who you really are. When I started to pay attention to my fast paced, stressed out lifestyle I started to change my career goals and eventually gave it all up to pursue a simpler, more active life in a community of like-minded people. Yoga supports everything that I do, it keeps me happy and healthy as well as strong and flexible to pursue all of the outdoor adventures Tahoe has to offer.

5) What does your current yoga practice include? Why? I practice Ashtanga Mysore style 5-6 days a week. I’m currently working on the third series – called sthira bhaga, often translated as strength and grace. Sthira means strength and the practice cultivates strength not only in the body but also the in the mind. It’s a challenging practice but it’s not about the poses. Every day is different and the practice is about keeping the energy moving so at least one or two days a week I practice the primary series. 

6) What currently inspires you? The students who tell me how yoga has changed their life inspire me. I often hear that the practice has given them clarity, or has helped to heal years of pain in the body. For some it helps to calm their minds and make them feel grounded. For others, it makes them strong and feeling good about themselves. I’m honored and humbled to be part of the process.

7) What secret helps you to maintain balance and stay healthy? My daily yoga practice keeps me healthy! Also, a short meditation at the end of my asana practice keeps me balanced and feeling grounded. 

8) A fun fact most people don’t know about you? I’ve walked over hot coals, twice! I participated in a couple of empowerment seminars that included a fire walk. I got burned pretty badly the second time and remember telling people at work that I cut my foot while walking barefoot outside for fear that people would think I was crazy walking over hot coals!

9) What do you want to share with the Shala community? I’d like to share that my teaching comes from a place of love. Love for each student in the moment, as you are, without expectation or judgment. I often hear that students are intimidated to try the Ashtanga Mysore method, because they ‘don’t want to think’ and rather be ‘told what to do’, the idea of having to memorize a set sequence seems like ‘too much work’. I’d like to share that there is empowerment in moving, breathing and learning the sequence on your own. Ashtanga also tells you exactly what to do, when to inhale and exhale and what comes next. You just need to memorize a little bit each time. And you’re not alone, we as the teachers work with you individually and help you to learn every step of the way. Every student has begun the same way, with learning the sun salutations and slowly adding on poses once they commit to showing up. Whether it’s once a week or more, the only way to progress is to actually show up and do the work. When you look at other students flowing, what appears to be ‘effortlessly’, through the vinyasas, what you don’t see is that they show up day after day, after month, after year and have committed to the practice.  They’ve struggled and persevered and keep showing up despite the challenges. This is a challenging practice however we modify and make it approachable for every age, and every body type. The Ashtanga method is a system for healing and transforming the body and the mind. The asana practice is a tool to quiet the mind and the stories that we tell ourselves. However it only works if you are willing to take that first step! Come try the Mysore method, there are no expectations, only love and support.

All About Ashtanga

0158_5.18.17.LauraYogaSession.jpg

by Laura Josephy

Ashtanga Yoga is a traditional style of Hatha Yoga popularized by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois of Mysore, India (1915-2009). Ashtanga Yoga is said to be rooted in the Yoga Korunta, an ancient text written by Vamana Rishi.  This text was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900’s by his teacher Rama Mohan Bramachari, and was later passed down to Pattabhi Jois throughout the time of his study with Krishnamacharya, beginning in 1927.  The term Ashtanga, meaning eight limbs, refers to the set of essential practices listed in the “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.”  They are yama, universal ethical observances; niyama, personal observances; asana, posture; pranayama, breath extension; pratyahara, sensory transcendence; dharana, concentration; dhyana, meditation and samadhi, meditative coalescence. Jois believed that it was essential for most practitioners to enter the eight limbs through posture practice as it facilitates the purification of the body and mind creating a suitable environment for meditation.   

The main components of Ashtanga Yoga emphasized by Jois are vinyasa and tristhana.  The Sanskrit word vinyasa is typically translated as movement with the breath.  In colloquial language today, there term vinyasa often refers to the transitional movements that reset the body between each pose or between each side of a pose - think chaturanga, up dog, down dog.  More specifically it means a focused, intentional sequence of form, movement and breath that frees the mind.  In Ashtanga Yoga each movement is assigned either an inhale or exhale, while the state of the pose is given five complete breaths.  The breath intrinsically directs and shapes movement in the body.  The inhale resonates with rising and spreading patterns like lifting the arms overhead. The exhale enhances downward and inward patterns such as forward folds.  A key aspect of this movement-breathing system are the bandhas, or locks, which seal energy inside the body lending it both buoyancy and stability.  Mula bandha, the root lock, is a physical and energetic lifting of the center of the pelvic floor that is correlated with the exhalation.  Uddiyana bandha, the flying lock, is physical and energetic scooping of the lower abdominals correlated with the inhalation. Finally, tristhana refers to the three points of action/awareness - posture, breath and looking place - that are important in internal purification at the level of the body, nervous system and mind. Vinyasa coupled with bandha and tristhana creates a strong internal fire that, when practiced over a long period of time with great devotion, remove the six poisons discussed in the yoga shastra  - kama, desire; krodha, anger; moha, delusion; lobha, greed; matsarya, envy; and mada, sloth - that obscure the light of our True Nature. 

There are two formats in which Ashtanga Yoga is traditionally taught and practiced; led and “Mysore Style.”  Yoga practitioners today are most familiar with the led format in which the teacher guides the entire class through a sequence of postures simultaneously. However, the Ashtanga Yoga method was built around the “Mysore Style” class, so named because this was the way in which Pattabhi Jois taught in Mysore, India.  Ashtanga Yoga today continues to be taught primarily in the Mysore Style format by Jois’ grandson Sharath in India and by other qualified teachers all around the world. In the Mysore Style each student is given individual instruction within the group setting.  The movements, breath and other aspects of the practice are learned gradually in a step-by-step process accessible to anyone.  Through repetition students begin to commit small sections of a sequence known as the Primary Series to memory.  Students arrive anytime during the two hour class period and are welcomed into a room filled with the sound of the breath as instruction and questions are kept to a whisper.  A new student’s practice may only be 30 minutes.  In this first class students are taught the basic breathing techniques, the tristhana method, the Sun Salutation and possibly a few standing poses.  This approach allows students to establish a solid foundation in both body and mind; to integrate what was learned previously before progressing further and to adjust to a new daily routine.  Doing too much too fast often brings the risk of strain and imbalance while learning gradually allows time to develop the strength, flexibility and confidence necessary for a sustainable practice.  This process will likely surface the mind’s strategies of avoidance, resistance, distraction, impatience and self-judgement. Ultimately a form a mindfulness training, such is the path and process of Yoga. These moments are opportunities to let go of conditioning and to wake up to the fullness of the present moment experience. 

Many misperceptions about Ashtanga Yoga Mysore Style exist.  Though the class is not led, ample one-to-one instruction and hands-on assists are given.  You need not practice for the full two hour class period, be a yoga teacher, highly experience or even at all familiar with the sequence. The Primary Series is the template from which all students work independently yet each unique body inhabits the shape of any given pose differently such that modifications are given making the practice accessible to all - young, old, big, small, flexible, strong.  Like any practice or skill, the key is consistency.  At the start, you will likely discover new muscles. Regularity in practice will relieve the muscular soreness and invigorate the body-mind each day.  Having practiced this method almost exclusively for many years I am admittedly biased.  I feel the Mysore Style method gives me the room I need to work at my own pace and level, to follow the rhythm of my own breath and to draw my attention inward in a way that is not possible in led classes. I am able to explore the sensations of my body and carefully observe and feel the pattern of my breath in a way that settles my thoughts and clears my mind. Yet I am not alone. I am in the felt presence and support of the other practitioners breathing and moving in the room. We are in it together as a community.  This inspires and motivates me to get on my mat morning after early morning. It gives me permission to be vulnerable as a student of the practice myself and to listen, learn, grow and transform through its teachings.  

Join Laura in her upcoming 4-Week Intro to Mysore Style Series, January 14th - February 4th. More details available HERE. 

Ayurvedic Self-Massage

Massage is often considered a luxurious indulgence. But in fact, it is an important component of optimal health.  The sister science of Yoga, Ayurveda is a holistic health system for everyday life.  Abhyanga is the Sanskrit term used to describe Ayurvedic oil massage.  Among other things, the oil bath is a traditional Ayurvedic home remedy recommended to reduce excess internal heat particularly in the joints, liver and skin. This heat may show up in the body-mind as impatience, irritability, stiffness in the joints, redness in the skin, insomnia and/or indigestion.  Other benefits of Ayurvedic self-massage impart tone and vigor to the tissues of the body, stimulate the internal organs, increase circulation and decrease the effects of aging.

“In Sanksrit, the word “sneha” can be translated as both “oil” and “love.” In Ayurveda there is an inherent connection between enveloping the body in oil and enveloping it in love. Both oil and love provide a sense of nourishment and grounding. These qualities benefit the entire body, particularly the nervous system, and support the entire being - mind, body and spirit.”

Ayurvedic teachings recommend a daily self-massage, which need only take 15 minutes.  Pattabhi Jois, the Indian teacher who developed and popularized the Ashtanga Yoga method, recommended that students take an “oil bath” once per week on his or her day of rest. I have found it easiest to start this self-care ritual twice a month on the new and full moon day as these days are observed as rest days in the Ashtanga Yoga tradition.   

In India, the oil bath is customarily taken with castor oil.  Castor oil delivers the best results, but can be replaced by organic almond, sesame or coconut oil. You can purchase these oils at your local grocery or via a Ayurvedic lifestyle retailer such as Banyan Botanicals.  Banyan Botanicals offers a variety of specialized oils to support individual constitutions or balance particular conditions.

Here is a simple self-massage routine offered by Dr. Claudia Welch. Try doing this routine in the morning for a vital day, or before bed for a more restful sleep:

  1. Put about a 1/2 cup of oil in a 4 oz. squeeze bottle (I prefer a glass bottle).
  2. Warm the oil by placing the bottle in a mug of hot water.
  3. Sit or stand comfortably in a warm room on a towel. Consider choosing a towel that is dedicated for this purpose because over time the oil accumulation will ruin the towel.
  4. Apply the oil to your entire body.
  5. Massage the oil into your entire body, beginning at your extremities and working toward the middle of your body. Use long strokes on the limbs and circular strokes on the joints. Massage the abdomen and chest in broad, clockwise, circular motions. On the abdomen, follow the path of the large intestine, moving up on the right side of the abdomen, then across, then down on the left side. Massage the body for five to twenty minutes, with love and patience.
  6. Every so often, give a little extra time and attention to massaging the oil into your scalp, ears and feet. Apply oil to the crown of your head and work slowly out from there in circular strokes. Oil applied to the head should be warm, but not hot. Put a couple drops of warm oil on the tip of your little finger or on a cotton ball and apply to the opening of the ear canal. (If you have any current or chronic discomfort in your ears, don’t do this without the recommendation of your healthcare practitioner). When you massage your feet and toes, be sure you don’t slip.
  7. Enjoy a warm bath or shower. Minimize the use of soap, and use only where needed.
  8. Wash the shower/bath area. The shower floor will be very slippery and the drain may be clogged a bit. Scrub the shower area well to avoid slipping and pour a kettle of boiling water down the drain to keep it open.
  9. Rest over the next few hours, avoiding hard work, strong sun and swimming in or drinking cold water. Allow the body and mind to rest and rejuvenate for the coming week of practice, study, work and family life.

For the love of oil baths! ENJOY!!

To learn more about the benefits of Ayurvedic self-massage and view how-to videos visit Banyan Botanicals.