After spending another 5 days in Encinitas, CA practicing with Manju Jois, I am feeling very lucky, to say the least. We were blessed with sunshine and smiles the whole week through. We bonded together, learned a ton, and laughed A LOT – as you can probably guess from the photo below. It was glorious.
Pulled from my yoga journal, here is a little breakdown of how my own practice played out during the week.
Aside from Jamie, whom I met in November, the whole group is new to me. Coming from Chicago, Michigan, Florida, and elsewhere, this group is equally as awesome. Besides Manju, Ginetta is the main assisting teacher. She played tug-o-war with my arms so that I could feel the catch in Marichyasana D once again and enjoy a brief moment of catching in Supta Kurmasana — before the sweaty moment slipped away.
It was a lovely hour and a half of Primary Series and the first half of Intermediate. After practice, we chanted for a while, Manju told us stories from his past, and then we enjoyed some amazing home cooked food. I am looking forward to seeing how the magic will play out as we each journey through this week. Indeed, we are all so blessed for this experience.
After yesterday’s assists in Mari D and Supta Kurmasana, I had to revisit Primary Series again. The “catch” is magical when it happens, even with help. Ginetta came right over to help me out and, today, her cue to breathe was a little easier. She also gave me super sweet assists in Trikonasana A & B (on both sides). My spine loves her.
I split off after Buddha Konasana and moved to Intermediate Series. In the time allotted, I was able to practice through Ardha Matsendrasana before backbends, drop backs, and closing. We finished off the morning with some more chanting.
“Yoga is Geometry and Mathematics; It is a Science.”
Today was another lovely day of practice. I moved to Intermediate Series after completing the Virabhadrasana sequence. Manju stood behind me as I took on Kapotasana. He just watched and encouraged me. My fingers climbed my toes but didn’t go much farther than that. I considered repeating but quickly abandoned that thought and moved on. Being unattached to the outcome was liberating. Later on in the practice, Manju stood by as I entered Pincha Mayurasana. His presence provided me with confidence similar to kicking up near a wall. After my 5 breaths, he gently pulled my feet towards my head for scorpion. It felt intense yet oddly freeing. I found the line again before exiting out. Then came Karandavasana. I waited for Manju to finish with Jamie before kicking up. He helped me get my legs into padmasana, fold down, and return to upright. Once again, he pulled my feet towards my head into scorpion.
I managed to complete all of Intermediate albeit not all the poses were good. Leg behind the head (LBH) poses were just okay. These poses were on the easier side 1-2 years ago but not anymore. Non-attachment, right?
Last time I visited Manju in his home shala, the yogis each returned to the same place in the shala day after day. This week is different; we intentionally have moved about the room as if to keep Manju guessing who we are. Of course, he remembers us by our faces rather than where we place our mats. It is only each other that we fool.
I mention this only because I know how attached yoga practitioners can become to their “spot” in the room. And although each spot has a different feel, the practice unfolds just as it should no matter where we unroll our mats.
Today, I moved to Intermediate right after parsvottanasana which gave me just enough time for vishvamitrasana, vasisthasana, and drop backs before closing. The practice was much like Day 3, except I was treated to a glorious lift and swing in dhanurasana from Ginetta. Wowza! Manju assisted me in pincha mayurasana but took a hands-off approach to karandavasana. He suggested I cross my feet at the ankles and try to fold down part way. It was no good. I ended up using a headstand modification.
I love this group of ashtangis. It’s hard to believe that we only have 1 day left together.
Given it was the last day of these 5 days with Manju, I did Intermediate Series and moved to Third Series immediately following. I wanted to get through as much as I could. It was clear that LBH was not going to go as smoothly as earlier in the week. I gave bhairavasana a feeble attempt, then jumped forward in the sequence to kukkutasana. I am grateful that Manju isn’t a stickler about the sequence.
This relaxed approach should not be taken as an invitation to do what you want. He believes in teaching what is right for the individual’s body on a given day with the sequences as the foundation to build upon.
After the asana practice, we chanted and then did some pranayama before ending with stories and questions. Then, we were all given certificates to document our 30 hours of continuing education.
I was given my first pose of Sthira Bhaga (third series) early on in the coronavirus pandemic while we were sheltering in place and practicing on virtual platforms 100% of the time. I took to it and soon was given additional poses until finally, I’d reached a clear stopping point — at least for the time.
Sthira translates as “strong,” “stable,” “steady” and “resolute” while bhaga means “prosperity,” “good fortune” and “happiness.” The term is often translated as “strength and grace,” but also as “divine stability” and “sublime serenity.”
Indeed, I enjoyed the idea of being on a path leading towards more stability, strength, and grace. But as life and luck would have it, my path took a detour over the past couple of years. I have been experiencing far less sthira, or bhaga, and doing very little of my third series practice. In fact, I have hardly been doing it at all.
For some unknown reason, I decided to revisit my third series practice today. It is not that I have worked back up to it. To the contrary, I have been limiting (a.k.a. avoiding) putting my leg behind my head lately due to some new knee discomfort that began in mid-December. Today, however, that didn’t seem to matter.
Having not set my alarm, I woke up feeling well-rested, strong, optimistic, and curious. So, I gave it a go.
It was as one would expect after a long hiatus. The practice was unpolished, rough, and far from stable. And still, it felt amazing to push myself a little more. I felt strong, capable, and happy.
When I signed up to join a group of yogis for a week of practice with Manju Jois, I had no idea what sort of experience I’d be experiencing.
Naturally, I worried about what he’d think of my less-than-perfect asana practice, non-existent chanting practice, and only slightly better pranayama. But still, I was going to be practicing with Manju! I would graciously take whatever feedback he had for me; I mean, isn’t that why I was going in the first place?
Our hotel was walking distance from the shala. In the morning, Eva and I packed up our mat, a hand towel, and a few odd items and began our week long journey. We met up with the rest of the small group of yogis in front the shala and, together, the 12 of us went inside. A few minutes later, we were standing in samasthiti for the opening mantra. Then we began.
The room was warm and bright. The sound of us breathing together aloud was extra special, given the “social distancing” in the past 2-ish years. Manju and Greg moved around the room, assisting each of us in deepening our practice. Many times, I was surprised to feel my body twist and turn, catch and release in ways I hadn’t felt in a long time…or ever. It was magical from the opening chant through savasana. Having someone to assist me in the poses I need the most help with served to show me a better way to navigate the struggle.
This is how my practice went during the week:
Day 1: I did full primary + half intermediate.
Day 2: I practiced half primary + intermediate through nakrasana.
Day 3: Intermediate.
Day 4 & Day 5: Intermediate + the first 2 poses of Third.
Each day, following our practice, we did some pranyama and/or chanting. When we finished that, Manju answered our questions. Then we were treated to some of his and his wife’s home cooking – which was delicious beyond words.
The five days went by fast. The small group of (12) Ashtangis hung out with eachother off the mat as well. During our downtime, we explored the area’s beaches, hiked a little, shopped, and ate more amazing food. Many are hoping to join Manju during part of his European tour over the summer. As for me, I am making plans that I know I can make happen; I will be joining another group of Ashtangis in January 2023 for a repeat session in Manju’s home shala.
In addition to my gratitude towards Manju for alll that he does, I am imensely grateful to Eva Alexander for bringing me into the circle of Ashtangis that practice regularly with him, and for Greg Tebb for saving a spot for me to join.
Although the focus of my yoga practice may appear to be on the physical asanas of the practice, there is a deeper, more spiritual, level to the practice. The Ashtanga Yoga system is built upon the “Eight Limbs of Yoga.” (the word ‘ashta’ means ‘eight’ and ‘anga’ means ‘limb’). When I first began my yoga practice, it was very much about the shapes of the asanas. But, over time, the philosophical and spiritual components began taking precidence over the shapes. That said, it is very easy to lose sight over the reason for the practice. As I age and my body’s ability to perform the physical asanas as well, or as easily, as I once did, the 2nd Niyama becomes more an more important.
“Samtosha, or contentment, is a pure and exellent form of happiness that spontaneously arises when we free ourselves from the mind’s constant nagging about unfullfilled desires. This is really the secret to moving on with our lives rather than being stuck in and trapped by a specific situation. Samtosha arises when the mind lets go of its iron grip of a situation long enough to let us simply observe with great interest but without drawing conclusions or making judgments and assumptions. Letting go, we automattically tap into an endless reservoir of kindness and compassion that lies within.” – The Art of Vinyasa; Awakening Body and Mind through the Practice of Ashtanya Yoga by Richard Freeman & Mary Taylor.
This past weekend, I awoke feeling a constant ache and soreness from an 8 mile, hilly trail run. Adding insult to injury, so-to-speak, it was raining and dark outside. I should just go back to sleep, I thought, my practice won’t be any good anyway. Pushing that aside, I decided to show up for my yoga practice anyway. I would do what I could and try to be satisfied with whatever that was.
Let’s start with the “some”
I have some news. As of June 4th, BTY (the studio where I teach) members and guests will have the ability to practice in the yoga studio for all six days of our Ashtanga yoga practice. This assumes our schedules allow for us to practice there. If it doesn’t, no problem; the online option still exists.
As for me, I will continue teaching mysore on Monday mornings but will no longer be teaching on Tuesdays. It’s a good thing for me as Tuesday seems to be the most popular day for my morning work meetings and I was having to get a sub more and more. In addition, on the 1st Sunday of each month, I will be teaching mysore.
Now, to the AWE part
The schedule change also means that I can attend to my own practice — which is exciting as I have quite a few poses with which I am struggling. Durvasana (shown here) is one of them.
This pose, as I have read, is a test of our devotion to both our practice and the Sage Durva. It is believed that this great sage was the incarnation of Lord Shiva. He was wise, knowledgeable, and apparently had a wicked temper. On a physical sense, this asana tests the practitioner to remain calm, steady, and firm in their root and breath. Quite literally, you must root to rise up from the ground despite the weight of your the leg you carry upon your shoulders.
On the day these photos were taken, my teacher shared the burden of the load I was asked to carry so that I could stand up for the very first time in the center of the room. I kid you not, the feeling was AWE-mazing! I am actually looking forward to trying it again.