5 things I learned while studying yoga at Yoga Bones, Goa
Recently our very own Alex ventured off to Mother India. As part of her trip she visited two of my favourite teachers, Rolf and Marci Naujokat, of Yoga Bones. Here is her account and the 5 things she learned while she was there…
It’s taken what seems like ages to write this blog post. I’ve been back from India for just on a month now; and I must say I feel I’m a big fat cliché as the country, its people and my experiences, have completely turned my soul’s compass spinning. This last month at home has been really tough. I miss India dearly. And what’s worse, I haven’t been able to properly practise, as I injured my shoulder in a tri-attack of working in an office, being a backpacker and an intensive yoga student at Yoga Bones in Goa.
I went to India for seven weeks overall, to hang with my pal from High School (because we’ve always wanted to go). The plan was to eat ourselves silly and get all cultural for the first five weeks. Then, I was going to do some yoga for two weeks on my own. Why? I can’t really explain it but it just felt like the right thing to do. Like a natural progression or something.
I thought I’d share with you five things I learnt while practising there. It must be said that I am not the best yoga student. I’m the type who goes for two weeks consistently and then drops away for three or more weeks. But my practice is there with me constantly at least in my mind, and has been since the 21 Day Sadhana I did last year at Live and Breathe Yoga.
So, five things I learned while studying at Yoga Bones, Goa, India. Yoga Bones is led by Rolf and Marci and is held out the back of a popular hipster café in Anjuna – a place which is known for being a beach party mecca.
1. Five weeks of eating as much Indian food as possible, is not the best training for a yoga intensive.
Who’d have thought? I started at Yoga Bones feeling fudgy and stiff. I blame not only aaalllll the thick, oily curries, biryanis, the dosas and the aaaalllll the sweet sticky chai but also being on endless buses and trains and in waiting places. At a few pit stops I was able to stretch out a little – one time a back bend against the tour group’s bus, because it looked like the cleanest thing around. And another time in a family’s special dining room at a little food shack on the side of the road. I was shown the room by the owner after he saw me do a few sun salutations as the chai was being brewed. He seemed surprised at my moves and like he wanted to help. But those little tidbits of yoga and the mountain of Indian cuisine – not the best lead up to two weeks of solid Ashtanga.
2. Yoga people can be really cool.
Knowing I’m not a yoga buff, I was a bit worried I would not fit in. On my first day though, I met in the line at the studio the coolest girl from Canada. I thought everyone would think I’m a yoga dunce and leave me behind in class while they went off and sipped alfalfa juice and talked about meditation techniques they’d tried in fancy places across the world. But Jess was very different. She told me the ropes about where you stand to wait for a place on the floor, and how one should start in one area for the standing postures and up to the back bends, then move to the left side for back openers with the support teachers, and then move to the back of the floor for the closing sequence. She had been there a week before me and sussed everything. As I watched in the line with a little wonder on that first day, I thought it was all a bit like yogi Tetris.
Jess became someone who would show me the good places to eat – 10 rupee samosas! And instead of alfalfa juices we ate fat icecream and coffee and more fried things. We even went Bollywood dancing and it was a scream.
Other people I met were pretty great too. An English woman who has sold everything in London to come to India and try out life as a yoga teacher and a lovely Russian man who would take me on his scooter to all the cool places around Anjuna and give me Russian lessons in exchange for some English and patience.
Everyone I spoke to from the shala had a story about their experience at the school.
3. Yoga teaching styles can be immensely varied.
Yoga Bones is owned and run by Rolf and Marci and they couldn’t be any different to each other in their teaching styles. Rolf is entirely what you’d expect from a truly dedicated, experienced yoga practitioner: very calm and poised and someone who just allows you to relax and soften a little a bit around him. My first encounter on the floor with him wasn’t the best, I admit. He came behind me when doing Baddha Konjasana A and he scared me so much that I didn’t know what to do, but the second time he came to me to adjust me in Parsvottanasana I just followed his breath and drank in his presence and was able to sink into the pose more.
For all his loveliness in Mysore style classes, he was a little mean in led classes that occurred every Friday; counting soo slowly and six breaths in Navasana! And no real Savanasa (except for 15 mins in Padmasana – ooh my ankle bones!). His led classes went for 2.5 hours and started at 4.30am. Ouch.
He also led my first Pranayama class. It started at 5.00am and because I’d been followed by a man with a machete on the walk to the studio in the dark, I was a little un-zen when we started. I couldn’t get into it, but it says something about Rolf’s character that he could lead four breathing techniques over about two hours. And I noted in not focusing on my breath that everyone else loved it.
Marci, the other teacher and Rolf’s wife, was anything but calm and smooth and melty. Now, I am going to say upfront that I came to truly appreciate her teaching style, and saw a bit of myself (a uni teacher) in her approach.
One of the first things I saw Marci do was call across the room to another student saying “No, no, no, no. You need to get out of the asana and we will start again.” Where Rolf was quiet and soft, Marci was sharp and direct. A couple of students cried in the class because she told them they weren’t ready for second series yet with such snap. But many, like me, just took her instruction in their stride. In my experience, everything she got me to stop and start again revealed something profound, pointing to where I was going wrong. Every class there was something that was brought up by her and reduced to its simplest form; and in some ways, feeling like I was going backwards. But lo and behold getting stronger in a minimized version of the posture helped me feel sturdier overall.
“I teach intelligence, not yoga.” I heard Marci say to someone once. Right on, I thought.
All the support teachers at the studio were great. Elise, in particular, helped me figure out this back bend business without clenching the butt yet still getting lift, and a strong lift at that. I was absolutely laden with blocks and straps (at the feet, knees, elbows and wrists) – but it did work well! I felt so alive after doing them and maybe that’s where I really did my shoulder in…oopsies.
4. I still have a looong way to go.
Coming home from such an adventure, feeling ho-hum and also having ruined my right shoulder, I’ve had even more time to reflect on where my practice is still lacking. I have a long way to go in my yoga journey, but it’s truly exciting that I still have that path to tread.
Every time I got on the mat at Yoga Bones I was faced with how much I am still unable to do. Especially compared to all the yogis practicing at Yoga Bones. But I learned to get over the fact I was an Aussie-curry-filled heffalump and just enjoy the feeling of being on the mat regularly, in such a lovely special country.
I was encourage to work on:
Uttita Parsvakonasana – I truly think my body is just not the right shape for this pose, as I struggle getting my hand flat on the floor and my body twisting. Marci got me to bring my hand to the front of my leg and connect with the floor with a flat palm. I was then able to twist upwards from the ribcage some more and got a MUCH stronger stretch through, well, everything I didn’t know I was supposed to be engaging. I’ll go back to the hand behind the leg when I’m stronger from the floor and in my hips.
Uttita Hasta Padangustasana – Marci said to me, “Why are you trying to pull up your leg when you can’t even keep it straight?” I thought to myself, “Hmm…You’re right. I don’t know.” But I stared back blankly. She suggested I do it with a belt or strap and focus on rolling inwards my thigh and then slowly bring the leg up with the breath. She suggested to do the same for Supta Padangustasana. I did just that.
My biggest-little victory was in Utpluthih on about day seven. I was able to only so slightly mangle my feet into lotus position – and – drum roll – get a lift off the floor. I wish someone was filming me that moment because the sheer excitement and rush I got would be something to watch on reruns. This triumph and thrill made me think of home, though.
5. Live and Breathe Yoga is a special community to be cherished.
The final thing I learned from my time at Yoga Bones was that Live and Breathe Yoga is truly a remarkable place. At Yoga Bones, eighty odd people would practice in the same space in a rolling start every day, the teachers would maybe see you once in your practice and most people would just leave quickly after the class, dispersed across Anjuna. People may have a drink after class, but usually in small clicky groups. This is so different to our Saturday morning classes in particular, with Harry’s great chais – not to mention Max’s homemade snacks.
Yoga Bones has a succession of students streaming in from across the globe to practice for short spurts, but it’s so nice to think that you can keep going back to Live and Breathe Yoga. A bit like home.
There’s something tried and true about your home studio. There’ll be the same friendly faces (who remember your names within the first or second class) and the same warm and dedicated teaching. Teaching where they get to know where you’re up to and remember or think how you can be challenged next and will probably see to adjusting you at least twice in each class.
I’m so glad I went to Yoga Bones. I learnt so much about myself, my practice, the global tradition, the culture of yoga, how interesting and valuable new teachers can be to the understanding of self and your practice; and also how much you appreciate your teachers, the people and the vibe of your home studio.
The other thing I loved about my time at Yoga Bones was that it’s given me the itch to combine practice and travel. Despite having so far to go, I still think Mysore is next on my list.