Mel : Lessons from the Shala
Patanjali’s yoga sutras state that postures should be practised with sthira (steadiness) and sukha (ease).
Generally, I feel like my practice is anything but, and instead reflects my (always) active and (sometimes) agitated state of mind. I fidget in downward dog, shimmy forward in every sitting posture, adjust my clothes and inspect my toenail polish. I mentally drift up and away off my yoga mat before I even have a chance to realise what I am doing and arrest my errant mind!
As the atmosphere in the Shala at KPJAYI is quite intense, and because I wanted to make the most of the time I had with Sharath, I tried hard not to be so lackadaisical. I thought I would share three aspects of practising in the Shala that challenged, inspired and helped me, in that order:
1. Practising on the stage
Four times I had to practise on the stage in front of the whole room, right next to Sharath’s feet! I felt totally exposed and like all eyes were on me (of course, they weren’t – everyone was deeply absorbed in their own practice). Because I wasn’t able to hide in the back row, I practised super carefully and slowly; willing my body to be strong and stable in Utthita Hasta Pandagustasana, so I didn’t come crashing down spectacularly off the stage and land on someone in the front row.
2. Practising next to someone who inspires me
In the Shala at any time there is a plethora of super experienced students who are mind-blowingly strong and flexible. Watching an intermediate led class I was astounded by the sheer beauty of bodies moving fluidly, with unwavering focus, through incredibly challenging postures. I know that many of the experienced students have put in years of hard work on the mat to have a practice that appears effortless to the casual observer.
One day I was allocated a mat space on the Shala floor alongside one of my sources of Instagram inspiration, Sofia. Sofia is an Authorised Level 2 teacher from Athens and her practice is as powerful and strong as it is light and graceful. Click here to watch a video featuring Sofia, filmed in Mysore: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=
With my mat next to Sofia’s, I rode the waves of her energy; trying to imitate her long, deep breaths, light landings and smooth, controlled movements. I was surprised to discover that by ‘copying’ someone else, I was able to access a space within myself in which I moved more… consciously.
3. Led classes and Sharath’s counting
The vinyasa count of the ashtanga sequence is an ingenious system that acts like a metronome to enable efficient movement and synchrony with the breath. By following Sharath’s counting I was surprised to realise that I normally take a lot of extra and unnecessary breaths transitioning between postures. It’s almost as if adhering to the proper count ties your arms, legs and head up in a neat little package, with a string running right through your heart. In a led class the students are like puppets, with Sharath’s voice dictating the direction – moving in concert with all parts of oneself, and with each other.
Practising in the Shala has changed my perception of what is acceptable for my own practice, and has taught me that I should – but most importantly, can – put in more effort to being present on my mat. It challenged me to slow down, breathe properly, and move with calm control. And doing so, has helped me to discover a lightness within my practice. I know that every day that I get on the mat it might not be there, but at least I know it is possible to discover that feeling of ease, in tandem with the effort.