Friday, September 28, 2012

Photo of the Day: Église

Her potential is an unlit prayer candle,
Wax white,
against an alter.

And she’s trying to ignite with wet matches,
Striking and discarding the moist sticks
            -madness to her method

Struggling against the tides
because her ambition threw off the moon,
she’s trying to cast a shadow on the pew,
between the sun
and nothing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Adventures in Parisian Yoga: Mysore Yoga Paris

I'm finally setting (and sometimes even obeying) my alarm again. I’m trying to get up 7:30am as opposed to sleeping in our haven of a bed till 10:30 with Michael (who deserves that, btw- he doesn't get home till midnight and after dinner and organizing his thoughts, often doesn't sleep till 3).

So I've finally been able to enjoy a morning Mysore practice here in Paris. One notable difference I’ve seen between NYC and Paris is that here mornings don't start quite as early. Teachers are at shalas in the US and elsewhere often by 4:30 or 5am (or 1am if you ask Sharath) to practice and then begin teaching by 6. Here the earliest Mysore program I've seen is 6:45...Which is fine, by the way, with me!

After India this time around, morning practice is getting a little easier. A little. I'm up early in NY by 5:30am to teach Pilates or yoga, but I normally prefer to practice in the afternoon. My body feels more awake, less painful, less shaky and more ready to find some stillness.

But these days, being on the mat in the morning is fairly enjoyable. I might just be turning into a morning practice person! How’d that happen?!

Anyway, I dedicated a week (last week 9.17-9.21) to exploring this particular shala after getting a few recommendations. Mysore Yoga Paris is located on the right, north bank, along the canal St Martin in the 10th district. From my house it’s a 12-minute velo ride past the quiet water and quaint bridges of the canal to reach the shala. 

The practice space is located in Paris’ Shambala meditation center, a perfectly zen atmosphere that’s got palpably calm, sacred vibes going on. It’s adorned with dozens of tea light candles.

Kia Nadermier is the owner and main teacher, and she’s just lovely. From what I can gather, she’s Swedish, but we speak English in the shala. She's kind and attentive with all of her students, and her adjustments are really top notch. She's also a professional photographer, and on the website you can see some portraits of the yoga students she's done over the past year.

I've been having some (normal) back pain, and she's very helpful in offering advice on how to avoid it and work with the postures, instead of letting them work against you. 

The shala is a large room and There are several white Indian cloths (like the men wear as skirts in India) in the back that we cover ourselves with for rest after practice. I bought an eye pillow (a frivolous thing I’d never considered until I saw this one and am now quite enjoying it!) and rest after practice is really sublime here in the morning. 

There's a glow about the space and the people at Mysore Yoga Paris. I'm thinking I'll continue to go back for regular practice, though next week I'm going to check out a few other shalas. I'd really recommend this place for anyone in Paris or visiting that's looking for a peaceful atmosphere and a very kind, attentive teacher.

Photo of the day: La Seine

love me graffiti along the Seine 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Photo of the Day: French Yoga

Found a French Yoga magazine...
the perfect way to practice my language skills!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Exploring Yoga in Paris: Ashtanga Yoga Paris, Samasthiti, and Make Me Yoga

I arrived in Paris two weeks ago, only to leave again for a few days in Switzerland with Michael’s grandmother. When we finally got back to our apartment, I was feeling a little sick. Let’s just call it the too-much-cheese-chocolate-and-travel syndrome. :/

Last week I was finally feeling almost back to normal and was ready to start exploring the yoga scene in Paris. I’ve gotten a few recommendations from friends, colleagues and fellow ashtangis about where to practice in Paris, but there are quite a few places, so I’ve decided to explore little by little. Yoga is even more expensive here than in New York, so before I buy an unlimited month or delve into a place, I want to try around.

My first stop was Ashtanga Yoga Paris, which happenes to be about a two minute walk from our apartment! I attended the mixed Mysore and Ashtanga Level 1 class, taught by Agatha. The studio, I found out from one of the owners, Linda, has recently moved to a new location. It really is a lovely place, tucked into a courtyard between buildings. The walls of the lobby space are a deep, rich turquoise. The main practice room, the Krishnamacharya Room, is bright, with a ceiling full of skylights and walls tastefully adorned with black and white photos of teachers.

A class was just finishing as we waited to enter the room, and once in the room Agatha asked those of us doing our own Mysore practice to go to the front of the room while she led the class of semi-beginners behind us. There were probably five of us doing self practice, and more than ten in the led class.

She’s a very talented teacher, and I liked hearing her soft French instructions peppered with Sanskrit. I was a little distracted being in a mixed Mysore and led class, but the language barrier helped me tune that out. I wonder how the experience is for those who understand French..? I’ve never been in a class like that, but it’s certainly an interesting concept, and definitely a good use of time for students wanting an evening Mysore program. Kudos to her for leading a class and giving individual attention to the rest of us!

She gave me a few wonderful, strong Mariychasana adjustments (though only on one side so I felt rather unbalanced). When I got to backbends she encouraged me keep my feet much more parallel that I had them, which I tried with varying degrees of success. Then instead of holding my waist in drop-backs, she helped me keep my feet parallel by pressing in and down on my thighs, which felt pretty lovely.

The biggest surprise was when I stood up she asked if I’d be doing handstand! Sure I thought, why not? I told her that I don’t practice that, but I’d give it a go! Though I’ve never heard of that and it’s certainly not traditional, I suppose it must be a way to begin practicing for tick-tocks, which come sometime after second series. Her adjustment was great, and there I was, doing a handstand in Mysore class.

I liked the studio, the atmosphere and the students. Agatha is a smart, busy teacher! I will certainly go back, especially since it’s so close to our place. I'd also like to try the morning Mysore classes with the owners, Linda and Gerald.

Next I checked out Samasthiti Studio, also pretty close to our apartment. It's located right near La Bastille, so I hopped on a velib bike for the 10 minute ride to take an evening Mysore class. In true Dana fashion, I was really early, and happened to meet a fellow student while waiting for the door to be unlocked who had been in Mysore the same time as me! Small Ashtanga world.

This studio is a simple one room space. The practice area is a nice size and takes up most of the space, and in the back there's a small changing area and place for shoes and bags. I met the owner Caroline, who was actually practicing with us while a young man named Eric taught.

This class was a self-led Mysore style, however, I couldn't help but be distracted by the completely non-traditional sequence of postures my fellow students were practicing...!

Full disclosure: I got distracted. I know that I should have been focusing solely on myself, but my dristhi began to wander as soon as I saw full splits between standing postures, a warrior three thrown in after parshvotanasana, and an out of order mix of primary, intermediate and third series poses! It was really quite remarkable.

I must say that despite my confusion over why they were doing what they were, all the students were practicing earnestly, calmly, quietly, and breathing beautifully. I guess they've just been taught an adapted, non-traditional series of poses...!

Eric, the teacher, was kind and attentive. He was a little insistent with some alignment details and often uneven with adjustments, but he clearly cares and knows quite a lot about what he teaches. He did think I should keep going after my last pose, which I kindly declined to do.

Drop backs were again a new technique (for me) that I quite liked, where he used his whole forearm to support either side of my spine as I went down, and simply pressed into my thighs as I stood up. When he suggested hand stand (I guess it's a thing ), I this time declined.

I liked the studio, the location, and the teacher, but I'm not sure I will go back to practice there. It's a bit too distracting to be amongst people doing such completely non-traditional things...I totally love that they are! I just think I'd be better served going there for a vinyasa flow class if I'm feeling creative.

My next stop was Make Me Yoga, which is literally right across the street from my apartment. I didn't notice it at first, but as Michael and I were taking a walk the other evening, there it was! It's got a great location, and a good class schedule. They have only led classes, no Mysore program, but I figured it was worth a visit since it's so crazily convenient.

I dropped into the 8:30pm led "Ashtanga Vinyasa" class and was very impressed at my use of French.

"Bon soir! C'est ma premiere fois ici. Je voudrais prendre le classe d'Ashtanga."

The instructor, Laetita, was kind when I explained that I'm an American yoga practitioner and speak limited French. I told her (in French again - points for me!) I'd love to just follow along and listen to the class in French.

There were six of us in the cute little space, and the others were mostly beginners. It was a very slow, basics-type class, which was nice for me to practice physically, clear my mind mentally and hear teaching in French. We practiced meditation, discussed bhandas, and moved through surya namaskaras and the 6 fundamental standing poses before sitting for a bridge pose and then rest.

Laetita was perfect. She made sure I understood a few words after class that might help me teach in French one day, and she gave me gentle suggestions as adjustments, not hard ones. I was more focused in this class, so my drishti wasn't wandering to the other students! It's a perfectly cute, kind studio, but not exactly what I want from a class. I think I will definitely go can't beat the location.

I still have the morning Mysore programs to check out. That's where I think I will find my perfect Paris fit and I'm really excited. I want to check out Mysore Yoga Paris and Rasa Yoga...but I need to change my sleeping schedule around a bit to accommodate that...right now I'm staying up late, practicing at home in the evening or at one of these places for a night class and sleeping in late in the morning!

More to come from the Paris Yoga Scene...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Photo of the Day: Henna

My Indian henna in a Swiss Lake.

Conference 8.26.12 - Better late than Never!

So I’m a little late in posting about the last conference while I was in Mysore. I’ve been traveling and then was feeling a little sick. I’m finally settling into life in Paris and wanted to catch up on the blog…so here they are…notes from the last conference:

Four weeks. Four conferences. It’s always better to leave wanting more, a friend reminded me, and I am definitely feeling blessed and full of good vibes. I leave on a high note on every level. Though I’ve been dealing with some new knee pain that limits my left lotus, my physical practice felt great. My mental focus was clear. I got a lot of writing done. I had totally difference experiences this time in Mysore than on my last trip. I lived closer. I met more interesting people. I got to travel outside the city. I felt less like an outsider.

This particular Sunday Sharath began by talking about the importance of asana in our spiritual journey. Asana is a tool, he said, to get the mind and body to become stable. There are hundreds of thousands of asanas, as many as there are living beings on this earth: plants, trees, animals and humans. In this life, we just focus on doing as many as we can safely master, and shouldn’t worry about doing so many of them.

Asana is useful for several reasons. It purifies the nervous system, brings flexibility, brings health to the body and is an accessible tool to reach higher levels of spirituality.

Sharath spent time again reiterating the unity in yoga. Yoga can only be one thing. We talk a lot today about different styles and varieties of yoga, but there is only one true yoga, and if we practice that authentic yoga then change occurs in us. And this change is more than just physical.

It’s also important to note that asana is not just the act of bending and twisting the body. Using vinyasa with asana is integral to the system. It is when we add the breathing that the mind and body can change.

Asanas should be “stirya sukkha asanam,” or stable and comfortable. Because the next limb of our practice is pranayama, which requires a lot of still sitting, it is important to practice the movement in asana to gain stability and comfort in sitting.

Sharath then wanted to reassure us that though asana is very important, what is less important is what pose you are practicing to. He says that whether you are practicing half primary series or all the way to 5th or 6th series, benefit can be gained. The important thing is that no matter what pose you practice to, you must understand the deeper reason for doing it!

In the yoga sutras, there are only three sutras on asana. So some people misinterpret this to mean that asana is not important. But Sharath reinforced the idea that there are other important texts, like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which are important in understanding asana practice.

A student asked about practicing yoga and its relation to Hinduism. Sharath explained that yoga is not bound to one religion, nor does it need to be practiced along side any religion in particular. God didn’t divide up religions, people did! He thinks of Krishna when he practices, but assured us that yoga is a personal experience within each of us and we can believe whatever we want.

Sharath said that for him, teaching yoga is learning. Though he sometimes wonders why he gets up at 1am, he said that teaching is very rewarding. To be with different people, energy, shapes and starting points and to see change in students makes it worth it. He reminded us that to be a student is the best life, though sometimes it is a little painful ;) I couldn’t agree more!