The Beginner Ashtangi Mind

yoga1“Enjoy the feeling of not knowing how to do something; there will come a time when you miss that feeling.” My teacher said this to me in mysore one morning as a few students and I went back and forth about the concept of ”experience”. I found these words of wisdom a bit hard to accept when I was stuck on a plateau of Marichasana B for weeks. And yet, when I advanced to the next pose I immediately felt that this was a necessary process; through the focused repetition of the series I had developed a greater appreciation of the practice for teaching me actual presence, real patience.  Understanding this new concept of time in practice, or what the ego knows of it, has been one of the many revelations.

I have been practicing Ashtanga for the last 6 months of my 4 year journey with yoga. I began taking mysore classes in an effort to develop a more consistent daily practice. I had never even heard of this method and then Ganesha showed up and uncovered the path; information about Ashtanga kept showing up all around me. I developed this bounding curiosity, seeing yogis leaving mysore classes at my local studio- grounded/uplifted in a way I hadn’t seen before. So I started asking around and got the impression that it was a bit intense. Yogis that didn’t practice Ashtanga were intimidated by it, and yogis that did had this “get shit done” demeanor about their practice. I was equally nervous and interested.

I began mysore practice feeling as though I wasn’t a beginner, and there I was, pouring sweat 3 rounds into my Sun B’s. There was a definite moment where I literally didn’t know what was happening to me. Turns out I had quiet an attachment to external things in class; my water bottle and sweat towel, my favorite distractions! After a bit of healthy hesitation I came to understand that all I needed was that which the practice was offering me; awareness of breath, posture, gaze.  It was as if I was starting all over again. I wanted to do backbends and inversions and all these other forms that I knew I was capable of- but instead I let go of the old paradigm ways, and let primary series gradually take hold.

The roots of Ashtanga draw me in more than anything else now. The lineage of this form feels so much like a path that I have been on for some time. The more texts that I read, the more workshops I attend, the craving for knowledge grows.  My renewed sense of studentship is abundant. I recognize now how the evolution of practice greatly depends on one’s ability to tap into pure dedication.

One of the many inspirational things that Sri K. Pattabhi Jois has said brings me to my current state of beginners mind:

”Yoga is, what you don’t see. The powerful movements of ashtanga are only the exterior surface of an internal spiritual journey. Behind the strength of the body, is an energy, which is spiritual and which keeps us alive. To achieve access to the spirituality, you must first understand the physical. This body is our temple and in this temple is Atman – God.”

After years of only physical practice, I am now gaining access to spirituality as well. This is a great deal in part to the Ashtanga tradition. The evolutions of the limbs of yoga within practice continue to amaze my heart. I hope to always hold a sense of beginner’s mind, even when I am breezing through 4th series with grace and ease. 😉

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The Alchemy of Intention: 108 Salutations on New Years Day to Support Yoga for Youth!

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I am so excited to share that I will be joining the Street Yoga movement to support yoga for youth through a special event; The Alchemy of Intention: A New Years Day Celebration of 108 Salutations! I invite you to back my intention to create more opportunities of healing for youth through yoga and mindfulness in 2014. On New Year’s Day I will hardwire this intention into my being by repeating it along with every sun salutation. Each sun salute supercharges my intention and raises money to give yoga to youth. Please contribute and help me achieve my goal of $108!

All funds raised go directly to Street Yoga to bring more yoga and mindfulness practices to youth who need it most – especially homeless, incarcerated, and those suffering from trauma. Donating through this website is simple, fast and totally secure. Check out the video link on the right to learn about Street Yoga’s life changing work with youth.

To make a donation please visit my page here: http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/SondraBloxam/inspired

Many thanks for your support! May your generosity return to you ten fold.

PS. If you’ll be in Portland, join me after the sun salutations at Beloved’s Alchemy of Intention celebration!

Love & Gratitude,

Sondra

Simon Park: A Yogi Leader with the Spirit of a Musician

Simon and IAfter Studying with Simon Park at his Liquid Flow Intensive at Yoga Pearl in Portland, OR this March we sat down to talk music, nature, inspiration, and old school teachings..

Sondra: Aside from your teachers what would you say inspires you in your practice?

Simon: I like to think that I am influenced by an open field; artists, sometimes athletes, but mostly creative artists. I think my heart is close to the spirit of a musician, improvisation, innovation, bringing something unique to the table but also connection to your personal expression and state of flow. I try to bring all of that into the field of yoga and try to keep my mind open, its good to be influenced by a not just a certain discipline.

Sondra: So what music?

Simon: Ahh, I grew up in Philly, and Philly is kind of known for a certain sound; soul and funk back in the day, hip-hop. Some people actually still claim that hip-hop came from Philly and not New York so that is that kind of the funky side. Philly is also a very eclectic multicultural place with influence from all over. I grew up playing a little jazz, I love jazz, I love the freestyle aspect of jazz. recently I have gotten into a lot of minimalist piano music. There is an artist in part named Ludovico Einaudi an Italian composer, he is extremely creative with so much feel to it. Even though it’s one person it creates a whole soundscape of ideas.

Sondra: So you’ve started this world tour- putting all of your energy out there!

Simon: Yea you know two years ago I took off on a sizable trip and I had just read Keith Richards autobiography, he was like my hero. The Stones the way they toured were like my role models. I actually bought a 1972 original tour poster from the Stones’ North American tour and it was my inspiration.

At this point I just keep rolling, it has now just become a way of life; which for the stones they were touring from 64-66 nonstop.

Sondra: What do you think is the most vulnerable part of all of that?

Simon: Oh the breakdown happens. There’s always those moments when you don’t know what you are doing or why you are doing it and you don’t know where home is, your so far away from home. That does happen, it’s inevitable. But I think that it’s part of the experience, which is the challenge, I like challenges. I think you grow stronger at the end and if you are being challenged it’s to find your purpose. You really have to search for it from within.

Sondra: When you have those moments of breakdown down, what keeps it all together?

Simon: Just practice, and connection to people, Also just keeping my mind to the task at hand and being present. One step at a time.

Sondra: What makes you feel fully alive?

Simon: I love practicing in nature; maybe an amazing beach or high up in the mountains, on a river on the rocks, sometimes on a ledge, to put all that practice into actually play. I don’t balance on ledges much anymore, it was a little selfish. Sometimes practicing in nature makes so much sense that going inside almost doesn’t make sense anymore. The little setting that we close ourselves to what we call our practice, it just seems so limiting. The practice is worldwide and vast and can be in an open space.

Sondra: Is there anything about traveling that you like most?

Simon: Definitely the people. I feel extremely fortunate to have this kind of collective. I feel like I’m visiting friends all the time.

Sondra: What are your favorite sayings?

Simon: Jimmy Hendrix said “The earth is my home.”

It’s not a quote but I loved Keith Richards’ devotion to his band mates and his devotion to his art form above all even amongst his addictions. That work ethic and those principals literally carried up all through those crazy years. It’s a good example because there are those times where I’m traveling and teaching, traveling and teaching and it’s just nonstop. You have to have something that keeps you going. I don’t know if you could call Keith Richards a role model but for touring he’s a good one!’

Sondra: Yes! Within the community of band mates.

Simon: Yea for sure. My teacher Shiva Rea, I’ve known her for 18 years. She is still my teacher. People say: “You could kind of go out on your own and teach”. I do a little of that but I think people these days are too quick to search for the lifelong connect with people. It’s more of a convenient connection for time, and then they just move on. I like the old school, lifelong teacher-student relationship. I have band mates, it’s Shiva and her crew,. Some of her assistants I am lifelong friends with, those are my band mates. I still work within Shiva’s umbrella of training’s and workshops with everyone.

Sondra: Was there a calling or moment where it was like: That’s my teacher!

Simon: She was my teacher from day 1. Literally I walked into yoga class and there she was. I signed up for a class at UCLA and she was the teacher. After a few classes and a few months with her when I realized she was my teacher I thought I would never have another teacher again. I felt like what’s the point? I had found the best teacher possible in the world, we fit perfect right from the beginning. I didn’t connect to the yoga right away- it was really difficult and challenging, I was really disorientated. But as a teacher there was nobody else. Eventually I did find other teachers, moved away and lived in different places.

But I remember practicing with Shiva years ago, watching her practice and thinking- I just couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t world famous? I could see this very special quality in her being; the way she approached the practice, it was an aura you could just see it. It was very special.

Sondra: You’re offering 3-day long Prana Flow training’s as a part of your World Tour. Is that a precursor to training’s with Shiva or your spin on Prana Flow?

Simon: Ah that’s a good question. Her system is an open Vinyasa system where you can incorporate your previous experience from other styles. She herself was a student of many styles; Ashtanga, Iyengar and some more esoteric teachers like Shandor Remete that teaches shadow yoga. She was able to incorporate it within Krishnamacharya’s original teachings which was the first real Vinyasa teacher.

As a mentor, she encourages open exploration for those that teach under her. There is a clear methodology, practiced for over 25 years. Shiva is quite an academic she loves to clarify her thesis and present it. There are four primary modules that make up a 200 hour training. There are advanced modules hat you can put toward the 500 hours training At some point my goals is to do a 200 hour training somewhere.

Sondra: Portland…?

Simon: Portland, maybe Surf Beach in Nicaragua.

Sondra: Within this extended family of friends that you meet, how can people come to study with you more?

Simon: I am like: Catch me if you can! I don’t think it’s by design but it has always just been my personality. I remember Shiva saying after workshop; “see ya down the road”. In ten plus years of traveling, I’ve sent out one email. I want people to find me. It’s kind of that old school. I heard this story about these sadhus in the cave, these yogi masters in a cave and students would go up and tried to study with them. Once the sadhus saw that people were coming they would start to throw furniture out the door and throw rocks at them; it’s like what are you doing here? Make it challenging. Because I float around and my publicity isn’t highly organized I’m hard to find. I’ve been doing this for 10 years and you would think at some point you would get a localized following but they are just everywhere. We will meet up when we meet up.

Sondra: What would be your advice on what to work on after a Prana Flow intensive?

Simon: Constant practice. We are exposed to enough information to be able to practice it. We tend to sell ourselves short with how much we know already, so just putting that into practice is the biggest thing. Self practice is really rewarding I think. Develop a regular self practice, just a little desire, a little passion. That goes a long way.

As Simon said he is rather elusive, buuuut if you want catch up with him on his tour check out his event’s throughout the rest of the year at his Liquid Flow Yoga website.

2013 Yoga Challenge hosted by Yogi Leader Rachel Brathen!

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How it works from our inspiring leader in recommitting to our practice via Rachel Brathen:

Kick start 2013 by challenging yourself to practice yoga every day of the first month of 2013!

#yogaeverydamnday – make it your New Year’s Resolution to practice daily for all of January. Practicing daily does not mean you have to take a full sweaty 90-minute class every single day (if you can make that happen, great!) but can be a 30 minute gentle stretch before bed or sun salutes in the morning… Whatever counts as a practice to you. As long as you make time to breathe and move (or not move – meditation is yoga too!) every day!

This is not a challenge where you take a picture of yourself in a yoga pose once a day, but a real challenge of making a commitment to your body, soul and mind. Make 2013 a year for YOU! Practice self-love by giving yourself the gift of yoga, every damn day.

Enter the challenge and log your practices here by leaving a comment or posting a photo.

To add some spice and keep you guys motivated I’ve decided to add a beautiful, beautiful prize to one challenge winner! The challenge starts January 1 and ends January 31, so when the month is over I will pick a winner who will get an awesome goodie bag full of yoga love!

Sponsors include YogaEarth, Drop Of Mindfulness, LuvMat and Blooming Lotus Jewelry (so yoga apparel, yoga mat, yoga jewelry – all love). To win the prize you need to log at least 8 practice times during the month. I will keep track of all participants who completed the challenge and pick a winner at random.

And don’t forget – share pictures of your practice on Instagram! Tag me (@yoga_girl) and the challenge hashtag is #YOGAEVERYDAMNDAY

Teacher and Apprentice: Sianna Sherman and Chris Calarco

(Sianna Sherman with Chris Calarco after Deepening Your Practice Workshop Series, Yoga Union, Portland, OR)

After spending my weekend immersed in a series of deepening workshops with Sianna Sherman and her student Chris Calarco, I was able to speak with them on the wonderful dynamics of the Teacher-Apprentice relationship. It was such a fun, inspiring conversation that encourages opening the heart to understanding the greatest teacher, ourselves, and the physical teacher that is the reflection of ourselves in the universe. Read on 🙂

Sondra: Throughout the weekend you have mentioned some of your greatest teachers that have influenced you in your pilgrimage: John Friend, Paul Mueller-Ortega, Richard Freeman, Douglas Brooks and a few others. Could you define what it was that drew you to them?

Sianna: Definitely. I have had a lot of teachers along the way for yoga and also in the shamanic world and in the herbal world; a lot of nature based teachers as well as the yoga teachers. Really it’s all kind of one spectrum for me, so I think the main thing that I listen for (because my teachers have all been very different from each other) is that when I feel the space in my heart, an aching longing feeling to want to be near them and a recognition opens inside of me, than I know it’s my teacher. I meet them in all different ways, sometimes I even meet them in the dream world first before I meet them in the physical world. It’s where my whole being swells with a knowing, and I know that I have met a teacher for my path at this time. Sometimes those teachers are for many years or just a day, it doesn’t take away from the impact that happens. Even if it’s just for a short time, that teachers lives with me always.

Sondra: Chris, you have been apprenticing with Sianna for some time now, I would love to hear how that unfolded; did you know in that moment that you first met her that she was your teacher?

Chris: Well, the way it unfolded was me studying at Yoga Union with some of Sianna’s students. Annie and Todd, the owners of Yoga Union, had been with Sianna for 4-5 years already. So I was in many ways studying with Sianna before I was studying with Sianna. She had come to Portland for a couple workshops and then announced that she would be doing an Anusara immersion in San Francisco, and that was something that I really wanted to do. So I was like “I’m going to go down to San Francisco and I’m doing this”. That is how we met. Then we got to know each other over the course of that time and towards the end of that time, we were talking about music actually..

Sianna: Haha music leads to everything!

Chris: I was giving her different music and we were sitting down at lunch and she asked me kind of like, what my deal was? She was like, “so tell me who you are”? When I was explaining it to her, she asked me if I wanted to work with her. I was expecting that we were meeting about music and it suddenly turned into a question of: Did I want to apprentice with her? I was totally shocked and blown away. I didn’t have to think twice about it and said yes immediately. That was the impotence of that.

Sianna: And it was spontaneous. It wasn’t anything I was thinking about, it was just in the moment. I just looked and I knew.

Chris: That’s how she rolls, haha!

Sondra: That’s wonderful! So Chris how has your practice has grown just from studying with Sianna?

Chris: It’s grown exponentially but the main way that I knew that it was meant to happen was; the thing I needed to work on the most in my practice, Sianna embodies every moment of her life. It’s sort of just the idea that to grow in our practice sometimes we have to work smarter rather than harder. My tendency is to overwork. I came from an athletic background and it was like the harder I worked the more I got. It worked for me to a degree in the physical practice of yoga for sure. Then when I met Sianna. I got so excited to study with her, I think it was literally the next day when I began to work with her I was like “OK, so next time when I come back, what do you want me to work on, every time I’m with you I want to work on something, every time we are together you’re going to tell me to work on something” and she was like “alright buddy just calm down a little bit”.

She texted me the next say saying “Just breath like soft moonlight” and that was the only instruction I got, and honestly that was the only thing I tried to work on for the first 6 months of our work together. And then one day out of the blue she texted me and said “Ok you have got the breathing, now you can work on hanuman thigh stretches”. But for 6 months it was just breathing. That’s what I mean by working smarter and softer in my practice. I needed to do it, I needed to breathe, rather than strain and struggle and push my way through the practice.

Her practice physically is so amazingly strong, but she is never straining, Sianna may be working but you never see an external moment of strain. We were practicing together the other night in Istanbul at her friends house, and I was watching her practice. She was doing ardha chandrasana bound, and she was hardly making a sound. I was almost not breathing because I didn’t want to make a sound the whole time, I was just trying to soften. That has been my whole practice with Sianna, softening.

Sondra: In that same vein, Sianna how has your teaching grown by guiding Chris?

Sianna: Chris has been with me in my biggest threshold of my yoga career since I began teaching in 1993. I have had lots of challenges and growing pains along the way, it has been a great journey. The last 15 years I’ve been in a pretty steady service with Anusara yoga and so right at the beginning of our time together much was collapsing and dissolving. Chris showed up right at that divine timing and just held solid ground for me. As the world was sort of being completely challenged and confronted in my inner personal spheres of teaching, because he has been so steady and so grounded and so clear of a space holder, it allowed me as a teacher through probably toughest time, being out there knowing people saying whats going on what do you teach, what style; and its like what am I actually offering? Because of his steadiness it allowed me to grow as a more clear channel. of being a channel for yoga as it wants to move through it, exactly as it wants to move through me regardless of outer stucture, organization, or what anyone else even thinks.

There was certainly quite a lot from the outer world at this time about who I was, and who I wasn’t. Chris got to see a lot of that, and seeing me challenged to my utmost degree, and just staying really steady. It was because he was staying steady that it allowed me to be at each edge of my teaching and to actually take the seat again and again even in the times when I didn’t want to.

Even recently we were at a big conference where I was invited to teach, it was with some extraordinary beings, teachers who I revere personally, would study with every single one of them the rest of my life. I was invited to this when Anusara was still at its peak a year and a half ago. When I showed up, I wasn’t even sure what I had to offer because I was like “well why would they choose me, I dont have this whole backing of this system anymore that I represent”. Chris just kept saying you just do what you do, and he just kept holding that steady ground so even when I got afraid or hesitated, I kept moving forward and holding the solid ground inside myself and being ok with the unknown.

There have been lots of times this year where people have asked: “So what to do you teach?” and we kind of just look at each other and laugh because I don’t even have the answer necessarily I teach YOGA as the mahashakti wants to move through. I respect all traditions. I don’t have a certain name or form, and i may never, again. It will just be the one family of Yoga, and that is what I stand for. Being in that together has been intense and fierce and great and probably some of my most extraordinary growth as a teacher.

Sondra: What do you think would be the most vulnerable thing about the relationship between teacher and apprentice?

Chris: Taking photos of me in my euro speedo?

Sianna: Haha! All of it is about the practice, he is my teacher completely. It is such an intense reflection of each other. We are around each other a lot and when you walk through a tumultuous time that fire kind of polished the relationship to a very intense degree. It has been everything this year from total loss, to my getting married; we have shared everything. I think what we do for each other even when we feel really shaken, is that we are the reminder to each other to go to our practices, and practice, and we really do that. I’m holding space for you go do your practice.

Chris: For me, its when I do things that I think Sianna is going to be disappointed in. How she responds to that is full of love and full of grace. So when I do things that make me feel vulnerable, for my own stuff, she responds by holding me. That to me in the most vulnerable thing.

Sondra: What helps you to feel most connected in your relationship, where you just need to feel more grounded together?

Chris: When Sianna asked me to apprentice with her, she said “If you travel around with me you have to have a meditation practice.”. So I went and studied with her mediation teacher and that has been a huge factor in this whole year for me, is me committing like I never had before to meditation. It is what I always hear from Sianna. She is on the road 80% of the time, and that is the only thing that keeps her sane.

Sianna: That’s the big glue. I love the feeling of the practices and an integrated whole, but the big big glue is mediation. Just sitting and letting myself see from inside out. A lot of times, even if we are not physically together I will sit in meditation and actually see Chris sitting too, like I can just see him through the other field.

Chris: Then I will text her about something, and she will respond with: I know.

Sondra: So great! You traveling a lot together, what is your favorite things about traveling together?

Sianna: Haha, Coffee in Berlin?

Chris: Honestly the people we are around are my favorite part because you get to see yoga from a different angle; people that have these big open hearts, just the people. They can be joyful, struggling, funny, all these different people from all these different countries. It has been unique to be in a room full of German people learning yoga and it’s great!

Sianna: And being asked to show up in different ways. It’s like in Berlin, they really wanted us to do an all day teacher training about helping their teachers to speak from the heart which for them, they felt was very challenging. They like to go with the technique a lot, which we of also love. It was just a fun day to move through the space and the continuum of just being with different cultures, and everyone having the yearnings for their happiness, for love, for clear expression in a way that’s meaningful, then finding the ways of connection.

When we went to Istanbul we brought different communities together that normally don’t have much collaboration or connection, and maybe sometimes even a little resistance to each other. We made an offering like “what if we all come together”? So Seane Corn was being hosted by one studio, I was being hosted by another. Through our conversations we all decided to do it together and the studios then joined. We shared the teaching and Chris was there through the whole thing. To see things like that, to be able to bring hope and new possibility where the mind would say “well this is mine, this is yours” and even in the yoga world to be curious about opening the conversation up was amazing. We wanted to see if we could encounter a collaboration in this way, we are willing if you are willing.

Chris: There was a moment where one of the studios was a larger and the other a smaller studio, and to see the two just kind of doing what ever needed to be done in that moment to make sure the event came off was just really sweet. It seemed to be real big evidence of the lack of ego.

Sianna; And all the big festival events, and small intimate events, and the pulsation of every sort of thing that we go on the road with. It’s how to hold the space and bring the teachings through depending on what the event is, and who is showing up. It’s being able to move our own technique, the way that Chris will assist people, and the way that I will bring the teachings through depending on the event. We have to be connected in ourselves so that we hold the space together in a way that lets people come forward rather than us having an agenda to put on. We are listening to how we can facilitate opening in that moment.

Sondra: What would you say to the students that are curious about finding their teacher and exploring that part of growing their practice?

Sianna: I think ultimately the greatest teachers are going to point every student back into themselves as the source and the teacher really lives inside. Even if a student doesn’t feel like they really have a teacher they actually do because they are their own teacher. If they really want a physical teacher, I would say go in and listen. Start calling for that teacher to appear, and really open your mind to how that teacher might appear. Every single thing that happens in our life is a teacher, every person is a teacher so be super open to how the teacher feels. Its the great old adage that when the student is ready the teacher appears And if a student takes a step towards that teacher, than the teacher will take two steps towards that student.

Chris: If students are really desiring an external physical teacher, I can only say what I did’ which is follow the practice My practice was leading me deeper here at Yoga Union, and then Sianna was here, so my practice led me to her. The opportunity to practice more deeply showed up in my life, so i was following the steps of my practice. If that’s something that you desire, follow the path of the practice, you know? Where is it taking you? Is it taking you to one teachers class over and over again, is it taking you down the direction of mediation, whose name do you keep hearing, where is the practice leading you? Follow the path of the practice.

Next stops on the pilgrimage..

Sianna and Chris will also be continuing their pilgrimage by traveling to Tulum, Mexico on December 2-9th for a Alcehemy of Elements Retreat along side Shakti Sunfire, Saul David Raye, Theodore Kyrakios, and Devine Harmony. A wonderful opportunity to stir your soul on the waters of the Mayan Riviera!

For more About Chris: Chris Calarco Yoga

For more About Sianna: Sianna Sherman and Open to Grace

So much Gratitude,

Sondra