by Stephanie Nelson
My Ashtanga Yoga practice began when my second son, Conrad, was approaching one year. I returned to work full time when he was five months old, Huxley was just 2 years, so life was busy. In between raising the children and working, there was not much time. I noticed a lapse in my sense of self. I had practiced yoga for several years of various styles before the boys were born, but nothing had really clicked. I went to several different schools, had a number of terrific teachers, even worked for a yoga institute for a while, but the yoga was not self-directed it was dependent on these people and the schools. The reality is these approaches to yoga were just not for me, I wanted something different.
During this early “yoga testing” stage, I did end up at a led (talked-thru) Ashtanga primary series class. The teacher was Sharon Gannon and the School was Jivamukti (in the East Village of NYC) ‘round about 1996. I was completely blown away by this class. First of all I had no idea what Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga was. The timetable merely said “Led”…so I thought “cool, I can do that.” I had been to a number of their “open” classes and assumed it was something just a little different. I remember considering teacher training at this juncture but decided to pursue completion of my graduate studies instead.
After moving to New Zealand and reaching this mothering/work overload, I knew I wanted to get back into yoga, and I knew I wanted to practice Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. I headed to The Auckland Yoga Academy. It’s location in the central city was on my way to the ferry after work (I was living on Waiheke Island commuting daily to the Auckland University Medical School), so I was able to slot in the time. Within the walls of this school (and a few other shalas) I found my practice. I regularly attended classes for a year and then I studied under Peter Nielsson as an apprentice teacher for 2 ½ years. I traveled to Mysore India to practice with the late Ashtanga Master Sri K Pattabhi Jois and his grandson Sharath. I studied with senior international teachers, Dena Kinsberg and Peter Sanson. The daily commitment was real and my life changed. I became a dedicated yoga student. I am now a full time yoga teacher and student, and the founder of The Breathing Space yoga studio on Waiheke Island.
I firmly believe that attending a weekly yoga class is not enough to lead to life change. It is a great start and has its benefits, no doubt, but you really need to go to the mat every day for a long time in order to understand how yoga works, why yoga works, in fact what yoga is at all. Otherwise you are cheating yourself of this wonderful self-discovery process. However, development of a daily practice does take time to build, and patience is necessary. Begin with one class per week and then gradually add more classes and practice times as your endurance builds and time allows. With commitment daily practice will happen naturally and before you know it you
will be standing at the mat each day.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga creates a foundation from which you can explore, develop, transform. It is a traditional practice that has withstood the test of time. Each day you step on the mat, recite the opening chant thanking your teachers and your teachers’ teachers for this wonderful gift to you, asking for the poisons in the body to be purified from within, bowing to the inner guru.
And then you begin…ekam (one), inhale, dwi (two), exhale and so on, methodically, diligently, conscientiously moving through the postures, synchronizes the breath with the movement of the body creating a graceful continuum, a meditation. The practice is the same in sequence each day, but is always different, as different as you are from one day to the next, one moment to the next.
To the mat with no expectations
My teacher now, Peter Sanson, says you need to go to the mat with no expectations. Do your practice and see what unfolds. On some days the energy in the body will rise and move freely, without resistance, and on other days there may be obstacles that present themselves to you. The purpose of the daily yoga practice is to become aware of these things so that you are able to change your behavior and thought patterns, so the energy, prana, once again moves freely. It is difficult to know what is going on if you do not
practice each day, as the reference point, the foundation is not there as a guide.
The Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga system provides this, and it does so independent of going to a teacher or a yoga class or a yoga studio. It is your own yoga practice independent of these things. The purpose of the teacher and studio, the allocated class time, is to inspire you to practice every day. It is also beneficial to practice with a teacher who is committed to their own yoga practice as they will likely have knowledge to share about their discoveries.
Coming Workshops to Develop Personal Practice
If you are interested in learning more about this yoga system I encourage to consider the Spring Yoga Weekend Sept 17, 18, and 19th with me, and also the Labour Weekend Ashtanga Yoga Intensive with my dear teacher, Peter Sanson, Oct 22-25th. He has over 22 years of experience as a teacher and was a direct student with Sri K Pattabhi Jois during this time. No experience with this system of yoga is necessary for attendance at either workshop. All are welcome.
The Breathing Space is also planning a fundraiser, “An Evening of Ashtanga Yoga – The Art of Practice” which will include a
demonstration. So if you are not quite ready to join a class but would like to check it out or if you feel a need to be inspired we would love to see you there. More details will be available soon on this website.
Namaste, Stephanie Nelson