Tag Archives: yoga

Join the club

Groucho Marx famously said he wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have people like him as a member, and Katie Manitsas, the director of Jivamukti Yoga in Sydney’s hip inner-west suburb of Newtown, tends to agree.
Tattoo you.  Photo by Michelle Newton

Tattoo you.
Photo by Michelle Newton

Jivamukti is a style known for its strict adherence to its founders’ principles of veganism and commitment to environmental issues, animal rights and political activism. It’s also known as the yoga style of choice for the famous and fabulous.

Musicians, supermodels and actors frequent Jivamukti’s New York studio – the model Christy Turlington, actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Uma Thurman, Michael Franti, and you don’t get much more famous than Sting.

Katie believes that Jivamukti has been pigeon-holed as being elitist – it has a “reputation as being young and hip” due to its founders’ Sharon Gannon and David Life’s background in performance art. Gannon started out as a dancer and musician, while Life was an artist and café owner before finding yoga and founding the Jivamukti method.

Katie says, “As soon as yoga starts to become like a club that you get invited to join because you’ve got the right tattoo, that to me is like something’s gone wrong. I’m very interested in how we can be a bit wider.”

I’ve not come across too many – or any – celebrities in the classes in Newtown, though it’s a pretty hip and funky place. Jivamukti’s classes are famous for their pumping soundtrack of uplifting indie music. More than once I’ve wanted to get hold of the playlist that has accompanied the class.

The on-site vegan café, Sadhana, serves treats made with hipster-friendly ingredients like raw cacao and goji berries, many of the clientele do sport serious tatts and piercings, and there’s less Lululemon being worn than I’ve ever seen in a Sydney yoga class.

To be honest, it is the sort of place where you feel ever-so-slightly intimidated when you walk in.

Katie, who has been teaching yoga all her adult life, says the scene can be somewhat judgmental.

“That can feed into the sort of thing where we judge ourselves and then we start judging everyone else, and that’s not what yoga is about.”

But the flipside of that is the community – the sangha – that is created when people come together to practice yoga.

Katie says, “There’s this lovely word “satsang” which is like to gather together, and seek for the truth, and I think there’s something really beautiful in that, that we do come together for one common purpose.”

To that end, Jivamukti Newtown runs community yoga classes for just $8.00 – a miniscule amount when you consider a drop-in class in most yoga studios in Sydney can be as much as $20.

So, far from Groucho’s refusal to join the “club”, yoga is a club I’m happy to be a member of. Yoga is like coming home. Even casually dropping into a class reignites a feeling of belonging – for me anyway – even if I haven’t been practising much. I can create a little club of one – just me – a sangha and satsang.

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You say ashtanga, I say vinyasa

Let’s call the whole thing…  hatha.

All the physical aspects of yoga can be called hatha, no matter what “style” you choose to practice.

I thought I’d compile a little list (it’s by no means exhaustive) to give you an idea of what style to focus on if you want a particular result.

Want a “yoga body”?

Try:
Power yoga
Ashtanga
Jivamukti
Bikram (if you must)
Anything that says it’s “vinyasa”

Want more calm?

Try:
Satyananda
Sivananda
Restorative classes (in most styles)

Need a personalised practice to recover from injury or illness?

Try:
Viniyoga

Kinda details-focused?

Try:
Iyengar

What’s the deal with hatha?

It’s pretty much all hatha.

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Good foundations

Foundationn1. that on which something is founded. 2. the basis or ground of anything. 3. the natural or prepared ground or base on which some structure rests.

– The Macquarie Dictionary

Grounded

Hands. Feet. Sometimes forearms, sometimes knees, or the crown of the head. But usually hands and feet. These are the foundations  of any yoga pose, from which our bodies find their stability. Only from a stable foundation can a structure be solid.

In his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali says:

Sthira sukham asanam 
(II.46)
TKV Desikachar translates this as: “Asana must have the dual qualities of alertness and relaxation.”

Hands and feet serve as the foundations of a pose; they ground you in a physical sense. But they also ground you in a spiritual sense, when you are grounded you feel safe, mentally and emotionally stable.

Hands

For many, yoga provides a sense of stability, or groundedness, of coming home.

There’s a reason why calling someone “grounded” is a compliment.

Hands 2 

Padangustasana

Feet w bubbles

Katie Manitsas from Jivamutki Yoga in Newtown says, “Jivamukti would say that the foundation to any aspect of yoga, whether its the physical asana practice or the spiritual discipline or ethics, is connection to the earth. Patanjali says the connection to the earth needs to be steady and joyful. We take that to mean literally – physically – the asana needs to be well connected to the earth so you don’t fall over but also the relation to the planet earth should be steady and joyful.”

Tattooed

Katie says that’s where Jivamukti’s environmentalism element comes in – it’s the foundational philosophy of Jivamukti Yoga.

“When we become comfortable in our own bodies and secure, confident then we become externally comfortable and confident but if we are filled with insecurities in our relationship to our body, or form, then we can’t have good and sustainable relationships outside of ourselves.”

Soles

Yoga has helped Christiane Steinward enormously with a sense of grounding.

She says:  “I often teach about our connection with the earth. These things have been so beneficial to me personally. Energetically I think the [physical] yoga practices work on the lower chakras, balancing the energies there, which naturally makes us more effective in the world, then after some time we move into the energies of the higher chakras. People often start with the physical practices but are gradually enticed into the spiritual side by developing feelings of love, compassion, joy, peace which may lead to the person connecting to the divine.”

Heels

“That has been my experience – I started off by getting my life together in a practical sense then I have gradually gone more into the higher chakras towards more devotional practices. It is an ongoing journey for me and I keep working on the lower chakras through my practice.”

Strong hand

Ankle

Urdhva dhanurasana

Good pair of hands

Altar

All photographs by Michelle Newton (c)

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The future is now

I’m drawing circles with my hips, my shoulders, my arms, my head. My body becomes fluid, like a stream flowing over rocks. More than 100 others are also sinuously moving their bodies to the beat of trance-inducing music. It makes me feel expansive, calm, uplifted. It’s all rather blissful.

I’m at Future Sound of Yoga’s flow session, two hours of yoga aimed at switching off the mind, connecting with the body and letting go. The class has just begun and we are being led in this fluid stream of body consciousness by Angel Singmin and her DJ husband Matt.

The sandstone walls of Paddington’s Uniting Church reverberate to the evocative power of Matt’s soundtrack. The music serves to move your awareness from body, to breath, to the internal, personal landscape.

“The experience is as much about the music as it is about the yoga,” says Angel.

Matt carefully chooses tracks that will create the right mood for each Future Sound of Yoga event. He draws upon electronic dance music – like ambient, trip hop and tech house – and atmospheric bands or artists such as Bjork, Sigur Ros or Radiohead.

Angel and Matt believe music helps people go “deeper into the moment”, letting go of thought.

“Some people like to use the beats to tap into their physical flow and find the music helps energise them or can carry them through the movement; others might hear a piece of music that helps them relax more,” says Angel.

While chanting mantras in Sanskrit has long been a part of the culture of yoga even in the West, recorded music has not. When I first started practising yoga, way back in the mid-90s, the classes were mostly silent affairs. Now many teachers use music in their classes, most often to create ambience.

In a 2006 essay in the journal Brain, neurologist Oliver Sacks recounts the renowned psychologist Anthony Storr’s definition of the function of music. He says it is “collective and communal.”  It serves to “bring and bind people together. People sing together, dance together.” And tonight, to practice yoga together.

Sacks says the “coercive power of music” can lead to profoundly altered states of consciousness.

Not that the people assembled here tonight are falling into music-induced trances (or maybe they are), but a feeling of “sangha” – a Sanskrit word meaning community – is created – by the atmosphere, lighting, music and of course the yoga.

In the crepuscular light of the church, we move through a series of vinyasas. Though the flow session is billed as more on the “yin” spectrum, sweat still trickles down my back. As we move into more challenging poses, I am aware of the tightness in my right hip, the slight twinge in my lower back. I feel like I’m being worked.

Angel throws in some partner yoga, which has me inwardly groaning and wishing my friend hadn’t cancelled on me at the last minute. This feeling only lasts a moment – it seems there are plenty of others who have come alone.

Yagoda, who is from Poland, and I synchronise our breath and movement perfectly to flow through a series of sun salutations. We help each other into an ingenious, (almost) unassisted handstand.

“There’s some sort of weird physics going on here,” she says.

It’s more like leverage – each of us exerting pressure and resistance so that, each in our turn, we are upside-down and balancing on our hands. Yagoda has never done a handstand before – and here she is in the middle of the room with only my hand to steady her.

As for me, it’s one of my favourite things, but I’m still euphoric.

I’ve always loved yoga classes that incorporate fun and play; this one fuses that with a powerful beat.

Lyana“It was lovely, such an escape. It’s such a lovely space in the church. It really gives you time to focus inward. A lot of yoga classes are all about being very fast and body conscious, whereas this is centred on yourself and being grounded. And with the combination of the music and the yoga it’s just perfect.”  Lyana Doyle

“I’ve been to their classes, mostly to the flow class. I just like the flow side of it and having the music is great.”  SuzieSuzie

The yoga of sound – or nada yoga – is deeply embedded in yogic philosophy. It is thought that the very stuff of the universe is vibratory  – “sonic in nature” according to Russill Paul, a musician, yogi and former monk.

Paul has written about the yoga of sound in The Yoga of Sound: Tapping the Hidden Power or Music and Sound. Ancient yogis understood the profound effect sound can have on our wellbeing.

You can read more about nada yoga and Russill Paul here.

 Image

Angel and Matt Singmin, creators of Future Sound of Yoga.

Photo courtesy of Future Sound of Yoga and Abi Singmin

photo credits in youtube package:

Photo 1 – Future Sound of Yoga
Photo 2 – Mikey Anderson
Photos 6&7 – Jonas Peterson
All other photos – Michelle Newton

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Yoga is the journey…

Yoga is the journey f the self, through the self, to the self.

Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.

Photo credit: http://yogasoulblog.com/

photo-7

Just a selection…

Photo: Michelle Newton

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More discipline, less naughtiness, fine-tunes the body and mind

Vaidya Raman Das Mahatagyi, who runs Yatan Holistic Ayurvedic Centre in Sydney’s north-shore suburb of Gordon, has practised Ayurveda since he was a child, learning first from his grandfather then studying it in the holy city of Varanasi.

Raman Das Mahatyagi

Photo courtesy Yatan Ayurveda.

Ayurveda is India’s traditional system of medicine, and one of the world’s oldest. It is also yoga’s “sister” practice – two interrelated branches of the same tree. In his book, Yoga and Ayurveda: Self-Healing and Self-Realization, David Frawley, an authority on yoga and Ayurveda, says Ayurveda is the science of healing for body and mind, and yoga is the science of self-realisation that depends on a well-functioning body and mind.

Ayurveda is very much focused on personal balance – each person is unique. Ayurveda describes three fundamental mind/body types, or doshas – vata, pitta and kapha – and every person is a combination of the three to varying degrees. To be healthy, you need to know which dosha you are, and how to balance it. When you become ill, it is because one or more doshas are out of balance. For more information on doshas, visit, Raman Das’s website.

I wanted to find out how Raman Das felt about diet and yoga, and he generously took some time to talk to me.

I’m interested in your take on the effect of a person’s diet and whether it’s necessary to become vegetarian to pursue a “serious” yoga practice.

Raman Das: It depends on which perspective – from an Ayurvedic or a yoga perspective.

Let’s start with the yoga perspective.

From a yoga perspective, always they recommend pure vegetarian.

I was hoping you wouldn’t say that…

As you move deeper into yoga practice your system becomes delicate and your energy – all your energy channels are more open. You need softer food and then body can do more work with softer food. Because [your system] is more active just like your car – when your car is brand new, it takes less fuel but when your car becomes older, then it starts to take you more and more fuel.

Same is happening when you do yoga practice – you need less food, body is highly processing everything.

So the more yoga you do, the less dense your food needs to be?

You need lighter food – meat produces more toxins – ama. Ama accumulates so it is not good for body; it’s very clogging. When you do yoga the body opens up so any food which is lighter then yoga practice will be better, and health will be better.

 Yoga practice from a physical point of view?

The yoga point of view is not only physical, it’s also spiritual, mental, deeper – the chakras, kundalini [kundalini is said to be the energy that is coiled at the base of the spine – releasing the kundalini results in spiritual awakening].

But if you are just concerned with the physical aspect of yoga, then it doesn’t matter, then you treat just like exercise.

But as Western people, if you like good health, if you like feeling robust, then this rule [the vegetarian rule] does not apply. Suppose you are a builder and you do yoga and [you are] vegetarian, you cannot lift many things, so you need some energy.

If you like physical exercise then you need very strong food.  But in Ayurveda and from the yoga perspective also we have very strong food that is more powerful than meat – like chick peas and moong dahl. Food that is high protein, highly absorbable and less toxic for the body.

So a vegetarian diet makes your body and your mind more refined?

More refined, more subtle. And you absorb things very quick and fast – like universal connection – you channel [universal connection] and then any information – you don’t know what someone asks you and then immediately you will reply even if you haven’t read it or heard it before. So as you go deeper, this type of ability starts to happen.

I like the sound of this!

In yoga this is called samadhipadha, the stage of perfection. It gives you all this knowledge without knowing, without studying, because you are channeling universal connections. In the universe, everything is available.

Do you think that if you are leading a normal life and you have to go to work every day and you are trying to do your yoga practice and trying to achieve that state – I mean it’s more difficult because you have to go to work every day and all those pressures of work and family and modern life…

It is possible to do it, but you have to know that right lifestyle.

You need to be very disciplined, not my strong point.

Yeah, the discipline.  [There is also] yoga without the discipline, this is tantra. [There is] no discipline but also you can achieve.

Tell me more about this idea of no discipline!  Doesn’t tantra say you can achieve all those things…*

Yeah without discipline.

Yes, through your body, using your body – your body and mind – and all in this world.

You don’t have to go and live like a monk. You can do the household life – doing office work, wife, husband children, friends, society, but you have to understand how to do it.

In tantra they teach that there is a method for anything. In the Vigyan Bhairav Tantra, they have divided the mind’s desire into 112 paths, so if your mind is like this, then this is what you should do.

If your personality is drawn in certain directions, it gives you instructions on what path you should follow?

Suppose you like drinking, and you like to do some [yoga] practice also. So how can you drink and also do practice? There is a method [but it doesn’t] involve more drinking, it gets you out and then if you are satisfied. So even if it’s there, you don’t want it.

So even though that is your path, it refines you away from that path?

That’s right. So if you like to drink, and someone tells you don’t drink – you think, oh god, I am missing something in my life, then tantra tells you no, you do not have to suppress your desires. But you do in such a way that your desire automatically reduces – I don’t want these things.

Using these methods you will feel no loss. Time will come – you will enjoy, but you will feel – I’m full. But not like suppressing your desire. How great it is!

And then you are not chasing after things, whatever it is – alcohol, sex, food.

With sex, if you are celibate, then you feel more desire. If you are suppressing it, tantra says no, go through it, then after some time, I don’t need it [anymore].

Tell me more about diet from an Ayurvedic perspective.

The Ayurvedic perspective describes what the properties of meat are for example, what the meat can give you, and what the vegetarian diet can do you for. But they prefer you to be vegetarian, they say your life will be longer.

But many vegetarians get sick because they have no idea what to eat, when to eat and how to rejuvenate themselves. Then it’s not good. Ayurveda describes every food  – for example, in India people don’t eat beef, but Ayurveda describes the properties of beef.

Ayurveda tells you how to enjoy life – it gives instructions on how to do it. They say vegetarian food is highly absorbable and you live longer and can enjoy good health.

Do you think a little bit of meat is fine? If you balance it?

Ayurveda says, so I want meat, whatever you say, but I want meat… so Ayurveda tells you how to take meat. Because not many people here are vegetarian, I have done research. If you take meat 40% and 60% vegetables then it’s highly absorbable and highly digestible.

What do you think about veganism?

That is also excessive. A time will come when vegans will feel starved – not satisfied, not contented. And then they run off and start another life! People go from one extreme to another extreme. In the west, we are always going to extremes – one end to the other end. People that I study always fluctuate – they say – I was vegan before, I am gluten free… but all these people have problems because your body needs many types of things. If you are vegan, a time will come when you feel like you are in jail, you are forcing yourself.

And all the processed food – another example of people going to extremes.

With processed food – the tummy is full but the mind is not. Your body is not satisfied or nourished. It’s like working eight hours and you only get $10!

Ayurveda says how your food can be balanced. Even as a pure vegetarian. You need lentils and pulses – they are a good source of protein.

So come on, tell me – do you do anything naughty?

No.

Oh right!

*****************

*NOTE: I’m not advocating tantra, nor am I discouraging it. When many Western people think of tantra, they think (wrongly) that it’s all about sex. It’s not – it is a very complicated practice and beyond, firstly, my understanding, and secondly, the scope of this blog. It is traditionally considered a secret practice, one only undertaken with the guidance of a recognised guru.

In addition, many so-called gurus have, under the guise of “tantra” and the promise of spiritual attainment and enlightenment, taken advantage of people and used their knowledge for their own physical and financial gratification. Chogyam Trungpa and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (later called Osho) are examples of this – you can read more about this in this book summary on Elephant Journal.

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The secret extremist

Secret extremist seeks personal revolution
Christiane

An addiction to tea means that Perth-based yoga teacher and physiotherapist Christiane Steinward feels she can hardly judge people for their lifestyle choices.

I’ve known Christiane for about seven years, since we met in the lobby of the New Woodlands Hotel in Chennai, India. We’ve been friends ever since.

Our paths have diverged since then. She was yet to finish her yoga teacher training; I was already teaching. I gave up teaching because I was bored with the sound of my own voice; she was so serious about yoga, she took on a physiotherapy degree so she could better understand the dynamics of the human body in order to be a better teacher. That’s dedication. That’s kind of … extreme.

Originally from Manchester – a city known for its club scene and drinking culture – in the United Kingdom, Christiane used to party hard.

“I used to take a lot of drugs; drink a lot,” she says, in a voice that suggests a lot really does mean a LOT.

She felt she really pushed the boundaries with that lifestyle and has come to see herself as an “extremist”.

I am surprised by this – I would never have described her as such. Rather, she has a breezy and easy-going nature that seems to me totally different what you would expect a serious and full-on yogi to be.

“I’m a secret extremist,” she says.

Party-hard lifestyle loses its appeal

After discovering yoga after moving to Sydney, the appeal of her former lifestyle slowly started to wane.

“At some point, it became just not appealing anymore.”who am i?

“It seemed particularly unappealing, like it was taking me in the wrong direction.”

As she progressed in her understanding and experience of yoga, she found herself questioning who she was after a night out on the tiles.

She felt a discord – who am I? Is this really me?

Personal revolution

The direction she, along with her husband, is increasingly taking is more of a “personal revolution”. She wants to reach her potential from a spiritual perspective rather than a material or social one. This, for her, is living with integrity.happiness

She has given up the booze, and doesn’t eat meat. Her “vices” now are tea and… well, just tea. About 20 cups a day. She is English after all, and there’s that secret extremist coming out again. The whole vegan thing though, is not going to happen, what with all the milk that goes into all that tea.

“I can’t give up dairy. How can I preach to anyone when I’m sooo addicted to tea!”

I asked Christiane whether she thought you could live a life of integrity without this total dedication.

“Totally! 100% I think you can. We all have our own path and there are so many different ways it can unfold for different people.”

You can practice yoga to make your body feel better or to calm your mind, but it needn’t be your whole path.

There are many different paths to reaching the goal of any discipline and yoga is no different. You can completely immerse yourself in it, as Christiane has done, or it can be an addition that complements and enhances your life.

Photo: Michelle Newton

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