It has been over four years since I practiced Astanga Yoga regularly and for those ofÂ you who are familiar; Astanga Yoga is not like learning how to ride a bicycle. Yes, whenÂ you attempt the Primary Series the practice is unforgettable and sticks with you, thoughÂ your endurance, comfort, and level of intensity with the practice does not come rightÂ back to you when you stop and start again.
I discovered this truth a couple of months ago, while traveling to Birmingham, when IÂ joined a â€œMysoreâ€ practice in a small yoga room housed in a climbing gym. If you are notÂ familiar with what â€œMysoreâ€ means, first the expression comes from the name of theÂ second largest city in India where Shri. K. Pattabhi Jois, more often referred to asâ€œGurujiâ€, created and began teaching in The Astanga Research Institute. Today Sharath Jois (grandson) and Saraswathi (daughter) along with otherÂ family members and certified instructorÊ¼s from around the globe, continue to teach andÂ preserve the integrity of The Astanga Yoga Method.
When we refer to â€œMysoreâ€ in other parts of the world, this typically refers to a two hourÂ time frame where you can practice Ashtanga Yoga as you would in India. Basically,Â within the two hour window, you start when you are ready and follow a set sequence onÂ your breath until you have mastered that level in an integrated manner. Before movingÂ onto the next and more challenging series of six, one of the few Astanga approvedÂ teacherÊ¼s, may officially approve for you to advance.
I say this with all sincerity too. I can remember vividly years ago when my AstangaÂ journey led me to a big beautiful ballroom in SanFrancisco for a week with Guruji,Â Sharath, and Saraswathi. At this point I had a home practice without access to anÂ Astanga Master and I naively registered for the Secondary/Intermediate Series class. AtÂ the time I didnÊ¼t realize that you had to be approved to move past the Primary SeriesÂ and that there are obvious reasons for the systematic approach.
On the first morning, after the Salutations and Standing Poses, Sharath kindly walkedÂ over and in a soft voice he said, â€œWhat are you doing here?â€. I looked up at him withÂ innocent child like eyes and he realized that I didnÊ¼t know how the process worked. ForÂ the next hour I sat on the side of the class and watched. Slowly, many others did theÂ same as they came to a posture in the secondary series that they had not mastered. ItÂ is important to know that this was not as though we were benched in a sporting eventÂ and that we wanted to get back out their to give it another immediate try. Instead, we satÂ in awe watching the beauty, strength, and softness of the other fellow practitioners, inÂ the midst of a form that we aspired to eventually feel and be. To this day, I rememberÂ sitting and this was one of my most inspirational practices. This class taught me how toÂ be a respectful student.
Therefore, when I found myself practicing Astanga again after all those years, tears ofÂ joy starting falling from my eyes. This Classical Yoga method magically sheds light onÂ where you are and where you are going in your life and the series are designed for theÂ practitionerÊ¼s safety and progress towards evolution and true transformation within allÂ the subtle bodies. After the practice, I walked out of that warm lit space in BirminghamÂ and felt like I had returned to my roots; I was home. Later that day, I found BalanceÂ Yoga in Atlanta, and was so happy to see that they wereÂ an Astanga and Vinyasa School. Also, Kino McGregor was coming to teach a five tieredÂ weekend workshop on December 9-11th and I knew I wanted to go.
Three days may have passed and while I was being interviewed by Jessica Ewart, ofÂ Yoga Stage and Namaste YÊ¼all; I mentioned that I was going. She shared that this is theÂ exact type of story that she would like to have on the companies sites, such as theÂ recent article posted covering a weekend with Ana Forrest.
Astanga opportunities always seem to align for me and yet again magic was abound,Â when I was able to attend the weekend workshop as a Delegate. From the first line ofÂ contact on email, Balance Yoga Atlanta embodied kindness, authenticity, andÂ peacefulness. The first conversation I had with co-owner/instructor Jennifer SmithÂ made me feel completely at ease. She was strong, straight forward, and playful. SheÂ was very comfortable saying that after 7 years, Balance Yoga still remains a place toÂ practice yoga. â€œ We are not about ego, and Kino is one of our teachers. It is always aÂ big event when any of our teachers come.â€
So, about half an hour before the first MysoreÂ Practice on Friday night, I arrived to theÂ modest home transformed into a studio in theÂ periphery of Buckhead Village. The lightsÂ were warm and smiling faces were gatheringÂ and checking into the simple boutique full ofÂ plants and wood. When the studio doorÂ opened, the heat felt incredible and I set myÂ mat up in the back row of the almost filledÂ room. Then one at a time when ready, UjjayiÂ Pranayama started and the practice began.Â I felt so grounded as I found my way into theÂ wave of everyoneÊ¼s breath, which quicklyÂ resembled a symphony of insectsÂ harmonizing during a warm summer night. ItÂ was not much longer that Kino walked intoÂ the studio. She was petite, strong, andÂ literally glowing with sunshine from the insideÂ out. Though many of us were already in theÂ depths of practicing, there was a collectiveÂ awareness that our teacher had arrived. AÂ layer of energetic respect began filling theÂ yoga room and then in a confident, yetÂ nurturing voice Kino said â€œSamastitihiâ€.
Everyone stopped where ever they were, without delay, and we calmly came to ,Â â€œSamastitihi, Standing Mountain Pose with Prayer Hands. We chanted call andÂ response sending love to all in the world. Unlike a led Ashtanga practice that came theÂ next morning, Kino barely used any words after that point for the next two hours. SheÂ assisted us and moved us further into postures than we had ever experienced. SheÂ was a master and spoke to students for encouragement and also with honesty if theyÂ needed to back off.
The discussion of the Sutras following the practice was the most in depth talk I haveÂ every heard regarding philosophy and traditions in the entire 17 years I have beenÂ practicing and studying. Kino spoke many of the Sutras in Sanskrit and translated themÂ so that we understood what each pearl of wisdom meant. She explained how theseÂ Sutras still apply to our current lives and she often shared her clean and funny sense ofÂ humor throughout. Going into the weekend I knew that Kino was the youngest approvedÂ female Astanga Teacher traveling the globe and after one talk with her I was notÂ surprised to discovered that she also holds a MA from New York University, is workingÂ on her PhD, and an upcoming book. I came across this information as I was marvelingÂ over she and her husbandÊ¼s Tim Feldmann, who is also a certified instructor, beautifulÂ website of The Miami Life Center, on the South Beach of Florida.
The next morning I met the other lovely owner/instructor of Balance Studio, MarshaÂ McNeight. Marsha immediately gave me a warm welcoming hug and I felt as though IÂ had yet again made another new friend. We talked about her recently becoming aÂ mother and then later I heard her studentÊ¼s lovingly say that Marsha had also beenÂ practicing in India the previous year.
The entire community was kind and humble and one woman in particular whose nameÂ was Libby shared so dearly that Balance Yoga Atlanta is almost like a precious secret.Â Libby and I sat with our legs up to our chest in a little ball and there was a twinkle in herÂ eyes as she talked about how much the studio is cherished by everyone.
I sat alone in my cousinÊ¼s home on Saturday night after a wonderful dinner with anotherÂ teacher and his fiance in Atlanta. I thought about how Kino and all of the MasterÂ teacherÊ¼s who travel the globe truly have devoted there lives to others. She must missÂ her home and family, though she chooses to preserve the Ashtanga Yoga Method andÂ share her insights, and wisdom. Once again I found myself inspired with gratitude andÂ respect just as the first day with Guruji, Sharath, and Saraswathi in San Francisco. AfterÂ all these years, I was still learning how to be a respectful student and I hope to alwaysÂ be fortunate enough to continue this process.
Sunday morning before our final Mysore practice while taking off my boots amongst theÂ array of belongings, I overheard Kino calmly say that she would like to return for theÂ flight in the afternoon at a particular time so that she could make it home without delay.Â She told Marsha that she had many things to do in the next couple of days, as she wasÂ returning to India on Wednesday. I new this might be my only opportunity for one candidÂ shot so I asked if I could take a picture of Kino, Marsha, and Jennifer before the practiceÂ began. In a supporting tone, Marsha said that Jennifer was home with a sick child. ThenÂ Kino, in her soft, inclusive tone said, â€œ Would you like to be in the picture?â€ In thatÂ moment, I knew why I felt at home with this Astanga Yoga Community. Our guides, suchÂ as Kino McGregor honor tradition, respect, intellectual inquiry, and kindness. TheyÂ encourage us when we can do more and protect us when we need to back off. Theylead us in the direction of true peace, as we are one big human family.
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti