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Yoga

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Sri Dharma Mittra, yamas, niyamas and other observations

Sri Dharma Mittra visited London this weekend bringing series of fantastic workshops (hosted by Indaba Yoga). I had the pleasure to study with Sri Dharma before in New York at the Dharma Yoga Centre, a fantastic studio welcoming students of all levels and intentions. 

This weekend made me reflect on yamas and niyamas. We talked a lot about main causes of pain and finding contentment. I couldn’t help to notice the connection with the eight limps of yoga, especially yamas and niyamas. It was quite refreshing, as recently I have been attending classes rooted in anatomy and alignment where the link to the origins of yoga was quite often lost or not as manifested. Dharma yoga is based on Ahimsa, non-violence that should be applied to all beings around us, whether they are humans or animals, as well as it should be cultivated within ourselves. Treating our bodies with love, respect and compassion. Dharma kept reminding us to see ourselves in all things as 'when we start to see ourselves in all things, you can't do harm to anyone or anything, because you see everything around you as yourself'. To me, apart of Ahimsa it is also connected to Sara Pranidhana: seeing a tiny bit of divine in yourself but also Sacha: treating your body as a temple and not polluting it with unnecessary words, food or thoughts. 

Following this Sri Dharma Mittra is a big advocate for veganism and vegetarianism. He won't demand students to go meat-free but he will mention it in all classes. He jokes about there being "a lovely vegan food place just under the studio" and he will say this in every class that finishes around meal time. This screams for Ahimsa but also Asteya - don’t take what is not yours, especially life!

From my studies in New York I remember Dharma constantly telling us: “see yourself in the practice you are not able to access right now. Imagine yourself in it.” Encouraging us to try a pose, regardless what our mind tells us and even if it means that you fall.  Dharma classes are advanced and you can throw your Iyengar or Ashtanga alignment out through the window! He often says, “these poses have nothing to do with meditation or enlightenment.” As an anatomy nerd it’s a hard concept for me, however I strongly believe that we should move in a way that feels good! In Dharma classes first few poses may be advanced, we are talking crazy advanced! But to him you should move your body every day, no exceptions. It doesn’t have to be an asana practice, but maybe mindfulness and meditation. You rarely use props, or walls but instead you work with breath and concentration. Not in a violent way but with love and care and understanding that in life we fall, may even get hurt but we get back up. As a result we become stronger and with time can find that point of balance needed for staying upright. That’s your Tapas: discipline, generating heat and energy to do amazing, impossible things. This leads to Samosa: contentment where you are at and not trying to be greedy in your attempts (Aparigraha) but also the other yamas as Satya: truthfulness towards yourself and well as preserving and using your energy well (Brahmacharya).

To Dharma, meditation is the key. You can skip your asana but never skip meditation! It is incorporated in every practice and sometimes it can pop in bang in the middle of the class. He uses asana as a tool so the inward awareness is present throughout the whole of the lesson, to remind you that your mind is here and now. Same as Svadhyaya he invites us to take a very personal inventory.

Finally, he’s funny! Probably one of a very small number of gurus who doesn’t take himself too seriously! You definitely have to leave your ego at the door before entering a Dharma yoga class.

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Why I love Strala yoga

  • Freedom. Even after so many years of practice I still often feel heavy, sluggish and restricted on so many levels. Strala tells you to ditch all of this nonsense and just move. Move in whatever way feels natural and free from being forced in a pose that you just hate but you feel the pressure to survive 5 loooong, painful breaths. In a stroll class every person is doing a slightly different modification so you really can just let go and choose your own rhythm
  • Internal focus - feeling and connecting with your own amazingly strong body. It's either this or starring at people having fun and loving heir practice which is really irritating and infectious, trust me! At some point you start smiling to yourself (creepy, eh?) so you may as well just do it from the very beginning
  • Mad abdominal exercises especially by Mike (multiple exclamation marks, my abs still remember it)
  • Feels like family. Tara makes everyone welcome and special. She will always find time to chat, laugh or hold your leg in a handstand
  • It feels so light and easy, even though some of the poses are quite advanced. You are invited to do as much as you can and in the end you always surprise yourself how much can you do. You don't stay in poses long enough to fatigue the muscles. You constantly contract and release the muscle fibres in an intelligent way which builds muscle strength and elasticity, keeping them healthy
  • Music! ACDC, Queen bunch of 80/90s stuff... C'mon! You must love it. At Strala's main studio in the NYC where you have plenty of wall space (and every wall bares prints of people's feet) you really can rock it! This place definitely feels like home

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Must see in Barcelona

We went to Barcelona in November, which was warmer than the north of Scotland but sadly not a beach holiday. You definitely need a warm jumper and a waterproof coat as it does tend to rain there quite heavily but the city itself is beautiful and charming regardless the bikini tan. If you are going in the winter I would definitely stay in the city as you won't be able to sunbath and walking to the old town anytime you want to eat is annoying and takes time. The Gothic Quarter is definitely the place to be as it is very central and busy with things to do. (Remember that they don't have double glazing and thick walls, so it's very noisy at night whether you rent a flat or a hotel...this is an important tip if you are an insomniac).  

We got a wee apartment as you normally don't get a kettle in a hotel, and coming form the UK you should understand our need for a good cuppa! 

The top 3 things you just need do are:

1) Aire de Barcelona - Arabic baths in the heart of the city. An amazing, relaxing and truly rejuvenating place. Whether you are here in rainy November or ridiculously hot June, I would still recommend this place. We had such a stressful day, dealing with our business back at home, huffing and puffing at each other and getting soaked in the rain (twice). All that stress was gone in the first 10 minutes of floating in one of the warm water baths.

I would recommend going to the warm, hot, ice and the hot water again (in this order). At first it may feel impossible and unbearable. But give it 30-40 minutes and you will grow fond of it;)

2) Eat TAPAS and drink lots of SANGRIA. We loved all the small pubs, Ocaña or La guingueta (a water front pub, especially amazing for cocktails and fresh juices)

3) Yogalinda Hot yoga studio. Fabulous hot yoga studio close to the center. The owner had-picks her staff and those guys really know how to build a class and are very attentive to alignment and form. Definitely a good place to get some sweaty yoga! 

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Om Yoga Show - London 2015

I was thrilled to attend the Om Yoga Show in London this year. It was a three-day yoga madness consisting of classes, lectures and stalls filled with lovely, healthy stuff. It brought together an exceptional group of wellness professionals to share their wealth of knowledge with yogis and non-yogis.  

Alexander Palace was a fabulous venue and far away from the craziness of London. Sometimes you could almost forget you are in this concrete jungle. 

The yoga business is huge right now and shows like that are a great way to connect with different companies, small and big and learn about all the new things that are out there. Although, you need to understand that those conferences are definitely out of your Ommm zone. It's not a time to properly relax and restore. It's a time to show your skills as a teacher, 'test-drive' instructors and see what's hot in yoga world. It doesn't mean you won't get a lot of it. Whether it was a lecture-based workshop or two hours of flow, I was surprised about what I was getting out of each class. 

As a teacher I loved teaching at the On Yoga Show. You get such a diverse crowd and yes it's harder as you have less prep time, you can't really go and chat with each person, check their injuries etc. It's loud and chaotic but that's the challenge! You can't always teach at your own, cozy, lovely studio, supplied with all the props you need. Sometimes you just need to jump into the fire and come out of it unburned. 

Insider tip: take a change of clothes – it gets sweaty! Bring a few of your own power snacks to keep you going – the food is quite good but you could end up spending quite a lot of time ordering it and since you literally run from one class to another it’s better to hide a few snacks in your pocket. Don't try to do everything, you won't manage, or if you do, by the end of the day you will be so tired you will turn into a zombie.  

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Wanderlust

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My last flight is booked. I've had a dozen vaccinations and I feel like a biology experiment! My medical insurance is ‘almost’ sorted and my visas are being processed. Surprisingly, even my accountant has finally stopped telling me off.

I'm about to study Thai massage. I'm going to visit my favourite elephant sanctuary, travel across Asia visiting all those people who I miss dearly. I'll be teaching and practicing yoga. I'm going to experience Tibetan culture, and will probably bring back with me another tattoo. I'm going to challenge myself, move out of my comfort zone and create unforgettable memories.

So, this is the list of all the places I'm going to visit. When it's written down like this it's intimidating, but also how exciting! 

Thailand -> Laos -> Cambodia  -> Vietnam -> Burma -> (still trying to squeeze this one in!) -> Bangkok -> Singapore -> Bali -> Kuala Lumpur -> Nepal (teaching yoga!!) -> India (more yoga)

I'm pretty sure that at one point or another my friends will get either a sobbing FaceTime message or a random paradise/handstand picture! But it will be worth it. Susan Sontag once wrote: "I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
— Mark Twain

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8 things I loved about NYC

1) Central Park - I was really lucky to have it just around the corner, and I am glad it exists otherwise I would be lost in this concrete jungle

2) Avocado chocolate mousse, actually probably food all together. NYC is full of small organic places where you can get yummy food

3) Street system and numbers - so easy to navigate

4) Yoga studio on every corner

5) As every big city people pass you on the street without acknowledging that you are a human being too, however once you made an eye contact or ask them a question they are super friendly and surprisingly open (maybe I was just lucky;)

6) The size of the US flag!

7) The high line, park built on a section of a disused rail line (weirdly resembling Central Park)

8) This is truly a city of possibilities

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Nepal

I have just had a confirmation that I had been accepted to participate in a project allowing poor and marginalised people to utilise the benefits of yoga to help overcome the physical and mental stress they often face in today’s Nepal. I am going to Kathmandu in March 2015 to spend 4 weeks working at a Buddhist Monastery teaching yoga. I am very excited about this project as I will be able to apply my knowledge and skills to work with people who need it the most and give back to the community, but also I will have a rare opportunity to closely mingle, study and learn Buddhist ancient practices. 

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Here's to the future

I haven’t been here for a while and this is because I have been planning my epic Asian adventure, closing one chapter in my life and opening another one as a full time yoga teacher, massage therapist and professional world traveller.

It took me a really long time to give up my full time job, especially as for a lot of people it would have been a dream job, and I'm definitely grateful that I was fortunate enough to have it. It took even longer to stick with this decision! 31 August 2014, marks the end of one chapter of my life and the start of a brave new, exciting future! Seeing the above message from one of my former colleagues made me realise that fear mixed with excitement and knowing that I'm following the path I've designed myself based on my dreams and the biggest passion, isn't that scary anymore! Here's to the future! 

 

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Yew Wei in Dundee and the power of yoga tribe

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Sometimes it doesn't matter what hemisphere or part of hemisphere you live in. The power of yoga friendship is immense! I met Yew Wei at my 200hr teacher training with Ana Forrest in Hong Kong. We spent the entire moth: learning, practicing, sweating, wrestling emotions and habitual bullshit together. Such a life-changing experience binds you forever. A week ago Yew Wei visited Dundee where he not only participated in my class but also assisted one of them! Here's to the power of yoga friendship! How many of you loved his hands-on-assists?! 

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