Inspired by a blog post by Fernando Gorostiza from Ashtanga Yoga Bilbao in which he recounts his yoga journey, I have been doing some detective work to find out where and when exactly I encountered Ashtanga Yoga. Trawling through my emails (bless technology sometimes) I found out that my first class was 26 February 2013. Somehow I remember it earlier, but that must be because of the ancient belief that a person will be drawn to yoga if they were yoginis in a previous life. I had encountered yoga before, though, at the Esporta Gym I frequented in Wimbledon, and which led me to ballet and jazz. It was an Iyengar class and it was so awful that I never went back. I was put on a headstand against the wall and left there until my arms could not hold me any more and I hit by head on the skirting board. My Legs, Bums and Tums teacher, whom I really liked, led an Ashtanga class but I never joined after my Iyengar experience. Life is funny sometimes. Yoga then was definitely not for me.
Fast forward to 2013. I knew Rosina Bonsu as a wonderfully inspiring dancer and teacher. I loved to dance. I danced all the time. I volunteered for Dance House who ran the classes and practically lived at the Scottish Youth Theatre. In the Winter programme of 2013, Rosina decided to offer yoga and I joined because it did not clash with Music Video (Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Kate Bush!!) or Edgy Jazz (Janelle Monae, Jack White!!!) and Rosina was offering it. It was a way to bridge between two classes. It took two weeks, just two classes, for me to see what yoga did to me. It was that quick. I adored Rosina’s teaching style: supportive, allowing us to meet the challenges in the poses, always watching, always seeing, remembering everyone’s practice, focusing on the breath, giving the insightful details about anatomy only someone who has walked the path before can know. I remember those classes fondly. You will see from the image above that the class ran concurrently with Flamenco. As we practiced Uttitha Hasta Pandangustasana, there would be a loud zapateado and palmas going on next door. I can confirm it is the best way to learn to balance.
Needless to say, it did not take much for me to go deeper and less that a year later, in January 2014, I was attending Rosina’s morning classes at the Arlington Baths. From one class, I soon joined all that were available and started assisted self-practice. Then, I trained and started teaching in what I consider to be my home shala. The rest, as they say, is history. Rosina is still my teacher, my mentor, my friend and my colleague. Life has amazing gifts in store and I am so lucky to receive this one.
When she was visiting us in Glasgow last week, Radha, also mine and Rosina’s teacher, said that nothing can replace the relationship with a teacher, the parampara—a specific way of transmitting yogic knowledge. It goes beyond tips towards achieving postures, and into enabling self-study, getting to know yourself deeply through the guidance of a witness, building a trust that is intuitive, not intellectual, learning to surrender, to listen, to break patterns, to belong to a lineage. Rosina, Radha and Pierre, and Kia are my teachers, and I honour and thank them at the end of each practice, for walking with me. Especially, I am grateful for Rosina, who is there every day, patient, generous, offering me her knowledge and sharing her own teachers.
I invite you to consider your yoga journey, to ponder over the path you have walked, to trace your history with this incredible practice. I am sure it will be worth it.
What I have been reading
I have been binging on Fernando’s blog posts. So much richness! It is also wonderful for me to read about yoga in my mother tongue. Here, he writes on what the characteristics of a good teacher should be. Of course, you need to know Spanish to read it but, if you don’t, he links to this article by Sharath Jois, the paramaguru, the current holder of the lineage of Ashtanga Yoga.
What I have been listening to
In September, I had the honour of attending a counted primary class with Tim Feldmann, from Miami Life Centre. He is an exceptional teacher, full of insights not only about the postures and their deeper energetic meaning, but about yoga. I have been enjoying his podcasts (and also the wisdom of his wife Kino McGregor), especially his thoughts on the importance of having a teacher.
What I have been pondering
What about all the information that is available to us in books and, like this newsletter, electronically? Can one learn yoga from things like these? Well, according to Pattabhi Jois, only 1% … Angela Jamison puts it nicely (the booklet House Recommendations, where this is from, is priceless):
‘Purely informational, one-way instruction (writings, podcasts, hearsay) has limited energy and transformative power. But two- way, relational instruction is usually deeper. It requires more of us as students. Do not substitute informational for relational learning…
When you need them, the true master teachers of this method are all servants at heart. […] They have nothing to prove. They just want to be useful to you in a personal, embodied, direct way. Let them.’