Sunday, 18 May 2014

Just back from Kristina Irelands workshop at Gingi Lee's 'The Shala'


Certified Ashtanga teacher Kristina Ireland is in London this weekend. Unfortunately I missed last nights talk through the Primary series but caught today and will be there again tomorrow (John Scott mentioned to us recently that it was Kristina's late husband Derek Ireland who 'invented' the talk through Primary).

Tomorrow's Mysore practice is dedicated to the memory of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, it seems there are a lot of these dedicated mysore practices going on around the world tomorrow commemorating his passing May 18, 2009.

Looks like there might still be mat space at The Shala if you would like to come along but get in touch quickly info@theshala.co.uk




I asked Kristina three questions  last week related to tomorrow's memorial practice, here they are with her response, thank you as ever to Niko for his help ( i also asked her for her favourite picture of Guruji, she just sent me these two.

1. What do you remember as being your first impression of meeting Guruji, of that first trip to Mysore and perhaps how he was with you in the beginning, your first impressions.

2. How did your impression of Guruji and perhaps of his teaching, your relationship with him change over subsequent visits, as you grew to know him a little better and he you.

3. With the passing of time, what has stayed with you most strongly and as you dedicate next Sunday’s practice to his memory what is it about him that you most wish to remember


It was back in 1995 and after having completed more than five years of practicing that I decided to visit Mysore for the very first time. The main reason was, that it was considered a great honor for any Ashtangi to find himself practicing under the guidance of the Guru in his Shala and become directly connected with his teachings while practicing in the birthplace of the method. Back then the modern authorization system of a teacher did not exist, making thus any visit to Mysore a pure case of connecting to the lineage and practicing with the most important figure of Ashtanga. That's why it was very important to prepare yourself with a direct student of the Guru before actually visiting him.

I arrived on a Saturday together with my son Dennis Ireland, who at the time was 10 months old, and with a friend who actually offered to help me around with the kid at least for the first few days. The day I arrived, the Shala was closed, so I visited Guruji in his house. The moment he opened the front door I saw this impressively strong man dressed in a traditional outfit while chanting. The few words we managed to exchange did not disturb his spiritual practice of chanting. I informed him that I was there with my son, and he asked me to be at the Shala the next morning in a late shift.

The meeting was obviously really short, but his complete understanding of my family status and the needs of motherhood earned my respects and love. His approach as a family man was always the key up until the end. Knowing that I was Derek Ireland's wife and mother of his children he would always show great interest in their well being especially after Derek's untimely departure.

On the first day of my practice what made the biggest impression to me, was the direct relationship of Guruji with his students. I had always thought that being in the Shala of a great teacher would actually make it impossible to approach him and build a relationship with him. However, this was not the case in Mysore. Guruji together with Sharath would assist each and every one of the practitioners in the Shala with the aim of actually getting to know them not just in a physical level but in a more personal and honest way, in order to help them improve so much as practitioners but also as human beings. He had the gift of extracting the best out of you as he was capable of forging a relationship without the limitations of time and space. The simplicity and clarity of his teachings would actually welcome you to his own spiritual environment where everyone could feel at home.

At the same time Guruji was an exceptionally generous figure. Although everybody had told me that, since I could not bind myself in Marichyasana D or Kurmasana after having given birth he would ask me to stop, he actually assisted me himself in those two and urged me to do the whole primary series. Many times he would sit beside me, giving important information on the nature and technique of Asana. He was always keen on sharing knowledge and was so very much tuned with the practice of his students, that despite his heavy workload and tiredness he would always have the awareness to remind the practitioner what he might have missed in his practice.

I will never forget that when I found myself seriously ill during the third week of my visit there, he immediately noticed and started asking about me and my whereabouts. As soon as I was back in the Shala his main concern was how I could regain my strength in order to be completely healthy and fit again. He would always pay attention on the emotional physical and psychological state of his students considering them part of his greater family.

Derek died in September 1998. Funnily enough I found myself without a husband, a job, in a foreign country having to look after my 2 adorable and very young boys. I had to make some very tough decisions in order to keep balance in a chaos.I knew what my priorities were. In the funeral a time when I felt really supported by Derek’s students and friends, a lovely bunch of flowers came. It was from Guruji and his family as well as my dear Mister Joseph who is not with us anymore.

The words of that card were so moving that a few days later I found myself in Mysore with my younger son Liam who was then 18 months old. Both Guruji and Sharath took care of me. It was the place to go as I knew that Guruji would accept me with my pain. It was only a few months after he himself had lost his beloved wife. He was in the class every day, teaching and mourning for his loss, sitting on his stool for a few seconds while Sharath would carry on, crying until he could feel that somebody needed him. He never tried to hide his human nature. Every morning after having received my humble gift of flowers he would place them on the pictures of the dead members of his family that were decorating his shala, his own private world.  He would ask me If I was ok, and when tears used to come while I was practicing he knew and he would gently lift my head saying “No, no, no. Don’t cry.” shaking his head to the left and to the right.

In this visit I used to love sitting next to him in afternoon meetings. There were really few students in October thus the questions were few but we used to love being with him, just sitting there, being in his company. These moments were so precious to me. One day I said to him, “You know Derek and Ama will see us suffering from above and they’ll probably have fun with us”, and we liked the idea so much that we immediately burst into laughter.

The family gave me again the message of independence and the strength to move on like a warrior. I returned to the UK, sold my flat so that I could build up again my work as a teacher, alone this time but with the blessings of Guruji and of my beloved till this day Derek.

Sri k. Pattabhi Jois was a very strong man and his students admired him for that. He was a scholar, a great philosopher, teaching in universities for years, nobody could be compared with him on that matter. He was like his teacher Krisnamacharya. Really strong. He had the great respect of all his male and female students, strong practitioners that travelled the world to spread the method and share Guruji’s strength, to help people and make them strong. These teachers are still doing the same thing today. 

I remember the period when the new shala was under construction. He was so excited to show me the place. He used to live in Saraswati’s house that was at the time opposite the new building site. By then I had seen the family a couple of times in London. Guruji always wanted to see the boys, so we were lucky to have some extra time with him on the place he was staying. His close students would be invited with their family and spend few hours with him away from the busy shala. This is where I met Saraswati for the first time as she used to escort Guruji to the tours, to cook and look after him. Later and as time passed by we had the pleasure to receive her teaching in the shala.

So back to Mysore in 2002, Guruji insisted on showing the new shala. So we walked to the other side of the road and he gave me a private tour of his new practice room where so many students practice today. Then he started climbing the stairs leading to the next floor, the one with his family house. 
I remember that climb because he would walk slowly supporting himself by keeping close to the walls in case he lost his balance. My friend stayed in front of him and I was following him at the back in case he fell back. After big effort he showed me the four corners of the flat. He said there were going to be four small apartments on each corner: one for him, one for Saraswati, one for Sharath and one for Manju . I remember asking him if Manju would return, and of course his answer was “Yes, yes, Manju will come to stay here.” I find it so wonderful that he wanted everyone together. I was so excited that till this day I have the whole Jois family in my mind like one sole power. That was his vision, not division but unity.

It was then that Guruji gave me the most beautiful letter of Authorization. It was a personal letter where he would recognize not just how far I had studied with him but also Derek's contribution referring to him as his beloved student. At the time the blessing from your teacher was the most important tool for us in order to spread this knowledge. When he gave me the letter he said to me “Open it! Open it!” like he was the one that was receiving this gift. Only it was me actually receiving that gift, that blessing which made me what I am today and I am sure that he wanted me to feel protected and secure.

After that we met again in his European tours and every time he wanted to see the boys. In his 2005 workshop in London, I visited him with my good friend and business partner Michael Anastassiades. In our meeting I asked him what I should do to help in this effort of sharing the Ashtanga method. He looked at me straight in the eyes and said quietly: “You Teach!” Then I said “Just that?” He turned to me and with a very strong voice he repeated “YOU TEACH!!!” Since then these words are guiding me. In that tour I invited him to Greece, and he agreed which had made me really happy and excited. However, this workshop never actually happened as he had some health problems so I did not want to push him.  

There is always a point and a place that somebody feels he belongs. For Guruji this place was his shala. I can understand this now. In his shala he offered us the most important tools to get an honest job; a job that has great benefit for the people by showing freedom to them. He showed us Ashtanga as it is; the Ashtanga of Patanjali. He wanted his students to be honest, to be knights serving humanity with nobility. He asked from us to care and look after other people and help them get involved by making them teachers of their own selves. Independent and free.

The night he was dying, I experienced a sense of stress and necessity towards this practice and the teaching. As it seems I was not the only one of his students that had this experience. Only when the morning came a lovely feeling of liberation spread through the community. Guruji had left without leaving tears behind. He spread his message about unity, love and sense of duty through the community all the way to the end. On the 18th of March 2009 Guruji left, leaving a better world behind him because of his teachings. He and his family have managed to contribute to the change of the vibration of the planet.

There are no words to express my gratitude to sri K ,Pattabhi Jois. His legacy continues threw his family and his students. Some times when I look back I feel that I have been one of the luckiest people in the world even if I could not notice at the time the impact of the love I had received from the Jois family. I am so honored to be part of this tradition, to have met these teachers, to be an Ashtangi.


Thank you Guruji! Thank you for reminding me how precious this practice is, this life is.




******

The Shala is Gingi Lee's new shala and it's a beautiful space, underfloor heating, changing rooms, showers etc.


Managed to find excellent coffee here thanks to Peter's recommendation

Nice day actually, I really should get out more and visit a few other London shala's before I leave the UK, my friend Susan at Yoga Place E2, Hamish at AYL, Scott at Stillpoint to name but three.

That said it's hard work, living outside London I had to leave at 7am this morning for a 10:30 start and being a workshop I had to lug a mat and two sets of soggy yoga towels and practice clothes across London and back home, Ok you guys do this all the time, home Ashtangi here.

First practice this morning was Mysore practice and I went for straight Primary. Thankfully I've been practicing with a friend the last couple of days (thank you J. it helped) so getting used to a full on Ashtanga practice again (after a year of exploring Krishnamacharya's original Ashtanga Primary group, slower with kumbhakas so only time for half a series). Despite the prep I was still sweating a couple of Kilo's into my towel, not used to breathing group air perhaps.

Nice practice though with Kristina coming around with a little squish here, refocusing there. I love Kristina's adjustments, they make sense to me and you know she's just done them to a thousand bodies before (actually that's probably not an exaggeration). I'm looking forward to spending July and August at her Shala in Rethymno, Crete and attending Maju's TT again in August.

Good to listen to stories over coffee and lunch before heading back to a talk through the first six postures or so of 2nd series. See, I thought this would be pretty light, just a couple of postures from 2nd but no, all the sury's, full standing and although we only practiced the first six of 2nd Kristina decided it would be a good idea to practice each posture twice (groan).

So two full Ashtanga practices, there was a point in Standing where I feared I hadn't taken enough water after the morning but it was fine of course, the breath carries you through. Kristina gives a nice intro to 2nd series, I highly recommend it, nothing to fear.

And that was that, bit more chat on the train back to London before rushing home for a long hot bath ( which is now run and ready so will cut this short).

Looking forward to tomorrow, thankfully only one full practice, the second session seems to be a talk and Q and A etc.

Sunday morning: Mysore self practice
Sunday afternoon: tips and ways for the practice, based on questions and answers, plus breathing techniques and chanting.

One more thing, Kristina brought me a present. I had admired this presentation of Primary and 2nd series (demonstrated by Apollo) at Kristina's Shala in Rethymno, she seems to have remembered because she brought me a copy. Thank you Kristina and for this and for the adjustments even though I was so sweaty (aren't Ashtanga teachers amazing). Word is she's going to putting a drain in between me and Niko for the summer.



Here's the link to Gingi Lee's The Shala (20 minutes from Victoria and five minutes from the station)

Derek assisting Gingi Lee, The practice Place

Details of the workshop
Ashtanga weekend with Kristina Ireland
May 2014 course dates 
Friday 16 May 7-9pm
Saturday 17 May 10.30-12.30am & 2–pm 
Sunday 18 May 10.30-12.30am & 2–4pm
Cost:
£140 for 5 sessions
£115 for 4 sessions
£100 for 3 sessions
£70 for 2 sessions
Back by popular demand, the legendary Greek-born Kristina Ireland will be hosting another weekend workshop at the Shala in 2014. Kristina taught alongside her late husband Derek Ireland, who was instrumental in bringing ashtanga to Europe. Trained and authorised by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, she has a world-wide reputation and is one of the few teachers to offer the second and third series. She is an inspiring and dedicated teacher who teaches from the heart.

The course will take the following structure:

Friday evening: talk through of primary series
Saturday morning: Mysore self practice
Saturday afternoon: talk through of part of second series (optional)
Sunday morning: Mysore self practice
Sunday afternoon: tips and ways for the practice, based on questions and answers, plus breathing techniques and chanting.
Students should have a reasonably established yoga practice ie working at Level 3 (or about to move to Level 3) or at Mysore level. The course is not suitable for beginners. Knowledge of second series is not essential and the Saturday afternoon session is optional. Early booking is recommended

For more about Kristina see this post which includes an interview we did together with the help of our friend Niko

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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