|Kristina Ireland http://www.yogapractice.gr|
So the second day of Kristina's workshop, Saturday we had Mysore practice in the morning I'd done a full Primary sweated a couple of kilo into my mat, then in the afternoon we looked at the the first six postures of 2nd series, each posture done twice as well as all standing and finishing, so basically two practices.
Today (Sunday) was another Mysore session this one dedicated to the memory of Guruji , Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who had passed away on this day five years before, 18th May 2009.
I noticed in the mirror as I was getting ready that I looked a little shabby thought I'd tidy the beard up then thought what the hell and shaved the whole thing off, kind of a gesture.
Regretted it immediately, M. says I now have a boiled egg face and of course sweaty practice to come, gonna sting.
On the train in I thought perhaps I'd roll out my much neglected 2nd series, with all the work on Krishnamacharya's original primary over the last year, 2nd series had been almost forgotten about. Occasionally I would add the first half of second to my Primary or bring kapo etc into the evening Vinyasa krama practice but most of the time I was exploring such long slow breathing and Kumbhakas that I was happy if I made it to navasana before moving on to finishing. The thought came to me that it might actually have been at Kristina's Shala in Crete with Manju August last year that I last practiced full 2nd.
The morning's practice, as I mentioned, was dedicated to Guruji, Kristina said a couple of words of dedication before the opening mantra, that was nice and I still had in mind the little interview about Kristina's memories of him from the night before (see below).
I've spent a lot of time on this blog trying to bringing out the debt we have to Krishnamacharya that seemed to be almost forgotten ( the odd line or brief mention here and there) but there is no denying that we wouldn't have Ashtanga Vinyasa without Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, he preserved for us the early Krishnamacharya practice we find in Yoga Makaranda, pretty much intact ( however the few differences are interesting). He adapted it slightly perhaps for the college course at the Sanskrit college in the 1940's and this format/approach seemed to work well for the western visitors who came trickling in to Mysore the 70's and then as the river we have now, the practice flows from it's source. It felt an honour to pay my respects yesterday morning as we do each time we practice.
|Gingi Lee and Kristina under a picture of Kristina's late husband and Gingi's teacher Derek Ireland|
So second series with Kristina.... now I know Kristina is a pussycat, big softhearted, heart on the sleeve Greek but boy she's tough too "BREATHE", she'll bark across the room again and again, and at nobody in particular I might add, but you always think it's at you directly, "TRISTANA, BANDHA, DRISHTI, BREATHE", she'll repeat that too again and again before going back to chanting softly as she works the room. I'm trying to decide if she puts the tristana in any particular order or changes the order throughout, "BREATHE".
Strong firm adjustments, interesting, pressing down here, guiding there each time an AHAH moment.
I've practiced in Crete with several of Kristina's students, many teachers themselves now (they all seem to come back each year to take Manju's workshops), I know how much they love her, are devoted to her but have seen too how she'll make them work, make them want to work, to give a little more not just to her but to their practice.
Come to think of it wasn't Guruji like this, from the stories we hear, the love but also resignation that you will have to work, that he wouldn't let you ease up.... there is no rest in this practice, each time we begin again, if you coast through your prayers they aren't prayers.
And this is serious stuff, ...this is learning" (Kristina again).
There was a point in the second session where I was tempted to ask a smart arse question along the lines of "If you only have two hours to practice is it better to practice two hours of asana or one hour of asana and half an hour of pranayama, half hour of mediation". But then I thought to myself Kristina's answer would probably be "Do three hours, four" (speculating here).
This yoga is a gift, look at us, we've discovered yoga (I'm not talking just asana here), we've looked or begun to look inwards, to devote time to that search to understand our nature, or just to be present, open, are we fully aware how remarkable that is. And this practice is how some of us choose to go about it, our baby steps (paraphrasing my interpretation, impression of something Kristina seemed to stress in the after lunch session).
July and August I'm heading to Crete to practice at Kristina and her student's shala, two months of daily practice, I'm a little terrified. Since the first day I walked up to the shala door and saw her standing there, so familiar as if I'd known her for years, I've tended to think of her as my Ashtanga teacher, her and Manju and her Rethymno shala as my shala, how weird is that, curious how these things work.
But she took away my 2nd series rest postures! There are a couple of asana that I tended to feel were put there to give us a breather, I don't know.... Bharadvajrasana, gomuukhasana, couple of others maybe, now those too now are work.
This summer then in Crete, hopefully, I'll get to ground my 2nd series, I say hopefully, who am I kidding, Kristina wouldn't let me do otherwise, I know she won't let me go near a wall as a karandavasana security blanket, guess this is the surrendering thing huh.
Once 2nd series is back I can start looking at what Krishnamacharya was up to with his kumbhaka in 2nd series.... but that's for Japan.
This may well be my favourite end of workshop photo ever (despite my lack of beard), I felt like a sore thumb standing up there but I love the mix of standing, kneeling seated, turned in, turned out, looking here, looking there, thank you to Ella for taking these wonderful photos.
And to both Gingi and Ella for bringing Kristina here and allowing her to share this practice with us.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Memorial practice Interview with Kristina Ireland
I posted this when it came in late Saturday night but it kind of belongs in this post more so here it is again and besides who reads blog posts at the weekend.
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.
Entelechy : An Interview with Certified Ashtanga Teacher Kristina Karitinou
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|