Sunday, August 18, 2013

wandering student to traveling teacher

One of my first mysore-style classes
at Spirit Yoga, Osaka.

A couple of weeks ago, I arrived in Osaka and met up with two people I had met very briefly in Mysore: Rosangela and Simon from Brazil. I had just arrived to cover two months for one mysore program and they were a day shy of leaving after two months of covering another program in the city.

Such meetings are not unusual within the community of ashtanga-practioners who go in and out of Mysore. What was different, however, as we traded stories about the months since the shala closed in March, is that I was like them, I realized. They'd been moving around Asia and were then going to Europe to cover another program. And like them, I was traveling and teaching. Properly. Not just when I was at home in the Philippines. Not just on the side. Not by accident, which was a lot last summer. I was moving intentionally to teach and share.

I had been to the Philippines to assist after India, followed by teaching in Spain. After Osaka I'll be heading to Egypt, again to cover a mysore program. I had made a transition without being fully aware of it. I was a little shocked at first, then amazed, then grateful...

In 2010, I took my first trip to Mysore. Realized I knew so very little. The director of KPJAYI, Sharath Jois emphasized a lot during conference those months the importance of being a student first. It deeply resonated. And even though I had been teaching already, I felt that it was time to drop the idea that I was a teacher and simply embrace being a student.

And the Universe was good, complying and giving me the opportunities to move about, learn from amazing master teachers, from friends, and from loved ones. When the opportunity arose, I would teach but it was not my focus. I returned to Mysore again. Svadyaya, was a key word. I was constantly, it seemed, self-studying--on the mat, off the mat, from books, and from experience. I often emphasized how I was a student first. But what of teaching?

I still wanted to teach but didn't hanker for it, content to take the time to learn. Perhaps there was a part of me that took refuge in being the student, that my lot wasn't to teach--not yet! maybe never?--but instead to simply prepare. In the beginning, I honestly didn't believe I was ready. But in recent times, I think maybe I was scared. There was safe-ness to being the student. As a student, I was accountable mostly for my own learning. I was responsible to grow and expand for my own good only. And what if... what if I didn't make a good teacher?

I realize now how much I stepped away from the role of teaching. How I was happy to be the student around other great teachers, how I stepped aside for them, not just my seniors but my peers too. But if I were totally honest, I guess there has also been a certain amount of dissonance in this act, because I have learned a lot, because I also have things to share now--and because, I am coming to realize, I've always had to something to share.

Yes, I am a student. Yes, I will always be a student. I will always honor and respect and give time to my own teacher. To my Guru. And that there is always time and space to humbly be the student. 

But, yes, I am also a teacher. And am feeling my teacher-ness more now than last March when I received my teacher's blessing to teach. The authorization from Sharath matters to me, of course--the reasons for which could be an article in itself but I had wondered sometime in June as I blundered nervously through a guided class, whether I was really really ready, had Sharath made a mistake, had he misjudged me, perhaps I hadn't ripened? 

Yet, here I am. In Osaka. Called here to teach. Teaching. I get up very very early so that I can practice for myself but also for the students who will come and lay their mats down after I've finished. And when they come into the 6th floor studio of Spirit Yoga, they are under my gaze and guidance. For a brief moment, their practice is an extension of my own, their breath is my breath. And I try my best to be present in order to help facilitate the subtest of movements.  

Maybe Sharath's blessing is a part of an initiation, this coming of age that we perpetual students must also go through. 

Perhaps being really ready entails stepping into the role, not running away from it or being scared by it. Instead, accepting the responsibility that being a good student now also includes working towards being a good teacher. That all that self-study has to be good for more that just one person, that knowledge so dearly earned is meant to be shared.

And this fear of teaching? Trying to face it, to stare it down. I still freak out just a little bit here and there, I get nervous--about stupid stuff, really, like forgetting the opening prayer midway, or the counting, oh God, the counting! But those evil, little nagging moments of self-doubt, they are coming less and less, they are loosing their power. Last June, after my train-wreck of a class (mind you, the students were fine, only the teacherly were critical, god bless them!), my friend Paul was giving me feedback, I needed to simply practice teaching, he said. I guess that time was also a part of this transition. And, yes, I am reminded that everything comes down to practice.  

So, here I am in Osaka where students call me "Sensei Kaz," which for an American like myself is just so odd and yet so obscenely cool because I learned that word from the movie "Karate Kid." But it's also weighty. It comes with this new sense of responsibility. I'm not in my comfort zone anymore, but it's ok because I know that this is also the place where the magic happens. So, bring it!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

new shala registration process

The buzz word continues to be change. And even with Sharath on tour this summer, the world continues to turn. Mysore is no exception. Saraswathi started to teach in July or June. And now she too is conducting weekly conference for her students. And the shala, well, the shala rules on registration is as fluid as ever.

For some of us on the ride, it feels a little like a raging rapid what with the ever changing rules in registration for the next season: trips starting only at the 6th of every month, registration changed to the first of every month, and a glut of applicants filling up an entire month all in two days.

December was full by August 3. And the fall months which are usually considered quieter months filled up quickly too. And the question "Do I go to Mysore?" has been edited by the new circumstances into "Can I go to Mysore?" Will Mysore accept me, will I even be able to register? We'll see once September rolls around.

Non-attachment. I've not been going to Mysore so long that I have old-school expectations. I'm actually pretty new school. Still, change is unrelenting. And I am fighting the reaction to have any resistance to it. Relax, I remind myself. Be steady but relax also.

With ashtanga growing so rapidly, with more and more people wanting to come and study with Sharath in India, we must be prepared that the Mysore experience will continue to change, evolve, grow, this is yoga in action, isn't it?--and if we are really practicing, how we too must also expand with it.

Some useful tips for first timers: 
1) Make sure your photo is sized properly and is in the right format
2) Applications sent before the 4 month mark of the month you are applying for will most likely not be counted
3) After registration you should receive an automated response that the shala has received your application. This is not your acceptance letter into the program. But it is important that you receive this 
4) You will receive an acceptance letter from the shala. This may take a little, sometimes a lot of time. Also important, if you do not receive this, I suggest you follow it up

For updated rules on registration process, see

Monday, August 12, 2013


The whole assisting thing was new on my first trip to Mysore. Not just for me, but for everyone involved. And though I had no prior experience to compare it to, no old impression of the shala to hold it against, I couldn't help but feel like I was witnessing a little bit of shala history. There was Sharath working the room, not on his own but with the shala's first foreign assistants. My first back bend in the shala was by an assistant, and she took me to ankles. I was startled--maybe even a little disoriented--yes, but I also felt very supported. I didn't even know such a feat was possible.

Fast forward to late January. I'm reregistering for month two when Sharath tells me in his usual matter-of-fact way, the same manner he says most things, authoritative but somehow strangely off-key, like the way he might inform you that your time has changed, like somehow you had it wrong all along, "You assist for me next month."

I wish I could report that I'm the kind of person that was just totally cool and even minded about it. When in reality, my mind went blank and I think I went all bug-eyed. My mouth might have dropped. I was just glad I was sitting down, else I might have actually fallen over, so much was the mixture of shock, excitement, and joy that he thought I might be ready.

Then reality set in, "Next month, which is...?" Next week, he answered. That's just about when the anxiety chimed in.

What to say about assisting? I've been trying to sum up the experience now for some time now. Maybe there's just no summing it up. There are so many layers to it. So many different lessons-- about the shala, Sharath, myself, my practice, my abilities--and all my issues that have to do with said abilities or my perception of them.

It's a unique opportunity to learn, to share, and to serve at the shala in Mysore, under the guidance of Sharath, with the energy of the seriously devoted practitioners that come and practice there. It was an incredibly intense experience, ridiculously tiring that I would repeat again in a heart beat.

But if I could sum my experience up with one word, it would be "gratitude." To the boss man Sharath, to the students who trusted me with their bodies/practices, to those who gave me good feedback, to the friends who encouraged me, to my first yoga teacher and to every person who helped me along this path. Thank you, thank you, thank you.