Friday, 21 April 2017

Interview with an Ashtangi - Bagus from Ubud

If you are coming to Ubud to practice with Iain Grysak I can highly recommended you to stay at the guest house Gayatri Bungalows.

Gayatri by the pool

Rooms are very cozy and furnished with good taste, the place is quiet surrounded with rice fields, there is a swimming pool and the food is delicious. 

The owner of the Gayatri Bungalows is a young Ashtangi who could be easily a model for the fashion industry. As a baby Ashtangi we had really good discussion about the practice as he is one of the regular student of Iain, he has been practicing with him since the last 4 years. 

Let me share you one of our discussion we had. I think there are a lot of insights and good advices about the ashtanga yoga practice.

Beautiful Doors at Gayatri, Ubud

When was your very first practice?

I stared practicing Ashtanga Yoga in 2013, Easter Day, in England. I first did half primary led class with a teacher called Ryan Spielman I did between one half and primary led and then after the second one I stayed behind at the class because at that point I was already hooked and when all the students left I spoke to him and I said "I feel a really strong connection to this type of practice and I'd really like to learn to do it properly so I asked him what will be the best way to do that" and then he said to learn this kind of yoga properly you should go to a Mysore style class but in this kind of class you can not just drop in, you have to really commit". At that point I had so many injuries from sport I was doing playing football, I had a shoulder injury so I could not do anything at the gym and I've always been an active physical person so I had this space in my life where I wanted to do something so I thought I can commit initially for one month. In the beginning after my first week of Mysore style class I did not take any day off, it was instinct addiction, it was only after about one month and a half someone with who I was practicing would say that in the Ashtanga method we usually take Saturdays off. But as it was a non traditional studio they were led classes on Saturday as well.

I heard about the moon day but I thought it was like if you are tired you don't have to practice and it was only when I moved to Bali and I started to practice with Prems and Radha they were really strict and more traditional so that is where I understood moon day is actually day off.

How long did it take you to know the full primary series?

When I was practicing in London for about 6 to 7 weeks I learned the primary series until Bhujapidasana and that was the first pose which I was stuck for some times. After moving to Bali I practiced with Prems and Radha and they were really the people who gave me the first proper foundation for alignment, for breathing, for bandhas, for vinyasa count. They taught me the post of the primary and then the last two of the primary (yoga mudrasana and utpluthih) they did not teach for many months. And then because I was told that it was rude as an ashtanga student to ask for an asana I did not, and then one day Radha came to me and said "what you are not doing the last two poses?" and I said "because you never have taught it to me" and she said "oh okay sorry" and she taught me. So it would have about 9 months after I stared in England that I finished the Primary Series.

Why did you go to your first Ashtanga Yoga class?

After playing football I had ligaments damage in one ankle and serious strain in my other ankle and then I also had a shoulder injury in the right one from which I was unable to do a simple press up so before going to the Ashtanga I was doing Yoga and Pilates 3 to 4 times a week in a gym so the level of the teacher was not that great but it was an interesting introduction. In those days I used to like more Pilates than yoga.  There was a girl that I liked in the university who was doing Yoga at the same place so then I thought it was just a good excuse to go there but it turned out that the two weeks I signed for the classes she was actually sick so she did not come there one time!

What I found really peaceful in the Ashtanga Yoga practice is that there were place for introspection, self discipline, physical challenge which really fit my personal character as I am a quite introspective person.

Eka Pada Shirshasana - Bagus, Gayatri Bungalows

Did you have any problem by being stopped to one asana during your practice?

The answer is not, I did not have any problem of being stop during my practice but I have been stopped many times! The first was bhujapidasana which I was topped for a few months because I could not cross my feet and keep them in the air. I knew I was very young into the practice so I did not have any kind of expectation. The other one that took a long time was shirshasana, to have a stable and straight shirshana take many years actually but as it is one asana of the closing series I was not stop during the practice.

I started the intermediate series with Iain and back bending was easy for me. However I was stopped few month for jumping directly to bakasana, it took me about 5 months to land Bakasana and then after that it took me a while to learn Pincha Mayursana about 6 months and now I am stop at Karandavasana since July 2015 so 21 months!

But it's fine, I know what the tradition is so there is no point of being upset. 

Are you anticipating Karandavasana when you are practicing?

Not really, actually I do believe that some poses after Karandavasana will be fun to try but I don't like dream about it at night. It's normal to want to try new thing but I also know that in general the Ashtanga System has a lot of built-in intelligence so there is no point trying a further pose because you actually need to do the pose before it to build the ability of doing the other pose properly.

The thing about Ashtanga which is nice as well is if you have a bad practice one morning it is obviously a bit annoying, you feel a  bit frustrated, but then you go home, showered, changed, have lunch, work and then it is already the evening and it is really closed to your next practice so there is never any chance to be dull on the practice  because you are always only a short amount of time away from the next one!

Is there any goal you would like to achieve through the practice?

My basic motivation, my approach to the Ashtanga was first to help my body healing and that is the reason why I continue practicing to remain healthy and pain free.

David Williams, when I did the Ashtanga Yoga Bali Conference in 2013 he had this quote who resonated with him, he said "if it hurts or there is pain then you are doing it wrong", that basically encapsulated my feeling or thoughts toward the Ashtanga practice. Learning all poses is also a side effect of the practice but it is not a goal.

Why you don't have any desire of teaching Ashtanga?

Teaching and practicing Ashtanga are two different things. To teach Ashtanga Yoga well you should have a very good practice but if you have a very good practice you will not becoming necessarily a very good teacher.

If you become a teacher you need to commit in a different way and I think to become a full Mysore Ashtanga yoga teacher is a full time job so that means I will have to sacrifice the other things that I am doing because I love my current job.

I really love practicing Ashtanga, with some friends I speak about Ashtanga during my free time and sometimes if they are working on a pose that I have already learned to do then I just tell them my experience of that pose. For example last year with one of the student we did an unplanned workshop for about 2 hours on how to jump/land in Bakasana and it was fine, it is fun to help people. 

But running this guest house is something really closed to my heart and I don't consider teaching Ashtanga as a calling in my life.

Do you think that in 10 years from now you will still be practicing?

Yes definitely. I remember when I started practicing with Iain and we spoke about the sustainability and attitude toward pain and practice, and at that time I was doing the backbend so I told him "I feel a bit of fear during this pose, I'd like to keep practicing for the next 30 years or so". He looked at me and asked "how old are you?" and I said "I'm 23" and he said "30 years? your target should be to be able practicing for the next 60 years!".

In which way the practice has been helping you in your daily life?

This is a really big question and there are so many layers to it and many way of approaching it. There is the purely physical health aspect that can be divided into different parts and aspects for example the blood circulation, the respiratory benefits and things like quality of sleep, the body moves into an economical efficient avoiding putting stress and strain into the joints so that is kind of the gross understanding benefits of the ashtanga yoga practice on the body.

And then when you go on deeper things one of the things you learn about the asthanga is how to deal with anxiety, and Kino talked about it,  by creating a certain amount of anxiety every day in doing difficult physical postures but then facing them every day through breathing deeply and by being brave enough it means that you better prepare when a situation arrives where you start to feel that same kind of anxiety, you know if you stay connected you can go through it.

As for my personal experience, I called it the "suffering factor" which is that part of if you live well you suffer less in the morning, so for example you want to practice every day, it is a big commitment so you need to sacrifice a lot of things but then if you don't practice every day you will suffer more in the morning. If you practice every day there is a lot of momentum your body is just integrated everything and it becomes automatic, it becomes very light and easy, when you start taking breaks you practice one month and then you take a week off and you practice again your body can not do it well so you will suffer more. If you out late at night, if you drink or if you don't sleep enough and you back on the mat at 6.30 AM you will definitely suffer. 

If you heat a lot of unhealthy food and you try to jump in the morning where you need a lot of lightness and use your bandhas, you just can't you will suffer. So as I don't want to suffer in the morning practice I had my diner early, I go to bed early.

On a much more personal things which I don't know whether it will apply to many people but for my all life until now I have always had a degrees of OCD, just typical thing like obsessive list keeping, keeping lists of everything like when I cut my nails, what movies I've watched or how many minutes I've played and how many footballs match, just keeping a list of everything, what clothes I was wearing on which days so that's was one and then another "pretty normal OCD" behaviour is bacterial phobia so if someone is touching the food you just could not eat it or then if someone licks a glass or drinks from your bottle you just leave the bottle away.

I remember once when I was young my mother she bakes a cake and when she was making the dough she dipped a finger in it and taste it and then she put some vanilla in it, mixed it, and then she put her finger in it and tasted again. Because I saw she did not wash her hands, even though she put the dough in the oven and baked it, I could not eat any of that cake.

There is also "classic OCD behaviour" is when you leave the house checking all of the doors locked a certain amount of times, sometimes seven times, sometimes ten times because you know 7 and 3 there are "good" numbers or 7+3 makes ten so you can check for 10 times and then similar thing to when you finish your glass you have to finish it on the seven intakes of water or then if not then you have to take an extra one to empty it just to get seven..... same when you are closing a toothpaste tube or a bottle of perfume you have to do it on 3, it is like really obsessive compulsive behaviour.

There is also the tendency of doing something perfectly. If I put a pants I have to check that everything is symmetrical and same things with a shirt, same thing with the socks so then everything was a lot of efforts, everything took a long amount of time and I was often repeating things because they were not perfect, you know sometimes I put on my socks and my shoes and then I started to tight them but then something felt wrong so I just took everything off and re do it again.

When did you notice you had OCD issues?

It first start at school. It was an international school and we were all slightly of different level so then the teacher wanted to see how many of use were knowing the alphabet on the first day. I knew the alphabet from the pre school and then the teacher asked us to writing down on the notebook. I was given a notebook and a pencil so I wrote down the letter "A" and I remember the horizontal line of the upper case "A" was a bit too high so the letter did not look so nice so I asked for an eraser and erased it and then I tried to write it again but this time the line was a bit too low so I erased it again and then I remember I spent the all class doing it, one hour, I just kept arising until I ripped the page and took a new page and I could never make a perfect "A" so I think the teach must have thought I was a really stupid kid because I did not know the alphabet, which I knew!! But I could not bring myself move forward from that A because it was not perfect. And that was when I was 7 years old.

Firstly OCD is always been called the "doubting decease" which means you always doubt wether is locked, you have to check it again and again and only when you have checked with the magic number okay now you know it is locked. Or then if you don't ride down a list of how many times you've done something you started to doubt whether it has happened, you always doubting of everything.

The second thing with OCD is the desire of control in a world in which you want to have control of your happiness, your health, your financial prospect and so on. You control something but you don't control that many things, if you like someone they might like you or they might not and even though if you really try they might like you a little bit but still they might not like you. You can not control everything.

In Ashtanga you can have the desire to learn a pose very fast but in the end it is not only your will power that is doing it.

The third thing there is a tendency in a lot of OCD behaviour to put to much emphasis on the working of the conscious mind and I guess here is related to the control factor being very averse to surrendering to any other part of the Self. So for example when you lock the door there is definitely part of the Self that already knows that the door is locked but the conscious mind is thinking or maybe the door is not really locked maybe you need to check it magic number of times.

Whereas if it really came to it I think with a lot of OCD people, like if it is really a matter of life and death the conscious mind is switch off into instinctively behaviour; if there is a fire no OCD person is going checking the door, you know they have to get out because they are back to that kind of more instinctive intelligence of the body not the conscious mind.

For many years when I was starting practicing Ashtanga that was the way I looked at the practice, I thought "when I do the practice I need to consciously move my hand this way and then I need to move my leg that way and if I don't think about it it's not gonna to happen. So then it made the practice very rigid, kind of a soldier like, performance like quality and completely lacked quality of softness, quite military, physical, exercice because I could not find myself to surrender from my body, my conscious mind or the meditative state of the practice.

In the beginning I did not like led class because I did not have time to do everything perfect, to control the practice so then for about two years I started the practice I did not do any led class, I did one with Manju and I thought it was terrible so I thought there is no point of going to led class and then of Iain Grysak substitute, Steve, he was very strict and quite agressive and he said to me if I am practicing in the shala I need to go the led classes if not then I won't be able to practice there anymore. I thought okay so I did Steve Lapal classes and I realised if was not too bad and I continued with Iain and he could see that when I was doing Primary with him I was able more less move not perfectly, I still have to straighten my map, straighten my short, straighten my towel but not as much as in the Mysore room. And then I started to stay more in the count.

In the Mysore class I would to stop my practice, blow my nose, straighten my map, straighten my hairs like doing a lot of things and slowly at the time I was able to stay more focus as Iain told me I should stay on the count.

It was a one point when I was doing maybe half of the intermediate that Iain said "what I want you to do is focus less on creating a perfect expression of the pose each time and instead of that try to focus more on staying on the vinyasa count. The way you move in the led class on Friday through the Primary I want you to move the same way through intermediate in Mysore class".

Then at first I thought I don't know if I can do it so mentally I was so dependent of the breaks, like before a difficult pose I was taking 5 extra breathes before I felt ready. It was a direct piece of advice from the Teacher and I did not want to contradict him so I thought okay I will just try it.

And then when I tried it the really amazing thing was I thought that would be much harder to do because I was not taking extra breaths and I had some fears on how it would go but then the interesting thing was instead of that the practice was actually much easier to do because the quality of breathes and the bandhas was uninterrupted and also because I was only focusing on breath, bandhas and movement without breaks all the energy that was going to others stuffs, you know the mat, the towel, the short, blowing my nose, going to the bathroom, all of that energy was not being wasted but was directed toward the practice. So it was like an "Epiphany" like an important realisation for me.

Since that day I thought "wow this is quite an amazing way to be, to feel your mind and your body move".

There was also the article of Iain "Becoming Animal" which is about the organic intelligence of the body and the important of surrendering, to me I will surrender when I'll die, I always have issue with all kind of authority but then what Iain says he too does not agree with the way the word surrender is used in the yoga circle in general because most of the time we surrender to another human being or surrender to a holly text but actually what he says is to surrender to the organic intelligence of the body. And then I was thinking I don't want to surrender to anything but yes I can surrender to myself, that is alright!

Because of Ashtanga,  because of Iain's writing and his teaching I am actually right now at a stage of a kind of lowest OCD behaviour and highest productivity than I ever had in my life.


Thank you very much Bagus for speaking from your heart.

- Namaste -

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