Ashtanga Yoga Practice Gave This Teacher Stability And A Safety Net

 

Rolling out the mat, moving with the breath, bringing the awareness inwardly, repeating it. Sara Stangertz is a level two certified ashtanga yoga teacher authorised by Sri K Pattabhi Jois and Sri Sharath Jois of KPJAYI, Mysore, India. She has been teaching yoga around the world for 15 years. She is based in Bali, Indonesia, since 2014. In an e-interaction with Pratyasha Nithin, Sara tells about her journey into ashtanga yoga, gurus, and her classes in Bali.

When did you get introduced to yoga?

My first experience of spiritual practice was at a meditation centre in Sweden. I was in my twenties, working on my masters degree in textile design. Not only had I the pressure of finishing my degree, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I was up late at night, very worried and not at all in balance. Meditation, which I prefer to call guided concentration, and breathing exercises helped me slow down and stay a little bit calm during that time. It was not until a few years later that I began my asana (posture) practice. I was living in London at the time and went to the Sivananda Yoga Centre. I remember I was suspicious about the orange uniform and that you had to speak quietly. I found it dominating. But, the energy kept me there and I started noticing changes that were happening inside me during the practice. This made me curious and I decided to learn more about yoga.

How has yoga influenced you?

I have been practicing yoga daily after being introduced to asanas. My practice is like an old friend and it has been a part of me for more than 20 years now. As I have been travelling all this time living abroad in different parts of the world, the practice has been like a safety net and it has been giving me stability. Rolling out the mat, moving with the breath, bringing the awareness inwardly, is always the same. Since I had started practicing yoga, I have had two daughters with my husband Fernando (also an authorised ashtanga yoga teacher). My daughters are actually teaching me yoga every day. I am forced to give up attachments and just surrender and let go of what is there at the present.

Tell us about your ashtanga yoga journey and the gurus you have met.

In 1999, after practicing regularly at the Sivananda Yoga Centre, I decided to leave my house, my job, and my husband. I went straight to Godfreys Yoga Centre in Spain to become a karma yogi, and lived in a teepee for almost a year. Many people thought I was crazy, but this experience changed my life completely.

I met different gurus on my way. My teacher Godfrey Devereux used to give a lecture on the Yoga Sutras (of Patanjali) two hours every morning, in a very hot dome after asana practice, I am forever grateful to him. This was when I started to understand why we were doing yoga. Godfrey is a direct student of Sri BNS Iyengar. Even though, I continued on a pure ashtanga yoga path later in life, there is a connection between my teachers, as K Pattabhi Jois and BNS Iyengar were students of Krishnamacharya.

I met Sri K Pattabhi Jois the first time in London on a workshop and that was the beginning of my ashtanga yoga journey. For many years, I was practicing and assisting Hamish Hendry (certified ashtanga yoga teacher) — an excellent example of a great teacher. He is a grounded guru who taught me so much and was always generous in sharing knowledge.

I have also been studying in India for around 15 years with the ashtanga yoga family; including the Gurus Sri K Pattabhi Jois, Sharath Jois and Saraswathi Jois, whom I deeply respect. There is no doubt that their Mysore Shala has been and is the ashtanga yoga home. I still go back every year if I can to continue my studies at the KPJAYI.

I am very lucky to also have my beloved chanting and Sanskrit teacher Dr M. A Jayashree in Mysore. The chanting has a very strong healing power, the sound and vibration from repeating the mantras is incredible.

Tell us about your visits to India.

The first time I visited India was for a design project, in New Delhi, in 1985. At that time, I was a textile designer. The experience of India was very different later. I was doing a lot of business meetings, had to dress up and pay a lot of attention to what we see. Then, later on, after my yoga journey had begun, I was doing a few yoga trips to Kovalam and Goa. Since 2002, I am visiting KPJAYI, Mysore, almost every year. In 2006 and 2007 I did extended travels to various places in India including Varanasi, Udaipur, Jaipur, Chennai, Auroville, Agra and Dharamsala (I actually met Dalai Lama, another amazing Guru).

India is an amazing place and I am always delighted to be back. For every yoga student, it is a must to visit India. For me, to go back to Mysore regularly is not only about practicing asanas, but also about breathing the same air and sharing the energy present in the shala. This makes me stronger.

How different is yoga from going to a gym or doing aerobics?

In the western world, many people connect yoga to fitness and body image. It is natural, in a way, as a yoga body is strong and flexible, and yes, the practice is helping us clean up the inside, but we don’t do yoga to look fit from the outside. This idea is far from the yoga philosophy and ancient texts. Without the awareness of the breath and without engaging the bandhas (internal muscular locks), and using the drishtis (gaze points), we are not practicing yoga. There is so much going on the inside. We have nadis (energy channels), chakras (energetic centers), vayus (energy forces) and everything is connected to what we eat, what we think, what we do, and how we act.

 

sara led class-2
Sara: “The practice helps us clean up the inside.”

 

 

Tell us about yoga in Bali.

Bali is a very beautiful, dynamic and spiritual island, but teaching ashtanga yoga in Bali is sometimes challenging. There are many tourists who come there for a short while, but want to learn yoga. Bali is, in fact, over loaded with yoga and yoga teacher trainings. Many are using the name yoga as a marketing tool without caring much about what they are offering or whether they have proper grounding. Most of them are not qualified to teach yoga. People need to understand that a month’s course does not make them competent to teach yoga.

What is ashtanga yoga?

Ashtanga yoga means the eight limbs of yoga and these limbs are described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, probably written around 100 AD, in which Patanjali had described the path to enlightenment and total union with the divine in four chapters. Pattabhi Jois had once described the sutras thus- “Small words with big meaning”. Patanjali yoga helps us detach and get out of our thinking mind, feelings and created ego. The eight limbs are yama (how we behave or relate to others), niyama (self-training or principles to follow in our lives),  asana (posture), pranayama (breath and directing prana), pratyahara (inward withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (enlightenment).

What is your view on hatha yoga?

Hatha yoga practice based on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika is not my path, but I think it can be a gateway for students, who cannot, for any reason, commit to daily yoga practice. Hatha means sun and moon, the two opposites. Hatha Yoga Pradipika is a guide about how to balance the opposites with the help of asanas (postures), pranayama (breath), mudras (symbolic or ritual gestures) and kriyas (purification or cleansing). I do believe that there are multiple paths to samadhi. Everyone must choose their own guru and yoga path carefully with respect, commitment, dedication, honesty and discipline. Whatever you choose to practice, I believe the focus and repetition is necessary if you want to get closer to your true self. There are, unfortunately or fortunately, no short cuts or an easy way out.

What is your view on the ancient origins of the ashtanga yoga practices?

Sometimes, there are a lot of doubts and discussions about who is the true guru. I just love the idea of parampara (a direct and unbroken transmission of knowledge from a teacher to his or her student). I am teaching what my teachers taught me, my teachers are teaching what their teacher taught them and so on. Of course, every student has his/her own understanding. Look how different Sri BNS Iyengar, BKS Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar and K.Pattabhi Jois were in sharing their knowledge, but they all came from the same Guru Krishnamacharya. Instead of focusing on their differences, we should see and deeply respect them all as they have been dedicated yoga disciples with many insights and many years of sharing. Krishnamacharya himself didn’t actually start teaching until 25 years of practising yoga.

There are new forms of yoga cropping up every day. What is your opinion on the modern styles?

All these different styles of modern yoga like power yoga, vinyasa flow, tantric yoga, yin yang yoga are based on ashtanga yoga. But really, I do not see why we need to change the traditional vinyasa method. I think the vinyasa method linking postures together in a set sequence by numbers (vinyasa krama), synchronised with the breath is genius indeed! Ashtanga yoga is a spiritual practice, but, like with any other practice you can cheat and just strike a pose, forget about the yamas and niyamas, pretending doing asanas, but that will, for sure, never lead you to samadhi. It is up to you as a student to choose your guru and the lineage that you connect with and trust the most.

Advice for yoga enthusiasts:

There is this myth that ashtanga yoga is not for everyone. This is not true. Commitment and regularity is the key to understanding. And we need to practise. Some people do few primary asanas with modifications, some practice ashtanga with one leg only, some practise one hand, handstand, and others do many advance asanas, but we all do the same practice! The beauty is that we work with our own limitations. This practice can help anyone. It is for everyone. Om peace peace peace.

 

sara adjusting-3
Sara: “Commitment and regularity is the key to understanding.”

 

 

— Sara Stangertz can be contacted at sara.stangertz@gmail.com

 

 

Related

Latest

Comments