Did you come from any kind of previous physical background, such as a sports practice, before finding the practice (or it finding you)?
I do. I have played football since I was 10 years old, and golf since I was 16. I had many injuries playing football, and needed a knee operation which made me reconsider if it was good for me. I still love it, but I don’t play it anymore. Among other things, yoga is a very good complement to almost any physical activity or sport. However, not every physical activity is good for yoga practice. I still play golf when I can. I like to apply yoga practices to Golf, a game that is said to be 70% Mind, and 30% Mind 🙂 My latest physical activity is surfing. It offers so many insights combined with the practice. It blows my mind.
“Ashtanga yoga is one of the most intense physical workouts!” – Your thoughts.
It is. What is fascinating though, is that the more you work inwards by paying attention to breath control throughout the practice, the more you build up stamina to carry on if needed, and if the practitioner is ready. Many people, and I include myself, are attracted at first to the physical challenge and benefit. The problem is the misconception of thinking that we have to achieve a complete series in order to have a full practice, without paying attention to the vinyasas, not to mention the drishtis. Patience is required from the practitioner as much as from the teacher to lead slowly, slowly in the safest way towards developing a full self-practice, like Surya Namaskara can be.
Do you remember your first Ashtanga class & teacher, and how the whole experience made you feel?
Yes. It was a led class in Mexico City. Her name is Sunniva Martinez. I want to believe that everyone remembers their first experience. In my case it was kind of love at first sight. The feeling I got afterwards was so peaceful, and no pain after so many things that I thought would hurt me. The breathing sound that Sunniva could make was incredible. I was intrigued about how that was possible and I so wanted to be able to breath similarly, and reproduce that ocean-like sound.
Any teachers who stand out as having inspired you along your Ashtanga, or yoga, journey so far?
All of them in their own time and place. First of all, my mother, my father and my sister have been my first and most inspirational teachers in life. They have supported me unconditionally throughout this journey, always full of love, making it easier to follow the path I chose to walk. Then came my younger brother, my nieces and my nephew.
For the rest. In order of appearance before I met Guruji and finally settled with R. Sharath and Saraswathi Jois: Sunniva Martinez, Amado Cavazos, Andrea Borbolla, Michael Gannon, Guilherme Nascimento, Matthew Volmer, Carla Volmer, Diego Koury, David Williams, Danny Paradise, David Swenson, Rolf Naujokat, Gabriela Pascolli, Regina Elhers, Kirsten Berg, Mitchel Gold. Inspirations at the main Shala in Mysore: Jessica Walden, Philippa Asher, Kiri Sutherland, Gibran Gonzalez, Luke Jordan, Mark Robberds, Nick Evans, Noah Williams, Fabio Sayao, Tom Rosenthal, Tarik Thami. Everyone who I’ve gotten to practice with at the same time or next to in the shala to make the magic of the room happen. My close friends in Mysore and Mexico, who inspire me outside of the mat, on the quest of yoga in life.
How long have you had a consistent 6-day-a-week Ashtanga practice for now?
The first asana that really challenged you?
What is currently your most challenging asana?
Smasthitih and the last one in my practice given to me on my last trip to Mysore, Viranchyasana B from the Advanced A series. But still, after many years Kapotasana, it seems it will always be a challenge for my mind and body.
Where, how and with whom do you continue to find inspiration for your practice?
In Mysore, India. The main shala, it’s where I get inspired by my teacher and my friends. Surrounded by practitioners from all over the world, and great assistants. For life, my family and my friends again. I also find inspiration whenever I recognize devotion and dedication in any form. Love for doing things. Contentment. Harmony in life. Genuine success, whatever the situation is. Everyone in their own time and place in the World.
How long have you been teaching?
9 years. I had a break of 3 years to travel and learn, then I started again 3 years ago, combining travelling and learning, and lately teaching on the road as well.
How would you describe your teaching style?
It depends on the person, the asana or vinyasa or awareness to work with. When I perceive struggle in someone’s practice, I start first by leading with verbal adjustments so the practitioner engages with the internal work, and if necessary apply a final physical adjustment to make the connection, while making sure there is a flow of the breath to help experience: Sthiram Sukham Asana.
You are an authorized level 2 Ashtanga teacher. For those relatively new Ashtanga students, can you tell us a bit about what that means (without feeling like you’re sending a firework display out for yourself)?
Authorization is a blessing from my teachers R. Sharath Jois and his mother Saraswathi Jois. They acknowledge my devotion and understanding of the practice. I showed respect for both the Institute and the Jois family by taking annual trips over the years to practice at the KPJAYI in Mysore, India, for many months each time. Level 2 means I have completed the Primary Series & Intermediate Series. I’ve gone through the process of moving from one pose to the next and sufficiently proved my proficiency at practicing these Series for Sharath to extend his blessing for me to teach up until that point.
Can you talk a bit about the concept of parampara.
It’s a concept of lineage, the passing on of knowledge from Guru to disciple to disciple and so on and on, ideally uninterrupted. By tracing your teacher’s teachers, you can get an idea of the source of the knowledge you are about to receive.
What was it like assisting Sharath at the Shala in Mysore for the past few months, adjusting so many bodies in one space for hours on end?
I love it. This is the third time I have assisted Sharath at the main Shala. I believe he trusts me, so there is definitely more confidence when I step out in the room. Thus I want to believe there is a certain trust transmitted to the practitioners from me too. At least that’s always my intention. You end up learning how to keep track of many people’s practices, and how to energize yourself too. You learn when to step in to adjust. You learn that you don’t have to adjust every single posture. You learn from people’s flow, regardless of which series they are practising. The common denominator of the practice at the main shala is: “best effort at the limit”. Energy pumping.Most important, you learn that Sharath is keeping an eye on everyone in the room, in case you ever doubted his observational skills.
What lessons do you think your students have taught you over the years?
Students are constantly teaching me how to communicate my messages for each individual clearly. They have taught me that everyone has a different approach to practice, and they challenge me in a good way to find the space in between their approach and my approach where we can meet, in order to help them the best I can with what I can. Hopefully we both experience yoga in that space.
Led Ashtanga class vs the traditional Mysore method. Is a full led Primary class suitable for everyone no matter what experience or physical ability? Why?
The traditional led class is a complement to the Mysore practice. It’s a class that counts the Vinyasas in Sanskrit, learning what is happening with the breath in between the asanas, in order to control it more and more. It really depends on the individual. Even if you have been practicing for a while, it takes time to understand the vinyasa system, and even more to do the correct vinyasa transitions from asana to asana. Beginners (bendy or stiff bodies) can attend a full Led Primary, but that doesn’t mean that they have to complete it. A full led Primary demands a lot of awareness of the breathing and body. Just like the self-practice, a led class also builds up over time. New people will find the breath a challenge but working through this is where the knowledge lies. People can join the led classes, but they will have to stop if the teacher asks them to, and they can carry on with the class again at the finishing a sequence. It’s a misconception that just because someone teaches a full primary series class, and an inexperienced person happens to join the class, he or she must finish the full primary.
Is a Mysore class for everyone no matter what experience or physical ability? Why?
Yes, a Mysore class is definitely for everyone. It’s about developing a self-practice according to one’s physical and mental ability in order to be able to repeat it the following day and so on and on. If it’s built up with patience and dedication, it can grow solid for a better grounding, regardless of the number of asanas.
What would you say to someone who feels overwhelmed or intimidated about doing a Mysore class?
I would say: If you have never done a Mysore class, you are not expected to know what to do in the Mysore class. Join and start from zero like all of us did once in the past. Every single Ashtangi in the world was once in the position of not knowing. It’s only a matter of wanting to know what’s there, in the Mysore room. Allow yourself to surprise yourself.
It’s your first time to South Africa, yay! Do you have any expectations or wishes for this trip?
My wishes are for people to enjoy the classes and to be as much help as I can. My expectations for magical days filled with dedicated practitioners, full of love, ready to jump on their mats and observe what happens each day. Also nice nice sunny days (promised by Neal & Van…) and maybe a not-so-cold ocean? Hehehe
How do you feel about chocolate or an ice cold beer?
Tasty Prakrti 🙂 So good when it feels right. Not so good in the extreme.
What can the Cape Town Ashtanga community hope to expect from an Arne Espejel-held Mysore space over the next 3 weeks?
During the classes you can expect lots of love and dedication for the practice that has been a fantastic tool on my journey. I shall share this tool the best way I can, with the best I know. I will meet you all in that middle point between our intentions. Who knows? Maybe at the “No Mind’s Land” too 🙂
Photographs by Tom Rosenthal