Interview Mikko Seppinen

KPJAYI authorised level 2 teacher & director of Mysore Yoga CPH. In Cape Town 19-25 Oct 15.

We are so fortunate to have Mikko come and visit our shores in October 2015. I asked him a few questions and this is what he had to say 🙂

Tell us a bit about your first Ashtanga class. Was it a Mysore class? What do you remember and what was it like?
I had spent many years playing football, running marathons, studying for a university degree in social sciences, then working as a journalist. Back then, in the beginning of the millennium, it was almost impossible to avoid Ashtanga yoga in Helsinki, Finland. The word was out, and there was a wait list for the intro courses. I guess I followed the masses, but also my intuition and signed up. After the intro I started in led classes, but moved to Mysore soon. The practice felt hard and I was probably slightly confused, but also excited – the practice opened a whole new universe and I felt like I was becoming a Star Wars Jedi knight with infinite powers! Or like the opening line of Star Trek says: exploring strange new worlds and boldly going where no-one has gone before!

Have you ever practiced any other style of yoga?
Over the years I have tried most other styles, but since day #1 Ashtanga has been my daily routine. Experimenting and looking outside the box can be great and fun. Ideally it can open new perspectives and help us not to be too dogmatic. However, essentially it’s important to have one daily practice that follows a logical and a well-tested line of teachings. This is also one of the main guidelines in the yoga sutras, as outlined by Patanjali. Master one system and you will eventually understand them all.

How many years have you been practicing and has it always been 6 days a week?
I started almost 15 years ago. I became almost obsessed right from the beginning and started showing up on my mat basically every day. I had a strong urge and inner call to figure out how the practice works and what’s behind the next corner. So yes, now when I look retrospectively it actually feels kind of weird, but I have been practicing pretty much 6 days a week ever since I started. Somehow the momentum, planets – whatever you want to call it – was right and aligned and everything clicked, and I haven’t really looked back. That is not the path for everyone, but for me it just happened and made sense.

Which teachers have stood out for you along the way and why?
I think that the first teacher is always very special and I was lucky enough to live just around the corner from one of the biggest Ashtanga shalas in the world, co-founded by Petri Räisänen. He’s now traveling around the world, but back then he was still teaching the regular Mysore classes and he played a truly important role nurturing the foundation of my yoga. Another important root teacher is Lino Miele who patiently took me through the first three series of the Ashtanga system. After few years of practice the path led me to Mysore, India. First time at the source I struggled, mostly with egos and certainly not least my own. As time went by I started feeling more centered and Sharath slowly became my primary teacher. I’m continually inspired by his example and teachings that go far beyond words. I feel fortunate that I have managed to return to Mysore almost yearly, as well as for having the chance to practice in Guruji’s presence several times. Additionally, I’m grateful for Sri OP Tiwari widening my perspective of yoga.

Which was the first asana that really challenged you?
Already in the first class I faced physical and mental boundaries in a new way. I felt alive and strong, but also challenged in a completely different manner than I was used to. I cannot recall the first really challenging single asana, but there’s been a number of them along the way. Just the practice itself is challenging and one big hurdle I clearly remember was to show up in the morning. It took me some inner dialogue, but quite soon after starting I decided to take my first morning class. Feeling like a superhero I showed up to practice at 8.30am, only to realize that almost everyone else was finished and on their way out the door. Generally speaking – the practice puts the full spectrum of challenges right in front of us, sometimes in surprising ways, but what is important to realise is that the goal is actually not to become physically strong or bendy, though the practice facilitates both and much more. The ultimate point is how we learn to deal with our challenges, limitations and fears – how to transform negative energy into positive, obstacles into opportunities, and essentially how to make friends with ourselves, and this life.

What has been the biggest challenge for you along the way and how have you dealt with it?
This is a difficult question and I’m afraid there’s no clear answer. As I already mentioned, challenges are as constant as change, but the very nature of them in my case has been quite subtle. I have never had major injuries or physical pain, nor significant doubts. One big ongoing theme I could pick up has been to find my true inner strength. First I looked for it through external accomplishment of new postures and series, but eventually there was no movement in that direction and I had to find a new strategy. To say it bluntly: instead of trying to be a superhuman, I had to become more human and slow down. Human being instead of human doing. The process has also required me to stop repeating the pattern of running away, but learn to be with whatever arises. Ultimately it all boils down to relating to myself and other people in a healthier and more compassionate way. Lesson continues and I am not graduated from that school yet!

How do you continue to find inspiration for your practice?
Reasons to practice have probably changed over the years, and are now more internal. The practice has become about listening and finding peace, it’s a mirror to check where I am that given day. I feel it straightens me up in many ways, helps to keep focus and gives tools to deal with life’s ups and downs. It just makes sense to practice and I feel worse if I don’t do it. It somehow feels almost impossible to explain verbally, but it’s like if you don’t brush your teeth in the morning, you will feel shabby the rest of the day. The practice makes me feel more fresh and clear, physically and mentally. I feel more connected with myself and also with something bigger than me. Additionally, the practice keeps on evolving and changing together with me, which keeps it fresh and inspiring.

What lessons have your students taught you over the years?
My first class was as a sub at a studio where they had just a few weekly Ashtanga classes. I had two students and my approach was something I could now describe as rigid. I never saw them again! Soon after I started assisting my teachers in the Mysore classes, and I realised that teaching is actually a very slow learning process and a very humbling one. One of the biggest lessons in the beginning was to learn that teaching and learning happens in relationship to one another. Practice is always co-creation, that should help the students explore the depths of their body and mind the way that works optimally for them. Certainly teaching is very little about the teacher. Teaching itself has become the most meaningful and transforming task I can imagine and that’s mainly because of the students. They act as a mirror and help me to see my blind spots. Every day I learn about when to give space and where to give a little push, so that the students can figure out what is yoga themselves. To sum it up: the interaction with students makes me constantly reflect and learn about the practice, bigger picture of yoga, myself and life. Teaching has become an advanced extension of my own practice, a journey within a journey.

What do you say to students who feel overwhelmed about the idea of starting a Mysore practice?
There is often this mystical aura around the Mysore practice and sometimes people feel intimidated about the idea of remembering the sequence and practicing on their own. These fears – as most of the fears – are usually based on misunderstandings, and the good news is that actually you don’t need to remember much and you will get all the individual help you need. The most memorising you will do is during the first two weeks or so, and even then it’s one step at a time. Mysore is a highly personalised approach without the price tag usually associated with ‘one-on-one’ instruction, but with all of the group energy of a ’conventional’ class. You will be addressed by name and the teacher will know your practice inside out. An amazing bonus is that once internalised, the practice will follow you anywhere you go. Mysore practice is a very unique method of learning and it allows the deeper aspects of yoga to unfold naturally. It’s a great gift to have a good teacher and program near you – give it a try!

What can the Cape Town Ashtanga community hope to expect from you during your visit?
Workshop setting builds up a special energy and focus, which in turn boosts the motivation, gives new inspiration and helps build consistency. The week will be a great opportunity to experience the wholeness of the practice and to co-create a space where practice deepens into concentration and meditation. The practice itself is the one and only real teacher, but both Mysore classes and the in-depth workshop sessions also offer us plenty of opportunities to work in-depth on challenging things and hopefully create some enlightening ‘aaahhh!’ moments. It will be a week of focused smooth Mysore mornings, served with humour and support, and last but certainly not least: it’s always fantastic and special to gather together as an Ashtanga yoga community. Together we will share, learn, inspire and carry one another to new places.

Join Mikko 19-25 October 15 for Mysore practice and in-depth workshops. This is definitely worthwhile investing in. Book now!! Click here for details.