Interview with Anna Laurin

MYCPT is very happy to announce that KPJAYI authorised Ashtanga teacher, Anna Laurin, from Helsinki, Finland, will return to Cape Town to teach over Dec 2017 and Jan 2018 whilst Sharline is in Mysore, India. Anna has been teaching since 2008. A little more about Anna below, enjoy the read.

Slide from DSC04496.JPGHow many years have you been practicing and what keeps you coming back to your mat?
I’d been practicing hatha and sivananda yoga for a few years when in 2005 a friend of mine encouraged me to join a one week Ashtanga yoga summer retreat. The retreat touched something very deep in me and my life had altered its course. I didn’t know it at the time but looking back it was very clear that my life would not be the same again. I think by reading this interview you’ll have the answer for the second part of the question a little bit later… 🙂

Tell us a bit about your first Ashtanga class and teacher.
Signing up for that one week retreat out on a beautiful island in the Finnish archipelago I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The only clue my friend had given me was that I’d either hate it or love it. Either way, she said, I’d have sore muscles for sure!
My first teacher on was Stefan Engström. He is one of Finland’s very first Ashtanga teachers with a practice going back to the end of the 1980s. I can’t say I loved it in the beginning. Stefan had me do 30-40 rounds of sun salutaions each day for three days until he let me start the standing sequence… I was totally exhausted! Today I appreciate his very traditional teaching style so much. Building a solid foundation from the start was key to how I would continue to learn and develop after that.
But even with all that super basic stuff for a whole week I do remember a transforming aha moment I had in the last class of the retreat. I was watching a student roll back and forth in Garba Pindasana. To me it looked completely crazy. But then I also saw how much work he was putting into the pose. It was hard for him, a little clumsy and very sweaty. He really was trying his best even though it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t perfect – exactly like me and my little sun salutations! I understood in an instant that it doesn’t matter how difficult or advanced the asana is or how far we’ve come. We are in the same place, dealing with the same challenges no matter who or where we are. We’re all in the same boat. That inspired me so much at that moment and made me fall for the Ashtanga practice.

Which teachers have stood out for you along the way and why?
I learn from every experience and every person I meet. Teachers, students, friends, strangers… So this list could potentially get really long! My first Ashtanga teacher Stefan obviously. And my current teachers Sharath Jois at KPJAYI and Michael Stone, my Canadian meditation teacher. I am so grateful for their continuous support and guidance on my path. Spending time at the source of Ashtanga yoga in Mysore, India with Sharath is very special. It’s become very important to retreat to focus on my own practice for a period each year with my teacher as well as meeting the community of beautiful and incredible fellow practitioners and friends from all around the world.
Other teachers who have stood out are Paul Dallaghan who had a big impact on my practice in the first 2-3 years by broadening my understanding, knowledge and experience of yoga as much more than just asana. Eddie Stern still keeps inspiring me whenever I study with him. Others worth mentioning are Lino Miele, Hanne Sydänmaa, Chuck Miller… Challenging for me not to continue the list! There are so many! 🙂

What has been the biggest challenge for you and how have you dealt with it?
Learning not to push too hard! By far my biggest challenge. But now in hindsight, after having gone through it all I couldn’t be more grateful for that challenge! Here’s why.
Ashtanga yoga and meditation are challenging practices as a whole. There’s no way around that. Like Sharath says, Ashtanga yoga is for everybody but not the lazy person. He means that if you’re ready to do this, if you’re ready to put in the work when facing both the good and hard times then this is for you. And if you do you will grow and learn and open as a person for sure. But if you’re not willing, then it’s not for you.
So yes I’ve had challenges, both physical and psychological. And I know it can be really hard sometimes. But challenging times have helped me go deeper, ask the right questions, find more layers and show me where to look. Challenges have helped me to see how something may have been hindering me and only then have I been able to begin to let it go. And not only in practice but in daily life. Pushing myself for example has been a destructive pattern on and off the mat, and having understood that pattern deeply and letting it go has made my life so much more enjoyable!
And so here’s the answer to the very first question in this interview: I keep coming back to my mat and my meditation pillow every day because the practice helps me live a fuller life with more meaning.

What lessons have your students taught you over the years?
Students are such great teachers. They keep me grounded, present and focused. Every day they challenge me to communicate with more clarity, simplicity and wisdom. They encourage me as much as I encourage them to be brave and gentle at the same time. Sometimes I look at a student that I’m teaching and I’m in awe. There can be so much courage in a student who’s trying something new and scary. It doesn’t matter if they fall or succeed, it’s those moments that make it all worth it. Without my students I wouldn’t be a teacher, so I try to be as present as I can and learn and share as much as I can with them. It’s definitely a two way street. We usually have fun together too!

What do you say to new students who feel overwhelmed to start a Mysore practice?
Just show up! Come as you are and we’ll take it from there! I mean it. Mysore practice can seem daunting in the beginning with so many focused practitioners in the room, but once we get started with the first sun salutations you won’t notice anyone around you. We’ll take it step by step so that you won’t feel overwhelmed. In a Mysore class we’ll be able to create a practice for you that suits you. There is a huge difference in how it feels to practice when you do it according to your own pace and breath compared to a led class. You will be in good hands so just show up with a willingness to learn, one little piece at a time. That’s all you need.

What is mindfulness meditation and how does it complement the Ashtanga practice?
When I started regularly practicing mindfulness meditation a much more subtle and deeper layer opened up for me to dive into… As I see it meditation and asana practice are tools to pause, to stop for a bit and be present. Ways to just be here with our breath and this moment. With our emotional state, thought patterns and our lives as they are and learning about it all. Learning about ourselves. Meditation is more subtle than asana because we sit still with the breath as the only thing moving. In asana we have our whole body moving with us and we learn through a more gross point of view. Both are equally interesting and important to me. If you are interested in testing it out come practice with me on Sunday mornings when I’m there. It’s a beautiful practice.

How do you fit a daily asana and meditation practice into your life?
Since I teach a morning mysore program from 6-8am in Helsinki I have to be fairly strict with the schedule of my own practices. Most mornings I sit and meditate before teaching and then I do my asana practice after teaching between 8-10am. Ideally I’d like to do all of it before teaching but with other daily commitments and regular life I would be seriously and chronically sleep deprived if I did that. I’ve tried 🙂 Life is about balance and so as Sharath reminded us in Copenhagen in August, we practice to live a happy life, to enjoy life more. It’s important that you find a balance so that your practices actually support your daily life rather than the other way around.

What can the MYCPT community hope to expect from you during your visit?
Lets have a good time together! Lets learn and explore and study together. In the beginning we’ll take time to get to know each other and when comfortable we’ll dig in deeper. There will lots of space for trial and error, openness, questions and investigation. But also just normal daily practice. Not every practice is going to be a “workshop”, there is beauty and deep wisdom in the quiet rhythm of daily practice.