Last month I was lucky enough to spend 2 weeks practising with Lino Miele in Kovalam, India. What a couple of weeks it was! Not only was it my first time in India but it was my first time practising intensively for 2 weeks and I am so grateful that I had nothing else to do after practice except bob about in the sea and eat curry.
Initially I wasn’t quite sure what the benefits were of practising in a shala with 40 other people when at home I had the luxury of a 20 max studio and several teachers who already knew my practice well. But my teachers Karen and Sarah had encouraged me to go with an open mind and a focused practice.
During the first week I didn’t receive too many adjustments or learn any major lessons but it very quickly became apparent why an intensive Ashtanga practice in a remote location was going to help my practice more than I’d ever have hoped. When you have very little else to worry about except making it to practice on time and what curry you’ll have for dinner, suddenly your practice has the space to grow and develop at a wonderfully natural pace without the tensions and responsibilities of daily life.
A typical day in Kovalam
06:30 Wake up/cold shower before heading up to the Shala
07:00 Practice begins
09:00 Back to the room to sit on my balcony with a cup of tea and some nuts
09:30 To the beach! Straight in the ocean for a long soak.
11:00 Brunch – always the same, masala dosa and a pineapple juice. Heaven ❤
12:00 Reading on the beach. This is my happy place
15:00 Run any errands, shopping, laundry
16:00 Another cold shower to wash away the day
17:30 Pranayama and Q&A with Lino
18:30 Dinner time, always wonderful veggie curries and rice
20:00 Home for a last cup of tea on the balcony
21:00 Bed time!
Having such a simple routine and no daily responsibilities I was able to totally absorb my practice and digest each lesson learnt on the mat. My practice was slow and focused and my body didn’t ache from the normal daily grind.
But a focused daily practice wasn’t the only thing I gained from my trip. Here are some tips taken from Lino, his partner Desiree and some I figured out for myself:
- Question EVERYTHING you are taught in Ashtanga. Don’t just assume that there is one route, one philosophy or one set of rules. The beauty of having more than one teacher is that you realise there are options and in order to navigate the different approaches, you must learn to sift through the evidence and build your own understanding of the practice.
- Breath is number 1. Yes alignment, entry, exit, drishti, concentration etc is all extremely important but if you maintain correct breathing, the rest will come.
- Don’t over think, just do. (This applied for basically all the things that terrify me in my practice; drop backs, standing up, tic tocs, headstand…)
- Make the practice smaller – this realisation I came to after a bout of Delhi Belly. I was feeling very weak after being ill for 40 hours with food poisoning and Desiree had told me to take my practice very gently. I had absolutely no intentions for my practice that day, no goals, no ego. I stepped back, I stepped through, I moved quickly but gently and with very small movements, I wasted no energy adjusting my clothes or hair. My breath was strong but small and controlled. I didn’t look around the room and demand any attention back to me. For that hour and a half it was just me and my mat and the practice was effortless. Now, every time I step on the mat I try to bring those small, quiet, peaceful and focused elements to my practice and it has made the world of difference. No longer do I push, pull, lunge, scrape, gasp, fiddle & fret my way through my practice.
I imagine I am barely visible now, made of just 2 elements, breath + body, and my practice is as small as a grain of sand.