By way of introduction, I am Karen Kirkness, founder of the studio at 43 Argyle Place called Meadowlark Yoga. As owner of the studio, I practice and teach Yoga here and act as a general dog’s body for the not-for-profit company, and have done so in various concentrations since I set the place up in 2012. Before that, I was running the operation from another location adjacent to Bristo Square in the centre of Edinburgh under the name Bristo Yoga School. My current business is built upon 15 years of freelance Yoga teaching experience during which time I found my feet as a serious practitioner and student of Life. Hello!
Over the years, what I have noticed about the vocation of Yoga Teaching is the tendency for us all to ‘up sticks’ and travel extensively, to constantly shift gears. Of course I include myself in that observation, as I now find myself in Stockholm for the next week to practice at the feet of one of the world’s most loved Ashtanga Yoga teachers, Dena Kingsberg. So I thought I’d start a series of blog posts while I’m away on these travels, to keep in touch with my friends in Yoga at home in Edinburgh.
My husband, Simon, joins me on this journey. I feel really lucky to have such a good-natured and adventurous companion, who incidentally is not a traveler by nature and would indeed be much likelier to remain at home sorting socks than to be absorbed in the wandering urges that capture my own attention at regular intervals. But once he’s on the road, this man is a boss traveler and we operate in harmony most of the time. Our typical travel mode together is stupid humour and childlike wonder, and long may that continue. We are both excited to start with Dena tomorrow on the mat at http://www.yogashalastockholm.se/.
We just finished not quite a week together with my sister and brother-in-law, who came to visit us from the states. Together we drove to Oban and got the ferry to the Isle of Mull where we stayed together in a remote, internetless, sheep-ensconced holiday house near a miraculous sandy beach, doing all the wonderful things that family do together when they aren’t glued to their devices. My genius sister completed a jigsaw puzzle, we rocked the Jenga, read ghost stories aloud to each other, made dinners, slept, and adventured. One of my very favourite times from the trip was getting on the mat in the kitchen with my sister.
So this first personal blog from me is about the travel tendency, and what a joy it was to get on the mat next to my wee sister, Sarah. At the risk of waxing overly sentimental, I just wanted to share with my students and friends in Yoga at home how lovely it was to bust out the Ashtanga standing postures with my wee sis, who lives thousands of miles away and is normally out of reach.
In the first instance, it occurred to me again how brilliant the Ashtanga method is for travelers (and basically everyone), because of its practicality as a sequence. You do not need a narrative in order to practice, nor a studio, in fact all you need is gravity and a relatively clean, flat surface. My sister first came to one of my classes possibly 15 years ago, and again in 2007 when she visited me in Edinburgh with our mom. From then, she’s known about Ashtanga Yoga and has practiced a bit on her own and has developed a weekly practice with a local teacher in her area near DC. So, she knows the standing postures very well, and all we had to do was unroll the mats and get to work. We could do the same sequence together, not necessarily in sync, both using the breathing with sound technique, and not get caught up in the vagaries of various Vinyasa Flow stylings in which a loss of concentration is likely to interrupt a tandem practice. I was so grateful that my sis has a straightforward Ashtanga practice so we could rock out together without confusion, interference, competition, or any weirdness whatsoever.
I have since considered how it would be different if my sister had another method of practice instead of Ashtanga. Of course we still would have gotten the mats out and made shapes, and it would have been super sweet for me as a professional yoga teacher to get on the mat with my sis. But the average mixed/flow practitioner would be less likely to have a systematic approach wired into the neuromuscular memory, and that means she’d be less confident moving through postures next to her big sis. So we would have had less of a connection, as I’d end up being inadvertently distracted by her distraction, and ultimately in all likelihood we’d have had a lower-grade concentration experience.
To me, as a long-term practitioner (15 years), yoga practice is all about developing longer and better periods of concentration. The physical movement and breath is the means by which I get my mind biochemically into a rhythm of concentration that encourages a flood of the self into peace. There are plenty of ways to do this; many Vinyasa flow practitioners, mountain bikers, climbers, pianists, etc, will report states of Flow when they lose themselves totally in their activity and become focused on the moment, undistracted. I just find that from a purely pragmatic perspective, the Ashtanga Yoga method is the best substrate for growing a yoga practice that travels well and harmonises easily with others.
Another aspect of the experience practicing next to my sister that brought joy into my heart was our wordless harmony. Let’s face it – family is hard. My own family has a number of its own issues that can easily fall into harsh focus when certain divisions get together. We don’t see each other very often and so there can be pressure when we do find ourselves in proximity to have deep conversations and “catch up,” which often leads to emotive discourse on various family fuckups. Of course, we had a lot of time to naturally catch up and reacquaint ourselves over the 5 days together, but what you don’t get in these rare vacation periods is the permission to just be quietly together in the same place. Getting on the mat together, a few words to establish the plan to do standings + backbends and closing, meant that we had 45 minutes to just be together wordlessly doing something good for ourselves. Bliss.
One final note on how much this experience meant to me, and this is about my “sisters-from-another-mother” at home. Had my girls at Meadowlark not been so absolutely awesome, I would never be able to travel like this and have the peace of mind to become properly in the moment away from my business. Traveling is like radiating outwards, it can only be done sustainably from a stable base. A senior student of Pattabhi Jois put it to me like this: we should be radiant like the sun, but with a mighty core of iron. Stability at home is essential, and I’m so grateful for the team I am part of at home.
It is as a team player that I’m writing these blogs, to stay connected as we venture out into the world to practice with our sisters and brothers. Now onto the next stop here in Stockholm, time to brush the Mull sand off our mats and get ready to properly rumble with the inimitable Dena Kingsberg. Thanks everyone for staying with me on this first episode!
Lots of love from Karen and Simon.