Happy New Year! To start off 2018, Jenn Usher – dedicated Ashtanga practitioner, committed assistant in the Mysore room and full-time yoga teacher at Meadowlark – looks forward to her next trip to India, a defining part of her practice for the upcoming year…
It’s now been almost a year since I first traveled to Kovalam, India, to immerse myself in three weeks of intense Mysore-style practice with the certified Ashtanga Yoga teacher, David Garrigues. As soon as I arrived last year and threw myself into the early morning practice, the long afternoons at the beach, and the simple Keralan lifestyle, I knew I wanted to return in 2018. Time has flown by this past year, as it has a tendency to do, and I can hardly believe that it is now just four weeks until I will be back in Kovalam.
Last year was my second trip to India, but my first yoga-related trip. All of my time in India has made me completely infatuated with the country; it’s a place that gets right under your skin and stays there. It can be crazy and chaotic, but I have always felt a great sense of peace being there. This sense of peace or contentment was, of course, heightened even more on my last trip because I was spending so much time on my own personal practice, with none of the usual distractions of teaching, working, friends, relationships, general life. It was the first time in my life that I had nothing else really to do other than practise to my fullest potential every morning (and sometimes afternoons as well, if David was running one of his afternoon workshops).
When I’m at home in Edinburgh, I practise 5 or 6 days a week pretty much without fail; however I definitely don’t do my full practice every day. With teaching in the evenings, assisting in the Mysore room up to 3 or 4 mornings a week, doing the occasional waitressing shift, and trying to maintain some kind of social life, I have to shorten my practice some days to save energy and avoid total exhaustion. But in India, with no job to go to and no other commitments – I could practise full pelt every morning for 2.5 hours because it didn’t matter if I felt totally wiped afterwards; all I had to do for the rest of the day was go lie down by the pool or on the beach and snooze and read and drink coconuts. That level of no distractions from your practice is deeply special and very important for any yoga teacher to experience at some point during their working year. I’m very lucky that Meadowlark actively encourages this annual time off in all of their full-time yoga teachers.
So what am I expecting to get out of this year?
Obviously the usual sun and sea and coconuts will do no harm at all. But going to the shala every morning and practising with David feels like it could be even more profound this year, because he is by now a familiar teacher, who I consider to be my most senior teacher. I had time with him in Kovalam last year, and then we were lucky enough at Meadowlark to host him in May for a weekend of Mysore and workshops, so the connection was reestablished. Last year I was kind of going into the unknown, because I had never met or practised with him before; this year, I know that I will value his style of teaching and learn from him again in abundance.
I’m also looking forward to getting even more out of my practice time in India this year, because Sarah Hatcher, the Director of Mysore at Meadowlark and my most regular teacher, will be joining us there and spending two weeks practising and also assisting David. Sarah has been a student of David’s for years, which is another reason why I like to practice with him when I can; I completely trust Sarah’s opinion of what makes a great teacher, and also it means there is consistency within both of their methods. Sarah knows my practice better than anyone else does and has been my main guide in my Ashtanga practice and teaching over the last two years, so I feel extremely lucky to have her here in Edinburgh, but also joining me for some time in India. I’ve been working hard with her in the Mysore room recently on my Intermediate Series practice, so it will be great to have her continued support and assists in India. I’m hoping that three weeks of intense practice time with David and Sarah will make me really comfortable with Ekapada Sirsasana, or One Leg Behind the Head, which is the current posture I’m working on, as well as continuing to deepen my backbends so that I am regularly touching or even catching my heels in Urdhva Dhanurasana.
But ultimately, time spent with your practice is not so much about what postures you get or what noticeable physical advancements you make. It’s more important to go away and recharge, step back from the routine of teaching, and reconnect with what made you fall in love with yoga in the first place. I loved the amount of quietness and solitude I had last year; I read, wrote in my journal, walked by myself, often ate by myself – and I had never felt so at ease or content before in my life. That alone time is really important when so much of your job involves talking and giving your energy to other people. It’s that time away to just be quiet and be fully immersed in your practice that makes you a better teacher when you return.
Jenn will be teaching her regular classes throughout January and will return to teach in the first week of March. Find information on our classes and schedule here.