Jan '08 My Shala

My Shala: Ashtanga Yoga of Albuquerque
By Elise Espat

When traveling, I always tell myself that I will make time for my practice, even if it means throwing my mat down on a dirty hostel floor. I have, in fact, taken my mat on backpacking trips, hoping that the extra weight in my pack will guilt me into practicing.

Now, I know that the best way to guarantee I’ll maintain my practice while on vacation is to find a local shala. Many times, there isn’t a shala to be found, but when there is, I find that practicing in a new space with a new teacher and different students can be a refreshing and rewarding experience.

After I booked a ticket to New Mexico last year, I was happily surprised to find that a Mysore program had been started by a group of local instructors. Ashtanga Yoga of Albuquerque is more than anything, a community. The students and teachers practice together in a modest space, offering each other tips, occasional spots, and inspiration.

During my last visit in December, we took photos of the morning Mysore practice. Below, instructor and co-founder, Catherine Harris, and student, Julia Scherba de Vanezuela, offer their thoughts on practice and looking to the New Year.

What tip do you have for someone new to practice?

Catherine: Breathing is the most enlivening piece of the practice you can attach your effort to. If you follow your breath, move with the ability of your body, and practice regularly, you don't need to worry about the athleticism of the poses. Your body will respond and develop faster than you ever imagined. Your mind will be calm no matter how the physical form appears.

What was the most helpful advice you have received?

C: "God doesn't care if you twist yourself up like a pretzel.” Dena Kingsburg

What brings you to the mat?

C: Right now, what brings me to the mat is my sense of responsibility for the community we are building here in Albuquerque. If I practice daily, I am a better teacher. Truthfully, if I practice daily, I am a better mother and landscape architect. While I know my daughter misses me in the mornings, my ability to remain calm and focused on her during the rest of our day is much higher when I practice. And then, there is the practice itself. It has been ten years since I started. I respect the changes in my body, mind, and life by working at them every day.

Julia: I follow the Dean Ornish program [to prevent] heart disease. I have a genetic predisposition to extremely high cholesterol, identified in my early 20's and resistant to conventional diets (e.g. American Heart Association). The "program" focuses on diet, exercise and stress reduction. Yoga is recommended for both exercise and stress reduction. And it works, at least for me.

I also love spending time with my husband, in activities other than going out to eat and watching TV. In weaning him from those, we tried other activities, including bicycle riding and Pilates classes, which were okay, but not great. When it was too cold and snowy to bike and the Pilates studio was closed last winter break, we took our first yoga class together and within a few months, he asked me if we could practice together for our weekly "date night", in addition to a Saturday class. I love practicing next to him, spending time together going to and coming from Yoga, and most importantly, how the mental discipline/meditative part of Ashtanga helps us learn to be better (more relaxed, thoughtful, supportive, encouraging, understanding, patient, etc) with each other.

So yoga was a way to do something healthy with my hubby and turned out to be something that we both love and love to do together.

What is your biggest challenge?

C: Worry. I worry about what would it be like if I had a teacher, instead of living somewhere where there is no authorized teacher. [Mary Jo Mulligan lives and teaches an hour away in Santa Fe. She makes occasional trips to Albuquerque to teach workshops.] I worry about my sore hip; I worry about my daughter; I worry about the next step. Its best when I am simply inside the practice, with no worry.

J: I often have a lot of pain. I also have a lot of scripts in my head that tell me not to be a coward or a baby. So learning to be patient with my limitations while not giving up and to enjoy doing something for the sake of doing it, whether or not I do it well is both important and hard. Finding that place where the practice, my breath, and my body's abilities on each particular day lead me, rather than forcing myself beyond where I can comfortably be that day is a lesson for both on and off the mat that I know I will continue to struggle with for the rest of my life.

What is your resolution for the New Year?

C: To pay attention to emotions and seek to calm my mind. I have other resolutions about giving time to others, being outside more, and trying to remember to turn everything off when I go to bed to help cut down on the carbon footprint of America, but I think helping my mind be more clear will improve all of those.

J: To continue to try to let things happen -- both on and off the mat -- rather than to try to make things happen. To let go of attachment to the results of actions and to focus more on the actions themselves. And sometimes, to step back and not do and in that way, allow others the agency of their own decisions and actions.

Shala Name: Ashtanga Yoga of Albuquerque
Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
Website: http://www.ashtangayogaabq.net/
Email: ashtangayogaabq@gmail.com
Teachers: Heather D. Liebe, Catherine Page Harris, James Cardinale, Ruby Harris

To view more images from this article, please visit the photo gallery at: http://www.livingmysore.com/

Would you like your shala to be featured next? Let us know! Email us at: livingmysore@gmail.com.

Elise is the co-founder of livingmysore.com.

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