Sunday, March 26, 2006

what is ashtanga like in Hawkes Bay?

Must say I have enjoyed reading a few yoga blogs recently, although I do wonder about some people's need to put everything on the table. Or maybe it just looks like everything...

One good one is http://blogs.ashtangi.net/ElephantsBelly/ which appears to me to be authentic and certainly not contrived for an audience. Another is http://practiceashtanga.blogspot.com/ which is similarly genuine, and written from the heart. I can relate to these guys - at least in blogging terms anyway. When I figure out how to post links on this damn template they'll be there. Both these dudes live in SF and unsuprisingly the scene there is fairly busy - with lots of different shalas, huge numbers of people doing ashtanga, let alone other types of yoga like Iyengar, Bikram, Kundalini etc and other associated activities like Pranayama meditation, Sanskrit studying and so on.

This brought to my mind the idea of describing the ashtanga environment here in Hawkes Bay, NZ. I had begun to practice regularly about 6 months before arriving here but had not really got to the point where I had a coherent practice of my own. This was because I had been fairly mobile and thus unable to attend a mysore or led practice regularly. However, upon arriving here I pretty much made it a priority to find a regular base in which to practice, particularly since I was sharing a house and practicing at home was not viable. I happened on the group of people who constitute ashtanga yoga here fairly easily. There are only about 30 people who I would say practice regularly - this in an area with a population of around 100,000. Most are women which doesn't surprise me since there is no big gay population and a lot of NZ men (and others) are pretty resistant to the idea of anything called yoga. This estimate is based on how many people have attended Peter Sanson workshops here. Anyone who is keen will have been since it is essentially the only outside influence we get. Practice locations are organised by BW, who has practiced for over 15 years, and supervised by him and sometimes SH or my mate KS, both women in their 40s with families. So a typical week for me is practice at location in Hastings on Monday pm, then another practice at a different Hastings location Thursday pm. Neither are purpose astanga locations though they are both ok. They are certainy cheap, self practice in either costs $10 for regulars. On a Saturday am one can go to Napier to practice in the Community Centre though recently I have favoured practice at home as Napier is 25 mins drive. So I practice 3 or sometimes 4 days a week. This will increase, I can feel it.

Workshops are thus very important in terms of the chance to absorb yoga from a teacher if one is looking for that side of progression in the practice. Of course there is the social side of things, predictably tending towards the vegetarian, teetotal sort of stuff. Often centered around the workshops these can be a good chat over the espresso after practice or dinner at someone's house or a restaurant (average Indian, cause average is all there is round here). Nonetheless the social element is important and for me at least is a very good reason to be doing it, though I really feel like I would do it even if I knew no-one at a given Shala and never got to know them. Because of the quiet nature of life in NZ it is easier to put something like ashtanga in a central position in your life. The temptation to put energy into the 'bar scene' such as it is or other similar life styles is minimal to non existent for me. These aspects of life here hold little appeal because of their limited sophistication and relative banality. Sound snobby? Well, I can say that of course my perspective is influenced by having travelled, lived and worked in some pretty decent cities of the world - Capetown and London both spring to mind as well as SF, Paris, Berlin too - but it isnt really this. I would go out to bars and restaurants here if they were any good even though I don't currently drink very much. They are simply dull and its more fun to socialise in other contexts as a result. So, NZ is quiet, which is a good thing, and Hawkes Bay exemplifies that. Thus all the people to whom ashtanga is important probably appreciate both sides of the 'NZ is dull' argument from where we are.

Having said all that, it would be lovely to have an ashtanga dedicated space. There is a yoga room in Napier but the woman who runs it is not interested in wholly including astanga. Other options or possibilities have not been adopted and investigated by anyone - you need a lot of ashtangis to make a dedicated space viable. Shame. Like I said, it would be nice. Some well lit, warm, quiet rooms with neutral colours, a hard floor, comfortable changing and shower facilities, a welcoming but smart, cool, funky feel. Would be bliss of course. Would also put the price up. But hey, folks pay a fortune for gym memberships and stuff round here so it can't be impossible. There is no reason why further on down the line I might not want to get involved in trying to set this kind of thing up. We need a primo yoga teacher to come here. Peter Sanson would be perfect!

Hopefully that gives a flavour. If it doesn't I'll try to flesh it out later. In the meantime I would love to hear how others in simialr situations have seen things develop over time. Any suggestions welcomed!

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