A week ago I had never practiced Rocket Yoga, today I have a totally unexpected 50hour Rocket Yoga certification.
How did that happen?
I was passing through Antigua for a couple of nights and on Wednesday evening I asked a friend if she could recommend a class for Thursday morning. She recommended 9am Rocket II with the wonderful Lauren, co-founder of Shakti Shala Antigua, and I went.
Just before the class I saw this flyer and by the end of the practice I wanted to know more about the training.
The practice with Lauren was challenging and I couldn't do everything but I loved it. It included arm balances I hadn't tried in a while and what felt like a million chaturangas (high plank to low plank for any non yogis reading).
At one point we were rolling back and forth (from navasana to halasana and back up to Ubhaya Padangusthasana while holding the toes and I felt my lower back tweak. It didn't feel good but I knew it was because I wasn't activating my bandhas (engaging my core muscles in plain english).
Despite my inability to do all the poses and the sudden lower back pain, I asked Lauren if she could tell me more about the training, and if she thought it would be ok for me to take part despite having only ever practiced Rocket once, with her.
Lauren was very warm and encouraged me to take the training and what she said about Steve convinced me to sign up.
Lauren shared with me that Steve was her teacher and that he was very unassuming.
As soon as I met Steve I got what Lauren meant and over the few days of the training I fell in love with his playful soul.
Steve is funny, warm and very knowledgeable. He learnt from Larry Schultz - the founder of Rocket Yoga, who studied with K. Pattabhi Jois - founder of Ashtanga Yoga.
Although I never had the joy of meeting Larry, I sense that Steve wonderfully transmits the philosophy of Rocket Yoga, which I would translate as "practice as you want", which seems quite far removed from the strict Ashtanga approach to Yoga.
Although the Rocket sequences include many advanced poses (arm balances, splits and funky transitions), the "practice as you want" approach feels welcoming to yogis like me, who despite having practiced for many years, do not regularly practice challenging asanas (postures).
My yoga journey
I was initially inspired to try yoga for the physical aspect of the practice.
At the time, I went to the gym every day, lifted weights and didn't stretch much. I looked good if I may say so, but I didn't feel so good. My body felt tense but my 6 pack was worth it to me then...
When I started practicing yoga I enjoyed the challenging classes most. I needed to push myself before I could surrender in the final relaxation - shavasana.
I would always try advanced versions of poses in class, even if I was tired and the pose felt like a struggle. I heard the teachers say 'listen to your body', but my mind's voice was louder than my body's.
I would also spend time outside of practice to try some of the poses I wanted to 'master'.
That was over 12 years ago now and things changed A Lot in the meantime.
Through regular practice, I developed a healthier relationship with my body. I started enjoying slower and more gentle styles of yoga (Hatha, Slow Vinyasa and Yin) and the more I studied the philosophy of yoga the less I wanted to push myself on my mat.
8 years ago I started meditating and since I have become devoted to this aspect of the practice. Just a couple of months ago I took part in a 17 day silent retreat during which I reconnected with my love for Hatha yoga. During the retreat I became very aware of how the sequence of postures prepared my body and made meditation more easeful.
"This kind of yoga is not for me"
There was a time when I thought more physically challenging practices were 'less yoga' than other forms of yoga.
Who thought this..? My ego of course. The ego is relentlessly looking for evidence that it is better or worse than others, but most importantly special.
I smile at these beliefs now as I have a deeper understanding of Yoga. Yoga means union and I now believe that it does not matter so much how we get to this 'state' of Oneness.
Asana in Sanskrit simply means seat.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali - known as one of the "Fathers of Yoga", only dedicates 3 of the 196 sutras (aphorisms) to talk about postures and all he says is:
2.46 'sthira sukham asanam' - The posture (asana) for Yoga meditation should be steady, stable, and motionless, as well as comfortable
sthira = steady, stable, motionless
sukham = comfortable, ease filled
asanam = meditation posture (from the root ~as, which means "to sit")
2.47 'prayatna shaithilya ananta samapattibhyam' - The means of perfecting the posture is that of relaxing or loosening of effort, and allowing attention to merge with endlessness, or the infinite.
prayatna = tension or effort (related to trying to do the posture)
shaithilya = by relaxing, loosening, lessening, slackening
ananta = infinite, endlessness
samapattibhyam = by focusing attention on, by coalescence, coincidence, merging
2.48 'tatah dvandva anabhighata' - From the attainment of that perfected posture, there arises an unassailable, unimpeded freedom from suffering due to the pairs of opposites (such as heat and cold, good and bad, or pain and pleasure).
tatah = then, thereby, thence, from that
dvandva = the pairs of opposites, the dualities, dichotomies
anabhighata = unimpeded freedom from suffering, without effect or impact, cessation of disturbance
Since Patanjali's time, over 2000 years ago, yoga has evolved from being focused primarily on meditation and the study and absorption of the human mind, to being centred around asana, the 3rd of the 8 limbs suggested by Patanjali.
Amongst the oldest known texts referencing asana is: Haṭhayogapradīpikā, composed by Svātmārāma in the 15th century as a compilation of the earlier haṭha yoga texts. Asana is not new to yoga but it has become the focus rather than an element of yoga for many.
This evolution of yoga seems like a natural unfolding of the practice to meet the needs of its growing community of adepts worldwide. As novice yogis found it too hard to simply sit in a meditation posture and stay for hours, more recent Yogis like Krishnamacharya (1888 – 1989) often called "the father of modern yoga" made the practice more accesible to all by bringing focus to the postures to prepare the body for meditation.
About the training
Before I say anything else I want to say I LOVED the training :)
The program was very much asana (posture) oriented, which makes sense as it is for qualified Yoga teachers, who have already learnt about yogic philosophy and want to learn about Rocket Yoga specifically.
Every morning we practiced 90minutes in silence, following Steve. Every evening Steve guided another 90min practice with his words and great beats in the background. I loved each one of these practices.
Between the practices Steve methodically broke down the 3 sequences (Rocket I, II and III), explained poses and transitions, demonstrating and also inviting yogis to step in the middle so he could give us advice.
Steve also emphasized the importance of the 3 pillars of Rocket: Breath, Bandha (energy lock activation) and Drishti (gaze or focus), which are crucial to Yoga.
These 3 elements are what make this dynamic practice so much more than a workout.
After over 12 years of practice I have learnt to stay present through mindful movement, maintaining the same level of presence through a more demanding practice with faster paced transitions is a challenge I enjoyed. I also had fun playing with arm balances and Steve's watchful gaze and warm encouragements were greatly appreciated.
Rocket's emphasis on the use of Sanskrit for each pose is another aspect I value, as I believe the use of Sanskrit is impactful though not essential and not always used.
I also really appreciated being in the space with 19 other yogis, analyzing postures, sharing about the different ways they can be done and on the last day philosophising about what yoga really is about - going beyond the asana as Steve justly explains.
Will I teach Rocket?
As much as I loved the practice I'd like to practice it for some time myself before I guide others. I have already practiced the sequences twice since the training ended 6 days ago :)
I must also admit that although I have rediscovered an old love for challenging asana practice, I don't think Rocket is accessible to all, which is a priority for me when teaching Yoga. Many of the people who have come to my classes have not had the flexibility nor strength to take part in such a practice, so I will continue to guide more gentle practices to those less able and I may eventually offer a Rocket class to yogis who are up for it.
Where to find Steve?
Steve is the owner of Asta Yoga studio in San Francisco. You can find his website here.
Shakti Shala class schedule
If you are passing through Antigua and want to practice yoga, I highly recommend Shakti Shala and the teachers I had the joy to meet. You can find their class schedule here.
As I reflect on this training I am immensely grateful for Steve, Lauren and all the yogis who took park in the training.
I am also very grateful for all the yogis who have come before us and continue to share the practice so it can live on and share the message of love and unity that are the core of Yoga, whatever that may look like.
Last but not least, I am grateful for this body that enables me to play and explore the world as well and sit in silence and explore the inner world - the infinite Self that is Brahman, the Cosmic force that permeates all of existence.
Thank you for reading
In case you are interested in learning more about Yoga (including asana, philosophy and much more) my dear sister Rachael and I will be co-guiding the following trainings:
Rachael and I speak about Yoga Teacher Training :)
To request an information pack for one of our YTTs and/or to have a personal call with one of us or simply stay up to date with our offerings please get in touch :)
Bibliography: Sutra definitions from https://www.swamij.com/yoga-sutras-24648.htm#2.46