Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Entelechy : An Interview with Certified Ashtanga Teacher Kristina Karitinou

"Each one of us bears a personal responsibility to discover the different parts of ourselves and experience life through entelechy so that we can progress to mentally and physically healthy cells of this planet and offer useful elements to our environment through our existence...." Kristina Karitinou

entelechy,  (from Greek entelecheia), in philosophy, that which realizes or makes actual what is otherwise merely potential.

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Kristina and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
Kristina Karitinou is a certified Ashtanga yoga teacher, and has been teaching through the tradition of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois since 1991



Earlier this year I attended a Manju Jois' Teacher Training course in Rethymno, Crete hosted by Certified Ashtanga teacher Kristina Karitinou.  Since that training Kristina and I have exchanged some emails discussing her late husband Derek Ireland and the early days of Ashtanga in Europe as well as it's development. I recently asked Kristina if she would be interested in contributing to a post along the lines of an interview as I wanted to share and explore further those discussions and she kindly agreed. I sent her an absurd amount of questions, I think she's answered nearly all of them as well as being so generous in sharing a large number of personal photographs. 


I think this collaboration is one of the things I am most proud of posting on this blog, Kristina's responses to these questions have moved me greatly as well as filling me with excitement for this practice, for a life of practice . Although there is much about the past here, there is more about the future, about how the past informs the present, the encounter of cultures and traditions, the embracing of heritage....

"Kristina: It is of paramount importance for the practitioners to develop awareness of the cultural heritage of the place they are in. Being in Greece we bear great responsibility towards our ancestors and our roots, so having a small bust of Socrates (on the altar) triggers the energy that surrounds us and constantly reminds us why we actually practice. "Knowing thyself" is the epitome of knowledge, and it should always be there in our practice, in our breathing in our everyday life. "Practice and all is coming" incorporates the true meaning of knowing oneself as this is the only way given to us to actually manage and have some results. Greek and Indian civilizations appear to be connected on a spiritual level throughout the centuries, and they have both set the foundations for the development of philosophical thinking so much in the East as well as in the West respectively. Socratic inquisitive way of approaching discourse and the mental freedom he offers to human existence match uniquely the legacy of practice Patanjali has bequeathed us. Both of them have offered a means to free the mind from the conventionality of life as they give you alternatives and they both require freedom of thought so that man can reach the higher level of existence and the ultimate point of liberation and self - fulfilment. Freedom works as a prerequisite while it is the final destination of each of these two methods. Therefore the presence of both philosophies on my alter seemed like a natural thing to do".

Interview/discussion with Kristina Karitinou

Anthony: How did you come to practice Yoga? Who were your first teachers and how did you come to practice Ashtanga?
Linda Kapetaniou 
Kristina: I was first introduced to yoga by a friend when I was about 14 years old. It was Akis Triantafyllou who gave me my first class in hatha yoga. Then a few years later at the age of 19 Linda Kapetaniou was recommended by a friend and thus I started attending her classes in Ashtanga yoga.


AnthonyTell me about Derek Ireland?


Derek Ireland, Crete
Kristina: Derek was a truly charismatic teacher setting the foundations of teaching  and spreading  the knowledge of Ashtanga in Europe, by training teachers and evolving the methodology of the practice. He provided us with the right tools to make the practice understandable to our western mentality. He was an extremely generous, knowledgeable and compassionate teacher, who had great respect towards his students and greatly contributed to the formation of the contemporary yoga teacher image. He was a devoted practitioner himself and would always pay his respects to his guru Sri K. Pattabhi  Jois as he would always stress the importance of lineage. At the same time he was an exemplary father and unique husband always caring about his family, not to mention that he was absolutely gorgeous attracting admiration wherever he would appear.

AnthonyHow did you first meet him and what were your first impressions?


Derek Ireland in his Yoga Room, The practice place , Crete
Kristina: After practicing for two years with Linda till about Navasana she advised me to visit either  sri K.Pattabhi Jois in India to advance my practice or go to Crete and practice with Derek Ireland. As Pattabhi was on a summer tour at the time I chose to go to Crete. There I met Derek and started practicing with him. I was overwhelmed so much by his deep and thorough knowledge as well as by his presence as a whole.

AnthonyWhat was it like to be taught by Derek, how was he as a teacher?


Kristina: When I first entered his shala I immediately realized the truth and the power of his teaching and it became apparent to me that he had the ability to understand your potential and bring it all up on the surface. He was always keen on making you see the power and strength that lied within you and worked towards making you experience the true possibilities and nature that you might not have been aware of. Myself as a teacher have been shaped by these characteristics of him, and I want to believe that my work also involves some of his teaching style.

AnthonyWhy was he important to the growth of Ashtanga in Europe?


Kristina and Derek wedding day
Kristina: Derek's students were actually the ones who made Ashtanga so popular in Europe. It was with his help that they spread this method and popularized the practice mainly in the Uk. Now, retrospectively, it's hard to imagine how things would have been without his presence.

Anthony: Who were some of his students that we may of heard about.

Kristina: The list is long: John Scott, Gingi Lee, Alexander Medin, Lis Lark, Brian Cooper, Mathew Vollmer, Michaela Clarke ,Annie Pace, Jocelyn Stern, Petri Raisanen, Joseph Dunham, Ginny Dean, Hemish Hendry and many many more.
Derek assisting Gingi Lee, The practice Place

Derek assisting in his Yoga Room 


Anthony: Tell me about ‘The Practice Place’, the Ashtanga community in Greece at that time?



Kristina: The Practice Place, was the first Ashtanga community in Europe. Set up in the UK it had its shala in the South of Crete. This was the place where teachers and students had the possibility to study with Derek and Radha. Derek was the one working mainly with the Mysore advanced practitioners and helped them evolve their practice. The place combined three important features, good practice, good food and accommodation in great surroundings. Most of us had to work our way through our studies there in an effort to learn to offer to this community as this was part of a Karma yoga training. Derek made this possible for us in order to deepen our knowledge and shape a correct attitude towards a dedicated practice.


The Practice Place Kitchen

Anthony: You taught for some time in Brighton, one of the first Ashtanga classes in the UK I believe, can you tell me a little about your experience of teaching Ashtanga in the UK at that time?
Exhibition in London
Kristina: In 1998 I was the first to teach Ashtanga in Brighton at Evolution Center. In 1999 the first Ashtanga community was established in the Natural Health Center in Brighton where I kept teaching up until 2003. At the time there were only a few teachers in the UK and that was when Ashtanga actually started taking off. This was an extremely important period for me, as it set the foundation for my professional career as an independent Ashtanga teacher. It was the first time that I had to work by myself as Derek had only recently departed.

Anthony: Do you feel that there is a distinctive character to European Ashtanga, to Greek yoga in particular…., visiting your shala it felt like an extended family not just the shala itself but teachers, students of yours from other parts of Greece, returning for Manju’s workshop and even further afield, there seemed to be former students of yours from as far as Finland.

Discussion with Manju ( I'm up there in front of the altar)
Kristina: The teaching we received from Derek had always been a way to accept the spiritual differentiation and mentality of each and every practitioner, making thus each member of the community unique and respectable. Our common goal had always been a beneficial and correct technique on the practice while leaving space for personal growth. This must have also influenced the way I teach Ashtanga, giving the feeling that the teacher is an equal part of the community and not just some leader. The feeling you probably got of a big family must have to do with this acceptance and respect for each member while working on a mutual goal of personal development and improvement.

Anthony: How was it to visit Mysore, tell me about your experience practicing with Pattabhi Jois

Kristina: Sri K Pattabhi Jois was a truly wise man. He was a very generous teacher, as when you practiced in his yoga shala you could feel the intensity of his deep knowledge as well as the connection to the teachers of the past. He had the ability to transfer your practice to a deeper level of understanding the asana and all this would come through his own experience of life and all the hardships and strains he had gone through  which offered him a completely different awareness of the practice and the asana itself. He would always work through a deeper part of himself which had been shaped through the good and the bad times of life and had offered him a unique perspective of simplicity and substantiality. At the same time he was a very sincere man and truly industrious while all his students were made to feel part of his greater family and were always offered this knowledge generously. Through all his hard work he managed to contribute to the shaping of a universal consciousness towards a better world.


Anthony: Do you feel that the practice of Ashtanga has changed, not so much the details of practice but rather the experience of the practice.
Kristina with Liam Ireland, Old Shala, Mysore
Kristina: The experience of the practice seems like a completely subjective issue, as each of us has his own experience while practicing with few common points. However it has become really popular within the last 20 years, with the help of all the senior teachers around the world. More knowledge has been involved with adding more teacher training courses and information in the method such as alignment, philosophy, reference to the past or even anatomy. The practice is getting enriched as more and more is added through further examination and deeper knowledge. As it spreads through cultures and civilizations it is getting richer in cultural elements since this technique has the ability to adopt to various contemporary elements without getting altered or influenced by globalization. It has the unique characteristic of becoming part of all societies, growing stronger and still keeping its core intact.

Anthony: Tell me about Manju.


Manju, Kristina's Shala, Rethymno, Crete
Kristina: Manju is a truly strong Master having kept the technique of traditional Ashtanga yoga in him alive, knowing the preciousness of this jewel. His point of view and karmic position have not been affected from all these years living in the West, on the contrary he has shown a remarkable strength of character and faith to the method. He has also gone through many difficulties which have made him really strong and given him the unique characteristic of fearlessness. At the same time he is extremely optimistic, and this faith and love towards his ethics and virtues offer great bonding power to the community. He functions as a true spiritual father forging personal relationships with his students, standing close to them and inspiring them to further development.

Anthony: ...and Sharath?

Kristina: Sharath is a man who has also worked really hard and was well prepared by his grandfather. He has taken up a huge responsibility and manages to deal with things in the best possible way, bearing in mind how young he is. He is offering an immediate and true approach to the method while trying to maintain and spread the true essence of this practice, which is certainly not an easy task, and demands great amount of concentration, since our generation is constantly bombarded by huge multinational enterprises and commercialism. He has deep knowledge of both the practice and the way to teach it and I honestly believe that he has both the wisdom and the strength to maintain and convey the legacy of this truly big family.

Anthony: Recently you had Hyon Gak Sunim, a Korean Zen Monk, teaching Zen at your shala, an extended workshop. Can you tell talk about your current thinking regarding Ashtanga and Zen
Kristina and Hyon Gak Sunim
Kristina: Three years ago, I had the honor to meet Hyon Gak Sunim and come in contact with Zen meditation. Sunim managed to awaken a deeper level of internal understanding as he has the unique gift to tune and transform the dynamics of the surrounding environment and the people within it. He reminded me the importance of sitting in meditation and use the potential of my existence through chanting with his charismatic presence and his powerful perspective. There is a bond between meditation techniques and Asana practice. The beauty of Ashtanga practice includes a freedom to choose your own spiritual path when practicing the Asana. You can experience more benefits of this technique when you first try to do your meditation and then do your practice. It is true that both the Asana itself as well as mediation on its own involve certain limitations, so much of the body as well as of the mind, therefore a  combination of the two can supplement each other and offer a more complete result. They both function through breathing and they both need the mind to focus on it in order for them to be successful and experienced to the highest possible level. Our body is made in such a way that it can be activated so much through motion kineasthetically, as well as when in absolute stillness, statically, When we practice a Zen or any other kind of meditation there is a need to be aware of the moment, free of sentimental charges. Through this state of self awareness the body gets well prepared to be able to decode to a higher level the information that each Asana and every single breath carries. Meditation and Asthanga practice are two intertwined elements and can offer a more complete result and a broader and deeper knowledge of reality, allowing the practitioner to get the most possible information at the time.


Hyon Gak Sunim teaching in Rethymno Shala, crete
Anthony: I noticed on your alter a small bust of Socrates do you have any thoughts regarding Ashtanga as a philosophy, yoga sutras etc and Greek philosophy?


Screenshot from Alessandro Sigismondi's 'Come Breathe With Us' ( below)
Kristina: It is of paramount importance for the practitioners to develop awareness of the cultural heritage of the place they are in. Being in Greece we bear great responsibility towards our ancestors and our roots, so having a small bust of Socrates triggers the energy that surrounds us and constantly reminds us why we actually practice. "Knowing thyself" is the epitome of knowledge, and it should always be there in our practice, in our breathing in our everyday life. "Practice and all is coming" incorporates the true meaning of knowing oneself as this is the only way given to us to actually manage and have some results. Greek and Indian civilizations appear to be connected on a spiritual level throughout the centuries, and they have both set the foundations for the development of philosophical thinking so much in the East as well as in the West respectively. Socratic inquisitive way of approaching discourse and the mental freedom he offers to human existence match uniquely the legacy of practice Patanjali has bequeathed us. Both of them have offered a means to free the mind from the conventionality of life as they give you alternatives and they both require freedom of thought so that man can reach the higher level of existence and the ultimate point of liberation and self - fulfillment. Freedom works as a prerequisite while it is the final destination of each of these two methods. Therefore the presence of both philosophies on my alter seemed like a natural thing to do.

Anthony: Tell me about your own practice how it has developed, changed over the years?


Kristina and son, Goa
Kristina: The part of my practice that has remained completely unchanged through time is the sense of satisfaction and belongingness I get. It;s this point of reference either on or off the mat I daily have and it;s the place where I always return to meet myself. I used to approach practice with a sense of achievement but I have come to realize that these three sequences I have been given are enough for me to work for the rest of my life. The reasons I want to practice is the necessity for harmony, knowledge of my own being, wisdom, health and beauty. Through the practice I get all these elements and points of reference so much in my body as well as in my mind which actually help me do what I do in the best possible way. Practice is a lifelong partnership and friendship developing and adopting in the same way life is developing. I still feel excited and get fascinated by this method and it feels that there is so much to learn that it's too good to be true.


Liam and Dennis Ireland
Anthony: Where do you feel you are now as a teacher and a practitioner?


Kristina practicing along with everyone else, Manju's Led Primary, Crete
Screenshot from Alessandro Sigismondi's 'Come Breathe With Us' ( below)
Kristina: I feel grateful for all these things that have happened to me while at the same time I feel excited about what is about to come in the future.  

Anthony: What are your hopes for your own shala?



Kristina: The hope is that the shala becomes one more home for the Ashtanga community not just for my students and Derek's but as well for the students that love and respect the work of  Jois family.I want it to be a place which will continue to function based on the same principles, transmitting knowledge the same way we received it. The shala environment works as a place for practice incorporating the ancient notion of Gymnasium where the practitioners working on a physical level focused on purification and balancing both body and mind.

Anthony: What are your feelings about the future of Ashtanga in Greece, in Europe and in general?
Kristina regularly Hosts Manju for his workshops and trainings in Rethymno Crete
(that's me jumping back in front of the altar)
Kristina: There is still great potential for evolution and expansion. We need to have more teachers around the world and not only in big cities;  teachers who will be well prepared and have acquired a great amount of practice. There is need for more trained Ashtangis with respect to the lineage and who have adapted the traditional methods of transmitting this knowledge. A strong  universal community setting the physical and mental awakening as their priority will keep commercialization at least in balance, allowing the development of freedom through this practice ,


AnthonyWhat would you most like to communicate regarding your experience of teaching/practicing Ashtanga or life in general…what would you most like to say/communicate to anyone reading my blog.

Kristina: Each one of us bears a personal responsibility to discover the different parts of ourselves and experience life through entelechy so that we can progress to mentally and physically healthy cells of this planet and offer useful elements to our environment through our existence.  Our status both as teachers but as practitioners as well reminds us of the necessity for purification and evolution, not just for our own sake but also in an effort to prepare our world for the next generations. In this method our teachers worked under Bodhisattva mind keeping all the human qualities active in order to  remind us that the strength of our existence lies in this life as it is.
Who am I? Know thyself!!
*****

Below: A short film looking at the encounter between Ashtanga and Zen, filmed this year at Kristina's Rethymno shala by Alessandro Sigismondi, on and around my own Visit to the Shala for Manju's workshop.



Kristina is a certified Ashtanga yoga teacher, and has been teaching through the tradition of Sri K Pattabhi Jois since 1991.
She was qualified as an Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga teacher by Derek Ireland and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in 2002 and became Certified by Manju Pattabhi Jois in 2012. She has practiced intensively with R.Sharath Jois.
She teaches the Primary, Intermediate and Third Sequence and she offers classes, workshops, retreats and teacher trainings all year round in Greece, Europe and Asia. Kristina is happy to host workshops and teacher trainings with Manju Pattabhi Jois in Crete.

Kristina’s work is a continuation of Derek Ireland’s teaching principles. Her work is dedicated to him.

Kristina Karitinou Ashtanga yoga Greece (affiliated with Yoga Practice London)


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Kristina and Irina 2013


Thank you Kristina for agreeing to answer so many questions and with such candour, for being so generous with your time as well as with the sharing so many of your personal pictures






Thank you also to Nikos Michos for his assistance with this post as well as in Pada Hastasana.

8 comments:

  1. Anthony what a great interview. I LOVED how she describes her change in approach to the practice because there is a LOT to work with so it changes with her life, and how she USED TO approach it in a more "achievement oriented" way.

    I think this is the genius behind Ashtanga, most of us start with this achievement hunger in us, and eventually realize the practice is a tool to help us as we are TODAY, in this moment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I picked up on that too, there is that question whether Ashtanga has to always be goal or achievment oriented, what that means to even say that and what constitutes achievement anyway, interesting discussions to be had there. So much here, my favourite I think is the one near the end on embracing your own heritage and traditions in the encounter with, in this , case the Ashtanga tradition, the Socrates one too and knowing thyself oh and the greek idea of the gymnasium , want to pick up on all these in future posts.

      Delete
  2. This was a beauty of a post. Wow! Thank you for sharing, Anthony!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Lu, consider it a birthday present : )

      Delete
  3. This is so great Anthony - such a good interview. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Finally get to read this post, lovely, thank you. Feeling inspired to carry on. Now I want to go to Crete for a yoga holiday. Kristina is so right about respecting one's own cultural heritage, I am constantly encouraging my students to delve deeper into Zen readings and Buddhism in general, as for me I'm an eclectic mix from the start. I have a Japanese Ganesha on my altar, Hinduism has had some very subtle but deep influences on Japan, fascinating to be caught between the two.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Lovely interview...the word lineage sticks with me. As does this phrase: Freedom works as a prerequisite while it is the final destination of each of these two methods. Therefore the presence of both philosophies on my alter seemed like a natural thing to do".

    Once again the topic of Yoga and Hinduism has reared its head. Many words have been written about this (eg BBC "Does Yoga make you a Hindu..") and each article raises more questions than answers for me.
    I try to separate what could be ego and pride in my own culture (and hence a desire to link Yoga with Hinduism) from the true teachings of Yoga. There are two aspects which in my humble opinion would refute that idea of Yoga as a pathway to "GOD" 1. Samkhya philosophy is essential an atheist philosophy, speaking of "purusha" or the God element as a "necessary metaphysical assumption". 2. Yoga Philosophy evolved from this and has taken on more of the 'God' element than Samkhya, however "Ishwara" is never clearly defined in Yoga Philosophy. Yes, the word God is used to define it but also the word "controller" and the words "life energy." The later two could be purely physical in nature.
    Additionally the basics of Advaith philosophy and the Vedas speak of dualism (as does Buddism) and more modern religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) do not. Socrates does speak of Dualism and this allows Kristina to make a connection between Yoga and Socrates... do other religions have the same connection? I am still thinking about this.....:) would love to know your thoughts.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Keep losing long comments on this grrrrrr.

    The short version.

    I tend to think of Samkhya, and yoga for that matter, as neither religious or non religious, a practice that lacks content or perhaps context, we bring that to it. Iswara is an option, fast track option perhaps but it's almost more for the non religious because perhaps we need more help. If you're religious you perhaps already have all the help you need, the prayer tradition, a contemplation practice.... Ramaswami suggested Patanjali was speaking to the religious and non religious alike. We can go for the fast track Iswara route or take the long way around.
    That said Krsihnamacharya was profoundly religious, Jois too does that colour somewhat the practice as it's been passed on to us? i don't think necessarily it does but can see why many would think so, it's a simplistic response that makes to an easy target. For me personally Yoga with it's samkhya roots is essentially philosophical, it's a questioning, a profound questioning, or should be. In that questioning you either discover God or the absence of God, question all your religious beliefs or perhaps your lack of them, yoga's argument i think is that when you engage in that questioning all the answers fall away anyway. What's left is what's left and to then call that something would perhaps be missing the point, to slip backwards.
    Of course next week I might think something completely different on this

    ReplyDelete

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from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included. "So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta

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