Review of TSYP and aYs joint Annual Gathering: Roots and Branches, July 2021

AG Format:  Online with recordings available

This year saw the coming together of TSYP and aYs which provided added richness and depth to the wide variety of teachings on offer over the weekend. Like a child in a sweet shop it was incredibly difficult to choose which live sessions to attend. 

It goes without saying there was a swell of excitement and anticipation at hearing this year’s guest speaker, Martyn Neal, who didn’t disappoint. Martyn is the joint author with T K V Desikachar of What are we Seeking – well worth a read if you haven’t already. Perhaps here (and maybe in life) the consideration should be more ‘What are we finding?’

Martyn Neal has such a wonderfully personable approach, engaging us all with his stories of how his yoga journey unfolded, the invaluable and precious times spent with T K V Desikachar. I was not the only one particularly drawn to how Martyn referred to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras each being like stars and that it was Desikachar that showed him the constellations. The way that Martyn came to ask for chanting lessons was amazing and serindipitous. His first lesson resulted in the realisation that he could actually only concentrate for no more than about 20 seconds. Consequently, we were reminded of the following: āsana for the body, prānāyāma for the mind and chanting for the soul. Martyn offered key defining areas of teaching that we can all draw upon – teach according to context, respect, listening and observation, viniyoga. 

A plenary session that offered us insight to bhāvanā revealing itself twofold by hearing Martyn’s personal development guided by his teacher T K V Desikachar and offering us gems of wisdom on how we may improve and cultivate our own self enquiry as students and teachers.

Workshop Reviews

Helen Macpherson and Andy Curtis-Payne gave us a wonderfully informative workshop on ‘Śraddha – that which nourishes the tree’ really emphasising the primal and innate quality of śraddha being something that is deep within us. The workshop included valuable teaching with discussion, chants and physical practice with mantra. I particularly liked how the physical practice included the backs of the hands closing in towards the heart centre, for me this mudrā took the breath to the back of the body, creating a remarkable sense of enveloping around the heart space, wrapping itself around the śraddha held steadfast deep within. 

Eleanor Dawson and Bea Teuten gave us tuition on YS 1.41. The dynamics of samāpatti were woven into a particularly harmonious breath led practice where we were creatively encouraged to reflect on ‘pat’ (to fall and to fly) in what I can only describe playfully as ‘flight āsana’. The addition of chanting ‘jyotir aham’ added meaningful depth to the workshop.

Helena del Pino offered a truly thought provoking and insightful workshop on īsvara pranidhāna explaining how her faith in Christianity is complemented and supported by her studies in yoga. Yoga of course has its roots in Hinduism, it’s widely known Desikachar offered yoga to all but I am guilty of having that burning question: whether (if at all) there are any conflicts for religious practitioners outside of Hinduism and Buddhism? I was engaged with Helena’s openness, with her professional and educated explanations. The research into the etymology of ‘Yoga’ and ‘Religion’ was really fascinating. In the end we are all invited to ask the question; ‘How do you relate to what is beyond the material’.

Em Goldmark shared her personal exploration of boundaries in her workshop ‘Working the edge’. We were invited to question our own limits not just in āsana practice but in response to our lifestyles, to the pandemic, in terms of coveted behaviour. The āsana practice drew our focus to the breath and its expression of effort. Em guided us through what I would describe as a systematic mapping of the subtle breath, aiming to harness this and use it more consciously within postures. It was well focused and as a result I developed a real sense for tensegrity of movement.

Lisa Soede and Ranju Roy produced an incredibly well-woven, jam-packed workshop. I’m always drawn to the roots and meanings of Vedic chants so when Lisa took us from the simplified Ayur-Mantra to the taittirīya-āraṇyaka I was completely enthralled. The āsana practice was well-defined and well-rounded, we were invited to the possibility of finding a ‘surprise’ extra exhale in the standing forward bend. However, I would add an extra note poignant to me to the part where the heel of the foot is lowered (arms raised in vīrabhadrāsana I), I gained a significant sense of length and grounding simultaneously in this seemingly small movement. Undoubtedly well-executed workshop with two incredibly knowledgeable teachers and great supporting material.

Shelia Baker took us into a liberating art world, exhibiting online select works. A task prompted by her teacher T K V Desikachar was to illustrate the key concepts of Patañnjali’s Yoga Sūtras. Along with a short movement practice we were also invited to take pen to paper ourselves, drawing freeing spiral movements from the outside in and again from the inside out, the visual aspect was married with sound chanting ‘mā aham’ and ‘aham mā’, for me rekindling happy childhood memories of colouring and humming. 

Gail Reeves and Dave Charlton’s workshop started with a well-balanced and carefully prepared physical āsana practice led by Gail whose friendly manner was very welcoming. Followed by a ‘philosophy chat’ on ‘atha yogānuśāsanam’, this was an engaging format: informal and full of important teachings, presented and articulated in a digestible way. The discussion evolved from the ‘now’ towards the doing or the making of something to the commencement of the adhikāra and an academic curiosity: as students how do we evolve? Ending on the topic of YS 3.13 three levels of transformation. 

Sue Chudley and Judie Shore presented a workshop that began by outlining the pañca maya bird model used for yoga therapy. The accompanying slides were really informative. Next came an explanation of how Patanjali’s YS could provide us with practical solutions for therapy. The absolute gem to this workshop were the two case studies they presented, these real-life examples of yoga therapy gave us an enriching workshop leaving much to consider.

For students wanting a peaceful, straightforward and considered āsana-led session in the tradition of Desikachar, Maggie Shanks and Debbie Kerr-Nesbitt’s workshop provided this. Set with the main focus on sthira sukha we were gifted with the time and space to really work with precision, thought and concentration. It was a really quietening conscientious practice. 

Participating in Annemarie Visser’s meditation workshop felt (personally) somewhat ground-breaking – I’ll be the first to admit I lack understanding of ‘meditation’. First I was comforted in the common ground we share in trying to over-complicate and over-think the meaning of meditation. Annemarie’s approach and way of teaching was so clear and succinct, covering defining terms presented in the YS, her explanations were so easy to understand. I have to say one of the best led meditation practices I have experienced in terms of being attainable and keeping my focus. Extensive supporting academic research notes, mental health journal articles and Neuroscience studies were made available to all in attendance.

The breakout rooms

Something I typically groan at joining and confess could not attend, actually gave a great opportunity for participants to get involved and offer valuable comments and opinions. My feeling is they have been successful in terms of brainstorming and hopefully looking forward will give rise to some fruitful action.


A final plenary session with Martyn Neal left us feeling his optimism for the future. Prior to which we were given key points of consideration, perhaps the most poignant point for me was in keeping the teacher/student relationship central. Martyn was keen that the two organisations should continue to work together noting ‘the future of the teachings cannot be sustained if we are all pulling in different directions’.

If the tree with its roots and branches is representative of T K V Desikachar’s and Krishnamacharya’s teachings, then the teachers here are the surrounding meadow of flowers and the students are the bees busy collecting the nectar. 

With much thanks to all involved: I’m truly grateful to have been in attendance.

Wendy Jupp, Vedic chanter, devanāgari scribe,  eternal student and reluctant yoga teacher (YA trained).

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