How did you first come to end up in a yoga class? What brought you there, were you reluctant and how did you feel after your first class?
On the recommendation of a friend around 10+ years ago. I’d been working as a semi-professional belly-dancer and had to stop due to a chronic toe injury. I wanted/needed something to fill the gap, and so my friend suggested his yoga teacher’s classes.
Interestingly though, around eight years before that, someone had suggested I try yoga but back then, it was just a word.
What made me decide to go to a yoga class the second time it was suggested? I think the friend who convinced me spoke about yoga much more passionately, which made me curious.
So I booked into a term-long beginner’s course. I don’t recall a lot about that first class, but I do remember how packed it was! And that to fit as many people in as possible, the mats were lined up drill-style, one mat’s width distance apart.
To be honest, I don’t think I really “got it” in that first class, or even that whole first term of doing yoga. I certainly didn’t get an immediate “high” from those early classes, but I liked them enough to keep going back. It was a start!
Tell me a little about your life before yoga. How is it different now you practice regularly.
Well, I’ve always been sporty/active. My earliest organised activity was jazz ballet, followed by sailing (my dad is a yachtie). Then I spent ten years of my childhood years doing synchronised swimming. After that came belly-dancing, which quickly turned into a second job for me, performing all over Sydney.
Once I started going to yoga, I was an on-off practitioner for many years. I first met my Guru – Dharmanidhi Saraswati – in 1998 but didn’t start studying seriously with him until 2001. My studies with him were more heavily focused on yoga philosophy, Tantra and meditation. He still had us practicing yoga asana of course, but outside of my time with him, I didn’t have a very committed yoga practice.
Towards the end of 2008 I started looking for options in terms of studying yoga, and in 2009 I completed a 500 hour Hatha yoga teacher training program. So I guess you could say I’m committed now!
Now that I practice regularly… EVERYTHING is different. My relationship to my body and mind have changed dramatically (and continues to do so!).
My yoga practice is now the main way I check in with myself physically, energetically and emotionally. If something is off, most times I notice it in my practice first.
I know there are people out there who have either a yoga asana practice OR a meditation practice, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned through stepping up my asana practice, it’s that they enhance and complement each other very much.
The balance between yoga asana and meditation I’ve developed for myself has enabled a much stronger and more complete opening of the heart chakra than I think I could have experienced otherwise.
And I feel like I’m finally doing what I always wanted to do, even though I didn’t know exactly what it was that I wanted beforehand!
What style of yoga do you find yourself drawn to practice (and teach if you are a teacher)? What teachers and other mentors have influenced you along your path?
Before my yoga teacher training, I had quite a lot of background and experience with Hatha yoga, taught in the style of my Guru. So when it came to yoga teacher training, I was guided by those experiences and that is the style I am beginning to teach.
Over the years I’ve also taken classes in Ashtanga, Iyengar, Bikram and Vinyasa styles. Ashtanga and Iyengar are okay, but they don’t really grab me. Bikram is NOT for me and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who asked me, either. I’m not a fan of yoga in heated rooms. I don’t think it’s necessary, not to mention the impact on the environment!
I am quite drawn to the Vinyasa-style flow though, so that’s something I’ll probably study in the future (to be able to add it to my teaching style).
Towards the end of last year I went to a free demonstration class of Shadow yoga, and I was almost magnetically drawn to it! It’s a very traditional form of Hatha yoga, so it works very well with my existing training and practice. I am very much inspired by this practice! (One of my teacher trainers was a Shadow yoga practitioner. I’m keen to try it again soon – Rachel)
Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to attend a weekend workshop with Mark Whitwell, who was trained in the Krishnamacharya lineage. Besides my own Guru, he is he the most impressive yoga teacher I’ve ever met. He offers a fairly unique perspective on yoga and spiritual practice, and is quite simply a wonderful person to spend time around.
Of course, my Guru is my most important and enduring influence. The reason I have a Guru at all is because I was fortunate enough to meet him – I wasn’t searching for one. He inspires me so completely, in every aspect of being a human being and a sadhaka. I see him around once a year; usually in retreat format for a full complement of yoga philosophy, meditation, puja, asana and oh-so-many other practices. It’s kind of hard to write about those experiences concisely!
Every yogi has one favourite and one least favourite asana. Tell me a bit about yours.
I’ve always loved Hanumanasana – probably because I learned the splits as a child and kept up my flexibility. But also, there’s an incredible earthiness about it, as well as a fantastic sense of freedom. I love imagining myself flying like Hanuman!
How do you live your yoga off your mat, every day?
As part of my studies with my Guru, there’s a set of precepts as well as certain vows that I endeavor to live by (nobody’s perfect of course!). They cover every aspect of living – body, speech, mind and conduct.
They are mostly centered on having compassion and love for others – all people – without preference. Most of it is just about being a good person, but instead of allowing my actions to stroke the ego (E.g. Gee, I’m such a good person for doing that!), the motivation is meant to come from the heart, and not be about “me” in any way.
There’s a bunch of little things I try to do regularly like:
• Giving my seat up on public transport;
• Giving money to people on the street who need it;
• Buying The Big Issue (a magazine sold by the homeless);
• Smiling at people in the street/on public transport;
• Not feeling the need to push ahead of other people no matter how much of a rush I might be in;
• If I’m driving (a rare occurrence since I don’t have a car), I let people in front of me.
In terms of bigger picture things, I also work-work-work non-stop on my achilles heel – anger. We all have our own particular weakness and for many people, anger is it! It’s the first place I go – or used to go – when agitated in some way. But through my studies and practice, I’ve learned to take a much wider view of the world. It’s not just about me, and this affords me the space to NOT react the way I used to. In fact, these days I’m more likely to laugh than find myself getting angry!
Right now I’m also planning some volunteer yoga teaching work. I’m doing it because I feel there’s lots of people who’d benefit from yoga BUT they’d never be able to afford yoga classes and/or might find a yoga studio intimidating. I’m about to write a blog post about what’s going on, so stay tuned!
Svasti (a nom de plume) is a newly minted yoga teacher, having recently completed a 500 hour Hatha yoga teacher training. She is also a survivor of assault, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which in part was healed through yoga (combined with appropriate therapy). She lives a somewhat vagabond life in Australia and is mightily passionate about all aspects of yoga.