2009-09-13

Famous Questions


Two weeks ago I arrived in India. On the same day that I got into Mysore city I also had a meeting at 8 a.m. with Yogacharya Venkatesh. It is customary to visit the teacher first before starting the classes. These discussions while brief have usually consisted of Yogacharya's two famous questions: “How’s your practice?“ and “What do you want to learn this year?” Since 2000, I have been studying under Yogacharya and as far as I can recall his questions have never changed.

It was a speedy ride from the Bangalore airport into Mysore. My driver, Ravi, told me we would probably only arrive at 9 a.m. “Hmm, not good,” I thought. So I asked him, “Can you drive a little fast?” “Do my best,” said Ravi and off we went into the bumper to bumper traffic at 5:30 a.m. with the classic horn blowing during the entire drive. As the road gods would have it I arrived at 7:55 a.m.! I waited outside of the shala (school) for Yogacharya to appear.

No smile. No gesture. No expression. Only a slight nod from Yogacharya as he opened the gate. “Hello,” I said fumbling to place my hands in prayer position. "Come." "You sit," he replied. Yogacharya placed a woolen mat on the marble floor for me to sit on while he sat across from me. Next came the familiar us questions.

Yogacharya listened intently as I rambled on about being consist in my daily practice but also experiencing several body pains during the year. Yogacharya told me that whenever you practice very intense and advanced asanas many difficulties will arise due to the alignment. When the alignment is not perfect many problems will arise. Unlike many other years, however, I did not have the same deep desire to continue to push the edges of my asana (posture) practice. I felt as though I have reached the summit (for now) and needed to go in a different direction that is deeper and beyond the physical mastery of the asanas. I had already started to feel that no matter how many asanas I practiced, learned or how many new levels I encountered there remained something within me that was unsatisfied. The pain-staking evolution of time and practice had revealed to me that while the impossible is possible the body is truly limited.

The three most important things from pratice as Yogacharya described them are:

1) Consistenty;
2) Devotion;
3) Inner faith.

The interesting thing is how each of these are tied to each other. Devotion only arises from practice and faith only comes from having devotion. Both are lost and cannot be developed if practice is not consistent.

Usually I have looked to Yogacharya to advise me if I should be doing a deeper program on meditation or asana practice or both. I can never figure out why I do this because Yogacharya’s position has always remained the same. That is, he has never tried to influence me one way or another by telling me what to do. He may recommend something, but never points to it as being an absolute. Instead, he has like a true Master does reflected back to me my current state and reaffirmed to me that I, indeed, know.

This time is no different. I decide to focus more on meditation, pranayama and only the second series of AtmaVikasa. I will miss the advanced asana practice of backbending, but there are lessons in detachment and this is one of them as far as I can tell. I also feel that sometimes you have to leave something completely in order to come back to it later with a fresh and clear mind. I will still practice on my own and it will be a better test anyway in terms of my own discipline.

In Yogacharya's teachings there are 10 sequences of the AtmaVikasa yoga system. He has only taught the second series to a few foreigners. We agree this year to focus on the second series, which is a similar format to the primary series of Ashtanga, but without the vinyasas. Postures are held from 20 to 30 breathings (sometimes more) with a focus on the internal alignment to stabilize the body and mind.

“Come to practice on Monday”, Yogacharya tells me. And our meeting comes to an end.

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The Journey So Far

Life is an adventure and yoga is the greatest one of all. Here I share my love of Yoga, travel, practice and becoming a part-time cook. My life adventures have taken me from growing up in Toronto to living and working in South Korea to studying in India, marriage and finally closing my Yoga school of 15 years.

What I can say so far is that I truly believe that it is necessary in life to let go of one dream in order for another to be born. This might be painful to do so but it is the only way to move forward. We often believe that if our original plan does not succeed it is the recipe for failure. But what if it is the door to something new and great? The horizon is wide and life is not a straight line. This is the way I see it and my journey so far. Having also recently given birth to my first child and at 43, it is another new beginning.


ME

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Heather Morton
is a perennial teacher and devoted student of yoga. Having made 18 extended trips to India she studies with her teachers annually. In 1997 she founded and directed The Yoga Way (TYW), Toronto's only school for 6-week yoga programs and not drop-in classes. For 15 years, TYW was a part of the growing Toronto yoga community and supported many charities by offering karma classes. As a teacher she holds many academic degrees including a BFA (Fine Arts in Theatre) and a Masters of Education. With a published thesis on Yoga for Children in School, her post-graduate work was a 2-year ethnographic project in the Indian school system. Heather has produced 2 dvds, meditation cds, a backbending manual and podcasts. Freedom of the Body DVD is the first of its kind as an instructional practice to the backbends of yoga. Heather has been featured in the Toronto Life magazine, The Globe & Mail, Yoga4Everybody and other on-line sources. She contributes to MindBodyGreen, Hello Yoga in Japan and Elephant Journal. She writes to inspire and share her experiences with others on yoga as a life's practice.
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