2010-09-27

Practice


This year Yogacharya moved into a beautiful new kutira (hut). He did a wonderful job along with his wife Hema in renovating it and redoing the structure from bamboo to cement. An additional room was also added for more practice at the back. Much of the work was still being completed while I was having my classes. This was the unlucky part: noisy and smelly. The lucky part was in being the only student (at least for the first week as Yogacharya was not admitting any other people).

Each year I look forward to my time with Yogacharya. I have known him since 2000 so he feels like an old friend, not just a teacher. And in spite of all the changes in my life and his own (those I know about and those I probably have no clue about), I feel there is a deep karmic connection. Along the way I have had a few doubts about whether he was my teacher with no adjustments, no vinyasas and no applause at my performance. In fact, with Yogacharya I have the feeling he is not even looking at me as a body. I am energy, consciousness and air. I am not Heather in Canada, brown hair and blue eyes and with a certain body type. I just ´´am´´.

OM Tat Sat (all that is existing, the truth and without form or name)


Before coming down to Mysore I was up north doing a meditation program. I wrote about this in the blog called Silence in Rishikesh. I loved being in the mountains and was going to change the entire plan to stay north and go further into silence.

Being in the mountains and at an ashram is the ideal place for meditation. Mysore is getting too much into the business of yoga. (Getting is definitely an understatement because it has already happened!) There are very strong asana Gurus and teachers in Mysore but not in meditation. This is why many of the great saints, masters, sages and meditators have lived in the mountains. An incredible book to read is Swami Roma’s account on living with the Himalayan Masters. It is a look into a very rare and inspiring lifestyle as well as learning and tutelage experience. Today this kind of learning and upbringing is dead. The entire Guru-Disciple tradition is absent in the world of yoga business, you-tube messages, circus acts and mass class teaching. Rare and authentic teachers are not out selling themselves. I have always believed that the ones you truly want to learn from are living quietly, doing their Sadhana (practice).

One of the attractions in studying under Yogacharya is that he not interested in 90 students per class or building a huge shala (school). He is not into the hugging and smiling Western way of doing things either. Many people don´t understand it and I also understand that from the Western point of view. But at the same time, I can fully appreciate his no-nonesense and straight-forward approach. Some yogis, I know, have taken this to mean his is uninterested. However, a great deal has to do with the Western approach of appeasing the teacher, looking for recognition and feeling the need to work hard at practice. Yogachara banks with different figures.

What I appreciate is that I know for a fact whatever Yogacharya has said to me has only been to me. I never have to worry that he has told the same thing to another student with all the ´good´, ´great´, etc...I know he hasn’t. What he says is to me only and not a parrot-like persona. This is traditional teaching with one-to-one contact.

As I made my decision to stay or go (a general theme that seems to be emerging in my life), I called Yogacharya while up North. How cool to call from the mountains on a cell (mobile in India). I can still see myself standing out in an open field with the Himalayan mountains lingering silently in the background. They were just watching the drama unfold...and me a little player in it.

Yogaharya asked me where I was and replied, “You come”.

It was as if he was calling one of his lost sheep back home. I also felt it was right so called a taxi and within a few hours was on my way to Delhi from the hills. That night I stayed at the Swami Rama guest house in Delhi for 4 hours before catching the plane at 6 a.m. I shared it with a big cock-roach. I told him or her:

"You sleep in the washroom and I´ll sleep in the bedroom, Thanks."

_______________________________________________


So back home in Mysore I had a 3-hour class in the morning, which included a 20 minute discussion. It was not just a question and answer period, but a time in which Yogacharya dicussed philosophical issues and insights on practice, life and people. A lot of his questions also revealed certain aspects of my own mind. And this indeed is a remarkable thing. That is, to reveal to a student both directly and indirectly the state of their own mind.

The poet Khail Gibran in his book entitled, “The Prophet” has a beautiful passage On Teaching. In it he describes that the true teacher is the one who leads you to the threshold of your own mind. I have read and re-read that passage many many times with tears in my eyes. It is so moving and wonderful. Because to be able to see your own mind (like seeing your nose) is something we can spend a whole life-time never understanding.

It is relatively easy for a yoga teacher to point out to a student what they are doing wrong in their physical practice. All the technical stuff can become very mundane. A Japanese friend of mine and long-standing practitioner of yoga told me that a yogasana teacher will always have something to point out. There has to be something...:-)

But to lead a student to the threshold of their own mind takes a much different talent and ability than roughly pushing or pulling people into various body poses. During one of our first discussions, Yogcharya told me that Ashtanga people do not understand how he is teaching. This might be hard to explain but I understand what he means. I think one of the most important things to help frame this discussion is being aware of the mind-set of best or better yoga types. Most of the time people are approaching yoga with physical intentions. With this outlook you can lose sight of the subtle intentions (not the gross) if unconsciously comparing the approach to a more physical practice like Ashtanga. I certainly don’t look down upon the whole body workout thing because I was not much better and consciously knew this is what I was looking for. The trick of course is not to get stuck. This can happen if the practice is only centred on the body.

There is a vital argument that thru the body you can work on the mind. But this is not going to happen unless you are consciously working with this theory all the time. Most of the time we hear that it starts with the body first. However, according to Patanjalim´s yoga it starts with the mind. There is only one verse on yogasana. Yogacharya´s classes are not focused on how many asanas you are doing, how many you can do, getting thru the routine in record time or performance. The focus is:


INTENTION, ALIGNMENT AND INTERNAL AWARENESS
INTENTION, ALIGNMENT AND INTERNAL AWARENESS
INTENTION, ALIGNMENT AND INTERNAL AWARENESS


It is an interesting journey in learning to investigate if it is your body falling apart or your mind. Many times in class my legs went numb after 10 minutes of holding a posture and my breath completely faulty. During another class my body did well and my mind was fighting.

So I wonder...and continue to explore.

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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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