2012-08-24

Sweet India


"The real enemy of happiness is the mind's fixations and delusions. Look at the situation differently; see the truth and the suffering is less. If you have the right mind, you can overcome anything - you can be happy, no matter what."  –  Dalai Lama

You'd think to be in India one would be happy all the time. But that is not necessarily the case because as the saying goes, ``no matter where you go, there you are``. So, when I sail over speed bumps, glide out of the way of a truck, wipe grit out of my eyes and get caught in the monsoon I am not thinking, "Hap-peee". I am saying, "SHIT."

At the point of complaining I hear a voice saying, “Well these are the trade offs for studying yoga in India.” And I vaguley recall the lines from the Dalai Lama that seem far away.
  
Going to class and being with a teacher make up for these minor inconveniences and remain the most fulfilling and blessed aspects of yoga. But it is a regular effort to remind one's little petty self of this. When the attendant spends the entire night throwing up outside of my flat and loses my key to my scooter while the people downstairs enjoy a big party I've got to say, "This life ain't perfect." Or not everyone is interested in their sadhana.

Despite this I do not know of any other subject where you can keep returning and someone actually accepts you! In school we cannot stay glued to kindergarten despite how nice afternoon naps seem. We also might love our teacher but we ‘have’ to move on.

In Yoga, we have the chance to stay with at least one primary teacher far longer than any other teacher throughout our educational years. This is why it is an intense and challenging relationship. It is even more powerful and effective than our parents. For myself, it is a more open and honest relationship and one that appreciates my desire for practice and study.  My parents had other dreams and wishes for me. And so did I.

But when I return home and my mom says, "Glad you did not end up in a body bag", I understand for her India is not so sweet. And when she reports back that she met up an ‘old’ teacher at school who said she was so disappointed I was only a yoga teacher it is not only parental units who hoped differently. 

Forging ahead, however, by creating the opportunity to travel to India is one of the most rewarding aspects I have ever had.  I truly believe everyone should make the trip at least once (yoga or no yoga). Many years ago when a student of mine was suffering with knee problems I recommended for her to think about going to India; both for the benefit of daily practice and the daily immersion.

She tentatively asked me, “You think that will straighten me out?”

What I know is you will receive exactly what you need and then some in India. Leaving aside the fact you can attend class each and every day there is something deeply profound about being in the presence of your teacher. And this says nothing about the culture, which is immersed in devotion from the corner shop selling oily banana chips to the temple down the street. It is also a culture that brings you into extremes from the cow dung to the incense, from the beggar to yourself and from the sunny day to the monsoon rain.

Things are going great ~ I eat fresh fruit and salad every day. Things are shit ~ the power went down I never saved my work. Things are as I like them ~ I feel heightened by the practice itself. Things are not at all how they should be ~ the dog at the gate rubbed his hairy body all over my black tights. Today I am feeling good ~ I remained longer in the posture without scratching my nose. Yesterday I felt bad ~ my back is really stiff

When I first started yoga I never imagined how wonderfully inexhaustible the path is. I also must admit that it can also be a real pain in the butt. There are days when I don’t want to practice, when I would like to take a holiday (I can talk about this later) and I think about giving up on this whole crazy thing.

Many years ago I concluded being both a teacher and a student of yoga was demanding. It was asking a lot more from me than I wanted to give....and imagined I would or could give. First, there was studying the scriptures which is never ending and then there are 84,000 postures to do. And unlike what conventional educational teaches you, “Get your degree and you’re done” Yoga is the opposite. There is also helping people, guiding them and lending an ear, which often went beyond the yoga mat. Not being a therapist by trade it can also be draining to be a life-coach, friend and wannbe therapist. On top of this there is also my own practice...a tradition and a routine that I have always known to be correct for me as a teacher and a student of yoga. Bringing oneself to the mat to do their own practice is often far harder than leading others in a class.

As a teacher I avoided getting into this with my students who would either think I am telling a joke or somehow I was not a dedicated teacher. It was not until I read Murakami’s book, “What I talk about when I talk about running” that I finally found someone whom I could relate to. In an interview he was asked if he ever felt like not running. For the last 20-25 years he has been running and winning marathons.

He replied, “Every day.”    

One of the hardest things to get ‘good’ at in Yoga is the fact that it is not possible to reach a certain level and relax. Being impatient by nature I have been struck with anxiety and wanted to accelerate my practice or I felt the whole thing was too far reaching and depression kicked in. Striking a balance is what Yoga teaches. Both views as I have learned by struggling with terrible practices and what I felt were easier ones taught me the lack of foresight I can have. Also, progress is slow, steady and painful but practice needs to be regular. 

It is also not always physically painful but mentally challenging as the need for ‘finish’ and ‘done’ get melted down. We eventually learn how those thoughts are not helpful.   

On the flip side, taking the approach that we have all the time in the world can be self-defeating.  As Patajalm’s yoga speaks about Yoga is a skill; a force in action. But this force is not the one we may often think of it as. Let’s say you are working on a pose that is not changing physically and you get this feeling that if you squeeze it out physically then maybe it would get better. But what yoga tries to reveal is the change must happen inwardly; something on the mental level needs to shift first. You can go on forcing your body or one day understand a better approach. 

A few years ago, I remember my Sanskrit teacher Hema telling me that there are many ways to enter a single posture. She was not talking about jumping into handstand versus using one leg. She was talking about the mental approach, which is far less obvious to see and understand than the physical one.

Again, on the flip side you can get stuck in a posture physically due to a mental attachment. Case in point was a fellow student sharing with me how she was at the same level with a posture for years. At the same time she did not want to put `pressure` on herself. When I commented that finding the confidence within would help release where she was stuck (ultimately taking her where she wanted to go) I had a feeling that remaining in a position too long can also create a mental barrier. At those points, it is best to move on (do not stop practicing) but release becoming fixated on it. 

It is always about balance: Try to little and the practice can become dormant; try too hard the practice is just a circus act or a bunch of groaning.

As a teacher I receive many e-mails from students who talked about their classes and personal practice. The number one thing they usually complained about was a lack of progress. They felt nothing had developed over a long period of time, were stuck and did not know how to get beyond where they were presently. Usually these were with respect to their physical performance but Yoga first uses the body to then get to the root of the mind. What I also discovered was that usually many of these students had tried several methods. While it can be inspiring to try out other systems tbe best and surest way to success is staying devoted to one practice. 

I am also reminded of Iyengar who said that to enter Yoga we have to forget about being a body. When I landed in Mysore during my latest trip I came across this wonderful quote. But in today's Yoga this is an ironic thing. And as an aside, people should really get clear that it is NOT just Westerners who only think of Yoga as exercise. It is a worn out discussion. Many Indians are not interested in it at all. They want their son's and daughter's to be lawyers and doctors; NOT a yoga teacher. Many families laughed at me when I arrived at their homes to do my research on yoga. They felt it was a luxury. By claiming it is only the Westerners who have equated the asanas as being Yoga is totally off. Many times in India I got this:  

"Will it help me to lose weight?"
"How many asanas can you do?"
"Is that why you are skinny?" 
"What do you think it the greatest benefit?"
"What is your favorite pose?"
"Have you shown your mother and father what you can do?"
"Yes, it is very good and helps with the flexibility."  
"I wish I had time for yoga." 

When I start discussing the spiritual side, meditation, temple tours and other pilgrimages I am met with silence. 

"Oh, that Yoga." 

And it is 'that' yoga which brings me timelessly back to sweet India. 

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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