I grew up in a joint family in South India. Have you ever wondered how it is like to be surrounded by aunts, uncles and grandparents preaching and observing different practices and principles of Yoga? Or waking up to the sounds of kriya or cleansing techniques? It was the most exciting part about growing up! I was surrounded by a solid belief system that if Yoga is adopted as a lifestyle, it can do wonders for your body and mind!
My family had always observed ahimsa practice through their diet and lifestyle. I still remember my grandfather’s kit full of natural remedies to common health problems like allergies, cuts and bruises and solutions to household issues. My father had begun a spiritual yoga practice to rid himself of a life threatening illness that had greatly weakened him. And his meditative practices had miraculously cured him.
“Yoga is a way of life; it’s an art, a science, a philosophy.” B.KS.Iyengar
My elder sister had always emphasised on being true to oneself, to learn from the seemingly ordinary world of trees and animals and to practice kindness. My Mother played a significant role in introducing us to the practice of Yoga asana. Being a professional dancer, she had to take special care of her knees and joints. She practiced Yoga to sustain her love for dancing and continues to be highly disciplined in her eating habits and lifestyle. It shows on her. She is 50 years old but doesn’t look a day over 30!
I am grateful that my formative experience taught me that there is no greater teacher than the one within. The importance of Yama and Niyama were an integral part of my upbringing. Though my Mother had always advised me to practice Yoga asana along with her, it wasn’t until 2 years ago that I started my personal asana practice.
Hooked For Life
There was still a gap between all the Yoga discipline I was exposed to as a child and in it becoming an integral part of my daily life. I had spent my college days away from home, harboring a pretty unhealthy lifestyle of late night partying, irregular diet and poor posture. I had also worked as a content writer for sometime but soon quit my job, confused as to what I was going to do next. I was 22. The very next day, I had found myself waking up early to attend a yoga class that was within walking distance from home.
“It’s not your history but your presence on the mat that matters.” Sri K Pattabhi Jois
I was still unsure about what to expect. I’d never been athletic before, nor did I participate in any activity like dance or sport. In fact, I had a very low opinion of my physical capabilities and general fitness. The instructor had led us through a series of classical asanas, and repeatedly told us to watch our breath. I was instantly captivated by the way that made me feel. Focussing on breath while I assumed shapes I had never attempted before was initially challenging.
The teacher had put us in a headstand in the first Yoga class! Granted, I needed her help to get into the posture, but I was beside myself with excitement that I was upside down for the first time in my life! Perhaps it was the sudden rush of blood to my head that had made me feel different. It was a little strange at first but soon a beautiful new feeling had taken over me that made me see things from a new perspective.
It was all very overwhelming at first. However, the idea of being able to do all this (and much more) with ease someday – had caught my imagination. I left the class feeling stronger and happier. And I don’t just mean physically. It felt like I had found my calling. I remember telling myself that I had to explore this further to see where it would take me. There and then I had made a simple promise to myself that I would commit to this practice everyday.
Just one class of yoga and I was hooked for life. Ironically the first place I learnt yoga would also become the first place I would teach a year later.
Yoga On & Off the Mat
All it took was a few practice sessions to realise that nothing happens if no effort is applied and nothing is achieved overnight. Though I was aware of the yoga philosophy and deeper goals of the practice, it all began to make sense to me only after I started my asana practice. If I wanted to get a posture, I had to work for it. When I saw the fruits of my practice come to life, I was satisfied.
“One of the fundamental principles of Yoga: A small action done repeatedly can make an enormous difference.” Dr.Timothy Mccall
Gradually, I started feeling the effects of the practice internally. I made conscious decisions to make changes in my life and adapt a lifestyle that would support my physical practice. By doing this I felt myself becoming more at peace with who I am and what my priorities were.
- The first lesson that yoga practice taught me was patience.
- I go to bed early just so I could be up fresh for my practice the next day.
- I no longer want to associate myself with people who bring me down.
- I am more aware of my actions and reactions, and how it affects those around me as well as myself.
- I have started to pay close attention to what I eat and opt only for healthy options.
- I have become less concerned with other people’s lives and what they think about me.
- I am quieter and prefer to listen rather than talk.
- I approach my asana practice with less determination to achieve a posture, instead I do it to feel good in my body and mind.
- I enjoy the ordinary moments of life a lot more than usual.
Facing My Fears
It’s not always so positive and peaceful. The practice of yoga is all about balance. Sometimes, I feel extremely imbalanced. Through the practice of asana, you also get to learn a lot about your emotions and fears. I wouldn’t say that I use yoga as a way to escape my fears or that which makes me uncomfortable. Rather I use this sacred practice to face my fears and inner demons.
When I had made drastic decisions to change my life for the better, there were many side effects. Loneliness is a recurring emotion. I feel that as a dedicated practitioner of yoga, it’s hard to balance when you find such a vast difference between you and those around you. I try to maintain such a disciplined lifestyle but there are times when I doubt myself and wonder if I am really doing the right thing.
“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” Lao Tzu
But then I come back to my daily practice and it just somehow makes sense all over again. I look towards achieving this balance and stillness everyday. I know that I will forever be a student of yoga and will continue learning daily.
On The Study Of Yoga
I get asked a lot about my opinion on Yoga Teacher Training Certification (TTC). Honestly, if you want to become a teacher, there is no substitute to finding a Guru and just practicing under their guidance and support. I wouldn’t recommend paying an obscene amount of money just to get a certificate.
“ Yoga ruins your life. By that I mean, yoga ruins your samsaric life. Because once you get a taste of yoga, you lose interest in all the dimmer reflections of that taste”. Richard Freeman
I am a firm believer that you should always be a student and a mere 200 hours or 500 hours is not enough. When you feel you are ready to teach, or have been blessed by your teacher to teach, then it is time to start teaching. That being said, I am a victim of obtaining a TTC but soon learnt that it was a mistake. I realised that I had gained so much more knowledge from just spending ample time with my teachers without any expectation of a certificate.
Traditional yoga says that there are four key components to the spiritual path:
- the teacher,
- the student,
- the community and
- the passage of time.
While you can work hard at your practice, find an awesome teacher and immerse yourself in a network of like-minded yogis. Remember that you cannot rush time. Many able-bodied, super talented yoga students quit their practice before the magic of the practice sinks in. That’s okay! Certain styles of Yoga are meant for certain type of personalities. But for those who want to become Yoga Teachers, it is important to understand that it is about giving all your heart and all your soul over a sustained period of Yoga practice that simply cannot be rushed.
My sister Varsha Vydyula and I together have started Aham Yogashala, our yoga school. If you’d like to practice with us, please contact me through our FB or instagram page.
Ashtanga Yogi, Teacher, Writer
Co-founder Aham Yoga Shala (http://ahamyogashala.com)