Friday, 4 September 2009

Many people think that yoga means standing on your head, but it really means learning how to stand firmly on your feet
. Swami Satchidananda

I have been practicing yoga for more than four decades. I had my first lesson in 1964 soon after I got married. My husband’s aunt, who was a student of BKS Iyengar, visited us at the camp where we lived in Hwange Game Reserve in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Lynette introduced me to some of the asanas, including Suraya Namaskar. She also led me through a Yoga Nidra. Lynette gave me a roneoed booklet she had written and, because of the isolated area in which we lived, my practice was mainly guided by the asanas therein.

Since immigrating to Australia in 1982 and starting formal lessons at the Beacon Yoga Centre (Ashram) yoga has become even more important in my life. I appreciate the continuing thread that runs through the practice of yoga, down the millennia and into our lives now. I have had many teachers through the years and they have influenced me deeply. I am aware that my yoga practice (sadhana) contains inspiration from all of my teachers. It is this continuity and integrity that I offer to my own students.

In 2000, I graduated from the FinY Teachers Training Course and taught at the Beacon Yoga Centre until retiring in July 2007. Teaching yoga has influenced my ‘other’ (academic) teaching at Murdoch University, where I completed my PhD and a Graduate Diploma in Education. I taught in the Student Learning Centre, Murdoch Business School, Foundation Units and ... Politics - Security Studies.

Since retiring, I have continued teaching yoga in Walpole, Nornalup and the surrounding areas. The classes started very small (sometimes only one student) but the numbers have built and there is now a dedicated band of students – some of whom drive many kilometres to attend a class. A few of the students bring their babies and young children to class and, where possible, I include the little ones, even if just to hold a baby through the relaxation so the mother can properly relax. Teaching yoga in a remote farming area has many idiosyncratic qualities and it is necessary to be flexible! Payment is nominal and is often in the form of eggs, garden produce and the like. My only condition is no livestock!

From my many teachers and drawing on my own research and studies, I have created a form of yoga that is accessible to young and old, the healthy and the not-so-healthy! Underpinning all my yoga classes is humour. Yoga is serious fun - a smile, a joke and/or a good belly laugh are encouraged. Thankfully, my students have become used to my ... fairly quirky ... sense of humour.

I have learned from Swami Laksmi, that a yoga class generally consists of:

Head stand
Shoulder stand
Half twist
Forward bend
Back bend (cobra, locust, bow).

So, a forward bend, a backward bend, a twist, lateral (trikonasana) and inverted asanas.

I have also learned that this is negotiable - it depends on the students and how I am feeling on the day. Learning to 'wing it' is indispensable for a yoga teacher.

I have learned that there is a difference between pain and stimulating an obstacle (or resistance) in the body. To discover your own threshold, pull back a fraction and hold. Allow the body to release into the posture. Get in touch with the inner intelligence of your body – listen to it, the intelligence of the body.
Everybody, whatever the level, gets the same benefits from the practice working within their own capabilities with awareness. In other words, you don’t have to tie yourself in knots, compete, and strain to get the benefit!
Swami Venkatesananda said “... whatever you can do today is perfect for you today!”

Body and mind are one, they affect each other.
After yoga you feel light and energised – not exhausted!

Backbends stimulate
Forward bends calm

Donna Farhi says, "... for your asanas to change and grow, you learn to sustain a mobile core in each pose and then allow the movement of your breath to slowly open your body. For transformation to occur, you have to drop your preconceptions." She says, "Asanas come alive through our questioning, our curiosity, our openness to change and our delight in discovery, rather than by finding a set answer which we can safely repeat in every practice. If you already know the answer, why bother repeating the question?"

Yoga balances my life – otherwise I tend to live too much in the intellect. Love of yoga has led me down many paths of self-development and spiritual awakening. I have often integrated some of the methods I’ve learned elsewhere into my yoga practice, only to find that yoga was there first!

I have a sense that for many of us, our first yoga teacher holds a similar place in our hearts to first love!


YogaforCynics said...

One thing I got from my first yoga teacher was: "don't show up to class late!" Teachers I've had since then haven't been so strict about that, but say they're glad I was so well-trained...

(Kind of a shallow comment, I realize, but your last sentence there just brought up a conversation I had earlier today...)

Eleanor said...

Not a shallow comment at all! Where I'm teaching now it is a bit different because students have to travel long distances over bad roads; but in the city it can be seen as disrespectful.