This is a piece I wrote when I completed my first round of Yoga Teacher Training in India. It was required as part of my final assessment. What a beautiful task, I thought to myself, to ruminate on Yoga, and it was! It is part memoir, part philosophy and part mission statement and still over a year later resonates with me in a profound way. It makes me smile to see how yoga is a light that illuminates my life and my own spiritual evolution.
"The man who moves mountains begins by carrying away small stones."
Confucius: The Analects
One year ago I would never have thought I would be in India, in Rishikesh, at Yoga Teacher Training, even though yoga has been a part of my life since I was 10. My mother used to invite me to join her in doing poses and pranayama, whenever she found me watching her practice. I never had to be asked twice, always joined her. Without realizing it, my mother had planted a seed in me that would grow and sustain me year after year, through serious injury from sport, in my theatre practice and to rehabilitate my body after nearly leaving this world due to a serious car accident. Yoga has been there patiently growing alongside me. Inside me. All around me. It is like a living vine that I can reach out and grab hold of when I have lost my balance from running too fast in life, or have tripped, or have strayed into the thorns.
Before I can go beyond my time here in Rishikesh, I must first go into the past. Yoga has time and again brought me balance. Not just for myself, but in the lives of my own children, the youth that I teach and in how I see and feel the world. It brings calm to my mind and peace to my soul and reminds me everyday to be curious and kind to my body and myself, and by extension the world at large. I have even brought yoga to the world of archaeology, taking fellow students through asanas during times of stress during study, and often on site during the day to re-balance the body from the hard labour of archaeological work in the field. On a deeper level, yoga has become not only a practice but a way of life for me, that keeps my body strong and flexible, and helps my mind to be aware as well as, strong and flexible too. Yoga has been part of the journey of my soul to evolve, embrace and be full. Part of this way of life has also involved ahimsa, or non-violence, which I was taught in early 2001. The idea of living with non-violence is an important part of my life, as I work with others, as I walk the earth connecting with the flora and fauna, the land and the waters, and practicing consciousness as much as possible in all my choices, including eliminating much of the plastic products I once used and supporting small businesses or simply paying it forward through kindness to others. My own personal practice of yoga over the last ten years has deepened the practice of ahimsa in all areas of my life, especially in my work when I was producing, directing and writing theatre. I learnt that you can bring a group of people together with gentleness and consciousness and create great things, literally moving mountains, a stone at a time. So it was inevitable, that I would find myself in Rishikesh doing my Yoga TTC, for I have known for a long time that this path would call me.
Now, here in the present, the last month has only solidified for me what I always intuitively understood about yoga. I realized early on that yoga is not an exercise. It is a practice. One that I have moved in and out of during different phases of my life, sometimes diligently practicing, or simply incorporating it in other areas of my life. Yoga is my teacher and I am it’s devotee. It is a part of my daily life. Without even knowing it, I have lived much of my existence according to Yog philosophy. From my adherence to ahimsa, my regular meditation practices, the weekly clearing of my chakras, my practice of pranayama and shatkarma, and the conscious awareness I try to bring to my body, mind and soul. However, I have understood there is still so much to know. So many nuances to understand, so much more to explore in my own self- practice. The most important student I will have on my mat is myself. For without conscious attention to my practice, I cannot teach others with truth. With this firmly in mind, I can now go much deeper into my practice, and hopefully, teach with balance and awareness, the path of Hatha Yog to others.
The importance of awareness and the responsibility of the teacher to engage with positivity and support, has come up in several conversations over the course of the month, and one of the most important points that was raised, was that the teacher of yoga takes care of not only the bodies of their students, but their minds as well, and by extension their souls. Because of this, I think it is important to know that every single student that comes to your mats, is like myself, on their own journey, has their own hurts, physically, mentally and emotionally, and therefore we must be mindful of that when we teach. We must teach these students awareness and positivity, we must teach them ahimsa so they are mindful of themselves and in being mindful of themselves, they become mindful of others, they become more aware of nature and of their connection to the divine. I think it is also important as a teacher to understand our role without ego, so that we can support those that lay their mats down with us. We have a responsibility to engage with consciousness and awareness with others, without forgetting our own devoted practice, for how can we teach if we do not walk the talk we preach?
This can seem daunting, trying to teach others that yoga is not just a series of poses, but that it is instead a way of life, it is breathing, it is awareness through understanding the philosophy of yoga, the role of the chakras, the role of every minute part of the body from our neurons, to our muscles and our skeletal system. Not only that, it is about cultivating a strong and flexible body, that is in balance through asana practice; and also a strong and flexible mind that is in balance, through meditation. Most importantly it is about being present in the the here and now, without attachment. Yes it can seem daunting to teach others that yoga is all of this. Yet it can be as simple as throwing a feather in a pond, in which the very action of the throw and the feather hitting the water, though so light, will create ripples that will go outwards, creating vibrations, affecting so much more than we can see. We are the feathers thrown into the ponds of life and from the ripples we create, we must never underestimate our gentle power, which can shape mountains. Every river that carves its way through stone, began its journey as a drop of water.
This idea that we can shape mountains, captured my attention during Yoga TTC. While studying one night here, I went online to look up some points on anatomy and happened upon a story about an Indian man, Dashrath Manji who spent 22 years carving a mountain, with single-minded commitment and determination, after his wife died. He did so because there was no direct route over the mountain to get help. He carved a road 360 ft long and 30 ft wide, giving people in his village access to doctors, schools and jobs. He did all this for no personal gain. He took action without expectation and chipped away at a seemingly insurmountable task. It got me thinking the path of yoga is like a mountain that we chip away at, and if we do this action without expectation, staying in the present each moment, then little by little we open up a roadway through the mountains of our lives. My time here in Rishikesh has only solidified for me, that if I move out into the world with positivity, I can deepen my connection to self and others while growing the ever present relationship I have with nature, the universe and the Divine. If I can bring this positivity and connection to others, through yoga, through being present in the world, then perhaps I really can change the world. As one committed teacher, moving beyond teacher training with an open heart, a desire to raise consciousness, and to bring bliss into the lives of myself and others through yoga, perhaps I too really can move mountains, one student at a time.
So I begin, here and now, with myself a single drop of water, a solitary feather on the surface of the pond.