Falling down the rabbit hole

Posted by on Feb 9, 2013 in Ballina, Yoga | No Comments
Falling down the rabbit hole

Quite a few people have asked me how I came to choose my yoga teacher training course with Santosha Yoga.

Especially people from Byron Bay, when I told them about my upcoming studies and the location, in nearby town of Ballina. ‘Why would you go to that old people’s town?’, they invariably asked. After the fourth replay of the same conversation, I started to wonder myself.

The honest truth was not several days of intensive research, comparing course curriculum and finding the teacher lineage that best fit my personal approach to yoga. Nope. The reason I chose Santosha was that the training was to be run near a stretch of the NSW coast named Dolphin Bay. Any further investigations seemed unnecessary.

It was enough that my fanciful imagination already had me performing my downward dogs on the beach, with an audience of dolphins watching encouragingly from the water, squeaking with excitement and clapping their flippers if I ever managed that annoyingly elusive handstand.

I love dolphins.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, people (i.e. me) will make positive purchasing decisions if a cute animal is involved. It’s an ongoing wonder why aspiring presidents and prime ministers the world over haven’t taken to walking round cuddling fluffy kittens.

And just imagine how easy global domination would be if your constant companions were a panda, a koala and a dormouse.

A third of the way to glory

As it turned out, I didn’t see a single dolphin the whole month of my stay. But fate, intuition, or whatever you want to call it, transpired to lead me – via that sub 30 minute google search – to exactly the right place, with one of the best courses in the country. Trusting my instincts has worked out pretty well for me lately.

This wasn’t the first time the idea to become a ‘proper’ yogini had entered my head, mind you. My journey to becoming a qualified yoga teacher has been a bit stop and start. As in it’s taken me 20+ years to get here.

I initially found yoga as a semi-hippie teenager – all ylang ylang incense sticks and paisley ali baba pants that sent me hurtling down flights of stairs one too many times. I came to understand, very quickly, why hippies smoke pot – to numb themselves to the daily bruises gained tripping, literally, over the sheer volume of fabric hanging carelessly around their ankles.

During the very many intervening years, my practice became increasingly on and off. With an emphasis on the off. Until one of my holidays – attending a personal development course (I have an unusual definition of fun, I realise) – reminded me quite how much I like how I feel when I’m actively yogaing.

I feel like me, only more so.

The day after that course, I signed up for teacher training, with the same yoga school that had inspired me to reignite my passion. And I got six months down the studying track, before that personal stuff that came up came up and I let go of the one thing, in hindsight, I should have held onto most of all.

But at the time I felt I had enough active practice of non-attachment (aparagraha) on my plate. The rest of the yamas and niyamas (yogic principles for living and the cornerstones of yoga) would have to wait awhile.

They would wait more than two years, it turned out, as life ran away with me – something it tends to do when you aren’t looking.

Flash forward… past a year of working my butt off to deliver something that made the national news – no, not a bank job in that sense – and most of my year of travel, during which I grew increasingly stiff as I spent day after day sat on planes, buses, trains and more buses.

To now. Sat cross legged on a yoga shala floor, listening to a welcome speech from one of our imminent teachers, a speech that made me feel like Neo sat in front of Morpheus – choosing between the blue pill and the red pill.*

Except we’d already dutifully swallowed the red pills on arrival, and now they were telling us this was a path that only had one direction.

Bugger.

My highlight of the first week was a session with a long time yogi and fan of hands on posture adjustments (thank god my hamstrings weren’t tight that day), let’s call him ‘Peter’. He taught us some neat stretches to deepen our poses and best of all showed us the pressure points you could tap to induce death three days later in an assailant.

If the yoga teaching doesn’t take off at least we all have a viable sideline as assassins.

Peter also won the best line of the month award, for describing a classmate’s ass as ‘juicy’. In his defence it absolutely is.

He also triggered a feud with our ayurvedic teacher, who we’ll call ‘Kelvin’, when we relayed that Peter had advised us to seriously consider abandoning all oil from our diets. It’s a shame I won’t be around to witness two grown men bickering over the merits of coconut oil.

Particularly given they both had rather nice bodies and the resultant fight – hopefully with them both smothered in the disputed oil – would have been a pleasure to watch.

The lack of any male interaction is definitely started to affect my thoughts. It’s like being back at my all girls high school on the day when the window cleaner came – when I close my eyes I can still see the look of fear on his late twenty-something face as scores of thirteen year old girls followed him around campus.

Peter also taught us about the koshas, the sheaths that are believed, in yogic philosophy, to surround the physical body. I couldn’t suppress the image of us all smothered in brightly coloured giant condoms and proceeded to do that naughty back of class whispering thing popular with eight year olds, to share why I was giggling.

I think I forever ruined a serious appreciation of koshas for several people. Sorry. Clearly I’m in need of a cold shower, which is lucky because the hot water ran out yesterday.

Having not read the course prospectus prior to turning up, it was a lovely surprise to find out we had weekly kirtan classes. Kirtan is a call and response chanting style of yoga and our call leader is the pixie-like Swami Layananda (I can use her real name as she didn’t get up to any mischief).

Measuring in at a diminutive 4ft 10in, I felt positively gigantic in her presence. In fact, come to think of it, we were unusually blessed with shortness on the course – student height averaging 5ft 2in in our bare feet.

Random fact fans will appreciate that this is the same height as the Indian Brahmin whose teaching inspired Santosha Yoga. The rest of you can just mouth ‘whatevs’ at your screen.

There’s just one singular exception to the general midgetry, in one of my room mates, who at a normally unremarkable 5ft 7in, thinks she’s landed in Lilliput rather than Ballina.

It’s a bloody good job I had those singing lessons to get over my previous refusal to even hum a tune in public, as those few hours a week would have been torture rather than the absolute joy they turned out to be. I might never teach kirtan in the future but I’m definitely going to add it to my personal practice.

Our attempts at accompanying our chanting with musical instruments were notably less successful. Fortunately most of us were overshadowed by a fellow Brit with even less rhythm than me, whose bell-shaking performance earned her the nickname Jingles (you know we love you J).

 

choose your weapon

Despite all the wonderful classes, after a while cabin fever set in. Which it tends to do when you are living on a caravan site on the opposite site of a river to town when said river is tidal and filled with bull sharks. And especially when the only way to cross the waters without risking a limb is via the ferry several miles down the road when none of you has a car. It might as well have been Alcatraz.

Our only outing each week came on a Tuesday lunchtime – when we had 90 minutes to go shopping for our weekly groceries. Driven into town by minibus, a frenzied escaped prisoner look on our eyes, we would spill out of the van’s doors, sprinting towards the supermarket like contestants on 1980’s quiz show Treasure Hunt.

A whole week’s meditative calm would fly out the window as we ran round the aisles in our lycra leggings, throwing rice milk and white wine into our baskets with a zeal Dale Winton would have applauded.

 

For my non-UK friends: Dale was the impressively orange-skinned host of UK daytime classic Supermarket Sweep

But actually the lack of daily distractions was exactly what we needed to fully immerse ourselves in our yoga practice. From asana (posture) refinements, to philosophy, to meditation, to anatomy and yoga therapy, with so much more in between, we woke early and studied late.

We even slept yogically, during our yoga nidra sessions – led by a woman whose voice conjured up images of her, as a small child, sitting on her grandfather’s knee as he psychoanalysed clients from his Vienna office. But she isn’t Freud’s progeny, she isn’t even Austrian. My ability to distinguish German accents from different European countries needs a spot of polishing up.

If only my body hadn’t decided to take up snoring in the last couple of years – I’d far rather it had tried out spontaneous orgasms as a hobby really – then these sessions would have been the perfect opportunity to actually grab a few ZZZs, rather than do what we were supposed to be doing – hovering gracefully above real sleep, suspended in a theta brainwave pattern to rival the American army’s best remote viewers.

As it was, my body gave the game away every time I drifted off.

Yoga nidra deliberately uses some pretty odd imagery, including visualisation of torrential rain, which I’ll be changing to ‘lovely sunny weather’ when I come to teach nidra – as I don’t want a repeat of the recent NSW storms that preternaturally followed our classes.

Right, I think I’ve wittered on long enough. Suffice to say that following one of the most profound months of my life there are lots of stories I don’t have space to share in a single post.

You’ll have to ask me in person about the amusing developments with massage angel Gabriel, my afternoon of washing Shiva in milk and honey, what we did with ping pong balls, the reason I moved out of my shared room and why my favourite new word is linguinist, plus a few other tales, when we next meet up.

Long story short – I passed my exams and am now a bonafide certified yoga teacher – YAY!

 

Some thoughts from the mat:

The thing I’ve really properly understood during this month, from being around so many amazing instructors, is that yoga teachers are simply people – just like you and me.

They don’t float on clouds of karmic perfection. They make mistakes. Some of them even eat meat and drink alcohol. And their bodies aren’t necessarily so sculpted as to make the gods cry.

But what they do do is come at their work from their heart. From a place of service to anyone brave enough to seek a change in their life.

And that knowledge has given me a freedom to start being a yoga teacher today, not in an indefinite future that I’ll never attain – the one where I’ve finally ‘perfected’ myself.

In particular I’m very proud to be associated with a kind of yoga (Vinyasa yoga from the Krishnamacharya lineage) that places the individual safety of each and every student at the forefront of its teaching.

Yoga that is adapted to the person and their unique capabilities and concerns seems to come from a place of profound loving care to me.

It might not have the sexy sweaty hype of a Bikram class nor the sense of ‘achievement’ gained in forcing yourself into a singular interpretation of a pose that you sometimes find in an Iyengar studio.

But then again safe might just become the new sexy, as people listen to their bodies and seek out a gentler path.

And I’ll be here, ready and waiting, to give them a helping hand.

Namaste x

———————–

* for those of you unfamiliar with the film best suited (the unkind would say the only film suited) to Keanu Reeves’ vacant acting style – The Matrix – I thought I’d share a snippet of the blue vs red pill scene. Although in print it’s even less intelligible than on screen. Perhaps have a special cookie then re-read it…

Morpheus – “After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

The script’s a load of bunkum really, but you get the idea x

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