I first experienced a sense of activating intuitive guidance, when I was deep in my original heart path as a dancer and contemporary choreographer.
I had no fear. I felt driven to stay in the studio for hours to create and to explore. There were no real rules. B didn’t always follow A, and the exploration was from thematic play and movement, impulse versus an exact storyline or curriculum. When it was time to perform it, there had been hours of practice. Because it was alive it was never the same twice. What rose to the surface was a feeling of being guided by a force within and through. I felt like it really wasn’t just my ideas ... they were coming to me if I listened closely, leaned in, moved beyond nervous energy and got out of the way. There was something bigger than me shining through and moving through me. Bringing ideas and direction from somewhere beyond my thinking mind. When I danced I felt connected, absorbed, moved by an inner source, completely present with the dance, the music and the energy of the audience.
I started reading books on philosophy and yoga during this time. The yoga I learned at that time was not in any particular form or style, it was simply Hatha Yoga and meditation. What I was learning about I knew was similar to what I had already been experiencing in dance. However, it took another 10 years of studying yoga to return full circle to the understanding and depth of practice that I had gained through my dance years. When I entered the practice of yoga more thoroughly I learned: order, method, all is coming, do it this way and you will receive the afor mentioned experience of understanding self and others and the world. I put aside the knowing that I had gained and labeled it something else until quite a lot later. I was becoming less connected to my true nature and trying to abide by the theories and practices that would make me a better person ... or so I thought.
I started to practice Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga as taught by Sri. K Pattabhi Jois. It was deeply embedded in ritual and tradition. I enjoyed the ritual and the independence of the Mysore approach, moving at my own pace through the system, but I felt kinda trapped by the confines of the practice, I wasn’t feeling more integrated, but rather I needed to bend to fit the system.
I had a boyfriend at the time who was a pretty special human, he loved everyone. He made them feel welcome. He didn’t practice a stitch of yoga, but rode his bike across Canada and would lay in tall grasses for hours simply being with the world. I was busting my hump practicing 2-4 hours of yoga and meditation a day and he was happier, more content with the world than I was ...hmm. One day he gave me an Iyengar method book for a present. I looked at him and said, ..." but I am practicing Ashtanga yoga?." He simple said, "yes, that is why I got you this book." This made me realize I was so absorbed in this one way of practice, that I wasn’t seeing the whole picture. I began looking at practice from a different perspective and started to study different styles like Iyengar, Jivamukti, Sivananda,Vijnana, Zen mediation, nutrition and other styles of movement modalities from my past training. Through this broadening of learning, I was able to hear this voice of truth rise in me. It told me we are a product of everything we have learned. This had to be represented if I was going to be an authentic teacher.
I was now on the path of mindfulness and living a full and passionate life, rather than just a practitioner of one style of yoga.
The practice of yoga calls for movement of the body. To bring in energy, health and release discomfort and illness. The main reason for this is to be able to go beyond this body and settle in to accept it, nurture it. To be able to settle and be still to see what is beyond it. In thought, emotion, and habits that help or hinder our view of self and the world. To absorb our awareness to a single point (dhyana or meditation or absorption with the flow of existence), to enhance our ability to stay in the present tense ... with what rises and falls away. Become one with the universe or god. This is also what I felt as a dancer, and what I saw my old boyfriend doing when he laid back absorbing himself in the sky.
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the first aphorism says “Atha Yoga Anushasanam ” which has been translated as now, the teachings of yoga will be revealed. My dear teacher Michael Stone translates this line as “The teachings of yoga live in the present moment”. So in order to do yoga you need to learn to be in the present moment. For me this resonates. We are trying to go beyond ego and reaction, and truly listen. To what is real and to be content with the rises and falls of this moment. To stand in our truth and bring betterment into action. Pain and suffering do come from clinging to the past and projecting into the future. Intuitive guidance lives in the present moment as well. To receive the guidance from the world or from yourself you need to not be projecting or attached. Yoga, movement, your chosen exercise, even knitting, painting, or meaningful conversation with a friend, being in nature, these all have a way of getting you to that place of present moment. This concept is a life concept. I believe it's not just something you learn doing yoga, if you are trying to pursue presence in everything you do.
The way I practice and teach today does not discount the importance of the lineages laid out before us, I honour and respect the paths that I have taught me so much.
But for me there is an importance to honour this moment and believe in what is right for you. If the striving is to be better at that pose, is it keeping you in the present or pushing you into not good enough yet? Are you sore all the time because you are practicing too much? Are you judging yourself based on the photos you see on instagram? Are you becoming a kinder more patient person because you have an advanced asana practice? For this reason I believe the modernization of yoga includes many modalities, and for me it was a re - surging of movement practices that brings us into a deeper understanding of energy output and mindfulness. With this we can move into simple organic movements that allow us to understand what we are doing habitually in our lives. And how we can move with greater understanding of healing in yoga postures.
The importance of what I wanted to share as a teacher was that we needed to trust what we felt and lean into that. Yes the disciplines of practice are there as guidelines and so is your teacher. But you need to be the one in the driver seat for this to work. You need to have faith in yourself, your life skills, and trust that your intuitive guide is there when you are ready and willing to let it take centre stage. This will guide you to what is right for you. No two people are the same, so no two people will practice yoga the same way either. This was the way yoga was originally taught, one on one or in small groups. Sri T.Krishnamacharya (1888-1989), who is referred to as ‘the father of modern yoga’ andthe teacher of BKS.Iyengar, Sri.K Pattabhi Jois, Indra Devi and Desichachar, illustrated the importance of teaching what was appropriate for each individual. He designed the practice depending on the person and the purpose. This just isn’t possible to do with 20-30 people in one class. He also instilled the idea that practice wasn’t meant to be quick or forceful. That in fact fast movements, and in turn fast breathing will disturb the flow of prana and will result in imbalances. Slow movements with long inhale and exhales will help with pranic flow and mental focus which is the point of yoga asana.
After teaching large classes in Calgary for many years, I began to see that in order for the practice to evolve beyond tradition and beyond generalized wordage to keep the masses safe, I wanted to teach more to each individual. The person was more important than the form. I began teaching classes from my home and working with clients one on one. I had a small basement bedroom that wasn’t used for anything. It had four different wood panelled walls and a floor. I could put about 5 people in there if we squished together. At first it seemed a little obscured to let these folks who were familiar with the “nice studio” environment into my long, dark basement to practice almost on top of each other in my rented house. I painted the walls, lit an incense to remove the old basement smell and we just practiced. I even had one student who had to backbend every time she reached her arms up to avoid touching the ceiling. But we all enjoyed the practice and each others company, none of that seemed to matter. It felt more authentic than anything I had done before. Due to the casual nature of my space, we could experiment with different ways of getting into postures, talk and fall over laughing! Also, explore ayurveda and philosophy. In these small groups students could voice what was happening or ask questions that one wouldn’t be able to ask or follow up on in a larger class. A big part of my teaching wherever I am, is about letting people explore, decide and play. As they moved into their own rhythm or variations they also felt heard and inspired to be who they were. If someone was having a bad day we could take the beginning of our class to comfort and listen, accepting where we were all at each day.
When the class is small or in private one on one sessions you can clearly see what is happening, whether the practice is benefiting or harming the individual. This is a lot more work as a teacher, and the practitioner, it calls for complete attention, listening, and humility. To not always have the answer, and stay in the process. I am an advocate for cultivating a regular self practice as well. I think there is a powerful energy that is felt and gained when practicing in classes, going to workshops. But today you can learn 700 ways to do one thing, there is nothing wrong with filling your pockets with tools and using these classes to inspire and stay focused. But there is a different level of accountability and ritual that comes from practicing alone or in small groups.
Yoga is about going inwards, being present with what resides in that moment.
When speaking about home practice, I hear people say they don’t practice as long, its not intense enough, they get distracted, they have no time when it comes to practicing alone. Well that is the point, do start there, too much of what we give power to, in this high paced world we live in, is we never think we are good enough. 10-15mins of sun salutations, or sitting mediation a day will bring more long term focus than busting out an hours worth of complicated sequences in a class a couple times a week or month. Including some home practice will also allow you to integrated your intentions, intuition and creativeand create balance to what you are doing in those stronger or high energy studio practices.
My hopes in sharing yoga is to provide tools, that will inspire others to listen and know that they are enough today. Support them with what they are dealing with that day and to create a space that will allow them to come and be real.
Not only real with themselves, but in a community that will support that aunthenticity. I never intended for students to need to feel dependant on me to practice, but I want them to gain the tools and insights to develop their own personal practice. To walk along side those who come to my class, and assist them with movement understanding, personalized alignment cues, as well with touch, and support to deepen their understanding of self. To make choices that serve them ,so they can learn from and expand their own intuition about what is right for them. They can then create the practice that is their own.