Masochistic Perceptions, Trials and Truths

These are my cyberfied cerebral synapses ricocheting off reality as I perceive it: thoughts, opinions, passions, rants, art and poetry...

Monday, February 07, 2011

Autobiography of a Yogi

I’ve resolved this summer, after 15 years of practising Yoga and Meditation, to do my official Yoga Teaching Certification. One might ask why I’ve waited so long to do this? There is no simple answer and a hodgepodge of reasons for it: time and cost, looking for the right place and the right teachers, the level of confidence in my own practice, etc. A major reason that I have balked from getting my Teacher certification is because Yoga has become so diluted and commercialised in the main stream; a fashion as opposed to system of beliefs to live by. Through the many Martial Arts I have studied, I also witnessed this lack of theoretical or philosophical substance. I absorbed many of the writings of Aikido founder Morihei Uyeshiba regarding to the philosophies behind the Art and manipulation of ki, but classes were purely physical experiences with no teachings ever being shared. I found this to be true in the other Martial Arts classes that I have taken in Tae Kwon Do, Kali and Judo. The same applies to the Yoga classes I’ve taken, with the exception of two intensive years of study with an amazing teacher named Elfriede Meyer.

Gandhi stated that we should “be the change that we wish to see in the world”. As I take the step of becoming a Yoga Teacher, I am carrying these words with me. Taking on the role of being one’s spiritual mentor or guru completely terrifies me on the one hand because I simply could never envision myself thus. I am so far from perfect that it’s not funny. I suffer from bouts of PTSD, depression and anxiety disorders. I am often stressed and often act without thought when my impulsiveness comes over me. On the other hand, as a Teacher, I see myself as being ore a catalyst for another’s catharsis. An imperfect role model, perhaps, assists us in accepting our own imperfections. In the end, my role would be as a facilitator; to present directions, but allow my students to take their own personal journey. It is not a matter of “being like me” so much as encouraging others to “be who they are” and find one’s own purpose.

I started doing Yoga in 1997. I would tape this show on the local cable network hosted by a woman named Gerta Krebs. Through my collection of episodes, I began my practise. As I am prone to do, I started reading a lot on Yoga and Eastern Philosophy at this time. It was a year or two after this that I began to study under Elfriede. After just over 2 years of working with Elefriede, my new career as a Correctional Officer, doing shift work, ended my tutorage under her. From this point on, my reading list expanded significantly, and I would do the occasional course and drop-in classes around the city.

I received my first taste of Teaching Yoga this past August when I took a Teaching Yoga to Children Teacher Certification course. This class put me off in some ways, but also gave me some insight. The turn-offs lied in the fact that many of those taking the course had taken little or no previous Yoga. This clearly illustrates one of my main points of contention with the fashion Yoga presently permeating itself through North American culture. It’s the same as these Martial Arts places awarding black belts after only a couple of years study. The physical sides of Yoga or Martial Arts can be easily depicted, but this is not a complete learning of an Art or way of life.

So, what is Yoga? The classical techniques of Yoga date back more than 5,000 years. In ancient times, the desire for greater personal freedom, health and long life, and heightened self-understanding gave birth to this system of physical and mental exercise. The word Yoga means “to join or yoke together,” and it brings the body and mind together into one harmonious experience. The whole system of Yoga is built on three main structures: exercise, breathing, and meditation. Many of Yoga’s “life teachings” come from “The Yoga Sutras” by Patañjali and the sacred Hindu text “The Bhagavad Gita”. In my opinion, to truly reap any kind of benefit from Yoga, one’s practise must include every aspect outlined above.

So, as a Teacher, where would I recommend that my student, new to Yoga, begin? I would first state that Yoga and its benefits are a lifelong pursuit and, just like our lives, ebbs and flows and takes us down several different chutes along the way. It will be a constant challenge, but is not a competition. Take in what is presented to you in books and by teachers, and synthesise that which resonates with you to be what you wish to become and what you feel to be good and correct.

In the first month, I’d recommend that a student visit 3-4 different Yoga studios around town, to get a feel for the different styles of Yoga and a sense of the teaching being done. Inevitably, students will come to have a favourite style: Hatha, Ashtanga, Yin, Moksha, Iyengar, Kundalini, etc. This is good, but we must, in our practise, be open to other forms as each has their place. I, personally, have a strong preference to Iyengar and Hatha styles, and dislike many of the flow Yoga’s such as Ashtanga. This is largely because I lack grace and the flow forms often make me feel like I suck. But this is good and tells me that I need to challenge myself more. Again, pushing from our zone of comfort and into the torrents is necessary to impose tranquility on our turbulent times.

While a new student get their feet solid on their sticky mats, I would recommend that they read a plethora of books. Based on these readings, one would be better able to deepen their knowledge and provide conversational and discussion piece for when they meet with other Yogi’s and their teachers. I would break these books down into two categories: asanas (poses) and theory (philosophy and teachings).

Recommendations for Asana based information:

Light on Yoga” by B.K.S. Iyengar

Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness” by Erich Schiffmann

Yoga for Beginners” by Mark Ansari and Liz Lark

Recommendations for theory based information:

The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings” by Thich Nhat Hahn

Light on Yoga Sutras” by B.K.S. Iyengar

The Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff

Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Friedrich Nietzsche

These writings will provide the student with ample information and ideas about our perceptions of the world in which we live and differing ways of approaching life. Once these books have been indulged, I strongly recommend that the serious student read the many writings of the following authors:

Thich Nhat Hahn (wonderful stuff on peace, mindfulness, etc.)

Eknath Easwaran (brilliant insights and highlights of many Eastern writings including “The Bhagavad Gita”, “The Upanishads” and “The Dhammapada”)

Jon Kabat-Zinn (one of the best writers out there on meditation)

As a person, I tend to be rather cynical and do not like the fluffy or flakey writings that are filtered through many of the books written on Yoga and Eastern ideas. This is a personal preference – to each their own. The authors that I have recommended here are largely indicative of my theological choices.

The last recommendation I would have for a student, new to Yoga, would be to download a few different guided meditations from iTunes. There are many good ones out there, and also some pretty horrible ones. I would recommend that the new student commence with meditations focusing on deep relaxation. It is during deep relaxation that the yoking of the physical, breath and mind truly flourish. If you truly wish to open your mind, I have come to enjoy doing my meditations on a Shakti mat. This is essentially a bed of nails ( you can order them on-line from ). I was first introduced to them when I was teaching in the former Czechoslovakia by one of my students. While uncomfortable initially, over time, the Shakti becomes very pleasant and provides a wonderful rush of endorphins. Everyone will respond differently, of course, but I swear by mine!

In closing, I look forward to deepening my practice by taking my Yoga Teacher Certification. It is perhaps serendipitous that Gerta Krebs is one of the teachers of the programme I will be taking – a bit like going back to the beginning ... which is what I am doing by undertaking this course, beginning anew as a teacher, but always a student. And so it is... I hope that my words have offered you, dear reader, something positive to take away. Until our paths cross again, best wishes!


  • At 6:42 a.m. , Blogger Blondeau said...

    I did the YTT thing a few years back with Pranakriya yoga( grew out of Kripalu). The experience with more intensive Tantric techniques-breath holds and such- was informative.

    Can't say I really learned anything valuable and once it was over I promptly started doing more zazen. The daily joint mobility/kinesthetic work I do looks a little like yoga and I never have a long yoga session where I get all blissed out.

    My experience was worth it only in making sure I stay away from the larger "yoga culture". : )

    I did learn a good bit about how I respond to yoginis and their desire to project their hopes and dreams onto someone who happens to have loud Mojo. Gotta keep the ego in check.

  • At 8:48 p.m. , Blogger Ed Meers said...

    I'm pretty put off by the mainstream Yoga culture as well (don't know if you read a couple of my earlier posts on the subject. The substance of the practice is heavily diluted by the commercial/corporate/ fashion industry approach to it. In the end, trying to see the positive, it's good to see folks getting active, toned and more flexible. I just don't care for all of the charlatans and the fact that they call it Yoga.

    I hope I can be an exception in my teaching...

  • At 7:57 a.m. , Blogger Andrew Louis said...

    Good luck with that.

    I gave meditation my best effort years ago, but discovered it's simply not my path.

  • At 10:17 a.m. , Blogger Ed Meers said...

    I know a few folks who say that meditation doesn't work for them. Quite possibly it doesn't. I know that I've tried a lot of different types and have struggled with it lots, but also had some minor and significant breakthroughs. What I do daily now, using guided relaxation meditations while laying down on my Shakti mat, has been super effective for me. Seated, mindfulness meditation, however, is still hit or miss. Like all things, you give it a try and see what works and what doesn't. That's fair enough.

  • At 4:18 a.m. , Blogger Tanja said...

    enjoy your journey :)
    I just had to add one more book recomandation, that just "did it for me" and made sense of it all...

    Fire of Love for Students of Life for Teachers of Yoga by Aadil Palkhivala.

  • At 9:17 p.m. , Blogger Ed Meers said...

    Always looking for more good reads - thanks for the recommendation! I'll check it out :)


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