Never a practice happens when I don’t appreciate what a wonderful blessing Astanga Vinyasa Yoga is for me. What a beautiful gift given to me by my teachers, Guruji, Sharath and Peter. It is a gift that keeps on giving. Victoria and I also often express how fortunate we were to be able to travel to Mysore when we did in the mid to late 1990’s and early 2000’s. I’d just like to reflect on some of the lessons I learned from Guruji in the short time I had with him.
Guruji taught in a very non-verbal manner. He is often quoted as saying “practice, practice, practice and all is coming”. He demonstrated this by teaching through the practice. In the early days he never gave “conference”. Later on he did and I attended many of these and marvelled at how many ways he could answer so many different questions with pretty much the same answer. “PRACTICE”.I learned that the asana practice is a non-intellectual exercise. It is about not thinking. In the practice we do everything we can to keep the mind silent so that we carefully observe and learn what the practice has to teach us. Guruji showed me that the last thing you need is some one in your ear all the time telling you what you should or shouldn’t be doing.
Somehow, while saying very little, Guruji managed to convey the full meaning of what yoga is to me. He would adjust me physically, but at the same time, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Through his adjustments he asked me to face my deepest insecurities and fears. He would put a mirror up to my darkest nature and then he would show me a way towards the light. He did all this with compassion and humour and no ego. In fact, he left me in no doubt that ego and the mind are the biggest obstacles to yoga. He was very good at identifying my insecurities and would prod and push at these until I learned to let go.
If asana is the anvil and vinyasa is the fire, then the Guru is the hammer. He is not some sort of grandfather figure who, like Santa, will hand out enlightenment as a gift wrapped present. Guruji made no bones of the fact that the practice requires years, lifetimes, of discipline. He never offered any shortcuts because there are none.
He taught me to practice with no expectations. Every day. No expectations. Not of him, nor of myself, nor of the practice. The humility required to achieve this is immense. Every day we need to set the ego aside and start afresh. Every day, for lifetimes. This is why it is called “practice”.
As well as no expectations he taught me to have no attachment to the outcome of practice. To just practice for the joy of it, to have faith that the outcome would sort itself out, to trust the process and to just practice.
He taught me that discipline is essential and that we learn discipline through the asana practice. We start with the body, but this is just the beginning. He told me that the asana practice is a stepping stone to the other limbs of yoga and that with continuous, devoted practice these other limbs would naturally arise. Through his good humour he taught me to temper the discipline with moderation and laughter. Not to be a fanatic.
He also taught me to to accept my dharma, my place in this life. To apply yoga to my role as father, son, husband, brother and a member of my community. Family came first for him and it comes first for me too. We need to gracefully accept the obligations we have to family and to society and to see our life as the opportunity to address our karma not as a burden.
What Guruji gave me was a boundless gift, the love of this practice and the joy that comes from it. It is with humility and gratitude to him that I do my best to pass this on to the people who come to practice with me at Te Aro Astanga. I am indeed blessed.