Or More Accurately, How to Continue Being Student of Yoga Forever
About 25 years ago I was an avid runner living in Vancouver. Yoga held no interest for me. It was a practice that I viewed as gentle movements for those who could not do more intense activity. One day a running friend told me about a hot yoga class that her super fit running friend had been unable to finish the night before. Now that sounded interesting.
At the time hot yoga was a new style of yoga making its way up the West coast from LA. It was being taught in packed-full, rented rooms in random apartment buildings. There was usually sweat soaked carpet, and often no showers. Fancy super absorbent towels were yet to be mainstream, and no one wore special yoga clothing. No yoga studio store front was visible. You simply had to know where this class was happening. Lululemon was still a small store on 4th avenue in the Kitsilano neighbourhood of Vancouver. The owners sewed the clothing on the upstairs second floor as you browsed below.
It took only one sweaty, butt-kicking class to hook me. I began to practice daily, sometimes twice a day. Early 20’s me loved the hard core nature of the very hot and humid room. Wondering every single class if I was going to make it to the end just made it more exciting. The teacher’s instruction “script” described the physiological benefits of each pose which spoke to my science loving brain. I eventually decided to do a teacher training for this style. A few weeks before paying a deposit my partner and I suddenly decided to move back to Japan.
Once back in Japan, the only yoga classes I could find were slow moving hatha, held at recreation centers. All were taught by women in their 70s and 80s. At first I was not very excited about going. The strength and flexibility of these very senior instructors however forced me to re-evaluate the value of this new (to me) style of yoga. Each teacher infused her classes with Zen meditation and philosophy. They introduced me to a softer and deeper layer of yoga (and forced me to study a lot of Japanese words that were unfortunately not very useful for interacting at the local izakaya/bar). I joined a class each morning before work, hopping on trains and pedaling through rice paddies to get to a different rec center each day.
Two years later, as we are preparing to leave Japan, I began to reflect on how different my Vancouver hot yoga classes were to those in Japan. I wondered if either was “real yoga”. And if not, what might “real yoga” actually look like. Hoping to learn the answer to this question I sent my partner home to Canada, and bought an open-ended ticket to India. I flew from Tokyo into New Delhi. Cell Phones and texting were not yet a thing. Internet cafes could only be found in larger centers. In rural areas I had to find a village phone to call home. Someone in an outdoor stall would dial the number and hand me the phone receiver. Little kids would often surround me and repeat any English words they could understand and giggle.
After a few weeks of hopping trains around India I arrived at an ashram in Maharashta. It was near the holy city of Nashik. It was here that I completed my first yoga teacher training. Studying beneath the mountain top peak known as Hanuman’s birthplace I could not have asked for a better place to be introduced to yoga’s roots. Each full day included early morning meditation, two hours of asana & pranayama (twice daily), yoga nidra, lectures from local doctors and teachers, morning and evening aarti ceremonies, mantra, all punctuated with locally grown and prepared ayurvedic guided meals. A month of busy study days flew by. With my first teaching certificate and a heart full of gratitude I began to work my way north toward Rishikesh (where the Beatles famously studied in the 60’s). This spiritual town sits on the banks of the river Ganges. The water is clear and fast flowing as it leaves the Himalayas. It is densely packed with ashrams, vegetarian-only food, swamis, and seekers. I spent months taking part in various yoga trainings. Eventually I found a teacher who resonanated with where I was at that point in my life. I studied with him in his ashram until I felt it was time to return home.
Once home I began to teach yoga classes, first as a part time job, and then throughout my pregnancies. When my maternal leave was up, instead of going back to my old job, I decided to begin to teaching yoga full time and never looked back. I have since returned to India multiple times to study yoga with old and new yoga teachers, and to become an ayurvedic practioner. Over the years I have also studied with teachers in various parts of Canada and the US. Every single teacher has helped expand my understanding of the practice of yoga. For a time I immersed myself in the study of prenatal yoga and it impacts pregnancy and childbirth. Yin yoga brought concepts of skeletal variation, and fascia into focus. Vinyasa flow helped me explore moving meditation. Neurogenic yoga added a layer of therapeutic insight.
After twenty five years of yoga study I have concluded that there is no “real yoga”, or more accurately, no “not-real yoga”. All styles of yoga, whether based in hatha, vinyasa, yin, neurogenic, or restorative teachings are “real” yoga. All include a pathway for pranayama, meditation, and physical, mental, and spiritual wellness. Whether one is looking to reach the traditional yoga goal of self realization, or to achieve the well documented physical benefits of strength, flexibility, and longevity, each style has a means of helping one get there.
I am forever grateful that my first teacher training taught me to look at all future yoga studies as a new way to explore the yoga philosophy of living, and study of self. From this point of view I have learned that every person, yoga, and situation, is a yoga teacher. This is what Ram Dass means when he says, “If you think you are enlightened, go and spend a week with your family.” What happens in a yoga class helps us explore and develop skills to bring into every moment of life.
Is my yoga always serene poses and peaceful meditation? No. Am I always calm and stress free? Absolutely not. I do however credit yoga with helping me navigate many difficult life moments. I cannot image living without this powerful practice. Every teacher I have ever had the privilege to study with has brought me full circle to sharing my understanding of their teachings in my own teacher training instruction. I now teach yoga teacher trainings both internationally and in Canada.
Are you interested in becoming a yoga teacher? Would you like to study with experienced teachers who have a broad understanding of modern and traditional yoga? Would like to develop the skills to confidently teach hatha, and vinyasa flow classes? Would like to understand how each style of yoga can be utilized to provide a yoga practice that is accessible for all? Would you like to deepen your own practice? If so, you may be interested in joining myself and Linda Ivany for our Yoga Alliance Certified, 2023 Shakti Yoga Teacher Training. This year celebrates a decade of training talented and inspiring yoga teachers that enhance our communities. Maybe the energy of the year of the rabbit will help you hurdle any doubts and begin your yoga teacher journey. This training is open to all body type/sizes, all ages, and requires only a love of yoga and an established personal practice. For more information go to www.ShaktiYogaMethod.com