Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra says Tada drashtuh sva rupe vasthanam – when you are in a state of yoga or wholeness, you abide in your own true nature
I suppose like many of us, I was a troubled teenager. Between the ages of 15 and 20, I was skirting that fine line between desperation and inspiration, looking to find my own friends and experimenting with lots of different possibilities. Some of us may have been fortunate enough to have a high school teacher who saw some potential in us. That teacher may have sensed a direction that could work for us - a creative path like a musical instrument or a sport. That kind of inspired guidance can move one away - albeit kicking and screaming - from the wayward paths that may sometimes lie ahead. For me, it was not a high school teacher that found me. It was yoga.
It was the 1970’s when I stumbled into my first yoga class at the age of 20. This was unheard of in those days because you would most likely find no one under the age of 50 in any yoga class. Ursula Trumpold was my first ever yoga teacher, and she became my mentor and inspiration. She was a vibrant, effervescent and independent woman of 60. She was bold, bright, kind and oh so flexible! I wanted to be just like her. But I couldn’t be her because being her was unfortunately already taken. With her fearless and caring spirit, she carefully guided me to the practice what would eventually become my life.
By the time I was 25, I knew that teaching yoga was my calling. In Sanskrit, you would say that I found my dharma, which translated means vocation, calling, sacred duty or truth. 40 years ago, there was no ‘teacher training’. You learnt by going to India and studying with the yoga masters. Needless to say, my dad wasn’t so keen on my new-found path. He’d say to me, ‘when are you going to settle down and get a real job?!’. He had my best interest at heart, but they were stern words that landed heavily on me. I look back now and wonder if he thought I should be spending more time with him than in the secluded ashrams of India with its gurus and mysterious Swamis? But that is exactly where I longed to be. And that’s where you’d find me. I was not going to change my mind about that. I could not change my mind. There were just too many synchronicities, too much enquiry and passion that kept calling me back to India. It was an insatiable desire to pursue this path of truth.
During these years, I had the great honour of personally studying with Sri K Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar, who both passed away several years ago. I know firsthand from the stories they shared with me that they struggled with poverty, with not being accepted into their communities and at times also feeling deep alienation from family members and peers. They were compelled to take the path less travelled, enduring hardships and on several occasions even going days without food and shelter. In the past, being an Indian man in India and teaching yoga was unheard of. Absolutely no prospects there. Ahh but to be a doctor or engineer…far more opportunities to chase the dollar, win over a bride and open yourself up to the potential of being offered a ‘real job’ on the other side of the world. This was far more appealing and acceptable than an unemployed yoga teacher. But the calling was strong for these guys, and they endured. You can see it would have required a tremendous amount of conviction to stay on this path, to stay committed to what was fulfilling and joyful to spirit, while family and friends filled them with doubt, questioning them on how they would raise a family, where they would live. But they chose to follow their dharma.
The great yoga teacher, healer and scholar Krishnamacharya once said, ‘Yoga is not a static tradition. It’s a living, breathing art that grows constantly through each practitioner’s experiments and deepening experience’. And this he certainly put to the test. Krishnamacharya was another remarkable human who we owe so much of what yoga is today. At 16 years old he left his family in Madras to study with the yogi master Ramamohan. For seven years he lived in a cave at the foot of the Himalayas, absorbed in the practice and study of asana, pranayama, yoga science and the therapeutics of asana. He was yet another yogi rebel, defying the norms of what one ‘should’ be.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra says Tada drashtuh sva rupe vasthanam – when you are in a state of yoga or wholeness, you abide in your own true nature. The practice of yoga has always supported the concept of finding the true self, of diving deep into a daily mindful practice using asana, pranayama and philosophical enquiry to bring you closer to that truth. It is only when we are truly ourselves that we lose most of the self-consciousness that keeps us comparing ourselves to others in order to see how ‘big’ we are. Having said this, yoga can help, but it does not solve all our problems. It requires sophisticated feedback loops like teachers and / or colleagues. It requires the sustained and intense practice to cultivate a skill several hours a day, over many years, with the intention of improving (not just repeating).
Connecting day in and day out with the ‘living, breathing art’ that is yoga, in one way or another, will lead you to your unique path. Many have gone before you. Let their wisdom, defiance and courage be an inspiration. You are not alone in your pursuit. Find out who you are and do it with purpose. It will be the greatest work of your life.