As part of my Yoga teacher training it was a requirement not only to have a dedicated self-practice, but to write about it in a journal. I have always loved to write! Little did my teacher know how much I would write; I filled 5 spiral notebooks which I still have and occasionally re-read. The journal writing was so helpful, because I was reflecting and learning from myself.
Many of the things I wrote were questions. Not questions to my teacher, but just questions that I was asking myself. Sometimes my teacher would add notes and observations of her own, and often to the questions she would add another question to encourage me to open my way of thinking or observing.
Svyadaya, is the 4th of the 5 Niyamas (Moral Observances) of Yoga, as recorded in the Yoga Sutras. It means self-study and self-enquiry.
Although I did have a home practice before I began my teacher training, the requirement of the journal definitely opened up my practice to embrace the self-study and self-enquiry.
Things I would record and write about included what type of practice, such as types of asana or pranayama or meditation. I would write the Sanskrit names I knew, or I would refer to my text books and learn the ones I didn’t know. I would record different variations of postures that I tried. I recorded physical reactions to postures and pranayama and bandhas and mudras. I wrote about my time in meditation, good or bad or otherwise. I wrote about other reactions to my practices, mentally, emotionally.
The more I wrote, the more I was looking for and observing subtle things in my practice. I wrote about thoughts of resistance and wanting to finish, and instead staying in a posture for an extra 10 breaths, just to notice the effect. I wrote about finding the balance between effort and ease. I wrote about challenging myself and how my body and mind responded. I wrote about how my practice and being a mother to my children worked….my son was 3 years old at the time, and my daughter was 5.
I started to observe my yoga practice in my everyday life. When I wasn’t practicing yoga, or writing about it, or attending classes with my teacher, there were still things I noticed when I was out in the world, or when I was cooking meals or cleaning at home, or the little (but still big!) challenging things of caring for young children.
There were many required texts for our course, including the Yoga Sutras and Bhagavad Gita, however my yoga-reading went to absolutely everything I could find. It was during my studies that I first read “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Parahamsa Yogananda…incredibly and powerfully inspiring.
It was also at this time that I read “Buddhism for Mothers” by Sarah Napthali….a book I often recommend to mothers of young children and it’s such a beautiful book.
I had embarked upon Yoga Teacher Training totally unsure whether I would even actually become a teacher.
Rewind to my Uni days. I attended my first ever Yoga class at age 19 and loved it instantly. My first teacher, Cate, was trained in Gita Yoga and wore a black bodysuit, and she was very flexible, but also very gentle. She taught classes at the Melbourne Uni college where I lived for 3 years; International House. I only signed up for classes because my friends talked me into it, haha! But I found it was the perfect antidote to the stress of study and exams.
I kept returning to Yoga classes in my 20’s because I wanted to feel less stressed and more relaxed. I didn’t know why yoga made me feel better, but as I started working as an Accountant in a second-tier firm in the city, I considered that Yoga was THE thing that helped me to deal with (what I perceived as) my stressful job.
The problem was that when things became really busy with work, then I didn’t have time to make it to classes. I would try a little meditation every now and again, but I couldn’t seem to make it stick, because I felt I just wasn’t doing it ‘right’. I thought ‘if only’ I could attend classes again then I would be okay. In other words, I thought that the yoga couldn’t happen without the guidance of my teacher.
It was after the birth of my children that I experienced a big shift in my perspective. Nothing in particular, and everything at the same time. Bringing children into the world, I was filled with awe…looking at their amazing little selves and watching them learn and grow made me feel amazed at life. At the same time, I struggled! I could write a ton about this, but I will sum it up briefly here to say this: My anxiety spiralled out of control and was fuelled by sleep deprivation. At one point I was fearful of leaving my house, and I became withdrawn from friends and family in my desperate state (that I wanted no-one to witness).
To help me with this, I knew I needed more mindfulness in my life. I started practicing Yoga at home, usually first thing in the morning, because the mornings were the hardest. I used a library book to guide me to practice some basic postures and sequences. I told my yoga teacher, Ali, and she encouraged me and suggested other books, including BKS Iyengar’s “Light on Yoga”. She told me of her experience of meditation, and I realised she was human the same as me. Light-bulb moment! One day she announced she was leaving. As we said our goodbyes she asked if I was going to study to be a teacher. I knew then that I would! It seemed like such a scary commitment. She smiled at me and said the heartfelt words to me “I’m so glad”.
I have been a teacher since 2011, and Yes – I still attend classes and retreats. And absolutely love doing so. I am always open to learning something new, or a new perspective, or having my own perspectives shifted or opened. Or simply giving myself the gift of rest. For me, it is always a wonderful feeling by practicing Yoga in a class with others.
But also in a class, I am practicing my own Yoga, from the inside. This is not something that happens easily or instantly. It is something that I have cultivated through my own practice and developing the art of tuning in to myself. I talk often about “Inner Body Awareness” and I am inspired by Eckhart Tolle’s teachings.
Even when a teacher is guiding me, ultimately I am making my own decisions for my body and mind on a moment to moment basis.
This is something I also encourage my students to do.
Yoga is about practice and experience. We can learn from teachers. But most of all, we learn from ourselves; our inner-teacher.