Are teachers creating dependent students?

Today was my last day training Mysore Style. Upon reflection, it’s been a great week. I have been given an opportunity to truly deepen my practice, using this time to work hard at better understanding particular asanas, and how I move in, out and hold them. My Sirsasana, for example, has significantly improved by having more time to work on this; feel it, notice what is and isn’t working - both physically and mentally. Both teachers have also been very involved with the practice, correcting physically moreso than verbally, to help me (and others) improve our technique.

But with this approach to teaching, which is quite the opposite to Bharath, I noticed how people became dependent upon the teacher. (And they told me so also). Even I would unwillingly become dependent in particular asanas. Sirsasana was one of them, which is not what I wanted at all. Although the lovely woman who taught in the morning meant well by helping me to maintain balance, I was beginning to need her there. Thankfully her involvement became less and less as the week went on, but it made me think about how people come to ‘need’ their teachers. I can see why this would be great for business, but it’s not helping the practitioner to progress.

After class today, I was chatting with another student - a young woman from New Zealand. She was telling me how much she loved being physically corrected. I agreed it had it’s benefits, but in the long run it’s not good at all. This prevents practitioners from ever being able to do self practice in a technically correct way. It also minimises a persons ability to truly learn their body, how it works and what needs to be done in order to achieve a particular asana - whether that’s a micro movement of the hips, engaging the pelvis or a slight tilt of the chin. All these movements are important to feel naturally, not to be forced into. It will never come this way and it creates dependency. The same goes for using props; like straps, bolsters and blocks. Practitioners will never learn to effectively work with, challenge and explore their body whilst using props. I, for one, use to like using a strap for asanas like Supta Padangusthasana (lying down big toe = lying on your back with one leg raised in the air and holding onto your big toe). But now that I don’t use a strap, I realise how limiting this (strap) was to my practice. My flexibility and strength in my legs has significantly improved since working without it. My hips are also opening much better because I’m working through the asana more strongly, through feeling everything work together - arms, hips, thighs, calves, legs, abs, breath. The strap was just laziness (on my part anyway).

So, although it has been a great week in terms of my own development and deepening of the asanas, it’s been a real eye opener about what type of teacher I want to be. I want to offer people the opportunity to really explore their body, to see their body ‘open’ naturally and in their own time. This is a gift and I am excited to share it. I feel so overjoyed every time my body moves in a way I once thought was impossible, and I want others to feel this way also. I could think of nothing more rewarding.

On a completely different note, it’s Happy Holi Day here in India, which explains my slightly odd look! Seeing people drowned in different coloured dyes was fabulous fun. I just wasn’t game enough to bring my camera…

Namaste xx

My new favourite shop - yes, up those vertical stairs!

Happy Holi Day!!

Of course I went for the ‘double’ smoothie today…

…and finished it.

Listen to your body. Love your body. And your body will love you back.

With the stress of exams over, I finally made the effort to go and speak with Bharath privately during lunch. Bharath meets with students on the second floor of his Shala, in the front room which is lit beautifully with natural light. I didn’t quite know what to expect his home to look like, but he had a lovely wooden, low to the ground couch which thin cushions - but still comfy. The chairs were deep. I would have fallen backwards had I sat on the edge and lent back. A thin sheet covered in 1960’s style orange and yellow florals sat over the couch and each of the matching chairs. This mini lounge, a discrete bookshelf in the corner near the bay window and a small laminate coffee table in front of the couch was all that was in the room. I love how simply one can live. My home is much the same. Owen and I are not big on filling our home with clutter. It just creates a stressful, overwhelming environment (for me anyway). Simplicity is so much calmer, and stillness can be achieved much easier (not that I’m always still! That’s exactly why I need a de-cluttered life).

I asked many questions today which I’ve built up over the weeks. As I spend my lunch hours studying, I never found the time to see Bharath until now. I have also been slightly intimidated by him to be honest. I know there is absolutely no need to feel that way but I guess it can be a little intimidating at times being in the presence of a master, and someone I have wanted to meet for some time now.

Back to the questions - I asked simple things like the meaning of certain mudras we do multiple times a day or the reasons why inversions (among other asanas) are not good during menstruation and pregnancy. Being a woman for one, and wanting to work with pregnant women also in future, I think its important I understand this a little more. I asked Bharath if he would recommend I train in gymnastics (in addition to yoga) when I return home to improve my strength. He just laughed at this question. Completely against this idea, he explained the strength comes from the combining of the mind and the body. Often, we limit ourselves purely due to our thoughts. Since being here, I now fully understand what he means by this and have personally witnessed it to be true. Bharath recommended I remain committed to my yoga practice and don’t start other activities like gymnastics, pilates etc. I mentioned that it had been recommended I train in as many areas as possible, such as gymnastics and pilates. To that, Bharath simply said, “…the people who do that are lost.” Enough said.

Finally, I chatted with Bharath about the chronic, and currently sharp, pain I get in my back. I explained I have Scoliosis and that i have flare ups every now and then - now being one of those times. I told him that many people have said my back would improve through yoga, but I am yet to see this happen. That during practice I can relieve it, but once practice is over, the pain always returns. I also explained I have accepted that I shall always live with this pain. There. That was it. Bharath found the problem in an instant. It’s not my back, it’s what I think about my back which matters. If I continuously tell myself I am in pain, that I must deal with pain forever, then that is how I shall live. Bharath told me a story of when he was run over by a motorbike a few years back now. His ankles and legs were broken, he suffered a slipped disc in his back and had severe sciatica (among other things). Bharath said he feels no pain now. Although you can see his damaged knees following the operations, he feels absolutely no pain and this is due to firstly; his commitment to regular practice, but more importantly; his mindset. He wouldn’t allow himself to think negatively about his body. I, however, have done the opposite for years. So - from now on, positive thoughts!

I left Bharath today feeling much more ‘connected’, if you will, with him. I like that he knows a little more about me, and I think he does too. He has a wonderful heart and soul, and clearly wants to best for his students. He is also wonderful at giving 100% of his attention to you. To me. Nothing could distract this man during the time we shared, and it was lovely knowing he is completely engaged. He is so focused on us that you can’t help but feel important to him.

So after today, I no longer feel intimidated by this man - at all. Maybe I should have gone to chat with him a little sooner….

This evening was a more relaxed practice. Beginning with a photo shoot by Bharath of all of us, it ended with us all having an opportunity to take pictures doing asanas in front of the gigantic Om at the front of the class. It was a really fun evening. Bharath sat with us all and helped us get into and out of our postures for photos. He helped me get into Sirsasana for mine. As I was on the spot and rushing into the posture, it was good having him there to make sure I didn’t end up doing a back flip. For most students, this was their last evening practice. For me, I get another month with this wonderful teacher, and I feel so very fortunate for that.

So, my take home lessons for the day; love my body more and be kinder to it, challenge feelings of intimidation - it’s not necessary to feel that way and only brings harm, and stay focused on my practice. This is my chosen path and I will commit to it. What is yours?

Namaste xx

First world problems

Although I should be focused on my practice, in class today I had moments of - “where the hell am I going to start my blog for today?” Let’s just say it’s been one full on day.

Firstly - this mornings practice was really strong for me, which is odd considering my back at the moment. Some background for why I mention this:

For the past few days I have been struggling with Sirsasana (head stand). Balance is off and this is purely to do with being ‘in my head’ too much. Looking around, you see almost everyone in this perfect posture and for some reason I then feel pressure to be in it also. Although I know I can do the asana, whenever I have this additional pressure (self imposed) I freak out! Bharath has also been watching my progress and I couldn’t help but feel he was disappointed my progress has not been as consistent as others (I could be talking absolute crap right now - I have no idea whether anyone elses progress has been consistent or not. And I’m sure Bharath does not judge in any way. My silly insecurities). But putting that aside, today I made a strong commitment to self to ignore all the other voices in my head and just do Sirsasana with no other baggage attached to it. Well - who would have thought I would just fly into the posture! Maybe not fly, but you get my point. A combination of self belief and concentration can lead to marvelous things. “Hello again, Sirsasana my old friend!”

As you all know, the following session was our exam. In a nutshell, I think I did fine. I knew most of what was asked, however of course there were particular questions where I kicked myself for not having spent more time learning them. I think everyone did this. I was particularly proud of how well I knew the Foundation Sequence. All 84 asanas, in Sanskrit with perfect spelling and in order of how they are to be taught. No easy task. But my preparation prior to coming to India really helped me to fly through this part of the exam.

When I returned from a shopping spree lunch at Easy Day (this requires a rickshaw to get there as its a fair distance away) I walked into reception to see one of the young reception boys sitting behind the front door. I could see something was wrong, even with his usual warm smile to greet me. The same boy who played a trick on me re the cleaning of my room, he obviously feels comfortable to chat with me. He lifted the jeans of his right leg and showed me a severely swollen ankle which he could barely walk on. The poor thing had tripped at work in the early morning, with the boss there at the time, and had clearly sprained his ankle quite badly. It broke my heart seeing him sitting there as he needed to complete his 12 (or so) hour shift before he could leave and get some treatment. I gave him some aspirin and Nurofen to hopefully help with some of the pain, but this kid needed a doctor. Talk about putting things into perspective. There I was worrying about the questions I stuffed up in the exam, and then you see people like this lovely young man, maintaining a smile whilst clearly in a lot of pain. This really upset me today, to a point of tears. Me and my ‘first world problems’.

From an emotional point of view, I think every emotion was heightened for me (and everyone else by the sounds of it). Sadness, worry, nervousness, excitement, relief, frustration, gratitude. All sorts was/is going on. By the time Owen and I chatted on Skype, I was a blubbering mess. “Get a grip Jessica!” Being reminded that I cannot save the world and stop suffering, added to it a little.

This evenings practice was good fun. Bharath tends to use the evening sessions to challenge us a little further by introducing new, and advanced, asanas. My core is still very weak so I struggle with many which require lifting the body completely off the floor (I can do some, but it’s bloody hard as I am relying on arm strength rather than core stability). But I’m certainly impressed by some of the contraptions I manage to move myself into. It’s incredible to see how far you can challenge yourself, within your limit of course. What I noticed tonight was how many students were sitting the class out. Slowly, slowly, over the past week or so, more and more students and choosing to sit the asana classes out. What a huge opportunity loss! I want to make the most of every moment I can be in a class with Bharath, because I guarantee it will be a challenge to find another teacher as brilliant as he back home. Bharath is big on making sure we challenge our minds as this is what holds us back most of the time. I can’t help but wonder how many of the students are giving into unhelpful thoughts and in effect giving up for the day. My back is in terrible pain still, but I know I can work through this (within my limits of course). If I gave in at every niggle I felt, or slight snuffly nose, then I would never practice. I think a lot of people are doing exactly that - paying attention to the wrong messages of the mind.

So on that note, I want to leave you with a question: If something is a challenge (physically, mentally or both) and you want to quit, ask yourself why? Is it because you truly are at a point of exhaustion or could really hurt yourself? Or are you giving into the mind because that’s the easier option? If it’s the latter, I recommend one learns to challenge that part of the mind, because in doing so, wonderful things can be achieved.

Namaste xx

Making more friends - "Hello Sirsasana!"

The mind is so powerful. It can hold us back from pursuing and achieving what we truly desire in life or it can see us excel and meet our wildest dreams. In theory, people know this. I’m not saying anything new here - but in practice, it’s a little more challenging to apply. Yoga is a fantastic way of challenging the mind, our beliefs, our fears. For me, Sirsasana is one posture I never believed I could do. Even when our teacher assured two weeks ago that we could all do it, I was sitting in class thinking - “I’m sure everyone else can, but I know I can’t. I’ve been trying for over a year and failed miserably”. Well, I was proven wrong today. Today - I was up! Whilst holding the position I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. In fact, writing this now I can’t wipe the smile off my face. You see - achieving an asana like Sirsasana - The King of Kings - means so much more than achieving something physical. Here, there is a connection of the body, breath and mind, and when these become one, working in unison, then we can achieve great things in life (beyond asanas). I consider an asana as a symbol of our own power. If we can challenge ourselves to keep trying, to be patient, to learn the correct techniques, then anything is possible. Today, I proved this to myself and I feel so incredibly happy with this achievement. So much so, I didn’t want to wait until tonight to blog about it. Also, my hips are fantastic today. I sat in one position for about 40 minutes before having to move. That is 100% unheard of for me! Normally, I’m the squirmer in the class moving from cross legged to one leg bent back to cross legged because I feel like my hips are about to explode. But not today! It seems my body is finally beginning to surrender to the practice which is exciting. Again, through commitment, dedication and a desire to achieve it’s amazing what beautiful things can happen.

As of this week, our schedule will also include attendance at Mysore Style classes. Here we are to observe the students and how they train in this type of class. People travel from all over the world to train Mysore Style so I am looking forward to sitting in. I wasn’t selected to sit in today but at some stage this week I will.

This morning I will prepare to teach Surya Namaskara - one part of me hopes to be selected as I have prepared well, the other part hopes I’m not. Well see, shall we!

Namaste xx


Clearly not me, but you get the idea!!