Keeping an open mind

Jessica Dewar Yoga_Bharath Shetty

It took many years before finding a teacher I truly connected with. I'm pretty direct and I've never been a 'new-age' kind of person. As a side note - I find it disappointing yoga has been labeled as new age, which is ironic considering the practice is thousands of years old, but that's neither here nor there. Regardless of how yoga is labeled, new age or not, for many years I struggled with the practice. I kept with it as I knew there was something powerful within it that I was yet to unlock or experience (consciously anyway), but this didn't make it an easy practice to maintain. It turns out, one of the biggest barriers for me was my teacher. I've had many (teachers) over the years - my teachers varied as I moved house many times in my twenties. I was also quick to leave a studio if I didn't connect with a teacher. I found it particularly difficult practicing with teachers who behaved as though they were floating in a cloud of unshakable inner silence and pure elation. Whilst I have no doubt this state is attainable, and this is something we all work towards, I struggled with the voice that was so soft I thought the room would explode if my voice were to be heard in comparison. It wasn't me. And if you've met me, you know I have anything but a calm, serene, unshakable stillness in my voice. I'm loud, nasal and have a twang in my accent that no-one can quite pick, especially myself. I'm from Adelaide so maybe that explains something...

So where am I headed with this? That's right, finding a teacher I connected with. It wasn't until I began practicing with Guiji in India that I began to feel more connected with the practice and with myself. There is absolutely nothing new-agey about him. He is strict, he is direct and he has no issue with forcefully pulling and pushing my body around to bring it into alignment. There is nothing soft about this type of practice. It is what it is and I like that. It's about the art of yoga, the discipline of yoga and maintaining a deep respect for what the practice represents. The seriousness with which the practice is taught has captured my full attention and is what draws me back to India each year.

But whilst it is wonderful I have a teacher whom I connect with and trust implicitly, I appreciate maintaining a self-practice here in Australia is quite limiting in itself. With the guidance of my teacher, my practice accelerates. A momentum that is hard to achieve when practicing on your own every morning. So I have decided it is time to venture out and seek experienced Ashtanga teachers, those who too, travel to Mysore. I shall seek out a teacher who shares this same devotion and respect for the practice. Someone who is about the practice, not the idea of it.

This is going to be a confronting experience for me as I've not given myself the opportunity to continue a regular practice with a new teacher in Australia. This is in part due to having struggled for so long to find a quality teacher I resonate with, and also if I'm honest with myself, is partly due to an arrogant mindset that no other teacher could measure up to Him. But this is a mindset that I know does not serve me. It prevents me from expanding my horizons and indirectly minimises not only the brilliance of many teachers out there, but also my own potential to be a brilliant teacher one day also. If I do not allow myself to connect and learn from others back here, then I shall be very limited in my long term potential and growth.

Moral of the story - we need teachers and we need to be open to what others can show us. This does not mean we take advice or guidance from just anyone. Be particular about who you practice/work with. But unless we give others a try, we can never know what potential we are missing.

Sending open minded hugs,

Jessica xx

What artists, musicians and yoga practitioners have in common


As a little girl, I tried many things – drama, singing, acting… but none of these activities stuck. They didn’t resonate. Upon reflection, I know a primary reason for not furthering my singing career (I loved singing) was due to feeling disconnected from my teachers. As a somewhat insecure child who had big dreams but lacked the confidence to chase them, I needed a teacher who was nurturing, understanding and encouraging. Not to fall to the back of the class and feel like a number in the room.

Being the baby of eight children meant funds were tight, so unfortunately access for private tuition was not available to me. This meant I needed to train with whoever was available in the average classes. Whilst many of these classes were still excellent and I had some lovely teachers over the years, I never had the opportunity to really step up my learning. I needed to stick with the course curriculum.

Yoga was another area of my life where I felt I wasn’t progressing the way I would like to. Whilst I enjoyed my regular group classes for years, there was something missing. The teacher could only offer so much attention to me. I needed a space where I could work on my practice and have the support of my teacher to improve and grow.

You see – to develop a skill, takes patience, practice and commitment. I began to realise that yoga was no different to any other activity out there. For example, when you look at the best athletes, artists, musicians and yes, yoga practitioners in the world, there is one thing they all have in common. A teacher. An experienced practitioner who can guide the student along a path that encourages ongoing growth and development. 

So when we translate this concept into that of a yoga practitioner, I often have people come to me and ask why they’re not progressing with their practice. Why the pain is still there, why the body remains rigid, why the stress levels remain high and (despite how egoistic this may sound), why they can’t perform the more advanced asanas after years of trying.

There are two very key reasons to explain the above:

1)    A lack of consistency. More often than not people expect a weekly practice is sufficient. Whilst any practice is better than no practice, the truth is, the best results come from a consistent, regular practice. No Olympian has ever won a gold medal through sporadic practice.

So what does this look like in terms of days to practice yoga? 6 days a week, minimum 30 minutes a day. For the serious ones, and I don’t mean Olympians, just those who seek strong change, this is where it begins. 

2)    A lack of guidance. How many professional athletes, musicians, singers and so on have reached world record standards without the support of a teacher? Whilst I’m aware there are odd cases, generally speaking, everyone has a coach of some sort, a mentor if you will. These are the people who help to set goals, inspire the practitioner/student to push a little harder even when they (the student) feel like there is nothing more to give, who encourage the student to get up and try again every time he/she falls.

You see, there is nothing more powerful than the relationship between a teacher and student. The bond they share is unbreakable. The trust and belief they have for one another is so intimate and profoundly important that nothing could come between them. It is in this space, in this place of trust, that they will both excel. The teacher will be motivated and inspired to keep raising the bar whilst the student will continue to aim for it.

Whilst I appreciate not all people can have the opportunity to build this type of relationship via private tuition, in the yoga world, there is one very powerful way the same bond and learning can be achieved without the expense of such classes – and this is through a practice known as Mysore Style yoga. A traditional way of learning yoga, it is where practitioners learn the discipline of self-practice whilst having the support of their teacher to observe and progress the student as he/she is deemed ready. Since returning to Mysore and practicing in this way, it’s reminded me of how powerful this practice is. Through kind but also strict instruction, I’ve been reminded of areas where I have become lazy and forced to work harder. I’vealso been challenged to take my practice to the next level as I demonstrate the strength and body/mind awareness to do so. From here I now have more tools to implement into my regular practice back home before returning again next year.

I’m therefore excited and passionate about sharing Mysore Style yoga with my students, as I genuinely believe it is the best form of learning. That it is through this approach to yoga that practitioners can see the quickest results re freeing themselves of ailments and stress whilst also building strength and flexibility in their body and mind. It is the consistent and guided practice that allows the space for this growth to occur. And then what’s on the other side of this? Health. A feeling of connection with ourselves and others. Reduced stress… Life! People can start focusing on living again rather than healing. Why? Because the practice will make it so.

So if ever you’re feeling stagnant in your practice (whatever your practice could be- art, music, yoga…) look for opportunities to learn from others. Who can you seek out as a mentor, a teacher that you believe could take you to the next level? Take the time to find this person and invest in this training – because at the end of the day, this will be your biggest investment.

Sending huge hugs and love,

Jessica xx

The things we do! I really must love yoga.

Part of being advanced practitioners and teachers means we need to learn all the major Kriyas (cleansing techniques) and experience them all too. As we all know, and cannot forget, last week was Shankaprakshalana (explosive cleansing of the entire digestive tract) and this weekend will be: Jala Neti, Sutra Neti and Vamana Dhouti. Translation: Water in my nose and out my mouth, catheter in my nose and out my mouth, 3+ litres of my favourite saline water and then vomiting it all up again (and everything else in my stomach). Excellent!

To be honest, I love all these little experiments with the body. Yes, none of it is glamorous, but the benefits experienced are just amazing. After last weekends effort, I’ve never felt healthier - until I returned to eating certain foods which I now know my body is not friends with. The power of Kriyas is so wonderful. The danger, however, is becoming addicted to the Kriyas. The feeling of being healthy and amazingly energised can be so addictive that people then complete Kriyas regularly without a need to. This is when the opposite effects can happen - turn from help to harm.

Yoga really is so beautifully holistic in its approach. People commonly forget that yoga is not only about asana practice. There is pranayama, kriyas, bandhas, mudras etc. And nothing about yoga is religious. It’s a science, another reason why I respect it so much. But bringing it back to this weekend, it’s certainly going to be yet another whole new experience, but a great one no doubt. I’m not sure how we will all look vomiting on the street, but we’ll see!

Moving onto a completely different topic now. I’m beginning to become very aware that my course is nearing it’s end, and although I cannot wait to get home, I feel so terribly sad about leaving. Whilst in class tonight chanting with Bharath’s wife, with eyes closed and chanting quietly with the group I found myself crying. It was near uncontrollable. From before sunrise until well after sunset I am in that Shala with my classmates and teacher. My little India family. And I have been inspired so much that the thought of not learning from Bharath each day is terribly upsetting. Again, a true yogi does not get attached, but the Jessica deep down tends to get very attached to things. (I’m working on it!). For Bharath, I will become a distant memory as many more students have the good fortune to train with him, but for me - Bharath will always be my Guru. I was inspired by this man before I even met him (in France when I was taught by one of his students, which is why I came to him), but now I cannot even describe what a fundamental impact he has had on me which will stay with me for the rest of my life. How do you thank someone for that? What do you say? Do you say anything? How do you say goodbye to that person?

Don’t get me wrong - this has been the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life. Ever. Emotionally, physically. You name it, it’s been tough. But maybe it’s because of the many hurdles I’ve been jumping over all this time which is making the process so much more enjoyable. Rewarding. Hence, why I feel so much gratitude for the opportunity to have learned from this wonderful man. I dunno - something to meditate on.

Ok, enough about that. I will definately chat with Bharath as some point about how I’m feeling. He always has something wise to say which helps me to centre myself. How lucky I am.

Namaste xx

Why not? If cows can, why not a pony!