The Yoga Visa

Just a few days ago, I received an e-mail from my teacher in Mysore explaining the "new" developments in Mysore regarding visa regulations. These are a rather lengthy procedure that will ensure that any one who plans on studying yoga in Mysore will have a Yoga Visa.

My teacher sent out a four-part list indicating all the areas that need to be satisfied. These include:

1) A study letter should be sent to a student clearly mentioning the date of study and the duration;
2) A yoga visa cannot be issued for more than one year;
3) Any student who visits us once cannot return to India within 2 months of departure (maximum stay is 180 days). We must take a copy of confimed travel arrangements of the student and file it;
4) The name of the yoga center where the student wishes to study will be stamped on the visa and the students cannot study elsewhere, and
5) A copy of all student visa should be filed by the institution and submitted to the commissioner's office periodically for verification.

So let's talk about making the entire process more complicated not only for people travelling to India to study but also for the schools themselves. But rather than it being the Indian Government issuing this demand it's the local police of Mysore. Hence, the term yoga visa. To my knowledge, the Toronto Consulate of India does not issue such a thing. The standard visas are Tourist, Business and Student.

Having been to Mysore for the past 11 years, I know that the police were slowly cracking down on the number of people driving scooters. I was told by the General Manager of a popular hotel located in central Mysore that they were looking for Westerners. Being a Westerner in India comes often (if not all the time) with the assumption that you are rich or at least have 'extra' cash to burn. And in Mysore there might be up to 1000 foreigners (notwithstanding the fact that many yoga people usually travel in, and around, the same areas). I suppose with such a steady increase of Westerners this was a strange phenomenon to the local police giving them the grounds to seize control over the situation.

To date, the police have charged schools and yoga students in Mysore who violated these standards. There have also been schools (shalas) shut down, which is certainly not nice for those making an honest living and offering a valuable service.

The trouble is how does this work if a person wants to study yoga for 3 weeks and tour India for another month? Is there a yoga/tourist visa? Or what about the case if someone wants to study meditation? Is there a meditation visa available? And finally, what if someone wants to study in the North and then later in the South? The point is this procedure is somewhat absurd.

All of this confirms the fact that today Yoga is a business; a fashionable trend that allows everyone to become a part of it both directly and indirectly. What a vast change from how things used to be in India. Many years ago (like over 10) even charging money for classes was a bit of an 'uncomfortable' gesture. Ashrams and retreats did not have fixed fees but rather requested that you leave a donation. As a student conducting research on yoga, I still remember being laughed at by locals who could not understand why I would come to study Yoga in India. As one father put it, "We are concerned with putting food on the table, not relaxing." But within the tourist market of India, there are posters and advertisements that speak quite differently. Both in Delhi and Bangalore airports there are large billboards sporting the postures of yoga to promote tourism.

Ah, someone should begin the demand for meditation visas.


10 Steps to Meditation

Many people often have the perception that starting a regular practice of meditation is only reserved for the disciplined, the radically spiritual types and/or when you are "ready". These are some of the biggest misconceptions about meditation. You will never be "ready"; you can prepare yourself but you'll never be really ready to start. And with that kind of attitude another few years will have passed in which you are still "thinking" about doing it.

First, it is helpful to briefly explain what meditation is. Simply put, meditation is a conscious attempt or effort to focus our scattered minds. I find the best way to understand meditation is by thinking of it as the highest and purest level of concentration. You don't need to be "ready" or "into" spiritually. You do, however, need to be prepared to commit yourself to establishing a regular practice. If you learn to sit one day and never return to this for several weeks you'll find it hard to make any progress. It's also helpful to understand that your sitting practice is not much different than other habits you have such as taking a shower or brushing your teeth. Certainly, most of us would never leave the house or apartment without doing so (we hope). Meditation is a similar routine that can be established into your daily habits.

It is usually helpful to have a teacher who can assist you with the basics. The 10 steps below are a general outline and guide to starting your practice. It may also be helpful to find a teacher with whom you can discuss how to sit (re: finding the most appropriate position for you). In the meantime, these 10 steps are straightforward and will help you to get started.

1. Choose a regular time to sit.
2. Meditate in a quiet place.
3. Select a sitting position.
4. Keep your head, neck & shoulders aligned.
5. Focus your mind on your breath.
6. Repeat in your mind "I am sitting."
7. Practice for 10 - 15 minutes.
8. When distracting thoughts arise label them as "thinking".
9. Let go of expectations & looking for results.
10. Close your session by repeating the word 'peace'.

The Journey So Far

Life is an adventure and yoga is the greatest one of all. Here I share my love of Yoga, travel, practice and becoming a part-time cook. My life adventures have taken me from growing up in Toronto to living and working in South Korea to studying in India, marriage and finally closing my Yoga school of 15 years.

What I can say so far is that I truly believe that it is necessary in life to let go of one dream in order for another to be born. This might be painful to do so but it is the only way to move forward. We often believe that if our original plan does not succeed it is the recipe for failure. But what if it is the door to something new and great? The horizon is wide and life is not a straight line. This is the way I see it and my journey so far. Having also recently given birth to my first child and at 43, it is another new beginning.


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Heather Morton
is a perennial teacher and devoted student of yoga. Having made 18 extended trips to India she studies with her teachers annually. In 1997 she founded and directed The Yoga Way (TYW), Toronto's only school for 6-week yoga programs and not drop-in classes. For 15 years, TYW was a part of the growing Toronto yoga community and supported many charities by offering karma classes. As a teacher she holds many academic degrees including a BFA (Fine Arts in Theatre) and a Masters of Education. With a published thesis on Yoga for Children in School, her post-graduate work was a 2-year ethnographic project in the Indian school system. Heather has produced 2 dvds, meditation cds, a backbending manual and podcasts. Freedom of the Body DVD is the first of its kind as an instructional practice to the backbends of yoga. Heather has been featured in the Toronto Life magazine, The Globe & Mail, Yoga4Everybody and other on-line sources. She contributes to MindBodyGreen, Hello Yoga in Japan and Elephant Journal. She writes to inspire and share her experiences with others on yoga as a life's practice.
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