2012-07-03

My Life Mysore Style


I'm in Mysore.

Here's a photo tour of my life here. 

Transportation:

Practice:

Breakfast:

Chai:

Study:

Every day revolves around the practice. On a personal note, that's why it's a good thing my husband is not here. When I told my teacher I would not be sleeping in on the days off (sort of meant as joke) he replied, "your husband might get frustrated if you continue this at home".  

I don't really think my husband wants me to make a choice between him or Yoga! No man should stand between a woman and her passion especially if there is an opportunity for them to grow closer as a result of it. Both people can give the other 'space' and still not feel neglected or left out. It is fundamental to a loving and lasting relationship.

However, the reality is people split and tensions rise especially when one partner is seemingly "in love" with something other than themselves. It is often hard to balance your life especially when practice is paramount. Several years ago at a Yoga Conference in LA,  I had the opportunity to hear a personal story from Rama Jyoti Vernon (one of America's first spiritual female teachers). It was about her 'then' husband and yoga. She had organized several Swamis, Gurus and teachers to come together from different traditions for a workshop. In the traditional manner they stayed in her home. For her, it was an exciting time and the highlight to all that she had ever done on the path. During the week one Swami was in the bathtub reciting the yoga sutras, another in the kitchen doing pranayama, a monk in the living room meditating, a teacher in the den practicing yogasanas and so on. Her husband, however, didn't quite get it and became very frustrated that the entire house was overrun by Swamis.

When she was on her way out to teach a yoga class he pulled her aside and told her, "Look.....You will have to decide. It is me or them."

When she told the story she paused for a while and then asked, "So who do you think 'I" choose?" The audience broke out laughing since the answer was obvious. Then she added, 'Now, husband number two...".

For the sake of the conference I would assume the 'full' story was somewhat edited. I also had the feeling her story was simply a way of portraying all the difficulties that take place when walking on the path of yoga. People do not understand you; they are critical of your eating habits, choose of work and wish you'd get a real job. We heard the simplified version. That said, the point was and is for each of us to strive to be open, caring and understanding of one another even it crunches our personal space or takes us by surprise.

The idea of 'space' after all is an interesting concept since in India there seems to be less of it than in the West. In India there is less 'ownership' over both public and private space. Having your house overrun by others would probably be more welcomed in India. I've been over to friend's houses for dinner and it is not uncommon for the neighbors to drop by. No one asks if they can enter they just do! At the service apartment where I am staying in Mysore a similar scenario takes place.  Speaking generally it is often a question of your 'space' being invaded only as it is a lack of respect.

It might be hard to understand but these are not necessarily intertwined.

When my husband decided to marry me he was very clear about Yoga's role in my life. We met in Mysore 5 years ago. Every breakfast conversation was dominated by yoga. During our marriage ceremony he spoke beautifully about the importance of Yoga to me. His vows included him wanting to share it with me. It was sweet, honest and right from his heart.

Love:



2012-07-02

How Much Water Should Yogis Drink?


Ever wonder how much water is enough to drink? Is there such a thing as drinking too much water?

Check out my post at MBG where I talk about my latest experiment in drinking 4 liters of water daily.

Sounds like a lot........Read more here


Mysur, Mysur, Mysurrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!

I'm back in Mysore, India.

If you have ever been to Mysore and attempted to catch a bus at an overcrowded station this is exactly what you will hear!

While I'm not hanging around the bus stand, I am really excited to be back in Mysore. The number #1 reason is always for practice.

There aren't enough words to describe the experience other than to clarify this is not another journey in exercise, but a path in learning to watch the mind and move with the breath (otherwise known as the pranic force). This year my practice is 2 hours and 5 postures. After the sun salutations for 45 minutes (1 round only) each posture is held for 8 to 10 minutes. Before and after each position is standing for 5 breaths (in tadasana, the mountain pose).

Sound boring? 

Actually, it is one of the toughest practices I have known leaving aside intense backbending and traditional Ashtanga-yoga. In former times when Ashtanga students showed up at Yogachaya's school they frequently expressed how difficult his approach was. Notwithstanding the fact that there are no vinyasas, which might make it easier, Yogacharya teaches from a very different place. He is not interested in how flexible you are or how strong you seem to be. In fact, he wants to teach you what you don't want to learn. And that's tough both for the teacher and the student. Deep down we all have a layer of resistance and it is just dam easier to stick with what you know. Accumulating proficieny in many asanas may 'seem' like you are pulling it together, but quite often it is 'performance' rather than of a true inward connection.

But who can be the judge? No one. This is the ultimate test for each practitioner to realize for themselves and the aim that Yogacharya keeps as the forefront. It is curious that systems like Sivananda yoga never placed a lot of emphasis on the yoga postures. On the spiritual path it is very easy to get attached to the body. Instead of lessening our bondage to the body we end up reinforcing it through the asana practice.

Forget you are a body 

Being in Mysore is a great way to experience all these conundrums and the oxymoron of practice. That is, how to not be a body when you have one and it is the tool you are using in practice.  During my first week in Mysore, I randomly picked up a book with a quote from BKS Iyengar. It spoke about how when we start yoga we have to forget we are a body. This could be interpreted in many ways, but it serves as the foundation to practice.

The way I see it is like the more you struggle in practice with your body deep inside a seed is planted that ultimately the body is not one's true identity.

Holding postures beyond the traditional series of 5 to 8 breathing as outlined in the Yoga Mala is challenging. When I casually flipped my eyes at the clock during practice my teacher said, "That is none of your business." He was right on. As I repeat these postures daily I have the chance to look deeply at the fluctuations. This is one of the main reasons why we do not change the system or practice whatever we like.

Get bored early so you can get serious sooner.  

The whole point of practice is not to entertain the mind but to bring it face-to-face with the various levels of hidden resistance. These are the tamasic notions (often felt like laziness or heaviness) and rajastic feelings (ego driven practice). The entire process is to reach a sattvic practice.

What is a sattvic practice? 

It is a pure practice that in the ideal sense is not motivated for fame, money or respect.  It is also not for making a living. You may make a living (aka your demonstrations) and teaching, but this is not to be confused with the purity of the practice. And right now there is a lot of confusion with many people forgetting the real reason why they practice yoga, study yoga and enjoy yoga.

It should be said, however, to reach this level of practice takes years of burning it out in many other postures, chanting, meditating and studying. This is my journey. I practiced intensely for several hours every day for many years to reach several advanced asanas. When I turned 40, I found my motivation and level of awareness changed. Earlier I felt a needed to prove to 'me' I could do the postures. It was a game, a fun sport and I was happy to ride it. But later I felt a deeper shift.

Sometimes a practice like this (re: only a few postures) can make you feel like you are going backward not forward. But this is the next game the mind plays. Unfamiliar pains surface, the body reacts differently and my memory of the posture is not always as trustworthy as I imagined it to be. Before I was blindsided by my intense ambition and my 'rock and roll' behavior in wanting to get my yoga on!

Nothing wrong with this but there are plateaus, valleys, peaks and summits. It's not always up, up and up. 

Beginners of yoga might understand this kind of practice as too deep to start off with and more experienced students that you cannot break a sweat. It all depends on your level of concentration. Today I noticed how much my mind was fighting. Two minutes passed and my body was fine; my mind was not.

Many times I think students believe that once you get a posture then you can start thinking of the theory. However, by then it will be more difficult to train the mind and understand what this is all about. I also think it is important to discuss what is there to "get'? In practice the aim is to train the heart along with the head so that we go beyond exercise. We cannot throw the body away, but discover ways to practice with our limitations and problems; not getting caught by the emotional ups and downs. I always think of the body and the mind as the two ends of the mala. These make it whole and wearable.

How do you practice with the heart?

There are 3 ways:

First, have a main teacher to study under is critical as well as a teacher who does not want you to only succeed physically. A teacher who truly wants to see you transform yourself and not out of a need to please him or her, but to become 'free'.

Second, be honest. Start with superficial goals and not lofty ones. Every year I studied under my teacher I had a list of 'things.'  Handstands, arm balance postures, backbends and more. He had great patience with me and allowed me to ride the journey. It was not him pushing me, but me desiring it as a way to get to somewhere 'else'.

Where is that place? This is what the Rishis talk about as being not this or that or some other thing (netti netti). Essentially it is a way of not letting the mind become fixated on ideas or preconceptions that could be true today but false tomorrow. The teachings always encourage the practitioner to begin (aka the yoga sutras proclaim that the young, old, very sick can practice). The belief is no physical state is hopeless.

Third, put the work into it. It is hard work, but also joy.

Heading to my practice I take all of this with me. Because it is not that you reach point A and forget about how you got there. It's a continual review of how you got there, why you got there...and how to be there.

In the end, it is you, the mat and the breath. There is nothing to win, lose, show, tell, cry or laugh about.

And even when you do....that's okay too!

Copyright, 2012, Heather Morton


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.


ME

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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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