Thursday, February 3, 2011

How yoga helped me face my fears

In September 2008 I left a fulfilling job in Toronto to embark on my yoga journey.

Now you might be wondering, why would I give up my job for a yoga teacher training course? The reason was simple - a lifetime opportunity to study with a special teacher.

After reading the book “Yoga Beneath the Surface” by Srivatsa Ramaswami & David Hurwitz, I knew I had to find out more about Ramaswami because I was so inspired. Through my research, I discovered that his teacher had been the legendary Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya and that he had studied with him for 33 years as the longest standing student outside of his own family.

For those not familiar with Krishnamacharya, he is known as “the father of modern yoga” and taught many of today’s most influential yoga teachers that came to the west including B.K.S. Iyengar (founder of Iyengar yoga), Pattabhi Jois (founder of Ashtanga yoga), and T.K.V. Desikachar (Krishnamacharya's own son).

A young Ramaswami chanting with his guru Krishnamacharya. 

What was strange is that hardly anyone in the west had ever heard of Ramaswami before and yet Krishnamacharya had taught two very famous teachers that essentially helped popularize yoga. The book said that Ramaswami came from Chennai (India), so when I discovered that he had been living in New Jersey and was going to be teaching in LA I knew I had to sign up no matter what. It was also the first time he was offering a full 200-hour teacher training course, as previously he had only done short workshops, and I felt it was meant to be.

The course changed my life, and Ramaswami turned out to be a humble, funny and knowledgeable man who knew the yoga sutras by heart and possessed one of the most beautiful chanting voices I'd ever heard. In fact, on the first day of the course, he sat at the front of class in his gray slacks, button down dress shirt and bare feet and chanted for the first five minutes without saying a word, his presence was simply transcendent and brought tears to my eyes.

Meghan and Srivatsa Ramaswami 
Ramaswami made me realize that sometimes fear was holding me back from fulfilling my true potential. I danced growing up, but I was never the most flexible in class - my strengths were my jumps and my personality on stage. Later as I got into yoga, I always told myself that if I couldn’t do certain yoga poses it was because my body was not flexible enough. Doing his classes daily made me realize that I could go further than I thought possible. The discipline of waking up early and riding my bike for 20 minutes to the yoga practice wasn't always easy. Some days I felt like sleeping in, but I never skipped a class. Slowly, I started to see small changes occur not only in my physical body, but also in my mind and breathing patterns. I noticed that I was less stressed, I slept better, and I felt more fit and strong.

Now that I'm back to working, it's been more difficult to have a structured practice, but I've found that the same rules that apply to yoga apply to life. Whenever I face my fears and commit to something, I see results. Discipline is not always easy and I think that we can be least accountable to ourselves and more with others as we want to live up to their expectations. Learning with a teacher like Ramaswami helped me get in tune with my body and mind, more than I had ever been before, and I realized that being accountable and committed led to breaking through my fears, which was one of the most enriching experiences of my life.

Each month Ramaswami puts out a newsletter that I strongly encourage you to read.  Not only does he pass down his yogic wisdom, but he has even gone as far as digging through his old notes from the 1960s-80s from his studies with Krishnamacharya. Take a peek at his February 2011 newsletter, by clicking here. Enjoy!

Srivatsa Ramaswami with a photo of our class, the first 200-hour teacher training.

The LMU classroom where we spent every day for 6 weeks.

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