My first real exposure to Yoga was during one of our travels in South East Asia in 2003. My husband and I backpacked for eight months and ended our trip in India were we stayed for over a month.
I’m glad India was the last country we experienced because even after having travelled for many months, India is an intense country. Everything is “more” there: more people, more colors, more smells, more noise, more music, more poverty, more trash, more generosity, more smiles, more aggressions… It’s a country full of contradictions and I loved it!
The way we approached that trip, (which by the way, wasn’t planned at all: we were in Indonesia for two months and after meeting so many people traveling for a year or two, we couldn’t resist extending our trip so the day before our flight back, we made the decision to travel for another six months) was to learn something cultural in every country we visited: we did a Thai massage certification program in the Old hospital of Chiang Mai in Thailand, in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar we mainly visited the amazing temples, learned about the culture and visited some tribes and in India, of course, we wanted to learn Yoga.
We chose to stay in an ashram in Rishikesh and exposed ourselves to the yoga tradition.
Every day, we had some asana classes (the physical practice) and some meditation, philosophy and chanting classes.
To me, it was an absolute revelation that a discipline could be so complete and address each part of our being in such a deep and profound way. I literally fell in love with the practice.
When I returned to New York I wanted to learn more about that discipline so I went to yoga and meditation classes several times a week.
But the teachers I met in India left such a strong impression on me that I went back 2 years later to take a teacher training with them.
Our schedule was intense: meditation early in the morning, followed by 1 hour asana practice, breakfast, chanting and philosophy for 90 minutes, 2-hour asana practice, lunch, break, 1 hour karma yoga (selfless actions), 2-hour asana practice, 1 hour yoga nidra (deep relaxation), ceremony along the Ganges, dinner, meditation, bed time. Intense!
I’ll always be so grateful to these beautiful teachers: Karin O’Bannon and Mataji.
And yes, to my husband as well! (That day, he secretly organized a beautiful ceremony for my 29th
When I came back to NYC, I kept practicing diligently until I decided to take another teacher training here for my thirst for learning and understanding was still big.
At first, I was struggling with the lack of philosophy and spirituality in the classes in New York. It bothered me for a long time because I felt we were missing a huge part of what yoga is. It was so prominent in India. But I was also absolutely fascinated by the physical practice. It is such an intricate and sophisticated practice and there is so much to learn so I completely involved myself in it for a long time.
Fast forward 16 years, I still (and I think I always will) love the details of the alignment and how the subtleties affect the way we can move our body, I love breaking down the poses and I deeply believe that being able to master our physical body is the first step toward mastering our mind and finding more peace and ease in our life.
But in our modern societies and maybe even more in NYC, the focus on the physical practice is so big that most people don’t realize that Yoga is so much more than that.
What really matters at the end of the day is how we are able to be in our life. Are we at peace, how are we interacting with our loved ones, do we have the tools to help us go through a challenging situation with more grace and ease? That’s what truly matters at the end of the day.
So I want to make a point of introducing some philosophical or spiritual concepts or principles in each of my group classes so hopefully they can inspire my students as much as they are inspiring me.
The past few weeks, I’ve been talking about the yamas (the social observances; it’s the 1st limb of the 8 limbs that represent yoga) in my classes. We’ve been exploring the concept of Ahimsa (absence of violence or non-harming). It obviously means, not hurting anyone or any beings physically but it also means non harming anyone with our words and with our thoughts. It englobes so many aspects of our lives. I’m trusting that we are not killing anyone but what about hurting someone with our words or our thoughts? Have you ever regretted some words that you said to someone? I have! Have you ever had any mean or negative thoughts toward someone? I have!
Between you and I, the negative thoughts for me tend to appear especially when riding the subway during rush hour…
And of course, this concept can also be applied toward ourselves. Are we hurting ourselves in any physical way (maybe an extreme diet, excessive exercising, not sleeping enough…)? What about the way we talk to ourselves and think of ourselves? Are we constantly judging ourselves, or comparing ourselves to others, are we feeding our self-doubts and fears of not being good enough? Are we self-sabotaging before even starting something?
That concept is at the heart of everything for it encompasses so many levels of our life.
Like everything else in life, in order to make a change, we have to be aware of what needs to be changed. So first, it’s all about awareness, all about observing ourselves, noticing the way we interact with others, paying attention to the way we talk to ourselves.
It takes time… it’s a process, it’s a practice but oh so rewarding when we start to see some changes in our lives. When we become less tense, less frustrated, less affected by the situations that used to cause us some pain in the past. That is how we know that our practice of yoga is working.
So perhaps for the next few weeks, few months or even years, I invite you to observe the way you interact with others with your hands, words and thoughts but also the way you treat yourself until the pattern that causes pain becomes so obvious and clear in your mind that change is the only option.
As Elizabeth Gilbert is saying: “I’ve never seen any life transformation that didn’t begin with the person in question getting tired of their own bullshit”.
As always, thank you for reading.