What does practicing yoga mean to you?
When I first practiced yoga it was purely goal oriented. How to get more flexible and strong. I was 19 and absolutely sure I could use yoga to transform my physical body and I did. In 6 months my body shape changed and I lost weight and I was able to use my body in ways I never thought I could. But something else happened too. I became lighter in my approach to life. This lightness of mind led me to question the nature of my existence and thats where the real journey began.
I wanted to know more about myself and I was sure that somehow the practice could take me there. I was very extreme in my approach. I practiced both meditation and yoga twice a day for 2 hours at a time. I poured over books, attended workshops, did everything I could to understand myself and my relationship with creation. I added more and more practices like mantra, mudra, yantra and then I sort of hit a wall. I got sick, not because of yoga but in spite of my dedication to yoga, and I started to question yoga and my practice. They say that crisis comes at the right time and it did for me. I was lucky enough to meet a true teacher at that point and was led systematically through a traditional methodology in the Upanishadic tradition to the truth about SELF and all my questions were answered. Now, when I practice, I do it purely to stay healthy, to pull myself out of the need to identify with thoughts and to remember that peace, joy and happiness are my true nature. Rather then looking for meaning in my practice, I recognise that without my presence the practice would have no meaning.
What does your personal practice look like?
I practice a series of pranayamas, kriya meditations and mantras in the morning for about an hour and an evening asana practice called Ishta Mala which takes between 20 to 40 minutes depending on the time I have available. Both the morning and evening practices are designed to build Ojas ( immunity) and to balance the doshas. The physical sequence includes sun salutations, standing postures, backbends and seated forward bends. The forward bending sequence is extremely powerful and it uses the extension and flexion of the legs to purify the nadis (energy flows in the body) The sequence was devised by my partner John Weddepohl and we practice it together.
How are your practice and your classes influenced by Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a big part of my life. I was introduced to Ayurveda by my main teacher, Alan Finger in 2000. Before we met I knew nothing about Ayurveda. He explained to me that I was practicing in a way which was depleting my system. My constitution is Pitta / Vata and I tended to work too hard, try too hard and that not only increased the pitta ( fire) but also the vata ( air and space) so I was spaced out quite often and over heated. So my practice has changed a lot. I no longer overheat my system with practices and also make sure everything I do is grounding. It’s the same when I teach, depending on the time of year, time of day and group of students I tailor the classes accordingly. In my workshops I can sometimes focus on a particular dosha, say like balancing Vata, and then the whole sequence will be grounding and nurturing etc.
How can yoga teachers incorporate Ayurveda into their classes?
The first thing you need to do is to get familiar with ayurveda and incorporate it into your own life and practice. Rather then just reading about it and applying the principles it’s best to live an ayurvedic lifestyle for a few years and really experiment and see how it influences you. Once you see the benefits of ayurveda in your own practice then it’s easy to bring it into the classes. A little bit of experience goes a long way. Understanding the postures that balance each dosha is important, and then recognising the type of student and what they need. A class which has a good balance of standing and seated postures with inversions and backbends will target each dosha in the group, but sometimes you have a class full of people who need more motivation. That’s when vinyasa based sequences would suit them better, than restorative postures. Understanding each dosha, being able to recognise them and then devise an appropriate sequence is going to help you with class planning.
How can yoga practitioners apply Ayurveda into their practice?
Starting with your self and determining your Dosha is the first place to start. Once you know the kinds of postures you need, you can devise a simple sequence. In ayurveda the opposite quality balances the dosha. So if you discover you have a predominance of Pitta, you will need to bring in more cooling, calming and nurturing postures like forward bending and restorative poses. Often Pittas like to fire themselves up so doing the opposite can be quite frustrating. It takes patience and persistence to change your personal practice to suit your dosha and this is something that can’t be rushed. Bringing ayurveda into your practice is not just about Asana. Diet and lifestyle are equally important. You may be doing all the right postures, but still eating foods that aggravate you or driving yourself at work in ways that make you more stressed or not sleeping enough. In ayurveda we aim towards a Sattvic lifestyle, with work, play, sleep and food in balance. What has helped me is to constantly refine all of these areas in my life. Then my asana practice becomes the constant amongst the changing colours of the day.