Four teachers tell us how yoga shaped their lives
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Sweating it out at the gym is passé. Today it’s all about bending, twisting and lifting. After all, yoga offers a more holistic workout—it makes you fit and tones your body, it rejuvenates tissues, makes your internal organs healthier, helps you breathe better and beat stress. In fact, a study published in March in the Journal Of Alternative And Complementary Medicine, and conducted by Boston University, found that bi-weekly yoga classes plus home practice were effective in reducing symptoms of depression significantly. We spoke to yoga teachers about how the practice has transformed their lives.
Iyengar yoga teacher, Bengaluru
I started yoga in the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune when I was just six years old. We were the first batch of the children’s yoga class in 1980, and I was one of the first 20 children who were there to practise. My mother had joined the institute and guruji (B.K.S. Iyengar) and (his daughter) Geetaji had asked her to bring my sister and me to the class. Because of yoga, we were made aware of the yamas and niyamas (dos and don’ts) of life, which made us very conscientious. We were also resilient to pain, and, of course, enjoyed excellent health. I was a very calm child and that truly came from yoga.
I thought of becoming a teacher when guruji was writing a book called Yoga: A Path To Holistic Health, and I was part of the copywriting team. That process matured me, because I started theoretically understanding asana, pranayama and the philosophy of yoga. Somewhere within myself, it became very clear that if I wanted to learn more (by then I had already spent 20 years as a student), I needed to teach. Guruji always recommended that his students become teachers because the more you teach, the more you learn.
As a student, you can afford to stay in your comfort zone, but as a teacher you can never be complacent. People have many reasons—emotional, stress or health-related—to practise. The point is to help somebody, which brings me a lot of satisfaction.
Learn from her
Extended Triangle Pose
The triangle is one of the first poses yoga students learn. When done correctly, you feel firmness in your legs, a lengthening of your spine, fullness in the chest, and freedom in your neck and shoulders. Beginners often want to reach and grip their ankle or touch the floor, not realizing that in doing so they compromise the rest of their body. When going into the pose, take care not to take the hand lower at the cost of compromising the knees and the chest. Often, the chest moves forward and drops down. For those who are stiff or lose their balance, it’s better to use a wall and a block (under the hand) for better support and alignment. With the wall behind you, take your right outer hip forward, bring your torso in line with your legs and hips, roll the shoulders back, and move your chest towards the ceiling.
Ashtanga/Vinyasa teacher, Delhi
I did my teacher training course in 2006 at the insistence of my sister Seema Sondhi, who is a well-known yoga master. I have always been teaching fitness. Before my yoga teacher training, I was an aerobics instructor and personal trainer. I didn’t begin teaching immediately, but eventually teaching yoga became my way of supporting myself.
Initially, my sequences were very strength- and endurance-based, but with yoga my practice (and my mind) has transformed. Now I’m more into pranayama and meditation, instead of just the physical aspect of working out. Yoga changed me, and gave me the patience to handle whatever was coming my way.
Learn from her
Crescent Moon Pose
This pose opens the hip flexor a lot, but at the same time you have to keep yourself lifted. So it works on strength and flexibility at the same time. And it also stretches the spine beautifully. When you get into this pose, you must try and create length in the spine. The shoulders move back and you push the middle of the back forward, thereby opening the chest. Do not let your hip sink. Press the front of the back foot into the floor to create a lift. The front part of the knee should be grounded instead of the knee cap. Body weight should be distributed evenly.
Hatha yoga teacher, Delhi
In my 20s, I was training for the national games, and competing in the category of pistol and air rifle. It required, apart from consistent practice, honing my focus level and keeping an even temperament. The sport needs us to learn to manage our breathing patterns and watch out for an oscillating mind, which directly affects our score. A need for a meditative modality of exercise led me to yoga. Eventually, in a few years, I went on to do my teacher’s training in Kerala, Mysuru and Chennai in 1999 and started interning that year at a centre in Delhi with my first teacher.
The discomfort in many postures eased as I learnt to be in the moment. This habit made me less reactive in life situations. The first thing I noticed with my practice of yoga was that I could no longer eat non-vegetarian food, that I had a lot more energy, and developed a habit of waking up earlier. I now see subtle and obvious changes in my students within a few months into their regular practice. There is more discipline in all spheres of their lives—in waking, eating, sleep patterns, less hormonal surges, and the immune system gets a boost. People develop a love for being on their mats because of how yoga makes them feel—more energetic, more positive.
Learn from her
It’s a weight-bearing pose which takes care of your bones, muscles, balance, and the nervous system. It tones the legs, waist and stomach and also builds endurance and stamina as it uses big muscle groups. For starters, extend the arms to press and use a wall or hold the back of a chair for traction length. Keep up to 1 minute for each leg.
Ashtanga/Vinyasa teacher, Mumbai
I started yoga in 1998, after a rock-climbing accident. The immediate changes were a deep feeling of peace and contentment I had never experienced before and, of course, a healed body. I did not immediately think of becoming a teacher. At first, my focus was to help heal myself. Teaching was almost a natural progression from all my years of learning and practising.
I love teaching yoga for several reasons. To help others heal and inspire them the way I feel inspired after practising it. To share what I know best. To connect with the energy that I experience while I’m practising.
I would say yoga has metamorphosed me. I do believe Ashtanga yoga is a potently transformational practice and I have seen people change completely after having started practising it. Weight loss, looking much younger, radiating health and vitality are only the physical benefits. On a deeper level, I have seen people become fearless, bold and yet peaceful.
Learn from her
King Pigeon Pose
A few things that you must take care of in this pose: Your bent knee can angle slightly to the outer edge of the hip. Look back at your right leg. It should extend straight out of the hip (and not be angled off), and rotated slightly inwardly, so its mid-line presses against the floor. When you lift your torso away from the thigh, lengthen the lower back by pressing your tail bone down and forward; at the same time, lift your pubis towards the navel. If you can maintain the upright position of your pelvis without the support of your hands, and if you can bend backwards and grab your foot, ensure that you lift the lower rim of your rib cage and drop your neck without shortening the back of your neck.