A Live Experience.

Think of all the people who have made an impression in your life.  When I think of the people who have made a lasting impression in mine and I try to dissect the reasons why, they usually boil down to one of two things: either that person embodies a quality or qualities I would like to have myself; or they embody the opposite.  It’s not surprising that in my travels through the yoga world, I have come across a lot of people who have made lasting impressions on me (on both accounts).  I am always enamoured with those students and teachers whose behaviours and ways of being in the world actually reflect the yoga teachings.  I want!  Likewise, I always feel disillusioned when I come across ‘yogis’ whose behaviours seem to so profoundly contradict the teachings (even though I am more akin to these folks – yes, thank you Jung, I hear you whispering ‘shadow self’ in my ear, you’re awfully clever, now bugger off).

Back to impressions.  Today I am introducing you to one of those yogis who, for me, embodies that first category – the kind of person who has qualities you wish you could somehow absorb by osmosis.  I met Christina (I knew her as Cetanarupa) during my yogic studies.  Impression number one: always smiling (positive sign).  I got to know her better when we shared the same karma yoga bush regeneration group (oh yep, hi to the snakes and leeches up in the mangrove bushland, you were a blast).  Cetan had a softness and a lightness and a sincerity about her that I really appreciated.cetan 

But there was one situation in particular that I still remember today (several years later) that left the biggest impression.  And it wasn’t a huge event.  It was just a very quiet, gentle lesson for me.  Cetan and I were in a student group together discussing some yogic concept or another (yep, always the group sessions throughout a 13 hour day to test your metal) when one of the other group members became really agitated because she didn’t like the direction of the discussion.  Now this agitated student had been sticking in my craw a bit as it was (her tightly wound strings were bouncing off my tightly wound strings) and I turned to Cetan and yep – I rolled my eyes.  I’m not proud of it.  But my eyes just went off of their own accord (as they are wont to do).  Cetan just gave me a really gentle smile and then turned to the agitated student and made an effort to include her in the discussion, without placating or humouring her – just by treating her as if she was a human being (while I had viewed her more akin to a witch or something).  And at that moment I thought, ‘yep, you’re the real deal sister’.  I could have felt like a bonehead right there and then but Cetan’s compassion had extended not just to the behaviour of that tightly-wound student but to mine as well.  And, incredibly, I felt no shame – just a self-realised desire to try harder.  There was simply a non-judgemental acceptance from Cetan all around.  And it held up a mirror to me that didn’t crack when I looked into it.  Now that’s pretty cool.  You can see why it left an impression.

As with a lot of people who seek out yoga in life, Cetan has a really interesting back story that has shaped her approaches to life and to her teaching, which she has permitted me to share with you.  The fact that she has developed such a non-judgemental attitude towards others reveals just how much work she has done on herself because she wasn’t always so self-accepting.  She started practising yoga asana from a young age but a preoccupation with body image and a drive for perfectionism led her away from the more spiritual aspects of the discipline and towards the ‘grosser’ aspects of asana practice.  This obsession with body developed into an eating disorder that found Cetan trying to numb her own feelings of inadequacy through a roller-coaster ride of binge-eating, purging and fasting.  This yo-yo dieting saw her swing from being underweight to thirty kilos overweight.  Treacherous times.

As life got more destructive and unbalanced, Cetan re-directed her ambitions towards self-development, to a process she describes as trying to find ‘her Truth’- a ‘higher’ part of her self beyond her pains and sufferings.  But she still carried her drive for perfectionism with her and a lack of internal connection led her to continue to seek answers outside of herself – an extreme immersion into books and self-development courses, an array of different healing modalities, strict exercising and ‘healthy’ diet regimes that left little room for intuition and internal listening.  Still caught in the ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality of her earlier years, Cetan militantly exercised and drank 3-4 litres of water each day, believing she was caring for her body in the best way possible.  Unfortunately, this extreme discipline led to a depletion of sodium in her body and one day she fell unconscious, sustaining a hypoxic brain injury from lack of oxygen.  She awakened from a coma to find her life completely changed. 

Doctors weren’t sure if or how Cetan’s brain would mend.  Thankfully, Cetan was able to draw on her earlier experiences of yoga to help her heal.  She complemented years of brain training with yoga nidra in particular, which saw her recover most of her brain function and change her sleeping habits from 18 hours a day to 8. 

This ordeal, however difficult, gifted Cetan with deep insight and she came to realise that which we all know intellectually as obvious but find harder to spiritually experience – this idea that ‘wellness’ is not an external job.  From here, she abandoned her ‘real world’ occupation in the finance sector to follow her passion for yoga, re-training and then teaching yoga in gyms and studios, before taking the enormous leap into traditional yoga training where she found herself living, studying and teaching in Satyananda yoga ashrams around the world for several years.

Since graduating from Satyananda teacher training, Cetan has started her own online yoga school (called Satya  Live Yoga), using her experience and knowledge to teach others how to use yoga to improve their lives.  Satya Live Yoga recognises yoga as a holistic discipline that works more than just the body but every aspect of the human make-up from mind to emotion to spirit, and it channels this philosophy into practical methods that are accessible to everybody.  ‘That means everybody,’ says Cetan, ‘regardless of age, ability, fitness level, or life circumstances.’  This is about teaching people tools for life.

For Cetan, yoga is the path to self-knowledge.  It’s the platform from which she has been able to come to experience that ‘truth’ she was so desperately looking for in all the wrong places all those years ago.  ‘It is so easy to get distracted,’ she says.  ‘For years I was lost.  I was relying on external substances and people’s approval for happiness.  It didn’t work.  I now know that nothing outside of me will ever give me real happiness. It has to come from within. I often forget this and my yoga practice gently reminds me.”

 Hm. Just as Cetan gently reminds me (unbeknownst to her) every time someone, or something, sticks in my craw.

(Satya Yoga runs classes and workshops in Victoria, Australia, retreats in Bali and its speciality is online courses.  Visit http://www.satyaliveyoga.com.au/online-yoga-courses/ for more information and to get in touch with Cetan/Christina.)


© The Yoga Experiment, 2013


Abhinivesha in a Liberal Age

Well, nothing quite sets the rajas/tamas pendulum in motion like a federal election. Particularly when your fellow countrymen elect an ultra-conservative party geared to set any form of social liberalism back by about two hundred years.

Without going into the boring hows and whys of the politics involved (for those who don’t live in my country or who don’t have much education or interest in politics), I can dilute the predictable outcome into one neat sentence for you: under the newly-elected Australian government, citizens who have enough (and anything upward of enough) won’t notice much difference to their quality of life while citizens who have little, will have even less. And let me assure you, when you already feel as if you’re hanging on by a financial thread, this is a legitimately terrifying idea that keeps you awake at nights and anxious throughout the days.

There’s your rajas.

It’s also profoundly dispiriting. Because, not only will disadvantaged people have less access to practical resources (and have to weather the knock-on effects, ergo less opportunity to ‘thrive’ in life), we’re also having to process the idea that the majority of our fellow countrymen who actively chose to vote for an even LESS PROGRESSIVE government than the one we already had, are either (a) profoundly ignorant, or (b) don’t really care. Either way, a jagged little pill.

If you’ve struggled to be ‘economically productive’ in life in one way or another and have needed welfare assistance then it’s highly likely you’ve already endured your eternity wearing the labels of ‘bludger’ or ‘loser’ or ‘rorter of systems’, if not overtly by people around you, or via the media, then via the dehumanising attitude lurking beneath the various human services systems that essentially make you beg for your rights and continually threaten to take them away on the grounds of superfluous un-ticked boxes. You’ve probably had many more than one person say to you, ‘at least you’re not living in {insert country far worse off}’ – Poof! There goes your right to any legitimate claim of suffering. Such ingratitude for the things you have. Never mind you’re desperately afraid and socially isolated. Never mind that.

For your own emotional and spiritual survival, you’ve probably had to re-create some other sense of self-worth in order to survive a society that doesn’t really seem to, on the whole, value you all that much. What are you ‘contributing’ if not taxes or economic productivity? Why should you have access to all the things that money buys when you haven’t worked for them? Why should ‘hard-working’ people share their spoils with you? Apparently in the same way than ‘unsuccessful’ people are responsible for their ‘failures’, ‘successful’ people are alone responsible for their ‘success’, not because of any opportunities they’ve been advantaged with themselves (and that includes robust mental or physical constitutions, or aptitudes or personality traits that they are blessed to have been born with – not that they have earned).

Only the most super-conscious can protect themselves from absorbing the subliminal (and not so subliminal) message – you’re a ‘drain’ on society and you’re not ‘worth’ as much. If only you were a better person. If only you worked harder.

There’s your tamas.

So how do we (I) get back to Sattwa? How do we (I) generate a sense of peace and balance when we have lost trust in the world to help us when we need help? How do we (I) dilute the bitterness we feel at being perpetually labelled and misinterpreted and punished with a violence that is so insidious and covert that most would not even recognise it as such, including those who issue it?

If we consider yoga philosophy in earnest, then the ultimate way of dealing with the terrors of such things is to have no emotional attachment to any earthly happenings or sufferings, including the biggest one – our own mortality (try it, it’s really easy!). That, or have absolute faith that whatever happens to us is designed for a ‘higher purpose’ or is an expression of our own karma (excuse me if I and any other struggling people choke on the idea of being subjected to such a sadistic learning process for ‘our own good’).

Let’s be honest – it’s impractical to go fundamental with the yoga in this case (for this little duck, anyway).

I do know what I could embrace though – and here is where I’m not a victim of external circumstances and do have choices. I could, for starters, switch on the parasympathetic nervous system with the breath (ujjayi, yogic breath, bhramari – any of the ‘tranquilisers’) . I could consider how the yamas and niyamas might guide me (and be ok with ahimsa sitting last on my list for now). I could work the tensions out with some asana practice. I could go and do some karma yoga – help out somebody else. I could do some Om writing to calm the mind. I could read my yoga texts for hope and inspiration. I could antar moun it for twenty minutes – oh, no wait, who am I kidding? I’m not going to sit in a corner and be still and quiet. Things are a little too ‘gross’ to be subtle right now. I could engage in a little swadhyaya (self-study) by writing about my thoughts and feelings in a blog post… now there’s a grand idea.

(c) The Yoga Experiment, 2013