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.
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