Back in the early ‘90’s I had the great fortune to live next door to Swami Dharma Vidya – a severely motivating teacher indeed. When I first met her, I was regularly using booze and dope to self medicate my fears and shame, all the while trying to be a very good mummy, wife, daughter, friend and sister, I was in desperate need of help! Initially I struggled with yoga and my then way of living – talk about my ying and yang and constant conflict!
However in allowing this incredible woman to influence me, I further questioned my learned Catholic beliefs alongside the causes of my pain and shame, and so began my induction in to the world of counselling, alternative healing, Reiki and Satyananda Yoga. Little did I know back then that yoga would become my sanity saver.
See, I was like most people I grew up with in our little sleepy village who generally assumed yoga was one of two things: (1) all about stretching and twisting and having to be incredible flexible, OR (2) ‘The Orange People’ aka ‘hand clapping Hare Krishna weirdos’.
A willing and open learner, I immersed myself in my new learnings and discovered that yoga was so much more than postures. And that yes indeed, Hare Krishna was chanted sometimes, but nowhere near as much as the Lord’s Prayer had been in my catholic childhood. As a member in the school choir, I loved singing anyway and couldn’t find any difference between the intentions of yogic chants and catholic hymns.
Discovering a community of people who also enjoyed the benefits of meditation, kirtan, hatha yoga and yoga nidra, gave me a great sense of fit and belonging that has carried me in good stead these last few decades. Just so we’re on the same page, here’s a quick break down on what I understand these facets of Yoga to be:
Meditation: a simple practice of quieting the mind
Kirtan musical yoga invoking holy prophets names (Vishna, Krishna, Govinda, God) in call-and-response form
Hatha Yoga commonly used to describe yoga postures, connecting the two vital systems in the physical body – the solar and lunar forces.
Yoga Nidra: a practice where there is no physical movement, allowing the mind and body to rest while a part of the awareness is active.
I confess to not practicing daily hatha Yoga for years, and while I love going to kirtan, there’s not a lot happening in that space in my little town, so I choose to vicariously participate in recorded kirtans like this one.
As a pilgrimage to our old Swami Dharma Vidya, my sister, our eldest daughter and I had some time in two Satyananda Ashrams at the end of 2010. Travelling with another beautiful Swami, Sanyassan Sambuddanand, while nothing like Elizabeth Gilbert’s description in “Eat Pray Love”, this trip was a great privilege.
We gained greater insights into the world Dharma Vidya held in such high regard, helping me better understand the importance of not putting off daily devotion due to distractions, but instead to value the distractions as signals to learn from.
Up until my ashram experiences in India, I had dragged my yoga mat around the word with me, and to be completely honest, it was more a visual reminder than a part of daily hatha practices. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great hatha class, when I can get to one, but my preferred practice is Yoga Nidra, where no physical movement is required! (I recently wrote a blog titled Understanding Yoga Nidra you might also enjoy.)
In fact yoga nidra is my sanity saver!!! I’ve taught our kids, my mother and friends, shared it with clients, kids in alternative education classes, stressed out teachers and anyone else who I thought might be willing to give it a go.
A technique Swami Satyananda Saraswati shared with the Western world back in the early ‘60’s, it has been said that 30 minutes of yoga nidra is as beneficial as up to 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Google “yoga nidra + research” and be prepared to be happily distracted for days!
If ever I were to have chosen a guru, it would have been Swami Satyananda Saraswati. He’s the bloke who really bought Yoga to Westerners attention. Not perfect, and never professing to be (which is what I loved the most about him), his visionary approach to authoring over 80 books on yoga, tantra and spirituality did however pave the way for what is now commonly accepted as yoga.
Acknowledged for centuries, yoga is known as a way of improving health and vitality, regular practice of even basic yoga techniques will help restore equilibrium for the whole body.
Over the years I knew Dharma Vidya, she and I became very firm friends. She taught me so much, and her legacy lives on today for many of us. My most powerful learnings from her are:
- don’t mix disciplines: do yoga or tai chi or qi gong – but don’t mix them up – it’s too confusing to your energy system.
- learn to observe your thoughts and NOT participate in them. what are they telling you?
- this too will pass this too will pass this too will pass
- always do seva
- don’t sweat the small stuff, because it’s all small stuff
- make sure your intentions are clear and your motivation is pure
- do no further harm
Grateful for my time with her before she left this world, I find myself quoting her more and more. Her teachings are an important part of my yoga life journey and I will be forever grateful to her for that.
Hari Aum Tat Sat
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