Ten Things My Guru Taught Me
‘Why didn’t someone tell us this before?’ a 40-year-old at the the ashram in India asks me. It is a good question. Much of what we learn on our Yoga Teacher Training we could all do with knowing. I describe the training as teaching us how to be, as much as how to be a yoga teacher.
Do one thing at a time
One day in class, someone was eating an apricot, my teacher for the first and only time I had seen him looking even slightly annoyed, stopped his explanation of a complicated yoga pose. ‘What are you doing?’, he asked the Canadian woman, who was writing in her notebook as she chewed on the dried fruit and clearly looked perturbed at the question. Vishva then turned to the class and told us all: ‘I want to tell you something: do one thing at a time.’ We all laughed, but Vishva, even though he is known as the laughing guru, didn’t. ‘I’m serious. In fact, write this down: Do one thing at a time. If you’re eating, just eat. If you are listening, just listen. Your life will be so much better. Otherwise your system will get confused.’ You have to be involved in what you are doing. Your body is not a machine. Sometimes when I find myself texting when walking, or eating and talking, or reading and drinking, I remember Vishva’s heartfelt words and stop myself. It is simple, practical and in a way such obvious advice.
Like many people, I was initially resistant to chanting, kirtan and mantra, but it really is just a form of singing and one that I come to love, thanks to Vishva and the other teachers on the course. They are really just a way of opening your heart or at least softening it and the vibrations of the words as well as the repetitions quieten the mind.
There is Nothing Wrong with Facebook
‘What do you think about Facebook?’ one of the students asked my teacher in India one day. Vishva is often on Facebook himself and is very much a 21st century guru who lives in the real world. His answer was practical and clear: Everything is good. My mobile phone is good. Its the same thing with Facebook. It’s how you use it. You just don’t want these things to control you.
Something happens physiologically when we smile. Our body relaxes and sends messages to the brain that it is relaxed so the results are real. During challenging postures, students are encouraged to smile or to find the inner smile, making non-competition and contentment true aspects of the practice. Often Vishva will say ‘Happy Toes’ in a pose when he notices us getting to tense, inviting us to unclench our feet and soften our stance.
Keep it Simple
In class Vishva tells us one of his many anecdotes to illustrate a point, often giggling away to himself. ‘I once went to order a beigel place in Toronto in Canada. ‘What do you want?’ The man asked me. ‘A beigel’, I answered. ‘What kind of beigel?’ he wanted to know. I didn’t know that they had all these things, white, brown and all these other things and I start to get confused. So I say, ‘white’, because I don’t know. Then he wants to know if I want it with seeds and things. I say no, no, just a beigel with nothing else. Then I want a drink. But I don’t know what drinks they have. There are so many. I am very confused. Now there is a big queue behind me and people are getting very angry. So I point to the first drink on the list, which is chocolate, which I don’t want, but at least the questions now stop. He pauses: We have so many things, so many things that we don’t need. Lots of choice causes lots of confusion and so much confusion causes selfishness. Ashram life with its lack of choice and regular meal times and bed times and silence after 9pm and until 9am brings us closer to this simplicity and is something we can go some way to recreating at home.
Your breath is like a mobile phone.Visha says laughing, in one of his many references to modern technology. ‘It tells you how much energy you have. When you have full breath, you are fully charged.’
How to Do Advanced Yoga ‘Advanced yoga is not when we are doing difficult postures, advanced yoga is when mind, body and breath are all one’ Vishva tells us. He explains the body needs to be disciplined - punished or rewarded - not tortured and even when we do a simple pose with our arms above our head with focus, he will say: Now you are doing really advanced yoga.
It is Easy to Have More Time
‘When you are mindful, time expands, it seems to stretch, into each moment...’ says Vishva. ‘We are always in a hurry we are always moving to the next thing so we don’t want to do the same thing in yoga. What we are seeing now is classes that are either too fast or too slow. Slow Down. If we are in a state of grasping we can’t appreciate the present moment.
Act don’t React
This was a big lesson to me. Taking time to respond allows you to breathe and accept what we can’t control. Instead of judging we are encouraged to notice and this way a vision of the sacred can be brought into everyday life.
Drop away the intellect and see what you can feel.
Vishva advises who often says ‘Hari Om’ as a way of accepting things he can’t control. ‘Train your mind‘, he urges. ‘Do your best, but accept the outcome.’
Vishva is known as the laughing guru and often he will just say: ‘laugh’. When you laugh, you laugh from the belly and it brings you into the present moment. I like that.
Vishva teaches holistic yoga workshops internationally, incorporating diverse aspects of the practice: asana, pranayama, cleansing kriyas, Ayurveda and Vedic chanting, as well as to offering Yoga Alliance registered 200- and 500-hour Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) programmes (akhandayoga.com) in Canada and in the ashram in Rishikesh (India). He calls this holistic style of teaching Akhanda Yoga, meaning whole and indivisible.