I first stepped on a yoga mat nine years ago this month. I knew even before I started doing asana that I would like it. During my sophomore year in college, one of my best friends had a yoga book, and we did a few poses in a college dorm room. But this was Iowa, and I knew no one who practiced yoga. It was totally foreign to me — I don’t even remember when I had heard of yoga.
Anyway, when I took my first asana class in 2004 at a gym in Augusta, Georgia, I knew that one day I’d be a yoga teacher. I didn’t know how, due to money and travel, but I held out hope that one day the opportunity would come.
When I was living in North Georgia a few years later, I would occasionally do a Google search for “yoga,” “Georgia,” and “teacher training,” usually getting results of trainings in Atlanta and Savannah. Those were too far. Once I got a hit for an Iyengar YTT (yoga teacher training) in Dawsonville, Georgia, which would’ve been doable for me. But the cost was too much, and perhaps the practice did not resonate with me. Finally, in the summer of 2009, a very promising Google search revealed a YTT in Athens, Georgia, of visiting yoga teachers from Florida. The price was right, and so was the time schedule. Without knowing anything about the type of yoga they taught (and I really didn’t have a clue there were “types” or traditions of yoga) or the teachers themselves, I signed myself up. I just wanted to teach, and I wanted to learn more.
The 10-week intensive in Athens required me to live with family and drive an hour to and from work, with me traveling home to the small town where my husband I lived on some weekends. It was a huge sacrifice, but it was so worth it.
My teachers, Lorrie Conglose and Lal Maharajh, teach Vastu Yoga, which adheres to the Sivananda tradition taught by Sri Swami Sivananda and Sri Swami Vishnu-devananda, along with the philosophy of the Divine Life Society. It is an intense practice, requiring deep concentration, lots of patience and an open mind. I think the thing I love most about it is ….. it’s not flow-y. It is deliberate. It is practical. It is life-sustaining.
Yoga is so much more than asana, and sometimes I think yoga teachers lean too much on it. They may be too afraid of students’ reactions of mantras, Vedic philosophy or yogic lifestyles. I am deeply aware of this, having lived in the Deep South for close to 10 years. So, the downfall of relying so much on asana is that students come to believe that anything else beyond the postures can be discarded. Remember, asana is only one limb of ashtanga, or the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Each branch is equal to the other. Asana is just as relevant and important as dhyana, or meditation, and so on.
Starting my 200-hour YTT with Lorrie and Lal opened my eyes to a world that I had longed to meet. My merry band of fellow students and I took on the challenge of a vegetarian diet, withdrawing the senses with no TV, loud music and caffeine and weekly karma service. (For myself, I admit that I still relied on coffee during this period as I worked late nights at my job.) We read the Bhagavad Gita, learning about Arjuna’s journey of self-realization and of controlling his mind, along with other Sivananda Yoga texts to help us learn the Rishikesh series of postures. We learned about meditation, pranayama, anatomy and physiology and how to connect with our students. As Vastu/Sivananda teachers, we don’t practice with our students. We focus all of our attention on the student, making sure everyone is participating safely.
We also ate together on weekends with potlucks, took meditative walks in the forest and participated in kirtan, or bhakti yoga. I felt a strong bond with my classmates, and I’ve stayed in touch with many over the years.
Since graduating from the 200-hour program, I taught here and there, sometimes for studios, sometimes in people’s homes. And since the birth of my daughter, my yoga practice has become more important to me. Continuing my education with Lorrie and Lal with a 500-hour program was a no-brainer. I had to keep the momentum going, because my body and brain wanted more. With the 500-hour program, we dove into the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Vedic philosophy of the Three Bodies. I also got to choose an area of concentration, where I would devote the majority of time, immersing myself in the topic and writing a research paper on it. I chose motherhood and how yoga could be integrated on a daily basis. It was the perfect topic for me, because I have become such an advocate for postpartum care — a period of time that is often overlooked after the birth of a baby.
And now that my advanced YTT has nearly come to its conclusion, as I await the grading of my research paper, I have been gifted with an amazing opportunity to remain close to my beloved teachers. I have been asked to develop yoga teacher training programs in prenatal and postpartum/kids yoga, to be taught at the Vastu home-base in Isla Mujeres, Mexico. What an honor it has been to know that my teachers trust me with this opportunity.
So, why do I choose Sivananda Yoga and recommend it to everyone I know?
It is my practice because it is well-rounded and easily tailored to the beginner and the most advanced yoga student. I love it because it is repetitive, going through the same 12 asana postures every time. I love it because it is good for my body, and most everyone else’s, because it focuses on core muscles — giving you a strong foundation on the mat and in life. It is my practice because it has made me a better version of myself.
During my 200-hour YTT, a friend of Vastu once told me that once I find a tradition of yoga, I should stick with it. It is better to immerse yourself in one practice than to dabble in many. That way, you can take the time to “sit” in that tradition and see what comes to fruition. (Same goes for Rishikesh series of asanas.)
So I am sticking with it, and I may never look back.
Here is a video that, I think, beautifully represents Vastu and my beloved teachers: