News from the Centre – May 2016

Mary in the garden

Mary in the garden

Yes – the springtimes needed you. Often a star was waiting for you to notice it.
A wave rolled toward you out of the distant past,
or as you walked under an open window, a violin yielded itself to your hearing.
All this was mission.
-Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies, translated by Stephen Mitchell

Greetings friends.

Every year spring comes round and feels like a miracle. By now spring’s seemingly (miraculous!) newfound fecundity might even be wearing off on you but it’s truly only just beginning. As April turns to May, here at the Centre our community, like our gardens and grounds, continue to grow and grow and grow!

Milo shares with us again this month the happenings of the garden:

Scenes from the Spring garden. For more, click the image to visit Milo's Instagram account.

Scenes from the Spring garden. For more, click the image to visit Milo’s Instagram account.

“We’re in a full sprint here as spring sings of summer and a sunny week allows our tractor to finally break ground.

The water-wise earthworks alluded to last month have shaped up nicely in the crop fields and our beds are now ready to harvest rainwater!

Donated seeds from Dan Jason fill the beds, pushing our “Power of the Pulses” project into action as peas and broad beans burst to life above damaged soils.

On the horizon our hoop houses get prepped for peppers and the first spuds find their way into the warming soil.

Onward!”

Comings and Goings

As you read this, we will be just saying good bye to a wonderful group of folks who attended our first Yoga Getaway of 2016. We hold a getaway once a month throughout spring, summer and fall, so please feel free to join us when you can. The Centre offers the possibility of short personal retreats as well, so if you’d like to pursue your individual practice of yoga in a peaceful and beautiful environment shared with a small spiritual community follow this link for more information.

Coming up on May 7th, Dharma Sara Satsang Society will be holding its Annual General Meeting at the Centre which is open to all members. Elections for board president, treasurer and four board members will take place electronically by all who have been members for at least 90 days. Visit our website if you are interested in joining DSS or wish to renew your membership.

The Salt Spring Centre School will be performing ‘Time Lord’, directed by Kate Richer, teacher of the grade 4-5-6 class at the Centre School. This annual whole school play will be held at Mahon Hall May 27-29th.

Our community grows significantly larger at the end of May when the Yoga Service, Study Immersion (YSSI) begins. This twelve week residential program is just about full, so if you or someone you know is ready to dive deep into an authentic yoga lifestyle please get in touch soon.

We are still accepting applications for our 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training as well. This one month residential program takes place over two weeks in July and August. Our YTT is entering its 14th year and is taught by an outstanding faculty of 20 experienced teachers. For both aspiring yoga teachers and experienced yogis wishing to deepen their practice, this training offers a solid foundation in Classical Ashtanga yoga and Hatha yoga.

First gathering on 'The Mound'

First gathering on ‘The Mound’ (Click the image to visit us on Instagram!)

Spring has finally allowed our first community check-in on ‘The Mound’. This cherished gathering spot at the heart of the Centre offers its own peaceful quality to our communions – both divine and seemingly mundane. Here are a few pictures from this first of many gatherings of hearts and minds on ‘The Mound’.

Most full time residential karma yogis attended a first aid course and a fire safety course this month which are both annual occurrences. These courses offer important knowledge as we are a rural community with limited ambulances and fire services.

Kitty, our new assistant garden coordinator, and her dog Mawa, have arrived! While writing this, we await the arrival of Chris Skleryk, our new Maintenance assistant as well. We have lots of beautification and renovations projects in line for him already!

Sharada, founding member of the Centre, yoga mentor, newsletter editor and karma yogi extraordinaire, will be having back surgery this month. Well wishes and prayers are welcome and forthcoming!

This Month’s Newsletter Offerings

“The narratives we create become like stepping stones: it’s helpful to look back and acknowledge where we’ve been, but if we’re constantly looking back or constantly looking forward, and we don’t bring awareness to where we presently stand, we can risk making a wrong step.” This is just a taste of the lyrical beauty of Amy Cousins’ writing. Amy shares her story with us in this month’s Our Centre Community.

As this year’s Yoga Teacher Training comes closer, we thought it might be fun to ask some YTT grads to reflect upon their experience of the training. This month we offer YTT Reflections: some Q & A with Craig Stewart and Linda Rogers. What I find most compelling about both of their offerings is that neither came to become teachers, and though both had expectations that were met, it was the unexpected that had the most profound effect on their lives. The diversity of their backgrounds and experiences within the training reinforce for me that there is not only one kind of teacher trainee and that if you dig deep enough you will almost assuredly find your best self hidden in plain sight (waiting to be found!).

Pratibha Queen has contributed Karma Yoga…A Path of Inner Development to our newsletter this month. The practice of Karma yoga is the lifeblood of this community, yet sometimes the ‘idea’ of karma yoga is hard to grasp. Pratibha uses Babaji’s teachings, and specifically his ‘bank manager versus bank owner’ metaphor to so sweetly and effectively allow us to grasp this ideal in action. For those of us who learn best through metaphor and analogy this piece of writing is a gift! Thank you Pratibha!

Janaki

Janaki

To honour our dear satsang sister, Janaki Polden, who passed away last month, we are pleased to re-post her founding member story from 2012. Janaki was a gift to all who knew her. In her quiet way, she touched the lives of many people within the satsang and the wider community, as a mother and grandmother, nurse and administrator of the Greenwoods nursing home, an active participant in the Spinners and Weavers Guild on Salt Spring and member of the Salt Spring Water Preservation Society and the Salt Spring Land Conservancy. She was devoted to her family, to Babaji, to sadhana. We are grateful to have been able to share in the gift of her life.

Love,
Kenzie and Sharada

Janaki

We keep being reminded of the fragility and transience of life. A month ago, our dear satsang sister, Janaki Polden passed away. She understood the ephemeral nature of life, while at the same time being full of life – walking, running, swimming, spending precious time with her family and playing with her beautiful granddaughter. We are grateful for the gift of her life and the time we had together with her. With love and gratitude, we are re-posting Janaki’s story from 2012.


 

Founding Member Feature: Janaki Polden

(article re-posted from March 2012)

Janaki Polden

Janaki, part of the Centre family

Yoga on the Road

In London, while working as a nurse, I started taking yoga classes in 1973 with my boyfriend Rod. In the spring, we set out ‘across the pond’ on our travels – the World Tour. Lots of people our age were ‘on the road’ to India, N. America, South-East Asia, Australia, Mexico, Peru, all over. We spent that summer living and working as staff members at the Sivananda Yoga Camp in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec, and met Shankar (yes, our Shankar) and Girija, head cooks feeding hundreds of other young aspiring yogis, guests and YTT students, while we all learned the fundamentals of asana, meditation, pranayama, mantra, kirtan (and pizza construction) under the guidance of Swami Vishnu Devananda. Roll-call at compulsory early morning meditation earned it the name Spiritual Boot Camp! By now, we had become Murali and Raghava, and I car-shared and hitch-hiked across Canada in the autumn to the Yoga Farm at Grass Valley, California to take Yoga Teacher Training, while Raghava spent some months in India with Swami Vishnu.

Up the west coast then to Vancouver, where we helped to found the first Vancouver Yoga Centre in 1974 with Anand Dass and several other teachers, along with teaching Adult Ed. asana classes in high schools and community centres to the wave of enthusiastic beginners (of all ages) who were just discovering yoga. Shooting photographs for our planned book on yoga and pregnancy led us to Ravi Dass and Aparna, who had begun writing a text on the same subject. (Ravi Dass had been managing speaking tours by Ram Dass and promoting his book Be Here Now, which helped turn on a whole generation of us to yoga and the spiritual life.) We joined forces with them on the book Yoga for Pregnancy and Birth, eventually published by Schocken in NYC.

Janaki with her daughters. 1980

Meeting Babaji

With their encouragement, we flew to California to meet their teacher Baba Hari Dass, at one of the first retreats at the Calabasas Road farm. Such a different energy surrounded Babaji, playful, gentle, deep, a vivid and ever-alert presence, engaging individually with us, a constant teaching by example. Babaji visited Vancouver that summer, staying at the Spruce Street house. In our first interview with him, before we could ask the question “should we get married?”, he wrote in chalk “when will you get married?”, then suggested a pair of possible dates – two days away, or eight days away! We chose eight days. AD (Anand Dass) married us with a yajna fire ceremony on a brilliant summer day in West Van., among a circle of our dear yoga friends, with the ocean lapping beside us – perhaps the first ever Canadian yajna to be attended by two smiling RCMP, called by a neighbour anxious at the sight of hippies building a fire. Babaji gave us the names Janaki and Raghunath, and when our twins were born in 1976, he wrote “Jaya = Victory” and “Hamsa = sound of the breath, inhale/exhale. It becomes So-Ham, then Om”. Babaji’s letters and darshans have guided us through so many decisions, both hard times and joyful times.

Finding the Centre

We had been living a communal life with our friends for some time, in intentional communities and house-shares, so when Babaji told us in 1978 “Buy land, and the people will come to join you”, Raghunath and I decided we would move out of the city, and find a place near to wherever Dharma Sara’s land would be. First, of course, we just had to find it… Up to Vernon, Cultus Lake, the Comox Valley, Fraser Valley, South Pender Island, Mt Tzouhalem – car fulls of satsangis drove in caravan to corners of BC far and wide, looking for the place that was going to be home for us all. The place we would make the dream come true. Back to the land. A community of yogi-craftspeople-artist-cook-musician-gardener-teacher-healer friends.

The barn and house, 1981

A lot of clearing and clean-up was needed when we first took possession of the land. 1981

Eventually the place found us, and we got to work on it. The first time Babaji came to see the land with us, before anyone had really moved in at all, he decided we should get rolling on some clean-up. Within twenty minutes, a score of strong hands were rolling a big old disused oil-storage tank from where the greenhouse now stands, and a cheer went up when it took off down the slope on its own momentum. Next were the tangles of blackberry brambles that festooned the area, so Babaji plunged into the middle of them with Anuradha close at hand, secateurs and loppers, sickles and shears, snipping and tugging till bare soil came in sight. We sent a mountain of thorny greenery on its way to a new home in the compost pile. “This will be the garden”, Babaji’s chalkboard told us. It was a very exciting time.

Babaji led the de-brambling and rock-clearing effort. Later, this area was the first to be gardened.

On Babaji’s first visit to the land, under the big maple on the mound. 1981

Building a Home on the Island

Raghunath and I built our home together a little way down the valley, on a ridge-top where the vultures and the deer are our neighbours, close enough to the Salt Spring Centre for the Creative and Healing Arts (as it was then), so that we can walk to and from. We hauled beams and posts, joists and studs and shingles, taught ourselves framing and plumbing, collected thousands of rocks for our chimney from the roadsides of Salt Spring on the way home from collecting our kids from school. They grew up singing the food prayer before dinner each night, doing homework by oil-lamp (in the early days), a vegetarian and ahimsa (non-harming) childhood with Babaji as a friend, where we all shared helping each other out with the Centre, with our businesses and workshops, the Centre School that Usha founded, the food co-op, the Health Collective, the committees (meetings, meetings, meetings), the gardens and orchard, the retreats, the yajnas, the Women’s Weekends, teaching at Yoga Teacher Training, and staging the Ramayana in mid-summer with an overheated cast that numbered in the hundreds of thousands sometimes, by the feel of it . Our giggling babes in arms turned overnight into a splendidly demonic Surpanaka to remember, and a proud Lakshman to confront her.

Left: Janaki tackles some bedrock for a water-line from the well to our cottage. 1983; Right: On the ridge top above Cusheon Lake, Janaki stains siding, while perched on the scaffolding. 1985

Janaki takes a break at sunset, after a long day of framing and nailing on our house. 1983

Meanwhile, as the years rolled around, I continued with my original motivation to care for people by nursing, working at Greenwoods, the seniors’ home on the island, running the activity programs, then becoming Director of Nursing Care. With encouragement from Babaji, I completed my education in Healthcare Administration in the evenings after work, and then was hired as the Administrator and CEO. I found that the skills I had developed through yoga, meditation and pranayam were put to good use each day, working with a staff of fifty, handling a million-dollar budget, government agencies, unions, service clubs and families. Most of all though, I wanted to stay in touch with the residents of Greenwoods, and treat them as individuals, not spend all my workday secluded in an office. So for years I cycled to work each morning in time to serve them a cup of tea at breakfast, to know their names and their stories, their families, their partners and their lives. Sometimes I was privileged to sit beside the bed as they breathed their last too.

I love to walk. We have walked the West Coast Trail, in the mountains around the Stein, in the Olympics, over the moors in the Hebrides, in the desert in Arizona, along the beaches of Clayoquot Island and Sinaloa and Jersey, and the forests and meadows of Salt Spring. One of the ways I found to unwind from a demanding work environment was to walk and breathe, swing my arms and love the world of Salt Spring’s nature, as it passes by my regular pace.

Janaki and her girls

Simple Compassion

I have also enjoyed choosing each week for Sunday satsang one of the short readings, since it has given me a reason to become more familiar with the simple compassion of Babaji’s teaching. We are so fortunate, blessed beyond our understanding. Perhaps then, I will close this little look at the life of just one of Babaji’s students, with a favourite gift from one of his letters:

“Practice your mantra regularly. Try to attain peace in life. Do some physical exercise for the gross body. Do some breathing exercises to purify your mind. Do meditation for attaining liberation. Life is not a burden. We create burdens by our desires, attachment, and ego. If we accept life in the world, it creates contentment and all conflicts fall away. Wish you and your husband happy and healthy. Om”

Karma Yoga. . . A Path of Inner Development

KarmaYoga-Unsplash-imgAs we explore the path of yoga, we discover there are millions of methods that will take us in the direction of our goal. Purification of the body, perfection of posture (asana), samadhi meditation, selfless service (karma yoga), and devotion to God (bhakti yoga) are just a few. Those of us who choose Karma Yoga walk the path of action in order to further our self-development. Babaji tells us, “Although Karma Yoga is usually understood to be merely a path of action, it is truly a path of inner development.”

The Bhagavad Gita speaks often of the yoga of action, or Karma Yoga. In Chapter III, verse 5, Krishna tells Arjuna, “Truly, no one can ever remain inactive even for a moment, for everyone is helplessly made to perform action by nature-born qualities.” We see this in every human being – from the newborn child to the dying one’s last breath. And even unseen, the workings of the thoughts in the mind are also actions . . . little electrons bustling around, transmitting messages from one cell to another!

Babaji sometimes offered the image of the bank manager when discussing karma yoga, or selfless service. He described the bank manager as one who worked conscientiously, attending to all the duties in a timely fashion, without attachment to the outcome. At the end of the day, he locked up the bank and went home to enjoy the evening. Babaji would then contrast the manager with the bank owner, who worries and frets, waking in the night anxious as to whether the bank is locked securely or fearful that someone is hacking the computer system! Acting with personal attachment, the owner is always on the lookout for his own self-interest. The manager was working as a karma yogi – serving to the best of his ability, but giving over any attachment to the results.

Karma Yoga means selfless service.
It is chosen and not forced.
If you have chosen it, then
You give second place to your self-interests.

While we can understand the bank owner’s concern, it’s also easy to see that such an attitude will definitely hold one in bondage rather than support our path to enlightenment, liberation, or eternal peace. And if our goal is to pursue a spiritual path in life, untangling the bonds of karma and samskara that keep us from peace of mind, we may wish to choose the role of bank manager, rather than owner!

“When our aim is to serve without expecting anything back – such as name, fame, more, etc, then our fear of losing something will not be there. When fear is not there, then other negative things that are caused by fear – anger, hate, jealousy, competition – will not be there. In the absence of those things, the mind will develop its sattvic (pure) aspect and the tamas (dark) side will be reduced.”

As we become more skillful in practicing selfless service, our own self-interest reduces and the mind becomes purified of its desire for recognition, payment, praise, etc. “At first we start with desire, expectation and ego. In Karma Yoga, gradually those things get weaker and the mind gets used to action without them; the mind conditions itself to act that way.”

In actual practice, some challenges and obstacles arise in our practice. The need to make a living, limitations on our time and energy, or dislike for a particular kind of work are a few examples. But, like any skill we wish to learn, “practice makes perfect,” and so we continue our practice of Karma Yoga as a modest attempt at living a virtuous life. Wishing you success on the path!


Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen is an Ashtanga Yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner who lives in Santa Cruz. She is a member of DSS who attends Salt Spring Centre of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. All quotes above are from the writings of Baba Hari Dass.

Our Centre Community: Amy Cousins

Amy Cousins, part of our Centre Community. April 2016

Amy Cousins, part of our Centre Community. April 2016

There are many stories we can tell about our lives. Narratives are like stepping stones we use for support and leave behind along the way: here’s one.

Chapter One

I’m currently living at the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga. I was born three hours north on Vancouver Island in 1981, the same year the Centre was officially formed. As a child I had an inquisitive mind, as most children do. I was also born into this world as an identical twin, which brought an early contemplation of Self and what makes us who we are: What makes us unique and what is awareness. Of course now I can look back with my adult mind and name these things –as a child I did not have any kind of context for my experiences.

My twin sister, Adrienne, and I at a Highland Dancing competition circa 1989. We spent a lot of time at dance competition - all forms of dance for many years - I’m on the left.

My twin sister, Adrienne, and I at a Highland Dancing competition circa 1989. We spent a lot of time at dance competition – all forms of dance for many years – I’m on the left.

As a teenager I experienced, what I can only describe as an existential crisis (I think this is also common). I suffered from anxiety, recurring lung infections and mild depression. I spent a lot of time writing poetry and songs and escaping into sadness. On the outside, I was an A student, popular, talented, pretty and privileged. The dissonance between my inner and outer worlds, I think, were a major cause for my anxiety. I understood it at the time as my inner or subconscious self crying for attention, but I had no skills, awareness or context around what I needed to do.

Carihi Secondary School graduation in my home town, Campbell River, 1999

Carihi Secondary School graduation in my home town, Campbell River, 1999

I was able to manage my anxiety attacks through instinct: by being aware of the symptoms before the onset, bringing awareness to my breath and calming my heart-beat. I was graduating high school, it was 1999 and I was 17 years old.

Chapter Two

After two years of University I decided to take a year off. There were several things that happened all around that time that contributed to a large shift in my awareness. It was around the time of 9/11 and my anxiety was really high. I would burst into tears at any news footage on the TV. I started taking St. John’s Wort to calm my nerves. I travelled to Mexico. I started to connect with what really mattered in life. Somewhere in that time, I first experienced acupuncture. A friend had told me it could help with my lung condition. That first experience with the acupuncturist told me everything I had known to be true about my illness, but had never before heard spoken out loud. He told me my illness was emotional and that in order to heal my lungs I also needed to connect with my emotions.

It took me a year to generate the courage to return to his office and work with him for the summer. I returned to university and changed my major, I started learning about things that interested me, I started eating organic, I met real friends, I stopped going to bars, I started noticing quality, I started noticing goodness, truth and beauty in places our society ignores. I started reading Ken Wilber, Annie Dillard, Joanna Macy and Fritjov Capra. I started questioning everything. I started to find my voice. It was 2002 and I was 21 years old.

Spending time each summer on Hornby Island with my family was a special time for me, this photo is from July 2002.

Spending time each summer on Hornby Island with my family was a special time for me, this photo is from July 2002.

At the end of 2004 I finished University with a double major in Environmental Studies and Anthropology. February 2006 I bought a one-way ticket to Europe. I worked and lived there for nine months: I started to learn how to be with myself.

Chapter Three

One of the most profound things anyone ever said to me in my high school years was, “you need to befriend yourself.” I had no idea what that meant at the time, but somewhere inside me a quiet voice told me it was true.

I was organizing a Halloween festival at my high school in gr. 10 and my twin sister and I decided to invite the ladies from the local metaphysical bookstore to give some aura readings. We’d always been interested in crystals and cards this was however, the first time we’d actually approached any of the adults and asked them anything. At the end of the festival I asked one of the women to read my aura. She said that I was protected, but that I needed to befriend myself.

On retreat in Tuscany, summer 2011

On retreat in Tuscany, summer 2011

A decade later, I found myself on the phone with Andrew Cohen. I was at a friend’s house in Vancouver participating in a virtual retreat. Andrew had just given a talk on the post-metaphysical relationship with God. I wanted to know what he meant. After a few tries, and me saying, “no that’s not it”, he softened and gave me a teaching from his teacher, Papaji. He told me about finding a friend “you’re never going to be able to see”. In that moment I felt like I had found a teacher. I never thought I was looking for a teacher until that moment. It was the same message I had received from the aura reading in high school. I knew in my heart this was a path I needed to travel to find myself. That summer I travelled to Tuscany and participated in a ten-day silent retreat with Andrew. It was 2011, I was 29 years old.

I realize there is some controversy around Andrew’s teachings. I have to say that my experiences with him were very profound and meaningful for me. I can only speak for myself. I sat with him again in the Mojave Desert for seven days; I completed two years of on-line course work with mentors from EnlightenNext; I lived and worked as an intern for three months in community at Fox Hollow, Massachussets.

The last interaction I had with Andrew before he stopped teaching was organizing his visit to Vancouver a few years back, just before I moved to Salt Spring Island and found the SSCY. While I was living at Fox Hollow I remember looking at old photos of Andrew as a young man traveling in India. It was the first time I had made any kind of connection between his teachings and India. Because he had “Americanized” the message, I hadn’t realized I was part of a lineage: that the teachings were a part of a lineage. It was the first time I became interested in where it all came from.

Burgoyne Bay, Salt Spring Island

Burgoyne Bay, Salt Spring Island

When I moved to Salt Spring, Andrew stopped teaching and my attachment to the teachings simply fell away. My love is still there for the people, but there was an openness and a readiness in me to start looking more deeply and more broadly within myself. To release the scaffolding that surrounded my understanding and soften.

Chapter Four

My name, Amy, means “beloved friend”. The path to loving and befriending myself has been the most profound teaching that continues to unfold, and continues to reveal truth. Joanna Macy once said that the heart broken open can contain the entire universe. I feel like moving to Salt Spring has allowed for me to soften, to embrace the breaking open and allow the truth and beauty to shine through.

Hornby Island, 2014

Hornby Island, 2014

A big part of this for me has come through my relationship with bhakti yoga and kirtan. I’ve been drawn to ceremony for several years. In my late twenties, when I was living in Victoria, friends and I started a seasonal circle where we met each quarter and shared in sacred sounds and sharing of intentions around a fire, we then started hosting sweat lodges with elders for two years. I benefitted from the traditional knowledge, practice, deep honour and wisdom that was shared with me in community during that time. I learnt a lot about my connection with the land that had previously been a cognitive understanding. The same is true for any kind of ceremony.

There is an embodiment that moves energies through a position of deep surrender. Andrew himself said that the ‘second face of God’ – meaning the second person ‘I-thou’ relationship we find in worship – is the only thing that will get the ego to bend it’s knee – a position of surrender. I had to learn this teaching for myself. As a singer I’ve longed to sing from my heart in a devotional way, and have found a deep love for kirtan. I remember watching Vidya’s face as she sang kirtan when I first arrived at the SSCY and wondering, does she really feel that much joy? The answer, I found for myself, is yes! When I connected with that pure joy that kirtan can bring, I was hooked. I’ve also been very committed to the full moon ceremonies and other offerings here at the Centre that have made my heart sing for the past two, almost three years.

Teacher’s strike 2014 hanging with my friends Kai and Anna.

Teacher’s strike 2014 hanging with my friends Kai and Anna.

I first arrived to Salt Spring Island as a teacher with the Gulf Islands School District in June 2013. After living at Fox Hollow, MA, I stayed in Vancouver for a while with my twin sister Adrienne, and wasn’t sure where to go next. My prayer was, “where can I be of service” –I got a job on Salt Spring and the whole island opened up to me very quickly. I was working on my masters degree online, teaching part-time, mentoring environmental youth activists, and attending Satsang at the Centre. It was a beautiful time for me and I feel very, very grateful to still be here on the island within such a beautiful community of activism and spiritual practice. I completed my masters thesis in Community Resilience on February 1st of this year, and moved to the SSCY on the 15th. It is a deep honour for me to deepen my practice and be here in service, living at the SSCY. I am very grateful to Babaji and the extended community for creating such a loving and peaceful place.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

YTT Reflections: Linda Rogers

YTT Graduate, Linda Rogers

YTT Graduate, Linda Rogers

Where do you live? What do you do in your life apart from yoga?

I was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta and I am an Office Manager of two dental offices.

What motivated you to begin practicing yoga? How did yoga come to be part of your life?

I started practicing yoga several years ago to find a way to incorporate different workouts into my routine. I used to run a lot and started to crave a different pace for my mind and body. A very good friend of mine introduced me to yoga – which at the time, I believed was stretching for flexible people. I was immediately hooked and looking for ways to go deeper into my practice.

What attracted you to the SSCY YTT program?

I wasn’t looking for a YTT program! I was looking for a “yoga retreat” that would bring me to a beautiful, tranquil west coast destination! Something relaxing, an opportunity to recharge, in hindsight, something fluffy. I called the centre and had the joy of talking to Daniel and after a lengthy conversation, he really listened to who I was and peeled away the layers of the onion that were hiding what I was really looking for, what my goals were for my practice and how I wanted to find a way of life that was more fulfilling and wholehearted. Once I spoke to him, even though I didn’t believe I would ever teach yoga, I knew the YTT Program was for me!

What aspect of yoga has had the most transformative effect on your life?

Since YTT, the aspects of yoga that have had the most positive effect on my life have not had a lot to do with asana! The spiritual side of yoga has transformed many aspects of my life. Regular Sadhana has become a daily practice that brings yoga into more and more of my daily tasks and changes the way I interact with the world. Going to YTT, I never considered teaching yoga. Now, I enjoy sharing what I have learned, and encourage others to begin their own personal journey towards a more peaceful and engaged life. YTT was my own personal “springboard” which has launched me back into the joy of learning about things I love!

Please share some memorable moments – or a favourite moment – from YTT.

There are SO many! Just reading the question brings tears to my eyes. Tears of joy and tears of transformation…

The day we arrived at YTT, we played a game to get to know each other and my competitive nature got the best of me and I ended up injuring my hamstring. It was devastating! Here I was at a YTT program hobbling along with an inflamed hamstring that, at times, did not support my weight, made sitting excruciating, and frankly, brought up all my insecurities about being at YTT. I wasn’t young enough, thin enough or strong enough to be there. Who did I think I was?

Chetna took me out to the back porch and sat with me while I wallowed in my own self-judgement. It was on the steps that I discovered why I was really there. I will be eternally grateful for the lesson I learned that day and every day at YTT after that. Self-compassion, love, encouragement and finding meaning in all that happens in life – the good, the bad and the ugly. At YTT, it was the beginning of my journey of acknowledging that “I am enough” – just the way I am. My personal journey continued with the support of the many friendships that I formed on Salt Spring Island. Words cannot express how connected I feel to my teachers and fellow students.

What can students expect from the yoga teacher training at the Centre?

Students can expect a solid foundation for teaching yoga and a personal journey that is transforming. Salt Spring YTT fosters an environment that instills confidence in one’s ability to teach and encourages everyone to open their heart to continued learning.

Any favourite quotes?

There are SO many! And I make a point of reading many of them on a daily basis!

“Contentment, compassion, and tolerance are the pillars of peace.” Babaji

“There is an unspoken language. It comes from the silence and can’t be heard by the ears, only by the heart.” Babaji

My heart still skips a beat when I sing “The Food Prayer” too. Yum Yum!!

YTT Reflections: Craig Stewart

YTT Graduate, Craig Stewart

YTT Graduate, Craig Stewart

Where do you live? What do you do in your life apart from yoga?

Since 1991 I have resided in Smithers, B.C. as a practicing geoscientist with the BC Ministry of Environment. I left that position in July 2015 and although I’m technically “retired”, I feel more like I have just started a new career pursuing various other interests and passions. My time is taken up by a multitude of interests and activities, from hiking, biking, skiing, kayaking and hockey, to learning piano, playing guitar, gardening and volunteering. I’m really enjoying not having a prescribed schedule all the time, and appreciating the time to reconnect with other aspects of my personality.

What motivated you to begin practicing yoga? How did yoga come to be part of your life?

Yoga intrigued me many years back for its grace, beauty and physicality. I will also admit it didn’t hurt being the only male in the class! I dabbled in yoga sporadically, and quickly noticed the benefits in terms of flexibility and strengthening. It was after a hip injury from playing squash that I seriously took to the mat to improve strength, flexibility, balance and body control. I could no longer ski, skate, run, golf or do many of the activities I loved and there seemed to be no solution. I knew that yoga had been generally helpful overall, so I turned to it to help improve my hip and to provide the physical activity from all of the activities I could no longer comfortably do. It seems to have worked as I am back doing pretty much everything as before. My hip will never be what it was, but I feel stronger, fitter and I think many of the activities I pursue have been greatly improved by my practice. I have also met many wonderful people through my practice. My biggest challenge is making my practice consistent, as it really is something that needs to be continually cultivated.

What attracted you to the SSCY YTT program?

Upon deciding to take the 200hr course, basically to improve my personal practice, I started hunting around for locations. The exotic ones appealed greatly to me….a Greek Island perhaps? Looked pretty nice…but I really wanted to have a total immersion to focus on the learning and completing the course. My main instructor in Smithers turned out to be a SSCY YTT alumni and said I would love going there, so I checked it out. Given that there is a three week break in the middle and I did not want to come home in that time, my being in the Vancouver Island area allowed me an opportunity to stay down there the whole time and save on the travel hassle. So logistically it made a lot of sense and turned out to be a great benefit, adding to the whole experience of the summer. The program layout, teacher reputation, immersion aspect (staying onsite), the high recommendation and the allure of Salt Spring Island made it a perfect choice. I may still get to Greece though, or Italy, or Costa Rica, or….

What aspect of yoga has had the most transformative effect on your life?

Pause for thought here to try and picture the before and after….

On the physical level I feel stronger and more attuned to myself. At a more subtle level I feel I am becoming a better person and believe more strongly in my life path and choices. I feel a better energy within and I think send better energy to the outside world as well. Yoga has been reaffirming to many critical aspects of who I am while also introducing me to new thoughts and ways of being. It has made me more aware of conversations, energies and what I want to be around. For example, by being attuned to negative energies from others or myself, I can try to influence them in a more positive manner. Definitely not everything is perfect and likely never will be, but my awareness level has definitely increased. It has certainly influenced how I want to be as a person.

Specifically from the course, the breath connection was a large revelation and I have added Pranayama to my practice; it’s an area that I was not really aware of or interested in. This quite surprised me, but I find it very enjoyable and beneficial on all levels.

Actually guiding classes has been a big step – just being able to do it for one. I realize how hard but enjoyable it is and appreciate my instructors even more. And the biggie: noticing how much of a difference can occur to a student’s day, energy, mood, and attitude from attending a class. It is a remarkable feeling to help someone transform their energy over the length of a class and notice/hear the incredible positive changes that have occurred from their being in the class.

Please share some memorable moments – or a favourite moment – from YTT.

There were so many unforgettable moments: the amazing final talent night, the funky final dance with a billion stars in the night sky to the accompaniment of croaking frogs that drowned out music and thought, the emotional closeness shared, the food (with the odd side trip for necessities such as coffee and chocolate), the wonderful helpful staff, music in the Pond Dome, caring and thoughtful instructors, so much humour, gentleness, learning people’s stories, meaningful conversations, overcoming challenges…..and the difference between the first half and the second half. Transformation for sure.

What can students expect from the Yoga Teacher Training at the Centre?

YTT students can expect to spend time with students, teachers and staff in a wonderfully relaxed and peaceful setting. The long days, substantive subject matter, and close proximity to a group of like minded but very different individuals can test their comfort zone and individual boundaries. The time spent together creates a wonderful intimacy to share and learn about one another, creating wonderful experiences and memories. Learning the hows and whys of the journeys that led students, teachers and staff to the centre was amazing and I think provided a basis for more personal openness throughout the course and beyond. The classes will test their belief system, openness, willingness to experiment, and how they deal with failures and successes. The course changed my perspective of yoga and my personal practice; it has given me permission to have a gentler, kinder, more meaningful practice.

They will gain from hearing people’s stories, observing incredible hidden talents, watching people change over the duration of the course, personal surprises, releases of all kinds (physical and emotional) and many subtle things that won’t really be noticed until after the course is completed.

And there will be lots of fun, laughter and enjoyment!!!

Do you have any favourite quotes?

“Teach to Learn”….so true.

When I initially decided to attend YTT I had no interest in teaching. As the course advanced, and after some positive interactions with students and staff, the thought of teaching (although I prefer to use the term guiding) started to creep in. Upon my return to Smithers, I tested it out on some friends over 10 karma classes, and found that it seemed to work out – they came back and signed up for more – and paid! So I have led classes since and will do so in the future, slowly learning and building a repertoire of knowledge.

Back to the quote. As soon as I decided to lead classes, the emphasis on knowing what I was doing became rather important. The act of doing my own practice vs. demonstrating and explaining a class in a clear, succinct, comfortable manner for students of various skill levels, are very different. Suddenly, the way I looked at my practice changed considerably. I realized I had to learn so much more, (YTT is just the start) in terms of mechanics, vocabulary, sensing the class dynamics, class structure, atmosphere and a myriad of other things. Now when I attend a class, I pay very careful attention to the sequencing, the lead in, languaging and other aspects of the class to find those things that resonate with me and that are effective. “Teaching” brings out your preferences, your style, your personality and you learn more about yourself as a person. I believe I get as much or more back from teaching the class than I impart.

In addition, the fact that “Teach to Learn” spawned an outstanding rap tune at our final talent night sealed the deal, making it the most memorable quote!!!