The Early Years – The beginnings of Dharma Sara and the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga

The main aim of life is to attain peace. At the land we are doing various things, but underneath it, that is our main aim.

The story of the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga began in the 70s, before the dream of land was born. In 1974 Babaji spent a week in Vancouver, teaching and spending time with a group of devotees at the Spruce Street house. He said, “If you have a yoga retreat next year, I will come.” And that’s what happened.

We rented a camp in White Rock, BC and held a 10 day yoga retreat, none of us ever having done such a thing before. As I recall, it rained for 9 of the 10 days, but it was a success nonetheless. Babaji was there, AD taught classes, everybody pitched in and our yoga community grew.

The grace circle at the White Rock yoga retreat in 1975

The grace circle at the White Rock yoga retreat in 1975

Lakshmi: Like many young people my age, I had read the book Be Here Now and was intrigued by a picture of a yogi from India named Baba Hari Dass. Shortly after that, in August 1975, I heard that Babaji was going to be at a yoga retreat in White Rock, BC. That was the first Dharma Sara (DS) Yoga Retreat. I felt a deep calling to go and I hitchhiked to White Rock with my young son in a snuggly pack. When I got there, there were no posters or signs to locate the event. (This may have led to my later obsession with brochure and flyer distribution for SSCY programs!) I went to the intersection and picked a direction to hitch-hike. The next car stopped and the people were going to the retreat! I arrived in the middle of a traditional Indian wedding fire ceremony. Afterwards, we all formed a “grace circle” and that is when I first met Babaji.

For the next several years we held yoga retreats at Camp Hatikva in Oyama, BC on the shores of Lake Kalamalka. Hundreds of people came. Yoga classes were held in a tent and in the tennis court. There were no yoga mats back then; people brought foamies or blankets. There was rocking kirtan in the main hall, yoga theory classes, big meal circles, canoe races, skits and a childcare program for the many, many children.

Babaji and AD demonstrating asanas in the tennis court

Babaji and AD demonstrating asanas in the tennis court

After a while Babaji suggested that we take the next step, saying, “Buy land.” The search for land took a couple of years – until the land we call the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga was found. It was 1981.

Walking the land with Babaji, 1981

Walking the land with Babaji, 1981 – From left to right: Vidyasagar, Girija (with the top of Karuna’s head behind), Dayanad, Pitambar, Badri Dass, Babaji, Sharada, Lakshmi, Keval Dass

Sri Nivas: After searching over the whole province, we came across the ‘Blackburn Road’ piece in May of 1981; in early June we purchased it with donations from many members for the down payment and the knowledge that our store, Jai, in Vancouver, could meet the mortgage payments.

Sharada: The land was beautiful and the house was promising. We walked the land with Babaji that first year, and on his chalkboard he wrote, “It is a good land” and proceeded to tell us all the things we could do on the land, from agriculture to Ayurveda, from programs to yoga school. All of it ended up happening.

Raghunath: 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.

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 tree. 1981

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

The house in 1981 (where the main entrance is now prior to the addition of the lobby).

The house in 1981 (where the main entrance is now prior to the addition of the lobby).

Sri Nivas: The Centre farmhouse was quite run-down and had been abandoned for about six years. We began working on the renovations almost immediately. Room 108 – the main floor guest bedroom – was the only room in the house that was insulated. All the chimneys were falling down so the house had no heat. All the plumbing had long since frozen and burst. The lobby and most of the dormers upstairs didn’t exist. There was a lot of work to be done!

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Sri Nivas: Today, apart from the main house, the only existing original structures are what are currently the community kitchen and the tool shed, the latter known for some obscure reason as the Top Shop. They had been milking sheds from the original dairy farm.

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We held our annual yoga retreat that year at Camp Elphinstone on the Sunshine Coast, but the next year we held our first retreat on the land! More from Sri Nivas: At the first yoga retreat on the land in summer 1982, we ran out of water and had to order tanker trucks for water. Originally there was only a dug well that didn’t supply nearly enough water. We called in a dowser who located the spot for our existing drilled well.

That takes us up to 1982. More to come in future editions.

Contributed by Sharada, with gratitude to Babaji who pointed the way, and to everyone who worked hard to make this dream come true.

7 Ways to Prevent Yoga Teacher Burnout

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One of the things in my life I’m most grateful for is that I get to teach yoga in exchange for money. This means that I have turned my deepest spiritual commitment into a livelihood. Yet, at times, my work becomes stressful and can compromise my well-being. This would probably seem counter-intuitive to anyone other than a yoga teacher, as folks have often intimated that I must have the dream job since I just get to do yoga all day. Because of this belief, I have found it difficult to admit that I’m getting burned out from my work.

This summer I was able to talk with some of the faculty from the SSCY 200 hour yoga teacher training about how to avoid burnout as a yoga teacher. I’d been giving it a lot of thought because by the start of summer I was experiencing increased anxiety, physical pain and a need (and thankfully the opportunity) to take the entire summer off from teaching. Talking to these long time teachers and yogis helped me to realize that there are myriad ways to minimize the toll that teaching can take, and many of these actions can in turn make us more effective teachers.

It was quickly and unanimously agreed that the number one way to prevent burnout is to commit to a regular yoga sadhana (practice). We are not practicing yoga when we teach; we are teaching yoga. The lifetime practice of yoga requires a daily commitment – whatever that looks like for individual teachers based on their yoga lineage and lifestyle. This not only allows us to ‘keep the tank full’, but informs our teaching, and helps us come to class grounded and balanced no matter what else is happening in our lives. One teacher joked, “That’s it. Problem solved. Article written!”

7 Ways to prevent Yoga Teacher Burnout

1. Don’t stop Learning

But even with a regular sadhana, we can find ourselves at some point lacking enthusiasm or feeling bored with our own class offerings. To prevent this stagnation we need to continue to learn as teachers (and not just to fulfill our continuing education credits to maintain our Yoga Alliance designation). We need to explore aspects of yoga that are calling to us. We need to study with teachers we resonate with. We need to read books and blogs and attend community classes simply because we are yoga students first, teachers second.

2. Keep a Substitute in the Wings

When we are not feeling 100% – whether from sickness, injury or emotional stresses in our lives, we need to ask for help and that help has to be easily accessible. Having a substitute teacher list for all of our classes allows us to take care of ourselves, gives our students opportunities to experience other teachers, and might also allow new teachers an opportunity to gain experience.

3. Simplify and Streamline your Classes

We don’t need to create a new class plan for every individual class we teach. Some teachers choose a theme for the week – whether it’s workshopping a certain pose, using the same quotes or focusing on a particular aspect of spiritual growth – that can be carried throughout the week but modified based on the style of yoga being taught. Just as important is to review the plan after class and make notes of what worked, what didn’t and what changes we may have made during class, or plan to in the future. Our teaching must continually evolve based on experience and education, but we don’t need to start from scratch every class. Make notes, keep notes and have a plan. This practice conserves energy, reduces stress, and ensures that we are offering variety to our students from week to week.

4. Conserve Energy and Stay Hydrated

We yoga teachers tend to talk a lot through the course of a class which means more exhaling than inhaling. Prana is lost! But so is moisture. I’ve made it a practice to fill my water bottle at the start of class and make sure it is empty by the end. I’ve also found that recording a class, or just listening intently to my words, has helped me discover ways to use words more sparingly. Like good poetry – choose the best words in the best order. We, as teachers, also need to offer our students silence so they can focus on their inner listening and we can exemplify the stillness of the practice.

5. Demonstrate Less

We also need to offer stillness to our body at times. As teachers we are expected to demonstrate poses, but we should do so carefully, ideally at less than 80% of our fullest expression and if assymetrical, on both sides. In beginner or special needs classes, oftentimes there is a need to demonstrate for the entire length of the pose, but sometimes I find myself demonstrating a pose when no one can actually see me! Spending less time in the pose also allows me to keep an eye on the students so as to offer individualized cues or hands on assists. Similarly, when injured, I’ve known teachers to ask more experienced student if they might be willing to demonstrate certain poses for the class when need be.

6. Fair Remuneration

One of the most challenging aspects of teaching yoga has been figuring out what is fair remuneration for my work. As a natural karma yogi, it is tempting to teach for free. But as a householder yogi living in the world, teaching yoga is my ‘right livelihood’ and my energy needs to be exchanged for money. I know teachers who teach freely for Yoga Outreach, but balance that with higher paid classes in the the corporate sector. Some teachers work full time elsewhere and only teach yoga as a community service. And some teachers teach twenty classes per week just to make ends meet. A lot needs to be taken into consideration – travel time, prep time, the needs of the students, our relationship with our employers and our own financial needs. There’s no one answer as to what we, as yoga teachers, ‘should’ be paid. But if we find ourselves resentful of what we’re being paid, or if a class depletes us rather than fills us up, it is time to take a closer look.

7. Build your Teaching Community

Believe it or not, teaching yoga can feel like walking a lonely road at times. Connecting with other teachers in our community in order to share experiences and resources, ask for input and celebrate accomplishments is indispensable! I meet with some of my teacher peers every few months and it has been such an unexpected gift! Case in point, just last week I shared the rough draft of this article with them and they offered even more insight and wisdom.

As yoga teachers, we are all going about our ‘right livelihood’ in our own unique ways. I am still learning how to take care of myself in order to offer my students my best self. Thankfully the yoga teachings stand on their own – offering my students their own glimpses of their best selves. We all meet there together – just by showing up on our mats! Be gentle with yourselves. Take good care!


KenziePattillo

Kenzie Pattillo completed her 200 hour YTT at SSCY in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver and currently teaches hatha, yin and restorative yoga in her community and at yoga getaways at the Centre.

As an E-RYT 200, and having recently completed her 500 hour YTT through Semperviva Yoga College, she looks forward to joining the YTT asana faculty this summer at SSCY.

Our Centre Community: Kirti White

Anchor

Kirti in crow pose!

Kirti practices crow pose

The Salt Spring Centre of Yoga has been a part of my life as far back as I can remember. My parents moved to Salt Spring Island in 1983 and found community at the Centre shortly after. My earliest memory is telling my parents that I would like to ask Babaji for a name. They agreed it would be fine with the understanding that I would continue to use my Great Grandmother’s name outside of the Centre. However, Julia never resonated with me. Arrangements were made and I impatiently awaited my appointment with Babaji. I remember walking into the room with my parents, sitting in front of Babaji and being given my name. Unlike most of my memories that can be played back like a video, this memory is filled more strongly with the feelings of “ah this is right.” I left the room as Kirti; I refused to be called anything else thereafter, I was 4 years old.

Sitting with Babaji at the Easter Retreat, 1990

Sitting with Babaji at the Easter Retreat, 1990

Even though our family lived off the land, Centre life was a large part of my childhood. As a kid, singing Kirtan (or rather running in and out of the room with my friends), learning alternate nostril breathing, tracing Babaji’s Ram’s that he had painted on the rock wall, playing parts in the yearly Ramayana, participating in dish shifts, meeting and befriending other kids from our sister Center at Mount Madonna were a normal part of growing up. I’m glad that was my normal; it solidified my sense of belonging and connection to our community.

All dressed up for Ramayana, 1990 Retreat

All dressed up for Ramayana, 1990 Retreat

During one retreat I learned to blow the conch. There were a few of us learning outside on the deck by the kitchen, we were all creating beautiful dying cow sounds. Thankfully, each of us slowly began grasping how to make the correct sound. We were laughing and blowing the conch longer and longer and longer. Then a man came running from the direction of the school flailing his arms and in a panic “STOP! STOP!” he said. We were all a little surprised and began to think that we had disturbed part of the program. Nope, that wasn’t the problem; it was more that the long blow of the conch signaled someone had died. Whoops! It seems someone must learn this lesson at least every other retreat.

I feel truly privileged to have grown up around the beautiful community that is the Salt Spring Centre. People come together on the platform that Babaji created for all of us to live by and learn from. It took me years to realize that the Centre was my family outside of my home. When I was 18 I lost a very close friend in an accident, and my parents were out of town; I headed straight to the Centre and found the family I needed to cope with the shock and grief. The Salt Spring Centre and Babaji’s teachings have continued throughout my life to be an anchor when my ship gets rocked.

In 2002 my dad and I made our pilgrimage to the Sri Ram Ashram in India. What struck me most was the closeness that everyone had with each other; it was a family with a blended community of people from all over India and the world. I can’t wait to go back with my daughter one day.

With the kids at the Sri Ram Ashram, March 2002

With the kids at the Sri Ram Ashram, March 2002

In 2007 my husband, Theron, and I were married. Our wedding was sandwiched by my participation in YTT. Crazy? Yes. Fun? Absolutely! I couldn’t have done it without the huge support of my incredible husband, supportive family, loving Centre family and fantastic teachers. What a transformative experience and phenomenal way to take one’s personal practice deeper. I highly recommend it to everyone, even if you don’t plan on teaching.

Kirti's wedding

Kirti’s wedding

After the birth of our daughter, Takaya, in 2010 my health was compromised for several years. It took a while to figure out that my extreme exhaustion was not a normal part of motherhood. Through that time I fell back on the teachings of Babaji to help me to keep pushing on. I still have setbacks, though thankfully, in the last two years my health has come back enough to participate more in the summer retreats with Takaya, this past summer taking part in the ACYR planning committee and helping with the kids’ program. It is a wonderful feeling seeing Takaya thrive in the environment that I grew up in and to see the second generation of kids playing, learning and growing together.

Kirti, Takaya and Theron

Kirti, Takaya and Theron

Om
Kirti