Interview with a long time practitioner – Steven Hyland
Ashtanga Yoga in Thailand
1. What guided you to the Ashtanga Yoga Practice?
It was quite a long time ago now; about 4 or 5 years BC (before computers) I think.
I had been on a kind of search for a yoga class that would be likely to hold my interest. I had tried a couple of classes at a local sports facility and they didn’t seem to be very interesting or challenging. Back then it was purely a physical practice; I had no idea at all how much depth there could be to it.
Anyway, by chance I was in the sports department of a large store, and there was a dvd running of two people practicing first series. One was accomplished, and the other was doing beginners variations, which, although is a different approach to KPJAYI teaching methods, it did make it appealing to try.
There was something about what they were practicing that triggered a deep connection, but I was a long way from being physically capable of 80% of the asanas. I had a desk job back then, and had not been fit as a kid. I had a LOT of work to do but I was up for the challenge.
After a few weeks of stretching and struggling at home, I knew I had to find a teacher and found one, just 40kms from home. That was my seed point really. It was about 1997.
2. Do you think that this practice is for everyone ? Even for a full complete beginner?
It really is down to attitude. Of course these days there’s been a massive increase in awareness, so with a bit of research, not so many go into it like a blank sheet of paper (as I had).
What is needed is discipline, patience, acceptance, compassion and many other qualities that can be left behind in the fast-paced and ever changing lives that most of us seem to have these days.
Many people seem to be over-stimulated these days, without a minute to call their own, so it is a highly appropriate time to start. “I didn’t have time” is probably the most common reason for not taking practice, or going to class, but we overlook that we are in control of what we actually do with our time.
We all have the opportunity to arrange our lives to include a bit of ‘me-time’, and in that window we can take practice.
In the beginning, we don’t have to do too much. It’s much nicer, and sustainable, if we taper into a practice, while making sure that we don’t just play to our strengths.
Many of us have to progress very carefully though, because our joints and our ranges of movement in our day to day life are not ready for many of the asanas.
We’ve allowed ourselves quite sedentary life in most cases, or been driven that way by work and short term opportunities to be comfortable. So, we have to learn how to lean into it, and not push. Guruji always said that it’s a listening practice.
It can be painful when we don’t listen, or when we rush! As a teacher, I don’t like to see people setting themselves up for the mistakes that I’ve made in the past.
All of my injuries occurred in the first year or so, and were entirely caused by me trying to do things I wasn’t ready for; my beginners naivety. The bottom line though IMHO, is attitude.
Anyone with the right attitude can patiently begin their quest. Yamas and Niyamas strongly support correct attitude, but many of us don’t place too much interest there for a while. Odd really, because later on they can become one of your biggest challenges.
3. From your personal point of view, is it really necessary to stop student when they can not bind in Marychasana D or grab in Supta Kurmasana for instance?
There are advantages in both scenarios, so the relationship with your teacher is what really matters to me.
If the student and teacher know each other, and work together for a meaningful period of time, they can work together applying the brakes, or pushing if a push is required.
A good teacher isn’t looking at the place, he’s looking at the face. If somebody is really making a mess, or conking out, it’s better for them to rest up at that point.
4. There is this sentence that said “One teacher (or one guru) for one student”. Do you consider Pattabhis Jois or Sharath as your Guru?
Most of us think about this at some point, and maybe some of us over think it. I’m kind of at peace with it, in that the Guru system is Indian.
As I’m not (Indian), I don’t use the term Guru. I have enormous respect for Guruji’s work and of course for Sharath, as well as my principal teacher, Hamish.
I deeply respect other teachers that have shed a bit of light on stuff over the years too. Even just one tip that supports me gets remembered at source as I practice, and keeps in evolving and interesting. We are all one voice in the fullness of time, and all here to support and help each other; that’s my feeling anyway.
5. Do you think that it is easy to follow the “parampara” when in Mysore there are more than 200 students to practice with one teacher?
Remaining within a lineage really helps to control confusion and doubt that can set in by hopping around and doing different practices/methods.
Conversely though, staying open to ideas and inspiration is very helpful and healthy, without unbalancing your energy.
If confusion and doubt set in, it can really bugger up my practice, so for me parampara is internal, not external. I hope that makes sense.
Being in Gokulam, really helped me to see a bigger picture, or maybe it was just that my mind was free of work and all other commitments.
The number of people there had no bearing at all on what I came away with. The large numbers of people did make the domestic stuff challenging though; accommodation etc., and of course these days, it has become more difficult to get a place in the Shala.
6. What does the practice bring you on a daily basis or just into your Life?
Once I had accepted that it was going to be quite different every time, and stopped really striving for progress, it became a really special time.
In all those years, it has hardly ever felt like a chore or like I just have to go through the motions. It’s very colourful. From the opening mantra though, everything else goes on hold and all of the support mechanisms that the practice offers, start to show up.
At the end, whether it’s felt heavy, light, spacious or tight, after taking some rest, theres a lovely feeling of settlement, peace and accomplishment etc. I love the way Guruji summed that up in his limited English; “everywhere looking, only God seeing”.
7. What advice will you give to a brand new practitioner?
Be patient and don’t have too many expectations or demands. Let it happen, because it will. There will be hundreds of “ahaha” moments that will show up when you are ready.
Practice with healthy curiosity and practice with an artful intelligence, while keeping sight of the incredible intelligence that the sequencing of the asanas has built inside of it.
What needs to change, deepen or evolve in you will be supported by each respective asana and vinyasa.
Just trust it.
Steven Hyland is teaching Mysore Classes all year long in Pattaya, Thailand.
– Namaste –