*Editorial Note: At the completion of this interview on March 7, 2015, Harmony (along with Magnolia Zuniga), was blessed with the designation of "Certified" by KPJAYI. Both were formerly "Authorized: Level 2".
Harmony, can you please share with us your background before you found yoga?
Life before yoga? Well, if we go back to the beginning of my interest in the mind-body connection, it probably started when I was very young. I had terrible asthma growing up, and was hospitalized twice for it as a child. So in an interesting way, breathing, and the deep connection between the breath and the mind have always been a topic of experiential interest to me. At times, this has been an issue of life or death. I continue to have asthma to this day, but it has been vastly reduced thanks to the Ashtanga practice, and more awareness around sattvic lifestyle, which I developed through studying Ayurveda and Yoga.
I was an extremely dedicated ballet dancer from a very young age. I dreamed of pursuing a career in dance. Consequently, I was drawn to creating both discipline and daily practice in my life - both for its physical elements, and for deep concentration of the mind. I started learning ballet at age of three. By the time I was ten, I was taking classes and practicing at minimum six days a week, and this continued until I was eighteen.
With my intense commitment to training in the art of ballet, I developed all kinds of interesting disorders along the way. Substance abuse and addiction, anorexia, bulimia, and periods of depression colored my existence during this period of my life.
After I quit dancing I entered the University of Calgary, and completed two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Philosophy and Religious Studies. My main areas of concentration were Existentialism and Eastern Religion. I guess this is where my real intellectual passion for the philosophical side of Yoga began. I traveled to China in summer 2002 with a small group of students, in order to study Buddhist Meditation. We stayed in several monasteries all over China, joined in on the monks’ daily programs and learning in each place. I felt very inspired and at home in Asia. Something inside me wanted to spend as much time as I could in that part of the world. I had been practicing Yoga prior to this trip, but upon returning home I dove in and fully immersed myself in every aspect of the Yoga practice, both through direct experience and research. Fortunately, I had a year left of University. During that time, every class I took became an outlet where I could deepen my focus towards my newfound passion of yoga and meditation.
I guess you could say that this is when my real “journey into the heart of Yoga” began…
How did you segue into yoga and the practice?
I was first introduced to yoga in 1995. The modern dance teacher I was taking classes from was incorporating some yoga into her classes, and so we would start off with sun salutations. I was immediately attracted to it.
When I was in University I took up running for a short period of time and after my runs I would practice the little bit of yoga that I had learned as a part of my post running routine.
However, I didn't take my first “ashtanga-based” yoga class until five years later at a studio called “Yoga In Motion” in Calgary. In 2000, there was only one “flow based” yoga school in my hometown, and this was it. There was no Mysore Program, or any fully established Ashtanga yoga classes or teachers - we were all just infants in our learning. I don’t remember much about the class itself, or the teacher, except that it was a mind blowing experience - 90 minutes of moving and breathing and holding postures and going inside myself with no other distractions beyond the sound of the teacher’s voice giving gentle guidance. By the end of that first class, as we lay down to take rest, I remember feeling like I was at last “home.”
My mind felt calm, my body felt totally alive, and I felt incredibly connected to every molecule inside my being. I walked out of that class feeling taller, lighter, more joyful, and incredibly clean internally - mentally, emotionally, and physically. It was a totally new feeling, and one that continues to drawn me back to this day.
In 2002, David Williams came to give a weekend workshop. He was the first long term Ashtanga Yoga practitioner I had ever met. He of course had been to Mysore, and he spoke of Guruji, and told his story of being on a spiritual search through India. After meeting him, the spark had been ignited into a flame, and I knew that I must go to Mysore to practice with Guruji myself.
A year later, a more traditional Ashtanga Yoga studio opened up in Calgary, “The Yoga Shala.” A small “self practice” group developed there in the early morning hours, and we would all just practice together, getting up from our mats to help each other when we needed assistance. I loved these quiet mornings of self-practice, and noticed a huge difference in my ability to concentrate and focus my mind during the day, and my overall sense of well being and positivity on the days when I started off with the practice. I would try to take workshops with any authorized teachers coming through Calgary, but mostly learned by reading Beryl Bender Birch's book Power Yoga and David Swenson's Practice Manual.
It wasn't until I made it to Mysore, India, in February of 2004, that I had the full experience of practicing in an actual “Mysore class.” So my first real Ashtanga teachers were Guruji and Sharath. I guess I’m one of the fortunate ones to have made my way to Mysore early on in my experience with the practice. I showed up in Mysore with very little prior teachings or influences, so it was easy for me to take in every little bit of detailed information I received from Guruji or Sharath without question. I had initially planned to stay for three months, but I extended this trip to just over four months about half way through. I was so thirsty to learn everything I could about this practice and lineage, and it was always clear to me that they were my teachers. I guess they must have sensed this receptivity within me, as by the end of that first trip, I had completed intermediate series under their direct and ever watchful instruction. I was hooked. I had experienced something ineffable, and returned to Canada feeling like a completely different person.
After that first trip, I never had any doubt that if I were to continue learning this practice of Ashtanga Yoga, I would need to keep returning to the Source. For me, that meant Mysore, where my teachers were. I have been back every year since 2004, except for 2011, when I gave birth to my son Jediah.
You mention that you had a very disciplined and structured regime for dance as a child. Ashtanga tends to have practitioners who seek a sense of purpose and sacrifice. Why do you think this may be?
I don't think that Ashtanga Yoga is unique in that it attracts people who seek a sense of purpose. I believe that everyone on the planet is seeking a sense of purpose in some way or another, and this quest is a fundamental driving force in human life. This practice, however, most certainly does require sacrifice if one is to really taste its sweetness.
I don’t know if the students who initially come to the practice are actually seeking the kinds of sacrifice they might eventually come to make. More likely, I think we enter the field of yoga rather blindly. Yet definitely, the practitioners who stay with the Ashtanga practice come face-to-face with the challenges of “letting go” and “surrendering.” Anyone who continues to sustain the practice steadily over a long period of time has undoubtedly made peace with the amount of dedication and devotion that are required.
In my experience, Ashtanga yoga is truly a transformative spiritual discipline, and like any practice with transformative power, it is going to require a certain amount of sacrifice. In order to transform yourself, you have to step outside what's comfortable and in some way go against the common desire for instant pleasure or self-gratification in effort to attain a higher goal or discover your true purpose. There is the saying, “If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got.” When we first take up Ashtanga yoga, it asks us to come to our mat daily. For most, this is the first step in doing something never done before and this creates a space to experience something completely different and unexpected. That’s what makes it a “practice” – the repetition of something to attain either a skill, or knowledge, or to realize something new about yourself or the world.
I think sometimes musicians, artists, athletes or dancers understand such sacrifice and its relation to practice more readily than others, because to perform any activity or skill at a very high level, they have to sacrifice the obstacles in their lives to the discipline of perfecting their art form.
Obstacles can show up in any area of life: how you spend your free-time, your diet, daily routines, and even with whom you keep company. In any case, it is the same principle: to be successful and perform at a high level in any area, some amount of discipline and sacrifice are required. Why would the aim to attain a deeper spiritual experience be any different? It requires continual effort, sacrifice, self-discipline, devotion, dedication and practice over a long period of time. This reminds me of one of Guruji’s favourite verses from the Patanjali Yoga Sutras that he would frequently quote: “sa tu dirghakala nairantarya satkarasevito drdha-bhumih” (1:14) “Practice becomes firmly established when it has been cultivated uninterruptedly and with devotion over a long long period of time.”
In order to immerse yourself in a discipline and gain its benefits, you have to dedicate yourself wholeheartedly to it, and it is the same with yoga. Spiritual awakening requires full dedication. You have to commit your undivided attention to its actualization in every area of your life.
Personally, when I come to my practice, I always think of the verse from the Bhagavad Gita that says, “I am the ritual, the sacrifice, and the offering. I am the medicinal herb, the mantra, and also the ghee. I am the fire, and I am the act of offering.” (Chapter 9:16) I feel like this is the very essence of what we are trying to experience and connect with through daily practice.
Harmony, I’d like to delve deeper into an important point you made: “Spiritual awakening requires full dedication and a desire to commit your undivided attention to its actualization in every area of your life.”
How is the practice a microcosm of our life, and how can students apply lessons learned from the mat into their “every-day life”?
It fascinates me how much the way we are in our practice reflects our “natural tendencies” outside of the practice. If you want to get real honest with yourself, try to observe objectively what’s going on for you while you’re practicing. This can be a mirror for how you are in your life. For example, when you come up against things in your practice, it’s likely you will find that your reactions actually reflect the way you are when challenged in your life.
If typically you get angry with people or situations, you will see that same anger starting to come up within you when you discover some perceived obstacle in your practice. If you tend to give up – then you’ll do the same. If you are a person who complains and feels sorry for yourself, you’ll discover that too.
Sometimes it can be surprising. You might discover something about yourself you never would have known otherwise. You might see, “oh wow – I have a lot of grief stored up inside right now” or “gee, I didn’t realize how much fear I have,” but once you are able to move through these sensations and emotions that may come up while practicing, you will likely find that the pattern also shifts in the greater arena of your daily life and your interactions with others will also change.
At different points in the practice you may discover all of these reactions coming up. As you enter new territory within yourself, you may uncover new revelations about some of the psycho-spiritual knots that have been binding you.
Some days it could be a struggle with your teacher, at other times the challenge shows itself as an injury or an inability to perform a certain posture or movement in a specific way. Sometimes it might be personal doubt, lack of conviction, or just plain old “monkey-mind” distraction. The practice is just a tool that brings all of these tendencies within us to light. It helps to show us that almost always, it actually is our own ideas of how the world should or shouldn’t be, or some preconceived notion of what we deserve, or what we need, that creates our inner and outer conflicts. I have discovered that my obstacles are almost always a matter of my ego-self pushing or pulling my mind in a certain direction, looking for recognition or gratification in some way or other.
I think if you are able to stick with the practice, and just stay steady with whatever comes up, rather than reacting to everything you might be feeling, or resisting reality as it is appearing to you at any given moment, then you can start to observe your mental-emotional states with some clarity. Personally, I’ve found that more often than not these are intimately connected to the state of my physical-self as well.
Over time, your nature and relationship to yourself and your life becomes a little smoother and sweeter. Conflicts arise less frequently. I don’t think you really need to “consciously apply” any lessons you’ve learned on the mat. Just coming to the practice day after day changes you. However, there are always new challenges and deeper layers of hidden patterns to peel away. I’m not sure there is an end to this process. I think it is part of how the practice works its mysterious transformative power. You can’t help but be changed by it. If students don’t want to change, then they usually will simply find some excuse to stop practicing.
What does India and your experience in Mysore mean to you?
Personally, I love India. My time in Mysore is the heart of my practice.
Whenever I come here, I feel as if I am returning home. I feel nurtured and supported in my practice when I am in Mysore, and it has always been a place of great healing and growth for me. However, I wouldn’t say that my time in Mysore is ever “easy.” Many times I feel very raw and vulnerable, but I also feel very open and alive.
Physically, I have always felt feel very safe, and my practice gets deeper and stronger for sure, but each trip comes with its own lessons, challenges, breakdowns, and obstacles, some are physical, but most are of a psycho-spiritual nature.
Certainly for me, India has a way of bringing all those “shadow areas” of my personality into the light. The places I’d rather not look at, or like to pretend are not there. All those areas where I need to do the “real work” slowly start to bubble up to the surface of my consciousness, until I address or learn to release each one. This usually happens off the yoga mat, in the day to day living. For example, the work I need to do might come to my awareness during interactions with people, or through different events that unfold while I’m there.
Some trips, the main lesson has been patience; other trips have mainly been about surrender; sometimes it has been about finding strength or stability. I’ve also had trips where I realized I needed to learn forgiveness, and other trips that have tested my ability to be assertive. Whether it has been courage, receptivity, compassion, or equanimity, each trip to Mysore has brought me a new focus for internal work. There is potentially an endless list of possibilities that might come to light for someone, and somehow it seems each person gets exactly the trip and lessons they need for their own personal growth and spiritual maturation. At least that has been my experience.
India, in particular, seems to draw out these situations and moments so readily for people. I like to think that maybe it has something to do with a whole nation who believe wholeheartedly in spirits and the unseen world. A billion people daily creating a space for the hidden realms to come into light, to act, and be a force of power in the apparent reality we live in. I think this incredible collective consciousness creates a tangible synchronicity in events, and opens up a giant space for more possible outcomes to manifest in the world.
You can try to fight the various situations that show up for you while you are in India, or lament about your circumstances, but then you will just be miserable the entire time. Or you will run away, and get on the next airplane, or go to Goa! (laughing) Alternatively, you can accept what has come into your experience as a specific lesson for your growth and pruning, and from it, you will be sure to learn, develop, and even blossom as a yoga practitioner and human being. I don’t know how or why it happens like this, but it is one of the reasons I always feel hesitant about getting overly excited to travel to India. I never know exactly what a study trip might hold or unravel for me. No matter what, my time of practice in Mysore is always rewarding in the end, even if it has some challenging moments.
Can you please share what your experience was like learning under Guruji?
I think that anyone who was fortunate enough to practice with Guruji for any significant period of time felt like they had a special relationship with him. For me, from the very first time I met him, he evoked a deep feeling of love and reverence. He was the first “Guru” I had the good fortune to meet and practice with. He could transmit so much through his gaze. Sometimes he would just stare at me, and it would feel as though he were looking into my soul. I always wondered what he saw when he would look at people in this way.
He had a big heart and radiated so much love. I think he loved to laugh. He always asked, “What News?” when he would see me, or any of his students for that matter. I think he liked to hear a good story or some new gossip from us. He thought it was so funny that my name was “Harmony” because it was like “harmonium” (a musical instrument here). He would laugh every time I came in to pay for another month. Although he was fierce during practice, he was so soft and sweet afterwards, and took each bundle of flowers, and every gift, with a moment of recognition and acknowledgement. This really made each person feel seen and cherished.
He was so dedicated to teaching, and incredibly passionate about transmitting this practice to each student. I’m inspired when I think about him tirelessly teaching day in and day out, and he continues to be a great strength for me in my own teaching. Especially on the days when I am feeling tired, or disappointed in a student’s attitude, or worried about the future of our program. I think of Guruji, teaching from his home for decades with only a few students. He was virtually unknown, and over time he saw thousands of students come and go, but he never compromised the teachings of this practice. He taught because it was his dharma and his duty, and he loved this practice with every cell of his being.
When he taught, he had a way of knowing exactly where I needed to get stronger, whether it was physically, mentally, or emotionally. And he had a mysterious way of getting me to go deeper to find this inner strength. I think he really enjoyed watching his students transform each year. Whenever I would say I had to leave (even after three or four months of practice), he would say, “Why going?” and “When you come back?” It was nice to feel like he wanted to keep me there with him. I would feel a great emptiness whenever I had to leave at the end of a trip. His presence was just so big for me, it filled my whole heart.
Although I met Guruji late in his life, (he was 88 years old on my first trip to Mysore) his adjustments in the room were precise and strong. Everything that was transmitted to me through his touch, or voice, or even his penetrating gaze while I was practicing in that room remains clearly with me when I practice now. Those early years of practice under his watchful eye solidified my dedication and devotion to this lineage.
He treated everyone the same. Whether you had been a student for 20 years or two months, he would yell at you just the same, grunting “Bad Man!” or “Bad Lady!” He had high expectations for everyone, and could see your capabilities even before you believed in them yourself. No one was special, and yet somehow, everyone was special.
I was fortunate to practice with him for four longer trips before he fell ill in the spring of 2007. The first time I saw him again after that -- shortly after he had recovered enough to be back at home from the hospital -- tears filled my eyes with a mixture of love, sadness and joy. Even though his body was very weak, a light poured out from him so strongly that I felt overwhelmed by it. I would often dream of Guruji, and feel these dreams calling me back to Mysore.
My husband Jeff and I were incredibly blessed to spend many special moments with him during those last years that his health was deteriorating, visiting him at home even during the time he wasn’t doing much teaching. After attending his memorial in 2009, we made a pilgrimage to Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath - all in the Himalayan mountains. Guruji had told us a few years earlier that we should visit these four sacred spots. That journey turned out to be one of the most memorable trips we ever made through India. It was a very special way to grieve his passing, and feel that even though he had left his physical form, his presence was still with us. Sometimes I can still sense his energy, or hear his voice, as I practice. Those are precious moments.
Harmony, you shared that that you “developed all kinds of interesting disorders along the way, substance abuse and addiction, anorexia, bulimia, and periods of depression” during the time you were dancing, would you like speak more on this and did yoga practice help you heal?
I haven’t shared much of this part of my life or story before, and it was only about a year ago that I began to speak more openly about these personal struggles. Secrecy, shame, and self-loathing are all rather prominent components to the binge-purge cycle, and earlier in my yoga practice speaking up about these issues in a personal way, felt more like revealing a weakness, rather than building up a strength. However, over the years I’ve seen and worked with several students who are struggling with these same issues, and I feel it is important to be transparent in sharing, so that others can see there is hope and healing through this practice.
I started drinking alcohol fairly regularly, from a very young age of around ten years old. It was always an available substance in our home, so it was an easy one to dip into without arousing much suspicion. I also started smoking cigarettes around that same time. I didn’t feel like I was young at the time, I had always had much older friends, and I think I lost that feeling of being a “child” very early on. I had decided around this same time that I was to devote my life to becoming a ‘prima ballerina’, so perhaps my lack of “childish glee” gave way quite early to this very focused, disciplined and goal driven perspective where I became fixated on perfection. Life started to feel very serious, and I placed a lot of pressure on myself to succeed. For me, that was what it meant to be a ballerina – to be perfect. I was very competitive by nature, and if I wasn’t going immerse my entire self into something, I didn’t see much point in pursuing it at all. There was an ideal image of what a ballerina was supposed to look like, you need to be thin and beautiful. From a young age I was inundated these images and tried to become this archetype. Consequently, I was surrounded by ‘dis-ordered body images’ from every source of reference: people, books, videos -- so much so, that living a life of secrecy and self-loathing seemed “normal.”
By the time I was twelve, I was struggling with an incredibly distorted body image that resulted in times of deep depression accompanied by alternating periods of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. It was a commonly known fact that smoking cigarettes helped to reduce your appetite, and at the time, it was something almost every older dancer I knew did. So I followed suit. Alcohol was an easily available source of escape, so I began turning to it regularly for temporary relief. This was the start of a long road of hidden suffering, as I plummeted into the darkness and insanity of having an eating disorder control every aspect of my life.
Eventually in late adolescence, I reached a point where I realized that if I continued down this road, I would surely die and early death. I guess you might say I had a moment of awakening. I saw that living in a constant state of self-disgust perpetuated by a need for the unattainable approval from the teachers and authorities in the dance community, was contributing to a deep sickness that was spinning out of control. As far as I could see, the only way to stay alive, was to cut myself off from all the factors contributing to this unhealthy obsession. So I quit dancing without any explanation, and walked away from it all – full stop.
At this point I felt some relief, but I also felt a total loss of identity and direction. I had no idea who I was without ballet. So I got a job working in a bank – the complete antithesis of the artistic, creative background I had been immersed in for so many years. After some time, it became obvious that working in a bank wasn’t my life’s passion, and so I began a period full time studies at the University of Calgary, and discovered yoga. Although the symptoms of my eating disorder had subsided to some extent, they were still lurking just beneath the surface, and would readily awaken at moments of stress or anxiety. The regular misuse of drugs and alcohol continued unabated.
When I started regularly attending yoga classes during my last few years of University, I felt a radical change in my thoughts and feelings, especially those directed towards myself. I felt so incredibly clean internally after taking a class, that I couldn’t even imagine smoking a cigarette or binge eating. I began to have a different relationship to food. I saw it as something that could nourish my body, and even heal me, instead of an enemy that would only make me feel fat and sick. I began to understand that my self-worth wasn’t related to a number on a scale. This was a big change.
I began weekly acupuncture treatments with an incredible healer and counsellor. I trusted him and was finally able to open up about my problems. This work helped me to understand some of the dysfunctional emotional issues that were at the root of my addictions and eating disorders. Through his support, and with my regular practice of yoga, I was able to completely stop all drugs and alcohol, and my eating disorder completely abated. I felt for the first time, a genuine sense of confidence and positivity towards myself.
Through my practice I began to discover an inner strength and stability that I had never felt before. I also started to let myself be vulnerable and open. I can recall numerous times during practice of actually experiencing a physical and corresponding emotional release of suppressed grief, anxiety, or anger – lots of stuff comes up to the surface during the practice. It was so therapeutic. As these things came up, I was really able to let them go over time. It felt like peeling layers and layers of myself away, and as each piece fell away, I had a stronger faith that eventually, only the real and true Self would remain. I realized that to practice daily I needed to be healthy and to nourish my body and mind with good food and affirmative thoughts. I started to read spiritual books and listen to different dharma talks on Buddhism or Yoga. I developed a daily meditation practice and took time to journal and contemplate matters of spirit and God. My practice became a time of daily prayer and a method for connecting to that internal ‘Life Force’ that pulsates through all living beings – and it remains that to this day.
Honestly, I’m not sure where I would be today without this practice. I might still be hiding in the darkness, struggling with demons of my past, or I might be numbing my inner pain and disappointment with drugs or alcohol. I might be dead.
My first trip to Mysore, India, was like a soothing balm for my soul. Everything about being in India touched me to the very core of my being. It connected me again to a feeling of childlike innocence and awe that had been long forgotten. It gave me back a missing piece of myself. I guess this is part of why I love practicing in Mysore, and really, just being in India. My experiences and time there have helped to heal my brokenness in more ways than I can count. I am eternally grateful to Guruji and Sharath for their dedication and tireless devotion to sharing this practice, and for all their guidance and support over the years.
Can you describe the experience of travelling to India with your son?
My son Jediah just turned four years old this year, and I have traveled to India with him on four separate occasions, and all of them have been incredibly hard in different ways, and at the same time very rewarding and lots of fun.
Being in Mysore with a child is a full-on activity. Especially our child, who is at a stage where he wants someone to play with every minute of the day, and yet still needs constant supervision. We take him to lots of parks, the zoo, and the bird sanctuary. We visit the different lakes, and go on little outings to explore new areas. There are frequent trips to the different swimming pools and “play-dates” with other children who happen to be here in Mysore at any given time. He gets to meet people from all over the world and makes his own little friends, which is nice. Sometimes the two children don’t even speak the same language, but somehow they find a way to communicate and play together. When we go home we sometimes skype with his friends around the world, so that they can see each other and talk. He also asks about them from time to time. There is usually a small and very helpful community of parents around the shala. We all support each other.
The first our family came to India together, Jediah was just 22 months old. He was a ball full of energy and interested in exploring everything about the world around him at full speed. He was very adventurous and afraid of nothing. Jeff and I spent a lot of that trip just trying to keep him out of harm’s way. He was also still breastfeeding during the day and throughout the night, so physically it was a very demanding trip for me. Fortunately, he was still taking a daily nap in those days, so when he would sleep, I would sleep too. Jeff and I practiced at different times so that we could trade shifts of caring for him in the mornings. Sharath is very accommodating to parents with children in Mysore, and allows them practice whenever they can. Their start time is “no time” – which means “whenever.” The other students are also very helpful in sending parents to the front of the “waiting line” so they can get in and out quickly.
The second time we came was just before Jediah turned three. We spent two weeks in Goa teaching at Purple Valley Retreat Center, and then came directly to Mysore. Goa was a difficult place for Jediah, as it was super hot and humid during our stay. Although we did our best to keep him away from the mosquitos, they seemed to find a way to get to him, and he had got many mosquito bites that became infected. On top of this, he developed some kind of fungal rash. We took him to a doctor there who prescribed topical medication, and this irritated him more. By the time we got to Mysore, he was really not well, and we were concerned. We took him to a dermatologist who explained that the other doctor had prescribed medication too strong for a small boy, and now he was reacting to the medication. So he gave us strict instructions for handling his many symptoms and eased our concerns. Jediah was better within the week. Then little later in the trip, he got an eye infection, so we had to take him to the Eye Hospital. Again he was examined by a doctor and given medication to cure the condition. That trip, I stayed with Jediah in Mysore for 3 months, and Jeff left after the second month. So during the last month I needed to hire a babysitter to come every morning during my practice. Fortunately, we have developed a good relationship with a local nanny, Suddha, who we fully trust with Jediah. Suddha came daily to help me, which really made the time alone with him more manageable. I was able to practice and feel like I had some additional support, even without Jeff there.
The third trip, Jediah was three, and it was during the summer. Both Jeff and I were together with him for the full two months, but we still decided to have Suddha come to help us out in the mornings so that we could have some time to practice together and relax afterwards.
Now, during our fourth trip to Mysore, Jediah is four, and I came alone with him for the first month, and Jeff has joined us for the second month. After we completed the 25-hour plane ride, which in itself feels like an epic journey, and then completed the 4-hour drive from the airport to Mysore, the car finally turned into Gokulam. At that moment Jediah said, “We’re home!” I thought,“Exactly.”
It seems like every trip we go through periods where Jediah gets a terrible cold, a sore throat, and a cough. Some days or nights there are very high fevers, which are concerning, but they usually pass without a problem. We always try to come stocked with supplements and children’s Tylenol / Advil. Sometimes there is vomiting during the day or night, which is also concerning, but fortunately, this usually goes too without much impact. One of our major aims is to keep him well hydrated, as it is usually very hot when we are here. Being from Canada, we are not so used to that. There are many good doctors and hospitals in Mysore, so I feel at ease that, should we need them, there are good emergency resources readily available. Of course traveling to the other side of the world with a small child may feel somewhat risky for some people, but I have found that small children are very adaptable. For Jediah, being in a different culture and learning that there are alternative ways people can live is an invaluable experience. For us, Mysore feels more like home in some ways than Canada, so we felt very calm and excited to bring Jediah to India, and to have him experience all of the things we love about it.
Harmony, please use this last “question” as an opportunity to share final thoughts on the practice to everyone reading this interview.
This practice creates within us a beautiful living paradox. It will make the student simultaneously strong and soft, steady and flexible, courageous and prudent, introspective and activated, bold, and yet humble. It will agitate the hell out of you, and also bring you a deep sense of peace and contentment. You will both love it and hate it at times. But you have to do it regularly to get the positive results. It won’t always be easy or enjoyable, but it will make your life better in more ways than you could possibly imagine.
The practice will demand much from you. At first, you might feel like you don’t want to let go of your old comfortable habits. But over time, you will realize that like the caterpillar who wants to change into a butterfly must first give up crawling in order to fly, you will need to surrender your old form, if you are to transform into a fully awakened human.
Yoga practice, contrary to popular opinion is not for our physical fitness or overall health - these are its pleasant by-products. Yoga is for our Awakening. It is for spiritual transformation. I believe that the Ashtanga Yoga practice has this goal at its heart, and that this practice will always move you in this direction of spiritual growth. If you are unwilling to grow, then it will keep pushing you in various ways, both on and off the mat, until you break, surrender or quit. If you keep at it, and don’t look back, you will surely find a genuine source of peace within yourself and experience an array of other benefits along the way.
Keep going. Don’t look back.
*Harmony would like thank Angela Jamison for editing assistance
*Ashtanga Parampara thanks Lydia Teinfalt for providing editorial support
*photos provided by Harmony Lichty