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My Path

It is always surprising for me to share how my original aspirations were very far removed from teaching. After what seemed like a successful foot into modelling, I obtained a degree in Theatre Performance. It was my dream to be a Theatre actress. Instead, I grew estranged from the acting world,  landed with an eating disorder and a disheveled private life. At 25 years old, I made a life-altering decision and moved to South Korea to work as an English teacher with children. It was in South Korea that I also began to teach yoga. Moving to Korea is one of the best decisions I ever made and from where the healing of my life began.

But I had no academic background in teaching. I also had no knowledge of yoga; its history, practices or theory. All I knew is when I taught yoga, it felt familiar.

When I returned to Canada, I embarked on certified training programs of yoga by living at the Sivananda ashrams. I still consider Sivananda my first teacher and made my way to India to learn more.  For me, learning and teaching are intrinsically linked.  As an adult student, I returned to university; obtaining a Masters of Education while also working as a teacher in the Toronto school private sector.  My thesis dissertation was on Yoga for children in Indian schools. For my research, I sat on the floor, ate with my hands and worked closely with Indian families.  My ethnographic project has been used by post-graduate students and educators for future research.  As a guest speaker, I lectured at York University, the University of Toronto,  McGill and the IYAT conference (International Association of Yoga Therapists) in Los Angeles, California.  

 

By far, the most pivotal shift along my path was studying directly under Pattabhi Jois in Mysore in 2000.  Practice was at 4:30 a.m. and I was one of only 7 other students in the shala. It was my 2nd trip to India and I stayed for 3 months to study yoga and travel.  I quickly accelerated in my practice but faced a severe injury.  Tending to my knee, I used to go up to the finishing room (a room only meant for the closing series) to practice an improv of back bending.  Students wondered who taught me but it was spontaneous.  Ironically, it was my injury that led to formal training of back bending.  I studied yoga back bending, the scriptures and other many yogic techniques with breath control over a 12-year span in Mysore. 

True to life, however, the path is not straight. It diverges with an inherent end to everything. Knowing when to let go is a great lesson both in life and of yoga. I eventually moved away from my former teacher and including Ashtanga yoga. Fast forward many years later after a miscarriage at 10 weeks in 2011 and to the birth of my son in 2013, my practice changed again.  I meet and gravitated toward studying under Yogacharya Vinay Kumar; the founder and teacher of Prana Vashya.

 

Both my initial teachers and the practices I had developed were no longer suitable or sustainable.  I stepped back to seek deeper and formal studies of meditation.  After a chance meeting with Swami Veda Bharati in 2009, I underwent silent retreats at his ashram in Rishikesh and was personally initiated into the practice with a private mantra. My on-going study also lead me to teachers such as Dipa (the only living daughter of the late Dipa Ma) in Kolkata and to finally meeting Shri BNS Iyengar in Mysore. I had known about Guruji (as I call him) when I began studying in Mysore. He was understood as being a great philosopher and it was said, “If you want to meet God,” then go to Guruji. He is my teacher now and from whom I have received the direct teachings of pranayama and philosophy with his guiding light. My most recent trip to Mysore included attending his 93rd birthday. 

Becoming a mother is, however, the greatest change to my  practice and to the way I live my life. What was once a very competitive personal practice grew into more of what real yoga is beyond the mat and teaching. The heart of yoga is kindness and patience. My little boy teaches me this in his own way every day. Words cannot convey what it means to me to be a mother other than to say it is full of joy, challenges and perennial life lessons.

 

The Yoga Way

The Yoga Way is a yoga school that I founded in 1997. When I founded The Yoga Way (TYW), it was with the vision of teaching progressive classes and offering personalized instruction.  My motivation is and was to put the needs of the student first. While running the school, I teamed up with a medical doctor and physiotherapist in a downtown Toronto rehabilitation clinic. I learned how to apply the exercises of yoga to treat and heal physical injuries. For 15 years, I ran TYW independently. It quickly became a haven for students looking for more than drop-in classes or informal teaching. It was a great honor for me to develop the school and I am very grateful to every single student who studied with me for either a short or longer period. For without any of them, TYW would never have been born and the vision to teach yoga as a life-time practice would also not have crystallized over the years.

TYW served a niche within the Toronto community by offering only 6-week programs in classical Hatha yoga, special back bending and meditation courses. Each program limited the class size from 5 to 7 students. It was the foundation from which to offer more detailed, structured learning. This kind of intimacy is the same way I personally learned yoga in India and where I developed my original teaching model from.

 

Over the years, TYW raised money for many charities by offering yoga classes by donation. These are some of the causes TYW supported:

  • Pragathi Primary & Secondary School, South India
  • Women’s Assault Help-line
  • Riverdale Hospital
  • Sri Lanka Tsunami Relief Efforts
  • Assaulted Women’s Help-line
  • The Canadian Red Cross
  • Scotiabank in Support of Epilepsy
  • Ascent Magazine Publishing Fund
  • WoodGreen Community Centre
  • Japanese Crisis, Red Cross
  • Mount Sinai Hospital
  • The Kidney Foundation of Canada
  • Sheena’s Place, Toronto
  • New Leaf Yoga Organization Yogathon for Schizonphrenia
  • OSPCA, Ontario Society for Animals
  • Redwood Shelter for Women

In 2012, I closed TYW saying good-bye to the physical school I had built. As life happens, I became engaged, married and moved to Europe to start a family; dividing my time between both Europe and Canada. When I made these changes, I had been looking to fulfill deeper personal aspirations and dreams. It was not easy to change the direction of my life after crossing 40 years old, but maintaining the status quo did not feel right either.

The great teaching that yoga offers is a reminder and a testament of how life is about change. The tools and the techniques are only a means (not the end) to learn to accept these changes.  And to continually find out for ourselves what is our path (dharma); what are the lessons from a spiritual standpoint and how can my practice strengthen me to stay on the course. 

Today, I carry the name of The Yoga Way in offering Yoga retreats, workshops and international classes.

My Philanthropy

It’s often said that the real work of life is that which is done for charity. It opens the heart, clears the mind and is a great reminder of gratitude. I definitely feel this is the case and especially when I am in India, there are so many ways to help. I started teaching English at a school called Pragathi Vidya Kendra. Pragathi, a private (non-for-profit) school in Mysore, South India. It gives me great joy to continue to call them my friends. I began working with the school in 2004; teaching their children to speak, read and write in English. Giving a sense of empowerment and freedom to the girls and boys of the future generation.

 

Yoga as a Subject in School, Pragathi Vidya Kendra, India   

 

The word ‘Pragathi‘ means progress, ‘Vidya‘ knowledge and ‘Kendra‘ school in Sanskrit. It is a primary and secondary high school that was established in 1993 as a “non-for-profit organization.”  It is  the home for many children who coming from a deprived or poor background would otherwise not be able to have such an education. The school is directed and maintained by the principal, headmaster, teachers and a board of trustees, and including relying generous donations from outsiders. One of best parts is that the school provides a Holistic Education from the Pre-K level to the Xth Standard (Grade 10 in North America). Their curriculum is meant to focus not only upon academic achievements, but addressing the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of every child, and student.  Yoga has been a key aspect within their curriculum being also taught as a mandatory subject for the last 15 years at the school. All the students from the Ist Standard to the Xth Standard attend weekly yoga,  meditation and chanting classes. It has been my pleasure to combine English speaking into their lessons and to attend their many functions showcasing their wonderful achievements.