Welcome to our new Yogi of the month feature. This month we are featuring an interview with one of our Level 3 students Sean.
In this 2nd Yogi of the month article, one of our newly qualified teachers, Jo Mitchell chats with Sean about how Iyengar Yoga has impacted his life, what he gains from his yoga practice and how he fits it into family life.
The interview was recorded in February 2021 during lockdown over Zoom.
Sean has some great tips for establishing a regular daily home practice. He shares these around
Here is a transcript of the interview.
Jo: It's Jo here with our second Yogi of the month feature. For February we are interviewing Sean. Now Sean I have met you as we've shared many Level 3 classes at Yoga on Tay but if you want to just say hello and introduce us with a bit of chat about when you started practicing Yoga.
Sean: Okay thank you Jo. So I started about five or six years ago, I can't remember exactly when. I had this sort of nagging thing that I wanted to do yoga and it was kind of in the back of my head. Then I had a bit of a falling out, I fell out of a tree hurt myself really badly and was out of action for months and months. During the time that I was really pretty seriously out of action, I was dreaming of being flexible and being able to move again and being able to move well and it sort of solidified in my mind that that's what I wanted to do. We have a good friend down south in England who's an Iyengar Yoga teacher and so she was someone that we spoke to about as as well. Elizabeth my wife who also practices with Julie was keen to start as well. So we got going slowly but we we got going about five or six years ago and haven't haven't looked back.
Jo: Great so how did you find Yoga on Tay? Was is Iyengar Yoga near me into Google? Or was it word of mouth?
Sean: I suppose 'Iyengar' into Google actually. Elizabeth my wife was determined to find an Iyengar teacher and I think she tried someone who wasn't Iyengar Yoga in Perth because we're over Perth in Forgandenny so it's a bit of a way from Newport of Tay. She found it on the Iyengar Yoga Institute website that there was a teacher teaching over in Dundee and said 'Right I've found a teacher I'm off!' She did Thursday mornings. I'm quite competitive and I was quite determined to do yoga. Frankly I was quite miffed that she had found herself a really good teacher. So she she didn't know this, I'm even not sure she still knows it that when she went off to class I found myself this poor man won't appreciate being described as this but a random New Zealand guy that did a half hour beginners yoga class on Youtube so when she went off to do her class I did mine so we started at exactly the same time. It just grew from there really I was really enjoying it and then there was a half term because I'm a teacher so I had a Thursday when I could go and join in with her and she said would you like to come over so I went over for my first real yoga lesson with and it was with Julie in the White Rooms over in Dundee and it was brilliant absolutely amazing you know I remember sitting there trying to do these do these moves, Swastikasana you know with my knees up by my ears and finding it difficult even to sit on my bottom without rolling on my back I mean it really was a bit painful to be honest I'm hopelessly inflexible and you know very few people because when Julie got going in in Dundee you know there'd be classes with one or two or maybe three people in them and it was an absolute privilege to have such a wonderful teacher a high-level teacher and to have such personalized attention and so that's that's kind of where where Elizabeth and I got going but that wasn't regular for me.
We found the wonderful Wendy Fraser over in Strathmiglo and so that's where we went during the evenings. Elizabeth would go to her Thursday class but she'd also go to the Strathmiglo evening one and that's the one I spent a couple of years going to Wendy. She's a super teacher really enjoyed my time there and then she took a wee break and it's it's then I started making the journey over to Yoga on Tay on a regular basis to join Julie's evening classes.
Jo: Yes it's quite a draw isn't it Yoga on Tay brings us all in from various parts of Fife and Angus! What is it that you like about the practice? Why do you practice yoga? What does it give or do for you?
Sean: It's a it's a big one isn't it! I think on on a simple level it energizes, it makes me light, it's connecting up connecting me up all my physicality up. I really genuinely believe I mean I've exercised all my life I really genuinely believe that that yoga and Iyengar yoga has transformed my physical sense of myself and my physical well-being actually so there's a that's a huge part of getting into yoga.
I think it's that feeling that you want to be light and energized and flexible, and strong as well actually, but you know it's that light flexibility, that feeling of poise that that comes when you've had a really good yoga class and when you're practicing regularly, that's the feeling that's amazing. So that's a kind of a big draw and then there's Iyengar yoga and it's a deep pool to swim in. I always think you know I mean it doesn't demand a sort of esoteric spiritual quest if you like but it does offer you that if you want it.
That side of things is incredibly important and in fact that that yoking together of the physical and the spiritual is entirely what I think the mission is as it were and and I think the way into that is through the physical definitely. When you practice the asanas and you get flexible and you sweat and you do an amazing practice and you feel good and you feel amazing and that's that's the way in but then there's this other area which is about your own spiritual well-being and your own sense of calm and your own meditative way that you can deal with your life, deal with things and balance your life. That's a that's a much longer journey! You know I'm more likely to to achieve my goal one day of doing a handstand doing an arm balance in the middle of the room and doing those things you see on those ridiculous videos when people go up slowly (I just don't know how they do that)but I'm going to keep trying but it seems a long way away that kind of move if you like but it's not nearly as far away as really getting into the meditative side and and I think that's quite exciting for me, that's an area I want to explore and Iyengar yoga does that.
I think what's really exciting about Yoga BKS IYengar saying and how he did things, with this melding together of the spiritual and the physical. Reading his books is an absolute joy. The man is an incredible practical realist. He's an everyday man in an everyday world you know, and he gets that families have tensions and that you know that everything isn't perfect and you know the that you have to find time to practice and there's noise and there's all sorts going on, and yet through all that his thinking and his wisdom just cuts through all of that to what matters and I think finding a little bit of that and starting to access a bit of that through the the physical work as well and the physical well-being that you get from the classes, bringing those two together, that's really exciting. I'm just scratching at the surface of that.
Jo: That's a great answer Sean and you've really articulated so much of the the the wide spectrum of what yoga practice can offers. That was just quite interesting what you said there about the noise because Ali Dashti who some of us are joining his online classes, he was one of BKS Iyengar's students. He talked the other night about how people take themselves away and remove themselves to yoga retreats for the quietness and the chance to contemplate and be meditative. He said BKS Iyengar have been offered many times to move the institute from the busy bustle of Pune, a bustling Indian city, out into the country however he refused and he said no it needs to be here because it's the ability to go inward when the bustle is around you that is the value of yoga, and as you say a family life offering that kind of noise and busyness too.
That was a great answer thank you Sean. Just to be a bit more specific about the practice obviously that freestanding arm balance is in all of our futures but do you currently have favourite pose or favourite poses?
Sean: Great question been thinking about this, it's got to be Sirsasana. I love head balance. This is one that when I first started, I thought well I've always been able to to get up to to invert so so I got up and it hurt my head and Ii sweated a huge amount and I lasted for 20 seconds and I was super happy with that.
I just did it every day and I suddenly you're doing 40 seconds and and I just did it. I just did it every day and now I'm in a position where you know it's easy to go up in the middle of the room that's great and I can stay up. I can definitely do five minutes every morning and I do a few variations. And if pushed you know if Julie was being particularly strict you know I have done a ten minute so I could do that and I loved doing that. It's a fantastic pose because it's I love the fact that it's it's Tadasana upside down, in some respects one of the most simple poses there is and yet you're inverted but you're working on all those same things. It's a very simple pure pose I think and I love it for that reason.
So that's my favourite pose definitely but the one that is bugging me a lot at the moment is arm balance so I'm basically doing what I did with head balance which is putting in the time, I'm doing them every day. Julie had us doing them, normally we do a 30 second arm balance and Julie had had us doing them for a minute and she just said well you can stay for a minute so I've doubled my times in the morning so I'm trying to build up a bit of strength and then I'm going to start working out ways in which I might start considering getting up without support.
Jo: I've never thought about Sirsasana about the purity of the pose. That's a nice way of looking at it, I too have been in it like you, struggling to stay but then actually some days it comes really well and you're like yeah this is a nice place to be! Now so favourite pose discussed. Least favourite pose discuss!
Sean: I find that quite difficult because I'm sort of I am the sort of person if I'm out on a run and there's an easy way around and a steep hill, I will do the hill thing because I think it's better for me so I think all difficult poses are an opportunity to do something more difficult. Little injuries niggle so a shoulder injury means I'm finding it hard to join my hands behind my back at the moment and that's something I used to do so that just annoys me. When I have to not be able to do that very well in class i think hands up the back that's something probably if you ask me yeah I just can't get my palms together and it hurts and it hurts in a very specific place and I think I need to get a bit of calm on that one and get a little bit of practice in.
Jo: I think lockdown a reason for that because the more time we're spending like this at a desk the less that kind of opening and I know what you mean that you know it's a nice one to open the wrists and the forearms and get the stretch in there.
Home practice do you have any tips to help people formulate a regular home practice?
Sean: I think I see I'll be honest with you I see the classes as the bonus part of my yoga practice. That means that my yoga practice is what I do at home and then I get taught brilliantly and learn new things and then I put it into practice at home because by far the most yoga I do is on my own at home.
So I get up early and it's part of my day so I have an hour in the morning when I will always get on the mat. What drives me to do that when it's cold and I'm stiff and I'm really tired I'm absolutely knackered and I'm not enjoying life, you're not enjoying getting up at that time in order to to practice is the fact that if I don't, I will just not function well. I will not feel good in a way. I get onto the mat and think right well this might not be a full-on hour of yoga but I'm certainly going to stretch really well and do good yoga poses for a while so that I've loosened up and I feel good and I can earn you know the pint and a half of tea that is at the end of the hour's yoga to reward me. You know as I sit in swastikasana and try and get my knees down for my my ears you know because that's one, I don't think I'll ever have flat legs on that one so I think find a bit of find a bit of willpower to make a regular thing and then you know I thought Lindsay's answer was brilliant actually you know just sit on the mat and see what happens and I loved that. I don't have great expectations I might have an hour to to spend in the mornings but if I'm really tired or my back's really quite stiff and sore or whatever it might be then I'll just stretch and do really nice things things that feel really good and then that will open up the the feeling to right well okay well I'm definitely going to do dog down on a few repetitions and then I'm gonna you know and then suddenly you've done a session 40 minutes has gone by and you've actually done 40 minutes on the mat and that's before I make my tea, let it brew come back for my headstand that kind of thing you know and so suddenly you've done an hour's yoga and perhaps weren't intending a full session so am yeah I'd suggest early mornings if you can cope because that's when the family is still asleep that does make a big difference in a busy house.
Jo: I like your advice there of like start gently and keep the expectation low because it is the cold dark mornings the room's cold, you're feeling a bit stiff you're just out of bed, to actually say "I'm not going to go all out" and just start the practice gently. I like that! Are you finding now then that your tea's getting stronger as you're staying up in Sirsasana now for longer?
Sean: No because Elizabeth has told me quite clearly she wants hers brewed for three and a half minutes so I'm actually I'm doing less!! You know if I take her a stewed cup of tea it's not not a good move so I'm going to have to find a different way!
Jo: That's funny but what is it that you enjoy about coming to class?
It's a fantastic place to come and come and practice you know it's a proper yoga studio. You've got wonderful teachers and you've got people who really care about it, who want you to do well and it's all about the yoga. And it's with your teacher because that's not the same, it's not the same on Zoom. You can get a lot but it's not the same as coming to class and you know Yoga in Tay, it's it's perfectly set. I think in a gem of a place, it's a lovely place to come to and it's a lovely place to be. One thing I've learned from my random New Zealand guy is is that he can't help me, he can just show me what he's doing. I sort of thought at the beginning well maybe I could sort of do all this on youtube and just pick it up but you absolutely, everyone should have a teacher even if they're not doing yoga, everyone should have someone who teaches them and I think that's a really important thing in life, that we should have someone who guides us and that we look up to for advice and certainly yoga is no different. You know Jo, if you you and I were learning our yoga under anyone else or trying to do it for ourselves, we simply wouldn't get where we need to be. Everyone has a teacher you know including Guruji, had his own teacher didn't he although I think he was probably a bit stricter than than some.
Jo: I don't know on a Wednesday night Julie can be quite strict!
Sean: yeah when Julie goes all Indian and Pune are on us and tells us it's a strict class and she waves her finger yeah but it's a it's a fantastic discipline and it's doing you know it's you know I recommend it forever well I do I recommend it to all the kids I teach you know and really think that if they can get into it younger especially some of these very bound up muscley rugby players, they'll be better rugby players, you know it's it's for everybody!
Jo: I agree like watching Scotland at the weekend and you see them coming into the scrum and you see the amount of force coming in through their spine and you just think they need to do a little bit of yoga to just help one create space in the spine but also to understand how it's all connected, in the integration of the body in that so yeah I think you're right more yoga for rugby players! well absolutely! Sean thank you so much for your time I've really enjoyed our chat. You've talked and I love the way you've described the yoga in your life and how and your involvement with Yoga on Tay so thank you very much!
Sean: Thank you Jo pleasure to talk to you