When I experienced a strong desire to learn Yoga, the universe responded by sending me good teachers. This blog is on my Yoga teachers, some lessons learnt and inspiration gained.
When I started to see benefits to my well being, my interest in Yoga grew deeper. I have learnt yoga from different traditions. However, it is with Ananda Yoga that I started to see the true meaning and purpose of yoga. I realized I could feel more relaxed and energetic after a yoga session rather than become exhausted and spent. More joy, more energy, more calmness, more focus, more bandwidth, more clarity and concentration, that is what Ananda Yoga helps me experience.
My first teacher of Ananda Yoga was Nayaswami Dhyana, who taught us the Raja Yoga course in 2005 at Gurgaon. She taught us Energization Exercises and yoga postures. She gave us homework after each class. We were expected to know the sequence and practise the 39 Energization Exercises at home.
I remember standing in front of the Energization Chart on our cupboard at home and hurriedly trying to brush up the exercises 30 minutes before the class. Dhyana puts out energy and expects her students to do the same. A learning that has stayed with me: what you give is what you get. She also reviewed our progress, which is very important. As the saying goes, what gets measured gets done. We stood in a circle in the lawn outside the Sangha building at B10/8 in Gurgaon and, as our turn came, we had to lead the next 5 exercises. She chose a powerful way to inspire people to make big changes in life through role modelling energy and enthusiasm. One thing stuck with me – If I energized, I could have the energy to do anything I needed to accomplish. It is a divine grace that Master(*) gives to all who practice .
Over a decade ago, I had a chance to attend an Ananda Yoga training with Jayadev (Director of Ananda Yoga, Europa). He brought Joy (Ananda) to the classroom and made learning Ananda Yoga an inspirational experience. I learnt techniques which could be applied extensively over a variety of Asanas. He balanced technique with tuning into spiritual qualities extremely well. The mood in the classroom was light and joyful, encouraging and practical. He shared his own admiration for Nayaswami Gyandev who was his teacher and the author of the curriculum. I started to teach Asanas much more confidently at Raja Yoga classes and made a more serious beginning with teaching Ananda Yoga .
We moved to Pune and later met Nayaswami Tushti, a long time Ananda Yoga teacher from America. When I met Tushti, it felt we had known each other for a long time, though it was our first meeting. She enthusiastically encouraged my love for Yoga. She was a thorough professional, balancing imparting subject matter and deepening the softer, soulful aspects. Her enthusiasm was infectious and germinated a deep love for Ananda Yoga in her students. She emphasized the inward attunement rather than outward perfection. She said the Asana Affirmations with such beauty and grace that to this day, when I practice Ananda Yoga, I can almost hear the affirmations in her voice.
Life intervened for Tushti and she left her body in 2016. I spent time with her during her last days in India. She showed us what it was to live yoga. Her enthusiasm and joy unchanged in illness, like in health. I would sometimes walk her outside her room in the hospital and saw nurses coming out to greet her and feel uplifted in her presence. She never complained about anything. In the midst of excruciating pain there was acceptance and surrender. Sometimes I would sing her Swami’s (**) lullaby to help her sleep “Sleep is calling, fly up high, be a cloud moving through stars” and she would smile back sweetly. Tushti was a star in life and death. When Tushti left us, we were all sad for the friend we lost and a very dear teacher.
Soon we had a new teacher on the scene: Nayaswami Bhajana from Austria, who spent a few months in India every year. Nayaswami Bhajana brought a lot of passion and energy to her yoga classes. At times it was a bit too much for us easy going Indians. Her Austrian roots showed up in the discipline and mechanical precision. She was focused on technique and was well read on ancient scriptures and Ayurveda. We learned to build up stamina through the 50 -50-50 warm up that could literally light up the fire inside of you. Now we were ready for the more physically challenging asanas. She was direct in her feedback which was very useful for those who wanted to learn and improve. She emphasized the importance of technique. She brought a lot of courses to India – Advanced Asanas, Restorative Yoga, Chair Yoga etc . Every year she learned and shared more. To be Bhajana’s student I had to be tough and strong with myself. She was nurturing and caring when needed yet had a goal to meet and course to complete.
Nayaswamis Gyandev and Diksha
I loved every moment in his class. He is a keen observer of his students. He is always up for a good discussion and left me inspired and thinking after every class. His wisdom and attunement to Swami and Master shined through. A great story teller, I remember the over two hours of Gita storytelling he did non-stop, and not one person in the audience even shuffled.
Practicing in his presence, it feels almost like he can see each muscle move. Every mistake I made would be magnified in my own mind without him saying a word or even looking at me. “Was I too self conscious?” I asked myself. After the class, students came out and discussed. I learnt that pretty much everyone felt the same way. They got what they needed, they turned their inner searchlights on, and all of this was accomplished without him saying a word. What a powerful teacher! Gyandev is strict on attunement, highly inspirational and very high energy. He is very strict about yoga teachers meditating and having a strong personal practice of Yoga.
This interest he showed helped me get past some blocks, overcome inertia and build a decent and more regular practice of yoga and meditation.
On a lighter note, I was sharing with his wife one day, “Diksha you have no idea what happens in India once we announce Gyandev’s visit. Everyone starts practicing yoga, walking, meditating and attuning…” There is always this good fear – he can see everything ;-). His wisdom shines through in every moment you spend with him – so true to his name Gyandev, sharing the light and wisdom of the great Masters.
Diksha, Gyandev’s wife is an accomplished Yoga teacher in her own right. I attended her class on Meditation Posture. Every point she made has stuck to my brain since then and made my own posture and classes richer. She has memorable stories for driving home the point. She brings the gear for demo and tells you where to find it. She explains in a very compelling way why you need the Yogi gear if you want to meditate well, just like all ingredients are important for a good recipe and a tasty dish. She emphasizes what not to do, so you learn without making too many mistakes and all of this very gracefully and joyfully.
There are so many other inspiring teachers in Ananda Village! Another one of them that stood out for me was Nayaswami Savitri, who gave a class on Astral Anatomy for Ananda Yoga teachers. I would love to call her ‘Chakra Queen’. She has spent over three decades on the subject of Chakras, all of this purely on Master’s teachings. She shares her knowledge generously, she guides students to make sure they don’t drift off on their own. She has authored a number of books and courses on the subject of Chakras, and was guided by Swami Kriyananda in her work. Additionally, she has blogs, and guided Chakra meditations on Youtube and online courses too.
Inspired by her, I started to offer Chakra workshops and retreats and going deeper into the subject. She once wrote to me as we were discussing a project – “I stay with Masters teachings only and know I will never be the most popular teacher on the subject.” What she was telling me is stay tuned to the teachings and don’t slip into adapting for popularity. I joked to her “I know, Savitri. We will never offer Chakra balancing like car wheel balancing in our classes!” There is so much circus on the subject of Chakras that one has to really be very focused on staying attuned to what Master and Swami taught. It is not as if we are dismissive of others, it is just as Jyotishji explained: “many teaching have their origins from Kali Yuga and Master is a teacher of the Dwapara .” We have to respect the differences and stay tuned to Master.
I have learned Yoga from other Indian traditions too. There were good teachers too and I have great respect for those traditions. However, many teachers only look at physical benefits and outward practice, and sometimes ethics is a lot more wanting. Ananda Yoga teaches us to not just explore the physical but the psychological and, more importantly, the spiritual frontiers of the asanas and practise. The affirmations help us attune to deeper Spiritual qualities and prepare us for meditation. A bridge from the sub- conscious and conscious into the superconscious.
Ananda Yoga emphasizes attunement to Master and his ray that shines . What a rich lineage and a treasure chest of wisdom we have in Ananda Yoga and its many long-time teachers. It is like the stain glass windows in churches, where each piece of glass reflects its own light based on its colours. May Master guide us so that we may shine and carry the light of Ananda Yoga with deep devotion and attunement, and share its blessings with those whom we meet.
* In Ananda Sangha, we refer to Paramhansa Yogananda, our Guru, as “Master”
** Whenever the name “Swami” appears on its own, it refers to Swami Kriyananda, the founder of Ananda Sangha.