Kunga Yoga

The Yoga of Joyful service to our Highest Potential

Yoga Story

Yoga story

I started practicing yoga when I was 19 years old.  I mostly just wanted to get more flexible so I would be able to kick higher and perform better in my Kung fu practice, and I had no idea at the time what a huge role this ancient and sacred practice would eventually have on my life.

The first yoga I practiced was called Kai-men yoga.  It was a style developed for martial artists to increase flexibility.  When I went to India in 1999, I practiced this style almost daily along with my martial arts exercises. 

I wanted to find a yoga school in India while I was there but found it actually quite hard in the places where my global education program was running.  There must have been many in Kolkata but I could not find them.  They didn’t really have a very good form of yellow pages over there at the time so you had to ask around. 

One place I found looked very neat.  Just like you would imagine an ashram would look like in India from photos in a National Geographic or something, but it was always closed when I went.

The only other place I found was very small and had a bunch of skinny guys in a room stretching and lifting weights.  I did not end up going back as it did not seem like what I was looking for. 

While I was in India I was taking an Anti-malaria drug called Larium which I would realize later causes paranoia and wacky vivid dreams.  This made travelling in the city very challenging and draining for me.

When I went up into the mountains of Darjeeling and area, I found some great books on yoga by George Feurstein and some by Osho, the Dalai Lama, and a number of other great authors.  My backpack was getting very heavy from all the amazing books I had found.  They were so cheap there it was impossible to resist.

I had to share a small apartment with six other Canadians that were in same education program that brought me there, when we got back to Kolkata.  Being an introvert this was very challenging.  Outside the streets were full of swarms of people, inside the apartment was full of people, and my blood stream was full of paranoia inducing Larium.  I would practice yoga and meditation as a way to be alone and to cope with the stress. 

I became quite homesick and missed the familiarity of Canadian culture and my friends.  My group told me they were concerned about me because I spent so much time just doing my practices and didn’t seem interested in socializing like they all would.  I also did not like going out much and did not stay long at the various programs I tried with Mother Theresa’s house.  I told them I was fine, but really I was having a hard time in this situation. 

At the Mothers Theresa’s program called “Dya don” I was left alone in a large room with a dozen or so severely handicapped children on mats on the floor.  My job was to go around and stretch them and flip them over while we listened to music.  And periodically we I would have to change a diaper or bring them to a meal or toilet.  It was a very hard place to work, although it gave me a good sense of how you can move another human body from the outside which would later, I think, help me in giving yoga adjustments.  Another volunteer that came in with me walked right out immediately.  It was not like anything you could be used to in Canada.  But it was the best these kids could hope for in India.

When I got home I had to decide what I wanted to do with my life, and I was certain that yoga, meditation and martial arts would play a big role.  While I took the time to figure out how I was going to make a living and still have my practice as the main focus of my life, I practiced intensely in my room. 

I was living with my mother at the time and she encouraged me to go to school or get a job which did not really interest me at the time.  I really wanted to find a cave like the mountain yogis and just practice there all the time.  I actually looked around Kitchener for suitable hermitages where I could live and practice, but the only ones that came close were strewn with alcohol bottles and beer cans and I realized that I would have a hard time sharing these places with the regular homeless population without being disturbed. 

So I went out and got a job at Kelseys to pay for my Kung fu school tuition and equipment.  My first Buddhist teacher a nun I called Anila told me that washing dishes can be a great way to metaphorically practice cleaning ones mind.  Every dish is a mindful way of cleaning ones negativities.   So I worked hard at it with more enthusiasm than most.  They gave me a raise after my first week and said I was the best dishwasher they ever had.  Unfortunately this made it very hard for me to move up in the kitchen.  They liked having me in the dish pit and I was stuck there for quite a while.

I decided to take a trip to Arizona where Anila’s teacher was building a Dharma center but was currently on a three year long retreat.  I was told I could help out with building projects in exchange for silent retreat time.  This was a great place to be for me.  I got to sleep out in the middle of the desert in a small tent by myself camped right near the meditation yurt which few people used at the time.  

There was a nice lady there who I became friends with named Mercedes who taught me the Astanga Primary yoga series.  She would drive to town and stay in a house with a bunch of the other Buddhists.  I was one of the few people who liked to stay out on the land overnight.   I had my own solar shower so I had little need for going off land.  The best shower experience I ever had was in the desert, with a bag of hot water tied up in a tree, and the privacy of the vast desert landscape all around.

Mercedes would often drive in to the land early and we practiced yoga in the mediation yurt.   I was very new to this style and had poor understanding of the poses.  I yearned to learn more details of proper alignment and movement, but she was not a yoga teacher yet.  Every once in a while the Lama on three year retreat would come out of silent his hermitage and give a teaching on deep meditation practices while blindfolded, to not be taken out of his deep meditative state.  These talks were life changing for me.  During these discourses many of his students from New York would come down to hear. 

One such student was an Iyengar teacher named Christine.  She taught me some good principles of alignment that helped me in my yoga practice, and gave me my first pair of real traditional style yoga shorts.   I borrowed them from her for one class and she told me to keep them since they looked better on me.  I still have those shorts to this day, although I really should throw them out.

When I returned to Canada I practiced martial arts enthusiastically and used yoga mostly as my flexibility training.  The martial arts’ training was very forceful and competitive and I eventually hurt my back and had to wear a back brace.  I was in a lot of pain.   Just getting out of bed was a real challenge.  Anila told me I should study with her yoga guru, a short jewish man named Hart Lazer who had been teaching for over 30 years.  He was from Winnipeg but often came to teach in Toronto.  He was a student of Ramana Patel, who was a student of Master Iyengar himself.  I used the little money I had to pay for yoga teacher training with him.  The alignment principles he taught me helped me to heal and strengthen my back. 

A friend who I met at the Dharma classes asked me if I could sub some yoga classes for her while she was away.  I found that I really enjoyed teaching yoga and so I started to run my own classes soon after.  They were really advanced now that I think about it, and I am glad no one got hurt.  It took me some time to learn how to teach well to people’s ability, capacity and predisposition.  I continued to study with Hart for years after my program had ended and went to yoga workshops whenever I could, to help increase my knowledge and skillset.

When I lived with my good friend and fellow Yogi, Brad, we would often practice to DVD’s and VHS tapes of some of the big shot yogis like Rodney Yi, David Swenson, and Seane Corn.

Brad asked me if I wanted to take over a yoga class he was teaching at a Community center for people 50+.  I agreed and have been teaching there for almost 8 years now.  They can be hard classes to teach because you can get people in who have done yoga for thirty years and are in great shape and could come to any yoga class and do well, then you’ll get a lady with a walker come in and you have to figure out how to make this class fulfilling for both students.

Then Brad asked me if I would like to take on a class he was teaching at World Gym (then Popeyes ) as he had school commitments.  So I said sure and have been teaching there ever since.   These classes can be challenging for the same reason.  Some people are in amazing shape and some people just rolled in off the couch.  I think this has made me a better yoga teacher though because you really have to learn how to teach a class that everyone can do and enjoy which sometimes means you are teaching two or even three classes at once in a way.

I had a following of students who practiced with me from the start, my sister Angie being my most avid fan.  I moved from place to place with these folks, renting spaces all over town.  Sometimes though if attendance was low I would be teaching for free due to the cost of rent, and sometimes it would even cost me money to be teaching.  But I always wanted to charge a reasonable amount so that everyone could enjoy the benefits of yoga that I had.  And I was never focused on the money anyway.  Teaching was a way for me to practice kindness and giving, an important aspect of my spiritual practice. 

I was not able to teach as much yoga as I would have liked, as I had to teach and take classes at my Kung fu school.  I would later give that up so I could teach yoga full time and also to give my body a break from the punishing practice regimen.

I was teaching a yoga class at a high school to some of the teachers there right after school every week.  One of the teachers offered to have me use her new business space on Princess Street in Waterloo to run my classes.  Before long I was renting the top floor of this house and taught classes on the main floor.   She was running a business selling some yoga clothes and accessories.  This became very expensive as the uptown waterloo rent and taxes are very high.  The professional relationship I had with this high school teacher disintegrated into a very unpleasant dynamic, though I can only speculate as to why.   

I decided it was time to move on.  I had met a nice old French gentleman during a meditation retreat I was cooking for in BC a year before.  Pierre had asked me if I would like to go sailing to Hawaii from Mexico.  I contacted him and we arranged for me to stay at his place in Vancouver while we got ready for the three to four month voyage across the sea. 

I somehow was able to get four months time off of work and save up enough for the plane tickets and supplies.  When I arrived however I found that we had a delay.  This was a hard time for me as Pierre was going through a divorce that was dragging on and on and he was not able to get away for our trip.  So I was left just cooking meals at his apartment waiting for the sailing adventure to begin. 

After a couple weeks of this I was getting restless and the window of trade winds needed to make this journey was closing, and we still needed to do repairs and stock up the boat for our voyage.   On top of this I had just been dumped by a girl I was dating for four months as soon as I had arrived in Vancouver, so I was a bit depressed.  Pierre still had no idea how long it would be before he could leave.   

We decided that we would have to change our itinerary and just sail in the sea near La Paz.  I was sad about this, but I believe everything happens for a reason, and was happy to have the opportunity just to learn how to sail. 

At least Pierre’s apartment was nice, and was right across from Kitsilano beach.  I went for a walk one afternoon and saw some guy’s foot bagging (the proper name for hacky sack).  This is something I like to do from time to time so I went up to see if they were around my skill level.  I soon realized that they were far and above my talent for foot bagging even in my best high school days. 

I thought that one of them looked familiar and soon realized that he was a friend of mine who also worked in the kitchen with me at that same meditation retreat that I met Pierre.  He had shown me around his hometown of Victoria the year before, after the retreat, and let me stay at his parent’s house. They weren’t there at the time as they had gone to Burning man.   Victoria was a very interesting and laidback place. 

Dylan was surprised to see me as he knew I lived in Ontario.  I told him my situation and he told me he was going to India after he sat another meditation retreat.  I asked him if I could meet up with him in India as it did not seem this voyage was going to happen.  He said that would be cool, so I bought the soonest possible ticket to India.  I had planned to go for two months, then come back and go sailing for one month with Pierre.

I arrived in Kolkata again during the Monsoon.  The first few days in India are always the most expensive as you are easily taken advantage of when you are not familiar with the currency and the right price for things.  I spent more money in those first few days then for most of the rest of the trip.

I had two weeks to myself before Dylan would arrive in New Delhi.  So I decided that I would go up to Bodhgaya, the place where the Buddha became enlightened and go on another ten day meditation retreat.

I took a train there and arrived in the middle of the night.  I took an auto rickshaw (which resembles a giant football helmet on wheels), and found a hotel.  What I did not know until the following day was that this hotel was situated next to a small swamp.  The bars on the windows did nothing to stop the constant flow of mosquitos into my room.  That was the first time in many years that I intentionally killed a bug.  But the temperature was so hot (about 38 degrees Celsius and really humid) that I could not hide under a blanket.  I got up and started to swat them with a towel and with my hands, and in the end the walls were literally streaked all over with my blood. 

The next day I moved to a monastery that had hotel rooms available.  It was better, but still very uncomfortable in terms of heat and bugs.  It was tough hauling around my yoga gear and mat, but I needed them to do my practice well.  I practiced in my room but found it very challenging with the heat and I was still suffering from adrenal fatigue. 

I got to go to the famous Buddha cave where Buddha practiced for years, and went to other famous sights including the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha sat when he became enlightened.  This tree was actually the grandson or daughter of that tree.  It was very old and beautiful and I got to meditate underneath.  I had far poorer results though than the Buddha.

A girl was staying in the same monastery hotel as I was, named Pria I think.  She was Australian.  She asked if I would escort her to dinner as it is hard for a white girl to travel on her own as dozens of Indian men will try to talk to her and ask her all kinds of questions and of course sell things.  So we went out to dinner and she told me about Rishikesh.  This was where the Beetles used to go for their spiritual Hindu yoga retreats.  She told me there was a lot of great yoga programs offered there, so I was excited about going.

After I sat a ten day and eight day silent retreat (more on this in the meditation section) I made my way to Rishikesh.  I found a nice hotel that was reasonably priced as it was not the high tourist season.  The only other tenant was an old yogi from the US named Marvin.  We became friends for those few days I was there. 

Marvin told me about a doctor he went to who was very good.  I went to see him and found out that this old doctor treated all the Beetles when they were there.   The doctor gave me some pills for my low energy and took x-rays.  The x-rays I realized were just so that they could charge me more money, but the pills helped a little.

I tried classes with teachers on flyers I saw posted all over town.  Some of them were okay but it really showed me how right my teacher was when he told me that teachers in the west these days are far more knowledgeable about anatomy, alignment and subtle postural details in general.  One yoga teacher talked in this really annoying voice that seemed almost like he was sarcastically making fun of how yoga teachers speak.  “Inhaaaaaaale, and exhaaaaaaale”.

I was having dinner at a café restaurant one evening when a group of young adults came in and were chatting it up having a good time and drinking watermelon juice.  They invited me to join them and I learned that they were all staying at an Ashram down the hill which they said was the best in town.  I moved in the next day and started to take the program there.   It included two delicious Ayurveda meals each day two yoga classes, meditation and a fire ceremony.  I stayed for about a week there.  I became friends with this group of young adults.  Some were from Europe and some were from the US.  They showed me some nice shops across the Ganges that you had to cross a huge foot bridge to get to.  A foot bridge that they for some reason allowed motorcycles on.

They also showed me a hotel that had a luxurious blue outdoor pool.  The only pool I have ever seen in India.  We had to pay a lot to swim in the pool but it was worth it since the heat was ridiculous.  We even had a pool party there one day.  There was a monkey that lived in the hotel garden or somewhere nearby that came up and sat in an Indian mans lap.  I thought it was very tame so I pet it.  The Indian man told me that was not a good idea so I stopped.  I decided to take a picture instead and I guess the flash scared it and it lunged at me and bit me.  Marvin swatted it with a towel and it ran away.  I had only a small scratch but was pretty shocked.  I used some hand sanitizer on the scratch and hoped I wouldn’t get rabies. 

The group of friends I met, strangely enough, were leaving just when I was leaving, and going to the same place I was going to meet my friend Dylan, Dharamsala.   I wasn’t able to get tickets on the same bus as them though as they were sold out so I had to make it there solo.

When I arrived I found Dylan walking down the street.  He showed me to a cheap hotel he found and I got myself a room.  We both decided to check out an Astanga class that was held in a tent up on a hill.  It was a pretty good class with a very “yoga looking” Indian man who had a reputation of being either enlightened or crazy.  He gave me a ride later, on his motorcycle when he saw me walking on the road.  Dylan started to feel ill part way through the class and had to lie down.  He got worse over the course of the next day and spent a couple days in bed or in a chair meditating.  I met up with my Ashram friends from Rishikesh and we went to dinner and to see a movie.  One of the cinemas was accessed through what looked like a sewer manhole with a ladder sticking out.  I went to a different cinema than that one. 

Carrie, a blonde woman from the Ashram group, told me she found the best Astanga School in town.  I went to check it out and it was indeed quite good.   The scene was a bit weird though.  The teacher was very old and very “yoga looking” as well, and he seemed to really know his stuff.  I got into some poses that I was not able to before.  But what was strange was that standing around the outside edges of the room was a bunch of Indian men in white dress shirts and slacks (very normal Indian man attire).  Every once in a while one of them would jump in and adjust a student in a pose, then go back to the side of the room and watch for a while.  It seemed weird to me.

Dylan and I went to work in the Kitchen for another ten day meditation retreat.  This time it was my turn to get sick.  I spent the first few days in bed.  After that I was able to join the program of kitchen duties, meditation and was able to do some yoga in the hall outside of our room.

When the retreat was over I took some Tabla (Indian style drum) lessons and Kirtan Chanting lessons with a nice woman and her husband who owned the New Delhi school of music.  I stayed again at the cheap hotel but got a nicer room.  Now I also had to haul around my drums as I made my way back to Kolkata for my flight home. 

My plane had a stop over in Toronto on the way back to Vancouver.  I asked my mom to come and visit me at the airport if she could, and she brought my sister Jessica too.  I had to collect my entire luggage from the plane and bring it to the next plane, but on the way there I was standing by an exit door into the airport.  A thought occurred to me that I could just walk out and go home with my mom instead of going back to Vancouver and waiting again to possibly go sailing for a few weeks.  So I ended up going home with my mom.  Pierre was disappointed, but was able to find someone else to sail with him.  This girl he found to go on the voyage would later on marry Dylan.  Long story, small world.

Like most people through history have found, living with parents after you’ve lived on your own for a few years can be brutal.  I did not have a job at this point as I still had one more month that I had arranged to be away.  So I decided to go on another meditation retreat to work in the kitchen.  I was talked into staying for another ten day after that as they needed a head chef. 

I attend yoga classes and workshops whenever I can, to keep increasing my knowledge and skill set, to offer ever better yoga classes for my students.  I run workshops regularly, and some with Brad.

So if you take classes with me you can expect to have a fun and uplifting experience that will increase your general health and wellness.  My classes focus on the person as a whole and the balance of mind and body.  I bring a universal element of spirituality into my classes, which allows anyone to connect deeper to their own understanding of the divine through their practice of yoga.   I have adopted many different ideas from many different styles of yoga into my practice where it feels right.  So it can be hard to say exactly what style I teach, though I often call it Vinyasa or Flow, Hatha yoga.  It is heavily inspired by Astanga and Iyengar yoga.

I like to use props in most of my classes as I find it allows people to find better, safer, alignment in the poses as they progress.  I vary the intensity of practice from class to class and emphasize different principles each week.  People of any level can attend my classes and feel safe, but challenged, worked but also recharged.

I am excited about my future in yoga, and have plans to study in Thailand next year.

I hope to see you out to one of my classes soon.  Thanks for reading.

 

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