"She believed she could, so she did" - R.S. Gray
Fiona Stang first journeyed to Mysore in 1999 where she met her teacher Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and his grandson, Sharath Rangaswamy. Fiona continued to study with Guruji to receive his teachings of devotion, grace, faith, compassion, patience, and Yoga. In 2000, Fiona was authorized to teach by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and in July 2009, she was in the first group of 40 students worldwide to receive Level 2 Authorization. She is blessed by KPJAYI to teach the Primary and Intermediate Series of Ashtanga Yoga.
Fiona is the owner and director at Ashtanga Yoga Vancouver, a Mysore studio located in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (www.ashtangayogavancouver.com). Fiona is grateful for the community of teachers at AYV that support her practice and keep her teachings fresh and innovative. Without Guruji, none of this would be possible. Thank you, Guruji.
Smelling Jasmine Flowers and Pushing Buttons,
Stories In Memory of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois...
March 1999, Mysore, India
I sat on the concrete steps peering in through a small window at the twelve practitioners in the room. It was March, 1999, and I was at the Ashtanga Yoga Nilayam in Mysore, India. The sound of free breathing in the room is one vivid memory. Guruji was pushing himself off his stool in the corner and shuffling over to a student. I heard his voice. Sometimes it was a commanding strong tone, sometimes a grunt, and other times a sweet voice followed by a chuckle. On the first week of practice I arrived at backbends and he commanded me,
(What does he mean by walk?)
"Walk where?" was all I think. "Are you crazy?”
Doing the opposite of "walk, walk" I stood up quickly with a disappearing, exasperated breath and fast beating heart. "Why fearing?" he bellowed.
At that time, I never knew how influential this man was to be in my life. This was the beginning of my relationship with Guruji, and perhaps, as I look back, the words that are presented to me day in and out as I arrive on my mat, and when I reach obstacles in life. This question, "Why Fearing?" might just be the reason why I returned to Mysore countless times to learn Yoga.
Fear was not a new pattern for me. Fear had been interwoven in my life for many years before starting Yoga. When I began practicing Yoga, I stayed away from inverted postures. I decided that I would not do shoulderstand as it seemed too scary for me. And then one day, I just did shoulderstand. And then it was headstand- same story, too scary. And then one day, after several heart palpitations, encouragement, and guidance from my husband Julian, I did headstand. These were postures that some people never thought twice about, but they frightened me and invoked a sense of old-rooted fear.
Guruji continued to call me on my fear during my many trips to Mysore. Guruji would always pick an opportunity to stand right next to my mat, arms crossed, watching with a verbal "hmmm" comment as I floated up into pincha mayurasana, karandavasana, and mayurasana, three precarious arm balancing postures. He was not teaching me where to put my foot, my hand, or how to create the "perfect" posture. This was not his aim. His goal was to teach me Yoga on the highest level, as if he was holding a mirror in front of me to remind of my ingrained tendencies, so that I could confront and move beyond them, and direct my energy to a higher aim, something higher than fear. Guruji was reaching deep into my innermost self and asking me to embrace Yoga. Guruji would stand there and invite me to be fearful in the midst of his presence so that I could see how unnecessary these self-imposed limitations were. And his skill at reaching in and delving into that fear was powerful and effective. Eventually, I learned to still my mind as he stood at my mat, just watching me. Little by little, the fear abated.
The Yoga that Guruji taught me is far beyond the placement of a hand or foot, the alignment of an ankle and shin and thigh, the rotation of this or that. This Yoga is about free breathing and entering into the place in your practice that ignites an emotion that is potentially holding you back from your true nature- eternal peace. For me, the "something" holding me back at that time was fear. But this "something" can be anything—it can be anger, happiness, sadness, ego—the list is endless. When I arrive at this "something," day in and out, this is where the true, deeper lessons of Yoga start to emerge. It is the duty of our teachers to help us find this "something" and examine it thoroughly. How do I react when I arrive at this place? For me, the Yoga began to exist when I could freely breathe through the moment when my fear surfaces. Could I watch it, without expectations or reactions? This is a lifelong process and practice. In our daily asana practice, we have the opportunity to face our "something's" so they are easier to handle. Practice, for me, then becomes a platform to transform myself through fear, so I could connect to my higher self in all facets of my life.
On week one in Mysore, Guruji asked the question that I continue to ask myself, "Why am I fearing?" This is the sign of a master: someone who pushed my button to see how I would react. Guruji saw my pattern of fear. Some patterns serve us; some patterns do not. Then it is time to let them go. My ten-year relationship with Guruji was about letting go of unnecessary patterns. The first one he helped expose was fear. Guruji had an incredible gift of bringing me out of my comfort zone, right to my edge, and then surprising me. This surprise was usually followed by a beautiful smile, chuckle, and great big hug. Guruji could simply stand next to my mat, arms crossed, watching. This was enough for me to get over the "something" and (push past the fear to the point of) surrender to "free breathing" and just "do."
"YOU DO!" he would always say.
This commanding voice was then followed by a bright smile and gleam in his eye. His lessons are timeless, eternal, and specific for me. He had a way of intuitively knowing what each individual needed to transcend his or her "something."
Guruji was incredible at treating each person as an individual, as they specifically needed. When he was helping me, he was with me 100%. However, the other eleven to sixty or so students in the room were still being watched. Yet he was still with me 100%. He was a master at treating each of us as an individual at the perfect moment and time.