Saturday, 14 March 2015

Sharing From the Heart

By Mantrananda

1. When, and how, did you discover Yoga? 
Mantrananda (Liz Woollard)
I first came to Yoga when I was 17 – I had just started 6th form at a very competitive school and I felt that I needed something to help me cope, other than cigarettes and alcohol.  What I didn’t realise was that I had actually started suffering from depression, but in those days it was diagnosed as ’boyfriend trouble’.  My Mum and I went to a local adult education class, run by the local swimming coach.  She used to pull the strangest face in Sphinx-asana.  Looking back it was a pretty broad look at Yoga, including Pranayama and Meditation, but we still giggle about it today, and that’s not taking the full body, blue sparkly leotard into consideration!

2. Can you describe your Yoga practice (what aspect of yoga most touches your heart)? 
I regularly practise Yoga Nidra and Antar Mouna, and also the beautiful Hridayakasha Dharana practice by Swami Pragyamurti.  I chant regularly and love Kirtan with a passion!  I enjoy practising Surya or Chandra Namaskara, and find the Pawanmuktasana 1 series incredibly helpful.

3. Can you describe how yoga affects your daily life? 
I have both physical and mental ill health and Yoga enables me to do almost everything I love.  In 2012 I took the Yoga Nidra Module with Swami Pragyamurti, and having a Yoga Nidra daily for 7 months cured some 30 years of depression.  Wow!  This has generally allowed me to be able to cope with the challenges of life, and in particular the underlying anxiety that I now have.  I think that developing the witness in Yoga is very important – not always easy at extreme times, but a great help.

4. Has there been a moment in your years of Yoga that stands out (or a peak experience & how did you integrate this experience?)
An easy one!  I first visited Mandala Yoga Ashram in 2005, when I did a fantastic course on Yoga in Daily Life, led by the wonderful Swami Krishnapremananda.  I went with my teacher and a couple of other students, deciding, very marginally, against going to see a Led Zeppelin tribute band instead.  I was terrified that this weekend would lead to something, although I wasn’t sure quite what...
Swami Krishnapremananda

On the first night I remember thinking ‘what an earth am I doing here?’  Or something along those lines!  Twenty four hours later I’d experienced my first Kirtan with instruments and had started a major transformation, which lead to me to qualify as a British Wheel of Yoga teacher in 2011.

5. Is there a text/ book that you find inspiring? 
One of my favourite authors on Yoga is Ram Dass, the former Harvard professor who went out to India in the 1960s and there met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba.  Reading his books has led me to become very interested in The Ramayana, and the Hindi version the Rama-charit-manas, which in turn has made me very interested in the chanting of Sundara-kanda and the Hanuman Chalisa.

6. Can you tell us about a favourite retreat or retreat centre? 
Impossible to answer!  No of course it’s not – I do not mind to admitting that I have an Ashram addiction!  Mandala Yoga Ashram is an incredibly special place to me – apart from the people I love the setting, the scenery and the Red Kites, the baby hedgehogs, squirrels, the pipistrelle bats in the library eaves and the various owls.  I love how I feel when I am there and how gentle everyone is.
Red Kite
 I love the Sadhana Hall at night when there is a minimum of light; I love gazing at the Akhanda Jyoti (eternal flame) and opening the windows and breathing in fresh air.  Although there are obviously times when negativity arises, I remember the multitude of times when I have cried with laughter.

7. Could you share one of your favourite quotes and say why it inspires you? 
I would have to go for the late, great George Harrison’s ‘All things must pass’.
Most of my favourite quotes are firmly rooted in the deep philosophies of Monty Python and South Park, but I am a great believer of opening a book and finding what you need.  Most recently I opened the wonderful ‘Insight into Reality’ by Swami Nishchalananda at page 311 – a practice on ‘During Sorrow’ – ‘Next time we feel sorrow, have trust that it will eventually pass’, which echoes ‘All things must pass’, because they do.

8.    If you could practice/study with any yogi (dead or alive), who would you choose and why?

With a glowing recommendation from Madhuri, I did the ‘Transformative Power of Awareness’ course with Swami Gyan Dharma last year, and am returning this May for the 10 day retreat with him.

He is so gentle but what a powerful aura!  I got caught on the Ridge last year in some lovely Welsh weather (actually Cornish weather 10 minutes previously, so I should be used to it by now) – no coat, don’t even think I’d put walking boots on!  Swami Gyan Dharma was out walking with friends and gave me shelter under his umbrella all the way back to the Ashram.  I had such difficulty keeping up with his stride (Swami GD is rather tall!) and trying to keep under his umbrella– my little legs weren’t quite up to it, but I found the whole thing unaccountably funny and heart-warming.  I was encouraged to thaw out with a warm shower - two showers in one day at the Ashram is an incredible luxury – but when all dry and full of tea, I could have taken on the entire world.  Swami Gyan Dharma is a great teacher, humble but won’t take any nonsense, and best of all – you never see it on photos - but he has the most radiant and beautiful smile.

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