Reflections on the TSYP Foundation Course

The journey begins

I have been practising yoga for around 12 years, and have experienced numerous teachers, spanning many traditions. I was initially drawn to yoga by a desire to increase my flexibility and strengthen my body, and gave no serious consideration at the time to breathing or meditation. For me it was another form of physical exercise to compliment the other energetic activities in my life.

Fairly early on in my journey I did experience classes in the tradition inspired by TKV Desikachar, but I must admit I didn’t get it at all.

In 2015, my wife passed away after a long illness and a year later I was faced with a major health challenge of my own. These events resulted in me searching for a gentler, kinder form of yoga to help the mental and physical healing processes. This slowly led me back to this tradition. Around this time, I was fortunate to be able to take early retirement and therefore suddenly had a lot more time on my hands.

I was doing at least two classes a week, supplemented by periodic 1:1s with my teacher, Helen Macpherson, and I had started a daily personal practice.

My journey was underway, and yoga was beginning to become part of my daily life.

How do I immerse myself further?

Several years of expert instruction and diligent practice later, I was ready to deepen my understanding and on Helen’s recommendation, I enrolled on the TSYP Foundation Course. I could barely wait to begin.

The delivery mode of this course can be described as ‘blended learning’, in that 15 of the 21 lessons were relatively short, predominantly evenings and taught via zoom, with six full-day face-to-face sessions. It was almost five months before we were in the same room, but I think we are all so used to online contact these days that it felt to me like we already knew each other reasonably well. This approach has proved popular with my class, reducing the need to travel and fitting around our busy lives better. It works for the teachers too.

The course content is very broad, encapsulating the origins of the yoga we know today through historical texts and key concepts that emanate from them. It covers seven different asana classifications, breathing, pranayama, meditation, and chanting. 

As an aside, I’ve always loved it when my yoga teacher chants, but for me it goes to a whole new level when one is in a room chanting with other people. The sound and the feeling of the sound is amazing. I’m pretty sure I’m not saying all the words correctly, but I feel I am making the right noises!

I have very much enjoyed studying Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra. I did not always find the verses easy to understand, but they did drive a lot of personal reflection. Yoga sūtra 1.33 in particular, which highlights different elements of social behaviour, resonates strongly with me.

मैत्रीकरुणामुदितोपेक्षाणां सुखदुःखपुण्यापुण्यविषयाणां भावनातः चित्तप्रसादनम्

maitrī-karuṇā-muditā-upekṣāṇāṁ sukha-duḥka-puṇya-apuṇya-viṣayāṇāṁ bhāvanātah-citta-prasādanam

A peaceful mind results from a mental attitude of friendship towards those who are content, of compassion towards those who suffer, of joy towards virtuous individuals, of equanimity towards and disengagement from those who act poorly. 

Frans Moors, Liberating Isolation: The Yogasūtra of Patañjali

Each topic explored by the excellent course teachers, Jatinder and Michelle, was communicated very clearly, in a way that was easy to understand. The challenge for the student is to internalise how the many topics fit together. To me this felt a little daunting at first, but it did force me to study my notes and resort to arranging dozens of post-it notes on a flip chart, to see how the topics were linked. I do know some of my new friends in the group were far more relaxed than I and preferred to let what was taught simply ‘wash over’ them. I do wish I was like that…. but we all learn differently.

I particularly enjoyed the face-to-face classes where we spent time ‘deconstructing’ individual asanas, exploring each small movement and how the breath was impacted.

One of the biggest challenges has been to remember all the Sanskrit words and what they mean. Michelle has constantly reminded us that this is a foundation level and there is no exam at the end. Sometimes we put ourselves under too much pressure and forget to enjoy the experience.

The opportunity to study and learn with like-minded people has been very rewarding, leading me to a point where I am starting to think differently about yoga, myself and how I interact with those around me. There has been no great moment of epiphany or revelation, more a gradual shift in the way I see things, developing slowly over time. 

And where do I go from here? 

At the last session we asked ourselves what our key learnings were. For me it has been learning to practise vairagya or letting go. Of the many learnings we discussed, not one person mentioned asana. Now that is interesting! Or perhaps a little revelation after all.

With the Foundation Course now completed the question for us all is ‘what happens next?’

Personally, I can’t bear the thought of my journey stalling. The more I learn, the more I realise how little I know. I don’t know if I want to teach, but I’m certain that I want to keep on learning. Thankfully, with TSYP there are an abundance of opportunities to extend one’s knowledge further.

However, I will take some time for reflection and assimilation, as well as seeking guidance from my mentor.

I can strongly recommend the TSYP Foundation Course for anyone looking to take their understanding of yoga to another level. And you meet such lovely people.

Martin Doyle

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