How did you find your way to the mat…?

Submitted by Kate Danta

For most of us, long before we became knowledgeable about the many aspects of yoga, somewhere along the way we either knew someone who practiced or saw a glimpse of someone in a pose in either a magazine, book or television. Back in the early days, at least for me, 35 years ago, back when finding a yoga studio was almost like discovering an unnamed planet, you suddenly had a sense of what it must have been like for Magellan to discover the passage way between the Pacific and Atlantic ocean, known today as the Straights of Magellan.

Contrary to “practically a yoga studio on every block phenomenon”, 35 years ago they were almost nonexistent. If you were not “in the know”, you just didn’t see them or hear about them. In fact the word yoga was almost always mistaken for the word yogurt. People were so unfamiliar with the term yoga, they were sure you were trying to tell them about the wonderful yogurt you had just finished eating.

The typical studio in those days was leaning way more toward the esoteric, more subtle aspects. The focus was more about quieting the body in order to quiet the mind in preparation for Raja (royal path of meditation). You were considered strange or at best unconventional if you ventured down the yoga trail.

I was led thru my first few poses ever by a co-worker named Claudia. We were working for Jack LaLanne, a pioneer in physical fitness who opened up health clubs and was featured for many years in his morning TV show where he led people thru calisthenic exercises and spoke about the benefits of eating raw fruits and vegetables. He was way ahead of his time and that is probably why Claudia had come to work for him and had already found her way to the mat long before it was in vogue. Without letting me in on what we were about to do, Claudia asked me to get down on the floor with her and began instructing me to move my body into series of specific positions. I don’t remember the poses we were in, however I have a very strong recollection of what I would later come to realize was my initiation into the many wonders of yoga. Almost immediately I went into a euphoric state produced from the Kundalini energy at the base of my spine making it’s way upward, traveling thru the central energy channel known as the sushumna. The two lesser energy channels along either side of the spine are called the Ida (Ida refers to the chandra (yin) energies of the moon) and the Pingala (refers to the surya (yang) energies of the sun) which are channels for the Kundalini energy to move up, finally reaching the crown of the head where the Sahasrara (thousand petalled lotus) is located. Once the crown chakra has opened you will experience Samadhi or enlightenment. The next step is to continue to cultivate that experience and keep the channels open thru regular practice of the 8 limbs of yoga.

Brief overview of the 8 limbs of yoga;

Yama : Universal morality
Niyama : Personal observances
Asanas : Body postures
Pranayama : Breathing exercises, and control of prana
Pratyahara : Control of the senses
Dharana : Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
Dhyana : Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
Samadhi : Union with the Divine

At the tender age of 19 years, I knew one thing for sure, I wanted MORE! My journey had only just begun…

I continued to work with that same handful of poses for a few more years. Each time I would be swept up into that ecstatic, euphoric state. In the meantime…life goes on. It wasn’t till I ended a marriage at age 25 years with my two year old son in tow that I stumbled upon what was to be my first formal experience into this mysterious and intriguing science called yoga.

My eldest sister, whom had always been sort of a mentor figure in my life, presented me with the news that would change my world forever. She had been driving in the San Fernando Valley when she happened to see a sign posted on a telephone pole that read YOGA TEACHERS TRAINING COURSE—Little Santa Monica Blvd. in Los Angeles. I could hardly believe my ears, this was to be the start of a lifelong pursuit. Up till that time, before signing up for the Yoga Teachers Training course taught in the style of Indra Devi, I had yet to step into a studio or even ever take a single yoga class. Without hesitation, I signed up for this 4 month course. I would drive an hour there and back each time the class convened, which was three evenings per week and all day Saturdays and Sundays. I had found my way home…

Immediately I fell in synch with the teachings and with my teacher. We shared the same New Year’s Day birthday and we both were born in the illustrious state of India-na, so close, only missed it by two letters. I could have easily slid down the slippery slope of self loathing and destructive behavior borne out of a horribly abusive marriage, both mentally and physically. I must pay tribute to my older and much wiser sister whose deeply rooted selflessness gave me the strength to reign in my despair and I was able to choose the road that led to a better life.

Many more years have come and gone and the one constant is my yoga practice. I have become certified in a few different styles over the years, including most recently the style called Kundalini Yoga. Kundalini, “the yoga of awareness,” opens your heart, builds strength and releases the energy located at the base of your spine. It has the power to unlock barriers within ourselves that can unleash a supremely joyful and serene Self. Kundalini is without a doubt one of the more spiritual styles of yoga. It focuses on breath and movement and challenges its students both physically and mentally.

Primarily I teach a style inspired by Svaroopa yoga taught and founded by Rama Berch, owner and director of Master Yoga Academy in La Jolla for over a decade. I trained with her the entire time she was in La Jolla before moving to Pennsylvania where she currently resides. I have modified some of the basic principles and many of the approaches to the poses have been modified to conform to the style of yoga I am now teaching called Dantayama yoga.

It suits me to be the rogue or renegade as it were. The product of this independent streak has resulted in sharing the love of yoga for the last 12 years here at the little studio on Turquoise Street called PB Yoga and Healing Arts. I am continuing to follow my heart and go where it leads me…Life has an amazing momentum that propels us where we are meant to be if we just have the good sense to get out of our own way.

So coming back to that initial intention that was pervasive in the yoga community when first I embarked upon this path “The main purpose of yoga (hatha) is to quiet the body in order to quiet the mind; to be able to sit undisturbed by the body in order to dive deeper into meditation”. There are many ways or styles that will ultimately result in quieting the body…thank goodness there is no one way to arrive at the destination that I think we are all in search of, inner peace and inner quietude. I am honored to share the style of yoga that continues to help me to maintain a much more peace filled state.

In deep gratitude, I give thanks to all who guided me down the Royal Road with so much love, patience, and compassion. I would love to hear from each and everyone of you…How did you find your way to the mat?