The Many Faces of Yoga – Hamish Hendry

 

Hamish Hendry is a certified ashtanga yoga teacher from England. Hamish teaches primarily in his yoga shala in London – Ashtanga Yoga London. I got to practice with Hamish and have a chat over tea him afterwards to talk about his experience on this yoga path.

What brought you to yoga?

I was 17 and I couldn’t touch my toes , I went to my local library to find a book on yoga and started from there. I didn’t want to do anything competitive and I don’t know where the actual thought about yoga came from but that is how it started.

Had you heard of yoga before – did you have an idea of what it was?

I’m sure I had heard about it, my mum used to practice when I was younger but I never saw her doing it – I just knew that she went off to classes. I knew there was padmasana or shoulder stand, but that was it.

How did your idea about yoga develop or change when you started to practice?

When I first started it was just some basic asana, I was young and found it relatively easy so the benefits came really quickly. I started Ashtanga yoga in 1986 and this form of yoga is very different from other styles, so that was a big change for me.

I was in Skiros on my first big trip away and staying at a place for alternative holidays, it had lots of different things like surfing, meditation, drama and yoga. Derek Ireland and Radha Warrell were teaching Ashtanga yoga there, I had no idea what ashtanga was. They did yoga demonstrations and I remember thinking that there was no way I could do that.

Satish Kumar – the editor or Resurgence and the man who walked around the world in the fifties for peace, was there and we were chatting and he said to me ‘You are a young man, you can do it – give it a try‘ -I did and now, here I am.

What style of yoga had you been practicing before then?

Just general hatha yoga, nothing in particular – stuff out of a book as well as attending some local classes.

Did your lifestyle change when you started to practice yoga?

Well I became a vegetarian for a start. I stopped drinking alcohol, I stopped smoking – but it was all gradual, it wasn’t something that happened all of a sudden and it wasn’t a difficult change. Yoga allowed it to happen in a more organic way, not in a forceful way.

Did you notice your attitude or mentality change?

That is difficult to say because I have grown older and things have changed in my life, I have changed but I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t been practicing yoga – I’ve got no measure whether yoga has changed me or whether I have changed because I have gotten older. I am hoping it is from yoga.

When did you first travel to India and how did that come about?

I was in Crete at the time, working for Derek and Radha, and a friend had come to visit and told me she was going to Mysore in India that winter and would I like to join her. I agreed, I booked a place and I flew out to India for the first time in 1995.

I didn’t know a lot because not many people had come back from Mysore and been around me, there wasn’t a lot of European activity in Mysore at the time just mainly Americans and Australians.

My first trip to India was a bit frightening, going somewhere you had never been before. All of the different senses, sights, smells, tastes, the masses of people  – it takes a bit of getting used to. However, once you feel settled there, it is very relaxing.

That first trip was a long time ago so there were no computers or mobile phones – there weren’t many distractions and obviously a lot less people. There were about twenty of us at that time practicing with Pattabhi Jois, so it was quite small.

Do you still go to Mysore?  How do you notice it has changed there over the years?

 Yes I still go, we were there last summer.

The important thing is still the same- the yoga practice. You go there and you practice, that hasn’t changed at all. There are a lot more people travelling there now,  which I enjoy as it is really nice to meet new people. It is much easier living hermes belts now, you can hire a scooter, eat at organic cafes – it is probably a bit too easy living really!

When did you start teaching yoga?

In 1998 a friend of mine had been teaching and was going away so he asked me to cover his classes. I hadn’t done any training, I was just practicing and had spent time with Guruji, spent time watching Derek and Radha teach – I probably made a bit of a pig’s ear of it all at first, but I didn’t injure anybody and that is the main fake hermes belt
thing!

Do you learn from teaching?

Yes, I learn a phenomenal amount from teaching. The person who is really learning is the teacher, you get to understand so much about people more than anything else. You learn about yoga in some ways but it is about different people and different bodies – that is the most amazing thing.

Over the past twenty years I have realised that people are pretty similar in many ways, they all have anxiety, wants and needs. There are so many different varieties of people, you will find that something may work for one person but may not work for somebody else. I think the most important thing as a teacher is just to be receptive and open to change.

Have you noticed your teaching style change over the years?

I think so. I certainly feel that I have become more intuitive, I have a lot more knowledge about anatomy for starters, but also I look at things in a lot more depth than I did before. When I am adjusting somebody I am not just thinking about getting them into the posture – I am thinking about how this is going to affect them in their life, any injuries they have got, where their emotions are at- all of those things come into play now.

I teach full time. I used to work part time on farms and construction as well as teaching yoga and then I slowly transitioned to just teaching- I was quite poor for a long time!

Do you teach philosophy as well?

Sometimes I teach conferences and workshops. I have always been interested in philosophy but I found it very difficult to talk about, it is easy to read but difficult to convey philosophical aspects and put them into words that other people can understand. It has gotten easier – through repeating talks and seeing what people understand, questions that come up, but it was very difficult to begin.

Is an interest in the philosophical aspect of yoga something that you have noticed will naturally develop in people? 

Yes, for most people. A lot of people are interested but they don’t want to bring it up, it is quite a personal thing and you are also opening yourself up, which not everyone is comfortable doing when they first walk into a yoga class. That is the importance of a Mysore class, you get to know the teacher and you see them daily and feel more comfortable about opening up.

There a lots of books about philosophy- it doesn’t really matter, you just have to find any book that you might just like the cover off, read the first page and see if you like it or not and start there.

It is difficult to pick just one philosophy book, they are from a very different culture and the translations are from sanskrit so it loses a lot from our understanding to whatever the original meaning was and there are so many different interpretations. It is worth persevering and just deciding to look at one aspect and concentrate on that and go from there.

Do you think that study groups or yoga communities are an important aspect of practice?

I think it is a great idea, I know there are some groups at our shala here in London. A few people meet up once or twice a month and go through different aspects of philosophy- like the sanskrit count or asana names as well as yoga sutra discussions. It is good because we don’t always get that opportunity to do this with others.

Having a yoga community means that you actually practice yoga. Many people find it really difficult to practice at home so when you come into the class it gives you energy. Yoga culture is very different from outside life, so people who don’t practice yoga don’t always understand why you get up at 5 am in the morning or other parts of a yoga lifestyle, so it is really nice to be with people who do practice yoga. It is the same for any sort of discipline, the community have an understanding of why you do what you do.

I noticed some books on Buddhism in the shala and in your book Yoga Dharma – do you have a practice in Buddhism ?

Not particularly, I have done some Buddhist meditation and I have some Buddhist friends but I wouldn’t say I am Buddhist – or any specific tradition at all really. Obviously there are lots of connections between Buddhism and yoga.

I do a little bit of meditation – I think of it more as just sitting and being calm, enjoying the time and space of quietness. I think that meditation is more of a state of mind that happens to you while you are doing whatever you are doing- whether it is sitting or doing asana.

So you have practiced quite a lot with Guruji and Sharath, what is it that inspired you to keep going back to practice each year?

I knew before I started going to Mysore that I would have to keep going back and that was why I delayed going for a few years. I knew because I loved yoga and it is just the love of yoga that keeps me returning there. India has really grown on me and I like being there – it has become a bit of a second home.

Do you find a difference between yoga in India and yoga over here in the west?

It is difficult for me to say because India is the only place that I go to practice as a student, here in London I am a teacher- so there is a massive difference. The overall temperature in India and the lifestyle you would have there as a student is much easier for yoga. The fact that spirituality is present throughout India, everything you see, everything you do has some spiritual connection, every shop, every house will have some deities and that makes it more in tune with practicing yoga there. You can’t escape hermes paris enamel bracelet by lucky \/brandon-veronica
spirituality there and I like that.

Do you travel a lot to teach?

I do travel to teach but not a lot I try not to for several reasons – I have a family who I want to spend time with, I have other interests outside of yoga – I like walking, climbing and I have my daily classes here. To add on teaching away on a weekend is quite a lot of extra work so I don’t do it too often. In that way what I have to teach is still quite fresh and I can work on it.

Are you originally from London?

I was born in a little village just outside Liverpool but we moved around quite a lot- Scotland, France, Greece.

Is there any particular reason why you settled to teach in London?

Well, the work was here so it just made sense to be here.

Do you like living and teaching in the city?

The city life is difficult because it is so big but my lifestyle is very organised, so I really enjoy being here. It is easy to get out of London and I do love the countryside. I would probably choose somewhere a bit warmer if I had a choice, but my life is definitely 100% here and I feel like I am doing a service for the yoga community so I have no intentions of leaving anytime soon!

I read a quote in your book Yoga Dharma- “Yoga helps us to do the right birkin bag hermes thing at the right time” – could you explain a bit about that?

The explanation is about the word Dharma, the Sanskrit word meaning to support. It is about what we can do to support nature, society and thus doing the right thing at the right time. If we are doing something wrong or doing something at the wrong time then that is not supportive. If we eat dinner late at night, for example, that is not supportive of our early morning yoga practice. If we steal something, that is doing something wrong and is not supportive of society. So that was what Dharma means and why I used that particular expression.

As the years have gone by I have found that one of the most important aspects of yoga is timing. It is a bit like being on a motorway – you can drive fast, slow or medium speed but it is more about keeping in flow with all the other cars. If all of the other cars are going fast and you are going slow you will cause a crash and vice versa. Life is a bit like that, sometimes it is going fast, sometimes slow and you just have to adjust to that and yoga, I think, keeps you in tune with all of this.

How do you think yoga keeps you in tune with that flow or timing?

No idea! I know when it happens but I don’t know why.

How do you discern between knowing when you are tuning into that space of ‘right place, right time’ and when you are doing something that is not supportive of yourself or society?

I think you know. If you actually question and were honest with yourself you will know exactly why you are doing something.

Do you think yoga helps with discernment?

I think yoga helps you to be more discerning, I also think it helps you to detach from your desires. That can be a bit shocking sometimes, when we see our normal response to desire change; to taste, look or smell something and to see that it has just become a sense.

It is difficult to explain, you can look at something and, for example, think “I like that shade of green” or you can think “that is a shade of green” – it is as simple as that.

Have you ever tired of teaching over the years?

No, never. I have been tired, definitely, but not of teaching – I love teaching.  Sometimes I have been frustrated but that was more related to my own stuff.

Why do you think there is such an increase in the amount of people practicing yoga now?

When I first started practicing Ashtanga I thought nobody would do this because it was way too hard – I was so wrong.

I don’t know what it is. We are really busy at our shala, lots of other yoga schools are really busy but I also know that a lot of yoga schools close down so I can’t explain what it is. I wish I could.

Yoga is a good thing and people are drawn to good things at the end of that day.

“Find what you are good at, do it well and do it with love”. This is another quote I noticed in your book Yoga Dharma, could you explain a bit about this?

One of my wife’s friends came over to visit some years ago. He was an Indian man who had been a student of Krishnamacharya and stayed with us for a week. We were talking about yoga and he asked me how I would sum up the Bagavadgita. I thought about it for few months and I eventually emailed him my response, which was “Find what you’re good at, do it well and do it with love“.

Finding what you are good at requires a bit of self-inquiry – it needn’t be your job, it might just be something that you describe yourself as.

Do it well -just because you can do something and you enjoy doing it can often mean that you don’t put effort into it. It is really important that you put effort into what you are doing and not just letting it happen because you are the agent of how it will turn out.

Lastly, do it with love- what I meant by that is: when you do something with love, you don’t expect something in return.

It was a long time ago that I said that and I still think it is a valid summation of the Bhagavad Gita today.

How would you advise people to start this process of finding and doing what they love?

Trial and error.

Don’t get hooked into it as a job because a lot of jobs that people do are for earning money and that doesn’t mean that is who you are. It is more about just being you, everybody else is already taken. That is that hard bit, truly being you but not getting too anxious about it – it doesn’t matter, just be. Practicing yoga helps with that.

What keeps you coming back to practice?

I get on my mat, I practice and it feels good. I enjoy the days off on Saturdays and moon days, but they don’t feel quite as great as the days when I do practice.

 

How do you find the balance between teaching and your own yoga practice?

Teaching does make practice harder as it is physical exercise and it has an effect on your body. It tightens you up and tires you out, but that is fine as long as you have a good established practice that you have been doing for many years.

What was the inspiration behind your magazine, Pushpam?

I just thought it was a good idea at the time. I knew there was no other magazine like it, I knew there were lots of articles and blogs on the internet that people didn’t actually read- I certainly never got around to reading them. As far as I understand people don’t read as much on a screen as they do when it is on a piece of paper. There is something quite special about having a magazine that you can carry around and share, it has a lot more meaning to it.

The ethos of the magazine is to produce something interesting that doesn’t make people angry and inspires people to practice. There is no advertising, no asana tips and no advice on what leggings to wear.

So who are the people that contribute to the magazine?

We have a team of people who work on it. Some of the people who have contributed I don’t personally know but they have been connected through other people, that is how it works.

Is there anything else you would like to say about yoga?

Just do it, it is so good. A little bit everyday is much better than doing one big hit – take your time, don’t rush it and keep it simple.

 

 

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