The Many Faces of Yoga: India Edition – Maria Russell



I met Maria while practicing at together in Goa, India. Maria is originally from Austrailia and has been living in India for almost 20 years and has a great experience with yoga and meditation during her time here. Maria spoke to me about her yoga journey, yoga in the East and West and living the yogi life in India.


What brought you to yoga?

I actually first did yoga with my mother when I was about 8. We had a record of an Indian swami and we practiced to that. My mum practiced on and off for a bit so I knew it from her really.

Then I came to India in the early nineties and I started with Clive Sheridan. He used to give free workshops in Rishikesh including pranayama, meditation and asana, he is a wonderful teacher.

What was your idea of yoga before you began practicing?

In many ways I have been blessed as all my practice has been in India and through Clive it has been a very authentic and holistic look at yoga – not just asana.

I have lived in India since the early nineties so I’ve known about this new craze of yoga in the west but I hadn’t experienced it until I went to Melbourne and practiced in a studio there. It was the first time I saw what was going on in the west and what they are teaching there generally.

So how would you describe the difference between the yoga practiced in the West and the East?

I think I was a bit cynical I have to say – thinking people had no real knowledge of the whole path of yoga and are only obsessed with postures . I think its true that most people do just want to do asana and come to yoga from a health perspective but I think its better to drop the cynicism and say ‘OK, that’s how they approach it’ and gradually they open up to the other aspects.

Its tricky as unless you are highly motivated yourself there is a lot of information out there and teachers who can have very little experience and barely have a personal practice. The western teachers I have had can communicate verbally really well how to approach an asana and I think on that level that is something we have really benefited from.

What is your background in yoga?

I had some times when I stopped practicing but I have been fairly regular and have become quite disciplined.

Clive Sheridan was my only teacher over the years since I started in the early nineties and then two years ago I started practicing Ashtanga yoga with Monica Marinoni in Auroville. I knew of Krishnamacharya and I had heard of Pattabi Jois and Ashtanga yoga.

I had my doubts about Ashtanga and I questioned practicing the same thing everyday, but I don’t know, I guess over the years you drop some of your trips and it just happened. I was in Auroville and right around the corner from my friends house was this Ashtanga studio and so I started to practice with Monica.

How have your found the transition to an Ashtanga yoga practice?

I was inspired to practice with Monica. She came to meditation before yoga and that intrigued me and I really connected well with her. She has a small group and I learned most of the primary series with her.

At the moment I feel like I would like to give it a few years to see if this is the way I want to continue practicing, whether its the best benefit for me at this stage of my life and practice.

In some ways I do like doing the same thing everyday, revising the same things, the same places on different days and having different experiences. I’m much more patient, not just wanting to be able to do certain postures. I want it to be that healing, opening my heart and my mind -giving my body a good foundation for everything else within the path.

Would you like to talk about your practice in meditation?

Yes, I have practiced a lot of meditation and have gone on many retreats – mainly buddhist. My first retreat was in Thailand in Wat Suan Mokkh, I also did Goenka Vipassana retreats in India which are technique based and I have done maby retreats at open dharma– who have a very open way to teach meditation. Christopher Titmuss is another teacher Bodhgaya, he was a thai buddhist monk from the Theravadan tradition, I really liked the more open approach that I found with him. I also did many retreats with Clive over the years.

The meditation retreats have been a great part of my yoga path. Asana is really all about being able to sit comfortably for meditation – as well as having good health. I think for many of us its easier to start with the body than just meditation. It can be really confronting, especially us from the west who aren’t so used to being still, silent and quiet.

Did you find your lifestyle changed?

Yes definitely, however, I also came to India so many things changed due to that also – on my first trip to India I stayed for 7 years. I became vegetarian,I wasn’t working or studying anymore so I had hours to meditate and practice yoga as well as other things. It was a big change.

It wasn’t just about yoga, a lot was to do with India and my whole journey of going inside and finding out what life really is and why I am here.

Is that why you have remained in India-for yoga and meditation?

Yeah, I think that’s a big part of it. Yoga comes from here, I feel very supported in my practice here and people understand it – my life is not weird to Indians. It is totally valid to have the path as your main focus here.

Have you found any major changes in your attitude to your practice and to life in general?

Well, there is probably a little less ego in my practice.  I mean I’m not saying I have no ego at all but I am more patient – I am more careful of not pushing myself too far.

I learnt so much from meditation retreats, seeing my mind – how I am pulled by it and to understand that I don’t have to be, that’s a radical shift in life.

I think asana are really powerful on a physical level, it gives you good health and strength. This has helped me a lot in living the life I chose here in India, you have to be strong and healthy to live here.

Anything else to say about yoga?

I’m glad I moved through being cynical about yoga in the west. I think its great that its there and how it is so popular.

Its such a good base for all of life. Once I started I was just into it as I just knew it was worthwhile.

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