3 words: Resilient. Radiant. Real. They describe her to a T. And you’ll see in the interview that for Linda, ‘T’ means Transformational Yoga- an integrated (& experiential) practice that she has been teaching for the past 8 years, as well as authored a book on. Linda is unassuming & calm, yet with a passion that shines through when she starts talking about yoga, and how it transformed her. Parts of her story are heartbreaking, but these make her who she is. And as her personality unfolded over several chats, we grew to really like & respect her…
1. How did you find yoga? Or was it yoga that found you?
In my twenties, I was crazy about exercise and extreme sports like marathons and wake boarding. Later on, ~2004 I developed bad running injuries – painful ankles and knees. After some research, I took up Yoga and found that it relieved the pain in astonishingly short periods of time.
That sparked my curiosity and I studied Yoga more in depth. The point came when I discovered there is so much more to Yoga, beyond the physical aspects, I had many questions, and couldn’t find what I was searching for from conventional mass Yoga classes in Singapore. So I travelled to India to find answers.
2. Your practice now is Transformational Yoga. It’s a big T word! What does this even mean?
Transformational Yoga (TY) is a type of Integral Yoga, based on the work of Sri Aurobindo and created by Sri Swamiji Vidyananda. He was the first teacher that I learnt ‘authentic’ Yoga from. I wrote a book on TY to honour him, and as a mark of respect.
You are right that ‘Transformational’ is a strong word, but that’s really what it is. The Transformation here refers to the shifts in the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual levels. By shifts, we mean positive impact and most people feel it immediately after just one practice.
Some of these positive shifts include healing of the physical body, freedom and balance of emotions, better discernment and decision-making, increased mental clarity and inner peace.
TY classes work on all of the 7 main Chakras, to activate and channel Kundalini (a Sanskrit word describing the creative life energy present in every human being) into the central Sushumna (the energetic channel when both feminine and masculine energies in a person are activated and balanced) to cultivate the Mind. We use Asanas, breathing techniques, sound invocations in the form of mantra and consciously directing and redirecting the attention. ‘Stuck’ energies from the physical, emotional, mental and psychic bodies are released. Positive emotions are heightened and the mind, body & spirit are rejuvenated.
Although not included under the system of TY, in my own classes I weave Vinyasa into the intermediate classes because i’ve found that linking breath to movement and rhythm profoundly affects the mental and emotional states of a person.
3. And what would you say to a skeptical cynical yoga student whose yoga practice is largely meant to replace gym sessions…? And who doesn’t really want to “transform” or look for “spiritual bliss”.
Great question! Honestly, practice can’t be forced on any person. The person must have the desire to seek, to know, to improve, to want to be better.
Actually I wouldn’t say that practicing Yoga to replace gym is a bad thing. Although Yoga is much more than the physical, the physical aspect of Yoga is similar to any other sport. There are methods, techniques and there are risks of injuries. However, the difference is that when practiced properly, Yoga offers a much more complete and holistic approach to health as compared to, say, weightlifting. For instance, the aim of Hatha Yoga is not only to build muscles but also to achieve balance. Some Asanas are used to build strength, some are used to increase flexibility and some are used to train core muscles. So, I would encourage the person to continue his/her Yoga practice even though they are using it as a form of physical training, until the time comes when they feel they are ready or curious to explore the deeper layers of Yoga.
Being myself so passionate about Yoga, I would secretly hope that they eventually become curious enough to explore the spiritual aspects. Using Yoga for only physical benefits is like driving a Ferrari in a small park! You can’t really find out how excellent the car is.
4. There are so many types of yoga, linked to their ‘celebrity’ & sometimes notorious teachers (Ashtanga, Bikram, Jivamukti, Kundalini, Anusara etc). Where does Transformational Yoga fit in?
Actually, Yoga is just – Yoga. It means Union. All the different modalities of Yoga work to unite the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of a person.
Transformational is a modern word chosen by Swami Vidyananda to convey the effect of this particular type of Integral Yoga that integrates the various branches of authentic Yoga – Hatha, Pranayama, Mantra, Raja and Bhakti Yoga.
5. Meditation almost seems like the magic pill for a magic mind! There’s been so much focus on this recently. Can you just “transform” with the mind? And leave out the rest…
According to the Upanishads, we have 5 Koshas, they are like ‘garments’ that we wear. The mind, or mental ‘garment’, in which the Conscious part of our Mind exist, is the 3rd Kosha. To access this ‘garment’ we have to work first with our physical body, the 1st Kosha, and then the prana, 2nd Kosha (our vital energetic body). When these 2 Koshas are not properly addressed or trained, (eg when we have aches and pains and knots everywhere in our body, or when our prana is troubled by emotions and not flowing smoothly in the body), it is difficult, maybe impossible to sit still in Meditation.
I have an upcoming book on Yoga Nidra; I write about the 5 Koshas and how they relate to the various dimensions of Consciousness, and how to use Yoga Nidra to achieve conscious awakening.
6. Do you have an Instagram account? We are driven by the visually beautiful –> fit bodies in flexible fancy poses; what are your thoughts on this?
No I don’t have an Instagram account. I might offend some people by saying this, but Yoga is not gymnastics, nor is Yoga practiced by only slim flexible healthy people. Yoga is for everyone, as long as you are human. Pictures of beautiful poses are nice to look at and they encourage people to strive towards training and performing a difficult asana, to better themselves. But they give the wrong impression that this is all there is to Yoga, and might even deter people away from taking up Yoga.
Like I said earlier it really is a profound tool for understanding the true nature of who you are. At risk of sounding philosophical, it is also a tool for the unfolding of your greatest potential on all levels, not just the physical (& much more than another graceful Yoga pose), and of discovering and then claiming your place in this inter-dependent co-creative phenomenon we experience as life.
7. You’ve been teaching for 8 years – what is your role as a teacher, in your opinion?
The role of a teacher is to facilitate, not so much as teach, to awaken the students to their own inner guru. There is nothing new to teach, actually all these knowledge and tools we impart through classes are as old as the beginning of the current civilization, nothing is new. Science has only begun to discover some of the concepts that were long contained in ancient Yogic texts.
Often I remind myself that although I’m in the position of a ‘teacher’, it’s more of sharing and passing on knowledge. I don’t like the notion of students calling their teacher ‘guru’. Never accept anything without testing and experiencing it yourself. The real guru is inside you, never external. The role of the teacher is to guide and facilitate, by providing a safe space, and as far as possible, the most authentic teachings.
And since we are on this subject, I must share that traditionally Yoga was imparted in small groups, usually 1-1, or maximum 4 or 5 students. Never in groups of 40 or 50 people. The teacher-student relationship used to be a very intimate and personal one. Because everyone is different and no one teaching can apply to all.
8. It’s quite likely you’ve taught your students some key lessons in life. Have they taught you anything?
Plenty! I find it a blessing to meet the people that come to my classes. Many of them, when they opened up to share their stories with me, inspire me with their resilience, courage, determination and the bigness of their heart. I especially look forward to the annual TTC because that is when I get to witness real transformation of ordinary people within months.
My classes are small, no more than 8 people. I started teaching in 2009, shortly after returning from India, in my apartment, and it grew into a little boutique practice today. The way I hold my regular classes, I usually ask at the beginning of class the state of each of my students. I check in with them physically, emotionally and what was going on for them in the last week. If there are body pains, we use asanas to target those areas. If there are ladies with period discomforts, we add Pranayama to target the vital energy sheath to balance the water element. If the students have had a rough week, we would supplement the practice with scripture studies and extra Nidra to help expand their perspectives. I feel that I have a responsibility towards whoever comes to my class, and I want to serve them to my best, so it has helped me deepen my knowledge and understanding of the various branches of Yoga. Without my students I won’t be here, and I wouldn’t have learnt so much.
9. Yoga Teacher Trainings churn out “teachers” in 1 month, and it’s getting more common. A good thing?
First of all, these trainings do at some level change people for the better. There are many self developmental programs charging tens of thousands out there on the market, and some of them are only a week long.
With regards to 1 month long TTCs, the question I have – is one month enough to prepare a person to be ready for teaching?
Being a Yoga teacher is a lot to do with challenging yourself to be better constantly. When you teach a Yoga class, the class is not about you, the class is about your students. How much presence, love, support and guidance you can give, depends on where you are currently in your own journey. The graduation of any TTC is not an end, but the start, of the exciting, challenging, sometimes-not-so-pleasant but yet rewarding and beautiful journey of growth and contribution.
The TTCs that I conduct are 3 months long. You take 1 month to learn the theory, the philosophy, the practices which include postures, breathing, mantra, meditation and teaching techniques etc to prepare you to deliver a class. The other 2 months are geared towards your development, growth and this is a huge part. What makes you different as a teacher is your presence, your understanding, life experience, the spaciousness of your heart, and definitely a solid consistent practice. These things take time to cultivate.
10. People often lament they don’t have enough time for everything, yoga included. How does one change this mindset?
How often do we bathe? We usually do it at least once a day, for most of us who likes to exercise it’s 2 to 3 times a day. Why do we bathe? To stay clean and fresh, right? Imagine how it’s like to live with someone who doesn’t bathe. Or how often do we go to toilet? Do we feel good if we only move our bowels once a week? We would probably be sick!
We keep our bodies clean, but it’s also very important to keep our mind and spirit clean too. That is done through Yoga. So if we have time for showering and toilet, we definitely have time for Yoga.
Practice does not have to take hours if you have a tight schedule. A simple 10 minute Pranayama practice, or just a few rounds of Sun Salutations before you start your day would do wonders for your sense of wellbeing.
Of course the more time you have for practice, the more clarity you have and the more efficient you can be at work. I’ve not known anyone who ever regretted dedicating time to practice! You will also be less affected by the storms of life when it gets rough, and we all know that is part and parcel of life.
11. You’ve chosen “Illumination” as the theme for the upcoming reTreat class, and the follow-on workshop series at TTT. Why this in particular? What can students expect from this?
I had an unconventional childhood, having to work at 13 years old to support myself. My first part time job was during the Christmas season, when I met many kind people who helped me. Christmas is a special time for me because that was when I knew I could break out of the difficult circumstances I was born into, and that I could have a fair chance at education and a successful life as long as I worked diligently and with integrity. It is a symbol of freedom, love and illumination.
In very much the same way, using the ancient road maps provided by Yoga, this Christmas workshop series is geared towards helping you achieve that illumination, to know yourself, to know what was unknown to you before, and in the process also illuminate and inspire others.
12. Let’s end with your favourite quote of the moment, or yoga story … please share!
“You are the architect of your own destiny.” – Swami Rama