As we dive, joyous and sweaty, into the waves of a new season, yoga teacher Noelle Connolly takes a moment to adjust her metaphorical bathing suit and ask – “What is your intention?”
The practice of setting an intention at the beginning of yoga class comes from the tradition of sankalpa, a heartfelt statement that we make to support our dharma – our purpose here on earth. It’s a vow that we can call upon to guide the choices we make, which supports our physical, emotional and spiritual growth, and the knowledge of our essential self.
Three years ago I felt stuck and restless. A deep need for knowledge and growth lit a fire in me, to seek out a new teacher and see the world. My friend Simon Park was back in Philly after a summer teaching around the planet and I thought, “That’s what I want.” I had such a deep longing to go and strike out on my own that the universe had no choice but to support me.
Shortly afterwards I moved to Australia to head up the yoga and teacher training programs at BodyMindLife in Sydney. I found my current teacher, the incredible Maty Ezraty, who was trained by Dona Holleman, Gabriella Giubilaro and Pattabhi Jois himself.
Yoga has since taken me to eight different countries, and my eyes have been opened to the many different ways that people live and love. I’ve been humbled, guiding a sea of exhilarated yogis at Wanderlust, flanked by Shiva Rea, Ana Forrest and Elena Brower. I’ve been inspired by so many teachers, Joan Hyman, Brock and Krista Cahill, Dice lida-Klein, Carling Harps, Patrick Beach, Dylan Werner, and had the pleasure of hosting many of them here in Sydney.
Sankalpa is not a champagne-sparkled midnight resolution. In his book, The Four Desires, Rod Stryker explains that kalpa means vow, and san a connection with the highest truth. Richard Miller, PhD, clinical psychologist and teacher in the Advaita Ved?nta and Kashmir non dual traditions, says that sankalpa arrives with everything needed to fully realise it – with iccha (tremendous will and energy), kriya (action) and jnana (the wisdom of how to deliver that action). It comes not from the intellectual mind but from deep within us, informing us where we need to direct our energy.
Something I didn’t expect when opening my palms to the universe was the velocity of opportunity, humour and support that I would receive in return. The community here, the teachers and students, lift me up, their energy and hunger for information drives me to be totally present, embracing every moment. My practice has changed too. It’s more honest. Expectation and attachment fall away as I refine my focus, and trust in the freedom that comes from riding the waves of grace.
“Teaching for me has always felt like coming home. The system of yoga, the eight limbs, invites us to gently wash away the grit from our eyes.”
In Light on Yoga, Iyengar explains that the yamas and niyamas teach us how to control our passions and emotions. Asana builds strength and harmony in the body. Pranayama and pratyahara, explain how we can regulate the breath to control the mind. Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi, show us how we can turn inwards on a quest of the soul.
Have you heard the story of the sage Bharavja and the three clumps of dirt? After three lifetimes studying the Vedas, Shiva arrives at Bharavja’s bedside and chides him for refusing to share all that he’s learned. He scoops three handfuls of earth at the sages feet and says, “Compared to the mountain of information, what you’ve learned amounts to three handfuls of dirt. It is only through your dharma of teaching and sharing that this wisdom will truly come alive inside you.”
When I guide yoga teacher training at BodyMindLife my intention, always, is to create a safe place for whoever shows up. I honestly think our 200 hour program is one of the best in the world right now. The team is diverse, and there’s an abundance of knowledge and experience, but also a unified vision and message. Our primary focus is to prepare our trainees to teach yoga in all capacities. We don’t use a set sequence, we provide the tools needed to create and confidently deliver safe and intelligent classes.
In the lead up, students often quietly ask me, “How will I know when I’m ready?”. My answer is always the same. If you’re thinking about it, and you’re prepared to make it happen no matter what, you’re ready. Listen to your internal voice and know that if you move towards your true path with courage, compassion and determination the universe will conspire to support you.