‘[By practicing yoga] Your life becomes less messy;
it becomes a little cleaner, a little more simple and straightforward.’
- Harmony Lichty
Ashtanga Yoga Victoria (AYVic) is devoted to preserving and transmitting the traditional teachings of Ashtanga Yoga in the heart of downtown Victoria.
Jeff and Harmony Lichty, founders and primary teachers at AYVic, are authorized at the highest level, directly from the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, South India. While spending many years studying in India with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and Sri O.P Tiwari, They also traveled internationally and taught Ashtanga Yoga to students from all over the world. Jeff and Harmony settled in Victoria in 2009 to establish Ashtanga Yoga Victoria – An International Yoga Center for Wellness and Life Transformation.
Jeff Lichty is also an Ambassador for lululemon athletica Victoria.
What follows is an Interview between Jeff and Harmony Lichty and Ainsley Magno, the founder of Yellow Yogi Victoria.
2011, Nov 12: 12 – 1pm
AINSLEY MAGNO: Who is Ashtanga Yoga Victoria?
JEFF LICHTY: We are a community of Yoga Practitioners brought together by us [Jeff and Harmony, the owners of Ashtanga Yoga Victoria,] and we specialize in Ashtanga Yoga. We learned Ashtanga Yoga vinyasa from Pattabhi Jois and his grandson Sharath Jois. I think we stand out in that we are 2 amongst only 7 people in Canada who are authorized at level two, which means we are proficient at teaching both the Primary and Intermediate Series of the Ashtanga Yoga System. [Primary series are offered at Ashtanga Yoga studios]. We bring that experience to the teachings, along with over 15 years of practice, and that’s how we’re different from other instructors.
AINSLEY MAGNO: What does it mean to be ‘authorized’?
JEFF LICHTY: The criteria seems to be changing now that Pattabhi Jois passed away. It used to be that you spent a minimum of 4 trips there, usually 3 months each, totalling a minimum of one year direct study with Pattabhi Jois in India at his institute. It usually takes 4 years to reach to the first level of authorization, and after that, several more years of study to reach subsequent levels [there are 3 levels].
For me, after my first trip, I had been there for 3 months, people kept saying, ‘Oh, can you teach me? Can you teach me.?’ This is when I was still a paramedic in Calgary. So I went to Guruji [Sri K. Pattabhi Jois] and said, ‘People keep asking me to teach, so what do you think?’ He said, ‘Oh, you. You take practice. Next year coming and then teaching.’ So the next year I did the same thing and asked, ‘Guruji, you know, next year?’ He’s like, ‘Hmmm you. Next year, coming and then teaching.’ So the 3rd year we were there I didn’t have the courage, so I just didn’t ask. And then the fourth year I was there, Sharath said to us…
HARMONY LICHTY: …’Ok come, you can teach now. You write Guruji a letter, and You can teach.’ Basically we had practiced all of primary series, all of second series, and were practicing well into third series when he said, ‘Ok, you’ve been here enough, now you can teach.’
“We’ve had some students who’ve had hip replacements and have never done yoga before. They’ve come into a Mysore style class, learned from the beginning, and are totally starting to rehabilitate their body.”
A. What can a student expect to experience when they step into AYVIC?
JEFF LICHTY: They could have us yell at them (just joking).
HARMONY LICHTY: Coming here is a little different then going to a led class. We teach a lot of Mysore classes. Mysore is named after the city in India where Pattabhi Jois taught. It denotes this particular way of teaching that’s different from a guided class, the typical class students are used to, where students come in and there’s a teacher standing at the front of the room and everyone does everything together.
Mysore is a little bit different because you start to develop a relationship with the teacher. As a student you come into the room and there are many people practicing. As a new student the teacher may come over and provide one on one guidance.
The teacher will first introduce himself or herself and will find out a little about you – your yoga experience, problems, injuries, things you are working through right now. After we get acquainted we start teaching you [the new student] directly – one on one. There are other people in the room who have already been taught directly, so they already know what to do as far as their own practice, and maybe just need a little guidance from us. They don’t need all of our attention, but as a new student you’re really lucky because you get a lot of our attention.
We teach you from the beginning and then get you to practice what you’ve learned a little bit on your own. So right away you’re becoming an independent yoga practitioner, and learning something you can take home and practice on your own.
This teaching style is nice because the student gets to be in control of the practice a little more. More of a relationship gets developed between the teacher and student, opposed to being an anonymous number in a class where the teacher has no idea who you are, where you come from, what you are going through or dealing with.
[Being in a guided class] can be a nice experience sometimes too but it’s really nice to start to develop your own practice and learn a practice you can grow over time. So people keep coming back because they want to keep growing in this particular type or style of yoga. They want to keep growing what they learn, what they know, and getting feedback from the teacher too.
AINSLEY MAGNO: I think your answer is great because it dispels the myth that Ashtanga Yoga is a challenging physical practice. It really is the opposite. AYVic really is a place for you to start to begin to learn your own practice at your own pace and time.
HARMONY LICHTY: And really it requires you to commit a little bit of time. It’s best if you can come at least twice a week, especially if you are first learning because you need to devote a little bit of time to practicing. You start to see in your body the progress if you do the practice frequently, whereas you don’t really see it if you do it once a week. It’s not about having to do long frequent classes. It doesn’t have to be an hour even, it can just be a half hour, but doing a little bit more frequently is better than doing a lot only once a week.
We’ve had some students who’ve had hip replacements and have never done yoga before. They’ve come into a Mysore style class, learned from the beginning, and are totally starting to rehabilitate their body. Same with people with chronic arthritis, back problems, old people, young people - because we work one on one, we can identify if something is really bothering you and find an alternative thing that will help you.
Not everyone’s practice looks the same. There’s not this one thing that everyone has to do the same one way. We can work with the series of postures, so within the structure there is flexibility. We can work with the sequence and find ways to modify each posture to help each person, whether it’s rehabilitating a broken arm or a broken leg or a hip replacement. Whatever it is, even if it’s just being old and stiff or just being stiff, or needing to lose weight, we can help you.
AINSLEY MAGNO: We all come with some sort of injury, or if not that, something we’re dealing with. It’s great to know that we can come to your studio with any limitation. This is a great place to heal.
HARMONY LICHTY: It’s the best. When Ashtanga Yoga is taught in a Mysore setting, in a Mysore class, it really is yoga therapy. Some people that come and have very loose ligaments just need to slow it down and not rush through everything, or think they have to do 27 postures in an hour. You don’t have to rush through it, but rather slow down and spend a little bit of time really working on things at your own pace. Then you can start to develop that strength and flexibility in the body.
[Mysore class times] Monday – Thursday 6am – 9:30 am & 4pm – 6:30 pm (come at any time & leave at any time within these blocks of time).
“As I walked out of there I realized that
if I had spent as much energy in trying to be happy as I had in trying to be right,
that my life would be a lot better.”
AINSLEY MAGNO. Your blog talks about how to bring your mindfulness from the mat into your day to day activities. Can you share with us a memorable time when you used your practice of yoga outside of the studio?
JEFF LICHTY: When I used to be a paramedic, I was flying in a helicopter and dealing with a pretty serious patient. Everything in front of me was going crazy. Things were completely out of control and everything felt frenetic and nothing seemed to be working. I was like, ‘What is going on!?’ and completely freaking out. I had no idea what to do with this patient, no idea how to help this patient, no idea what to do.
Then I remember hearing this sound [heavy breathing] and I was getting even more freaked out until I realized it was my breath through my headset, through the mic in my helmet, that I could hear in the background. And then I started to remember Guruji’s [Pattabhi Jois] words, ‘You breathe you. You breathe!’ from when I was once in a deep backbend. He said, ‘You breathe, you. You [get the] breathing correct, [then] fear going.’ So I learned to take control of the breathe and slowly my mind started to come around and then focus on the task at hand. That is a more dramatic example of where yoga can work in stressful situations.
It’s no different than driving in your car. In traffic, we can respond by gripping our steering wheel and closing in on the chest and being strong in the shoulders and start cussing people. Or we can inhale big, extend out of the core, soften the effort out of the core, reduce the effort out of the shoulders, sit high, open our heart and breathe. And again, Pattabhi Jois says, ‘You breathe you. You breathe. You breathe, the fear goes, the pain goes.’ And that’s how it works, and usually in that order.
HARMONY LICHTY: Another thing, this practice really helps to simply create a more positive frame of mind, and a more relaxed state of mind. So even simple things like when you feel you’re at the end of your rope, (like, ‘Oh my gosh, I slept like 3 hours in the last 9 months’ [Jeff & Harmony just had there first child]) just being able to sit, breathe, find that centre within and have the mind be more clear and not so absorbed in your own story about yourself brings some relief. I’ve learned to be able to step back and realize that this is just a thought, this is just a feeling, this is just an emotion, this is not permanent, this is not my permanent state, and I know it’s going to change.
Being able to see that separation more clearly, more easily, and more immediately, I think, can be really helpful.
The other interesting thing too – before doing yoga I used to get pulled around by my emotions a lot more, feeling depressed or whatever, feeling different negative things, and really the focus was always very self centered. I think the practice helps you focus not just your own self, but more on other people, and how you can help.
The more you practice the physical practice the more you get interested in the philosophy and the other limbs [of yoga]. Ashtanga Yoga is unique that way. The name itself means ‘8 limbed yoga’ and so already there’s that seed that it isn’t just postures. Asana [posture] is only one limb of this practice and there are 7 other limbs of this practice for you to explore.
So what initially draws people to this practice is the physical aspect, the postures, and then once they start making those connections to the body, to their breath, [and start] observing the mind, they begin wondering what else this is about. So then they start exploring yamas, niyamas, pranayama, pratyahara or meditation or dhyana, and then are inspired to integrate them into their life and start to make changes.
For example, becoming more peaceful becomes very important so that you are not harming other people or other things. Living truthfully becomes very important to you because you want to align yourself with certain values. And then I think things in your life happen more smoothly because you are aligning yourself with the right values and you find yourself in messes less. Your life becomes less messy; it becomes a little cleaner, a little more simple and straightforward.
AINSLEY MAGNO: Let’s talk about your teaching style. I found your corrections really helpful. In one pose, a version of warrior, you shifted me a millimetre and it made a world of a difference. I think that makes you stand out.
When it comes to Jeff, it’s the humour. In one class he told us to do ’smile asana’. Now every time I’m in a class in a difficult posture, gritting my teeth, I think, ‘just do smile-asana and breathe’.
HARMONY LICHTY: Being off one way or another, if you stack the body the right way the energy flows so nicely. And then you can find that place, the Yoga Sutras say, where the posture is steady but done with ease. It feels good. There’s a joy in it. You can really feel that when things come into alignment you think, ‘Oh, there IS joy in this! It’s not painful!’.
“We have to find one practice and dig it deep
because only in digging deep
do we gain the benefits of yoga.”
AINSLEY MAGNO: We know who you are, what the studio stands for, how you’re different…
JEFF LICHTY: But how are we all the same? We are all the same in that in yoga, there’s unity and diversity (this is one of the definitions of yoga). The fact that we all practice asana no matter what shape it is, no matter what style it is, it’s all an entry way into Ashtanga Yoga. So to me, it’s all Ashtanga Yoga.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika from the middle ages says that all hatha yoga leads to raja yoga. Raja yoga is Ashtanga Yoga. It is the royal path and so this is where there’s unity and diversity in the approach.
At some level you have to take on one practice. This is very clear in the Yoga Sutras. We have to develop one pointed focus on one thing. It’s that old proverb about that master who takes his student and shows him two farmers. One farmer has all these pot holes in his field and the other farmer has one pot hole in his field. It turns out they have been digging for water. The first farmer digs a hole about 6 feet deep and thinks there’s clearly no water here so he jumps out and says, ‘There’s got to be a better place’. So he goes and starts digging again and still finds no water. He thinks, ‘I’m obviously in the wrong spot’ so he digs another 6 foot hole and there’s still no water. Now he’s got a field full of potholes with no water. You obviously know the other side of that story – the second farmer just realizes, ‘I just have to dig [one hole] deep and I will find water’.
And so it’s the same with all of these practices whether they’re yogic or Buddhist or whatever, it doesn’t matter. We have to find one practice and dig it deep because only in digging deep do we gain the benefits of yoga. Pattabhi is very clear about this. He says to get the benefits of yoga we must practice it a long long time, continuously, without interruption, and with devotion. So to me the diversity is where we all start, this is the important thing – to start – we all have to start somewhere.
“My teacher Tiwari would say if we use one finger to point out,
there’s always 3 fingers pointing back. It’s a really great thing to think about.
Hey you with the hummer – I got three things I need to look for in myself
before I need to do anything else.”
Once we’ve made the start on the yogic path, that’s the unity. The diversity is in the external approach, but the unity is in the inward experience. You just need to find a teacher and a system that can take you deep because that’s where you’re going to grow, and that’s where you need to focus your energy over the long haul. To me this is where there is sameness, the unity again.
Does it matter where you start? No, probably not, I don’t think so, but you need to start. And then you really have to start to pay attention, increase your awareness, and out of that you’ll grow something. A sincere student will always find a teacher. Swami Satchidananda, from Integral Yoga, was once told, ‘You know swami, it’s so hard to find a good teacher’. Swamiji replied, ‘Let me tell you how hard it is to find a good student!’ So one thing I have found interesting in North America is that everyone wants to be a teacher, and no one wants to be a student. This is a lesson for all of us. We all need to cultivate ourselves, ‘How can I become the best student I can be on this path?’. We’re all just learning. Even Sri K. Pattabhi Jois at age 90, after teaching Yoga for over 60 years, said “You call me ‘Guru’, but I am still a student.” That is the attitude of a true Yogi.
AINSLEY MAGNO: To satisfy my own curiosity, what would you say about a yoga instructor or studio owner that drives a hummer? They do exist.
JEFF LICHTY: They drive hummers? So what. Good on them. I mean environmentally, it’s not the greatest thing. Bikram has a fleet of Rolls-Royces. To be honest with you, we are all attracted by material things. Ramakrishna, the teacher of Swami Vivekananda (this great sage who brought yoga to Chicago’s parliament of religions in 1893), says there are two things (I remind you it’s culturally loaded for their time), but basically, the two things that will bring down the yogi are women and gold. And so now I can say for all of us, lust, desire, whether it is for women OR men OR money can bring down the yogi. We get totally distracted with these things and we loose focus. It’s just going to be the way it’s going to be. It’s something to be aware of, especially if you are teaching Yoga, there are always obstacles on the path.
The thing we need to be careful of is not to become envious or jealous of those who have more than we do. I think there’s always a subtle seed of that when we look and we compare ourselves to others. My teacher Tiwari would say if we use one finger to point out, there’s always 3 fingers pointing back. It’s a really great thing to think about. Hey you with the hummer – I got three things I need to look for in myself before I need to do anything else. I got lots to do on my own mat. I don’t need to worry about someone driving a hummer.
AINSLEY MAGNO: I learned in my teacher training course that wearing synthetic clothing restricts energy flow and creates negative energy in the body. Not the ideal outfit for practicing yoga. Is this true?
HARMONY LICHTY: Interesting. Pattabhi Jois says you should never practice on a rubber mat. That’s why we sell cotton mats. Cotton’s ok because it’s natural. Best is a cow dung floor.
JEFF LICHTY: I don’t find it surprising at all. As for the restriction of energy, you would probably have to be a pretty advanced practitioner before it would really even become an issue. There’s probably enough other places for us to look where there is work to do in eliminating negative energy in ourselves rather than revamping our whole wardrobe in order to fix some sort of energetic tie to our clothing. Wear what you feel comfortable in.
Feel comfortable, feel good, and that’s probably going to give you a positive enough mental attitude for our purposes. I think finding what is natural to you is far more important than putting on something, and trying to becoming something that is not natural for you.
That’s really what we want to do in this yoga process at the end of the day. ‘Yoga is the mastery of the activities of the mind-field. Then the seer rests in its true nature’ [from the Yoga Sutras].
Even in the Judo Christian tradition they say that “he who dwells in the secret place of the most high will reside under the shadow of the almighty.” Even Christ said that “the kingdom of god is within you.” There’s all these diverse religious, philosophical traditions that are all telling us and pointing us inward, saying, ‘Look, Go Inside’.
So if we can learn to… understand what is really central, what is really core to us and then learn to grow out of that, we can learn to reside, and BE in that natural place. To me this is really the start of the yoga process. That’s the juice.
AINSLEY MAGNO: Expand on the idea of our ‘core’ in our practice. How do we practically apply this concept in our life?
JEFF LICHTY: [Core is] Who we are and understanding what we are.
The Gita says that doing yoga is keeping the stillness of the mind. This is yoga. Too often we think it’s a set of postures in our society.
It’s about knowing how I can keep my mind steady throughout the hard times and the easy times. It’s easy when everything is just going great in the world – if I’m selling lots and getting notoriety and fame, you name it. But it’s the other times when no one’s buying what I’m selling, no one’s coming, the money is tight, the relationships are hard, the car breaks down, the baby cries and I’m super tired, bone dead tired, and I feel like I don’t have anymore to give. Those are the days when you see if your yoga practice is really working, when we try to keep the mind steady. That’s when the test of yoga comes, not when we’re talking about feeling great. Feeling great is not the yoga – otherwise the practice is simply the substitute for another addiction, like food, or something else that makes you “feel good”. What are you going to do the next time you come and go through a class and you don’t feel great? The yoga is learning to keep the mind steady and not be drawn to one extreme or the other.
“I think finding what is natural to you
is far more important than putting on something,
and trying to becoming something that is not natural for you. “
I was previously married and I remember we were sitting and having a conversation with this great psychiatrist, a family systems therapist, a “therapy guru” of sorts, and at some point I was basically saying, ‘I did my thing, tell me I’m right, tell me I’m right’. And then my ex wife said, ‘nah nah nah, he did blah blah, I’m right, I’m right…’ We had stumped the great guru somehow, As I walked out of there I realized that if I had spent as much energy in trying to be happy as I had in trying to be right, that my life would be a lot better. At that point I decided that part of my core is that I don’t need to be right. This isn’t something that’s really worthy of pursuit. I’m right… sometimes I’m wrong. I try to be right as much as I can, but even with all the best information sometimes I’m wrong.
The bottom line is fighting for being right is probably not the right thing to fight for. If I spent half as much time fighting for being happy I would’ve really learned something.
I did learn, in that situation, one of my core values. I learned what it would take to be truly happy, not momentarily happy (like to be infatuated with my next purchase, acquisition, relationship or my next job or my next pay check or whatever, that’s all superficial) but true deep happiness… the real question is how do we drill to that core? How do we drill to find that water and hit that special place? This is the process of yoga. It’s that centre. Come to that centre, come to that place. In Yoga we must learn how to dwell in that secret place, that most high place, and then from there, learn to radiate something great out of there.
To learn about the spiritual process, the 6 series of Ashtanga Yoga and more, continue reading the interview here.
For more information about Ashtanga Yoga Victoria, visit http://www.ashtanga-yoga-victoria.com.