Svadhyaya:” Commentary on a Yoga Teacher’s Sabbitical

After leaving the restaurant that rainy evening, I quietly walked up Nishi-Gotanda towards my apartment.   Worn to a frazzle from all of the weekend’s festivities–I still had to pack, meticulously clean the apartment, and be prepared to leave by 1:00 p.m. the next day, July 2.  Although I had been organizing off-and-on throughout in the week, I found that I still needed to make room in my three suitcases for new things, which meant getting rid of the old.   As I quickly got busy tearing into this herculean task, I began to think about a concept that had periodically crossed my mind – that this entire experience was somewhat like a “sabbatical.” I realized how lucky I was to have the opportunity to really immerse myself and concentrate on teaching, learning and practicing yoga.    Moreover, the circumstances of this situation allowed me to cultivate, in-depth, many facets of teaching.  At the beginning of each week, I would glance at the teacher-training manual, highlighting topics that I needed to spend more time on–nothing was left out, and then decisively prepare for upcoming sessions.  Luckily I had the foresight to bring a small library of yoga books (costing me more at the airport), which provided invaluable research support.   Instead of circumventing topics that I found intimidating I boldly approached, yoga philosophy, the Yoga Sutras, subtle body, anatomy–and lectured for hours on them.  I once e-mailed one of my friends to say that I suddenly felt like a “yoga scholar.”   For the first time I began to grasp the essence of subjects that had perplexed me for years and now saw the potential for deeper understanding through continued study, future trainings or use through other applications.  Furthermore, the five classes I taught during the week pushed my professional boundaries: Level 1, Level ½, Level 2/3, Yoga Therapeutics, & “Vinyasa Flow and Meditation” and four workshops, offered variety, a chance to create interesting sequences, and develop workshop content. The workshops were new for me and I was able to develop an inspiring project to move forward —“Living a Better Life Through Yoga” will continue on. 

In conjunction with this intense yoga immersion, I was able to focus on myself–although the photographs of the Tokyo training show me interacting socially, in reality I spent a lot of time alone—with my thoughts, positive and negative.  A sort of  “vipassana”–with deep-rooted samskaras persistently rising to the surface, forcing me to process and face my obstacles (klésas).   “Svadhyaya” one of the niyamas outlined in the eight-limbs of Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras, describes the concept of  “self-study” where we examine not only spiritual texts, but also ourselves–even our physical practice can be a form of personal discovery.  Coincidentally my life in L.A. before venturing abroad was full of conflict and I was at a crossroads–weary, suffering from chronic back & joint pain, stressed financially, I asked myself,  “Can I continue on this path as a yoga teacher?”   Constant mental chatter –chitta vrittis– clouded my thoughts, limiting my ability to be focused and organized.  Although my colleagues reassured me, I didn’t feel competent or ready to lead training, “Why me?” I asked.  Yet, I felt I had nothing to lose by coming to Tokyo.  My brother, Alaric Phillips said that maybe I would find the answers and solutions while I was away. He had also given me the Japanese version of the Rosetta Stone as a “bon voyage gift” adding another stimulating component of learning. 

Busy sorting clothes, dishes & cookware in the early morning hours, the packing and cleaning was now in full swing. This simple, modest room was like a sanctuary–a home away from home, with its intimate space equipped with a tiny kitchen, bathroom and even a washing machine.  The television offered invaluable insight into Japanese traditions and popular culture and cooking.  Setting a weekly schedule of self-practice, I placed my mat on a sliver of floor space, and for up to two hours or more, worked on poses that were challenging to me, honestly addressing the parts of my body that offered the most resistance–something I couldn’t manage to do in Los Angeles.  Slowly my back pain started to go away, stress subsided and I lost weight ( 10 lbs!).  The impossibly hard bed actually became comfortable and the claustrophobic cramped space actually became cozy.  “Overcoming obstacles that come your way.” 

As I taught Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras to my students, a number of the aphorisms applied to my personal circumstances.  “Atha Yoganusasasnam”(1.1) as we all started out on this journey together, I began to learn and appreciate yoga again through new eyes and filtered through a new environment and language. “Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodaha” (1.2) as I worked on confronting my personal obstacles (klésas), the” ripples in the lake” became clearer and I was able to see my true self “Tada Drastuh Svarupe Vasthanam” (1.3)

Slowly I began to see what was wrong with life in L.A., with teaching yoga, and I started thinking of solutions.  Since I was able to experience three months of “bliss” where absolutely nothing went wrong, I realized that there was nothing wrong with me—I just needed to make better choices in my personal and professional life:  Slow down the chatter, get organized, stop dreaming, and face reality.  I thought to myself, “I hope that when I get back, that I can continue to connect the dots…

The next day, after thoroughly completing the tasks, I turned to look at the sparking clean apartment and neatly packed suitcases.   Arisa came to take me to the Prince Hotel in Shinagawa to catch the bus to Narita Airport.



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