The Teachers, Vande Gurunam - My Story, Part Three

A few years into my yoga journey, I was blessed with the opportunity to practice with a devoted Ashtanga teacher.  Her name was Laruga Glaser, a Columbus native. At this point, I was just a few years into my journey, but I was practicing every day and I was finally making some progress in the Primary Series.  My friend, Joanie, told me that Laruga was coming back to Ohio to reconnect with family and wait on her pending status for Swedish citizenship. The best thing was that she was also here to teach.

Since the Columbus studios were in disarray at this time, she decided to teach out of my friend's house. I went every day to practice with Laruga and each day she added more detail onto my practice. I was totally into it. Every day, it seemed like I was being guided, but also pushed to a new level. Looking back, I remember how it felt to be in that room with her. She had power. She was so focused that she made me focused.  Laruga was the first person in Columbus that had been to Mysore, India and I could feel the direct connection to the lineage. I spent a lot of time with her, asking questions and trying to learn as much as I could. Yoga didn't come naturally to me and I needed a lot of help. I felt like I always had to work harder than everyone else.

Having a disciplined practice when my life was in chaos did not come easy. But the practice provided a sense of peace in my daily life especially in those early years of recovery. I remember one time after practicing, Laruga said to me, "I've never met anyone like you before."  In my mind, I knew that was true but I had also never met anyone like her before either. She was a great teacher and we both shared the same passion for Ashtanga yoga.  I was in a spot in my practice that needed a lot of guidance. There was so much passion behind her teaching and so much intensity. I loved practicing with her and if she would have stayed in Columbus, I would still be her student today. She taught me the specifics of the practice like proper vinyasa count, how to connect with my breath, how to remove distractions from my practice, and how to work through my perceived limitations. Practicing with her on a daily basis I could sense the authenticity. Columbus had several people teaching Ashtanga, but no one had ever taught me how she did. Her language was simple, not colorful. Her adjustments wer strong and deliberate.  It was an intense period and there was a lot of cleansing on many levels for me. Her presence in Columbus meant the world to me and she came into my life exactly when I needed guidance.

After about 6 months, she ended up getting her citizenship and moved to Sweden. When she left, I felt like the wind was taken out of my sails. There was no longer any teacher in Columbus that had a connection to the Ashtanga lineage and there was a huge void in me.  She had made such an impact on my practice/life and I had progressed more in those six months than I had in the previous couple of years. Her dedication and depth in the practice had a significant impact on my path and life.

Around this time, I began teaching in Columbus. To be honest, I didn't think that I was meant to be a teacher. I had always felt like a passionate student, but never a teacher. I didn't think I had a lot to offer others. I felt like I was still spending a great deal of time cleaning up my life.  I started teaching intro classes for people new to yoga and soon found that it wasn't my calling. Something about it didn't fit. It didn't feel authentic and I didn't know what I was doing. I did this for several months, but I was really struggling to find my way.  I thought that my teaching should come from my own personal experience. I was searching for something. I ended up teaching at treatment centers in Columbus. This was something that totally felt right. I taught drug addicts/alcoholics  like myself the Ashtanga Primary Series. At first, the people hated coming to class. They avoided me when I came to the centers or they would hide in their rooms but after awhile staff in the center started noticing serious changes.  I knew the type of person that they were and I had make the class hard to keep their attention.  They really didn't want to do it.

After a year of practicing on my own, I began searching for a new teacher.  I found the closest teacher, Matthew Darling, who lived over 3 hours away in Royal Oak, Michigan. I was totally excited to find a teacher with the connection to the lineage. At the time, he was the only Level 2 authorized Ashtanga yoga teacher in all of the Midwest.

I packed my stuff and I made my first trip from Columbus, Ohio to Royal Oak, Michigan. I was there for 8 days, and on the first day I knew that I had found my new teacher. Although he was strict, he had an immense amount of devotion and was grounded in the system. The first day I walked up the front door of Ashtanga Yoga Michigan, there was no sign only a sticker of Ganesh guarding the door. I knew I was in the right place.  I walked into the practice space, big pictures of Guruji  and Sharath adorned the walls. The lights were dim but the power in the room was unmistakeable.  You could feel Pattabhi Jois's energy in the room. There was some mystery there. His straight forward approach to the practice and his ability to navigate me into difficult poses was something I hadn't experienced. His adjustments were grounding and strong, kind of like the adjustments I had heard Guruji gave.  I was able to get some real clarity and understanding from his teaching. His community was the best I had ever experienced. They were close knit: everyone knew each others names and everyone had an immense amount of respect for Matthew. He was a teacher and he was theirs and they were proud.

During this trip, I was having coffee with Matthew and I remember asking him if there were any of his teachers that would consider moving to Columbus to start a traditional mysore program.   He said that he had been teaching for 15 years in Michigan and no one had ever searched him out like I had. He looked me in the eyes  and said, "Taylor, I believe you are the teacher who was intended to carry the tradition in Columbus."  I was totally taken back by that.  He also said that if I was going to teach a traditional mysore program, I should start making trips to Mysore, India to study and "drink from the well." Before making my first trip to India, I went back to Royal Oak several times to study with Matthew and started to learn the intermediate series.

Eight months later I made my first trip to India so that I could "drink from the well," as Matthew had encouraged me to do. I was going to India and this is were I would meet Sharath Jois. My life would be forever changed.
To be continued...