I came to yoga with no understanding of its meaning or history. Wearing a full-length fur coat I took my first yoga class with a friend at university. I cringe at the picture of this in my mind today. What I remember about the class was lying on the floor and laughing like a hyena. I later became remotely interested in yoga when I was able to take free classes at a yoga centre in exchange for working as a receptionist. I had no “real” interest in yoga and would describe myself as ignorant.
By “real”, I am referring to being interested in the theory behind the practice. After a brief introduction and dabbling from class to class it fell to the way-side. Like many people, I was drawn to yoga for physical reasons; I thought I might get a great workout. I did not consider yoga as a way of life or a body of theoreticial implications. My ‘real’ interest in yoga was ignited when I left Canada and moved to South Korea; a pivotal point in my life. I lived and worked in Seoul for 2 years as an English teacher including living with Korean families. Living amonst the natives allowed me to have a first-hand experience of daily life in the context of their traditions.
While in Korea, I wandered in and out of Buddhist temples. I sat for hours in the temples watching people doing the sun saluations, praying, sitting and/or looking at me looking at them. One of the main temples in Seoul had Buddhist heads on the back wall; looking it one could almost get lost. Other wonderful moments were siting on a crowded bus and looking out of the window at the biggest sun I had ever seen. It was exactly like the picture books of an orange ball blazing in the Asian sky.
In Korea, I was searching for the meaning of life and trying to find the answers. I had unknowningly packed a yoga book that became my practice and teaching manual. Purchased from a health food store in Toronto for fifty cents, I threw it in my bag thinking that I might do some exercise! It was written by Sonya Richmond on yoga and its therapeutic benefits. After reading a section of the book, I practiced a few of the postures and I decided I would trying teaching it. I rented the main level of a Lutheran Church in Seoul for several hours each week. My classes were mainly women from Europe and other parts of Asia including North America. No one asked about my credentials and several students tape-recorded the sessions. When I returned to Canada in 1997, I decided to take a formal yoga program at an ashram in California. One program led to another one until I realized that I needed to go to India. During my first trip to India, I was immersed in a program with dailiy meditation at 4:30 a.m. and 6 hours of pranayama (i.e., breathing exercises to direct the energy).
Today, I have a deeper background as compared to my half-hapzard start. In 1997, I founded The Yoga Way, a school for structured programs that provides individual attention and teaches yoga as a progressive series. It is Toronto’s only school for programs and not drop-in classes. As a part of an on-going pilgrimage I have returned annually to India to study under my teachers since 1999.
My journey has not been a straightforward one. There have been many twists and turns including an evolution within the traditional styles of Sivananda yoga to Ashtanga to AtmaVikasa. No one in my family (past or present) had any interest in yoga. My grandmother’s question, “How’s the yo-go going” is case in point. I was frequently faced with doubts, criticisms and fear. Why didn’t I get a real job, why didn’t I focus on something more secure and why India again? However, I steadfastly pursued my passion in which Yoga has become the vehicle toward a fulfiling and self-created life.
Heather Morton is part of a select group of people certified in AtmaVikasa Yoga. She is the first Western student to be certified in both the 1st and 2nd series of the AtmaVikasa system. Having made 12 extended trips to India, she studies with her teachers annually. In 1997, she founded The Yoga Way (TYW), Toronto’s only yoga school for programs. Heather developed the 6-week programs with smaller and progressive classes. She holds a Masters of Education from York University with a thesis on yoga in the Indian school system. She has produced a CD on meditation, DVDs on backbends of yoga and podcasts for practice. TYW holds karma classes, workshops, programs and private sessions. Heather has been featured in the Toronto Life Magazine and various articles on yoga. You can find more about Heather here.