Meet Heather Morton, the yoga teacher leading the retreat at Shreyas in August 2014

H.Morton Yoga Teacher

Heather studied yoga with Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, having to wake up at 3 am for her 4.30 am yoga practice slot with the Master. Find out more about her years of yoga journey below.

Tell us about your style of yoga and how you came to it.

AtmaVikasa is the name of my yoga center located in Mysore, India. It was founded by Yogacharya V. Venkatesha and his wife Acharye Hema on the basis that true knowledge arises from practical experience. The word ‘Atma’ means soul and ‘Vikasa’ is path, which refers to an ever evolving practice.

My teaching is a classical form of hatha yoga derived and inspired from my teachers. The sequence includes the sun salutations, standing, balancing and back bending postures, to seated poses and inversions as well as yoganidra. Meditation and pranayama are also key elements of the practice.

What makes the system special is two-fold. First the technical aspects like the breath, inner awareness and alignment are integral aspects of the practice. Second is the emphasis on self-practice by teaching students ‘how’ to practice independently.

The practice is focused on the process; learning, unlearning and relearning how to work with one’s body and mind. An emphasis is placed on the therapeutic value of Yoga in that the final pose is not as imperative as the journey.

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You’ve studied with Shri Patthabi Jois – how was it?

Studying under Shri K. Pattabhi Jois (also known as Guruji) was a pivotal point in my journey and a life-altering experience. It was my second trip to India and I was very new to yoga; I had never practiced Ashtanga yoga before. It was also a rare privilege to be taught directly under Guruji because there were only 6-7 students in the shala. My time slot was at 4:30 a.m., which meant I had to get up at 3 a.m. The practice affected all areas of my life including what I ate, how long I slept and when I went to bed. It was a very memorable period as Guruji taught me the primary series of Ashtanga yoga pose by pose including postures I never dreamed were possible. This built my confidence and the ability to set greater heights for myself. He also conveyed a faith in me that I myself did not possess at that time. It was such a unique experience, because Ashtanga Yoga was not very popular at that time and when I first met Guruji I sat alone with him. He told me several things that were true about my practice without even seeing me practice.

You’ve been to India numerous times. What draws you to this country and what’s your most favorite spot and dish in India?

Yoga. This was my first and foremost reason. I had no other purpose. My feeling was if I wanted to learn yoga than I had no choice but to travel to its homeland and study under authentic Masters. I had no foreseen plan I would then travel annually to India as a result of the first trip. No one in my family was interested in Yoga or India and my mother was worrying about me traveling alone. She kept asking me, “hadn’t I learned enough?” For me, it was never enough, because the more I learned the more I knew I did not know. This year marks my 16th consecutive trip.

India like Yoga got under my skin and into my heart. I wanted to visit her people and places and get beyond yoga classes, and ashrams. Each year I travelled alone throughout India for several weeks. India is a very sacred country, but I do not romanticize it as many Westerners tend to. During my 2-year thesis work on yoga in the school system in India, I visited many Indian families. I ate in their homes, shared in their joys and struggles and got a very real taste of Indian life.

One of my favorite spots is Rajasthan and the Himalayas. I was enthralled with the desert, the temples, forts and the tea fields. My favorite dish is a vegan thali served on a banana leaf.

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How did you feel to be leaving acting and modelling career behind when starting on a yoga journey? Did the previous experience help?

It was bittersweet because my dream was to become an actress. However, yoga helped me embark on a journey that was nourishing my spirit and uncovering hidden talents. During my modeling and acting days, I had accumulated many negative ways of thinking and living. I had issues with my body, an eating disorder and I felt I was never good enough. My life was in need of healing so I left Canada and lived in Korea for 2 years. I completely immersed myself into with what was my ‘true’ education. I travelled alone throughout East Asia, lived with Korean families, studied Buddhism and began teaching.

In Korea, I lived and worked as an English and yoga teacher. I was teaching a lot and I remember feeling how my acting skills like voice projection and use of gestures made the teaching fun. Because I had no prior training as a teacher, I really relied on my acting skills to impart my knowledge onto others.

When I returned to Canada, I embarked on formal yoga training programs where I lived at Sivanada ashrams. I made my first trip to India in 1999. Later on, I returned to university to earn an educational degree and a Masters, with a thesis on children learning yoga in school in India.

In the end, leaving the modeling world was more liberating than an unfulfilled dream. Yoga opened my mind to the possibility of life being full of dreams while acting helped me remember we play many roles in a lifetime.

What can people expect from your upcoming retreat in Shreyas Yoga Retreat?

People can expect to receive personal attention and individualized instruction. These are the trademarks of my teaching and what I became well known for in Toronto where I ran my Yoga school for 15 successful years. People can also expect to feel their needs are being met as well as their abilities challenged and strengthened. Although I am teaching the physical postures of yoga, a central aspect is the therapeutic value of the practice and learning tools for meditating, and relaxing.

For me, teaching is an exchange where I share my knowledge and experiences but am always learning from the people I teach. My classes are inspirational and motivational in which I hope to instill the belief in the endless possibilities of the each person’s spiritual journey. My personal practice is a testament to the struggles, set-back and life challenges I have faced and share. Overall, my intention is for people to take away with them life changing tools and skills in becoming more peaceful and loving. My wish as a teacher is that they learn how to self-practice and make Yoga a part of their daily life.

Book a retreat with Heather Morton at Shreyas Yoga Retreat here: http://www.shreyasretreat.com/offers.htm

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