Ah Roger, Roger, Roger. A teacher who makes it difficult for students to find him. A man with previous lives in dance and theatre. Someone I am dearly looking forward to doing a class with.
Roger grew up by the beach in Seatoun. States that his teenage and early adulthood was stressful – low-grade family life/nasty boarding schools. One thing lead to another – drugs and self-harm. Spiritual practice was a lifesaver – O.K now. Some would suggest, more than O.K. now.
Roger’s been teaching professionally since 1998. Used to teach yoga in many places, now you’d be lucky – or at least diligent – to track him down. Which is exactly why serious yoga students still will.
In his own words:
- Character: Lazy. Cultural snob. Solitary. Sloppy dresser. Not a team player. Says the wrong thing. Anti P.C. Dull company.
- Favorite movie: Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
- Likes: Rubber bands, submarines
- Dislikes: Folding clothes
- Favorite singer: Scott Walker
- Instrument: Classical guitar
- Holidays: Hard-core solo tramping
- Wimpy: Can’t bear swimming in cold water – i.e Wellington at any time of the year.
- Biological family: No
- Austerities: Fasting, amaroli, sexual continence.
- Indulgences: dark chocolate, high quality Japanese green teas, quality beer.
- Pets: Frogs and tropical fish – nothing with fur.
- Professional: Private currency and stock options trader.
- Restaurant: Kazu -Tory St
1. What style of yoga do you practice and where do you teach?
Hatha Yoga and Raja yoga: meaning asana, pranayama, dharana and dhyana. I’ve never practiced a particular style of Hatha Yoga, just engage with it as clearly as I can.
Currently I teach public classes in Island Bay, Ngaio and Cambridge terrace in the city. I don’t have a guru, (at least not yet), nor can I cite a certain yoga teacher as ‘my teacher’, more shame to me. However, I have deep knowledge of the body, which has qualified me to teach asanas well. There have been excellent teachers in my life, Vikki Quill was one.
2. How did you come to Yoga?
I was often home sick as a child with asthma and bronchitis. My mother was a housewife in the ’70s and a little paperback came to the house, James Hewitt’s ‘The Complete Book of Yoga’. I can still see the cover in my mind. I remember her and her friends getting together and trying a few postures, which generated great hilarity.
The book ended up in my room. I was interested in the pictures and strange concepts he described. I would have been about eight or nine.
I’d put a blanket on the floor and remember doing inversions, lotus, cobra, forward bends. Also pranayama. As a result of this childish interest, my health improved. This amazed me, the child, and I knew this stuff was special. It had a certain fragrance I loved, and Hewitt’s delicate and reverential, yet inquiring prose awakened something.
There was also a section in the book that described Tibetan ‘dream yoga’, and mentioned a technique of counting backwards from 10 to 1 as you are falling asleep, the intention being to keep awake as the body falls asleep, and so enter consciously into the dream state. I remember succeeding at this – effortlessly. No one had told me it was hard. Such is the genius of childhood.
This all dropped away. I was not a yoga prodigy. But the memory remains clear and precious today. This was my auto-initiation, and made returning to yoga natural.
3. When did the yoga bug really get you?
After attempting to find true knowledge through university studies and realising the futility of it, I sought knowledge through the body, studied a martial art, then a beautiful discipline called Noguchi Taiso, and finally joined the world of contemporary dance.
I was training hard at the VCA in Melbourne in 1989, an unhappy young man who was struggling to become someone. I lived next to the botanical gardens. For release, I’d often wander in the gardens at night with my dear companion – a bottle of wine. Deep inside I knew I was in trouble. Walking in the gardens that year I had a strong sense of ‘something trying to get through to me’. Divine help was trying to get through. I was keenly aware of this, which mystified me, so I just drank more.
The following year catastrophe struck. I was badly injured in a hip joint and had to stop dancing and leave the college.
The orthopedic surgeon pronounced that I needed ‘experimental reconstruction surgery’, and the only surgeon who could do it was based in Switzerland, and I’d need $20K to cover it – and it might just help, but no more dancing. Neglecting this would certainly result in needing a double hip replacement by the time I was thirty.
In one moment my identity was destroyed, I was facing an impossible surgical bill and was in constant physical pain. Devastation. For the next year my hip ached so much it was only possible to walk for an hour at most. I stayed in bed.
(You see, to me, and any real person, yoga is not a plaything for the ‘idle affluent’, the bored middle-class white women who have a vague urge to improve themselves. Yoga is life and death, utterly serious. It goes beyond this life.)
By grace- and it seemed like the moment after I was destroyed- I was given a little book which changed my path utterly. I went to live alone in the country for a year, drawing a invalid’s benefit, and set about the inner journey of healing.
(postscript: After a few years off, I did return to dance in my early thirties, dancing with more freedom and expression than previously, though I never achieved the technical level I yearned for. I never had an operation- my hip still aches a little, but allows me to do practically everything).
4. How has yoga transformed your life?
Personal, real, daily practice has made the -difficult at best- business of daily living smoother.
I know contentment, and sometimes, peace. I still get upset, and suffer from poor habits, but I’m quickly pulled back to the stillness. It’s like I have a low tolerance for misery.
Oh yes, I just remembered – there’s Divine Communion.
5. What is your home practice like?
It’s like clockwork: Sitting mediation, being in the stillness, is number one. Morning is for Dhyana and nadi shodana (1 hour). Late afternoon is for inversions followed by dhyana or yoga nidra.
In addition, I dig tratak bigtime and other dharana practices, and do these at certain times. Sometimes I do regular asanas, too. My partner is the same, in that she has a rock-solid personal practice. It’s easy to live with another yogi.
6. When people ask you, “What is Yoga?”, what do you say?
That depends on who is asking.
If it’s a casual inquiry about Hatha Yoga, I like to say ‘the asana practice is not exercise but contains exercise’.
Actually I hate that question, though not as much as “What style of yoga do you teach?”. That question I actually despise. Please don’t ask any more horrible questions.
7. What can people expect from one of your classes?
A friendly, enjoyable class with a charming, handsome hunk leading it.
The asana classes I teach are pretty hard nowadays, for instance everyone does mayurasana (peacock pose). There is improvisation and partnering too.
I’ve largely withdrawn from teaching technically, and simply want the folk to engage fully and enjoy.
Going to a group class exclusively ‘does not the yogi make’.
I’ve observed over too many years that the group class experience is utterly inadequate, for reasons you should already know, and if you don’t, you probably don’t care.
The classes I teach now are more honest – simply to give the folk a wonderful asana experience, and my abiding hope is that now and then a yogi will be awakened.
I make an utter distinction between ‘the group class’, and ‘real yoga practice’ – which is solitary.
8. What do you love most about teaching yoga?
Superficially, I’m comfortable in front of a group and much delight ensues in that situation. More deeply, I’ve always known I am required to do this and when I see light coming from an individual as a result of their good effort, or I see that someone has actually begun to become a yogi, quiet fireworks go off inside me.
9. What do you wish everybody knew about yoga?
You know, I don’t really have those kind of Messianic thoughts. I want my student who ‘does a class once a week’, to taste the sacred through yoga. That’s what yoga is for, remember.
10. What role do you see yoga playing in our world?
Yoga doesn’t play. The world is playing. Yoga is the end of playing.
Swami Pragyamurti has expressed:
We must open our doors and hearts to everyone, so that yoga is no longer seen as a pastime for comfortable middle-class, mainly white, female people.
We must remember the real meaning of the word YOGA, as a spiritual path touching every aspect of a human being, and not a limited obsession with precise positioning of muscles and joints.
I see my teaching now in this spirit. I want to introduce it to people who are desperately ready for it. Others can take care of the ‘give it a go’ crowd.
11. Anything else you’d like to say?
I’m withdrawing from teaching professionally. I haven’t taught a beginner’s course or solicited new students for five years. I’ve pulled down my website.
This allows me to speak freely, because I’m not trying to impress. I don’t care what you think, so if you’re wise, you’ll listen.
Quite soon after I started teaching, I was surprised that people kept returning, re-learning what I’d already covered.
Yet not learning, just ‘doing’. Coming to ‘the perceived expert’.
Gradually I saw that the average person has a profoundly low motivation that I couldn’t budge, and ‘doing yoga classes’ becomes just another part of their weekly routine. I worked very hard to help them progress, arranged it so that they could come multiple times a week, so at least making physical progress was possible.
What a fool I was.
There’s the old martial arts story of the aspirant seeking the master, only to be repeatedly turned away until the master finally and grudgingly allowing entry, but the student is appalled to be loaded with menial tasks and the master apparently won’t teach – this goes on for years until, if the student passes these tests, they finally get the goods – only to realise the main work has already been accomplished by dint of their endurance and tenacity.
I’m not suggesting I’m a ‘master’, but I appreciate this formula – most people who approach the teaching truly are rubbish and don’t deserve it. When new people email me now about coming to class, I ask them to tell me what their motivation is, and why they are asking me in particular. It’s a useful filter. Most don’t reply.
Yet some of my students have made admirable progress, and a very few have become yogis – in that I mean that yoga has become permanent for them – even if they don’t know it yet!
Some excellent people who are growing strongly have come to only a few of my classes before moving on, and a couple of people I used to teach are now teaching yoga themselves. I feel content with my contribution, but if I had to do it all again, it would be different.
The further I go, the more I see yoga practice as intimate and private, and can really only be taught, or more accurately shared, to a class of one. One student – private teaching, as is traditional in India. It’s really impossible to teach yoga, which is why all real spiritual masters teach nothing. It’s an impossible, ridiculous subject- but the miracle is that it is possible to become a yogi, if the individual is ready.
I was ready, and will remain ready.
How about you?
12. And finally, how do people find you?
My email address can be found on the net, but watch out, I bite.