In 2014 on Kawau Island at the Stillwaters Yoga Retreat the journalist Jenni-Mc Mannis asked Jude to talk about how she came to yoga and then became a yoga teacher. Here is Jude’s response:
I came to yoga at 29, after separating from a 10-year relationship. My older sister suggested I might like to go along to a yoga class with her as a way of dealing with the grief and separation. So we trotted along from her place on Takapuna Beach to the RSA hall where Peter the teacher.
For a year and a half I was in Peter’s classes as a student doing Iyengar yoga. Then he asked if anyone was interested in learning to be a teacher. Dick Bree and I put up our hands, though probably we had the worst practices in the room. We couldn’t do anything, really, but we were very keen and dedicated!
During that period I was working as an early childhood educator, so I was a teacher trainer of people who were childhood educators and also doing a BEd.
I found the yoga practice allowed me to release a lot of stress and tension but, more than that, it allowed me to anchor inside and find out who I was. And I found I could survive in the world without the relationship I’d been in for 10 years and, in fact, that was quite exciting.
Coming from an Iyengar background, Peter was quite a strong teacher. He would push you to your edges all the time and I really enjoy that. I always found it very challenging but quite rewarding.
My focus was more about the emotional body. How could I take this mind, which was very scattered and loved to read and explore ideas, and make it more quiet and focused.
We discovered ashtanga during a workshop at Tauhara. We’d gone off to the hot pools and Dick Bree ran into another yogi, Peter Sanson who had just returned from India where he’d been studying with a guy called Pattabhi Jois, doing a different kind of yoga.
See an image of Iyengar (on the left) and Pattabhi Jois (on the right-) below.
Peter Sanson introduced us to Grahame Northfield who came to our studio and showed us what ashtanga was all about. We were all gobsmacked – seeing someone put their legs behind their head – but we were quite taken by the challenge of the practice, with its vinyasa flow, push-ups, jumping through and jumping back. We were sweating – we were just about dying – but there was something about the challenge that many of us loved. We released more tension and more stress than we ever had before, and we decided we would really embrace this practice.
Of course, my yoga asanas were not great and Graham and Peter were adamant that I should not go to Pattabhi Jois until I could do baddha konasana because he would have stood on my legs to get them to the floor.
So Peter, who was ready, went off to India with Andre Moffat (a yoga academy student and later a teacher). They both loved it and sent back some amazing letters but when they came back they were like cowboys, highly excited and running around giving us massive adjustments so we had to tell them to back off a bit!
But very steadily Peter and I both embraced the practice. We’d purchased a house together in Ponsonby by then and were working on the house and on building a yoga school.
When we moved from Vulcan Lane to another small studio in High St, I faced a dilemma about the career I was in.
Aged 34 by then, I was doing 60 hour week – teacher training, my own practice, a full-time job and uni study. When I look back, I guess I had tons on energy, being an intense vata/pita person, and I thrived on it.
But then the politics around my job changed. A right-wing government came to power and much of what we’d achieved – such as weaving Maori and multicultural aspects into the curriculum –looked as if it was being jeopardized. I had been in that career since the age of 17, and was now 34 and feeling I didn’t want to be there any more. It gave me a hell of a fright. I was teaching hatha yoga part-time and was the person bringing in the money to help establish our yoga school.
Peter kept telling me to do yoga, meditate and trust the process – and that it would come to me.
Yoga itself was going through a transitional stage in New Zealand. Peter and fellow-teachers Mandy White and Joy Sanders were all practicing ashtanga yoga but teaching Iyengar.
When Mr Iyengar came to NZ in 1990 they had all embraced his training and went off to Puna to study with him there, though they were practicing ashtanga at the same time.
Around that time it became clear to me what I should do. I was sitting there, at the end of my practice, and all of a sudden I thought, “ah – I’ll be a yoga teacher”. It took another year to wind things up and get into a place where I could transition.
I decided to do a massage course and studied ayurveda part-time so while I made the transition, the school was going well enough for Peter to support me. So I was teaching ashtanga and hatha, and doing massage though eventually I let go the massage as it was tightening my shoulders.
By then my body was starting to soften and I was ready to go to Mysore. My first trip was in 1995 and, like Peter, I felt an instant love for India, the food, the people and Gurujit’s teachings.
It struck me that Iyengar was a complete master who made a huge contribution to the world, such as functional anatomy and yoga, and his intensity around learning the sutras and pranyama. It spoke to the part of me that loves to think. But Pattabhi Jois, who had limited English and was excited about Sanskrit and philosophy, was all about saying, “don’t think at all, the practice is all about opening your heart and feeling things”.
When I looked back, I’d come to yoga because I was interested in balancing my emotions, and having a quieter and calmer mind. And here I was, transitioning from somebody who had given me a wealth of technical detail across to somebody who was saying, “don’t think, just feel. Open your heart”.
(See image below of Guruji marrying Jude and peter 2002 in Mysore India)
Through the practice of ashtanga yoga, and silence and Gurujit’s adjustments (which were incredibly deep but executed so beautifully that if you surrendered to them, everything opened), I learned how to surrender.
I experienced him as having an incredible gift of moving my body in a way which, looking back, made me wonder if his anatomical knowledge was very organic because he would put his hands on me and joints would just open.
I’m sure it was because I would just surrender up to him because I saw him as a man who oozed loving kindness – someone who was very humorous and very heartfelt.
People say in his early days Guruji was very different. He’d lost one son who had suicide and another ran away to live in America. There’d be a lot of pain in those experiences. He came from a poor village but ran away at 13 after meeting Kirshnamacharya and became a professor of Sanskrit. He always said yoga saved his life and that these practices allowed you to be with the bitter and the sweet in life. So one has to be able to embrace things one wants to resist and resist things that one is drawn to strongly but don’t give peace of mind.
What was so powerful for me was that after the practice, he would go around the pictures of deities in the room, putting fresh flowers on them and waving incense and chanting. I was always struck by that – not by the action but the peace of mind I saw in him.
I had an experience one day where he adjusted me in this pose and I don’t know what happened but it was probably a split second (it felt like eternity) when, for the first time in my life, I completely let go and felt at one with everything.
And then it was as if something called me back. He said “good” and I realized I was lying with one leg on the floor and the other up. He was adjusting me and my toe was on the floor behind me. I knew in that second he wasn’t saying, “good, your foot is on the floor”; he was saying, “good, you let go into that place”.
I guess that’s what he taught me – you can surrender, be at one, quieten your mind and that happens from time to time.
The rest of the time you’re learning that everything is in flux, nothing is stable and fixed, and how to dance on the rug of life when it is always shifting and moving. How do you do that in a way where you can have compassion for yourself and for others?
The blessing I have is to be with a man who is so dedicated to these practices, and that both of us have embraced them. That makes it so much easier. We’re both interested in a diet, which allows us to have bodies that are clean, and in having more balanced emotions. And we’re both interested in developing and investing in Stillwaters ( an island yoga retreat centre dedicated to Sri K Pattabhi Jois) so, as we get older, we can come into nature an hour and a half from the yoga shala and do some deeper meditation and deepen our practices as older people.
So I have this wonderful mirror and we’re both on the same journey.