Tim Cummins explains all about the shadow yoga practice and his own personal journey. Click here to view our shadow yoga class schedule at triyoga.
The thing that initially attracts you to something, or someone for that matter, isn’t necessarily the thing that keeps you there. That has been the case with my journey on the yogic path.
My relationship with the school of shadow yoga is a case in point. When I first heard about this system through one of my peers I had been doing a tai chi and qi gong classes for a year alongside my existing Ashtanga Mysore practice and it had transformed it for the better. That, together with my general interest in martial arts (I’d dabbled in my teens) was the reason my ears pricked up when my friend described the system as a mix of yoga and martial arts. Whether that’s an accurate description it’s beside the point, as it did the trick and I investigated further.
I signed up to a week-long introduction workshop with John Evans without suspecting for a second he would become one of the most influential and beloved of teachers for the next 15 years, right up until he quit teaching yoga altogether to focus solely on teaching his true calling, ‘Battodo’, the way of the Samurai Sword.
To be fair there wasn’t much evidence of the martial arts connection in those first classes, but it didn’t matter. It was clear to me immediately that there was much to learn here that I’d not even heard of previously, let alone practised. A whole new dimension opened up as I realised acutely just how little I knew. Although I was half way through the Ashtanga intermediate series I suddenly felt like a complete beginner.
Once I’d acquainted myself with all the shadow yoga preludes (there were four of them, later reduced to three) I could see it was somewhat inaccurate to describe them as a mix of martial arts and yoga, yet it is the sort of soundbite description that people remember and repeat even though it holds little in the way of truly representing the system.
The preludes tap into something essential that is found in a number of other disciplines (including yoga itself) that help the student unlock the full potential of their yoga practice. It is a process of building strength and stamina and breaking down obstructions in the physical body, so that over time and with a dedicated practice, the yogin begins to feel/associate more with the energetic body, which is of course crucial if one intends to work with ever more subtle internal practices. When you immerse yourself in hatha yoga it can be easy to forget that despite the physicality, it is ultimately an internal practice. The physical component is just a means of preparation, of cleaning yourself up.
The first prelude is hard work, I won’t lie, but it’s essential for building the strength for what follows.The second is more enjoyable and is very grounding/stabilising, and the third form is where things really get interesting. This is where the spiralling movements that are familiar to the internal martial arts become more evident. I love this stuff! But if this was all Shadow yoga was about, then after 18 years I’d have got bored and moved on to something else.
It’s impossible to put into a few lines what does keep me here, but I can say the depth of the teachings from the man who founded the school, who lives and breathes hatha yoga, who constantly seeks to unlock the deeper mysteries that elude so many of us practising here in the West, continue to inspire me and refine my own progress inwards towards the source of my being. The internal light which, on some level, we are all drawn to. To be fully bathed in light, one must remove that which obstructs it and casts shadows. We could say therefore, hatha yoga is the removal of shadows.