My story, my calling | Valerie Fimat-Faneco
The way I came to yoga is not different from the way most people come to it: a corporate job, too much stress… and the realization that “something is missing”.
This realization happened to me when I was living in Hong Kong in 1993. I was 25 years old when my boyfriend (now my husband) took me to my first yoga class. It has been 25 years! As I am about to turn 50, it is interesting to reflect on how yoga has shaped my life these past decades.
The milestone that changed my life happened in December 1999 in Melbourne. I was a freshly certified teacher, having completed a one-month YTT course before moving to Australia with my husband. I signed-up for a one-week seminar led by TKV Desikachar, son of Krishnamacharya (hailed as the “grandfather” of modern yoga). The seminar was titled antar-anga-sādhana, the process of meditation as outlined in Patañjali’s Yoga-Sūtra—and this piqued my curiosity because it suggested that what we called meditation was actually a part of yoga rather than a separate practice.
According to Desikachar, the key definition of yoga is “relationship”. First, there must be a one-to-one relationship between a student and a teacher for any kind of growth and learning to happen. “If there is no student, there is no teacher”: it might seem obvious, but still worth remembering in the era of virtual learning platforms. Secondly, we should seek conscious relationships with what surrounds us: family, friends, colleagues, the environment… And last, but not least, a relation to our Self, which is given various names in ancient texts: the embedded jewel (antaryāmin), the soul (ātman), pure consciousness (cit), etc.
My connection with Desikachar started very well: I was struck by his sharp mind, his kindness, and his skill in making the ancient teachings of yoga practical and current, yet never simplistic. I was impressed by the depth and breadth of the Yoga-Sūtra and aspired to go deeper into it. I was delighted when he accepted my request to teach me privately in India the following year.
But soon after that I became pregnant and we moved to Europe for my husband’s job. I could not go to India, so I asked Desikachar to recommend a good teacher in Europe. He replied without hesitation: “You must go to Frans Moors”.
So I signed up for Frans’s four-year teacher training course (the minimum European certification standards are four years). A new chapter of my life was opening: pregnancy, motherhood, a new country… and a long-term course of yoga studies!
Transformation and Protection
I would describe the four years that followed in two words: transformation and protection. I gave birth to two children, lost my father and moved again (to Singapore). Like a good soldier, yoga did its duty and protected me through these upheavals. Indeed, for the average adult, the function of yoga is rakshana, to hold and protect.
By the end of the third year of my yoga course in Belgium, we were settled in Singapore and I was pregnant with our second child. I was determined to complete the course and so flew to Liege several times for week-end classes until the end of my pregnancy. My husband was very supportive. Everyone admired my commitment, but to me it was nothing special. I felt like I owed it to myself for I knew that I could rely on yoga’s constant positive impact on my life no matter what happened and where it took me.
At that point I was already very close to Frans. I was learning what it meant to study under the guidance of a solid humble teacher, an ācārya: someone who is committed to yoga, follows its principles, has experienced ups and downs in life and still walks on the path. Our relationship continues to this day.
Practice and Study
Of course, during those years I was facing the same challenges, doubts and frustrations as every new mother. I was also grieving for my father. It was not always possible to dedicate as much time to yoga as I wanted but the connection was there, and thanks to the kindness of my teacher, I learnt to accept the situation. I also learnt the importance of dharma: performing one’s duty. These were valuable life lessons.
I was also fortunate to attend seminars with Desikachar and several other excellent teachers on my annual visits to Chennai. On numerous occasions he asked me to translate his open lectures from English to French, and our connection then was very special. In 2007 I obtained the Yoga Teacher Trainer Diploma under Desikachar’s supervision. Then I embarked on another four-year yoga therapist certification program in Chennai, while continuing to learn the rigorous and rewarding art of Vedic chanting.
When I reflect on the ongoing learning process of the past 20 years, I realize what a blessing it has been to receive the precious teachings of the Yoga-Sūtra, Yoga Rahasya, Hatha Yoga Pradīpikā, Upanishads and other texts straight from such esteemed teachers. They have nourished my life in ways words cannot describe.
People often ask me what my daily practice consists of nowadays. I do about 20 minutes of āsana, 20 minutes of prānāyāma, and 45 minutes of Vedic chanting. At the moment I am learning Arunapraśnah, a beautiful chant about the Sun. This is the most important part of my practice, a kind of meditation.
And finally, I would say that my practice is not complete if I have not taken a moment to acknowledge my “guardian angels”: Krishnamacharya, Desikachar, Frans, Radha (my chanting teacher), but also my mother and father. Because, as the Taittirīya-Upanishad says, “the first teacher is the mother, the second is the father, then comes the guru”.
Valerie Fimat-Faneco – december 2018