When I met my partner John Weddepohl, I felt I was at the peak of my understanding of yoga and yoga practice.
I had read every book out there on the philosophy of tantra, studied the science of mantra and yantra and had a deeply entrenched physical practice, which included an understanding of Ayurveda and how to stay balanced no matter what challenges I faced.
But as our conversation over months unfolded I realized something was missing. I knew how to practice, I had the discipline and I had lots of information about Yoga. But I didn’t know the answer to one essential question. A question that I’d had for as long as I can remember.
It all started when I was about nine. I used to lie in bed and think about how massive the universe was and how small I was. And I wondered how I came to be.
I didn’t have a clue what creation was or how it all worked. Having looked to my parents and teachers for answers, everyone could tell me lots about the world based on science, or their own experience but no one could really answer why we exist.
This existential question drove me to seek answers through religion, and eventually yoga. And in all my years of study I assumed it was impossible to know. Until I met John.
In our first meeting (which by the way was through an email exchange) he told me about his teacher in India and that he’d been studying an orthodox, little known system of knowledge in the tradition of Adi Shankara (one of the greatest Indian sages and the revivalist of Vedanta) and it had quite literally blown his mind.
A few years later (we were still emailing) he let me know he had closed his Yoga studio in South Africa to attend a two year course with that same teacher. Two years later, after completing the course, he shared with me what he’d discovered.
One of the first things he said was:
“It all begins with a single thought. We might put it there or someone else does, but once the thought exists, it is up to us to know what to do with it. A thought itself is innocent. As innocent as an unloaded gun. Once loaded with our desire, we make it a vehicle of our passion, and need to know how to drive the thought. Does the thought drive you crazy or do you drive the thought crazy?
Thoughts have not only 4 X 4 and a high and low range gearbox. They have infinite gear ratios depending on the terrain, and travelling on the highway of consciousness travels at the speed of thought. So once you pull the trigger of your desire you need to know what you’re doing!
Simply put, we need to know how to manage our thoughts.
This means not allowing the thought to take control of you. Imagine getting in your car, starting the motor with the clutch out and already in gear. This is what we do every morning when we wake up. We get up to a thought and drive straight out onto the highway of our lives without even thinking to check left right or behind us!
Then geared, as it were, to that thought, we are out of control, compelled by a single thought. But wait…don't worry- this whole life began with a single thought. The thought and memory of being in the body. Quite a trip. I know its intense. What to do.
This is Gyan Buddhi Yoga.”
Explaining to me that my whole life and my existence began with a single thought was just the starting point. After hours of listening to his insightful teachings I wanted more. But orthodox knowledge rooted in the Upanishads wasn’t the whole picture.
As we talked I discovered that John was a yogi first and foremost. Rooted in tradition and passionate about revealing practices taught to him by the Siddhas in Tamil Nadhu (practices of kriya and pranayama that weren’t well known or readily available to the average seeker) John was absolutely certain that yoga and vedanta were perfect companions.
I was more than intrigued and decided I had to meet him come hell or high-water.
For those that know me, hell did actually freeze over so that we could meet. It was the start of a profound journey which took me straight to the heart of the tradition and answered every single one of my questions.
Told by his teacher to go out and share the knowledge, John was reluctant and I could understand why. After meeting John and studying with his teacher I realized that what I thought was reaching my peak as a yoga practitioner and teacher was more like being lulled into a false sense of security.
In truth there is a limit to what the practices can do. You can chant mantras till the cows come home and do postures until you’re blue in the face and still the deeper questions remain unanswered.
Upanishadic wisdom is designed through a tried and tested methodology to answer those questions.
As John puts it, “for as long as mankind has been questioning the nature of its existence the tradition has been there to provide the answers. You have to know where to look and meet a teacher willing to share.”
Rachel Zinman has practiced yoga for 30 years and taught for over 20 and facilitates Yoga teacher trainings and workshops around the world.
Passionate about Yoga and its many forms, Rachel practices Hatha, Bhakti and studies Gyan Yoga incorporating the traditional teachings of the Upanishads, Yantra, Mantra and Mudra into her workshops.
Rachel is an award-winning kirtan musician and published poet and writes for several online and in print magazines. Her book Yoga for Diabetes, How to Manage your Health with Yoga and Ayurveda is being released in October 2017 by Monkfish Publishing.
Join John Weddepohl in Mullumbimby for a workshop:
Putting the ‘I’ under the microscope: A rare glimpse into the nature of ‘I’ the individual in the presence of self.
June 18th 2017 at the Centre for Mind Body Wellness.
More details and registration here.