Tillie and Lela teach together in Seattle after each spending time at the ashram. Below you can read two articles where they were interviewed about their experience:
What was your experience at Shri Kali like?
I was in Shri Kali in March 2014 and my experience was profound. I didn’t know what I was walking in to. My sister had been studying there for about 6 months. I had nothing but an amazing opening experience. A lot of that was because I had no expectations so everything was positive, as I had nothing to compare it to. I remember telling Whitney that I had walked in to something that I was pretty much born to do. Ever since I left I have been thinking about India and Shri Kali. I have been trying to spread the teachings as much as possible.
I had the exact opposite experience from Tillie. I was just traveling through India and I wanted to come by and see a familiar face. I knew Whitney from the States. I was going to stay for a week and then after studying for that week, I decided to stay for a month. For the first three weeks I actually hated it is because I wouldn’t let it work for me. They were telling me to relax; I resisted this so much. But then something happened by the fourth week. I let go of everything and all my āsanas were perfect. I felt strong, self-empowered and I had endurance. I can’t explain it in words. It was like the veil was lifted and I could see from my true self. I wanted nothing more than to live from this place. When I came back to Seattle, I wanted to scream it from the rooftops, for people to find this true self. Now, we do that here with Shri Kali Seattle.
What changed about you after your time at Shri Kali?
A lot came up in the training; a lot of limitations within me came up. The experience of myself has changed. I am a lot more accepting of who I am and a lot more forgiving. I no longer run into an excess of demeaning thoughts about myself. I am gentler on me, which means I am also gentler on others. As a social person, I realized when I got to Shri Kali that I had insecurities that I hadn’t dealt with. Now I am able to teach in front of 35 people without any problem, so maybe the biggest thing that I have noticed is that I am a lot more comfortable with who I am.
I feel more self-confident. I grew up with a lot of body issues because I have always been a ‘bigger” girl. I just never gave myself enough love, but these days, I am very relaxed and soft. I make it a point to be good to myself because when I am good to myself, everything else just falls in to place. I was a very stressed out and anxiety-ridden person with low self-esteem and low body image but now I just feel like I am on top of the world. Another Shri Kali student once told me that Bhagavan said, “If it doesn’t feel good, then why do it?” Here in America, we do a lot of things that don’t feel good, but that is no longer how I live. This has become my motto on life, “Do what makes you feel good”. It makes everything so much easier and softer which has made my life.
How has your relationship to Tantra and Yoga changed since your time at Shri Kali?
The first thing I would say is that my relationship to yoga is a lot deeper. Before I came to Shri Kali, it was only about the āsana and now through teaching, my experience has gone deeper as well. I walked away from Shri Kali not caring about how I was doing in my āsanas. My āsanas cultured when I was no longer worried and when I stopped working so hard at trying to make them perfect. I just relaxed and gave them time. For me, yoga is no longer just about the āsanas. Yoga is a way of life. Yoga is about how you relate to the world around you and yourself; it is all-inclusive. My life is yoga.
I feel the exact same way. It is about love and living with your heart wide open. The āsanas are great but it is just a way to get to where we need to be, to get to know yourself.
How has your experience been after leaving the ashram and going back in to the world?
When I first left Shri Kali, I had a hard time reintegrating. I got slapped in the face a few times by the world. Luckily, Whitney is a good friend of mine; my sister was there for a long time; and I made a lot of good friends there at the time, so I was able to work through it with them. However, it was really hard because I felt like I had put Shri Kali on a pedestal. It is almost as if we were living on the moon at the ashram, so separate from reality here in the states, so when I came back to the states, I had a hard time understanding who I was versus the culture around me. It took me a solid eight months to integrate and come back here to where I am. In February, I finally woke up one day feeling very different and I realized that there is no difference now with where I am and who I am versus when I was at Shri Kali. The environment changes but nothing else is different. My body is the same; my soul is the same. I was able to look at things and begin to enjoy my life here.
I truly believe that when you meditate and let go of things that you are holding on to, that you can look in to your future and see your path. I have always lived my life that way. While I was at Shri Kali that last week, when things began to click in to place, I knew exactly what I would do when I got back. It was within the first week that I met Tillie and that we started Shri Kali Seattle. It’s been non-stop! I knew exactly the steps I was going to take and how I was going to do it. In fact it wasn’t till a month later that I felt my jetlag set in, as I didn’t stop running from the time I touched the ground in Seattle. It has been just how I envisioned it happening.
What aspects do you like most about the Kaula Tantra Yoga System?
I like that this it gets you out of your conscious mind, so that the monkey mind that is just running on a wheel all day long, relaxes. In the āsana, it is not so much focused on alignment but more on how you feel which is very simple, maybe hard up front but when you just focus on dropping in to yourself and become aware of yourself, not on a conscious level, but on a subconscious level, it is simple and it makes sense. The whole system completes itself. I think that is the most shocking thing to me. I can do the āsanas and be one moment in my monkey brain and then the rest of my day I am relaxed.
I like that you can do this system from whatever level you are at and at whatever pace you are at. It is simple. You can come in and just start with the āsana and that is enough. Later, if you decide to take it further, you can begin to study the philosophy.
Why did you decide you wanted to share this system with others?
I left Shri Kali knowing that there is so much truth to this system that I felt like I needed to share it. So because of that, I was living it, practicing it, thinking about it. I have been studying this since I have been gone and it was very clear since my training that I had to go back and teach. It was an indescribable feeling; it was a shift in me and I knew I needed to teach yoga but I just didn’t know it was going to be this. This is my purpose.
I was teaching yoga in the states for a few years before coming to India but I was still searching for a style that fitted me. I had gone through every different kind of yoga that I could imagine and I finally landed on yin yoga but it still didn’t feel right. I was very disappointed with my experience of yoga in America. There was more focus on how hot the room was or how many crunches you could do. There was never any focus on meditation. I was done and I felt like India was my last love affair with yoga and that if I didn’t find what I was looking for, then it was over. That was sad because I loved to teach. However, once I learned this system and it started to work for me, I had no doubts. Whereas before, when I was teaching, I always felt like there was nothing but ego behind it. But with Tantra yoga, it’s not about my yoga or me. It’s about the student’s experience. There is that great saying that “the teacher will show you the path but the student must walk it”. With any other system I tried to teach, that was never the case but with this system, that is the case. The student has to walk it; they have to take responsibility for their own path and we are just there to show it to them. That just hit me hard, as I then knew this was the system I had to teach. It just jelled with me. I feel comfortable teaching now.
How has your experience been teaching and how has your student’s experience been?
I had a man come in to my first Tantric workshop back in October. At the end of the two-hour workshop, he came up to me and was sobbing. He said to me, “I had a realization during this class that I have been working in the wrong profession my whole life and I need to change my life.” This realization was all his own. I had nothing to do with this. I created the space for it but Tantra did its work because he was ready. He was ready to see the world differently, he was ready to question his life; he was ready to see himself. From the time of that last workshop, I watched this man quit his job and make so many positive changes in his life.
The other day, I had another student come up to me and say, “Tillie, I have been doing yoga for a long time, but this system has quietly affected me in a profound way. You have sunk in to my skin. You have done it very silently and I am forever changed. There is nothing like you and this āsana.” Those are just two different experiences but both amazing. I have nothing but good responses. I have between 18-20 people between each class and they are all dedicated. They love it and they miss it when it’s not being offered.
I didn’t think that teaching would go as deep as it has, but with teaching, there are almost no words to describe. My relationship with Tantra, now that I have been teaching it and I have seen these changes within my students and within myself, has been incredible. I am able to do my practice while I teach. I never thought that I could meditate and teach at the same time, but I am. It’s amazing. I practice with my students. I can teach with my eyes closed. They trust me and I trust them. There is this mutual respect for me to trust them to take care of themselves and for them to trust me to guide them.
One of the spots that I teach at is in the park. I offer $5 yoga classes in the park as my karma yoga and for that we get a lot of people showing up. Just last week, I had 15 people. It’s nice that people come together because they are interested in it even though they don’t even know what it is. Students are always saying that Seattle is a stressful city. Both Amazon and Microsoft are here and there are a lot of people that work for them. It’s stressful and it’s a high cost living city. People are so thankful that they actually have space and time where they are given permission to relax.
As far as teaching, I feel good when I am teaching. I feel like I am bringing a service to Seattle, like I am allowing them to relax and drop their ego even if it is just for an hour or an hour and a half.
This following article about Tillie was published by Simona Trakiyska for Seattle Yoga News on Wednesday, April 30th, 2014
FROM INDIA TO SEATTLE: INSIGHTS FROM AN EARTHY YOGI PRACTITIONER
Packing and leaving everything behind is something that many of us have experienced, but doing that so you can meet an Indian guru – now that is something unusual.
Seattle yogi, Tillie Bennett described some of her more advanced yoga experiences at first through Forest Yoga “as a poetry.” Every class she took she felt like the instructor was “speaking a language to her soul that made her body flow” with coherence.
After only one week of Forest Yoga practice, at the Kula Studio in the Ballard neighborhood, Bennett realized that this was the path she wanted to take in life and she was determined to learn. Through a family member Bennett found out about the Indian guru Shanmukha Anantha Natha, who has been teaching for over 40 years. The school, named Shri Kali Ashram, is in India where Natha teaches Tantra, a meditation focused practice. The training does not teach practitioners how to compete but how to work together and accept one another.
Bennett was drawn to this philosophy and knew that this was where she wanted to be and learn while gaining a deeper understanding of the practice of yoga and life. She left Seattle earlier this year to travel to India and study under Natha for five weeks.
The teaching philosophy of the program is that “yoga is a science, not a sport or a game,” and that “yoga by its nature never teaches competition. Competition means that one is always comparing and contrasting to external measures.” (shrikaliashram.org)
The training took place in the Indian village Galgibaga, by the beach. The teaching program offers different hours of completion in order to become a certified instructor and part of the Yoga Alliance worldwide. The training teaches a variety of wisdoms, from the Tantra yoga practice itself, to how to balance your day-to-day life activities, how to listen to your body and mind, as well as how to learn to accept who you are without judgment.
Trantra’s students mornings start by Ayurvedic (walking massage) at 8:30 a.m., and right after they do Asanas. The first meal of the day is about 11 a.m. and they have nutritious fruits and vegetable, such as fresh papaya and curd homemade yogurt – good for probiotics. Lunch is at 1 p.m., soon after breakfast to give them enough time to digest the food before their afternoon practice. Late in the day the students have a lecture about the physics of their body in addition to how to read, sing and write Sanskrit, the philosophical language of Hinduism.
On the other side of the training:
“I never though I was strong enough,” Bennett said but her longing to learn and teach yoga, from the Kula studio in Ballard through the Pacific Ocean to India, helped her to achieve inner peace, to gain courage and to stop worrying. In her practice today Bennett “visualizes exhaling her frustrations through her breath,” and she feels lighter. “I could see them leaving my body.”
“I am no longer bothered about any preconceived notions and I just feel relaxed.”
Bennett was able to transform herself and her vision of the world through her journey. She learned to let go.
“I am not competing with myself anymore, I don’t hear negative thoughts in my mind,’’ and this, she said, has been amazing gift.
1. How often do you practice/teach? – Bennett practices about six times per week and teaches private and group sessions daily
2. What is your favorite yoga-clothing brand? “Athleta, it is comfortable and it allows me to move. I like it, but I definitely don’t need it.”
3. What is your favorite pose and why? – “Forearm Balance Pose is my favorite because it is an inversion in a way – you see the world from different perspective. It feels like things that I hold it my body or emotions that are suck somewhere are flowing.”
4. Where would you like to see the Seattle Yoga community in five years? “There is a revolution going on, I can see more people seeking a spiritual awakening, and much more people are doing it – Seattle is a city of open minds and hearts.”
5. If you have one advice for people who do not have the time to attend yoga practices very often what would you tell them? – “Find time to breathe, just try to relax for a second. Do not manipulate your breath in any way. Try not to be involved with anything, just be a human.”
This article is part of the Yogi of the week series in which we highlight a yoga teacher or yoga practitioner in the Seattle area. If you know someone who you think we should write about, make sure to send us a note with the details. Don’t miss out on discovering new yogis in the Seattle area so make sure to subscribe for free to the Seattle Yoga News digital publication sent directly to your inbox each week.