Born in 1964, Bryan Kest has been practicing yoga since 1979, starting when he was 14 years old.
He initially studied in Hawaii with David Williams, the first person to bring Ashtanga yoga to America. He then studied in India with K. Pattabhi Jois, the main proponent of Ashtanga yoga.
Kest has been teaching yoga since 1985. "My primary objective", says Kest, "besides turning more and more people on to a healthier, more peaceful lifestyle that continually challenges them to grow, is to teach a system of exercise that fully integrates the body, mind, and spirit.
The new trend towards yoga is not surprising, given that the body is limited and the mind is limitless. The combination of body and mind creates an incredibly broad range of fulfillment, including top physical condition and a calm, peaceful, clear mind."
The Teacher Within
I've been practicing yoga since 1979. I started in Hawaii that year with David Williams and Brad Ramsey in the 2nd ashtanga yoga class in the world outside of India. The 1st ashtanga class was another class David Williams started in Encinitas, CA that he disbanded to move to Hawaii (Maui) where I was living and attending his and Brad's class. This was a great intro to yoga. It seems like the flower children of the 60's had opened some spiritual doors for western culture and David & Brad and all the people we were hanging out with (all at least 15 years my senior) were all looking to explore the yoga a little deeper. We were all experimenting with something very new.
A new form of exercise which focused more on healthy, clean, organic food that was based on nourishing our bodies first, our taste buds 2nd, not vice- versa. A new lifestyle that focused on quality, not quantity. And also a new view of our relationship with our bodies, our hearts, and our relationships with the people around us, as well as on this planet. This was a very exciting time for all of us. We knew we were on to something very special. Although we definitely were not the first people to experiment with the ideology of yoga, it was very new to us and still very foreign to mainstream America and probably the world. Even mainstream India had put aside these ideas, beliefs and precepts.
The emphasis of the yoga back then was "being connected to something larger than ourselves that we were all part of." It was about community, hugging instead of shaking hands, cooking not just eating. It was about eradicating the things that separate us all, yet respecting the differences between us. It was all so much more than the physical practice, but the physical practice seemed to be the glue holding it all together.
This to me was an amazing intro into yoga. We all had this opportunity to step out of the rat race and live in this very special manner. So the yoga encompassed our life (every aspect). It wasn't just a physical exercise done once a day and then back to the rat race. Not long after I moved to Maui (6 years), I then moved to India for a year to get a stronger hit of this yoga. This was not a common practice for a 24-year-old Detroit boy to move to India to study yoga, so it was very exciting. My destination was Mysore, a medium size town in deep southern India. I wanted to meet and study ashtanga yoga with its main and only proponent (of this variety of ashtanga), Pattabhi Jois.
This was not such an easy and fashionable thing to do back then. The nation's economy was not booming yet, and there wasn't the Internet that seems to have shrunken the planet. And of course, yoga seemed odd to most people. But yoga not being fashionable yet was a good thing for me. I didn't have to deal with any trendy energy, and it all seemed very unexplored, strange, interesting and esoteric. I was following my gut into new territory. So new, that when I found the ashtanga teacher, Jois, there was only one other student there practicing. All the better! I had him all to myself and could absorb as much info as I wanted.
As well as practice every morning with Jois and having tea with him and his wife in the afternoons, I immersed myself in the culture and sought out other yogis and teachers. India was an amazing experience, and I still look forward to another journey there.
Once I returned from India, I continued practicing the yoga I had learned from David and Brad and continued to make an effort to study with teachers and instructors whom I heard good things about.
Now here I am, decades into this journey, still just a child (maybe a teenager) on this spiritual journey. Where do I find myself? What have I learned? What is the point of this article?! What I've learned, I couldn't find words to explain, although I am always trying, and some people understand.
The point of this article is this. Looking back over my experiences in yoga, any and all of the spiritual information I have acquired has not come from someone else. I am not parroting what a great yogi or saint has said; the teachings, the message and knowledge come from me. I find the knowledge that I have congruent with most of the teachings from yoga philosophy as well as that of many great saints. It makes me feel I am on the right track when my understanding parallels that of great teachers and saints. And the parallels make sense because truth is truth.
What I've learned is that my greatest yoga teacher is within! The knowledge I've acquired is a direct result of me quieting my mind and being open enough to receive the teachings coming through. The greatest job any yoga instructor can do is create the right environment for the practice of yoga (quieting the mind) and reinforcing the truths being exposed. Yoga practice is my opportunity to quiet my mind. Stepping away from the judgments and labels that separate me from myself and all things. Quieting my mind gives me the opportunity to tap into the universal depository of all knowledge and all things. This is not something I can control (yet) to the degree I can get any info I want. Yet, when my mind is quiet and open, it seems I fill up with understanding, knowledge and love. This understanding is not intellectual. I can't explain the meaning of life or anything. I simply don't have to explain it because I know it and trust it.
I walk away from my practice feeling whole, complete, satisfied and full. I don't believe any other person can give you that. They can only help you to create the environment, so as you yourself can tap into it. Nobody can do the work for you. I have to untie my own knots. I have to develop the strength to disempower my own habit patterns. Nobody can do this for me. And this is what the practice is all about. Quieting the mind means disempowering the habit patterns of thinking, judging, competing and attachment and being open to what I am feeling or knowing. In other words, "the teacher" waits patiently behind the busy mind. And when I quiet my mind (yoga practice) and experience where I am and what I am feeling, the wisdom starts coming through. Real knowledge of whom I am and what I need manifest as it is supposed to. And there the real yoga begins "living my truth."
So let's use our yoga classes and our yoga practice to create the most ultimate environment to quiet the mind, so we can access the teacher waiting inside!!
Pertaining to the physical practice "asana."
The body talks to us in the language of sensation! It says, "that feels good" and "that does not." The reason for this is to keep us safe. Why would we not listen to what we are feeling? How far we go in a pose should be directly related to how it feels and whether we can breathe free, not holding the breath and straining. Remember there is no proof that looser people are healthier or happier people. So we are not trying to get loose, we are trying to get well or maintain wellness. That will not happen if we do not honor what we are feeling. This is not a sport. There is no proof that athletes are healthier or happier people. In my experience, health is a state of balance brought about by moderation among other things. Moderation is the opposite of being extreme. And happiness is a state of mental balance. Not craving and clinging, but accepting who we are and where we are at, instead of rejecting where we are at in a constant pursuit to get somewhere. Most people bring their craving and clinging mentality into the yoga class, and then the practice is polluted. In yoga class and maybe in life, let the practice be, "I am not trying to get anywhere, I am trying to make it OK to be where I am at" because I love myself and value my process!!