CHARLOTTE DUFOUR is a veteran in the fields of international cooperation and sustainable food systems. Here she is interviewed by KALPANA SAI of the Heartfulness Institute about the role of Yoga and spirituality in her own mental health and wellness, sharing tips from her experience.
Q: There are many opinions about when Yoga should be practiced, specifically, the time of the day. What is your take on this?
CD: I’m tempted to say everybody should work based on what suits them. I like to do it in the morning before my meditation. I find Yoga to be a preparation for meditation, in terms of feeling the energy flow more smoothly in your body, so that you can go deeper within, while calming the mind.
You can be very creative about how you fit Yoga into the day. I find with my own practices that I so love it when I can have a long session, but the reality of my schedules is not always that. So, I’m constantly reminding myself that five minutes is better than nothing. The bare minimum is three pairs of sun salutations. It takes five to ten minutes, but it makes a big difference. So, adaptation to our schedules is quite good.
Q: How did you inspire yourself to have a dedicated practice? How did you become consistent? And what are some things we can do consistently to show up for ourselves and enhance our well-being, physically, and especially, mentally and emotionally?
CD: Well, it’s not easy. Yoga does take time and discipline. Willpower is a very important element of the spiritual journey. Quoting Yogananda, “The stronger the will, the stronger the energy.” He talked about this inner battle. Of course, the ego will do everything to distract you from meditation. Everything else will be a priority.
I think a big part of bringing Yoga
in a daily routine is to stop and breathe.
For example, take five minutes before a meeting
to do a few yogic breathing exercises.
The first important thing is the environment. I find it much easier when I’m living alone and completely a master of my time. I think it’s harder when you have a family. I really admire mothers with children who continue to practice. You eventually understand that the environment is stronger than willpower. So, it’s about finding the right environment and the right community of friends that support you in your practice.
I also regularly go back to our ashram, as it is easy to dive deep into the practice and remember how much I love it. It’s hard to do alone. I would say regularity and good company. Sometimes you need to go through a phase where you lose your practice. I confess, in recent weeks I very much lost it, and I was not well. I was not even aware of the tensions I had, but as I started practicing Hatha Yoga, it was like, “Oh!” Then, when I started opening up to what my body actually feels like when it’s well, I was more aware of what’s bad for me, in terms of diet and breathing. I think a big part of bringing Yoga in a daily routine is to stop and breathe. For example, take five minutes before a meeting to do a few yogic breathing exercises.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add? What are other things we can focus on, especially, after the repercussions of the pandemic?
CD: You mentioned physical disease, and that’s where the other paths of Yoga are. I read a book that explains how many of the physical illnesses we have happen when one of our soul wounds is activated. When you are able to identify how a particular event has reactivated a wound, you can address it. I remember one time my lower back got stuck, and I observed, “This seems to be around the second chakra. What does this mean? Okay, X is probably what triggered this back pain.” So, on one hand I worked on the Yoga postures, to open up the energy flows and bring the second chakra back into balance, and on the other hand I also worked on the emotional trigger for the back pain. I think this is why we say Yoga is very much about consciousness, awareness, and self-awareness.
Q: I agree. A lot of people talk about awareness as the first step to knowing, because once “you know,” everything else seems to fall into place organically.
In a more general sense, what kind of advice would you give someone who is trying to build a spiritual connection with themselves, or embarking on a journey of self-acceptance, self-love, or just wanting to have a relationship with themselves?
CD: Well, the answer is so personal. I would say, be open to the cues, because when you start wanting to engage in this journey the universe is responsive. You’ll start having a conversation with somebody who gives you an idea or a book. A turning point for me was when somebody shared a book that opened my mind to the idea of reincarnation, souls coming and going, and life having a purpose. But it was later that I found the path of Yoga. So, there were little seeds along the way. When I finally arrived for the self-healing course in Ananda Yoga, it was an incredibly moving moment for me, especially when I found myself in a temple with pictures of all these masters, and reading Jesus.
Yoga is very much about
consciousness, awareness, and self-awareness.
I am moved even thinking about that moment because I felt it was waiting for me. And I think we have an image that Yogananda shares, “It’s good to try the water from different wells; they all go down the same source, the same aquifer.” Once you find the one that feels right for you, stick with it and go deep. There’s being open to what comes your way. What resonates? Where does your heart open? You might retrospectively recognize the signs.
For example, I had such an interest, but at first I hesitated to practice Kriya Yoga as taught by Yogananda. I asked myself, “Do I go into that practice? It’s a certain commitment,” but I was starting to meet people out of the blue from completely unexpected sources who were either doing it or who gave me a book that mentioned it. So, be aware of the signs. Listen to your heart. You know. And if you are having a challenge in your life – be it a personal one, like a divorce or an illness – that might be a cue that it’s a good time to search. I’m so grateful to live in this great time of spiritual opening.
To be continued.
Illustrations by ANANYA PATEL
Charlotte has worked for over 20 years in the field of international cooperation. Today, she is an independent consultant, works with the 4DS group, and bridges Yoga with sustainable development through her social enterprises Narayan, Listening Inspires, and the Listening to the Earth campaign.