Illuminating the Shadow
A conversation with Shandor Remete (Sundernath)
By Penny Cuthbert and Louise Goodvach 2004
Shandor Remete is something of an alchemist when it comes to teaching Hatha Yoga. From a rigorous study of Hatha Yoga, Sanskrit and Ayurvedic texts, he has distilled their wisdom and integrated this knowledge into his practice and teaching. This transformative practice he calls Shadow Yoga – a name derived from a chapter of the Shiva Svarodaya titled ‘Yoga of the Shadow Man’.
Two of Remete’s students, Louise Goodvach and Penny Cuthbert, spoke to him about his life and work.
I was introduced to yoga through my father who learnt in Hungary before the Second World War. He had studied with an Indian whose name he never disclosed. I remember at an early age entering the room that my father used for practice. As I showed a desire to learn he left traces of yoga all over the place like photographs and books that were within my grasp of understanding. Never did he say ‘do yoga’.
My father allowed my own curiosity to take hold and only gave me help when I asked. If I didn’t have the strength to get involved he never pushed. Pushing another person to do something that is not in them is a total violation of their faith. Just like my four children. Out of the four, two showed interest, the other two not the slightest and yet when they were little I planted the seeds. I used to put them in different poses. The body remembers, so if it is their karma (destiny) they will do it, if not they won’t. That was the greatest gift I had from my father. I guess that is why I’m still doing it. My brother on the other hand was suppler than me but had not the slightest interest. He used to think I was crazy. When he visited my school in Melbourne he would arrive in his cowboy boots and do Kandasana with his heels on his chest – in his cowboy boots! It was enough to depress my yoga students! But you know the flexibility is one thing and the want of pursuing a yoga practice is another. People should never confuse the two.
With a bewildering range of Hatha Yoga styles currently in vogue it can be daunting to a yoga novice to know where their chosen style fits into the bigger yoga picture. Remete sees Shadow Yoga as the starting point for the practice of asana.
‘It is the beginning. In the practice of asana you don’t jump into any given form but you have to arrive at certain things. All these preparatory movements are the foundation of what I call the ‘prelude’. Every practice of asana consists of prelude, the chosen asana-vinyasa (series of postures linked with rhythmic breathing chosen to be the focus of the practice) and the conclusion (inverted poses). It carries a certain rhythm which prepares the individual for the internal practice of pranayama and meditation. It is not different to other Hatha Yoga principles. The only difference is that I use those suggested basics that are good for releasing and cultivating the energy before the activity begins’.
Remete was motivated to change his method of practice and teaching as he felt certain things were incorrectly utilised in contemporary yoga practice.
“It’s good for people to know that it is not something I thought up. Yoga just like all the other fields of internal arts developed from one another.Yoga evolved from the martial world, the animal kingdom, arts and crafts, and from the plant kingdom.”
Remete explains that sometimes when one borrows from another tradition, over time certain things are lost through a lack of understanding.
“I have a martial arts background and have studied martial arts for many years. So when I was in a yoga class on my first trip to India and we were doing the warrior stances I felt it made no sense. In martial arts the warrior stances (lunges,squats) are utilised to move energy and build power. After many years I saw that there was a lack of understanding in the proper utilisation of these postures in the practice of Hatha Yoga. So I further investigated the martial arts and the cultural dance of southern India like Kathakali and Barathanatya. I also investigated the art on the temple walls which illustrate the preparatory activities. Go to some of the Shiva temples where the one hundred and eight postures of the dancing Shiva or the Lord Nataraj and his cosmic dance are represented. They are all basic preparatory movements, but unless these basic principles of unfoldment are understood and correctly utilised, the obstructions will be of confusion and one’s practice not of good quality.”
Remete often draws on personal experience.
“After many years of intense activity certain things were not happening. Instead of my practice going ahead, things started to go backwards – its called crisis. My investigations confirmed that the preparatory activities are necessary for releasing the blockages of the energetic body. So I simply reintroduced the preparatory forms that had been left out in current practices of Hatha Yoga as preludes to asana. They prepare not only the body but also the mind of the individual. The movements in Shadow yoga are not easy but they are also not difficult. Because of the way the preludes have been designed one can only go to one’s own limit not beyond. Even if you try to force you can’t due to the nature of the position and the shape. So one goes to one’s limit and evolves through the release of energetic obstruction.”
In Hatha Yoga the different layers inside the body, the five energetic fields, can be referred to as either shadows or entrapments.
“The whole idea is to utilise these energetic fields to neutralise and dissolve one’s shadows” explains Remete. “So by slowly working through the shadow world of one’s inner structure, one arrives back to the very source of the appearance of light, without shadows. That’s what I base the style of practice and teaching upon in my school.”
The prelude forms correspond to the energetic systems of marmas (vital anatomical junctions) and nadis(channels for the circulation of life force) and the currents that operate through these fields (vayus).
“Systematically each individual goes through these forms paying attention to the obstructions, how to make the necessary adjustments, and to become aware of these difficult energetic sites. When this is achieved the basic asanas are introduced as asana-vinyasa (series of postures linked with rhythmic breath).
Each and every asana can be executed in ten ways in ten directions. For example, if we are doing Janu Sirsasana you can go forward and then twist. Then you can bring the straight leg vertically up while the other leg is still in Janu Sirsasana. From there you progress to where the leg is bent back into Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, or something in that direction. Then one repeats the other side. You can also deal with the up and downward movement of energy by doing an appropriate balancing on the arms which stabilises the whole practice. This is what is really meant by asana-vinyasa. Within the asana then the ten directions we are doing are counter poses. We utilise these in between movements which act as steps to systematically arrive at the counter activity.”
Each set form includes various viraparampara (warrior stances) and surya namaskars (sun salutations) which act as precursors to the preliminary, primary, intermediate and advanced asana-vinyasas.
“The warrior stances range from broad to narrow, high to low and are circular or spiral in their activity. They act to release peripheral energy. The sun forms are linear in nature and build central power. The chosen asana is utilised with the energetic principles active and vibrant to store this energy. We conclude with inversions to stabilise digestive fire and fluids (blood and lymph) by doing Nirlamba Sarvangasana (shoulderstand). Sirsasana (headstand) is used to stabilise the movement of wind (vayu) and slow down heart activity essential for the more internal practices of pranayama and meditation. That is why shoulderstand and headstand are placed at the end of one’s practice. An understanding of these set forms leads eventually to a more intuitive or freestyle practice.”
Remete named this Shadow Yoga because he believes you are basically dealing with shadows and by understanding the shadow principle you are able to rise above it.
Central to an appreciation of Shadow Yoga is the Shiva Svarodaya an ancient tantric text.
“I came across the Shiva Svarodaya through other Hatha Yoga texts. You find short quotes in some of these texts where they deal with the concept of shadow. You also find a few chapters in the ‘Indriya Sthana’ of the Charakha Samhita – the ayurvedic treatise. When observing and reflecting on one’s shadow one can determine the length of life left within one’s body. You can not only determine that but also determine the types of illnesses that may arise within you and in others. This is the fourth chapter of the Shiva Svarodaya.”
By evolving his own practice and refining his understanding of Hatha Yoga, Remete now inspires and challenges students worldwide to transform themselves.