Maya Fiennes in the September 2006 issue of Yoga Monthly.
Relaxing in the tropics...
Relaxing in the tropics can mean more than sunbathing and taking in the beaches. Celebrity yoga teacher Maya Fiennes is serving up a yoga programme that combines a passion with paradise.
The British weather is at its seasonal best - pouring with rain and looking decidedly grey. With no umbrella in sight and lost in the back streets of the West End I am feeling somewhat frazzled for an appointment with what should be a moment for stillness and composure - a yoga class with one of London's most in-demand Kundalini-yoga teachers: Maya Fiennes.
Maya herself has the right idea. Cocooned in the luxurious setting of a chic boutique hotel she is preparing to jet off to the Indian Ocean the followinfg day. Whilst the rest of us Londoners get set for Winter hibernation, maya is setting herself up for a year of running yoga retreats in exclusive and idyllic worldwide resorts, starting in the Maldives. In preparation she has invited me to a private class to get a feel for what she is planning in the retreats.
Ong namo guru dev namo
Sitting in front of Maya preparing to be put through my paces there is a natural, convivial ambience within the room, created primarily by her approachable, down-to-earth manner. All preconceptions that her showbiz name carries are instantly shattered.
As we launch into some gentle warm-up asanas, I feel fairly confident in my ability to keep up with Maya's instructions. Yet after only a couple of minutes it soon becomes acutely apparent that I have failed to take into account the exhuberance and, it seems, almost infinite energy that she possesses.
There is seemingly no end to her exertion levels and she sets a pretty feisty pace. "I do my own practice with my one-to-one sessions," she later explains. "This also gives the energy to help get people through. I keep it flowing through and set the rhythm. I love it."
By the time I have completed what seems like infinite repetitions of Cobra and CatCow, my breath of fire is petering out to sound like a suspicious late night caller! I am seriously beginning to sweat and we have only just started - but that's OK, because so is my teacher.
There is none of this standing at the front of the class incanting directions in a passive, monotonoous voice. At a pace that gives 200% energy, she directs the session with a high calibre of exertion and passion. Animated, vibrant, vigorous and upbeat, her enthusiasm is so genuine and inspiring that it can pull students through the "darkest" or most physically challenging parts of her classes.
Through her practice, she has trained herself to break through the mental perception of pain. As she guides me through an excruciating sequence of asana (in particular unending repetition of frog pose!) today I feel several light-years away from sighting the pain barrier let alone crossing it. "Come on," she shouts in encouragement across the rhythm of the music. "You can do it! We do this for hours on end when we go to festivals!" (Mental note to self: do not attempt festival-going with Maya before some serious physical training.)
Maya is passionately passionate about yoga. She has been practicing Kundalini for seven years now, with a year and a half spent studying the discipline in depth. Her initial yoga experience came through other styles and disciplines, but ultimately they failed to keep her stimulated and caused her to lose interest.
With Kundalini classes the difference she has observed is that "it gives me that little bit more, that bit beyond. It gives that break-through of mind." Her newfound love affair with the practice flourished under the guidance of her own teacher, Shiv Charan Singh, and led her to practice with greater regularity. Eventually, she felt change happening within her without really trying.
Maya has been teaching for two years now. When a person first journeys on the path to beome a Kundalini yoga teacher, there is no sitting in a classroom for hours on end and studying different techniques and approaches. "Kundalini proponent Yogi Bhajan says as soon as you go on a teacher training course, you must teach the class," she recalls. "So every time a new person joined us and they had only just started, that's what happened, they made me do it. Because that's the only way you learn, do it straight away." It also demonstrates immediately if a person has it within him or herself to go the distance as a teacher.
For Maya, there has been little doubt that yoga is in her soul and the call to teach has answered many of her own internal questions. "I felt like all my life I was preparing for this moment," she begins to explain, and yoga has been the catalyst that has enabled her to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.
It has also been a marriage of her two passions. Classically trained as a pianisst, music is an inextricable part of her world. And with the emphasis of Nada yoga within Kundalini, the fusion has been a complete one.
From the age of 10 she has been performing music and winning awards in the classical field, playing to audiences as diverse as the United Nations and the royal family. Back in 1995 she released the album Cross of Silence to critical acclaim. She is one half of the Anjali Sisters who produced the debut album Ra Ma Da Sa to explore the power of Gurmukhi chants and who are currently in the process of releasing their follow-up.
When we tap into Kundalini energy one of the effects is an enhancement of creative possibilities. As an artist originally, I am intrigued whether she has found that her practice has allowed her to explore these possibilities and take them to another level.
To answer my question she cites a tale that demonstrates not only how she is managing to intertwine her yoga with her music, but subtly speaks of a world that seems a million miles away from the grounded Maya who sits before me today - showbiz! For she also works alonside her husband Magnus Fiennes (the brother of two of Hollywood's finest, Ralph and Joseph), another fellow-musician who composes, amongst other projects, film scores.
"My sister-in-law just did a movie and my husband produced and composed all the music. I was playing the piano and was given the notes only the day before. And I was like 'Oh my God! We have only five hours of recording time in the studio!' So I did a little mantra, I cleared my mind and I sat down in the studio and I did not get up for five hours and everything went amazingly. I just got myself into that place of mind where I was so comfortable. And I was so surprised with myself. It was the first time I thought, this is really working, as I have never performed like that before. So it showed me whatever you do in life, yoga increases it."
Internal Peace in Paradise
Her time out in the Maldives working with students aims to give them the same opportunity to explore their inner possibilities. She will be taking students through classes which journey through and aim to cleanse and clear the chakras. Not just through the selection of asana and mantras, but with her music as an added enhancement to the experience.
Over the course of the seven days, Maya will spend each day focusing and progressing through each of the chakras. There will be morning classes from 8.30 - 9.30am and a further class in the evening between 6 and 7pm. There will also be the opportunity for one-on-one sessions. The aim of the pragramme she has put together with Shiv Charan Singh is to allow people to fee) like they are "coming back to something" and can take the programme away with them and change their lives.
As well as taking away inspiration and guidance from the programme, Maya is also giving them a physical package. "We are going to give them some package, something to take away with them. Like the CD with music, as the music can be something that can really make the difference. Because being a musician I know how to move the music through the chakras. And we will be giving them books as well, tools for modern living, that have something to help guide you through urban life.
Of the resort itself, Maya believes it offers the perfect environment for experiencing yoga and celebrating life, and to offer guests a chance to reach the stillness that helps us maintain balance in our busy modern days.
Set in one of the largest atolls in the Maldives, Reethi Rah, or Beautiful Island, is encircled by an endless flow of white-sanded beaches and translucent turquoise seas. Villas are set on the beaches themselves or jut out over the lagoons on a private deck of their own. Some have their own private infinity pools. If you have your own infinite bank balance you can rent out the whole resort for US $1 million for five days. Those with slightly more limited budgets and interested in attending, the One&Only Maya Yoga Programme can do so for the somewhat more grounded price of US $450 per person (prices for villas begin from US $710 per day).
Maya and Shiv Charan Singh have planned to roll out a series of Maya yoga retreats in conjunction with the One&Only resorts across the world. Starting in the Maldives, they will progress through to Mauritius and eventually spread out to other resorts in the Indian Ocean, who will all have their own teachers especially trained in their programme and vision.