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Pure Yoga celebrates 3 champions

Pure Yoga celebrates 3 champion students at annual Puducherry International Yoga Festival

A student's appreciation for the journey of joy and self-discovery that their teacher has begun, and a teacher's pride at mentoring students who have become champions in practice and in life - this is the story of Pure Yoga students Kathy Togni, Madoka Nakajima and Vikki Ng, and their teacher Master Sudhakar.

Kathy, Madoka and Vikki have only been practising with Sudhakar for 1.5, 4 and 2 years respectively. None of them have practised yoga for more than 4 years. This is a huge testament to Sudhakar's ability to show his students their potential and guide them to fulfil it. Though these ladies remain humble, their Certificates of Merit for First Prize in their age groups at the 17th International Yoga Festival this past January speak volumes.

In a competition that draws men, women and children from all over the world - and saw 57 contestants this year from Hong Kong alone - to claim the Champion award is a phenomenal achievement. In the words of Master Sudhakar, "Only their devotion made such a history-breaking accomplishment. Devotion means commitment, dedication, loyalty, continuing to apply my teachings on and out of yoga mat. They have planted their own yoga seeds properly and this was their first harvest."

Above and beyond this competition of yoga asanas, philosophy, theory... accolades, medals and recognition, both students and teacher are most proud of the personal growth that's been realised on each journey.

Vikki was a girl who could barely touch her toes with her fingertips when bending forward, whose body quivered when she stood on one leg, who looked on in amazement at others doing headstands, and who couldn't do a front split - "the gap from my hips to mat was so huge that someone could crawl in and out beneath me!" What began as the occasional lunchtime or weekend yoga class at Pure Fitness to stretch her body and relax her mind evolved into a regular practice with Master Sudhakar after only a month. Two years later, this 28-year-old has already been to two Puducherry Yoga Festivals and won the Champion award in her age group last year - plus the Champion award in her age group this year, as well as Champion of the Meet in the Women's Overall Championship.

"In these two years, Master has certainly led me to a way where I never expected myself to be," Vikki says. "He has made me come to realise and understand myself more - and also makes me believe that nothing is impossible, as long as we have a positive attitude, as well as a pure mind and a pure heart, we can always overcome ourselves. I feel that now everything is just a beginning, the journey is still long, but I am very excited about the road ahead."

Undeniably, taking up yoga has countless benefits that people have already experienced through its positive impact on their lives. But for those who have yet to take that first step onto the mat, there may also be countless reasons as to "why not". Lack of time, lack of interest, natural inflexibility and "I'm too old" are the predominant culprits on the list of excuses. But Kathy will be the first to defy age as a legitimate reason for not starting up yoga.

A very happy surprise awaited this 58-year-old when she competed in Puducherry - and won the Champion award for her age group (above 51 years). Yet Kathy has only been a yoga practitioner for 3.5 years, 1.5 of which has been under Sudhakar's tutelage. So it's understandable if she dismisses the age factor as pure rubbish. "The woman who won the gold medal in my age group in 2009 was 80 years old!"

Like Master Sudhakar's other students, Kathy is both humble and grateful "to share his gift for teaching yoga". Winning the medal was a significant, albeit isolated detail. Experiencing the changes in her day-to-day life is the big picture. "On a physical level, I feel like I am living in a different body than I had before I started practising with Sudhakar. Specifically, I hold my spine straighter, and my shoulders and hips have opened more that I ever imagined possible. My movements are smoother and more flowing. My skin is clearer and more vibrant. I now breathe more deeply both on the mat and off. Practising in a disciplined way with Sudhakar has helped to me to take a calmer and more disciplined approach to everything I do in my life, work, relationships etc. The overall quality of my experience has improved and I have more joy in my life."

Humility is a common thread of Sudhakar's teaching. As is a clarity of approaching yoga practice in the same way one should approach life - with awareness, discipline, respect and gratitude. This is at the core of Sudhakar's Dheesan Yoga (Dheesan in Sanskrit means "to be granted with intelligence").

Practitioner of yoga and student of Sudhakar for 4 years Madoka echoes these principles in her life off the mat. Unlike Vikki and Kathy who both eased into the Master's tutelage, Madoka took one class with Sudhakar and was hooked. She has maintained a daily practice ever since. And the reward of her efforts materialised in winning the Champion award for her age group (35 to 50 years) at Puducherry.

At 43, not only does Madoka (like Kathy) dispel the myth of being "too old, too stiff" to start up yoga, she defies the notion of practising with mediocrity - having won 3 gold medals in 3 competitions, the first of which was after only one year of practice with Sudhakar. The accolades may be the glory, but it is pure joy and contentedness that Madoka finds in her daily yoga regimen. "Since I have been following Master Sudhakar from day one of my yoga practice, I consider myself very fortunate. According to Hatha Yoga Pradhipika, yoga is a guru-disciple tradition. If there is no guru, there is no yoga."

She feels blessed to be continuing her journey with Sudhakar, but her perspective on this guru-disciple relationship to other teachers. "Whatever reasons one has to practise yoga, I hope that they practise happily and peacefully with a respect to the Master in a class and a surrendering to his/her teaching. If you don't find him/her or his/her class suited to your liking, you don't need to come back. Just go and be happy with another teacher somewhere without negative comments about him/her. I believe that practising yoga with morally correct yogic mentality and attitude is more important than its physical aspect - things we can apply to our daily lives off the yoga mat."

While students Vikki, Kathy and Madoka have all tasted accomplishment and been blessed with living in the 'light of yoga' under Sudhakar's guidance, what about the teacher?

"Everybody is naturally talented and everybody has their own limitation, Sudakar says. "I do not teach students asana or make them flexible. I help them to remove their obstacles - the obstacles that are covering their eyes, their minds, their lives, on and off the yoga mat. Only by removing this inferiority complex can one enjoy the light.

My mission is to make students realise their potential as well as their limitation. So that everyone can become a champion of their own lives."

Mission well accomplished.

*In addition to the Champion students mentioned in this article, 2 other passionate yoga practitioners from Pure Yoga Hong Kong - Elaine Lam and Chigusa Saga - participated at Puducherry as part of Sudhakar's team, and won a silver and bronze medal respectively.

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