Yogi Profile: Garth Hewitt

By Ashley Beasley

If you’d told Garth Hewitt 10 years ago he’d be teaching yoga in Los Angeles and launching a campaign to make the world a better place, he would have said, “You’re crazy.”

Now, eight years after he began his yoga journey, Hewitt likens his experience to the scene in the movie, “Midnight Cowboy,” when busy city folk unconsciously step over the body of a homeless man on the street.  Then, as if waking from some deep unconscious sleep, the hero, John Voigt, realizes he’s the only one in a sea of people who thinks he should help.

Yoga is a life-long practice that can offer lifetimes of wisdom and personal growth, and at 33, Hewitt is one L.A. based teacher that is raising the standards for young instructors everywhere.

Hewitt walks into the studio, sits down on his shins at the front of the class and introduces himself to new students, making sure to make eye contact with each one.  He begins with an introduction to the day’s class and the reasons for a particular focus.

“On Monday we worked on core exercises, and really went straight into the fire of our bellies.  Today we’re going to use all that hard work we did on Monday to help us start to open up and release the tension, not only physically but beyond the physical, in our hips and low back, a place where we store a lot of emotional and physical baggage.  Let’s begin by tuning into our bodies and observing.”

Sounds relatively easy, right?  That confidence soon dissipates as breath turns into flow, turns into standing posture, turns into long-series-of-standing-postures-on-one-leg, turns into, “Holy jeez, this is a level 2 class?!”

And Hewitt isn’t one to let his students get away with sloppy form.  Every pose in his class has a specific purpose for a specific end result, as he reminds everyone to breathe and remember his/her initial intention.

When Hewitt began his yoga journey eight years ago, it was simply an addition to his already active lifestyle.  Growing up, he was involved in many activities, from tennis to rugby., it When he moved to Los Angeles in 2005, and a friend recommended he take Annie Carpenter’s yoga class that his interest started to grow.

But, Carpenter’s classes were unlike his previous experiences of yoga, and every time he left a class he noticed a difference in the way he felt.

“I was a little blown away by how hard the practice was—how physically demanding and also mentally demanding,” Garth said.  “I didn’t have the body awareness that I thought I did.”

As Garth continued to practice, he started feeling pain in his low back and knees from former sports injuries.  His body had simply turned off and numbed them out.  Yoga was waking up his nervous system and making him aware of these injuries again.  Eventually, Yoga doubled as a physical therapy and the pain in his back and knees dissipated.

He was fascinated, and wanted to know more, so he took his first Yoga teacher training with Carpenter in 2005.

“I was learning and learning and wanted to learn more,” Hewitt explained.

And learn he did.  In 2009, Hewitt made a two-month pilgrimage to Mysore, India, to practice under the instruction of Pattahbi Jois’ family—more specifically Saraswati.  Pattabi Jois, Saraswati’s father, is credited with creating and bringing modern day Ashtanga Yoga, to the world stage.  His family continues to teach all over the world and from their ashram in Mysore.

At the ashram, the skill level of the practitioners and how the practice was honored as a traditional and spiritual ceremony awed Hewitt.  The students were disciplined and respectful.  They brought offerings of flowers and pictures to the altar; personal items that would make their practice sacred to them.  After class the students honored Saraswati by touching their hands to their hearts and saying “thank you.”  Hewitt took home many of these practices and to this day, never leaves a class without pausing in the doorway to acknowledge the teacher and the gifts of the practice.

“We all have our perceptions of the world,” Hewitt said.  “We’re looking at the world through a mirror that is covered in dirt and grime.  Yoga helps us see more clearly.”

Just as John Voigt’s character realized he could help the homeless man in “Midnight Cowboy,” Hewitt saw clearly that he could help the people of Mysore in India.  Stunned by the level of poverty, yet warmed by the ubiquitous spirit and love from the people, Hewitt became heavily involved in Operation Shanti, a non-profit organization that raises funds to bring basic needs to the poor in Mysore.  This year, he’s launched a series of fund raising events, one of which is taking place on September 17, to raise $80,000 for an orphanage in the area.

Back in the classroom, Hewitt’s main goal is to encourage and hold the space for his students to grow, but admits it’s not always easy being the teacher.

“It’s hard to be sensitive but also to not react when students lash out or become frustrated or upset and send that energy towards you,” Hewitt says.

He recalls being in class himself and throwing negative energetic thoughts toward the teacher for making him hold Chair Pose for a long time.  Now, the shoe is on the other foot, and although he catches the student’s threatening stares at times, he also recognizes the need for them to feel and release energy when practicing Yoga.

“There is such a lack of truth and authenticity in our world these days,” Hewitt says.  “I don’t think some students realize that it’s okay to have emotional experiences in class.  The point is to push yourself and to grow.”

Moving forward, Hewitt has been developing a program to bring the teachings of meditation and Pranayama (breath exercises) to his students and says these key elements are often overlooked in the Western world of Yoga.

As a life-long student and teacher, Hewitt is passionate about his practice, about Operation Shanti and about his students.

“I hope that my teaching continues to grow and evolve as I continue to grow and evolve too.  It’s been an amazing journey so far.”

Garth Hewitt teaches Yoga at Exhale in Venice and at Equinox.  For more information on Garth’s class schedule or Operation Shanti, visit: http://garthhewittyoga.com/

By Ashley Beasley

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Filed under Living, Sweat, Venice Local, Yoga Beat

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