Interview with author Tessa Hillman
Can you tell us a little about your latest book Yoga Stories from Guru Guptananda?
This book is the second half of a series of stories that came to me to help me teach aspects of yoga philosophy to my classes. It talks about the 8 limbs of yoga, which are all the stages that one needs to go through on the way to achieving enlightenment. That sounds a bit heavy, and that is why the stories are so useful in that they come in a very light-hearted and gentle way, in the voice of a guru who talks about incidents in his life as a child growing up in India. I taught yoga for 30 years, and never relished the idea of ‘talking philosophy’ to my students. These stories made it easy for me.
You also have a book called The Great Little Book of Yoga Stories which was released in 2019. What is the inspiration behind your Yoga Stories books, and why did you decide to write them?
My first collection of stories came at a time of great spiritual frustration, in that I wanted to be able to understand and teach about the spiritual aspects of yoga, and I had no experience and no information about these things. I had taught yoga for 15 years and had a very healthy body as a result, but spiritually I felt lost. I threw up a prayer for help to God just in case ‘someone’ might be listening to me. The guru appeared in my head, and after a brief telling off - he told me that I shouldn’t be teaching my students about spiritual matters unless they were following the ‘rules of life’, he gave me a little story about himself as a very young child, learning how not to be greedy and selfish.
So it wasn’t a question of deciding to write them, I was not and never had been a writer. It was a matter of listening to the spiritual dictation that came to me every time I asked for a story. The first stories were rather like the Ten Commandments, they were about the Yoga rules of Life – Non violence, Truth, Non greed, Non stealing, and so on. I loved them, they made me smile and think, and that’s what they do for my students and readers.
What do you hope readers will get out of your books?
I hope they will be inspired to include these ideas and practices into their daily lives. Life becomes so much better for us and for those around us when we follow the Yamas and Niyamas – or the rules of life. Here are some more of them: self-study, self-discipline, and cleanliness.
Are there any other yoga writers out there that you admire?
I did my yoga teacher training in the mid 1980’s. B.K.S. Lyengar was my favourite writer. He was a very serious adept, whose body could twist into all sorts of shapes, and whose mind was highly developed and astute. He knew the effects of all the huge range of postures on the body, but he, too, put the primary emphasis on following the rules of life. What’s the point of having a very supple, strong body if you are self-centred, unkind, greedy, violent, dirty or any of the other unfortunate attributes of those who ignore the rules?
What are your most favourite books of all time, and why?
I love biographies of inspiring people. I have read quite a few but the one that is uppermost in my mind is Barak Obama’s ‘The Promised Land’, a book for modern times, that so many people could learn from. For me it has been a new look at world history through the eyes of a man who certainly follows the rules of life.
Where’s the most perfect reading (or writing) spot, according to you?
My writing spot is where ever I can find a quiet corner of the house – it’s quite a big house, so in the summer it might be the conservatory, or the sitting room, which has a glorious view over the fields and woods. In the winter our lives shrink down to the big kitchen where everything happens, dogs live in it, husband has his office in it, it’s always cosy, but often distracting. That’s when I go and sit in the bed in the spare room, under a duvet. It’s very comfy and I get good work done there. If I need more attractive surroundings, I can put the fan heater on in the conservatory, and have it playing beneath my chair until I get too hot! It’s like Kew glass house in the winter, filled with angel’s trumpets (Brugmansias) forest cacti and orchids. I love to be in there but my climate change awareness prevents me from heating it up very often. It’s the spare bed for me most of the time in the winter, or the kitchen if my husband is outside, and to be honest, if the weather is dry, he’s working outside!
Are you working on anything else at the moment?
Yes, I’m working on my own memoir, because I’m still quite taken aback by the amazing things that have happened to me, once I decided to embark on a spiritual seeker’s path at the age of 43. Over the years things that could not possibly be explained by ‘rationality’, but appear to be from ‘beyond this realm’ have completely changed my life – and very much for the better, too. I’m hoping to encourage people to reach out to a more spiritual existence. It makes so much more possible in this world, and God knows, we need that right now, with a pandemic and climate change snapping at our heels.
I also have more stories in the pipeline for another new book, that I will take from my blog of over 100 stories. You can sample them in advance should you wish to! I have also set up my own publishing house recently, Top of the Village Publishing.
A former biology teacher, Tessa Hillman later trained with the British wheel of Yoga and taught yoga for 30 years. She started to write in 1994 and continues to add stories to her collection. Her first book The Great Little Book of Yoga Stories and the second in the series Yoga Stories from Guru Guptananda are available to buy either through Top of the Village Publishing or any good independent bookshop upon request.
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