I have not met many Russian people in my life, so I have limited experience with Russia and with its people. I once took Aeroflot and made a transfer in Moscow, but I did not leave the airport. I get the impression from what I have read that many Russians have had very difficult lives due to all the political and economic changes there. Every Russian person I have met has been warm and intelligent. My feeling about Russian culture and life is that it is filled with passion, intelligence and creativity. There seems to be a kind of rebellious spirit within the Russian heart. Thus, I have a very good feeling about meeting and working with students in Russia. I am excited for this opportunity.
You first came to Ashtanga Yoga at the beginning of the 90's, so you were over 30 then. It will be appealing to know considering your experience what type of practitioners attach themselves more to Ashtanga Yoga and make greater strides - the ones who started at an young age or the ones who are more mature?
That is an interesting question. There are many benefits to beginning practice at a young age and there are many benefits to beginning practice later in life. Maybe it is like being a parent. When you have children when you are younger, you may have more vitality and energy, but you also lack a deeper emotional maturity. If you have children when you are older, you may not have as much energy, but you have a greater depth of experience and maturity.
Who was your first Ashtanga Yoga teacher?
My first Ashtanga Yoga teacher was Tim Miller. He came to do a workshop at a place called Its Yoga in San Francisco. It was a weeklong workshop and he had a led primary series class twice a day. No one told me that one should only do one class a day, so for 6 days, I did primary series twice a day. I also thought it was a good idea to fast for that week as well. When I think of this, I laugh because it shows how crazy I was back in those days.
For the first time you came to Pattabhi Jois in 1995 and were so much impressed that when you were back to the USA you made a decision to quit the business and left for Mysore for a couple of years. You had to live in a car travel trailer to earn money for this journey. How hard was it to make up your mind to change your life so drastically? What will you recommend to those who won't dare to do so?
Its funny that when I remember those days, I did not think that living out of my truck was unusual or drastic. You have to remember that when I first started Ashtanga Yoga, I felt as if I had found a practice that I truly felt could lead me to some sort of nirvana. I was pretty much willing to do anything to dive deeper into the practice. It seemed obvious to me at the time that I needed to spend more time in Mysore. It was almost as if my life depended on it.
You travel quite a lot but would rather teach for a period of time in one place, like in Amsterdam. From the point of view of a teaching approach what are the major advantages and disadvantages of short-term workshops and long-term seminars?
When you are in a place for a short time, there generally is a higher degree of appreciation and enthusiasm from the students there. At the same time, there is less of a chance to get to the students more deeply and intimately, which is an important aspect of teaching. When you stay in a location longer than a few months or more, there is a chance to get very close with the students you are working with. When you stay longer, sometimes there are some students that will lose their dedication and enthusiasm and begin to take you for granted. That is why I think there are great benefits for doing both long term and short term sessions.
You taught in New York for a long period. They say “prana flows faster” and the tempo of practice is higher in a megalopolis. Do you think it's true?
Oh yes, there are definitely places which seem to have a greater level of vibrational resonance. Places like New York City are often situated on genuine power spots. Of course if you are sensitive you can feel it quite strongly. New York is located on solid granite, which is like a crystal, so this may explain its vitality and strong energy.
Every person is different, no matter what background they come from. I had only positive experiences when working with celebrities, so I think I am lucky in this regard. Of course they tend to be very, very busy people and like most busy people, they can be easily distracted and maybe are extra challenged to keep up a regular and disciplined practice.
A prominent yogi Kino Macgregor was your student in Jivamukti Centre and consider you to be her initial mysore style teacher. Petri Raisenen, well-known here in our studio Prana, got acquainted with you in NY and regard you as his friend. Do you keep in touch with your teachers, students or colleagues from Ashtanga? Is it important to be the part of big Ashtanga Community?
Yes, I like being in touch with everyone that I have met in the Ashtanga community. However, with all the people I have met, sometimes this can be challenging. Those friends I have met when I first started practicing or those I have known through Ashtanga for many years have a special place in my heart, as we have shared such a great and blessed time together. Yes, I feel that it has great power and relevance to stay closely connected to those we share this practice with. Through experience and practice, we really do become a kind of a family to each other.
Yes, my many and varied experiences in martial arts, Buddhist practices and other spiritual disciplines have all had an influence on my way of thinking and living. One should have as many varied experiences as possible, as any experience can touch one in profound ways. I continue to take guidance from many different influences. For me, all major spiritual disciplines share many similar aspects.
I love how intense and extreme the Ashtanga practice is. It is funny to me how so many people see this practice as so physical. While that is inevitably true, it is also true that because of Ashtanga Yoga’s fierce focus on breath, drishti and bandha, it is one of the most meditative of all the different styles of yoga.
Yes, it is true that Ashtanga Yoga is a very powerful form of asana practice. It is important to remember that, not only does yoga seem to create pain, but it is also true that yoga has a nearly miraculous ability to cure pain as well. If we practice correctly with an experienced teacher, you will not avoid painful physical and mental experiences. And, you will also experience deep healing on most every level. I have been through nearly every kind of painful physical experience that one can imagine. I have also experienced miraculous and deeply healing experiences as well. I regret nothing and still to this day, tell people relax and trust the practice.
In one of your articles (Ashtanga Yoga and the Path to Purification // AshtangaNews) you thoroughly described Ashtanga Yoga as a process of psychophysical purification and transformation. It's a complex process and very often the progress is very slow and unnoticeable. Could you please emphasize the definite signs (indicators) which may make it evident that a student is moving in a right direction. What will you recommend to those who are very close to the state of despair and can't see the prospects how to achieve desirable success and results?
Of course one of Guruji’s most famous statements is “Practice, practice, all is coming”. Certainly this is not always easy to have confidence in, especially when there seems to be no obvious progress and even some decline in performance. Faith is built by deep and regular practice. Especially in the beginning of one’s practice, it is important to rely on the support, guidance and experience of more mature practitioner and teachers. That is why there is such emphasis placed on the importance of being part of a vibrant yoga community and to connect with an experienced teacher as much as one can.
Govinda Kai Moscow Workshop March 17-23, 2016