I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Yogeswari while we were practicing at the same shala here in India. I was really inspired from talking to her about her deep and dedicated yoga journey, her views on society and the importance of incorporating ahimsa (non-violence) into every aspect of our lives.
What brought you to yoga?
I discovered yoga when I was about 16 years old. My mother was taking a yoga course at university and had little cards with postures on them and I used to copy the pictures.
I also grew up in the seventies at the tail-end of the hippie movement when a lot of Europeans were going to India and Kathmandu and places like Auroville were founded. Through that movement I started getting interested in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy and the strong emphasis on Ahimsa (non-violence) really pulled me in.
After a few years of self practice and attending classes I never really found a particular teacher or school that appealed to me very much. I heard about Jivamukti yoga. I heard it was a place where a lot of supermodels and actors went and generally I’m not attracted to such trendy places – so I left it alone for a while until 1994 and I just went one day and it was a really trans-formative class. It wasn’t until 1999 that I did the Teacher Training and that’s when it really went into full force.
What was your idea of yoga before you began practicing?
I think because I started reading so early on about the philosophy and I had this influence from the hippie movement and questioning the values of society I always knew that yoga was more than gymnastics or exercise. However, through the Teacher Training the whole dimension of yoga philosophy and how it relates to the movement we do with the body started getting a whole new depth.
How has your idea of yoga changed or developed?
I think its kind of like when you are putting a puzzle together and you have all the pieces in one heap and then you start to find pieces that match the other and objects and images start to form- so its kind of like that with the yoga practice, its a never-ending puzzle. A process of finding the pieces to this puzzle which is a puzzle of how to go from a gross superficial awareness to a more deep, subtle awareness.
First you are aware of your muscles and being able to touch your toes and then you begin to realize there is a much smaller structure that is instrumental in the process and parts of the body not visible to the eye. Then you move to being aware of how the energy moves through the body and how to direct this energy is and its influence on how you think and feel.
Its about having an experience of reality, of the truth as it is – not with all the colourings and juxtapositions of social and cultural conditioning. You want to just have a pure perception of the truth using your physical body, emotions and your mind to get there.
What is your background in yoga?
The very first teacher I had was Ravi Singh who was a kundalini teacher. Then I had two teachers who trained at Propollo, I self studied a bit of Sivananda but really my main influence and where I still teach after 15 years is Jivamukti yoga.
Through Jivamukti I also discovered Ashtanga yoga with David Life while he still taught Ashtanga – when he stopped teaching it that was when my Ashtanga practice became touch and go.
Can you talk a bit about the style of Jivamukti yoga?
What is typical about Jivamukti yoga is really that it is an integrated form of yoga- combining asana with music, chanting and philosophy. The philosophy is more concentrated on how to support how the mind works, how it gets triggered in asana practice and how that becomes symbolic of certain life situations.
In terms of asana there is a lot of influence from ashtanga and there is a strong concept of vinyasa. We don’t usually go by a set sequence except for a few set classes. We have a system of 14 points in the body that have to be present in a class and you can use your creativity to teach a class. The classes are varied, its not about different series’, we can focus on different aspects of the body and different asanas.
How did you find your lifestyle or your attitude change through yoga?
It wasn’t so much of a big lifestyle change as I already embraced a lot of the yogic values. I was never a very materialistic person – as a dancer I learned to live with very little and work for free a lot!
I see lots of people change from the corporate world to teaching in the yoga world and they have to downsize a lot and live with a lot less pay – for me it was the opposite, it was an upgrade to teach yoga.
One of my biggest lifestyle changes was turning my nocturnal self into a morning person- that was my biggest challenge to get up early and practice. I enjoy it now!
You travel a lot to teach yoga. Do you find any difference among the students from different countries?
Sure More Help. I guess the common denominator is that people are looking for happiness and looking for it through the medium of yoga – using the yoga practice to have a better quality of life.
I think in the west there is a lot of danger in that yoga has become a very commercialized and yet another distraction to consume. That’s something that one has to be careful of – people can think that because they have paid for the class they can tell the teacher what they want, but that’s not the teachers role.
I have found the most reverent and disciplined approach to yoga in the Asian countries mostly. I think that people are still educated there to respect the teacher and also from the Buddhist tradition an understanding of the philosophy and repetitive approach to yoga is present. In the west there is a lot of thinking that they will take what works for them and leave the rest alone or start arguing their viewpoint. I think as a teacher you just have to find the hook where people respond to and work from there.
What keeps you inspired to continue to teach and travel around the world to do so?
The interaction with people from different cultures is something I have always enjoyed. It gives me a measuring stick of what is going on in the world and not through TV or newspapers but what is actually going on.
I get inspired when I teach and when I see people get inspired and wanting to change things in their life and society for the better – the things which benefit the expansion of the human potential, the human spirit and the human heart.
Is there anything else you would like to say about your yoga journey?
I think I should also mention that in Jivamukti there is also a very strong emphasis on veganism. I was a vegetarian before but still consuming milk products and then I saw this whole process of looking at animals, plants, minerals, sentient beings, air, water and fire as alive entities that require warmth and heart and that aren’t here for our use.
The whole industrialization of the meat and dairy industry is terrible – in the US you don’t even see a cow outside, they are all locked up in factory farms- abused and exploited to the extremities. Cowspiracy is a very eye-opening movie which was made by a Jivamukti certified teacher. It uncovers the whole way in which a lot of environmental organisations in the US are in bed with the meat and dairy industry and all these lobbies which no-one wants to talk about. The minute you talk about the meat and dairy industry being number 1 in water usage and greenhouse gases no-one wants to talk about that, not even the organisations that are supposedly meant to be working to protect the environment.
I think there is a big movement of people speaking about different ways of feeding themselves. In our western society we have so much made it as something we can just take and use, Sharon talks about how the animals have become our slaves – we need to stop looking at anything in nature as such.
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