The Many Faces of Yoga: India Edition – Francois Bernard


Francois is originally from France and is a regular student of the teacher I spent time practicing with in Goa, India. I really enjoyed talking with Francois about life in India as a westerner, coming to India by bicycle to find a guru which ultimately led him to Goa, India. I was really inspired by Francois’ dedication to his teacher, practice and making it work as a westerner trying to earn a living in India through teaching and sharing his years of yoga experience and knowledge (Hanuman Yoga)  and his famous chocolate balls and kombucha!

What brought you to yoga?

I got into yoga wishing to start to support my meditation practice again, which at the time had just been coming from reading books. I had made all sorts of wrong ideas about what meditation was and for some reason I had the idea that yoga would help. I also wanted to get back into something physical, but not just physical. I had been practicing aikido for a long time and I had a break for 1-2 years during which my relationship ended and I was really down. The yoga got me at that point when I was really down and feeling I wanted to start something so I could be myself again.

I had a nice first class and I fell in love will all the women who were there including the teacher – when you are the only man in a class and all these women are moving gracefully with nice bodies, you are single and you start to think ”maybe not for long!

Did you have an idea of yoga before you started to practice?

Well like with meditation I had a lot of misunderstood stuff from reading small books about yoga and I had the feeling that yogis would put themselves in weird positions so that they couldn’t get out of them easily and so they could meditate in them.

Actually the one true thing is that we do all this yoga and these poses to be able to meditate and hold a seat or an ‘asana’ for a long time to end up opening the body and addressing all the psychological knots we have in our bodies that will appear at some point in tensions or pain where you hold them.

I remember after my first ashtanga class- I had no idea what it meant at the time- and after the second sun salutation it was feeling way too fast and I was thinking I was never going to come back again, but by the end of the class I wasn’t thinking at all. I wasn’t thinking whether I wanted it more or not, I was just peaceful and so I came back. If I forgot that it had been peaceful there were still good looking women to motivate me to come back.

So how would you say your idea changed?

So yeah my idea was that you hold a pose that is very difficult for a long time and then you are completely locked and you can’t move and so you have to just meditate- that was my idea.

It changed that actually you don’t try to do anything, you don’t make it difficult to move you actually make your body move – you give your body the comfort in a lot of places that usual life doesn’t give. I was working at a computer and many of us in the west sit in a chair with our arms on the desk so there is a lot of habits that are in the body that translate in our psychological and spiritual state and are not that healthy.

What is your background in yoga?

The studio had lots of styles of yoga – hatha, ashtanga, sivananda, Iyengar, vinyasa- many kinds of yoga and I grew following all of these styles. The second class I went to was ashtanga.

Ashtanga at that time really became the basis for me, it hooked me from the start but it took me time to recognize it as the tradition that I am now dedicated to. As I started to develop a home practice I would find myself more and more regularly practicing ashtanga sequence without really thinking about what I was doing. I would start with one sun salutation and find myself in the middle of the primary series. I didn’t choose ashtanga, it just naturally developed.

Did you find your lifestyle changed?

Yes, so as I said how I started yoga – I was living in the Netherlands, it was the end of spring so I was still waiting for the good days and the good weather to start. I was in a very dark depressive mood and I had broken up with my girl. The Netherlands can be quite a cold country compared to France- people are quite sharp and there is a sort of distance between people, its not the warmness you find with Irish or southern Europeans and so the distance can feel really tough.

So when you are depressed you only think about negative things on and on and I believe I had this tendency anyway that I was really, really down. Suddenly with yoga – well within 3 months of practicing yoga- I found myself walking the streets and being totally amazed by the leaves on the trees! Kind of like a revelation that had happened to me before only by using psychaedelics.

So I was more positive. Another thing that comes with being more positive was helping me to find a solution – to see the cup as half-full rather than half empty. When you see that there is a problem you see that you can fix it, instead of seeing it as a problem you see there is a challenge and there is a solution, and so I also became more productive and it helped me to start anew.

I had the dream as a small kid to cycle around the world but I had always put a condition on myself that I wouldn’t do it alone so it never happened. Then one day, again due to yoga, I thought ‘yeah, I want to do that’ – so within 3 months of starting yoga  I quit my job and went back to my parents house in France and two years later I was on the road by bicycle to India to look for my guru, three years after first arriving in India I believe I have found him.

So that is what inspired you to come to India, to find a teacher?

I don’t know, I had this feeling that learning yoga in the west was good – I could do a yoga teacher training and get a piece of paper, but its not pertaining to yoga or making people wise. I hope that the people who do this realize how their teacher training courses can be insulting to yoga, don’t get me wrong some of these teacher trainings and teachers are really good but 200hrs alone to become a yoga teacher means nothing at all – my teacher has been practicing for 40 years.

Do you find your practice supported more by being in India?

Its difficult to answer because I was developing a home practice in the Netherlands and having to go to work after that and having a regular schedule. Now I have been travelling by bicycle for 3 years and after that the regular schedule isn’t getting up to go to work, it’s packing things, making food and if you wake up at 6 or 8 it doesn’t really change anything – you just end up on your bicycle travelling 50 or 100 km. You are discovering landscapes everyday that you have never seen before. I cycled from the Netherlands to India, 20000km in 3 years – that was my dream as a kid. I never did it until I came to yoga and I thought I am going to do it alone or with someone – so I went alone. Now its different as my practice is everyday as its ashtanga and its really disciplined and it has converted me.

So you are teaching yoga classes here in Anjuna, how do you find that? 

Yes, its my second season that I am on my own as a teacher. I’m feeling really happy to teach. I’m not finding myself being challenged with the teaching itself, the challenging part is running my own business – I have no idea what to do but I’m learning what works and not just learning the simple way. I think its something with yoga when people tell you pain is something that leads us for some time- this  classic thing- then after a long time you get into a certain asana, for example, and its not that you know its possible: its that its in your body that its possible. The thing thats happening with teaching and running a business alone is also the same. Its not the knowledge from the mind but the body knows, it becomes body experience- its integrated into yourself. Its not knowledge that is in your head that you have read in a book but its actually a truth that is within yourself.

Do you teach mainly westerners?

On one hand here in India the Indians who come here are mostly here to party – Goa is the party place of India. They don’t care about yoga, they can’t understand why westerners find it interesting. So its mostly westerners I teach and its very different from when I was teaching in Europe. In Europe its teaching people who have a regular life there and the people coming to your class are likely to come back. In Goa you have people who are tourists for 3 months or 6 months or some will stay for 2 days and yoga is generally a secondary interest to a lot of people here.

Anything else you want to say about yoga? 

You can look at a lot of really dark things happening in the world right now and that’s already been like that for 10 – 15 years and it seems to be getting worse and worse. From wars to the state of the planet and the environment- how much man is destroying its own survival. There are governments trying to control people more and more and play this game of fear and make enemies out of each other. The one big difference between now and 50 years ago in Europe for example, as far as I know, is that there is a lot of yoga today and yoga is ultimately to see clearly into the truth and therefore it is instrumental in uncovering the lies of the media and society.

There is another thing as well which is very important and that is that now in the west yoga is practiced by a wide majority of women and we know the state of women for millennium. Women have always been taken in many cultures as the slaves of their husbands and yoga is making people think for themselves – its empowering women. So its one of these tools today -not just yoga, there are other things going around- but yoga is one of these tools which may make mankind realize its own humility to the power of mother Earth and nature in general. I think its pretty cool to be one of those channels to convey a little stuff in the mind and lifestyles of other people towards that.