Interview with Eyal Shifroni for Mantrasurbanos website

As a preview to Eyal’s visit the Peru, he was asked for an interview on the site mantrasurbanos. The interview was published in Spanish and the following is the English version.

 

How did I arrive to the path of Yoga

  • Place and date of birth
  • Current place of residence and main activity
  • Higher education
  • How, when and where did you came in contact with yoga. What effects did it generate in you?
  • In what circumstances did you start practicing Iyengar? (Only in case that your first encounter with yoga was with another method or school)
  • How can you summarize the experience of having practiced under the guidance of B.K.S. Iyengar and Prashant Iyengar. How did you mark it?

 

I have always been fascinated with the stories about the yogis and in the fourth grade when we were studying the subject of “India” I attempted yoga asana-s and I even stood on my head with my legs crossed in lotus (Padmasana).

 

I grew up in a remote Kibbutz (agriculture commune) in Israel, and in the 60’s there was hardly any information available about yoga; however, during my military service, in 1976, I happened to come across the book Yoga and Health by Selvarajan Yesudian & Elizabeth Haich – this was probably the first yoga book translated to Hebrew. This book includes many photos of asanas. So I began practicing according to those photos.

When I was dismissed from my military service (1978) I moved to Jerusalem to study mathematics and computer science at the “Hebrew University”; in parallel with my academic studies I immediately began to look for yoga classes.

I found a couple of gifted teachers that taught according to the Sivananda School of yoga. Right from the first class I knew yoga was my path – I did not have any hesitations nor any doubts! (Perhaps this is something from a past life…).

I continued to study with these teachers, and four years later, in 1982, I attended a teacher’s training course in the Sivananda method and that was where I first heard the name ‘Iyengar’.

So in 1982 I started to study Iyengar Yoga in Jerusalem with Dina Boger, the first Iyengar yoga teacher in Israel. Right away I realized the depth of this method and was impressed by the technical precision and intricacy. I started studying with Dina and in 1988 I went for the first time to study at RIMYI – the Institute of the Iyengars in Pune. At that time, I studied directly under Guruji, B.K.S. Iyengar.

I was totally unprepared to this experience. He demanded so much from us, and when the class was over I could hardly walk, I used to ‘crawl’ to my bed and fall asleep for a few hours, before I could continue my activity. I couldn’t really understand all that Guruji was saying, but I kept coming to Pune whenever I could and studied also with Guruji’s son, Prashant and his daughter Geeta.

Step by step I came to appreciate the depth of Iyengar yoga and understand the genius of this man. That practice has changed my life for the good, at all levels: physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual.

I went to RIMYI in Pune more than a dozen times and had participated in many workshops with international teachers like Faeq Biria, Birjoo Mehta, Jawahar Bangera and many others, who visited Israel to give workshops and seminars. In every visit to Pune and every workshop I learned new things.

8) Did you ever feel the Iyengar path as too demanding, hard or long? There are people that decide to separate from it because they consider it too physical or too mental…

No, Yoga is a practice in which we use the body as a tool to work on our mind. It is not physical, but it aims at cultivating our mind and psyche to enable a transformation in our perception of reality. I feel that Guruji has found a path in which you can walk your entire life and adjust it according to your age, needs and conditions. Any path of realization is not simple or trivial. It requires tapas (persistent effort and dedication), but the rewards are enormous. It becomes too demanding, too hard or long, only if your approach is fanatic and you haven’t learnt to enjoy walking in the path. For me the daily practice is never too demanding, on the contrary, it’s a great joy, it’s the best part of the day. It gives me energy and strength to tackle the difficulties and challenges of life.

True in asana practice we tackle the stiffness, hardness and resistance of the body, but this is just another object for observation: how do I react to that resistance? Do I respect the needs of my body or does my ambition to achieve, prove and excel drive me to scarify my health and wellbeing?

Actually, the mind is harder to tame than the body. The mind is more stiff and stubborn, and it’s also unstable and whimsy.

This is the concern of Arjuna when he complains to his Yoga Guru, krishna:

“This yoga declared by you to be of the nature of equality (evenness of mind), O Madusudana (krsna), I see no stable foundation for, on account of restlessness. For the mind is verily fickle, O Krsna, it is impetuous, strong and obstinate. I think that it is as difficult to control as the wind”.  Bhagvad-Gita Ch. VI, verses 33-34

And the response of the teacher is:

“Without doubt, O Mighty-armed (Arjuna), the mind is difficult to curb and restless but it can be controlled, O son of Kunti (Arjuna), by constant practice and non-attachment. Yoga is hard to attain, I agree, by one who is not self-controlled; but by the self-controlled it is attainable by striving through proper means”. Bhagvad-Gita Ch. VI, verses 35-36

 

9) What advice can you give us to understand and transcend the pains that arise in practice? Should one get accustomed to living with pain? If so, how to achieve/overcome it?

This question is an interesting because yoga postures introduce us to discomfort and pain and we need to know how to deal with those sensations.

Pain is a general, overarching term, and like many other terms it covers a major spectrum of unpleasant sensations in different shades and intensities. Pain invites us to do some introspection. Iyengar has two sayings related to pain:

“The philosophy of pain is to conquer it”

“Pain comes to guide you. Pain is your Guru!”

Behind these sayings unfolds a vast philosophy. They suggest that pain is a part of yoga and that yoga is not concerned with only avoiding pain, although yoga is about non-violence (Ahimsa – it is the first and the foremost principle of yoga). Therefore, pain itself is not necessarily negative, but pain that causes injury is negative. The following statement can be added:

“Yoga is not about avoiding pain, but about preventing injury”

This, of course, raises the question: how can we discern between the kind of pain that causes injury and the kind of pain that doesn’t?

When pain appears in a pose we tend to panic and want to get out of the pose. Instead, yoga invites us to stay and observe further into what we sense. There are many kinds of feelings and sensations that are defined as pain: there is the ‘good pain’ that emerges from a healthy stretch of the muscles, there is pressure related discomfort stemming from a stay in an unfamiliar pose, there is a “stabbing” sensation, a sharp pain and a dull pain; There is a kind of pain that disappears as soon as you come out of the pose and a pain that stays for days after practice. There is also the kind of pain that you don’t feel while in the pose, but arrives once you emerge out of the pose.

Instead of running away from the pain, we have the opportunity to look into its essence and discern exactly what is it that we feel.

Yoga is a practice intended to develop equanimity, that is, the ability to maintain internal mental homeostasis in the face of external turmoil. Therefore, staying with the discomfort is an important practice of yoga: what happens to us when we feel discomfort in a pose? What is our reaction? What if, contrary to our inclination, we could remain with the inconvenience keep breathing and observe it?

These are important questions because in life we often encounter discomfort, difficulty, and pain, and these are not always removable. The question is, can we maintain our inner peace and stability and act correctly and wisely in such situations? This is the practice of developing tolerance and resilience.

However, of course, we do not want to injure ourselves (and the practice of yoga postures has plenty of opportunities to do that). Practice related injuries could result from two reasons: lack of sensitivity and ambition.

Perhaps we want to practice a certain pose, but our desire to be in the pose is in our head while our body is not yet ready, in which case we must show care and consideration for our body, listen to its real ability and not force it to do what the mind whims. This is the practice of ahimsa (non-violence), which is one of the central principles of yoga.

As a result, it is very important to diagnose the type of pain. One of the important criteria is whether the pain persists when coming out of the pose. Such a pain is usually not a good pain, i.e. – a pain that may cause harm. However, if the pain disappears immediately after emerging out of the pose, it is usually harmless. When the pain is not of the ‘good’ kind, it might be indicative of an unbalanced or wrong pose. There is also a pain which appears only after practice, sometimes not until the next day, or several days later. During the practice we did not feel any problem, but still, we hurt something. Such a pain is indicative of a lack of sensitivity.

Pain can be our spiritual teacher which inspires us to learn. The conquest of pain, therefore, requires patience, accurate observation, tolerance and discretion. All these qualities are very important. A true practice of yoga is one in which we do not injure ourselves, and yet, do not run away from pain.


10) How do you advise us to handle one or more physical (and mental) limitations? How do we manage this limitations from stopping us? Is it possible to prevent this limitations from stopping our development in the Iyengar path? 

17) Practice is like a struggle between body and mind, between pain and discomfort, between the limitations and the desire to move forward … At what point does the struggle stop?  

I don’t think the term ‘struggle’ adequately describes the experience of a good and balance practice. Definitely there is an effort in yoga practice, effort at the physical, mental, emotional and intellectual levels; but this effort has to be balanced by relaxation and letting go.

Christian Pisano writes in his book: The Hero’s Contemplation:

“Hence, all effort has its source in and disappears into non-effort. If tension is observed passively, we are not the tension but the space from which it appears, spreads and disappears… Ultimately, effort as psychological intention must die away, devoured by intuition of the infinite.” (p. 201)

In an asana there are actions that we must perform; the muscles are working, we hold the pose – but, as we mature in our practice and become more skilled, we learn how to balance this effort with relaxation. Instead of over using the muscles we work on the level of the skin. This changes our perspective – the muscles are still working but in a much more subtle way.

When you reach this level in your practice there is no struggle but joy and peace!

11) What do you think are the most important contributions of teacher B.K.S. Iyengar to yoga?

B.K.S. Iyengar completely revolutionized the way people practice yoga and even think about yoga. When he was a kid in the twentieth century 30s, yoga was largely a disrespected subject. The old Yogic heritage was almost completely destroyed by hundreds of years of British regime.

Iyengar revived yoga and gave it a new meaning by his emphasis on correct alignment and precision in the performance of asana-s. He had spread yoga all over the world and showed that the asana-s are not merely body culture but can be practiced as a spiritual path.

19) What is the importance and significance of personal yoga practice?

Practicing alone at home develops our self-discipline and persistence. In our busy society it is so hard to maintain a sound, constant, daily self-practice – but this is where the real education happens!

In our self-practice our hidden tendencies raise their head. Character dispositions arise, as related to the three Gunas: Tamas (laziness, heaviness, resistance to change), Rajas, (activeness, dynamism, restlessness) and Sattva (purity, serenity, clarity). For this reason, personal practice is so important. When we are alone these tendencies tend to manifest and this gives us a chance for Svadhayaya (self-study) – we can observe these tendencies and deal with them. Some days the Rajas guna is dominant, so we feel restless, impatient, and are not satisfied with our progress. On these days, we may leave the phone next to us while practicing, and allow it to interrupt our practice flow; we are susceptible to endless distractions and will find it difficult to concentrate on practice. So, we can study our restlessness and agitation. On other days, the Tamas guna is dominant and we feel heavy and lazy. It is hard to bring ourselves to even begin practicing. We may also find ourselves holding a negative attitude towards ourselves, our body, or our progress. We also may not be willing to accept periods of difficulty or crisis, etc. Finally, there are days when the Sattva guna is dominant – and we feel bright and focused; practice advances without difficulties, allowing us to dive deep within.

 

In our practice we should seek to strengthen the Sattva on account of the Rajas and Tamas. If at the end of the practice (or class), we are left feeling Rajasic or Tamasic as we were when we started, Then the goal of practice was not achieved in that session.

 

20) Tell us what your latest book is.

How did I start writing books?

At a certain point, I started feeling the need to document the many ways props can be used. It was a necessity that stemmed out of my practice and teaching, because I found it hard to remember the ample different variations I had learnt in all those many workshops throughout the decades of years I have been studying yoga.

At first I documented these variations and props uses for my own purposes; I started writing down the various ways a chair can be used in asana practice. At some point, I realized this documentation can be invaluable to other teachers and students, and I made it into a booklet in Hebrew.

I printed several hundred copies which were instantly ‘snatched’ by the yoga followers in Israel and many people urged me to publish it in English so that more students and teachers will be able to benefit from it. That’s how my first book ‘A Chair for Yoga’ was born! And indeed, the book became a success and I received a lot of enthusiastic feedbacks. The great interest the book received propelled me to continue this endeavor. I decided to expand this work and write more on the use of additional props (like block, wall and bolster).

I have already published three volumes in a series titled Props for Yoga and I am currently writing a new edition of A Chair for Yoga. I am planning to write two additional volumes of Props for Yoga (a 4th and a 5th) and a book that will focus on practice with ropes – Ropes for Yoga.

My last book Props for Yoga Volume III is about inverted asana-s – the family of asana-s that I cherish most. Inversions are so very important, they are the gift of yoga to mankind! I hope my love to inversions shines through the pages of this volume!

I am happy I can contribute to many yoga students around the world, publish books, travel and teach in different countries!

I am grateful to all the teachers I have studied with, first and foremost to B.K.S. Iyengar who developed the use of props for benefit of all mankind.

 

 

 

2 replies
  1. Hazel Singery
    Hazel Singery says:

    Thank-you for this resume. It makes the description of Eyal’s Yogic journey so much more meaningful. I look forward to more work by him and hope that one day he will visit South Africa to teach us here.

    Reply

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