Monday, January 20, 2014

Interview with Vijay Kumar, Ashtanga Yoga Teacher in Mysore, India

Vijay Kumar Ashtanga Yoga Teacher in Mysore

"Although Vijay is very young he already has an extensive teaching experience. He is an amazing ashtanga yoga teacher and a beautiful soul," my friend Dario wrote me on Facebook. With only 26 years Vijay Kumar is probably one of the youngest ashtanga yoga teachers in Mysore yet he continues to become more and more popular among western students.

I decided to follow Dario's recommendation and traveled to Mysore to practice ashtanga yoga with Vijay. The main thing that I like about Vijay's class is the emphasis on slow deep breathing, which give space for the practice to become more meditative although still very intense physically. I love how the whole class move at a very slow pace, it looks almost as if we were practicing tai chi, so to complete the whole primary series can take about two hours and half or even close to three hours.

I also like Vijay's adjustments. Instead of forcing you to get into any posture his gentle and deep adjustments, while asking you to breath deeply and slowly, teach you the right alignment and what your body can actually do without even saying a word. As he mentioned during a class, the purpose of his adjustments are to show you how you need to practice once you get back home.

One more thing that I love about Vijay's teaching style is that he likes to ask you to go beyond your limitations, when he knows you can do more. With him I've learned asanas that I wouldn't even bother to try doing by myself. When he was teaching me to do the jump back from marichyasana A he would tell me "try again", even though I had already tried three or four times and it just seemed impossible for me to do it. Sometimes he would even say "try until you can."


Video of Vijay demonstrating the jump back from Marichyasana A and B

I hope you'll enjoy reading Vijay's interview. If you have previously practiced Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga in Mysore with Vijay Kumar please feel free to share your experience with us in the comment section at the end of this blog. You might also like to read The Best Ashtanga Yoga Teachers in Mysore, India


How did you get started into this yoga path?

I can say since birth because in our house, I'm raised in a Brahmin community, everybody is into Bhakti Yoga. Since I can remember anything we were always in the Bhakti Yoga path. And to asanas I started when I was twelve. My brother, Vinay Kumar, started long before me. Initially my mother guided me a little bit and then my brother trained me well.

My mother was the first one to start asanas in our house, and very soon my brother joined her. They practiced together and I was the last one to start. So basically my mother was the source of guidance for both of us to practice asanas, initially. When my brother started to understand his body, when he could listen to his body well, when he knew that he can guide others then my mother stopped.

Vijay Kumar in Eka Pada Sirsasana
Vijay Kumar in Eka Pada Sirsasana


Why did you decide to teach yoga and in particular ashtanga yoga?

The beauty of what I do or what every yoga teacher does when they do properly is to promote good health in people, so that's what I do.

When I started to teach I did not have any boundaries that I should only teach ashtanga vinyasa yoga but because I like this method more and I can relate with it better, and because I understand it well I decided to teach it to others.


Can you tell us about the time when you took a six months break from your ashtanga yoga practice to dedicate yourself solely to the practice of meditation?

Yes, it was two years ago when I stopped completely all asanas because that's exactly when I understood more about introspection, looking within. Then I started meditation and I still do it but maybe not with that intensity because the initial stage is very important, like when you practice asanas.

Video of Vijay demonstrating padmasana jump back

On the initial stage, until the body becomes free, we need to practice very consistently to get to some asanas. For example today I made you do padmasana jump back. For this I have given you many preparations before or you were doing very well half lotus crossed legs. Only because of that consistency today padmasana jump back was easy.

Similarly, as Sri Patanjali says "Tivra-samveganam asannah", as the faith and dedication is more the closer you'll go (Sutra I.21: liberation through yoga is quick for the wholehearted, determined and energetic), even in meditation practice the initial stage is very important. So I stopped all other asana practice which was taking more time and only dedicated to meditation, six months continuously. Whenever I practiced I would sit for at least one and a half hours to three hours, only once a day cause I was also teaching.


Can you tell us about your experience teaching yoga in China? How did it started, for how long did you do it and what was the biggest challenge that you faced?

My brother had a student from China. She was opening a new yoga studio and she needed some help. They had a good relationship as a teacher and student, but my brother couldn't go so he asked me.

I was then studying my mechanical diploma, actually my family had hopes of me becoming and engineer but I was more interested in yogic studies like studying the Bhagavata, Vedas and The Bhagavad Gita. This was an opportunity for me to see another country and to remain on that path.


Vijay moves to China

So I moved to China. I was eighteen and a half, the youngest foreign teacher to come and teach yoga asanas in China. The original idea was to stay only for three months but at the end I stayed for five years.


Video of Vijay doing a yoga demonstration in China

For the person that I went for, whom my brother needed to help, I stayed for about two and half or three years. When I knew they were well stablished and after I had helped somebody else come to my position and take over, then I decided to move to another place.

I did not like staying in one place for very long because that would restrict my ability to see other places, if I would stay in only one place would be like staying at home, and also because in Beijing I was teaching mostly foreigners so I couldn't learn even a word in Chinese.

So I moved to another place which was the most beautiful part of China and it was by the sea. I always wanted to stay by the sea and learn some surfing so this was more conducive because they needed some help and I got what they needed. I helped a lot in that place, it was more service, many months you don't get any payment, I was teaching for free.

I did surfing for two years whenever I got time because when you are doing in service it's a lot of work, you work at least like ten hours a day but I used to get a day off. The person who was managing all, giving us accommodation, food and everything else was from Australia. He loved surfing so he used to bring me there, to beautiful waves. I was still a beginner but I enjoyed it.


Challenges encountered in China

Many challenges were encountered when I first moved to China. Discrimination because of my color and mainly because I did not understand the language, there were a lot of misunderstandings.

The first three months were the hardest, I almost rebook my flight ticket, I wanted to come back, but then I thought, "If I go back now I wouldn't have helped anybody so the whole purpose of coming here would be useless." I had discontinued my studies, I went there and if I come back home without helping them would be very useless. So I decided that until they feel like I have helped them and until they feel like they still want me there I won't go.

That forced something within me that kept me there, but the first three months were really hard because of the food. I was having illusory Chinese taste because in Mysore what we eat as Chinese food is so different to what you eat in China itself, and also because I'm a pure vegetarian, you can't find any food without at least eggs. And I had a cook, that was one of the priorities, a cook, but what he cooked tasted like nothing, no salt, no pepper. It's ok for a day or two but continuously, for three months...

But when I started to really like that which I hated then everything became easier. You might have heard me saying "like what you hate, becomes easier." That's from personal experience.


If you understand the language you understand the tradition

China is a very beautiful country and if you understand the language then you understand the tradition. China is a booming country, it's becoming more like the west, but even then they are very traditional and you can really only fall in love of the country when you understand the tradition.

I really miss China because eventually when I learned the Chinese language I could relate to the people so very well, and I had no sense of discrimination. Actually there was no discrimination at all, it was only my belief that people were discriminating me because of this color or because I'm from a different country but actually they never did. It was only my perception, miscomprehension, like Patanajali says (sutra I.8), activities of the mind.

But then I learned Chinese and I made China like a second home. I had a sister there, a sister from another mother. She is still in touch with me everyday. It's very beautiful country.


Who are your spiritual heroes or role models?

Spiritually speaking Sri Krishna, He is my source of guidance.

From childhood I was taught the Bhagavad Gita, just to memorize the verses, so I never knew the actual meaning of many verses. But when I took the "sacred threat of trinity" ceremony that every brahmacharyi takes as an initiation to spirituality I requested the master who gave me the initiation to give me some Bhagavad Gita classes. He was kind enough to help me understand the Gita.

Then when I started to read the Bhagavad Gita on my own it was a whole different experience. And now every time I read it it's still elaborating the boundaries of its meaning, so when I'm reading it more and more I can easily feel like Sri Krishna is relating to me, because Bhagavad Gita is the Supreme Living Entity talking to the Individual Living entity. Whoever reads it is for him a direct guidance. So I can say He is the source of guidance for me to spirituality.


What are the most inspiring yoga books or scriptures that you have read and that you would recommend your students to read?

Well, for me always inspiring is the Bhagavad Gita, it's the source of guidance for yoga, it's the compact version of all knowledge. In only 700 verses you can find so much information for a whole life.

To recommend others it depends on the relationship that I have with the student. Many people come to class just for the health benefit of yoga or they come with their own spiritual/religious beliefs. Although all beliefs are ultimately the same, it's just One Supreme living entity with different names, if we just say "read the Bhagavad Gita" some people might have a negative feeling in their heart because of their different beliefs.

So I wont really recommend the Bhagavad Gita to everyone unless I know them very well, and when I know them very well first I want to explain them why they should read it, first I would teach them and then after they can read.


What is the biggest lesson that you've learned through your own yoga practice?

As I said yesterday there is no absolute truth in asanas. What you are able to do today may not stay with you tomorrow or, what you are not able to do today will come back to you tomorrow.

Vijay Kumar in Ganda BherundasanaVijay Kumar in Kandasana
Ganda BherundasanaKandasana

Yesterday I was able to demonstrate for you some handstands variations, although I had not practiced them in two years. But sometimes, when I've tried to demonstrate handstands to others, it never happens. So we cannot really say that it's never changing. In asana practice the only requirement is to be able to sit straight, that's what I've understood.

Vijay Kumar in Ekapada Raja Kapotasana
Ekapada Raja Kapotasana

Through asanas of course we can improve our health, physically and mentally, but if we get attached to them we stay in the preliminary stages, never progressing. You may see many practitioners practicing asanas for many years and still not understanding the different limbs like pranayama or meditation.

Mediation, dhyana, is the main reason why we practice asanas. If we want to sit still in one position it takes a lot of practice. It takes a lot of strength on the back to support itself, to keep the spine straight, that's why we practice asanas.

But we should also keep sometime to listen to ourselves because for everyone the ultimate teacher is within. So we should give some time to listen to it, then more windows will open up to understand the deeper aspects of yoga.

I've learned many things like this from my practice which leads me to spirituality.


What is the main lesson that you want your students to take away from practicing ashtanga yoga with you?

I like to call it ashtanga vinyasa yoga, ashtanga yoga is huge, I'm teaching only ashtanga vinyasa, ashtanga yoga is eight steps (Patanjali's 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga).

I want them to learn that the more they relax the more asanas become easier, and also to give more importance to deep breathing because breath and mind are closely related.

The beauty of ashtanga vinyasa yoga is that it includes deeper aspects of yoga in it like pranayama. Pranayama means giving a form to our breathing. When we incorporate deep breathing our attention is more focused within.

There are many benefits that comes from deep breathing, eventually it help us to calm the mind down, and with long deep breath and proper approach towards the practice anything is possible. So we just need proper guidance and when I have guided somebody I expect them to follow as much as they can, that's all, because I can't be with them all the time. If they like it they will follow, that's all.

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Contact details:

Vijay KumarVijay Kumar teaches ashtanga vinyasa yoga at Ashtanga Saadhana in Chamarajpuram, near the Lakshmipuram area in Mysore, India. For more information about class schedules and cost you can contact him directly through his website www.ashtangasaadhana.com, by phone +91 9663047900 or by email at vijay@ashtangasaadhana.com

Ashtanga Saadhana
"Sri Ganesha"
#1079, Narasa Raja road,
Chamarajpuram, Opposite Law court,
Mysore 570005


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8 comments:

  1. wow! that's beautiful. loved the read. great!

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    1. Thank you Coral, good to know that you enjoyed it and sorry for being a bit late to reply, more than a year! :-P

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  2. Absolutely wonderful read. I devoured every sentence and when I finished I create a dream...I want to travel to Mysore and study yoga with Vijay Kumar. Thank you for posting this! Namaste.

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    1. That's wonderful Magdalena, I hope you do get the chance to go to Mysore to practice with Vijay, he is such a wonderful teacher and if I could I would be right there right now practicing with him. Good luck.

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  3. Hey Marco

    I just now realized it is You, the guy in front of the shala, besides me at the class here in Mysore! HA! Somehow with my daily research I came across your blog and FB page. Great work!

    I met Vijay March 2015. I've studied with him for 2 months at the time. His focus on the slow breathing and very precise adjustment made me to return and study with him again; this time for 4 months. The more I get to know Vijay the more I like his approach. He's very young and that made me doubtful; silly me. But he is So humble. His knowledge is wast and his heart is full of compassion yet very brave and full of encouragement. There is something very special in his approach. He gives time and allows time yet for one that does not have so much time (as staying shorter) he strategically approaches the teachings.
    I feel very grateful to have met Vijay and have been studying with him for longer.

    See you soon Marco. If not, keep up this great work and keep expanding!
    Namaste ;)
    Kiki

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    1. Haha, hi Kiki. Thank you for the feedback. Yeah, have no plans to stop sharing my path :-) I'm sure sometime in the future we will meet at Vijay's shala again.

      Indeed, although he is very young he is very knowledgable. He knows his stuff and he is humble and full of love. He cares about each one of this students for sure.

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  4. Hello Marco, I have been reading many of your postings and found them so helpful so thank you for sharing your experience and valuable information regarding yoga practice, ashrams, and yoga teachers.

    After reading the interview you had done with Vijay Kumar, I became interested in and wanted to join his class. But having started yoga only this year and still a beginner student, I wonder if I can also join ashtanga class at his shala or any teacher's in Mysore since I heard many serious long time yoga practitioners go to Mysore.

    Does Vijay teach beginner students and if not can you recommend me any other class? Wondering if his shala provides an accommodation or do I need to arrange myself? Sorry to ask questions that may sound silly. I just have no idea where to start to learn ashtanga yoga and how it's done in Mysore.

    Thank you.

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    1. Hello Jen! Oh so sorry for me very late reply. Yes, he takes beginners, no problem at all, and not everybody who comes to Mysore is so advance. There are people from all levels, even complete beginners. You'll need to arrange your own accomodation but once you contact Vijay he will give you the contact of somebody that can help you with that. I hope this helps. Good luck.

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