Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Interview with Ajay Kumar, Owner of Sthalam8 and Ashtanga Yoga Teacher in Mysore

Ajay Kumar Yoga Teacher in Mysore
"You have to be aware of what you are doing, feel everything. What does your elbow, shoulder and all joints do when you make this movement? This is yoga. Go!" - AJAY KUMAR -

Ajay Kumar Practicing Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore
Ajay practicing asanas at age 14
Ajay Kumar is a very popular ashtanga yoga teacher near the Lakshmipuram area in Mysore, India. He started his yoga practice at the age of ten under the guidance of his teacher BNS Iyengar, a direct disciple of Krishnamacharya who is known as "the father of modern yoga".

Since that young age, Ajay decided to dedicate his life to the practice of ashtanga yoga. Today he is very busy teaching yoga at Sthalam8 Yoga Shala in Mysore, training future yoga teachers, giving workshops around the world and doing a masters in Advaita Vedanta at the Sanskrit University in Mysore. He has a wife and a baby girl almost one-year-old.

The first time that I joined his class I was immediately thrilled by his teaching style. He is very dynamic and continuously gives all his energy to help his students achieve their fullest potential. He likes to keep the discipline in his class but although he is very strict and demanding he knows how to make his students laugh.

Ajay is also really good at making you stop and think why you are doing what you are doing. From time to time while giving you an adjustment or while leading either his popular vinyasa class or back bending class he would say a few words that would strike your mind and make you wonder, "What am I doing wrong? What do I need to improve?" or perhaps "aha, now I get it!"

To preserve Ajay's style of English, to which his students are so familiar with, I have transcribed the interview using his exact words except for some minor corrections to make sure that the message is understood.

What does yoga mean to you?

Yoga means everything to me, all life is yoga. This is our main thing, without that we can't live. So this is our whole life, we started very young and until now we are doing it and it's just an amazing feeling. Yoga means everything, first is yoga then other things.

How did you get into yoga?

Gulab Jamun by Aditya, CC BY-NC-SA
My uncle and aunt and all these people were practicing yoga and by seeing them I got little, you know, ok I need to do yoga. More than that, since when I was a kid I had a craving, like when you crave to eat "gulab jamun" (traditional Indian sweet), I had a craving that I wanted to do something, you know, something physically but I didn't know what to do.

So I used to go to a gymnasium. My grandpa was scolding me, "why do you go to gymnasium, is that good? Why don't you do yoga?" and you know that's when I got to ask myself, "ok yoga, where did they do?" and it was at BNS Iyengar Shala, at the Parakala Mutt near Jaganmohan Palace which was very close to my home.

Young Ajay Kumar Practicing Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore Young Ajay Kumar Practicing Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore

Why did you decide to teach yoga and particularly ashtanga yoga?

Actually starting after that only, when I was twelve years old only I decided. Before that, as usual, all other kids we used to say "What do you wanna be? Doctor? Engineer?" we use to say like this, you know when we were seven, eight, nine and ten years but after that when I started to practice yoga that's when only I started to say "no, I wanna be a very good teacher."

How would you describe your teaching style?

We just want everyone to be doing yoga, not the asana, as you know we always explain in every class that we don't want people coming and doing the asana, we want people to be doing the yoga, it takes a lot but that's the best. That's our whole deal actually that's why we do all the things very strictly and properly and how it needs to be done and this is the way, this is the way. We just want people to be doing yoga more than anything, that's all.

Who are your spiritual heroes or role models?

All the greatest yoga people, we just follow the steps of the guru. BNS Iyengar, Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, BKS Iyengar, Krishnamacharya. It doesn't matter, guru parampara (the whole lineage) and not only one person. It's a tree's branches. A tree is one but branches many, so many branches are there. So we come from the guru parampara of that and we follow their footsteps only.

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

The biggest lesson that I learned from my yoga practice is not to leave my practice because even though you leave your practice it's just impossible to leave yourself.

And that's what we implement in our teaching as well, we just wanna make sure everyone comes every day, we do that every day so you feel good and they feel good, that's the thing. The one thing we learn is not to miss the practice any of the days, we have to do every day.

What is the biggest lesson that you've learned through your guru?

Ajay Kumar Practicing With His Teacher BNS Iyengar
Ajay at age 12 with his guru BNS Iyengar
Grace. We received grace through the guru and that's what we try to transmit here, not by using words but through energy. That's what I learned from my guru. Even if he didn't speak to me I understood cause we were communicating at an energy level.

That's the same way that we teach in our shala. But for that, you need time, time to establish the connection between the student and the teacher. That's why we don't allow drop-in classes here, the minimum time that we require is one week. We need to know the student and the student needs to know the teacher so we can establish the connection.

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

Like I mentioned before we want people to do yoga and not just asanas. That's why we try to do everything proper here. If you want to do just asanas you can go anywhere, but if you want to do yoga then you come here. It takes a long time and it's difficult but that's the best. That's why we try to keep the discipline here. There is a reason behind everything that we do here, you might not understand it but we do.

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Contact details:

If you want to know more about Ajay or if you wish to practice ashtanga yoga with him you can visit his website: sthalam8.com.

If you are interested in reading about other Ashtanga Yoga Teachers in Mysore then you might like to visit The Best Ashtanga Yoga Teachers in Mysore, India


  1. I love this interview with Ajay Kumar, my amazing teacher.
    Reading this interview my mind went immediatly to the very first time I met him.
    I exactly know why I decided to study with him and how much I feel blessed to met him in my journey.
    I will share with all my friends and students
    thanks for your article!!

    1. Thanks to you Vania for sharing this post, much appreciated. I'm happy to know that you really enjoyed reading it :-). Namaste

    2. Hi Rebecca, great video!
      If you are based in uk, I organise Ajay workshop in May in London :) feeling blessed to have him as my teacher too and humble to organise his workshop. Namaste

  2. Have heard him lot as a friend, now reading about him is something special..
    Thank you..

    1. Thank you Rakesh, I'm happy to hear that you find it special :-)

  3. I have the opportunity to join Ajay Kumar's workshop in Jakarta in the weekend, my teacher Nilesh Tiwari is one of Ajay student in Mysore. I find Ajay's method of teaching is very inspiring, honest, strict but with a bit of humor and I see how my own teacher Nilesh get his teaching style from. I really enjoyed learning from him and I respect them both. now reading this article after I met him, made me miss hearing his voice, guidance, and encouragement :) thank you. Namaste

    1. Hi there, thanks for your comment. "Strict but with a bit of humor" that's definitely Ajay. I also miss his guidance. Every time I do a vinyasa I remember his "thighs towards the chest! thighs towards the chest!" :-)