The season has started, with its usual ups and downs… and once again it is really wonderful to open up our gates to all the yoga practitioners who are planning on coming to Purple Valley.
In the month of March, we have 2 new lovely teachers visiting the center, Greg Nardi and Juan- Carlos Galan, both dedicated practitioners since many years. I have not yet had the opportunity to practice with them, but having heard so much about their teaching, and also by following them online -through their yoga interviews and travels- I am really looking forward to spending time with them in March.
To find out more about Greg and Juan-Carlos, we decided to ask them a few questions, and reading the answers helped me understand more about their approach to yoga, which filled me with warmth and joy…
For those interested in chanting and philosophy, this is the perfect retreat to attend.
An extract from the website of Greg and Juan Carlos
“Greg is an internationally renowned teacher of workshops in Yoga asana and philosophy. He and his husband Juan Carlos founded Ashtanga Yoga Worldwide a Yoga shala in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. in the United States.He is an autodidact who perpetually studies Sanskrit chanting and indian philosophy. He counts Georg Feuerstein, Dr. M.A. Jayashree, Narasimha, and Vyass Houston amongst his influences in this field. He teaches yoga philosophy and Sanskrit mantra chanting as a faculty member of John Scott Yoga.Greg’s view on yoga respects the indian roots of the Yoga tradition and the parampara method of transmission while making these traditions intelligible to the western practitioner. His style of teaching assists students in finding the approach to the practice that is most beneficial for them.
Juan Carlos has studied closely with KPJAYI level 2 authorized teachers Greg Nardi of Ashtanga Yoga Worldwide and Fiona Stang of Ashtanga Yoga Vancouver. He is a graduate from The University of Texas at Austin and has a Master’s degree in Industrial Psychology.
He travels regularly to Mysore, India to continue his journey as a student of yoga under the guidance of his beloved teacher Sharath Jois. Juan Carlos has been blessed with the authorization to teach from Sharath.
Juan Carlos teaches Mysore style daily. He celebrates his devotion to his teachers and fellow students around the world by honoring the tradition of Shri K. Pattabhi Jois. He believes in the energetic and healing aspects of this practice. His intention is to share this yoga with anyone inspired to seek it.”
*What brought you both into yoga?
GN: When I was 22 years old, a friend invited me to take a class with her. She had never done Yoga before and she didn’t want to go alone. I mostly just expected a fun, social experience. During that first class I was absolutely taken by how wonderful I felt on all levels. As a child I was severely asthmatic and had been certain that I wasn’t capable of enjoying physical activity. That first Yoga class changed that. It was also the perfect medium for me to project a search for meaning that was ongoing for me since an early age. While I only had a vague idea of what Yoga tradition was about, I was able to connect with aspects of the class that felt spiritual to me and seemed to give a depth of meaning to the experience. It felt like being invited into a special space where it was ok to nurture, heal, inquire, and share that experience. I know that sounds like a lot to take away from a first class, but I felt from the very beginning that this was something very special. It really blew me away. I took every class I could after that. It took me about two years before I found Ashtanga Yoga, which just felt like a natural evolution for me. I was on a search to figure out why Yoga felt so powerful and what was the most authentic practice I could find. The methodical nature of Ashtanga Yoga helped me to narrow my focus and process my experience. It also presented a clear path and guidelines to work within.
JCG: I started dating this guy I met online when I was 24 years old. We were really excited falling in love and getting to know each other. About one month after I met him he invited me to take his Yoga class to share with me what he did for a living. That was my first time on the mat ever. Mysore style Ashtanga Yoga with Greg Nardi. I had never been in a Yoga class before, and I was not coming from physicality or movement at all, so I had no expectations other than sharing the experience with my new boyfriend. I remember the energy of the space felt elevated. That was surprising to me. I also remember finishing early and watching the rest of the class. There was this moment when I saw someone in garbha pindasana, someone else in kurmasana, and another person working hard in standing. It was a busy class, but everyone seemed so focused and present. They all looked like whatever they were experiencing was completely unfiltered, real, and raw. It seemed powerful and intense, and I left feeling great and wanting more.
* Since I have not practiced with you yet, what is specific in your way of teaching? How would you explain it to a new student?
GN: As a KPJAYI authorized Ashtanga teacher I meet those students who are interested in learning the traditional method because it works for them. In a non-dogmatic way, I help them find the approach to the ashtanga method that supports their journey of personal growth. I’ll offer my experience and skill through verbal cues, hands on adjustments, individualized feedback, attention, presence and the considered application of standards and boundaries to educate them in making sound decisions for their body and mind during practice. I also believe in the importance of tradition in passing wisdom. By sharing my own experience working within the tradition I hope to inspire students to look deeper into the implicit wisdom of this practice.
I believe that teaching comes from inspiration and empowers students to make intelligent decisions around their practice. There are certain approaches to Yoga that are more or less effective depending on the student’s goals. I try to partner with students and offer them the benefit of my experience and presence to help them progress towards their goals. Reasons for practicing Yoga often evolve over time. I try to be there through a student’s process to help them physically, mentally, and emotionally do the work they need to meet their goals.
JCG: I think that teaching happens in relationship. One of my favorite aspects of teaching is being able to connect with others. In order to transmit something of value at least some level of connection must established. I think what I find most beautiful about the Mysore style method of teaching is that we get to truly work with every person in the Shala. As a KPJAYI authorized teacher, I feel my role is to honor both the tradition and the person in front of me
* What does the practice mean to you? How is it enriching your daily life?
GN: Guruji often told us that it was rare to receive a human birth and implored us not to waste our life. In the daily routine of trying to get by in life, the time and ability to reflect on what it’s all about are rare. Motivation is often unconscious, and action can be compulsive. What the practice does is give me some time each day to orient back to myself, to slow down and rebalance so that when I go out into the world I am coming from a more centered place. At this stage, I’m not convinced that life has meaning in the sense of purpose, and therefore I don’t know if the practice has meaning beyond what we project onto it. It can be interesting to notice my projections in an attempt at self-awareness. What I do know is that life has rhythms and cycles. Life seems to have an order that my practice helps me to be in sync with. When I am more in sync, then I tend to feel more content and accepting. Interestingly enough, it also frees up a lot of vitality that might be wasted in worrying or compulsive action. It generally makes me a better person.
JCG: I’m grateful to have this practice. I have moved so frequently, and I have lived in such drastically different places in the last 5 years that I feel the practice gives me a sense of home and stability. My husband and the practice are the only things that have stayed constant. They are my “totem”. It provides me with routine, which can be so grounding through the endless changes in our daily lives. I recently visited Tiruvannmalai, and I immediately was plugged into a network of Ashtangis and connected with others. I love how this practice keeps us more connected to the world around us.
* How can we apply the physical asana practice into our daily life?
GN: Some asana are to restore and maintain physical health, some are for purification, and some asana explore the limits of human potential. The practice of Ashtanga Yoga will mean different things based on our level of engagement with it. It’s important at some point to assess why you practice, what you hope to gain from it, and to be aware as your reasons evolve.
For many, Ashtanga Yoga is a dynamic series of asanas linked to the breath. If we practice a couple of times a week, or mix it with other yoga styles and activities, then it may stay in the realm of physical exercise and we will receive all the associated benefits of that.
For some, Ashtanga Yoga is a method of practice that is done 5-6 days per week. It is a discipline that begins to influence other areas of their life such as how they socialize, eat, rest, etc. It becomes a lifestyle.
For still others, Ashtanga Yoga is part of a comprehensive sadhana that influences every aspect of their being. It becomes a lens through which one can experience and process life. It can be one’s very reason for being. At this stage, even attachment to the practice needs to be examined. Defining Ashtanga Yoga becomes a very personal practice between the student, the teacher, and the inner guru. As a spiritual discipline, Ashtanga requires a high level of discipline in all aspects of daily life. It also requires the mental and emotional maturity to undertake the practice with compassion and contentment to temper the intensity of the practice.
One should apply asana in their daily life based on what they are ready for and what they hope to achieve from it. The most important thing is that it fits with the student and that it does not cause excess stress or strain. Overall, the discipline necessary for Ashtanga Yoga shouldn’t feel like a deprivation, but rather a movement towards wholeness that enhances one’s daily life and all of one’s interactions and relationships.
* The importance of being familiar with the yoga philosophy?
GN: We all have a personal philosophy that guides our actions and experiences in life. Philosophy is something that, as thinking beings, we all do. However, our personal philosophy can often be left unexamined and so it is hard to know if it is based in our conditioned beliefs or if there is some more fundamental truth upon which it is based. Upon examination, we often find that things are not as certain as they appear. Philosophy is a tool that helps us see beyond appearances and sort through the complexity of subtle phenomena.
Since Yoga is traditionally about human potential, it often describes phenomena that we don’t have direct experience of yet. For most of us, the metaphysical view underlying the yogic ideas of consciousness and being exist in the realm of theory. Many of us are familiar with Pattabhi Joi’s famous quote that “Ashtanga Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory.” Yoga has always been the practical application of theory. Without practice the theory can be ungrounded fantasy that leads to delusion. However, without theory, the practice can become undirected and overly rigid. Yoga philosophy gives us tools to evaluate our experience and give context to the practices.
Along with Yoga philosophy, one should study its history. Tradition holds that Yoga is an eternal practice revealed through seers in ancient times. Recent scholarship however has pointed to a more nuanced approach that shows practices evolving over time and according to social pressures and cultural needs. A study of Yoga’s history can help us to contextualize our practice and evaluate it for modern times.
Studying the history and philosophy doesn’t necessarily give easy answers, but it does offer tools to understand our own practices.
* The importance of implementing meditation and chanting into your practice. Do you feel that everybody is ready for this?
GN: Ashtanga Yoga means 8 limbs and offers us many techniques that take us on a journey from a sensory experience of the world to a subtle experience of reality. It’s a journey that we all have regular albeit limited experience of, but Yoga takes us through it in a methodical way so that we can be conscious of the process.
In the Samkhya Darshana, which is the metaphysical partner to Yoga, physical reality is made of 5 elemental forces. Space is the most subtle and is the medium for sound to travel. Chanting can be a wonderful tool to focus the mind and orient us towards the more subtle aspects of reality.
The mind is the subtle aspect of the individual. It is often times scattered and undisciplined. Meditation is the gradual process of focusing the mind for progressively longer periods of time. A focused mind can understand and explore reality in a much deeper and more efficient manner. Many people mistake meditation for relaxation or sitting practice, both of which are useful preludes to the state of meditation.
In any event, chanting and meditation can hold benefits for all aspects of the individual. When choosing practices we are guided by our inspiration and readiness to engage them. Teachers are necessary guides to help us navigate this new territory of experience. Not everyone is ready or needs to take on these practices, but if the desire within the student is strong then they will begin to practice and seek out the appropriate guidance.
* I feel that a lot of people are finding the ashtanga practice through asana practice, for many after a few years, an interest for the other limbs of yoga is born, do you feel this is a normal pattern?
GN: Asana is the most prevalent aspect of Yoga practice outside of India. Yoga was popularized as a system of alternate health and fitness for many years and this is what most people have learned to expect from a Yoga practice. The consequence is that the first aspect of Yoga that students encounter is asana.
Sharath Jois is fond of saying that asana practice is only a few hours a day, but Yoga is 24 hours. Once you begin to practice the method of Ashtanga Yoga, it is quite common that an interest in the other limbs will begin to grow out of that.
JCG: I think it’s up to every individual to decide how they want to use their practice in their daily life. I will help however I can to facilitate that process when I’m in the teacher role. The universality of the practice is Guruji’s greatest gift I think. We can all use the practice how we see fit. Ashtanga yoga is eight limbs. And the rest of the limbs are available for us if we want to search for them.
* On your website it is written – Greg’s view on yoga respects the indian roots of the Yoga tradition and the parampara method of transmission while making these traditions intelligible to the western practitioner. You feel there is a very big difference between teaching ashtanga to Indian students vs Western students. ( we have been having a discussion regarding this on our facebook page, with Indian ashtanga practitioners)
We are granted permission to teach from our Indian teachers, who claim Yoga is India’s gift to the world and has universal appeal, however I think it is very difficult for non-Indians to understand the tradition in the same way as Indian people who have been raised in the culture from birth.
I believe that it is quite common to view learning as a process of acquisition whereby we seek to internalize something that we find outside of ourselves, whereas Yoga is traditionally considered a process of Self-realization. Yogic techniques are primarily designed to help us look within.
Many non-indian practitioners consider Yoga to be foreign and from the ancient past. This necessarily directs attention away from the present moment and circumstance within which one finds themselves. This Yoga is based in the textual traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. So when we begin to study Yoga, depending on the practitioner, western practitioners may believe they either have to adopt Indian cultural and religious norms, or divorce Yoga from its traditional roots. I feel we should approach the tradition with reverence and gratitude, acknowledge what is universal and eternal in the practice and what is culture bound, or in the case of the textual tradition, what is time bound.
Much of the commercialization of Yoga in west over the last 20 years has been about making Yoga more comfortable for westerners. Yoga is appropriated when non-Indians authoritatively represent Indian tradition in a way that is more palatable for westerners. I find it important to have humility and acknowledge the cultural lens that I use to look at Yoga. Honoring India’s gift to the world means seeking methods to effectively address the very real concerns that are relevant to western practitioners. We are trying to be more fully who we are, to lift the masks of identity while understanding what a deep influence our culture has in the way that we view ourselves and our world.
* Juan-Carlos, you are talking about energetic and healing aspects of the practice. Could you expand this? In which way?
I remember during the earlier years in my practice I think within the first three months when I was getting a lot of help binding ardha baddha Padma paschimattanasana, Marichiasana C and D. That felt so intense on the shoulders, on the hips, on the ankles. It wasn’t pleasant, but it certainly felt therapeutic. After a few more months I felt my shoulders were changing so much. They felt more available, more connected to the body. They felt stronger. And eight years later my shoulders are still changing. Everything is always changing. In my opinion, there is something both therapeutic and energetic in some binds, like a pranic seal or a healthy conduit of energies. Guruji was a genius, and he gave us a strong medicine.