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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Nausch

They feel I look at something higher within them

The graduated yoga teacher and beautiful soul Anil Kumar (27) talks with Vertical Truths about his mission as a yoga teacher, about major obstacles in yoga on his path and he reveals why he calls every student “Baba”. Under which circumstances can yearlong practice lead to misery instead of samadhi? What does it take to get and stay on the right path? How well can compact intense yoga teacher training courses prepare future yoga teachers and what are their limitations? Why can yoga transform the Self, but not change the world? These and more questions, Anil answers and he also gives precious insights into the Indian culture and the difference between yoga practice in the East and in the West.


Jennifer: Imagine a child asked you: “What is yoga?” – what would you answer?

Anil Kumar: I'd probably say “It is the art of living. It is when everything you do, your creations, your way of talking and playing is different from the others’ way, it is like an art, and you will be more happy.”

How did you get onto the path of yoga?

Around 2010, the team of the Shantikunj Ashram, Haridwar, came to my village, to bring awareness to the villagers on how to have a good lifestyle and the right educational systems, so that the awareness in the society may grow. They were active in the field of yoga and knew a lot of the 'real' Indian lifestyle, which consists of the four phases of basic education during ashram life. These phases have to do with higher education and work life, family life, as well as life during the moments when a senior guides younger generations in society. Whenever we had time, we were welcome to come to the ashram to learn something and to lead society into a better way through good karma (from Sanskrit - 'action' or 'deed'; spiritual principle of cause and effect). I decided I wanted to join that NGO and got involved with karma yoga (the yoga of deed or behaviour detached from its outcome), so I happily accepted some work in the IT field and translated some books.

Nowadays, as a yoga teacher, your dedication and specialisation is in asana, alignment, adjustment and anatomy. When did you get your inspiration for all this?

One day, somebody came to our ashram and university and informed us that a yoga championship program was going to take place. As I offered to help and became an assistant during the event, I was able to meet the participants and the judges, and could feel the first spark. From then on, I also wanted to practise asana.

They told me: ‛You are not ready.’

What was your major challenge on your yogic path?

When I knew about asana and found inspiration to practise, I did not get the permission to do it. I was told to practise more karma yoga for a while. After the championship, I asked one of the teachers who was teaching asana classes at university and in the ashram to accept me in his classes, but he denied, telling me: “You are not ready.” Later, I asked another teacher, who had been awarded by the Indian government, because his students won around 30 to 40 gold medals in international championships. I hoped he was a little bit more open towards me, but he also said “no”, and asked me to come back one year later. In total, I had to wait around 2, 5 years to be initiated in asana. Until I could begin, it was at times demotivating and frustrating, sure. But I waited and used my time to study naturopathy and yoga therapy and I also learned a lot about holistic health, diet and nutrition, Indian culture, health and conservation.

You had to wait a long time until your gurus let you practise asana, whereas in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the 'bible' of hatha yoga, is explained that the yogic journey may also begin with asana. How do you explain that?

While the seed and aim of yoga remains always the same – yoga is always about happiness and self-realization – things have changed in the past and keep changing in the presence according to our intelligence. Yogis came and helped to make yoga accessible and practicable for the society of their time. That’s the reason why in hatha yoga the asanas come first, or that in some hatha yoga way it is the shatkarma, the cleansing. Cleansing can be physical, mental or psychic. Also, the yamas and niyamas (number one and two of the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Raja Yoga, the code of ethics and personal obligations to live well in the relationship with others (yamas) and with oneself (niyamas)) or some other disciplines are cleansing. So, in fact, both things are the same, but we need to have a deeper understanding to recognise that. We cannot compare these different ways on the surface. That leads to misunderstandings. Only if we compare in depth, we can see that both lead to the same.

“Videos can help on the information, but when it comes to the experience, we need a guru”

Which favourite healthy food would you recommend to the yoga community?

Kitchari. An ayurvedic soup with rice and lentils. These carbohydrates and protein digest well together, you can eat it like a soup or in a more solid way, add spices as you wish, or even medicine if you need.

What do you recommend to people who want to begin practising yoga – how can they know that they are on the right path?

I’d recommend them to learn about the deeper meaning of yoga and what needs to be considered to practise it properly. Otherwise, the asana practice, which is most popular nowadays also due to the social media, can mess with their mind and energy. People get attracted to asana out of health reasons, and in this modern life many tend to think of it only as physical health. When it comes to yoga, it is not exclusively about the physical body and asana. Asana is the smallest limb out of eight, like a train with eight stations, the first one being yamas and niyamas and the last one samadhi. If we begin with asanas and want to reach samadhi, we begin at step five, leaving step one, two, three and four out. Without the other stations, however, yoga is not going to be complete. Hence, as a teacher, my responsibility is to see where my students are at, in order to remind them to look back sometimes and to focus on a step that has been missing.

I understand yoga as something free of comparison and competition. I noticed to my surprise, though, that some teachers – even excellent ones – compete with each other. How do you explain that?

There are two possible reasons. One is the knowledge, because once you gain a lot of knowledge, your ego is going to inflate, in this case, we have to consciously deal with the ego. Another reason is the yoga market in times of globalization, the marketing of teachers and fear of competition connected with it. 'If the other teacher is better than me, tomorrow people will not come to me, to learn from me', some think. In the true yogic way, though, there should be no fear. So, one could say, that the psychological foundation of a teacher in competition mode is not strong enough yet.

“Sometimes we Indian teachers feel guilty”

I’ve heard about cases of sexual harassment in asana classes in Rishikesh. How can something like that happen?

Some yoga instructors are not professional teachers. They have lots of information, know how to teach, but lack the knowledge on how to follow and apply that information properly. They are not following the yamas and niyamas and perhaps money is their main motivation. These teachers don’t know how to control their energy, or they show off in front of their students and apply their incomplete knowledge. If the students don’t know what yoga is in its essence and just think it is stretching, they have trouble distinguishing between a teacher with the real spirit of yoga and a false 'yoga teacher'. Practitioners, however, can recognise a guru without any problems.

“It is an adventure labelled with the word yoga”

Yoga is growing more popular and there are even 200- or 300-hour intense teacher training courses in demand. Is it possible to become a real yoga teacher after such a short time?

The yogic path takes a lifetime, so becoming a teacher after taking a four-week training with certificate is not possible. Lots of information is provided, which is good for a start, but learning how to apply that information takes much more time and a lot of dedication. Experience is crucial, before getting started as a teacher – and mere information is nothing without experience. The inventors of this teacher training format were smart people, because many people nowadays like to explore something about yoga, especially when they travel, so it is an adventure labelled with the word 'yoga'. They earn money, the participants are happy, they are happy. Indians would not come to you and learn from you, though, if you have only taken a 200-hour teacher training course, because they know that one month is like nothing.

“Do not just work for money”

To those students with a genuine motivation to take up the yogic path and to begin teaching once they are feeling ready, what do you recommend them?

If the teacher training shall not be an incomplete and confusing journey, but continue beautifully, the student should find a good master to guide them further on. Moreover, they need of course deep study and to continue the practice. Discipline is needed, but within only one month we can’t teach that. I feel sorry that we teachers have too limited time to provide all information about yoga. Sometimes, we Indian teachers even feel guilty about it, because we know that students are showered with so much information without learning on how to apply it.

As a potential yoga teacher, how do I know that I am ready during my journey, and what should I focus on?

If you look within, you know intuitively what your stronger points are, whether it is for asana, pranayama, meditation, or alike. In your teaching, you should focus on that first. And you should genuinely be concerned about the wellbeing of your students, search for more information and ask your guru in case of doubts. Do not just work for money.

What was your best teaching experience so far?

Whenever I notice that some students in the teacher training have taken up the seed of the yogic journey, how this is noticeable in their lesson planning and teaching examination, foreseen in the curriculum. Some combine a little bit of all – yamas and niyamas, shat kriya, mantra, pranayama, asana, mudra and meditation in only one class in a harmonious way and I can feel how they surrender to the Universe. This can be an inspiration and makes us teachers happy, since we know that, according to Indian culture, the disciple will eventually grow better than his or her master, but will always remember who his or her guru is.

“Everyone and everything has an expiry date”

Yoga can lead to a deep self-transformation. Do you believe that, when more people practise yoga, the collective vibration on this planet can change?

It can be changed. But going more deeply into yoga and reading the old scriptures and texts on yoga by the great yogis, we’ll find that yoga is not for everyone; it is dedicated to the inner being and hence it is more suitable for spiritual people, and less for the ones focused only on the material world. When doctors and scientists began to analyse yoga – for science does not believe in the invisible inner results –, yoga therapies started to be created, yoga was marketed and became more popular over time, and more people began practising it. However, the focus still lies a lot on the physical aspect and for many yoga is seen as a business. So, again I’d like to point out that I find important that a teacher and a student know the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, the map, that guides us on our yoga journey.

We are in the Dark Age called Kali Yuga, one of the four stages within the cycle of four referred to in Hinduism, which determines the development in the world and Universe. Given this, how can yoga 'change' anything?

The yugas are about prakriti, nature. Everyone and everything has an expiry date and one day the energy is going to change, to transform from the old one to the new. We know that there are yugas and they will never be changed by us or by yoga. But that doesn’t matter, because yoga is independent from that. Whether one opts for the jnana or sankhya yoga path withdrawn from society or for the karma yoga path in society, yoga is based on self-transformation and may transform the inner world. Nonetheless, it doesn’t change the yuga we are living in.

“Shiva, too, had a wife and two children.”

Some people argue that the state to be achieved is aloneness, often imagined as being retreated in nature or in an ashram, meditating. Others argue that this kind of life serves just as a preparation, but a yogi, ultimately, should be a householder, someone able to keep their inner peace within society.

We are social beings. And if you focus more on the studies of yoga, you will find that nobody is pushing anyone to live isolated in the mountains. We have responsibilities and should not be apart from our family or society. We should try to be with them or among them and keep the practice. However, some people are facing certain disturbances, for instance problems with their family. This can create emotions which are hindering on their path of yoga, they may get demotivated or feel nervous. In this case, it is better for them to be somehow distant from the family, though not detaching totally and going to the Himalayas. This is rather for jnana yoga followers, who are seeking brahman and have some siddhi, some special powers. To most people, it is recommendable to stay within society and family. Shiva, too, had a wife and two children.

I get the feeling that more and more people from the Western countries are drawn to the Himalayas wanting to meditate there...

Yes, but we have to distinguish. Many people, maybe around fifty percent, see it as an adventure trip, an experience. They pack their bags, stay for six or seven days and then go back. But that is not the same as living in isolation in the mountains with the purpose of deep self-exploration.

“It was the mantra that made the difference”

Do you have any favourite asana, mudra or pranayama technique that you always integrate into your own practice?

When it comes to the practice, I need to take into account ayurvedic knowledge. Everybody has a different constitution and the dominant dosha, be it kapha, pitta or vatta, is going to be felt in the body and in the mind. Moreover, the energy in the evening is not the same as in the afternoon or in the morning. We should select the right asanas according to the doshas. For instance, if kapha is dominant, I practise in a more dynamic way. If vatta is dominant, I apply some cooling and stabilizing techniques. When it comes to balancing pitta, it is good to work with the solar plexus chakra to cool down the fire energy

What is the impact of a mantra chanted at the beginning or the end of a yoga class?

I start classes with the guru mantra, because I believe that a mantra is the source of all knowledge to a disciple. So, the guru mantra creates a certain type of energy. Some may feel it directly or indirectly, whereas others don’t, but the energy is there. That is why the mantra is very important. It helps to drop the ego, be present on the mat and surrender to the teacher. My personal experience is that, when I sometimes forgot to chant the mantra, there was less energy in the class. After it ended, I noticed that something was missing and I began to wonder what it was, until I realized it was the mantra that made the difference.

How do you decide which mudra should be applied during the mantra chant?

According to one’s own need, one may choose a mudra that is suitable, so it won’t disturb the body or mind. You need to know your weak point, though, so that you can press that point and energize the right energy channels.

So, the mudra can or should be changed according to the energy flow or blocks?

Yes, the right mudra depends on the energy and the moment. But we must distinguish between applying a mudra because we 'like' it – even without knowing whether it is really the right one – or because we 'know' our needs and consciously choose the right one. A good teacher is very important to guide the student here.

“Fear can arise due to the lack of knowledge or experience. Sometimes, we even face the fear of death”

How can the ones who do self-practice learn to discriminate between the deeper, right perception and the mind based one, wrong perception, when choosing an asana or mudra or when feeling pain during the practice?

As I mentioned before, yoga is a spiritual way towards self-realization. Once we begin with yoga, we go beyond the physical, into the brahmic existence. When practising asana, mudra or meditation, we may feel some changes on the physical or mental level. That is normal and there’s no need to be fearful. But, of course, fear can arise due to the lack of knowledge or experience. Sometimes, we even face the fear of death. Therefore, it is important that a good master guides the students and makes them aware of which possible sensations can be experienced, such as, for example, a certain kind of pain or even tickling sensations. Videos can provide us with information, but no book or online video can ever substitute the guidance of a good teacher.

“It is not just an Indian philosophy, it is the philosophy of the world”

What are the most striking differences between the Eastern and the Western way of practising yoga?

The differences in the practice of yoga have to do with the difference in lifestyle, culture and philosophy. The Indian lifestyle relies on the Indian culture, which is based on the Indian philosophy. But, actually, it is not just an Indian philosophy, it is the philosophy of the world, and can’t be divided into East and West. We can describe it like that: there are two ways, the āstik, which believes in the energy working behind the material world, that makes us create things; and the nāstik which does not believe in that energy, but in creating things ourselves. Western people have the tendency to believe in the nāstik way, Indians tend to believe in the āstik way. I give you an example from asana practice: those who are āstik, feel guided from inside during the practice, and in India people tend to believe that when the attention is focused in an asana, the energy changes. Most Westerners tend to think: “There is my physical body, I am stretching my muscle and that causes a release of tension.” Both are basically the same thing, but the perception is very different.

Concepts of 'man' and 'woman' do not exist in yoga

Unlike in India, in my perception there have been in the West to some extent still more women practising and teaching yoga. How do you explain this?

Even though the concepts of 'man' and 'woman' do not exist in yoga, this is an interesting observation. I’d explain it like this: I guess the different trend in India and in the West has to do with responsibilities, more than with gender. In the Indian culture, there’s more responsibility towards the male energy, whereas in the West the responsibility seems to be more directed towards women. Responsibilities related to working, earning money or sustaining the family bring obstacles along and these may cause small physical or mental disturbances. Those who are responsible for a good tomorrow, worry more often and feel tension that needs to be released. So, the people in charge are most likely the ones who find yoga to be helpful, and those who take the decision to practise it.

“Asana is designed according to our psychic body”

What are clear boundaries in your own lessons?

Some long-term practitioners that I knew burst out in tears, saying they felt deeply unhappy when they were asked about their life. Their personality had changed over the years and imbalances occurred or intensified due to a lack of deeper knowing of the foundation of yoga and its guideline. We need to be aware: the structure of the asana is designed according to our psychic body, and the same vibration that is happening outside is happening within. Where is the sun and where is the moon, and the different galaxies and how does gravity work? All that is part of yoga, part of ourselves. We shall remember this when moving and pushing layer through layer (the five koshas: food, energy, mind, discernment and bliss sheath). We shall know that only when the practice is right, the prakriti can be destroyed and the purusha can be seen. Right practice is not adding many different movements and variations, because the impact on the chakras is not the same. We stimulate different parts in the body and the result changes, and therefore yoga looses its own essence and existence. That’s why I recommend my students to be pure and close to the traditional base of yoga. It is like driving a car: we want to move forward, and not to go back, turn in circles or veer off the road. I’d make an exception for beginners, though, who need a more dynamic practice before moving to the traditional static way of yoga, since flow is good to get their 'engine started'.

Ego is not inherently wrong

Is duality and non-duality a contradiction?

There is duality – prakriti and purusha. When we practise yoga, though, we’ll realize that all is one. When you are going beyond your body, beyond your mind, beyond your emotions, beyond your psychic centers and also beyond your prana, and drop it, your ego is also going to be dropped and then you become aware of the reality of the purusha and of the oneness.

Ego is mostly referred to as something bad – is the ego wrong?

No. Everybody has their own intelligence and ego. It is what gives us an identity. It is not inherently wrong.

Identity is a good keyword. Striking about you is that you call your students 'Baba' and they call you the same. What does this word mean?

‛Baba’ is a small word with a strong positive impact. In Chinese, 'baba' means father, in Russian it means grandmother, in West- and North India it means father or grandfather. So, it refers directly or indirectly to the giver of life. The meaning may vary a little bit from country to country, but everywhere the meaning is related to respect, so I think it is the perfect word for yogis and spiritual people. I intend to show my respect to my students and to motivate them through using 'baba', instead of their name. This helps to create union within a course, and I find they are directly connected with my heart and my soul. They feel I’m looking at something higher within them, and this makes it easier for them to surrender.

In Portuguese 'baba' means drool...

That is also great. In Ayurveda we know how important saliva is on helping on our digestion – and in our whole life we may fill up at least one swimming pool full of saliva; if we collect it, we can even swim in it! (laughs)

Thank you for this interview. About Anil Kumar

Anil Kumar (27) started his journey at the Shantikunj Ashram, Haridwar, near the Ganges. He deepened his passion for the sacred arts of yoga under the guidance of Dr. Sunil Yadav and other highly regarded gurus. He has earned various degrees including a master’s degree in yogic sciences, a diploma degree in yoga and naturopathy, and a certification in Ayurveda and health conservation from reputed institutes. He teaches Hatha yoga, Ashtanga Vinyasa, Alignment, and Adjustment. Anil has been working since several years for Rishikul Yogashala in Rishikesh, Nepal and Varkala. Currently, he is teaching at Mathathitu Yoga Ashram, Varkala.

Anil Kumar and I in Varkala at the yoga school. While I was studying for my final yoga teacher training examination, I felt honoured to become my great yoga teacher's Rakhi sister. Rakhi is a traditional Hindu celebration, common in the North of India, during which the sister ties an amulet around the wrists of their brothers, symbolising love and protection. When the brother is far away from his sister, the talisman is sent via mail and may be tied by somebody else - in this case it was me.


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