Interview with MV Chidananda, Ashtanga Yoga Teacher In Mysore, India
MV Chidananda is a well known Ashtanga Yoga teacher in Mysore, India. He teaches at the Mysore Mandala Yogashala in the Lakshmipuram area. Although I haven’t had the opportunity to practice Ashtanga Yoga with him (practicing with two teachers during the six months that I spend in Mysore was enough for me) just by listening to his words during this interview I was able to tell that he is indeed a great yoga teacher.
Here is what two of my friends who have practiced with Chidananda have to say about their teacher (you can share your own testimony in the comment section below):
“Chidananda has offered me the gift of yoga. During my first Ashtanga Yoga class, when I thought that I would not be able to keep up with the class, just by welcoming me he opened a new important door in my life and since then he always encourages me to continue and to try again. He is an example for me; he is caring, supportive and patient with his students. His enthusiasm for sharing his knowledge, his ability to know each student and to give a very specific adjustment to each one has given me confidence and joy to practice. For me he’s not only a very good teacher but also an example as a person because of his kindness and simplicity.” Sophie Minon, France
“I like how passionate he is when you ask him about a difficulty you have; he is good at finding a specific exercise for you. I like the mix of gentleness and firmness when he corrects your alignment and helps you go deeper into the pose and hold the five breaths. I suspect there is some sort of magic in his hands, maybe it comes from his father who was also a great yoga teacher. I like how he bows and prays in front of the Ganesha picture before leaving the shala and I like his voice when he chants. There are so many other things that I like from Chidananda that inspires in me a deep appreciation and respect for my teacher” Douja, France
During the short time that I spend with Chidananda he appeared to me as a confident person and humble at the same time. He answered swiftly every question and knowing exactly what we wanted to say. He inspires trust and respect. I was not surprised that he has so many loyal and devoted students but what inspired me the most from the time that I spend with him was his devotion and trust towards his teachers, as you will probably be able to notice in the next lines.
Interview with MV Chidananda, Ashtanga Yoga Teacher in Mysore
Can you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you get started with yoga?
I started at the age of eight years. My father used to practice yoga and when I saw him doing yoga so beautifully I got interested in practicing as well.
Then I met my teacher, BNS Iyengar, and because of his influence I started to learn a lot. So I can say that two people influenced me to get into yoga and practice, my father and my main teacher BNS Iyengar. It’s only because of these two people that I actually practice yoga.
For how long did you practice with your teacher BNS Iyengar?
Nearly twenty years.
And now do you still practice with him?
No, he is very busy now and I’ve also taken yoga as a complete profession, the whole day I’m teaching so I don’t have much time to go and practice with him. For nearly five years I’m not able to go and practice with him but we do meet each other regularly. I go and visit him to receive his blessings. It’s always good to see the teacher, they always inspire us, they give us energy.
Does he still teaches Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga?
BNS Iyengar is actually the main Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga teacher, he is not teaching any other style, only ashtanga yoga, but nowadays he’s focusing more on pranayama and the philosophy of yoga.
Could you briefly explain what is Ashtanga Yoga?
To put it in a simple way, the word ashtanga itself gives you the meaning. Ashta means eight and anga means limbs, so there are eight limbs in this approach, eight steps:yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. So Patanjali says using these eight limbs, if you start to understand each step and if you get the success in each step then you can reach the goal, moksha or liberation.
This is the philosophical explanation, each step is very important. What we are practicing here is asana, the third limb but the first two, yama and niyama, are very important for the basic level. So Ashtanga Yoga means these eight limbs. We have to practice these eight limbs and adopt them in our daily lives.
And talking about Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, the physical yoga practice, what is it all about?
See, theoretically everything is the same but when you come to Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga there is a procedure to practice asanas, how to practice according to vinyasa.
There is a procedure of how to end or enter a posture, with a certain number of vinyasas and certain number of breaths. There is a connection between posture to posture, there is a flow. It is designed like that. Each posture has to be done with vinyasas.
The vinyasas makes it more intense and hard, but if you practice in this way it will purify your physical body very well and it will make your body very strong, flexible and healthy. That’s why it is designed in that way.
So compared to other methods of yoga we could say that Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga might be harder or more intense but equally effective for your physical body. You have to come to an understanding of how and why to practice according to vinyasas, you have to practice yourself and then you have to realize it.
As you have just mentioned, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is known for being a very intense and demanding physical practice. How does this intensity helps in reaching the higher steps in yoga, like mental equanimity, or in other words how being able to do a proper full vinyasa or an advanced asana can help us in attaining peace, wisdom or contentment?
See, a healthy mind never exist in a disease body. This means that first you need to purify your physical body and keep it fit, strong and healthy. Once you are physically strong and healthy then it is possible to think about the higher levels.
If you want to focus on working with the mind, if you want to do meditation or if you want to do anything related to the mind, first your body has to be able to support it. If the body is not ready then you cannot do anything. That’s the concept, first we need to practice asanas for a long time, even though it is hard and intense, but if you practice regularly and methodically you will get the success.
Once you are able to do all the difficult poses, once you are able to do the intermediate series and advanced series your body will be purified so beautifully, you will become so energetic, so strong that without any disturbance you’ll be able to sit for two hours, three hours, four hours. Your body will be so fit.
By practicing yoga you’ll get that kind of body, that is the first step. Once the body is ready then we can talk about the next steps like regulation of breath, the practice ofpranayama or working with your mind. If you are not successful in the basic level it is not easy to go to the higher levels. So in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga we first focus on the purification of our physical body.
Practicing asanas can also be a form of meditation. It is not like I come here, bend my body in a different angle and just inhale and exhale, no. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a process where you must know how to synchronize your breath and the movements, that is actually vinyasa yoga and when your body is moving in a flow it becomes a kind of meditation. Vinyasa yoga is not only the jump throughs, is not only the jump backs. Vinyasa is how you synchronize your movements with your breathing, drishti or focal point, and more importantly when you are practicing, how you focus on your practice. Once you are able to understand these things and once you are able to practice regularly then this mind will start focusing on one thing.
The gurus say that the first four limbs in Ashtanga Yoga are the most important for human being. Patanjali says yama, niyama, asana, pranayama are the first external exercises, bahiranga sadhana, which are the most important for the basic level. Once you are good, once you are successful in these then we can talk about the higher levels, then we can talk about peace of mind, controlling the mind.
So there is a step by step procedure to follow, you cannot directly jump to the eighth limb, you can’t directly go to meditation, you can’t directly go to samadhi. Step by step is the key. Peace of mind is not easy to achieve but if you understand the concept of yoga then you will realize how to achieve it, what is yama and what is niyama, and how to adopt them and live according to those principles. These things are very important.
Just because you are doing some asanas, doing some vinyasas, jump throughs, jump backs you cannot call yourself a yogi; no, wrong. There must be the principles, how to live your life. You need to have an understanding and live according to that, then at last you enter the yoga, otherwise just doing asanas is not enough. Asanas are important but they are not enough. If you want to purify your mind, yamas and niyamas are very important, that’s what we are missing nowadays.
I’ve heard some times from different Ashtanga Yoga teachers and practitioners that you have to go through the pain and continue your practice no matter what, even if you are sick. What’s your view on this? What if you have an injury? How do you know when to stop to avoid any more injuries or a permanent injury?
See, when we practice yoga, not only Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga but any form of yoga, particularly if you are practicing yoga asanas, there are some rules and regulations that we must follow. It is true what they say, you have to practice regularly to get the success but in yoga we don’t use force, we never force ourselves. If you force it, it is wrong, it’s not called yoga.
When you practice there is a procedure, how to inhale, how to exhale, how to breath, how to methodically practice and when you methodically practice you can’t injure yourself. You must know your limitations. When you understand your limitations and within your limitations practice yoga regularly you never get injured.
If someone says “I’ve injured myself and I’m physically very weak, I’m tired” it means that they are doing too much, they are overstraining themselves, they are trying to practice too much.
There are regulations for everything, how much you need to practice, how to practice and when you are practicing like this how to maintain your body, whether it is the food that you eat or how many hours you sleep, everything counts. If you know this kind of things then everything is good otherwise just coming to Mysore, going to three classes in a day, practicing here and practicing there, then you are just torturing your body and that leads to injuries.
So there is a procedure and if you go accordingly you’ll never get injured, definitely not. When we are sick we don’t practice yoga, we must understand our limitations and stay within the limitations but we never say to be lazy either. When you come to class you need to put sincere effort to learn, but without applying force. Force is different and sincere effort is different, you must understand the difference, then you’ll get the success in life. Force never applies to yoga, whether it is a Mysore style or a led class, no force is applied.
In Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practitioners are normally encouraged to take rest on full moon or new moon days. At the same time there are many meditation groups around the world that synchronize their watches to meditate together on every full moon. Could you explain what’s the reason behind this practice? What’s the influence of the moon on the body and the mind that we have to give it so much importance?
See, what others are doing I don’t really know about, but according to what our teachers say, from a philosophical or spiritual perspective, during the moon days there are usually a lot of negative energies around the atmosphere so to avoid any negative influences on the mind we restrict ourselves from practicing yoga on those days. So the main reason philosophically speaking is that and we believe in it. I don’t know whether some people believe it or not but according to our teacher’s experiences it always says the same.
I actually thought that moon days were more like auspicious days…
Better not to compare with different opinions but believe in one thing only. Like you said, “You must follow one teacher” that’s the best thing we can do, we have to trust the teacher. First we have to study the teacher, trust him and then go according to him, best option. Don’t go around and try to study with ten teachers, it will make you confused. Trust in one teacher, a good teacher and follow him. That’s why I always follow my teacher.
I have three teachers, BNS Iyengar, Shankar Narayan Jois and my father and I always believe only in these three teachers, I never go anywhere. If I want to learn anything I will only learn it from them.
What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned from your guru BNS Iyengar and the biggest lesson that you’ve learned through your own yoga practice?
courtesy of joelondonyoga.com
There are too many lessons, I cannot say one or two, yoga has influenced so many things in my life. You know, if I am a yoga teacher today and if I’m teaching yoga focusing so much on giving health to people it’s only because of my teacher. Whatever I understand about yoga is because of him.
If I give you an example, when I was a student I was studying computer science, I wanted to become a software engineer. I didn’t want to become a yoga teacher actually, I wanted to practice yoga but I didn’t want to become a teacher, I just wanted to earn good money.
My mind was in different state but the experience that I had in my life and whatever I studied and learned with my teacher taught me that money never gives happiness. As a human being, what is important? Knowledge, knowledge is very important for a human being. If you have the right knowledge you will know what’s right and what’s wrong and you’ll be able to take the right decisions. A mind must have that capacity, then you’ll be able to choose and follow the right path and you will live your life happily and peacefully for sure.
So knowledge it’s very important and yoga, in a simplified way, means knowledge. Yoga teaches you about life values and how you can make your life more meaningful. If you adopt the yamas and niyamas and live according to those principles, how meaningful your life can become. Earning money is a different thing, but living your life with meaning is more important.
And do you think it’s easy to get peace of mind and happiness in life? Nowadays it’s too difficult, people are struggling with a lot of problems, failures, ups and downs. Too many problems to find happiness or peace easily.
So, what is important for us is to have a strong mind and to have a strong mind yoga can help. Yoga gives you that knowledge to come out of that stress, yoga makes you physically and mentally strong. That’s why I think teaching yoga is the best job that I can do. I’m very happy, I’m very satisfied with that.
What is the main lesson that you want your students to take away from practicing Ashtanga Yoga with you?
If you want to be successful in any endeavor we need to be sincere, honest and we need to be regular, particularly if you want to become successful in your asana practice.
It is very important to have a regular practice, we always recommend to practice at least six days in a week. One day you can have a complete rest but the other six days, without laziness, you have to practice. Then it is possible to get the success. If we do two days intense practice it doesn’t help you, everyday regular practice is important.
Like, to give you an example, Sophie from France. When she came the first time she was actually a beginner. She practiced with me for a few months but when she returned home she continue practicing regularly and now that she is back here we can see a big difference, she has improved a lot. That shows the dedication of the student. When the student goes back home he/she must continue practicing regularly, that’s what is important for any practitioner.
What are the most inspiring yoga books or scriptures that you have read and that you would recommend your students to read?
I haven’t read many books actually, I learned mostly from my teacher. He use to give me lots of theoretical explanations so for me the main source of knowledge is my teacher, he gave me everything. I didn’t study many books, I tell you honestly, but I study many things with my teacher, a lot.
But if you want to read and understand about the yoga postures then BKS Iyengar book “Light on Yoga: Yoga Dipika“ and “Hatha Yoga Pradipika“ are very good books. They are focused on hatha yoga postures but they are explained very well, even the theoretical part is explained very well. Those kind of books I like to read.
I have the impression that some of the ashtanga yoga practitioners that come to Mysore think that the true or authentic Ashtanga Yoga can only be learned at the KPJAYI Institute in Mysore (the main shala). What’s your opinion about this? Is there such a thing as authentic Ashtanga Yoga?
It’s people’s mentality, that’s all. See, Pattabhi Jois is actually not the generator of Ashtanga Yoga, the main teacher of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga was Krishnamacharya. Pattabhi Jois learned under Krishnamacharya, just like BKS Iyengar and my teacher BNS Iyengar.
I’ve studied with BNS Iyengar so I believe that what I am teaching is authentic Ashtanga Yoga. I don’t want to compare it, I don’t want to say this is right or this is wrong, as a yogi we most respect everything first, and yes it is important to consider the quality also. Pattabhi Jois was a great teacher, he modified and made a very good sequence, but BNS Iyengar also learned the same things from Krishnamacharya and the same things he is still teaching.
I also study with Shankar Narayan Jois, a disciple of Pattabhi Jois. So I actually learned both methods, Pattabhi Jois and BNS Iyengar method, and according to what I’ve learned from them and from my own experience I’m teaching Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.
I don’t believe that Ashtanga Yoga is only related to Pattabhi Jois and that other teachers don’t know this method of yoga, that’s wrong. I’m practicing for nearly 25 years and my teacher has been teaching for nearly 40 years. At present BNS Iyengar is actually the main teacher in Mysore, he is a living legend