Minker Chang from World Yoga Festival talks to Iyengar Yogacharya Zubin Zarthoshtimanesh ahead of his highly anticipated visited to the festival this 19th-22nd July. As published on Iyengar Yoga UK, 22nd January 2018: https://iyengaryoga.org.uk/interview-zubin-zarthoshtimanesh/
Can you please introduce yourself?
I am a teacher in the Iyengar yoga lineage. Our Guruji is Yogacharya B. K. S. Iyengar. I started yoga quite young thanks to my father who was a student of our Guru-ji. That is how I came into yoga, and here I am now, after twenty-seven years of learning with Guru-ji.
Can you tell us about your path and journey into yoga?
It has been continuous. One gradually grows into a subject, an art. I didn’t start off as a teacher. Everyone starts off by being a student. As Guruji always says, be a student. The important thing is to keep learning. It is learning all the time. That has been the common strand throughout the years, of trying to grow in the subject, and at the same time, trying to understand this container, which is the body. Yoga is like an ocean, such a vast thing. When one learns from this ocean, where does one begin? The container, the body, which contains the mind, the breath, the senses, so many things inside us. One accesses the container not for the container’s sake but to access the content which is within the container. So that is how this exploration takes place.
Can you tell us some of your impressions of Guruji?
Guruji, he needs no introduction to the world. People know of his work, his life, what he has done, his eighty years of teaching the subject of yoga. Today people may know it as Iyengar yoga and respectfully they named the yoga after him. But what he used to also insist, a subject which I’ve just explored in a way, which helps people to understand, is how to really understand what the body is, for not only the body, but the body in relation to the mind, because it has connections. The body-mind-breath are related in relation to the body for the body, body for the mind, body for the breath. Similarly, mind for the body, mind with the breath; so these are the connections which he explored in his practice - in his Abhyasa - in his sadhana. It is now universal in that sense, yoga has evolved to absorb this aspect. It is not that it is a different brand. We must be clear what is a market space and what is an educative space. So here, let us understand what it is to really be aware of what is going on, in the essential aspects of the art, the subject, and what it is to just kind of have someone trying to sell you something. Now Iyengar yoga as people understand it is giving respect to one person’s practice, a person who went so deep in exploring the essential aspects of the subject which we now know as yoga.
What were some of the main lessons you learnt from your Guruji, what did he instil in you as a student?
One of his favourite quotes was, "The body is my temple, the asanas are my prayers”, as well as some of his teachings like ‘The wall is my guru'. You can learn from just about anything, so he took a simple thing like a wall or the floor, which gives you a sense of direction, a sense of precision, to understand how to position your body, your mind and your breath, with that as a reference point. These are some of the things which now surface in me with my association with him.
Can you describe your own self-practice and how that has evolved?
We practice every day to deepen. In that sense practice should not be a repetition of what you are doing. You are not like a machine or robot that starts and switches off in the same way every day. You should try to see how you are exploring different things. Your starting point today should be the end-point of yesterday. That is how you can grow. That is how we have been taught to practice.
How do you view your role as a yoga teacher?
I still don’t see myself as a teacher. I still see myself as a practitioner, practicing the art and when I am going around I am sharing my knowledge, my understanding, so I don’t put myself on that kind of pedestal, that kind of position. I am more of a colleague, more of a traveller with someone. So that makes me also one with that whole journey.
One of the things that fascinates me is how to maintain the balance between lineage and evolving the living tradition? How can we maintain that balance?
What you have asked is very relevant and deep. In a tradition, you learn and evolve, just like our Guruji did. His Guruji, our Guruji’s Guruji Sri T. Krishnamacharya, evolved a system of yoga from what he had learnt from his teacher. In that tradition, in that Paramparam, our Guruji’s Guruji also had this skill for sequencing the asanas. Before you could start the asanas in any which way, you could start with standing, you could start with lying down, and then something came in like a sequence to build up like a course of meals; so similarly here one could have a certain sequence which builds up the resonance, the vibrations in you, which culminates in a crescendo. In this there are also evolutions and further evolutions in how you evolve the way you practice the asana. Guruji took that from this limb, how asana, in the scheme of Ashtanga yoga, that is the eight-fold path of yoga - yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi - asana is one limb, but what he discovered - what he realized - his practice led him to realize that all the limbs are implicit in one limb, like a petal contains a whole flower, and the whole flower is contained within the petal, that kind of inclusivity, that asana contains the whole of yoga, and the whole of yoga contains the asana; so he maintained the tradition and yet he evolved to give a different facet, there is always that freshness because life moves on. As one keeps on practicing, one will start discovering these truths. It is a journey.
Are there any final comments that you would like to share?
Nothing should be final. We are always in the process of evolving and exploring. To give inspiration, Patanjali in sutra 1.20 says the essential ingredients for a yoga practitioner, for any aspirant on the spiritual path; he says Sraddha (faith), Virya (courage), Smrti (memory and mindfulness), Prajna (awareness), and Samadhi (absorption) are the five key ingredients that an aspirant should have; so Patanjali reminds us of these five essential qualities which are required to tread on the path in order to succeed on the journey.
Zubin will be sharing his vast depth of knowledge of Iyengar Yoga at World Yoga Festival 19th-22nd July 2018, Reading, UK.