Interview with Sri H. S. Arun
Deepthi: How and when did your journey Yoga start?
Arun: I was weak as a child so I was suggested to take up yoga to improve my health and strength. After 2 years, I went to BKS iyengar’s student Ajith kumar (Rashtrothana). I was very inspired by Ajith Kumar and the BKS iyengar style. He was strict. I would observe him closely when he was teaching. Many would wait to watch him take class.
In 1976 a few women requested for me to teach classes. I didn’t know anything then. I was sharing, not teaching. Even now I share.
My Guru was helping me in teaching. After the class at Rashtrothana, I formally introduced myself to Guruji BKS Iyengar... I still dwell on his words to me - “Come down to student’s level and teach.” If I show off my vidye- knowledge, there is no use if I can’t make them understand.
I went to Pune whenever Guruji (BKS Iyengar) called me and was guided by Prashant Iyengar.
When I was teaching private classes, one student offered space for me to open a yoga school. He was planning to build a hall. My mother in law said, why not in our house? My fellow yoga mates also encouraged this idea. My Guru said take the freedom to teach in any way you want. Geetha iyengar said it is your institution, don’t give an opportunity for anybody to take advantage. Prashant Iyengar sir said go at the time of class and leave immediately after. Don’t stand and let people talk and get attached. These three lines stuck with me.
Finally, with Guruji’s blessings and his presence, our Institute was established and named after Prashanth ji- “Prashanth Yogashraya”.
After this I was called by Guru ji to Pune to receive intensive training for one month. Geetha iyengar took classes and my Guru was always present, guiding the classes. These were classes for senior practitioners and teachers and I felt very lucky and blessed to get the intensive classes. I had to study the yoga sutra book but it was too expensive for me to buy. So I wrote down the whole book of yoga sutra and vyasa’s commentary on it in a notebook with a pencil. I still have it.
Later on, I was writing a regular column explaining yoga in a magazine. After 3 years, Hamsadwani publishers wrote to me asking my permission to publish the material as a book. My Guru suggested to me to write more. I referred Geetha Iyengar’s book and did so. I called it Yogadarpana. Subsequently, encouraged by the publisher I wrote 15 books. He would give me a subject and I would write. I also wrote a pocket edition- yoga for school children.
I have also done workshops for dancers. Somehow I connect with artistes.
I know many teachers from Bangalore, even Delhi. Many dancers come to me for class. They also see how I teach. I teach yoga like an art. Usually I include a lot of variety.. Many people like that.
Deepthi: Is there a particular style of you have adapted in teaching Yoga?
Arun: I like to have freedom to teach in my style.. Style, or “shyli” is about how you understand something. It also keeps changing.
Deepthi: Is there a set format for learning Yoga?
Arun: Yes but I’m a little outside of it.
Deepthi: Would you explain this?
Arun: There is a 52-week syllabus. But I don’t want to stick to one frame. I won’t have freedom. I’ll just be an instructor, which I find very limited. I like to go out and learn more by teaching different people. People from different places understand differently. I can also see and learn. Whoever wants advance their learning come and learn from me. I have had students from abroad stay with me and learn. Shows how much effort you need. We have put a board... We don’t teach anyone as customer or client. We don’t teach anyone as customer or client. We want students. Then people will come to learn.. One must unlearn the syllabus first. Then learn.
Deepthi: Do you believe in usage of technology in learning?
Arun: One to one contact is good. However, my Guru has said that a good book is better than a bad teacher. Instead of book now it is videos. After you reach a stage, you don’t need a teacher.
Deepthi: While learning Abhinaya, first we imitate, then we try to personalize an item in accordance with our personality. Does this happen while learning Yoga too?
Arun: Manodharma is important… Even yoga teachers should have Manodharma- own ideas in the moment. It is about connectivity… asana should connect to yama-niyama, pranayama, dharana, dhyana.. It should connect to body, breath, intelligence, consciousness, super consciousness.. Just moving legs and hands won’t suffice. Unless you work properly using your mind and intelligence, nothing happens. Yoga, as is Art, is a huge subject, and one must keep practicing everyday.
Yoga takes nivrudhi marga, and dance takes pravrudhi marga. Both have the same intention. Even music. Art should not be for entertainment, it must be for self. We must be involved, and when we are, it will definitely come out well. When I present, I’ll be closing my eyes. It helps me go within. But when I’m a student I don’t close my eyes. A student should have eyes open, watch the teacher, listen. While doing asana, there is “source of action” how to begin the asana. And end. So I give less instruction, give source of action, I’ll demonstrate, they’ll see and learn. If they do it wrong I correct them. Sometimes when I come abroad, they are curious about how I make a sequence. They want to study it. It is become a subject now.
Deepthi : What do you think about Angasoushtava (Fitness) taking priority over the quality and depth of dancing in an artiste?
Arun: It is not true that size zero defines an artist. I know one person.. about 70 - who does martial arts who would be a very good counterexample to this theory. In my opinion, when lavanya and roopa occur in combination - the body is said to be “Vajra Kaaya”. These days however, size zero is a fitness fad present worldwide, in yoga too. It has taken over people’s priorities beyond the quality of the art. This is evidently because they prioritize their worldly life.
Deepthi: Could you enlighten importance of breathing in dance?
Arun: The artist doesn’t have to pay attention to breath when involved. Attention should be on the art. Breathing can be practiced separately, practiced as pranayama.
More you exhale the more you relax. Most process in life is with exhalation - birth, laugh, burp, talk, all processes.. Even dying.. Everything is with exhalation. That is the reason we emphasise on exhalation.
However, Kapalabhati and bhastrika (the two most common breathing exercises with emphasis on exhalation) are not for common man. A Yogi or a Rogi can practice these two practices because they are on pathya.. Restricted food intake. But if you and I do then it may disturb the vital organs - and possibly cause uterus collapse, breast sag, acid deflux , constipation… many people get affected but don’t realise that it could be because of this.
Deepthi: What do you have to say about the concept of ego and how it is different from having self confidence?
Arun: Of course. We must always be aware of every part of our body. Including skin.. Every pore. Chitta prasadana… it lowers ahanakaara. Ego that is like a Watermelon can reduce to a mustard seed. Who doesn’t have ahankara? It is interesting… it is actually aham kaara - an aakaara of our own. How can one let go of that? We exist because of ego. Without that we are not human. However, we must not let it hinder others or ourselves.
Deepthi: What is a performance according to you?
Arun: There are three aspects to this : 1- practice, 2 - demonstration , 3 - teaching. The usage of the english word “practice” is limited. They say “practice makes man perfect” but wrong practice will definitely harm. Judicial practice is important. Evaluate- what am I doing, does it pain, what does it feel like, is it better than yesterday etc . it takes a lot of discipline. Talking of demonstration… when you know how to do it, why do you need rehearsal? Mind knows it when you have done it for several years. For coordination with others you need rehearsal.. But to do alone, you don’t. In swimming for example, more time is spent on exercise than swimming itself. For example, I have to do hanumaasana on my own, to practice I need 90 minutes - that is the difference between saadhane and performance. Performance I can do anytime. Practice is for me, performance is for people, and teaching is for students, keep their wellbeing in mind. People who don’t have experience in life cannot teach yoga much beyond its technical aspects.
Deeps: Do you agree to a statement which says art starts with expression and ends with experience?
Arun: Yes, that’s in fact the definition of my book.. Experiment and experience- the bhavane is important. It is like in japa, which must have artha and bhavane. Every religion has some form of japa. But without artha and bhavane, it is not japa. Even in yoga, one must have bhavana... Why am I doing this? What is my intention? What is my experience? If it is done mechanically, our body will wear off, like clothes wear off over a period of time.. I would like to point out here that asana and taking a dance pose are similar. Asana is like a preparation for dhyana, which is about “being” not “doing.” The asana, like dance, has to be brought to the moment, and not merely “executed.” Mind must be fully engaged in the body, like babies. I wonder if we will ever get there.
Deepthi : What is your perception about defining ART?
Arun: Art is nothing but Action of Regulated Thoughts. To regulate is very important in yoga. Yoga is not a religion. There are no rules to tell even mantras in yoga. I always ask those who I am teaching what their tradition is and what they chant and try to connect my subject with them. The intention is to keep the mind peaceful. It is the study of self and consciousness..