Interviev with Gabriella Giubilaro in Moscow

Moscow, February 2006

[Q.] You started practicing when you were 23 years old. You've been practicing for 30 years. Would you have come to Russia as a physics teacher if you had not become a yoga teacher?

[A.] I think if I weren't a yoga teacher I would come here as a tourist. I was always interested in and curious about the country. When I got an opportunity to come here I was very excited. But now I prefer to travel to teach not to visit. Nevertheless I would go to Russia and Moscow if I were not a yoga teacher. Yoga teaching creates obligations and responsibilities. It requires concentration during the whole day as well as awareness. Teaching yoga is very difficult because it requires a lot of discipline. You need a strong will and severe discipline. But yoga is not just an occupation. You cannot finish working with yoga at 5 o'clock for example. For my practice and teaching I must always be aware of my eating and sleeping habits. The strong discipline aids the practice. When yogin stops practicing he loses his energy, his interest. You can have holidays from teaching but not from practicing. Yoga is a way of life. I cannot imagine my life without the yoga. Every day I have to think how I can do my practice, and how many classes I can teach and still have enough time for my own practice. I could teach more classes and earn more money but I wouldn't be able to practice for myself. It takes discipline and some kind of organization. It's hard when there is a family. I have a husband who is very tolerant from this point of view. When I'm practicing he can read a book or do any thing he is interested in. If you have children it's harder because the children are priorities. You have to take care of them and get up earlier or later. But if you have a strong will and discipline you can still do it.

[Q.] Did you realize that yoga was your path in life at the beginning of your practice?

When I started to practice I was only curious. I read some books and it was interesting for me to try. After the first yoga class I came home and tried to repeat what I just learned. I was practicing at home from the very beginning. And it couldn't have been good because I had no idea what practice meant. For example if during the class we were taught Utthita Trikonasana and something was difficult I used to go home and do this asana for an hour not for practice's sake but to learn what I could not do. I could do some asana such as a hand stand or Adho Mukha Vrikshasana, for the entire afternoon until the moment I felt too much pain in my shoulder or in my stomach. The first time I did Halasana in the class I couldn't touch the floor with my feet so at home I used a blanket and tried and push myself until I could reach my feet. It was not dangerous as I was only 23 years old. I had no education how to practice but I had the will to explore, to learn from the beginning. For 4 years I had no idea about teaching. Then my yoga teacher offered me to start teaching a little bit. It was like a dream for me and I was so excited. I didn't think that yoga was my profession. It was my passion. And I was still working in the university, studying physics. When I finished my studies I began teaching yoga one class a week. After a year I made a choice. I realized that it was impossible to practice hard and work all day long. I had to decided what yoga was for me. Was it a hobby or a main focus? It was a very hard decision because of my family, my husband and society. Thirty years ago to be a teacher at the school or at the university was much more respectful than to be a yoga teacher. Now yoga has become more popular and one can earn more money which makes yoga attractive and acceptable to society. Thirty years ago it was considered strange to quit teaching and researching physics at the university in order to teach yoga to 4 students. I asked myself for 2 weeks: ?What do I do? What should I do?? Everybody said I was crazy but, I felt my heart was completely dedicated to the yoga. I quit the university. It was very hard decision. I cried for a week. Before yoga I was dreaming about physics research, my heart was in physics. It's impossible to change completely in one day, the change is a process. It was a disaster with my family, my husband, my friends. I divorced my husband and my mother cursed me and deprived me of welfare. For years I had not a penny in my pocket but I did not care about money, I cared only for yoga. I'd been alone for 10 years before I met another man. And for 2 10 years I taught 4 students. Only after 10 years I started to teach a little bit more. All my freetime I spent in yoga school. From morning to evening I worked there without vacation for 16 years. It is not my profession. It's my passion. I would die without yoga.

[Q.] How old were you when you became a yoga teacher?

When I was 28 years old, after 5 years of practicing. And now when I look back I can say I was too young for that.

[Q.] You are always practicing Iyengar yoga. How would you characterize this particular method? For most people it's associated with bricks and ropes.

It was a miracle, a chance, not my choice. For many years I thought it was the only kind of yoga. After I had learned about other kinds of yoga I wanted to experiment and went to ashtanga among other types of yoga classes, I tried anything I could. I traveled and met different teachers who invited me to their schools. Iyengar yoga requires intelligence, you cannot do your practice as a workout. When you are running you are just running, when you do another kind of yoga you have always a sequence of poses that never change. In Iyengar yoga you must think, reflect and study, you must watch yourself during the practice that requires all your mind, not only your body. I don't want to do yoga just as physical exercise. The main rule of my teaching and practice is the wish to develop intelligence, to grow. That's why I continue practicing Iyengar yoga. I understand Iyengar yoga is not for every one. Some people go in for yoga to stretch a little, to have fun without being involved intellectually. Very often during the class I ask people to watch their feet or shoulders but it is the awareness that is important not the feet or shoulders. It is the mind which is important. Yoga is fusion between body and mind. Construction and attention to your body is to guide this union. That is the main difference between Iyengar yoga and other kinds of yoga. Alignment is very helpful because it improves a troubled spine. Alignment creates health. But we do yoga not for health or physical reasons, we do it for the mind. Alignment is the tool in which we penetrate the body with the mind.

[Q.] Beginners, especially young people, are very often eager to do advanced poses when their bodies are not prepared and simple poses are boring for them. What should the teacher do to make the practice interesting and harmless?

First of all there is a difference between teaching young and old people. Young people, particularly children and teenagers, prefer to move therefore it is necessary to do more and faster movements. Old people have the capability to reflect more so they should be taught to use more intelligence. Some people become more stiff so they need more support, which can be adjusted. It is an issue of capacity. Some people still have a young body when they are 60 years old. It is all relative. At the same time when a student tries to do difficult poses it is not a good idea to encourage them. We meet to gain inner strength. An unprepared person can injure the body in an attempt to do the advanced pose. A persons who does sport and has strong muscles think that he can do advanced yoga. But yoga is done from inside, from intelligence, not from the muscles. If you let these people do advanced poses you'll feed their ego. It is impossible for one year students to implement these poses. If they do it is because of bending and not because of an inner strength. Each body has a certain kind of flexibility, a certain kind of strength and resistance. We need to learn how to balance. If a person is too flexible he has to find the resistant inner strength, if a person is too stiff he has to learn to be more flexible. When you learn the balance between flexibility and resistance you can advance and succeed to do the more difficult poses. If you do them only owning to your flexibility you can injury and even ruin your body. Some people can go a bit faster because they have more discipline and some people take more time. If you really work hard you'll be able to learn all the poses in 6 years. At this point you start to learn the action in the poses and the real work begins. The capacity for doing yoga poses is not the yoga itself. It would be rather a kind of dancing or acrobatics. You need the rest of your life to study the yoga. It is a work in progress. 3

[Q.] If a person who is practicing yoga for a year is certain that he is working in the pose and can reveal its sense, is he mistaken?

If this happens this person lives in an illusion. Yoga is the hardest discipline. For a example if you study physics or mathematics in 4 years you'll have good understanding of the matter. 4 years of yoga is nothing because we have to penetrate both body or mind. If you study physics or mathematics you study only with your head. There is no interpenetration. I'll give you another easier example ? playing the piano. Is a person playing the piano for a year a master? Can he give concerts? Why do you think after a year of yoga practice that you are a master? If you are studying the piano for a year you are just a beginner. One year of yoga and you are a beginner. Four years of yoga and you are still a beginner. Only after 4-6 years of studying you start to gain some maturity. You must work, work and work and the maturity comes much later. Of course some people can go faster perhaps from previous reincarnations and others go slower but everybody needs to work. Sometimes I say to my students: ?Nothing comes as a gift?. The maturity never comes as a gift, you have to earn it.

[Q.] Do you mean maturity in the asanas or pranayama or meditation?

I am speaking of the asanas and then for pranayama and meditation you need even more time.

[Q.] After 6 years?

In 6 years you'll learn a little bit of the asanas, not pranayama. After 10 years of pranayama you are as if after 1 year of asanas. Because pranayama is an inner work and takes more time. Pranayama is not just to breath, to do deep exhalations and deep inhalations. It's a work with energy, so to understand the subtle energy with pranayama takes much more time. But doing the asana with the right attitude, with the intelligence helps the pranayama. And pranayama helps to do the asana because it teaches to watch inside. The practice of the asana helps to do pranayama because it teaches concentration. Then the asana and the pranayama help the meditation.

[Q.] If the beginner wants to start with pranayama as well as with asanas would you teach it?

At the beginning we start with the pranayama lying down because a person starting the practice of the asana does not have strength and stability in the spine. We do not teach pranayama to a person who does not do asanas. Before you start practicing pranayama you need some movement in the ribs, you have to be able to make space. Sometimes it's not possible to do pranayama at the beginning if a person has very stiff ribs. Everybody can do observation of the normal breath but to work on deep exhalation and deep inhalation you need flexibility. And that's why asanas come before pranayama. As you improve your stability and movement then you can sit in pranayama. The better the asana and the better the sitting pose the more complicated a pranayama you can practice. For pranayama as for the asanas, you need a guide, a teacher. It is dangerous to practice asanas without a teacher or advanced poses if one is not ready. It is even more dangerous to practice pranayama without a teacher