Dr. ALV Kumar: from paralysis to enlightenment
Dr. ALV Kumar tells his inspiring story after a brush with death left him paralysed from the waist down.
What, when and where was your first experience of yoga?
I was introduced to yoga when I was aged 11. Swamis from the Himalayas would visit my school where I served them. I would get up very early to prepare their water for bathing and sweep their rooms. They invited me to visit their ashram in Rishikesh. At that time I was a chubby child and my only ambition regarding yoga was to grow taller, so my cousins would stop teasing me! I was initiated by Vishnudevananda at the Sivananda ashram. My first meditation was very strong and lasted for a number of hours. After that first visit I continued to visit ashrams in the North and the South of India over the following 25 years, in order to learn as much as I could about all of the techniques of yoga.
What made you decide to move from student to teacher?
In 1992 I had an accident in Pune where my pelvis was crushed by a truck. I had 45 fractures, was unable to pass urine without urethra dilation and was told I would not walk again or be able to have children. I was paralysed from the waist down and remained in hospital for 2 years. At that time, I still needed crutches to move and the doctors forbade me to practise yoga as they said it would further damage the fractures. I finally decided that there was nothing to lose; being an engineer by training, I studied all of my X-rays and designed a programme of yoga. At first tears poured from my eyes, but I persisted and within 6 months I could walk, and within 2 years I was able to practise most of the 200 postures I had previously practised. I also have been blessed with two daughters. This experience of the healing power of yoga was what influenced me to teach. Before, I had found yoga very useful for my own reasons, particularly in helping with concentration for my studies and my mental and physical health. For example, after my accident I did not need any anaesthetic during my many operations, as my samadhi was sufficient. It was only after the accident that I was motivated to share what I had learned during my years of studying yoga and meditation.
What teaching tip has had the biggest influence on the way you practice? And the way you teach?
I have studied in all the ashrams where valuable techniques are still to be found. Altogether I attended 37 schools and ashrams. I was fortunate that my first teacher gave me the advice to never get caught in a single tradition or stop searching until I had found the ultimate truth. I followed this advice and although I was invited to stay and teach at many ashrams I used my own life, mind and body as the experiment. I studied directly under Vishnudevananda, BKS Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, Desikachar, and Swami Rama among other renowned teachers as well as the unknown, but equally accomplished, Himalayan masters and monks. In my teaching I try to adhere to the genesis of yoga and its many components.
If you only had 10 minutes to practice, what would you do?
To sit quietly and just observe the natural breath, each breath coming in and each breath going out.
Who/what is the biggest inspiration on your yoga journey at the moment?
The biggest inspiration is teaching others, the people to whom I wish to give the best of yoga.
What role does yoga play in the way you live?
'Yog' is the Sanskrit word which means getting on well with everything, or union, to get along with everything in life; with our own health; with the food we eat; with the work and activities we do; with our family and friends; to remove the problems and to be free of unhappiness. All this is possible when we get on well with ourselves. The science of getting on well with ourselves is called Yog. Yoga is a very precise and practical method to do the job of purifying the body and mind. That is why the study and practise of yoga in its entirety is so useful. It addresses life on every level.
What do you hope your students experience when they practise with you?
I not only hope but also have seen that many students whom I coach during the retreats, around 80% of them have reached a level of enlightenment called ‘stream entry’, which is explained by both the Buddha and Patanjali. This is a very practical experience that helps in day to day life: as the negative habit patterns of the mind caused by reactions due to certain cellular memories of fear, anger, greed are significantly weakened. This chemistry of suffering is radically changed during meditation so feelings of anger, hatred, fear etc. have less grip on the mind and no longer drive the powerful unconscious. It means they can finally completely be purified, so inner peace and happiness increases to become a permanent state. My aim is to enable as many people as possible to enjoy the benefits of meditation and all limbs of yoga.
Which yoga text could you not live without?
The Yoga Sutras of Patanajali – it tells us everything we need to know about the path of yoga but it must be interpreted in the light of practical experience in meditation, properly guided. Patanjali was very influenced by the Buddha’s teaching and the Pali Canon sheds great light on the Yoga Sutras.
Describe the meaning of yoga in 10 words or less.
To become an inner-observer. Every human can be 100% happy.
Dr. ALV Kumar will be teaching a one-day workshop on Cultivating Wisdom in Meditation through the Power of Observation on Saturday 6 August 2016. This workshop is also recommended for those attending Traditional Yoga's Meditation Teacher Training course: Patanjali’s Prana Samyama Technique on 1-3rd July 2016