Yog - The Science of Getting Along…with Ourselves! An Interview with Dr. Kumar
Dr. Kumar is internationally recognized as an inspirational yoga and meditation teacher as well as an award-winning scientist. His teaching is informed by his extensive experiential and theoretical knowledge, developed through his education in more than 37 schools of Hatha yoga and 50 traditions of meditation, and progressed through decades of self-practice. Find out about his lineage, how he used yoga and meditation to recover after being told he would never be able to walk again, and why he believes every yoga teacher should be well established in meditation practices.
What is different about your yoga?
The question perhaps should be where is the practice of yoga that has been taught for thousands of years? As this is where the problem today lies. There is much confusion regarding the understanding of the many branches of yoga, Hatha, Bhakti, Jnana and Raja yoga and how they are progressive, sequential. People even mistakenly think that Patanjali taught Hatha Yoga. I wish to clarify these misunderstandings to enable people to make swift progress.
Progress to what exactly?
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 our selves (knowing thyself-Tattwamasi). The science of getting on well with our selves is called Yog.
Exactly the opposite, Viyog means separation. Separation brings unhappiness.
What do we mean by ‘ourselves?’ This includes our mind and body. In Sanskrit this is described as consisting of five layers, sheaths or Koshas. The different sheaths or levels require different inputs. For example food is the input for the Annamaya Kosha or gross physical body; breath is the input for the Pranmaya Kosha or subtle, life-force body
Thoughts are the input for the Manomaya Kosha, the conscious mind including the five senses. Our perceptions, emotions and instincts are the inputs for the Vignanamaya Kosha or the subconscious and unconscious mind. Happiness is the input that creates Bliss, the Anandamaya Kosha. All our problems are brought about by the wrong inputs to these Koshas, for example not enough, an excess or defective food will lead to an unbalance or sickness. The formula for happiness requires cleaning or removing of all the impurities from the Koshas. Yoga is a very precise and practical method to do this job, of purifying the body and mind.
That’s very ambitious!
That is why the study and practice of yoga in its entirety is so useful. It addresses life on every level.
So why did you decide to first visit the West?
I was invited to give some talks and demonstrations by people who met me in India and benefited from my teaching. In the West yoga is frequently considered to be simply the practice of asanas. I have met many yoga teachers who are unfamiliar with meditation. Those who meditate in the West do not always practice physical yoga. The value of physical yoga should not be underestimated. I wish to give a picture of the completeness of yoga. Whatever I know I want to spread to help others.
You call it Traditional Yoga, which tradition do you come from?
Since I was a child of 12 years, I have looked into the practices taught in many schools of yoga. But I have only been interested in finding the ultimate reality through my own experience. Any teacher or technique I came across I would sincerely follow until I knew the practice, had fully grasped it and could evaluate it in my own life and behaviour. I was never prepared to remain in one school until I had investigated all available knowledge. I have studied in about 37 Hatha Yoga Ashrams in Northern and Southern India. My first teacher was Satyananda Saraswati, the student of Sivananda. He cautioned me not restrict my study to the methodology of only one school, but to seek out the entire science of mind and body. I went on to learn from many teachers including some that are famous in the West such as BKS Iyengar and Desikachar. My aim is to teach the genesis of yoga not just the methodologies of one or another school.
So many teachers are teaching to the best of their knowledge but unfortunately this knowledge may be limited to one teacher or tradition. They may be teaching certain asanas, postures but without the traditional understanding of the whole process, the integration of all the various limbs and how the practice unfolds. And so many of the pranayamas, bandanas and mudras, which are so effective, are slowly becoming extinct or have been lost altogether. These work on a cellular level, to rejuvenate and balance the whole system. There is little understanding of the relationship between the yoga that makes the body healthy, flexible and strong and the yoga that purifies the mind and leads to ultimate happiness. Actually hatha yoga is a preparation for inner yoga as taught by Patanjali, which strengthens the mind and removes the impurities that lead to suffering.
Is it correct that you were once told you would never walk again?
Yes, in 1992, I met with a road accident in Pune, my pelvis was crushed by a truck. The accident resulted in multiple fractures in my lower spine, hip and pelvic bone, I lost complete control of my lower body because the back wheel of the truck had crushed my hip region to the road. I was bedridden with a ruptured urethra, the pelvic bone having pierced the canal. The edge of the pelvic bone was so sharp it made sitting impossible. I had to go for dilatation of the urethra every two months. The doctors told me I would probably be unable to walk again.
After a year my condition had not improved. My physical health was fine apart from the problems with walking, urination and reproduction function. I was due to be married so I tried to persuade my wife- to- be and her family, to cancel the marriage, for her sake, what life would it be for her with a husband so damaged. The doctors also advised them that would be the sensible course of action. But she insisted the marriage went ahead as planned, so I was airlifted to the ceremony. After two years with no change I decided to ignore the doctors’ advice not to practice yoga and I began to devise a way to use yoga to heal my body by referring to the scans of my injuries. At first it was very painful. I used my knowledge of the asanas, mudras and bandanas and after a year I could not only walk but run and finally resumed my previous 300 asanas. Eventually I was blessed with two daughters. It was that experience of the healing potential of yoga that made me decide to dedicate my time to teaching.
You also treat people individually with something called Kaya chikitsa, what is that?
Yoga Kaya Chikitsa is a form of yoga that can be practiced on people unable to practice for themselves, it is for the seriously ill or bedridden. When I was in the Himalayas, I was quite young, I was approached by a man, his family was the last from a long tradition to practice this system. As he had no sons to pass it on to, in order to prevent this knowledge dying out altogether, he asked me to study it along with two of my friends. I only started using it after many years when I had made the decision to try to help people, and since have had good results in a number of problems such as cancer, muscular dystrophy, heart problems, skin diseases such as erythrodermas, spinal problems including slipped discs and spondylitis, reproductive problems such as infertility, polycystic ovaries, thyroid and respiratory problems like asthma and sinusitis. It is a very good system. I have trained some of my students to do this work but you need to be physically strong and fit, it is very demanding.
We have a lot of gurus who come to the west, are you hoping to be another with your own following?
I have no desire to be a guru. My only aim is to spread the understanding of the traditional practice, the integration of yoga, to speed up the progress of all practitioners, to help free as many as possible from physical and mental suffering. For that we need as many people teaching as possible, not just me. Perhaps in India we become a little cynical of the five star gurus, they come to the west, enjoy the fame and fortune available here, and I’m afraid there are some gullible people who follow them. Blind faith is a dangerous thing. They teach maybe one or two techniques, and people are happy. People think this is the ultimate without looking further, That is why it is important to intelligently test what they say, to scrutinise them carefully and see if you do get what they claim to be offering. Is there any change in your behaviour? Can you react without any anger or hatred to others? Can you be happy with whatever happens? The great scientists of the mind such as The Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Patanjali, Guru Nanak, all spoke about purifying and transforming the mind and developing love, compassion, forgiveness and equanimity. This should be the test of any teacher. Yoga is a science and should be approached as such.
Thank you for clarifying so much and for your time.
Dr. Kumar has devised a training program – Meditation Teacher Training in the Yoga Darshana Tradition of Patanjali, facilitated by Anna Bhushan – to keep practitioners connected to the source, the lineage and the philosophical principles that are essential to maintain the purity of the original Prana Samyama techniques and benefit from them fully. What is distinctive about this teacher training course is its commitment to present original ancient teachings, in their whole and undiluted practical form for a contemporary audience. Dr Kumar’s guided meditation recordings are at the heart of the training and available to all graduating teachers.
Dr.Kumar will also be leading a 3 day workshop at Yogacampus this Autumn on Exploring The Technology of Yoga for Optimal Well-Being (Friday 9th to Sunday 11th August 2019). Click here to find out more.