Interview with Andrew Eppler for Avatar Festival
Odessa Ukraine 2019
When and how did you start to practice yoga?
I was 14 years old when my father’s friend Cliff Barber came to visit us for two months in Oklahoma USA. I was used to jogging 5 miles every day with my father and when Cliff arrived we began learning Primary Series together. I have my father thank for my education in yoga actually. He somehow made discipline look cool for me. He was able to inspire me to practice with him every day and keep me interested in the practice. There was never any pressure or reprimand when I didn’t practice. I simply loved spending time with him and that was what we did together. Looking back I realize what an incredibly difficult thing that was to do. I have utmost gratitude to him.
Why did yoga become your life-long practice?
When I was 14 years old I surely didn’t realize it would become my life’s path. I just thought I might perhaps be able to levitate if I practiced enough. I spent 3 years practicing daily with my father. Then at age 17 I began to travel. I met with our first teacher Cliff Barber again in Hawaii and then met his friend Danny Paradise who inspired me to come to India with him and to study in Mysore. I would say it was through the kindness and encouragement of the international yoga community that I began to see yoga as a real calling for me. There was no special moment when I knew this was my lifelong practice. I just went that direction and eventually realized this was what I love to do.
Why Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga?
The main reason I have always practiced Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga is because it was what I learned first. It found me! I became well versed in the Ashtanga sequences before I was ever exposed to other forms of yoga. Despite the seeming rigidity of this style of yoga, I never really saw it as “this yoga and no other.” I have my foundation in Ashtanga and I have studied many other types of yoga over the years. In my opinion, yoga philosophy and thinking are the main thing that sets yoga aside from other forms of exercise and discipline. For me, the sequences of Ashtanga are something like the musical scales that a classically trained musician must learn at the beginning of their training. Once they have been fully assimilated and learned we are capable of learning many other things. As millions of people continue to practice yoga all over the world and communicate with one another through social media and other means, I see a global fusion of all physical culture expressing itself in yoga practice. There are very creative and intelligent people all over the world making contributions in asana practice and yoga therapy by refining the techniques they practice to fit into their culture and circumstances. I see this as an inevitable thing and I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. I am doing the same and learning from yoga practitioners and teachers all over the world as I travel and teach. I still hold to my roots when it comes to teaching new students. I feel that a firm foundation is important. I see Surya Namaskar as the foundation of the Vinyasa method and I try to teach it carefully and correctly. From there I follow the Ashtanga Method to the extent possible with the people I happen to be working with. If they are young and fit and have no injuries I teach that first. But when students are unable to do those sequences safely without pain or risk of injury, I draw from everything I know to teach them a yoga practice that they can truly benefit from and which fits with their body, lifestyle, needs and circumstances.
Some people say that Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga is kind of power yoga and it doesn’t have any spiritual component and can be done only by young fit people. What do you think about it?
I think yoga in general has become very physical and tends toward becoming a kind of cult of fitness, youth and esthetic beauty. This is not the purpose that yoga was originally intended for. Of course it can be done as simply exercise, but it is infused with techniques which lead to quiet, focused, meditative states of mind that inspire practitioners towards interest in other aspects of yoga. Fitness is a fine reason to explore yoga. But if we stay only at that level, we miss an opportunity to get much more from yoga. Ashtanga in particular draws criticism because of its rigorous approach. Those who feel it is too hard for them can easily see it as macho or too strict etc. As we refine our teaching methods and learn more about yoga, many Ashtanga teachers are making yoga available to all levels of fitness. Strict Ashtanga is good in the right context because it instils discipline and concentration. But when it becomes cruel, arrogant and dogmatic it misses its goal. After studying the spiritual background of the yoga culture in Mysore I firmly believe that yoga postures can and should be taught in a way that can accommodate all ages and levels of fitness, all levels of society, all cultures, and all religions.
I know that you are not just yogi, but also a film maker. How did you make such a high quality movie as Mysore Yoga Traditions? Did you have experience in documentary work before, or you were working with some film company?
When I began the project of Mysore Yoga Traditions, I had no knowledge of film making, had never interviewed anyone before and had no resources for a project of that kind. I made the film simply because I had to. I was given the opportunity and the people of Mysore really opened up to me when I was doing the interviews. I felt that I had do do something good for them! I learned quickly how to interview and it came naturally. It was done with a lot of help from my friends Dalos Paz who volunteered his video skills and his brother Joey Paz, Bryce Delbridge and also Kelly O’Roke. Together we made a great team. They are all my long time friends and yoga students. Without their help I could never have managed! It was by grace that the whole project was created. We sat for nearly a year and a half editing the film and made the sacrifices necessary to get the work done. Where there is a will there is a way, the saying goes. I was dedicated to the project and wanted to make a contribution to the international yoga community, and to do justice to the great people who allowed me to interview them and gave such great answers to my questions. The rest just fell into place. Yoga has the power to create beautiful things for all of us when we use it the right way.
What is your impression of the yoga community in Ukraine?
I am very impressed with the yoga community in Ukraine. I find many yoga practitioners here to have not only a high level of yoga practice with regard to postures, but also a lot of knowledge and interest in yoga philosophy as well. It is a beautiful and fun community to work with and I consider it a privilege to teach yoga here. I think because yoga was repressed during the Soviet Union era, that it was done secretly and taken much more seriously. When things opened up and everyone could teach publicly there was a natural explosion of interest in yoga and all esoteric teachings from around the world. It is a beautiful thing to see!
What is “yogi lifestyle” for you and did you really use it in your life?
Yoga lifestyle for me means living from your heart. When our yoga practice takes us inside and we begin to get messages from our own heart about what we want, what we need, and what the purpose of our life is, we begin to make different kinds of decisions. Of course yogic lifestyle can also mean being vegetarian, waking up early to practice, disciplined habits and so many other things. My experience is that when we practice with dedication we naturally move into these kinds of things. I am not fond of rules or judgmental attitudes towards people who don’t follow the same diet of lifestyle as me. I think we each have a unique constitution and karma and that if we just listen to our own heart and truly live our brightest dreams, the rest falls into place as it should. We find ourselves reordering our lives, not because of anyone’s rules that they imposed upon us, but because we want to and because it feels right.
What are your most joyful things to do in life?
Love is the most joyful thing in my life. The more I align myself towards love of life the better life goes. I find myself wanting to take better care of myself and of those around me. For me it is not the things I do it is about finding joy in all actions. Balance. I feel that joy is our real nature. If we connect with the divine spirit inside of us joy comes out from all sides. On the other hand when we look for joy in external experiences we find that we only have joy when we do things we regard as fun or enjoyable…I try to stay in a joyful state that does not rest on external things. That's what I want to be when I grow up!
What is your main message to your yoga students and to the people, who starting to do yoga?
Develop a practice that works. Try to learn something that really works for you and from a person you respect and can relate with. It is not about this style or that style. All styles of yoga are amazing int he hands of good teachers and horrible in the hands of immature or selfish teachers. Life is fraught with difficulties. This cannot be changed. The challenges we face are the same challenges all human beings have dealt with since the beginning. Of course we have a modern lifestyle and so many different circumstances. But human nature with its needs and concerns is the same everywhere. Yoga is there as a tool to create evolution. Try to get healthy first. Try to do something every day at the same time in the same place. Watch its results in your body and mind. Develop a personal practice that you actually love enough to do on your own and that makes you happy. Don’t listen to anyone else, just feel for yourself. A teacher is like a spoon. When you get the food into your mouth it is you who must chew up the food, swallow it and digest it. We set the spoon aside. Successful yoga practice strengthens our body and mind. It creates joy from the inside. It helps us connect with our partners, families, friends and communities. Learn something and use it. Try to get still enough to hear the messages that your heart has to give. And remember that it doesn’t have to be all serious. It is ok to have fun!
Andrew Eppler 7-30-19