Gabriel Azoulay Yoga
by: Gabriel Azoulay
1. How did you start on your journey to yoga?
In 1993, when I was 19 and I had a conversation with my college roommate, about how Michael Schumacher had just finished his first season as a Formula 1 driver does meditation to keep his heart rate at a low pace while driving.
That was the first time I had ever heard of meditation.
A few months later I read the book ‘Still Life with a Woodpecker’ by Tom Robins and in that book he presented a completely different perspective on meditation, one that went away from just controlling a rather complex part of our body to connecting with something larger than ourselves, and the world around us.
I wanted to know where he got that connection from just doing something physical to something almost philosophical but in a super realistic, understanding the world we live in deeper way.
So I went to the campus library (this is 1994 now, there is no internet, no Google, no yahoo) and picked up some books on India and meditation and came home with a stack of maybe 8 books.
Most of them were thick, heavy words on the page kind of books, a few were small books with some meditation practices, and one was a purple book and the title was: Dreams of the Soul: The Yogi Sutras of Patanjali by Daniel R. Condron.
It had hardly any words on each page, so I figured I might as well start with that one.
Lord knows the surprise I received.
I was always a lover of philosophy and the Sutras changed my world by making the idea of divinity an expression that is to be expienced and not something that one had to believe in the words of others.
God is not a belief but an experience. Like the sweetness of a dragonfruit, and if you have never eaten it, or seen it, you have to trust someone else. Condron translated the first Sutra into “Yoga is finding God” which I found, at the age of 20 a challenging idea, but also so beautiful.
Present day ‘yoga’ is what we do on the mat, poses and such – but I did not do any poses for 3 months until I came home with the book “The Complete Yoga Book” by James Hewitt (which today I know is copy of Iyengar “Light on yoga” but with drawings rather than pictures), but it was the first time I saw Yoga Poses, and came across the idea of Meditation in Motion (which is Sun Salutations).
I had been doing meditation on the breath up until then, as described in Patanjali’s Sutras, and was excited to do Sun Salutations.
I have been doing both ever since.
Today my primary practice is Ashtanga, and I sit for 20 minutes in the morning before I start my practice. I still read the sutras every year and find new meaning in it, and I like finding new translations.
2. Where has your journey led you?
My journey still continues, so it is less about where it has led me, which it has taken me farther than I have ever expected, both in the personal spiritual level, on the physical health plateau, and on the life style I get to live, which revolves around serving others through teaching yoga, Thai Massage and nutrition.
It has also taught me how to be strong, yet calm, how to reach for what I want, yet stay centered in sharing and giving to others. It has shown me how the human heat, mind and psyche work (I have a degree in Psychology and Holistic Health Coaching). It has provided me with an insight into what we call religion, faith, devotion and service.
3. What has been some of the most defining moments you became a teacher?
Becoming a teacher was by complete randomness. My girlfriend at the time was doing yoga in her gym, and her teacher told her that she should teach, more over, the teacher informed her that this one company needed teachers right away and that she could teach for them.
When they asked her about how she came into yoga she told them I introduced her to it and that I had been doing it for 5 years (at the time) and so they called me and asked me to sub a yoga class.
I went, I taught, and the students loved it.
I met the owner the next day and she told me that I could sub classes and that I would have to take the upcoming teacher training.
The rest is history.
My first teacher training teacher was a man name John DeMinico, and he changed my style of teaching by showing me that I could share all the insight, humor and philosophy I had been immersed in through my own journey (While the Sutras was the first book on yoga I read, I quickly read all the Upanishads, the Vedas, the Puranas, the Mahabharatha and the Ramayana, along side many other interpretations and any book I could find on the subject of yoga and meditation and iIndia’s ancient history).
When I met David Swenson I also discovered that Ashtanga Yoga practice was the same as what I had been doing – meditaion in motion, and along side the immediate connection to the Sutras, that became my main Asana practice. Though my 18 months with Tim Miller helped propel my skills as a teacher, both in adjusting, in sharing stories, and in keeping a daily practice.
Ashtanga, unlike any other practice, is a self practice.
In all other yoga, the teacher leads, the student follows. In Ashtanga the breath leads and the body follows.
To be around Tim, who has been practicing since he was 20 and could do all the things at 50 (when I first met him), solidified the preventative maintanence reasons I was doing yoga. So that when I grow older, I can also enjoy that kind of health and strength in my body.
Though Tim, like Patanjali, and Like Pattabhi Jois, always knew that yoga is more than Asanas, and one day when I was struggling with a pose, and shared with Tim my frustrations, he echoed the words I knew from Patanjali, that I had heard from John DeMinico, and that I have shared with my students: “It’s not about the pose.”
Yoga is not about the pose. Even though we would like to “achieve” the posture.
David Deida is probably the most influential person on my teaching, primarily because he helped me find the words and the ability to communicate how yoga is something beyond the mat and something that filters into every aspect of life.
How a mother who truly connects to her children is more of a Yogi than a woman who goes to class 3 times a day to stay “skinny” or to feel like she is a Yoga Superstar.
His work really changed my approach to teaching and how I communicate. It applies more when I lead workshops and I am able to have time to share idea and concepts, but also the way I connect with students in any “led” class, and how I help others learn how to teach in my Yoga Teacher Training courses.
4. What would you tell new comers, new teachers and seasoned teachers?
Savdhyaya – self study.
I find that so many new teachers, and teachers who have been taught in the more “new yoga phase” of the last 12 years – in my opinion Yoga really hit a boom phase around 1998, up until then there were pockets of yoga, but the rise and ease of getting a yoga teacher certificate really changed the filed of yoga and by 2000 yoga was a common word. This could also be a result of the internet access and the spread of information through that medium – these teachers have very limited exposure to the philosophical aspects of yoga, or even the immense research into the anatomy and physical benefit of yoga sequences.
I would also encourage these teachers to PRACTICE, and I don’t mean practice while teaching (I see many teachers who say they get their practice because they act as the DVD for the students). I would recommend a daily personal practice, and not something that you do while someone is guiding you (like taking yoga classes). You learn so much more about the challenge of regular practice, the power of it, and the magic you receive when it becomes a daily habit (like brushing the teeth).
Above all I would say, have fun, make yoga fun for others. In the end it is ONLY yoga, and it is no better than any other physical activity. True, it might have some suggested benefits that other forms do not have, but let’s not make ourselves or our students become self righteous that they are doing something better than someone who enjoys running or biking regularly. Yoga can definitely help them, because many of these recreational athletes tend to forget to stretch, warm up and cool down correctly, which is what yoga can do for their body, but it is not better.
Yes, Yoga has some incredible insight, ability to heal, to reverse injuries, to connect us, to unite us, but so do all other forms of regular activity. Ask any hiker or rock climber, or runners who tend to sign up for 10K or other forms of group runs.
If you have never done yoga, go for it. And remember that in today’s; Yoga world, yoga is like eating food in a restaurant. Chances are that you will experience “dishes” (classes) that you do not like. But if you ask those who have similar tastes as you, you are likely to surprise yourself and feel even better in your skin than you did before.
And don’t be afraid to go back for seconds.