"Yoga is the discipline for the mind, not only for the body" Interview with Olga Zvontcová - part 1


"The body is lazy, the mind is vibrant and the Soul is luminous. Yogic practices develop the body to the level of the vibrant mind so that the body and the mind, having both become vibrant, are drawn towards the light of the soul. 

B.K.S. Iyengar, Tree of Yoga

1) What brought you to discipline of yoga in general?

In general, what brought me to yoga, was the intention to change my life. To come out of miserable, insignificant, boring, dull state, to live better life as for myself, as for my children.

Somehow it has become clear for me since my early age that some kind of discipline is required, otherwise the life is coming into the chaos. I was good student in school and in university (I have graduated the Ural State Technical University with the diploma of Radio engineering). At school I was doing lots of sport, including athletics, gymnastics, swimming, skiing , basketball, and kayaking and I was enjoying the movements of the body, and of course wanted to be the first.

Five years at University I didn't do any sport at all, as I was too busy with other things. But after University, when the life came back to routine and I started some exercising again, I have noticed that my body had changed, and I cannot do so easily things which I did before, I am not so flexible and strong as I used to be.

It was surprising for me, I didn´t expect that, I thought, what is that, I don't want that, I want my body as it was in my 17! That was the my first discovery of " tamasic " nature of the body, that it has the tendency to be lazy, to shrink, to become stiff, to become sleepy.

And I started my search, I was sure that there should be the way to bring the flexibility and strength back. I started aerobics and other gym programs, which was available in 1990s in Russia, but all that seemed to me primitive and boring.

And somehow at that time the idea of "developing super-abilities of humans" was in the air, and yoga has become allowed after being completely forbidden in Soviet time, as the system of getting super health and long-years life, and that was interesting. Seemed like yoga offered the intelligent gymnastics or the exercises where not only the body, but the mind was involved.

I was pregnant with my first child, when I was thinking, it would be so cool, to bring this super powers and super health not only to myself, but to my children! We could change the quality of our lives, transform ourselves, become new people of the happy future.... lots of inspiration, zero knowledge. :)

Somehow, in 1996, I met a woman who was doing yoga, she was a medical doctor, and she was around 50 years age at that time, and so vivid and full of life, more than me at my 23. She had shown a couple of asanas to me, I tried to repeat after her, and it was too difficult for me! That was a moment when I have decided that, hm, I want to be able to do these things at the age of 50! I should try this yoga.

2) What yoga gave you?

Yoga is a gift of Life. It is a very powerful instrument of transformation. It gave me what I wanted - more significant life, happiness, the life of my dreams.

I am 47 years old now, and I can say that I feel myself better now, then it was before yoga. I have more understanding and respect to my body and my limitations. I have good health, peace of mind (well, most of the time), better understanding of myself and life in general, several foreign languages, lots of friends all over the world, lots of traveling, seeing the most beautiful places on our planet, lots of students who bring me happiness with their progress and their gratitude, my deep love and gratitude to my Teachers, and the feeling of harmony and self-realization in this life. I live amazingly happy life now. (Not without clouds and troubles though ;))

3) What yoga took away from you?

I would say, it took away first a bad company. Those people who were destroying instead of being supportive disappeared. Bad food, bad habits disappeared. Practice of yoga took away my arrogance and restlessness, little by little ;)

If you read Patanjali Yoga Sutras, he says in second chapter, there are five " kleshas ", or main impurities of the consciousness, which are the roots of human suffering. Those are Avidya (ignorance, lack of knowledge), Asmita (egoism), Raga (desire for pleasures), Dvesha (avoiding the pain), Abhinivesha (fear). And he says later, that devoted and sincere practice of eight limbs of yoga removes all these impurities and brings the wisdom. I would say, on my own experience of more than 20 years of yoga practice, it works. I have less fears, less aversion to pain, less desire for pleasures, I am more giving, and I know I little bit more.

4) How you came to know Iyengar system and what was the moment you became serious student on the path of yoga?

I came to know Iyengar system after some years of practicing other kinds of yoga. In 2005 was my first visit to Pune, to RIMYI, and since that time I became very serious and dedicated student of yoga. There in Pune I had very strong impression that something real is happening there, truthful, clear and full of light, and that here most probably I will find the answers to my questions. The moment when I saw Guruji for the first time, it became clear that I am on proper way :)

I started Iyengar Yoga because my good friend started to come to those classes, and I have joined her. We had no idea that time that it was "Iyengar yoga". This knowledge came may be after two or three years only ;)

My first impression was - ah, it's boring again, because we only were doing asanas, and only words of the teacher was the instructions about the body, how to bend, extend and turn, no fairy tales, no "theory" at all. But, after several lessons, my body really liked that. The practice was challenging, it seemed like it was the way to develop, things to work with, and it was some system behind it, some knowledge, not only imagination.

So the teacher didn't explain much, and may be that had initiated a bigger interest in me, I wanted to know more. I was coming to classes every day, and I felt myself just perfect. I didn't have intentions to teach yoga at all, but I was said that if I will teach a class, then I will be allowed to come to practice free. Of course I agreed, and I started to teach, first the class for pregnancy in 2003, and then class for beginners.

The class for pregnancy was taught according to special program from Pune and from Iyengar Yoga institute in Paris, France, where asanas are adopted for each stage, or trimester of pregnancy, and we also could modify that for each woman individually. These young ladies were enjoying a lot doing yoga and we saw very good results on their health and it was lots of easy and light childbirths stories. So I was inspired by that teaching, and still love to work with pregnant women.

Teacher trainings didn't exist at that time in Russia, we were just regular students, but we took part in the assessment in 2004, which was one of the first in Russia. So I have received my first certificate of Introductory 2 in 2004, and together with 5 other new certified Iyengar Yoga teachers we were working in the first Iyengar yoga center in Yekaterinburg. It was very good time, we were so inspired and full of energy. And in 2005 I came to Pune for the first time, for two months, and there my serious studying of yoga started. Saying "serious" I mean studying yoga as more than physical exercises, but philosophy, anatomy, therapy. I wanted to know why it was very interesting, that is why so many people from all over the world are attracted to this system and to this Teacher. So it was not only our local group of 5-7 enthusiasts, but hundreds of students, from more than 20 countries, each month new group of another hundred arriving... it was inspiring, I wanted to be a part of this school.

5) Who influenced you in your teaching over the years?

Oh.... it is going to be long list of gratitude :) the Life itself is a Guru, and so many people had influenced me on my path of yoga, and on my teaching as well. My parents, my children, my family, my friends. Books, were always very helpful. Impressions on traveling. People whom I meet, my students, who are becoming my friends and are almost like sisters and brothers.

Yoga teachers deserve my special gratitude.

My first yoga teacher was Jurij Kurochkin. Amazing man, full of life, very productive, he is around his 70 years old now and still he teaches tai-chi and yoga for healthy aging. Big respect and gratitude to him for igniting me and many other people to yoga.

My first Iyengar Yoga teacher was Yegor Rotov, for three years I was his regular student and started teaching yoga under his guidance. He was the one who brought me and many others to deeper studying Iyengar Yoga.

I need to say about our Senior teachers in Russia, Elena Ulmasbaeva, Sergey Michailov, Olga Ilinskaya, they are always helpful, inspiring and are good example to follow, and I thank them for keeping and developing Iyengar Yoga community in Russia, inviting Guruji and other Senior teachers to Russia and spreading the knowledge and wisdom of yoga.

My colleagues and friends in Russia, with whom we were growing up together, were passing those exams and now taking exams from our students.

The first impression of international Senior Iyengar Yoga Teacher for me was Gabriella Giubilaro, in 2002 in Moscow. She is just wonderful. Another woman who was not young, but was perfectly controlling her body, was strong and soft at the same time. I was impressed and inspired by her practice and teaching.

Next significant figure was Faeq Biria, who was coming to Russia regularly at that time. I took part in many his workshops in Russia, Poland and France from 2003 to 2007.

I do practice with Lois Steinberg from 2004 till now, and I use all her books in my practice and teaching.

Another very significant and beloved teacher is Stephanie Quirk, since 2005 when we first met in Pune, and I have attended all her workshops on yoga therapy, sometimes twice each, with different groups, and I was assisting her later in her workshops and in therapy classes in Pune. She had helped a lot to understand deeper the philosophy and its application to practice and yoga therapy.

The big treasure and my big love, from 2009 till now, is Rita Keller. I am very grateful for the real deep knowledge I receive from her, and I am happy to come to her workshops to study.

Besides that, significant figures were Manouso Manos, Patricia Walden, Dean and Rebecca Lerner, Sheila Hashwell, David Meloni, Erica Répássy, and many other teachers and colleagues from different countries, who are my friends and fellow travelers on the path of yoga.

All these people had influenced my practice and teaching, they all completed the story of my life. So, as I told you, it's going to be a long list :) and now looking at all these names and events, I see how many years are already behind me. Wow...

Definitely I need to say here about Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar and Geeta and Prashant Iyengar. Their influence is the most significant. And it will require separate chapter, which is going to be in second part of the interview :)

And I need also say here about my teachers with whom I have never meet in life, but they had a big influence on me through their books. Paramahansa Yogananda, HH Dalai Lama, Osho Rajneesh, Ramana Maharshi, Louise Hay. Somehow these Teachers were helping me in different stages of my life.

6) How has yoga changed your body health, mind processes, and behavior to yourself and others throughout your life?

Yoga still helps me to stay in a good shape in quite good health condition, even if I am noticing the aging process. About the state of mind, it is more interesting, because for me yoga is more about mind than about body. I remember quotes from BKS Iyengar from my early years of practice:

"Yoga is the discipline for the mind, not only for the body ",

"The first who gives up is the mind, not the body".

"The body is passive and lazy, the mind is active and fast, and the Soul is full of light. Make your body active, and keep your mind quiet to be able to see the light of the Soul" 

To work with the mind and emotions was very interesting for me. I saw and see so many examples where people had everything, including wealth and health, and still were unhappy, didn't have peace inside. What was the reason for that? Can we do something with that? Yoga was giving a good promise: "yoga breaks the chain of suffering " says Bhagavad Geeta. "With practice of yoga it is possible to calm the mind down".

Mind creates thoughts, vibrations, fluctuations. To keep it quiet to see the light of the Soul is a very attractive idea. So it has become my project for many years :)

The behavior to myself and others definitely has turned towards love and compassion. I still have likes and dislikes, preferences, desires, ambitions, and limitations, of course. But I also have more love and acceptance to all of that, I am in peace with myself and I am full of gratitude for all I have in my life.

7) Did yoga help you personally to overcome some injury or difficult times in life?

Well, I didn't have any serious injuries in my body, not more than other people, for which I am very grateful. Now practice of yoga is helping me to live peacefully with my aging process, which I am mostly enjoying. Yoga is an amazing gift for women and for all stages of life. It can improve the quality of life, that I can say according to my life experience.

About difficult times in life, I had plenty. It was connected mostly with other people, like children, parents, partner, co-workers, friends. Life never goes smoothly, from one success to another, we all have situations in our lives which force us to learn more and to get new levels of understanding. And yoga had helped me many times, first to breathe, and then to think.

And I have to admit, that sometimes the life situation is so bad, that yoga asanas are not possible to do, pranayama is not possible to do, meditation is not possible to do.

Here, in really critical situation, the subtle aspects of yoga were working perfectly. Philosophy. Where yoga comes wider than doing asanas and pranayama, where it includes and embraces everything, and goes to Love and Compassion. Questions of Life and Death, who am I, why I am here, what am I doing and why, why it is happening to me. Why my expectations are not fulfilled (again!)

Life is very interesting, if to look at it through the prism of Yoga.

8) How do you practice in your free time?

I do 30-40 min pranayama every morning. I do my 90-120 min Asana practice almost every day, 5-6 days per week. I used to practice more, 2-3-4 hours per day, but don't have much time now. And I need to say that the quality of my practice has changed during these years. I am not repeating what I was doing 20 years ago, but I respect my body and do things which are softer and deeper, and much more effective than my beginner practice. I am not focusing so much on physical side now, as it was before, like how to get into more complicated Asana, or how to hold Sirsasana for 20-30 minutes, how to get more strength and flexibility, how to be a super-human :)

Now I use my knowledge, including yoga therapy and philosophy, to adjust body, breath and mind to be in balance and peace, and I think more now about how to avoid wasting energy, what is worth doing and what is not...and I am really enjoying my practice now.

9) What brought you to Prague and how you like teaching here?

What brought me to Prague, long story short, was again the intention to change my life, to try something new. And many obstacles which had coincide together.

I was visiting Prague for many times and was teaching some workshops and class substitutes from time to time. I was charmed by Prague, the architecture and atmosphere of old ages, like if you are coming back in time. There are some special places here where I can sit quietly and the life around seems to be so peaceful as it was may be 300 years ago.

So I have decided, why not to come for a longer time, and I did it, when the chance appeared. I love studying, and I love to study languages, particularly. I was studying 6 or 7 languages in my life, with different level of success :) so I thought, why not to study one more language? That's how I came to Prague.

I do enjoy teaching here, as well as in many other places, and it is very interesting to see how different and how similar are people in yoga room in different countries, even in different cities. Students here are careful, sometimes they are not too confident to do something new, which seems to them as difficult. But when they trust, and they do that, I see how much they are inspired by their success. They are listening with great attention and appreciate precision and practical approach, like how can they apply this or that knowledge to our daily life. I am happy that I can answer their needs.

Many of them are saying that I am soft in teaching :) which is interesting to hear. I always thought that I am very demanding teacher! :) but, I would say, my teaching has a human's face. I know how is it - to be a beginner, how is it - to be pregnant, to have kids, to be tired, to be limited in movements, to be in pain, to be in suffering. And also I know the joy and inspiration of yoga practice and teaching. So I am very happy to have a chance to share my experience and my knowledge, and I am happy to see good progress and improvements in practice of many of my students!

Thank you for sharing Olga 😊

We are looking forward for the continuation where you will talk about Pune and Iyengar family.

Jana Chadimová 09/2019

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