Wisdom, Understanding and Compassion. An Unforgettable Conversation with Arun Deva
Levitating Monkey: What first lead you to become interested in Ayurveda and studying at the American Institute of Ayurveda? Arun Deva: It is interesting. As a child I was torn between many worlds. The Bollywood of Bombay (Mumbai
Levitating Monkey: What first lead you to become interested in Ayurveda and studying at the American Institute of Ayurveda?
Arun Deva: It is interesting. As a child I was torn between many worlds. The Bollywood of Bombay (Mumbai now), my birth place. The camaraderie of a joint family between the cousins and the uncles/aunts magnifying the singular need for constant parental/sibling attention. The tremendous exposure to western literature, English being our primary language, that would shape my desire to “come to America”. And the very different, very quiet experiences I had with one very tiny, wise, white haired woman with the kindest, gentlest, most understanding smile, who would read to me the Ramayana (later in life it became my most cherished reading, I can never get enough) and take me around with her as she played doctor with her little medicine pouch (all herbal concoctions) and the little game we played where I would look for a snake, a frog and a swan in peoples pulses.
Of course, all of this was forgotten once I made it to the promised land. Till its excesses put me dangerously close to death. Lying in a hospital bed, frightened out of my wits, with a 4 month old child to care for changed my life. Actually, at first, I became just numb and grateful for the doctors who had pulled me back from the brink but were also keeping me locked into a state of constant fear and vigilance and an “I am wounded for life” philosophy. My gratitude was fast eroding as, after the heroic rescue, they had no future to offer me except one of fear and lots of medicines I would have to take till I die and were already moving me back toward that state. Then I met an herbalist/acupuncturist/
Levitating Monkey: As a Vinyasa Krama certified yoga teacher, what do you focus on that is distinct from other Yoga disciplines?
Arun Deva: I would need to explain first how Vinyasa Krama came into my life since it completely changed my yoga practice. I received a letter from Srivatsa Ramaswami back in 2003/4 but at that time did not have the resources to bring him here to California. Fortunately, he did come the next year to Loyola Marymount College. As soon as I took my first class with him, my practice, and my long term understanding of yoga, shifted. There is a brilliance within this practice that I have not found anywhere else. The word Nyasa means to place in a certain way. In yoga, we have the ability to place the body itself into specific postures. Vi here refers to variations. Thus, within specific set postures that express the logic of the body, we have access to various movements that enhance those specific “logics” of the body. Once this is achieved, we find the body more comfortable in various postures. We then can spend more time in a particular posture and it turns into an asana or seat. Once we have this seat, we can comfortably take our focus off the body (as a distraction) and bring our focus to working with the mind. Usually through pranayama first. Which is the conscious control of our unconscious breathing patterns. Here Vinyasa refers to the linking of the body and mind through conscious breathing. Again, various logic and the variations within them. So, in this form of practice we actually begin to bring consciousness to the breathing process even while we practice the dynamic aspect of asana. Every move is not so much connected to the breath, but directed by it. It acts as an inbuilt safety measure. The moment the breath becomes difficult, we learn to slow down, even pause and rest. This safety measure, in my opinion, gives us two additional gifts. Firstly of course, our practice is less likely to injure us and we can thus measure the growth not just of our continuing flexibility but also our strength, stamina and resilience. All of these, and not just flexibility, are the parameters of asana. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, we prevent the competitive ego from directing our practice. And we gain a better control over our own lives. Of course, I could site much more than this but I feel it is more important to state this instead: it is a way of practice I have found suits me. It is not to say this style is superior to any other style you may practice. That is for you to judge. But I do suggest that you examine your own style to see what results you are able to draw from it. A good practice should measure your growth into yoga. Beyond the asana and even beyond the pranayama eventually. It must draw you towards the final 3 limbs of yoga as a practice and eventually take you toward yoga as a goal: the ability to have a quiet mind.
Levitating Monkey: What are the biggest similarities and biggest disparities you see between yoga being taught in the west vs the yoga you grew up with in India?
Arun Deva: Those of us who grew up in India remember yoga quite differently. It was practiced with a guru/teacher. For many in the westernized cities, such as the Mumbai of my childhood, these teachers were not given much importance. As yogis they had a different path. Money and fame were not supposed to mean much to them. They taught to make ends meet so they could support their own yoga path. I believe this was also true to Krishnamacharaya. Once yoga came to the West, it did not bring this meaning with it. In fact, it turned the teacher who came here into some sort of celebrity. It is difficult to escape that power and now yoga teachers, both here and in India, may seek that sort of goal, including the monetary benefits that come with it. And they may have to struggle harder to stay on the yoga path of a quiet mind with few attachments. Obviously it will affect the yoga they teach. On top of that, the guru/shishya relationship which was paramount to the traditional system has been replaced with yoga studios, yoga teachers and pay as you go classes. So I am not sure how much of the traditional style of yoga study I grew up with has validity in today’s world, where yoga has come more and more to mean another style of physical practice for health and well being. Perhaps this is what we need right now. In time, some will automatically be drawn deeper, but less and less, do we start with that goal in mind. In a sense, this may be just what is needed. Yoga has come out of the closet and so many have benefited from it. The choice to go deeper will always exist.
Levitating Monkey: Speak to us about the services you offer. In particular, what are the benefits of Marma Chikitsa and your Bliss Treatment?
Arun Deva: Well, sometimes I am not sure how to categorize my services any more. That is because, fortunately or unfortunately, the lines between yoga and Ayurveda have blurred within my mind. I actually believe both, I and my students have benefited somewhat from this confused state of affairs. Currently I am involved in creating the Standards for Ayurvedic Yoga Therapist of NAMA (National Ayurvedic Medical Association) which I believe very strongly in as the future merging of yoga and Ayurveda as a powerful form of alternative health care. However, I do obviously offer the more traditional Ayurvedic protocols of cleansing and rejuvenation known as panchakarma and rasayana and the quicker, shorter versions of shamana or palliation. This is what I call Bliss Treatment. A one day treatment similar to going to a Spa, but perhaps with deeper and more lasting results. Marma Chikitsa is a little more complicated to explain/describe. So I will simplify it greatly. The marma points, as one of our most revered teachers, Dr. Lad puts it, are the “pathways to the inner pharmacy”. I find this description beautifully accurate. These are little points on the body, that when activated through massage, essential oils and yoga postures, release blocked flow of energy in specific areas of the body and allow the body to stimulate its own natural healing process. Many of us in practice will include time spent on these points when we do or teach any of the above modalities. At the very least, we will keep an awareness of them as we work.
Levitating Monkey: In all your years teaching yoga, what is the one thing that continues to inspire you?
Arun Deva: Well, if I take this question simply, then the answer has to of course be the students. On the other hand, even if I take this question at a much deeper level, the answer on the surface remains the same: the student. However, in what way do they inspire changes? Let me explain. The simple answer is the effect it has on the student. Which is so very rewarding. To acknowledge that I am blessed to be teaching something that has the power to immediately affect someone’s life for the better. If you are a good teacher, you see it in their eyes. I pray I may be a good teacher every time I start a class. Over the years, the classes went from small to medium, even occasionally big, but now that I am back to only teaching one on one or workshops, I find this inspiration even more as the method of teaching and the motivation of the student is also more mature. Even so, what remains the same is the look in the eyes of the student after class. I pray that look means: this, this is what yoga is/can do. I say this because very often that is what they say and then all I can do is be very grateful for my teachers, their teachers, their lineage, and the chance I have had to pass some of it on. On the other hand, if I examine the complexity of the question, then the answer has to be what teachings I am inspired to by the students. My own learning. The ante gets upped, I find. I get inspired to study more, practice more, be more sure of what I teach and to be very sure that indeed the end goal, that quietness of the mind, is possible when we practice. I am always ultimately inspired by that quest. And the student, by just being there fuels it.
Levitating Monkey: As an Ayurvedic Practitioner, if there were one ritual an individual practiced daily to improve their health and vitality, what would you recommend?
Arun Deva: Wake up early and do not miss a chance to practice some form of yoga in the morning, whether it be asana, pranayama, japa, or sitting. Or all. But in the Ayurvedic practice known as dinacharya or Daily Rituals, which includes many things for hygienic purposes as also dietary guidelines and even how to go about your day and work, I find this particular ritual of exercise, of either/both the body and mind is the most important. On the other hand, if I just say Dinacharya which refers to all the things you could do in a basket, so to speak, will that count as a valid answer? If so, then of course the complete Daily Ritual known as Dinacharya is the obvious answer.
Levitating Monkey: I have heard you speak of the “yukti” between Ayurveda and Yoga. Talk to us about the meaning of this and its significance.
Arun Deva: Yes, well it was not always so. I am currently in the process of writing an article about that. In it I state that yoga and Ayurveda started of as polar opposites. But over time, yoga has changed from a “revolving away” from life practice to a practice of how to live a better life. And in that, there is no difference between yoga and Ayurveda. Thus, when we create a blending of their practices, those that complement each other, we find it is like mixing water and salt. They will merge into one entity: salt water. This yukti, this merging into one healing modality, I see very clearly as a positive and possible future merged health science with an end goal lofty enough to heal our psyches that have fractured our world yet again into a highly distressed period of time, except this time, not just globally, but with serious implications for our planet and our race. Strong medicine is needed. And while I hope practitioners of all types will contribute towards such medicine, this is what I believe I can offer on behalf of the two great sciences I have been fortunate enough to study and practice. Where they meet, I believe, is a very powerful somatic and psychological meeting ground. The possibility of a peaceful evolution of our minds into creating a better world for all.
Levitating Monkey: This last question is one we ask all our Experts to respond to, as it’s our way of providing a bit of uniformity to all our interviews. If you could impart three key life lessons to others on their (spiritual) path, what would they be and why?
Arun Deva: Simple. Work on your body. Work on your breath. Work on your mind. The end goal is you will have wisdom, understanding and compassion. You will then find out that these three, together define unconditional love.
About Arun Deva, DASc, AYT, E-RYT(500), YTRx:
Arun Deva is a graduate of the American Institute Of Ayurveda; an Ayur*yoga Therapist and a Vinyasa Krama certified yoga teacher. The founder of Arunachala Yoga & Ayurveda, Arun has the pleasure of serving both the National & State Ayurvedic Associations: NAMA & CAAM. Currently he heads NAMA’s Committee on creating Standards for Ayurvedic Yoga Therapists. Arun teaches internationally, lectures at Conferences, writes articles for different publications, has been featured on both radio and television and has a clinic for consultations and various treatments including panchakarma and yoga therapy in Los Angeles/West Hollywood. He also teaches the Ayurveda and Yoga modules for many Teacher Training Programs around the world and is Director of Ayurveda at LMU’s YTRx Program. Arun has presented at both the NAMA and SYTAR Conferences. Born in India, where he began his studies as a child, Arun has made his home in Los Angeles for the past 35 years.