Trained by Sharon Gannon and David Life, Yogeswari is the traveling ambassador of Jivamukti Yoga. Every year she leads retreats and trainings all over the world, in places ranging from Ubud to Berlin, from India to New York. “With a background in dance and choreography, Yogeswari’s classes are methodical and flowing. In addition to her work with Jivamulti over the past 16 years, Yogeswari is the founder of the AZAHAR Foundation, an international non-profit organization that promotes cross-cultural understanding and non-violent conflict resolution through yoga and the arts.” (Source: www.sonima.com) In the year of 2016 we were lucky to welcome Yogeswari in Cyprus, attending one of her master classes in “Yoga Dharma Shala”, Kyrenia. The interview with this eminent and unique personality, Yogeswari Azahar, conducted by Taliya Khafizova is included in our first 2017 issue of Cyprus Observer…
Yogeswari: “Find your own way! And follow the impulses that come from within of you!”
Yogeswari, could you please tell about the origin of your name and how did you make the acquaintance with yoga?
Yogeswari is my spiritual name, which was given to me by one of my teachers. Its first root is “Yoga” and the second one is “Swari”, which means the goddess.
My first meeting with yoga happened when I was 16 years old. I saw some yoga asanas on the cards, which my mother brought from the yoga course she was taking back then in one of the popular multi-disciplinary schools. I was an athlete and liked to move, so I started to do all the different postures I saw on the cards.
I was also growing in 70-s – when Hippies appeared and travelled to India, and Beatles were chanting mantras, following some gurus and incorporating yogic chants into their songs. There was this attraction to India at that time. I became interested in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, being particularly appealed by the whole concept of ‘ahimsa’, non-violence.
I did not grow very religious, but the predominance of the faith in my region was allocated to Protestant Christian belief. When I once found out what the Christians have done in Latin America and all over the world – i.e. killing people for the missionary goals– I just understood that could not embrace such religion…. Buddhism and Yoga, on the contrary, have been “heart-felt teachings” for me.
Dear Yogeswari, nowadays, violence can be found throughout the society, including the sphere of Media. In this sense, what would be your advice to decrease the violence in movies, for instance? What kind of scenario may help to reduce the violence?
I think it is about shifting the focus. Violence sells somehow. It appeals to very low human instincts. Media have a lot of power in terms of manipulating the content of what are the people thinking about. Especially young people. To have responsible media would be to search for, maybe, documentary movies, or movies that do not advocate violence. These could be even the cartoons about Martin Luther King, or Mahatma Gandi, or Nelson Mandela – they are all great political figures, who solved the problems they were dealing with in a non-violent way. I think it is just a question of trying to shift the perspective, shift the balance.
Yogeswari, you are originally from Switzerland but currently living in the USA. Knowing that we would like to ask you about the life in America, especially in regard to organic food and healthy nutrition, which is indispensable part of any spiritual and physical practice…
Actually, I do not know many vegan places in the USA. But I may certainly advise one in Costa Rica. It is called “Blue Spirit”, and I am going to have a retreat there. It is a true eco hotel: The owners of this marvelous place grow their own food and try to preserve as much of the nearby rainforest as possible. The surrounding area is a sanctuary for monkeys: no one can hunt for these animals, which are considered sacred. Environment is really amazing there, and the food is great. Everything is made of sustainable materials and organic products. I think it would be fantastic to have something like that here, in Cyprus as well.
You know, I first visited this island very early in my life. It was before the war and Kyrenia was like a tiny sleepy town at that time. But what I see now are the casinos being one the major attractions. And the disappointing thing is that such attraction brings not very conscious clientele here. Casinos cannot be eco-friendly, and their activity certainly brings some bad repercussions, negative influence – in terms of both physical and spiritual energy. Alcohol, corruption, gaming – all of that staff – is to be struggled with. Once upon a time before the casinos emerged, the entire coast was just beautiful and pristine, but now their appearance is a kind of the shame…
It is true that Cyprus seeks more eco-minded people and eco-friendly organizations, especially nowadays. We are very happy to welcome you on our island, and wish more such people came here to spread their knowledge…
Yogeswari, it is known that besides being the yoga teacher you have also practiced Bharatanatyam Dance. Would you be so kind to share this classical Indian dance experience?
I was a modern dancer before being yoga teacher. I also studied Afro-Caribbean dance in New York and Capoeira. I think that sparked my interest to various traditions all over the world. In 2008, I travelled to India and stayed in Mysore, studying Sanskrit there. I asked my Sanskrit professor if he knew of a dancer and this is how I found my teacher of classical Indian Dance. She is from Mysore, a true Bharatanatyam master.
So, while staying in India, I would usually do my yoga practice in the morning and then at mid-day I went to my dance teacher. Bharatanatyam however is very challenging to learn in such a short time…
Mudras and eye work is really tough because they all convey meanings, and you are always telling a story. The whole Hindu mythology is told through the dance of Bharatanatyam. With your eyes and limbs moving simultaneously. One of the most fascinating things I found about Bharatanatyam is that they dance the most of the mantras that we chant in yoga. There is a total connection between two practices…
Dear Yogeswari, may you also share with us your vision of God? What is the nature of God for you?
Well, I was raised more as an atheist and a gnostic. For me God has always been something abstract. Yogic teachings state about finding God inside of yourself. In fact, Bhagavad Gita talks about divine state, which is the state of inner peace. So, I really try to find God in that state of inner peace and love. I try to expand my sense of love, try to enlarge my perception of reality so that I can have a better grasp of what is actually moving this universe…. Because obviously it is not our ego, right? And it is not our scientific discovery. To me also this whole idea of chaos is a little bit inaccurate, because the Universe is very orderly, actually. So, I guess it is the idea of “param”*, something beyond what the mind can comprehend. It is so far and yet it is inside ourselves, too. It is the microcosm and macrocosm coming together, going out and in through these pulsations. And there is something that moves the whole Universe, the engine of the whole cosmic machinery….
“It is the idea of “param” <…> Microcosm and macrocosm coming together, going out and in through these pulsations”…
Exactly….Likewise, sometimes the energy, which is beyond our comprehension, makes people meet and make discoveries. These are the moments, when you feel the connection to the God – that unity and interaction of macrocosm and microcosm…. Yogeswari, what to your mind has been the thought behind the creation of the world? Can the goal of human existence be linked with the up-bringing, the nurturing of love within it?
Yogic teachings state that soul has to involve itself back to the source. It has to move away from individuality, ego-sense and try to develop away from jealousy, hate, grabbing possessions, waging wars. To develop to a nobler state of being. Because we all have capacity to do that.
And when you look on the world, you are going crazy wondering: “Why should we have an economy built on blood money? We do not need to have an economy which is not sustainable; we do not need to live like that, right?”
We need to look on bigger perspectives of things, beyond just materialistic ones.
Going back to our idea of God, I just recalled about my Lebanese student, whose homeland was in that terrible period of war… She has once said: God is bigger than any religion.” It is really how I see it, too. All the religions have the way of limiting people’s perspectives. Institution of religion is just trying to control people, and sometimes even hate each other.
But I don’t think that the God’s idea is to make people hate one another.
As for me, I can go to any sort of temple be it Shinto shrine, the Catholic Church, or Synagogue. In each situation, I see beyond the symbology and can connect with it.
Yogeswari, you have achieved a lot of things in your life, being still young now. What would be your advice for young generation in this sense? May you tell us about your driving force, about what made you eager to investigate the world and move forward?
Well, I think that traveling has been my driving force, because I travelled a lot being young and that opened my mind to different things. Also, when I was in high school I realized that I needed to follow my heart. However, I had to fight for it, it was not easy at all! There was no total agreement or support from the others. But I knew that was the calling, and I had to do that….
In the life there can be a lot of difficulties which you have to struggle with, and there are moments that are decisive. And you need to take a turn. And at these moments someone appears in your life who is very inspiring and can help you. And I think that you go with these moments because they are not coincidences. At some point in my life I realized that everything makes sense – what has happened in the past, who I was and who I had to become in the future.
In Cyprus it can be challenging because you are dealing with difficult political situation. I think if you want to make the most of this particular situation, if you cannot leave this country then try to look for options in terms of following a healthy sort of “heart and soul calling”. At once not to loose your own culture, to really bring forward the beautiful aspects of your culture and to try to elevate the society from within. Because you never do the things just for yourself. If you see yourself as an agent of society you live in, try to bring some beauty into this society, try to elevate it! And it is not always a question of having a lot of money.