Cheryl interviews London yoga teacher Niko Geo about his journey into becoming a yoga teacher and asks ‘Is yoga a spiritual practice that helps us get in touch with who we really are?’.
When you first started yoga was it purely a physical practice for you and at what stage did it become aware that it was more than that?
Yes when I first started it was purely a physical practice. It soon became aware that it was also a mental practice. Probably within the first month or so. The next stage was emotional practice and the final stage was spiritual. The connection of yoga and spirituality fully manifested itself after the first year.
How has your practice evolved over time?
I started practicing hot yoga sporadically then moved on to other styles after the first 2 years. I did my teacher training and as part of that training I explored other styles of yoga. The asana has evolved a lot in the last four years, however meditation remains the focus point.
As a teacher how often do you practice and teach yoga?
I was teaching around 16-22 classes a week for a good 4-5 months with detrimental effects to my physical wellbeing, my practice and my mental state. Now I teach 12-14 classes a week and try to practice at least 4 times.
What are some of the reasons that people practice yoga? And are those reasons different between men and women?
People practice yoga for different reasons: to improve their bodies, cure injuries and pains, because someone they know recommended it, athletes to improve their performance, to de-clutter the brain, to calm the mind, to de-stress, to improve sleep, to deal with trauma, to deal with life imbalances, as a social outlay, as a spiritual outlay etc. I don’t believe gender defines or has any correlation with the reason. However I do believe that statistically more men do yoga for physical reasons and more women for psychological reasons but not because more women have psychological issues that need dealing than men, just because they have figured out first that yoga helps in that respect. Men are only following suit in the last couple of years.
How important is it to continue to do your own practice as well as teaching?
Imperative! I now know first hand that you cannot continue to be a teacher if you don’t practice. Mostly for mental reasons. The life of a teacher is so tough, the energy and mental focus that is required is so tremendous that without a self practice the task at hand becomes impossible.
Do you think that the postures that we struggle with the most are a reflection of the parts of our character that we’re also struggling with or haven’t fully developed yet?
I have never thought of it like that but I don’t think I believe in such a link between the two. There is a lot of talk going around about backbends being a leap to the future and forward bends being a leap to the past. And that hip openers are tough when past situations emotions have not been fully dealt with and heart openers are tough when people have been forced to built up walls to hide behind. There might be some truth to that but who’s to say that it’s not simply a coincidence? Some simple fact that we are desperately trying to rationalise by creating these rules and patterns? I believe that some asanas are simply difficult because of our body limitations.
What have you discovered about yourself through your yoga practice?
Personally what do you think the essence of yoga is?
It’s different for every person. For me yoga is the discovery of the true self and the discovery of the essence of our true being and then realising that it’s the same with one another and the things around us. So I guess self realisation and self discovery is the essence of yoga that helps us lead healthier more connected lives.
How has your perception of the world changed since practicing yoga on a regular basis?
I see myself differently and I now see others differently too. It’s not easy but I’m more thoughtful and compassionate. I’m calmer, I put myself in others shoes and think twice before I speak or act.
Has your yoga practice enabled you to work through a particular painful experience or a challenging time in your life? Can you share an example.
Initially it cured my lower back pain. It also helped me get through a difficult time when I almost lost my mother. She fell into a coma for 5 months and it was thought that she was not going to make it. I quit my job and went over to Cuba whilst she was hospitalised on a business trip to support my family through this. I was subsequently surprised by how calm and controlled I was and how I managed to do and say the right things (most of the time) rather than sulk and react in a selfish manner. I think it’s all down to practicing yoga, in how it helped me to deal with with it. My mom made a miraculous recovery in the end and the doctors called it a miracle. I never went back to my old job working in finance in the city. I did my teacher training straight after that incident and I never looked back. Now I’m embarking on training number six and the training never ends.
What’s the most profound experience that you’ve had whilst practicing yoga?
I’ve had a blissful out of body experience just once. I remember it vividly and I’m happy it happened. I don’t know if it will happen again and I’ve promised myself not to chase it. The best experience I’ve had off the mat is that I’ve made a new life for myself. One that fulfils me, one that allows me to be myself one hundred percent, and one that makes me be proud and happy with who I am and what I do.
Has yoga allowed you to fully accept who you are?
It made me see who I really am. It allowed me to sit with myself and find time to love and accept me for me. It gave me confidence. It also gave me a purpose in life.
Would you agree that the greatest gift of yoga is not what we do on the mat but what we take with us off the mat?
The gift of yoga is learning about yourself and learning to be with yourself and love yourself for who you are. Then everything else falls into place on, off and around the mat. When you can be at peace and happy with yourself then all you can do is help others, offer, smile, make other people happy. That’s what “yoga off the mat” means to me.
Find out more about Niko on his website and check out one of his classes if you’re practicing in London!