and other resources mentioned in the podcast
Ajith Shankara is a yoga therapist and teacher he's an Ayurvedic therapist, masseuse and a healer. Ajith has his own yoga center called Lotus Holistic Yoga Center in Sports City, in Dubai. Ajith has his own yoga studio called Lotus Holistic Yoga Center in Sports City, in Dubai.
With his interest in Holistic living Ajith has certified training in Thai Yoga Massage, Ayurvedic Therapy, Kalari (South Indian Martial Art) Massage and Reiki
Mireia Mujika: Hi, everyone. And welcome to this new episode of ways to grow, where every two weeks, I will interview experts to help us understand and discern different disciplines that will help us grow, improve our well-being and be better leaders. With this aim, we will travel from east to west from the pure psychological studies to the ancient Germans. We will look at every field and you will take what interests you. Join me on this journey of learning and discovery. My name is Mireia Mujika, I’m a personal and executive coach and for this episode, I have invited Ajith Shankara to join us. In this podcast, we like talking about the connection between body and mind and I cannot think of a better discipline to talk about this than yoga. Ajith Shankara is a yoga therapist and teacher. He's an Ayurvedic therapist and masseuse and a healer. Ajith has his own yoga center called the lotus holistic yoga center in a sports city here in Dubai and if you ever or always wondered about the philosophy behind yoga, tune in because today, we are digging deep into the magic of this discipline. Before we start, let me remind you of our website, waystogrowpodcast.com, where you will find the details of all our guests and also the books and resources they recommend. And if you like this podcast, please follow us and rate us so that we can keep growing. Good morning, Ajith. And thank you very much for accepting my invitation to be my guest today.
Ajith Shankara: Namaste, good morning.
Mireia Mujika: Namaste, Namaste. It's so great to have you here, finally. I was calling Ajith in December. Come on Ajith I would like to record an episode with you and finally, today is about –
Ajith Shankara: February 5th.
Mireia Mujika: Exactly. Well, it took a while but finally, we are here today. So, that's what's important.
Ajith Shankara: Everything happens in time.
Mireia Mujika: Exactly. So, I would like you to talk to us a little bit about your background because I think this is an interesting one. You were born to a family of yoga teachers, right?
Ajith Shankara: Yes. I was so blessed to be born. It must be my past karmas that took you to that family to be born in that environment of yogic discipline. My grandfather was a philosophy teacher. He talked about the scriptures and Bhagavad-Gita and Upanishads and Vedanta, which is all the yogic discipline and psychology of the yoga part.
Mireia Mujika: Wow.
Ajith Shankara: So, when I was two-year-old when my mom had her second child, I was a little bit naughty one, the boy, so my grandmother took me with her into the neighboring village so they lived in a different village. So, since I was two-year-old, I was growing up with my grandparents. So, I remember my early days. Any memory that I have, it's all about meditation, yoga, lectures. Visitors used to come from the neighboring town. On Sundays, my grandfather gave lectures so, in our living room, there are from 15 to 20, 30 people listening to his talk, you know. So, as a child, the philosophy just went over my head. Something must have filtered into my heart as well. My earliest memories of my childhood that I can remember from the age of five, six that, you know, every day we have in the evening, group family meditation. So, it lasts from 30 minutes to an hour-long. Yeah. So, as a five-six-year-old, you know, I fall asleep and then my uncle comes, sits in the back behind me and he just pokes into my back to sit straight, they wake me up. So, yeah, I was very fortunate and then I remember waking up in the morning, hearing my grandfather breathing deeply, that's how often that's what woke me up. All the breathwork that he was doing and I see him doing things like standing on his head, doing his arm balance, and things like that along with this regular meditation practice.
Mireia Mujika: Amazing. So, I mean, you know, I always think that we, people, humans, we have many issues coming from our childhood from the way that we were parented, let's say. So, I think maybe you didn't have so many –
Ajith Shankara: No, today in the world, you know, as a therapy healing, the things that I do, I often hear people talking about trauma, a lot of trauma, childhood trauma, a teenage trauma and like all that things. And when I look back, I was so blessed. I cannot think of anything better in life that I have today, that what a fortune it is to be born that family of –
Mireia Mujika: Incredible.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah, I know it's totally fortunate. I mean, as I was saying before, right, I mean now some people like me, we're coming into this at the age of like almost 40, you know, and just trying to scratch the surface and you have been breeding this since you were a child, ever since you were born.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah. Well, I was 12 years old, when I picked up the physical yoga practice, well, yoga is much more than the physical but as a 12-year-old, I attended a summer yoga kids camp and since then, it was my part of my daily practice, the physical asana practice along with the family meditations continue to go on one side, even though I played, you know, cricket and badminton and volleyball, that was my favorite sports. We had our own swimming pool, so like a large swimming pool. So, I used to swim a lot but yoga was never been a sport, a physical activity for me until today. Or if I wanted to do some fitness and some exercise, I just do something else.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah, it's more spiritual for you.
Ajith Shankara: It's something to connect with myself. It is something that I, it's my bubble, my mat in my space. It's where I go and heal myself and recharge and be myself.
Mireia Mujika: So, that takes me, like I mean, this was my second question but what is yoga? So, you're saying, it goes far beyond the physical.
Ajith Shankara: Well, the word itself, yoga, it means yok, means in English ‘union’, to unite. So, then the question is, what are the things supposed to unite here, you know? So, just cutting short that the philosophy is the individual consciousness merging with the cosmic consciousness.
Mireia Mujika: Individual consciousness merging with universal consciousness.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah. This other side is that it's never been separated. It will never be separated. It's possible to separate it. You are part of that. It's just like the wave thinking that I am a wave and different from the ocean.
Mireia Mujika: Okay.
Ajith Shankara: But it's impossible to separate the wave from the ocean but the wave has an individuality, an ego, a quality, a name, you know, Im born into this place. I'm from this country and my name is this, my job is this and my passion is this. So, it separates the ocean, the sea, the wave from the ocean. It looks very different but it's never been separated. It's impossible to separate it.
Mireia Mujika: I finally understand it.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah. So, being in the state of awareness that I am one with everything, we can call that the state of yoga. So, yoga is not possible to do. It's not something you can do it. It is what it is. Being in the state of mind is called yoga. So, it's 24/7. It's not like today my yoga day, tomorrow my leg day, my ab day.
Mireia Mujika: That is what it is for me. Okay. So, yoga is more state of mind. And I don't know, I mean the history of yoga is very, it's a big one, it's a long one but where is it coming from? If we can summarize it. I mean, I know that it could take us to -
Ajith Shankara: The word yoga is in the longest time, it stays in the first place in Bhagavad-Gita. It's one of the classic textbooks like how the yogis, the Bhagavad-Gita is a classic spiritual book like the Quran and Bible, you know, it's the classic book. So, in that book, Krishna talks about yoga, not the Asanas, the physical. Yoga is a state of mind as I said. So, how to be in that state without any conflict of duality, so oneness. So, later on, how human life evolved, the physical practice of asanas, what we see it's only a few hundred years old but the philosophy of yoga much more evolved as one of the classic textbooks called ‘yoga sutras’, which is maybe dating back around 5000 years back. So, this is the first textbook that is compiled systematically. There are so many other –
Mireia Mujika: And then you say the asanas are coming later.
Ajith Shankara: So, in this book, this five thousand years old book I’m talking about, the yoga sutra, there's only one word that talks about physical postures. So,the physical postures help you sit comfortably to do your meditation. So, all these asanas that we do today, they have evolved in time through many contributions. So, the physical practice helps you to comfortably sit for meditation without any aches or pains so you can separate yourself completely from your body. So, if you're feeling aches after 10 minutes, your knee hurts, your back hurts then your mind cannot go anywhere else. It's just stuck in the pain.
Mireia Mujika: Okay. So, asanas are coming later on to fix, let's say that.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah.
Mireia Mujika: Okay. And in this, then if in the beginning, yoga is a state of mind, what's the difference between that and meditation?
Ajith Shankara: There's no difference. So, meditation is another word for yoga. The state of yoga is meditation. To reach that state is a practice of meditation or techniques of meditation.
Mireia Mujika: Okay, understood finally. Okay, well, and the origin as you were saying is coming like 5000 years ago, I guess, this is coming from India?
Ajith Shankara: Well, the concept, I don't think is just basically from India because as we see, what India geographically as a country, it's not. Many years back, we didn't have those borders, you know, many countries that today is part of old India, which is called Bhaarat, and so it is much larger geography. So, it's not just as what we think is India is. But it is contributed in time and isolated in that area as a practice in time.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah, okay. What is the goal of yoga then?
Ajith Shankara: Well, living with the highest experience of unity. The union, when you are in that state of life when you don't feel that you're separate from the surrounding, the animals, plants and trees, and the rivers and mountains and any birds and animals, you are one of the living beings, you know. So, we tend to get insecure, fearful of the individual ego projection of this ego that makes us…. in our intellect separates everything, you know, we analyze and ask questions, which helps us to evolve but it also complicates a lot of things. So, the goal of yoga is to be happy.
Mireia Mujika: And to be part of that, to be conscious that you are part of –
Ajith Shankara: Yeah, enjoy this life. Enjoy this life. So, when somebody's in that state of yoga, state of mind, you are blissful.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah, I was thinking now that you were saying this, I mean let me see if this is right or not but I’m going to throw it over. So, I’m thinking that sometimes we get angry with people as you said, right, because of their ego or because of my ego, my own ego, right? So, if I understand the person in front of me as part of myself or as part of all this union then I may be more compassionate to that person, right?
Ajith Shankara: Absolutely. You wouldn't believe it, I’m actually a very angry person.
Mireia Mujika: Are you?
Ajith Shankara: Yeah. In my teenage years, I’m like college time, I’m very angry. I used to throw. One day, I was so angry with my mom and I threw the food plate in the kitchen and rice all over the kitchen. I was so angry but what I don't like about it is when I’m angry, it increases my heartbeats, my nervous system heats up, my body heats up and I just don't like being myself. I didn't like myself being in that body and in the mind. But yoga in time, you know, took care of me. So, I don't know the last time that I got angry.
Mireia Mujika: Really?
Ajith Shankara: Yeah, 10 years easily.
Mireia Mujika: Oh, no way.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah.
Mireia Mujika: Okay, that's why I have to really start doing yoga.
Ajith Shankara: Well, I learned to respond rather than react.
Mireia Mujika: Come again?
Ajith Shankara: Instead of reacting, I learned how to respond.
Mireia Mujika: So, even if I feel angry, I tend to express my anger in a very nice way so that I still feel calm and I express my anger, I tell you your action is making me angry and this is not right, this is what I believe. So, I tend to express myself in a calmer way so there's no friction.
Mireia Mujika: Exactly.
Ajith Shankara: So, the other person does not fight back.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah, we talked about this also in our first episode with Esther Martinez.
Ajith Shankara: Okay.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah, responding instead of reacting. So, now that we're going into this yoga, so you were saying that you were talking about the asanas but also there are so many types of yoga, right? I mean, for me, I have just scratched the surface a few times of yoga but I still haven't been deep into it. So, the kundalini, the Hatta, the hydra, the Bikram, the Banja pranasa, what are all these types of yoga?
Ajith Shankara: Well, as I said, the union is the yoga, right? So, there are so many techniques to reach the state of yoga. So, often the path and techniques are considered as yoga paths. So, anything that you do those techniques sometimes comes under the category of yoga. So, this is the path to yoga. So, hatha yoga is the smallest portion of it. Everything that you explained is only the modern version of yoga that we know of as corporate yoga. But the original word is, I would say, the physical practice if you're talking about what yoga is then it is hatha yoga. Ha is the sun, ta is the moon. So, the yin yang, masculine-feminine, that same principle. So, through physical practice, you become balanced within yourself in your body, your masculine-feminine, the sun moon energies, and your state of balance. So, then your breath flows properly. So, when the breath flows properly, your prana flows through your central meridian, which is called the Sushumna. So, we can go into that nervous system where it's just the central spinal cord, so there is a high in the top called the Ida Pingala, which is the two energy meridians, in Sanskrit we call Nadis. So, when the breath flows equally on both nostrils, that means your prana is equally balanced.
Mireia Mujika: Okay. What is the prana flow?
Ajith Shankara: Prana is the life force.
Mireia Mujika: The life force.
Ajith Shankara: So when the breath is flowing equally through both nostrils and the Ida Pingala is balanced, our left brain, right brain controls our opposite nostrils. That's how the brain works, right?
Mireia Mujika: Yes.
Ajith Shankara: And our system goes diagonally, right?
Mireia Mujika: Into that rest and relaxed mode instead of the fight on flight.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah, that's the effect of the breathing. So, you're relaxed. So, when you are in that state of balanced energy on both sides, that's when the energy isolates in the bottom of the chakra, which is the root chakra and that's where the kundalini practice begins. So, hatha yoga is the initial step before you continually practice and then the kundalini awakens up through pranayama and other techniques.
Mireia Mujika: Okay. So, there is a path there that we actually follow.
Ajith Shankara: But the vinyasa power yoga, this is all a modulation of this physical practice. So, if you are more flowing through your postures, it's called vinyasa, more flow. And then power yoga, if you're selectively choosing the poses that are more strenuous, harder and it's called power yoga.
Mireia Mujika: Okay. So, that is more physical.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah, more physical. Asanas, exercise. Then the yin yoga, which is exactly opposite to, it's all about relaxing. So, poses are more used to help to relax. Your effort is less in those poses. They use props, pillows, you know.
Mireia Mujika: Okay. So, more to go into relaxing. Okay, so if I’m understanding well, then there are like these types of yoga, so some are more spiritual they say and then there are some that are more physical.
Ajith Shankara: Ideally, everything should be spiritual.
Mireia Mujika: Okay.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah, the physical is not bad or it is not non-spiritual because taking care of your physical body is part of the spiritual practice. Because without the body, you cannot live, right? So, someone who is taking care of the body, it is part of the spiritual practice. Yoga is inclusive. It doesn't separate, it does not push anything out, you wake up till night, the way you sleep, everything inclusive from the birth to death, after birth everything is yoga.
Mireia Mujika: Everything is here. Yeah, I like that one. Okay, well then in order to summarize these types of yoga that I couldn't understand. So, it's just a path in order to get to the state of mind that we are looking for.
Ajith Shankara: You can experience yoga even in the asana practice, the postures because when you do a yoga posture, you have the effort. So, the classical explanation is called Sukhum asanam, which means a posture is where you are steady and you're comfortable. It's like you're comfortable as you are sitting on the sofa, so you don't feel the effort but you require the effort to be in the pose. So, you are making an effort to be in the pose than in the pose you bring the relaxation so when the bar of effort is up to 10 and your relaxation, it was zero because there was no relaxation in the beginning and then you start relaxing in the pose, your relaxation comes up to the level of 10. Why it is 10 both, now at zero. Both are ten. So, your effort and your resting is ten. So, it's equal, it's balanced so it becomes effortless because your effort and rest become equal so you become effortless. So, most challenging pose, you can be effortless if you learn to relax. So, that is what the yin and the yang, yeah, the effort and rest.
Mireia Mujika: Okay. Well, I’m understanding many things today, finally. Thank you so much for taking your time and explaining to me.
Ajith Shankara: No problem.
Mireia Mujika: This is great. So, well, going a little bit out of the explanation of yoga. So, one of the quotes that I saw on your Instagram was saying, our body knows how to let go the, I cannot say the word because if I say the word then I have to mark this out the podcast. That's explicit. So, our body knows how to let go of the shhh, but the mind doesn't. So, can we go deeper on that quote?
Ajith Shankara: Well, the mind is our experience of life, right? Me as a yoga therapist, whatever happens in the mind it comes through the body as physical illnesses. The root cause often comes from the mind. Even someone who has stomach issues or something because they put some wrong food in their stomach, for example, we are eating, you know, oily food or like fried food often is not because your body wants oily food is because the mind wants oily food or comfort food. So, the root cause is not the body, but the mind, maybe loneliness, stress, anxiety, sleeping disorder, what maybe changes our diet.
Mireia Mujika: So, why are we needing that food, right, like why do we think that we are needing that food?
Ajith Shankara: Yeah. So, that ends up as a physical illness in time, in later on. So, when you look back, often somewhere there it might be a mental state that where you went through it difficult time mentally, that's where maybe your lifestyle, your diet is changed then it become a habit and it's just, maybe modern-day, maybe the kids grew up eating some, you know, bad, unhealthy food but their kids didn't know any choices. So, the parents need to be educated. But talking about the mind, you know, the body knows but the mind does not. So, this is where it comes. The mind is always in fear, the mind carries the worries of the future, always worried and it's always hanging on to the past. Anything, my existence now, who I am is my memory and my past and my idea of the future. In between, I forget to live. Either I’m hanging on to my past memories and worried about the future or I’m totally missing the present. So, that's where the letting go has to come. That's where life begins.
Mireia Mujika: Yes, that's where life begins when we let go. Yes, well, and we were talking a little bit before about the nervous system and the breathing, how important the breathing is, right, so that we can actually get into that state of yoga. So, the nervous system, what happens there with the nervous system when we start breathing properly?
Ajith Shankara: As we are talking about what is yoga, is there are many techniques as we said, yeah, many meditation techniques and yoga techniques. All the techniques ultimately lead to relaxation. If you're not relaxed, you cannot concentrate. There are some techniques that help you to concentrate, that will help you to relax but without relaxing, nothing further is possible, physically, mentally, you need to relax. So, when you're breathing, it helps you to relax. So, all these techniques help you to relax so the mind can become more focused, more present. So, when you're doing all this asana practice or breath work called pranayama, it relaxes your nervous system, you reduce your stress level, reduce your blood pressure, anxiety, depression, you know, and that's a side effect of that, as I said, it changes the diet, your lifestyle in general, people have insomnia. So, all that things change. You forget to relax. So, the nervous system always, as you said, you know, fight-or-flight mode, right? So, it needs to rest. I know so many people who had trouble sleeping. Sleep is so important and that's when the body needs to reset for the next day and they just accumulate stress and accumulate this lack of sleep and the body becomes ill, so that's where the importance of breathing all that does as affect the relaxation of the nervous system. The nervous system is an extension of your brain. What happens in the brain, it's everything by the mind and we just don't know where the mind is.
Mireia Mujika: Exactly.
Ajith Shankara: But I can feel it.
Mireia Mujika: I can’t feel it. And there are different types of breathing also in yoga, right?
Ajith Shankara: There are so many breathing techniques, we call them pranayama. Exercising. Ayama means exercising or regulation or control. Prana means the life force. So, our main life force is our breath. You cannot live without breathing, maybe three minutes you can do it, maybe there's a world record. One of the deep divers, he held his breath for 25 minutes or something underwater but that's a rare case. I mean, for a normal human being, if you're not trained, three minutes, five minutes may be the longest you can hold but you can go without food for days. So, food is not the prime source of energy. The breath. So, easily you can exercise the energy, life force through breathing practice. So, there are so many techniques, there are so many exercises that's why it is important to have a teacher because what is the breath, is an extension of your mind. So, when you are focused on your breath, you cannot think. You can only think of the breath. Okay?
Mireia Mujika: Yeah, let's practice.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah, take a deep breath.
Mireia Mujika: Okay.
Ajith Shankara: Obviously, you cannot think. So, your thought become the breath, the breath become the thought.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah.
Ajith Shankara: So, suddenly you become one with the breath. So, mind become one with the breath, you become one with the mind. Mind, body, breath become together instantly. So, breath is such a healing practice. If you don't sleep, I always suggest people to take five minutes to do some simple breathing exercise.
Mireia Mujika: So that they can go to sleep.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah, and they sleep better. So many people, when they wake up, they're actually more tired than the night before when they went to bed. So, restlessness.
Mireia Mujika: Although they haven't spent eight hours in bed.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah. So, people do not know the art of relaxation. People say I’m relaxing watching TV, reading your favorite book, hanging out with friends, having a good conversation, that's not called relaxing. When I’m not at work then I’m relaxing. But it's not really relaxing. So, in sleep, you're supposed to be fully relaxing. It doesn't happen.
Mireia Mujika: It's not happening. What do you think happened to humankind? When did we lost this? Do we lose this connection with ourselves and with the nature and with everything?
Ajith Shankara: Our desires.
Mireia Mujika: Our desires, our ego.
Ajith Shankara: Desire to be better than somebody else. I always think of death. Strange. When I think of death, I tend to live more alive because what if I don't have tomorrow?
Mireia Mujika: Yeah. That helps you today.
Ajith Shankara: The other day, I went to a restaurant and this delivery guy was sitting in front of me and he was eating food and he left half of the food on the plate and he walked away. He didn't come here because of his poverty or starvation. If he is in poverty, if he's starving, he will not leave that food. He will pack it up and eat later. He comes here on the road driving on a motorbike, delivering such a dangerous job. Why does he do it? Only for desires, just fulfilling desires, which is not bad but sometimes, we have endless desires and it's just we keep stressing to achieve to become better than somebody else. Everything, but in the end, it does not make us happy. I don't know. When I think of death, it just makes me so desireless. Desireless does not mean that I have no desires but it's not like stressing me out. It does not make me less valuable, worthy.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah, I think that's maybe one of the biggest problems we have as a society, right? But we think that if we don't reach somewhere then we don't have the value as a person. Like, you have less value because you didn't reach that or because you don't have a house or because you don't have a fancy car or whatever it is.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah, that's all taught by society, you know, this is more marketing. Human suffering is a product of that stuff, capitalism. Yeah, unfortunately. So, individually, we have to be awakened. If you want to improve your quality of life, we can't wait for tomorrow. The time passes by very quickly.
Mireia Mujika: And we have to awaken ourselves.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah. And only you can do it yourself.
Mireia Mujika: Exactly, that's what I was going to say because many times, well, in my practice and personal coaching, so I have had some clients saying, I mean, blaming the society, right, but I mean the society is there but it is your responsibility and you are the only accountable of your life.
Ajith Shankara: Well, as soon as you're aware of the game, you are in power.
Mireia Mujika: Exactly.
Ajith Shankara: But when you're ignorant and you're just in the loop, you're a hamster inside the spinning wheel. And you just don't know what you're doing but once you realize, this fast pace is not exciting, I’m tired and now I’m not in control of the spinning wheel anymore, I need to get out, that's where everything changes.
Mireia Mujika: Exactly.
Ajith Shankara: So, often people need to get into the hard wall, they just cannot move forward, that's when they break and take a step back and find their space in life. Until then, the healing will not happen, change will not happen. Suffering is a reason for growth. So, people always think, I don't like to suffer, that person would tend not to grow at least spiritually from inside. So, you need to be suffering.
Mireia Mujika: So, suffer a little bit.
Ajith Shankara: Suffering is good.
Mireia Mujika: Suffering is good for what?
Ajith Shankara: To remind you of the beautiful times. Imagine if you have only beautiful times. Then there's no difference. You don't enjoy those beautiful times. You know, we live in Dubai, and some of my clients are very wealthy.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah, I can imagine.
Ajith Shankara: They just don't know how to be happy. They have everything.
Mireia Mujika: But they don't have the most essential thing.
Ajith Shankara: No. They just don’t know how to be happy and it just makes me just heartbroken. You know, somebody like us, you know, working hard to make the bread and butter every day, that person has too much and just doesn't know what to do to be happy. That's called living life.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah, it is. So, now that we were talking about suffering, so as a woman, as a wife, as a cousin, as a sister, as a mom, well as a man, not so much because my little boy is only one year old but as a daughter also, I have seen many men suffering in silence, you know, because I think women, we, in society, I think until nowadays, it has been easier for women to express their pain than for men and I have seen or I know that you do some yoga for men, just for men. So, what is the reason?
Ajith Shankara: Well, most of the time because I’m a male yoga teacher. It has naturally become easy to have clients who are men and generally because sometimes, teaching yoga can be very personal. Men tend to feel more comfortable sharing things with men. Then I just started seeing a lot of men who never shared these things sometimes with, for example, my client saying, I never said this to my wife. So, he has so many colleagues and friends and things but he ends up sharing that with the yoga teacher.
Mireia Mujika: So, the therapy is the healer.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah. So, when it comes to yoga for men, they go through a lot of stress, for example, I think the research shows the most heart rate suicides is among men compared to women. So, for example, like when the men get a job and they start working and earning, he'd think about a family. When he has a family, he thinks about securing the family.
Mireia Mujika: The studies of children.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah, studies of the children, giving them proper shelter and the comfort and then when the kids go to university and things, he will think about retirement. And he'll think about 30 years later, why you want to retire and he carries the stress of 30 years ahead, which is not here yet. And he forgets to relax himself and he just takes the burden. And society puts the pressure on men that if you don't provide, you're a failure. And there's so much stress, work stress, family stress, expectation from family society. So many details to go to.
Mireia Mujika: Many times, I have felt bad for men because I think what I was telling before, that I think I think for women it is more permitted, let's say, to express emotion, right? Whereas, for men, it has been more difficult at least until now. I think now things are changing, thankfully. But I think, you know, like if I see of all these people, all these men that have been working in high places in companies, right, like these men are stressed out, are completely stressed out because of work, because of family as you were saying, because of everything, all the expectations that they must have and then apart from all the stress that they have, well, they cannot even share it because they have to be men and they have to suck it up and don't be a childish boy and don't even dare to cry. I remember in one of the companies that I work for, so when one man that was in a very high position, one day he couldn't moor and he started crying in front of all of us. And people were mocking him because he was crying and I was like please a little bit of compassion, I mean if he's crying, he knows that, like he knows what you guys are thinking right now. So, if he's crying it's because he couldn’t anymore.
Ajith Shankara: I mean like, you know, looking back around, you know, 50-70 years back, we had world war and always countries between, and all the men are killed, the men have to be brave, and it has to be, you know, if you are grown to this age, next thing is you join the military next to the king's, you know, warrior team and then the life plan was very short. And men always have to be brave and ready to see the blood and if you're crying, you don't fit, you're not manly enough and then that has put a lot of pressure and gradually, that's what we can what men means, that's what men means, that's how men should behave, that's how masculinity has become like that but now it's changing, I think. Now, we are living in such a technology and life is much better than 50 years back in 100, you know, there's no poverty, you know, much sport is less and the world is a much better place today, compared to looking back, if you look back. And so men do not need to be so what is called what manly is, you know, you don't have to go to war anymore, you don't have to carry big muscles and just look like, you know, man.
Mireia Mujika: If I may ask, what is masculinity for you? How would you define it?
Ajith Shankara: Well, that's an interesting question. A lot of people have difficulty understanding. For me, as coming from yoga about masculinity, which just means the sun energy, which is, let's put this way. Masculinity and femininity co-axis, it's like a ying and yang. It's another expression of it. So, it cannot ever be separated. So, I become more, I personally become more masculine when I become more expressive. The more I embrace my feminine side, it makes my masculinity glow more. So, only enhancing masculinity, it will not last. It's equally how to balance your feminine side as well. If you want to bring your masculinity up, you have to bring your feminine side up too. So, bringing the masculine upward become automatic, if you just can't focus on your feminine side, the masculinity will raise up automatically.
Mireia Mujika: So, it has to be that balance that you're talking about before. Always a balance.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah, I never considered what masculinity is. It is not gender-based. It's not like a woman man. Women have their own masculinity as equally as men. Maybe men are a little bit more dominant by, you know, qualities.
Mireia Mujika: Yes. Also, I think also because of education, I’ve been told many times that I’m quite a masculine woman for some reason.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah, well, I mean it's okay.
Mireia Mujika: Anyway, this is a question that I always ask to my guests. What fascinates you the most about yoga?
Ajith Shankara: Well, as I said, yoga is inclusive, meaning every aspect of life is yoga. So, life is what excites me. From the morning I open my eyes, I’m excited for that day so I don't want to go back to sleep and not to become unconscious. I wake up at five o'clock pretty much every day. Growing up, I was not a very early morning child. When I joined the ashram, ashram means monastery. So, from the age of 18, I joined the monastery when I finished my high school, I didn't go to university or any other diploma or whatever, no education. Ashram is a monastery for yoga, for a discipline. So, my uncle is a monk and when I joined the ashram and because my uncle is in charge and the ashram organizer gives me more like a white collar duties in the ashram, for example, managing reception, taking the guests to their rooms and showing them around or things like that. So, my uncle told me don't consider him as my nephew, you know, there's no relationship here. Get a hard job. So, next thing, I’m washing the toilet, cleaning the sink, moving the floor, you know, cleaning the toilets and just like all the hard dirty jobs for me. I forgot why we came to this question.
Mireia Mujika: Well, my question was, what fascinates you most about yoga? And you said life. Life itself because well, that life is yoga and then you were saying that you wake up at five.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah, so he gave me this duty in the ashram, the first bell rings at five o'clock.
Mireia Mujika: Ah, there you go.
Ajith Shankara: So, they put me on duty to ring the bell. So, if I fall asleep, the whole ashram knows that I did fall asleep. And when they see me in the meditation hall, everybody will be looking at me, why do you forget to ring the bell? The ashram is not like five people or ten people, it's like 500 people. Everybody knows. Everybody knows that I slept. That's so embarrassing. So, today, by nature of my work, I had to wake up often in the morning at six o'clock when I have my first client.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah, okay. And I guess, you do sleep enough.
Ajith Shankara: I do sleep enough. I get to have at least six hours sleep and then I have an hour of nap during the daytime.
Mireia Mujika: Okay.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah, or sometimes two hours.
Mireia Mujika: Seven to eight hours. Okay, that's what I need as well. A question that I hear a lot about, when it comes to men, can I practice yoga if I’m not flexible enough?
Ajith Shankara: Yeah.
Mireia Mujika: What would you say?
Ajith Shankara: Well, if you're not flexible, that's exactly the reason why you should do yoga. Well, sometimes I like to correct when we say yoga, we often misunderstand what we do on the mat is what yoga is so we can start using the word asanas or postures. So, when we do the asanas, the physical practice, then it is exactly the reason why you must step into the mat.
Mireia Mujika: If you're not flexible.
Ajith Shankara: Because the body accumulates a lot of stress and tension. It's not just the physical muscular tension causing the stiffness. It's also emotional, it accumulates in different parts of the body. So, for example, if you're so nervous, you're going for an interview or you're going to meet for a new job, you can have like a diary, you can have constipation. A lot of people have IBS, you know, from stress. So, people have shoulder pain, neck pain, migraine, back pain from just stress.
Mireia Mujika: When I used to get very nervous, my jaw would get stuck.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah, and that can lead to headaches.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah, of course.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah. Headaches or eye pain.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah. So, the body gives the trauma. That's, I mean there are two books there that we talk about also in our first episode about it. Yeah, I think it's very interesting how, well, the body wisdom itself and how the body also keeps the trauma right from those memories.
Ajith Shankara: You think the body is separate from the mind. It's just like two different sides of the same coin.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah, exactly. Two different sizes of the same coin, exactly.
Ajith Shankara: You see differently but it's no different. That’s where yoga, the beauty of the practice yoga in general or the asana practice because anything that you move in your body during the yoga practice, the asana practice, the slow movements, any movements that you do, it is stimulated by the brain through your nervous system. So, your muscles are stimulated, so you move your skeleton. But that brain is stimulated by a desire to move that has occurred in your mind. So, when you track back mentally from your fingertip, you will see the muscle movement in the fingertip then you can see the nerve pathway back to the brain. Then you can see how your brain is stimulated, then you can see the thought that stimulated the brain then you go into your mind. That's amazing. That's why I love yoga. It just excites me. So, what excites me? Yoga excites me. And especially, when my students discover these things and the surprise in their faces, the happiness in their faces, I look forward to seeing my clients every day and I don't get tired.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah. To see this awakening moment.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah. And they're so happy, oh my god, I just learned something new. I discovered something about myself, my body, something new and my pain is not there anymore, you know.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah, I think this awareness is, you cannot express how happy you get and how liberated, I guess as well when you actually find something in yourself when you get aware of something that you are not.
Ajith Shankara: I had few cases of people who attempted suicide, you know, from the medical background support, they were requested to practice yoga and I was so lucky that they reached out to me and I see them today, they are like, just their life is just different. Life is so good, like life went the opposite side.
Mireia Mujika: Yes, I think at the end of the day, I mean like no matter which healing way you take.
Ajith Shankara: Your experience in life, you own it.
Mireia Mujika: Exactly.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah, you're responsible for your life experience. 90% of our life, we live for other people, pleasing other people. Only 10% percent of the time, we live for us. What else can cause more stress?
Mireia Mujika: Exactly. Above all, when you don't know what the people are expecting.
Ajith Shankara: 90% percent of the day, you live for other people and only 10 percent you live for yourself.
Mireia Mujika: That's a disaster. That's what it is.
Ajith Shankara: That's painful.
Mireia Mujika: Yes, painful, a stressful disaster.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah. So, how can health happen? How can happiness happen?
Mireia Mujika: Exactly. I think that's the biggest jail that we can build among ourselves. We put ourselves in jail in an invisible jail, just trying to please other people.
Ajith Shankara: Because I value when somebody says something nice about me then I feel good about myself. So, we're looking for validation. We please other people to give us validation. I’m insecure about myself because I don't know myself. More you establish in yourself, it doesn't matter what other people think, what other people do. You do honest things purely from the heart, you become your authentic self and you'll just live the best. Whatever you don't like to be done to you, don't do that to others. So, be mindful, passionate, and compassionate.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah, and whatever you do, do it for yourself and not for others. For the authentic self.
Ajith Shankara: So, this is why, one of the reasons why I think of death when I think of death, I want to look back and see, Ajith, have you lived your life? I want to look back and say, Ajith, you're ready to go, like you can go, like there's nothing that holds me back. So, I want to live for myself.
Mireia Mujika: Yes, of course. I remember once I had this client, I always tell the stories a little bit twisted so that, you know, like that because I don't like telling the whole, you know, what was happening to my clients so it's not exactly how I’m going to say it but so that we have the idea. So, this client, you know, C suit from a company is extremely stressed out, burned out like completely out of balance and I told him okay, so now imagine that you're taking a plane, the next plane that you have to take. It was pre-copied, right? So, he was taking planes every two days and I told him like okay, so now imagine that you take the next plane to go to, wherever it is, London, and imagine that actually when you are reaching London, you know, suddenly the plane is going down and you know that you're going to die so what would you regret at that moment? Like, he was saying that he couldn't reach this and that and that and he was not making it to the next meeting that he had. And I was like, you actually regret not having reached these goals that you have for your company or is it going to be more on the fields of, I didn't spend more time with my family? What is it? And he was like, yeah, of course. So yeah, maybe death brings clarity.
Ajith Shankara: I have another flying story. I lived in Canada for seven years. There was a student at the time who comes to my class very regularly, three or four times a week but she always comes 10 minutes 15 minutes late and I was always wondering why she came late. One day, one of her friends who was in the class, while we were waiting just to start the class or she will be coming late, she just doesn't like the pranayama. I asked why she didn't like that. She doesn't like touching her nose and holding her nose and I said, oh that's why she always comes late. So, it's purposeful. So, since she said that, I start doing with the day she comes, I start doing the pranayama at the end of the day, end of the class. So, now she cannot escape. She cannot come 10 minutes late and leave 10 minutes early. So, she was forced to do the practice. Time passed by. One day, I can't remember exactly where it was from Toronto to New York or something. She was flying and then there was this air pocket in the air in the plane. So, the flight dropped. So, everybody panicked in the plane and this oxygen mask came down.
Mireia Mujika: That must be a horrible feeling.
Ajith Shankara: Luggage just fell off from the shelf and everybody's screaming and praying. This is the best certificate I received as a yoga teacher. So, when she came back to class the next day, whenever after that, she said to me this, this has happened to me and I said why. So, everybody's screaming and praying thinking about god. She said to me, Ajith, you came to my mind. I said, what, at the time of death, I came to your mind? Because I heard your voice in my head saying inhale, exhale. So, she sat down in her seat, put the oxygen in her face, and then she started breathing. She said you saved my life. I said I didn't save your life, yoga saved your life, your breath saved your life. I mean like, you know, the teacher.
Mireia Mujika: And what happens when we think we are getting close to this.
Ajith Shankara: So, the teachers always think it's good for the student. Maybe the student disagrees in the moment of suffering but in the long term, the teacher knows what's good for the student. That's why I love being a teacher but a lot of the time, people don't let me become a teacher. They force me to become an instructor because they don't learn.
Mireia Mujika: People like telling what to do.
Ajith Shankara: Every day, they want to be instructed, every single thing. So, for example, when you do the cobra pose, lift your chin up, look up. Every single class, I had to say it because they like to receive instruction. So, it makes me an instructor. Every day, I’m instructing. When the opposite person is learning then that naturally shifts me from an instructor to a teacher. So, I always say, oh are you a good teacher? I said are you a good student. If you evolve as a good student and you're keen to learn, I automatically grow with you as a teacher because if I see the water that I’m pouring is not holding the water, it's as a whole. I will be hesitant to pour. I pretend like I’m pouring. You'll never be filled. So, if you want to learn, you know, grow, you have to become a student. So, I always say the other side is important. Spiritual learning, sometimes they say, oh, what is a guru? Oh, such an ego-personality. Oh, you want to be a guru?
Mireia Mujika: That also comes to my mind.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah. Well, whatever a guru is, in a spiritual path, is very important. After all, you are your own inner teacher. No matter what this other person can do, it can only guide you. The guru inside the teacher is truly from within you but it's like a person wants to give you water. If you stand on the same level, will you receive water? No, you have to go below to receive. So, same way, if you want to receive knowledge, means it doesn't have to be below you can sit to me sitting in the same chair, same level. But emotionally, intellectually, you should have a quality of humbleness, humility. Humbleness and humility in order to learn. That's why it is a psychological emotional position, not a guru is someone who sits in a higher place. Your nature can teach you, people around you can teach you if you have humbleness and humility. So, a guru will enhance that quality in you to become humble. So, you will be receiving knowledge because ego becomes a barrier when you have to receive this kind of spiritual knowledge, which spiritual knowledge means, it's very subtle. It's about yourself. So, who is the self?
Mireia Mujika: Who is the self?
Ajith Shankara: That's what you will meet in meditation. You will meet yourself in meditation.
Mireia Mujika: My authentic self.
Ajith Shankara: There's no authentic self. Self is authentic, it's pure. There's nothing. Our mind and our memory and our intellect is messed up with ourselves. The self is always authentic. There's no authentic self.
Mireia Mujika: I see. Oh, so many learnings. So many learnings here. I actually realized that we started at 11:11 and now it's –
Ajith Shankara: 12:12. Sacred numbers.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah. An hour has gone by. So, I think we have to go to my last question.
Ajith Shankara: Excellent.
Mireia Mujika: What book or other resources would you recommend to a person? I want to know more about it.
Ajith Shankara: You're asking the wrong person about the book. In my life, I don't like reading. In my high school time, in my college time, anywhere I just don't like books. I’m a visual learner, an audible learner. I like to have conversations. I can sit in a classroom from morning sunrise to sunset and learn, I like to listen to people, I like to see things. So, hands-on learning. If you give me a book, within a paragraph, I will be asleep.
Mireia Mujika: Okay. We don't need to recommend books.
Ajith Shankara: No, I’m just saying. I have read books if I have a specific question, I will go and seek that book and maybe I will just read that paragraph. I may have read that particular chapter and totally ignored the rest of the book. In my home, you will not find more than 15 books maximum. It's all related to yoga, meditation and I don't read them.
Mireia Mujika: Because you don't need them.
Ajith Shankara: I don't need them.
Mireia Mujika: Exactly. But our listeners, if they want to dig deeper in yoga, what would they have to do?
Ajith Shankara: Well, in my spiritual journey, my lineage, my guru lineage, it comes under Sivananda. Swami Sivananda. Swami Sivananda is one of the sages India has ever seen in the modern-day. He was a medical doctor, an allopathic medical doctor and homeopathic doctor, he was an ayurvedic doctor, naturopathic doctor. So, he wrote in the early days. All the spiritual books were written in Hindi. There's no English. But he acts as an educated person, as a doctor, all his books were written in English so it's very much spread into the west because he wrote every book in simple English. So, in his lifetime, he wrote over 300 plus books on different topics on yoga. So, to me, his plays or his books are like a grocery, like a grocery shop where you go to buy everything. You have your hardware, you have your grocery, you have your home care, kitchen, furniture and paints and chocolate, candy, fruits, everything. He has written books on all topics and he has so many wonderful amazing disciples. So, they also wrote so many books.
Mireia Mujika: So, what's his name again?
Ajith Shankara: Sivananda. S-i-v-a-n-a-n-d-a. Swami Sivananda.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah.
Ajith Shankara: There's so many books available to download freely on their website Sivananda. The organization is called ‘Divine life society’ and it's based in Rishikesh, in India in the Himalayas, it's called divine life society.
Mireia Mujika: Divine life society. Okay. Listeners, so if you go to waystogrowpodcast.com, there we'll put all Ajith's details so that you can contact him if you need to and also Sivananda's Divine life society.
Ajith Shankara: And you can download books freely there. It's a full pdf book.
Mireia Mujika: That's great.
Ajith Shankara: Hundreds. Believe me, hundreds of books.
Mireia Mujika: Amazing.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah, totally free. Knowledge is free. Time is money.
Mireia Mujika: Many learnings we had today, many learnings. You know what? I would have to invite you again because like I did want to talk.
Ajith Shankara: I was a little bit nervous initially because I have never done a podcast before but as I’m here with you, I’m feeling very relaxed and feeling very pleasant. My nervousness is gone.
Mireia Mujika: Oh, thank you so much. Yeah, I mean that's what it is also, right? I like having these conversations with the people that I invite because I think that's how we learn, right? I mean as you said, we can learn from a book or we can learn from a conversation and that's what I want to bring to my listeners as well, sometimes like an easier way to learn about something. I wanted to tell the listeners that you do yoga therapy, which I have actually tried. And I think I will have to invite you another day because today we are running out of time. But I would have to invite you again so that you can talk to us about your therapy and what your yoga therapy is.
Ajith Shankara: Absolutely.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you so much for all your insights. I think I have learned so much today, really about yoga. I was always wondering about what is this but what is when and finally I think, look, I really think I will never forget the moment that you mentioned the ocean and the wave, I finally understood.
Ajith Shankara: That is it.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah, exactly. That is it.
Ajith Shankara: Why are you afraid of death? You are just a wave going back to the ocean.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah, wow.
Ajith Shankara: Simple. Silence.
Mireia Mujika: I like silence.
Ajith Shankara: That's the best music.
Mireia Mujika: It gives me the time to process something.
Ajith Shankara: Well, that's when you become part of yourself, in silence. There is an analogy. The surface of the lake always has ripples and waves and tsunamis and like whatever disaster, but the bottom of the lake is always peaceful and it's always silent.
Mireia Mujika: Yeah, that's why I like diving as well. Ajith, really thank you so much for everything. Yeah, I really keep it in my mind but I think more closer to my heart the metaphor that you gave us about the ocean and the waves but also many other learnings that I take for myself and I hope that listeners also take them to themselves. So, well, thank you very much. Listeners, remember to follow us on waystogrowpodcast.com and you can also follow it on Spotify, we are here in the Spotify studio today. Thanks to the Spotify people that they have in the studio here and they have let us come here to record this podcast. And yeah, I think that’s everything that I have to say today. So, listeners, we see you in two weeks. Be well until then and thank you very much again, Ajith, for coming to us and I hope that you come again and you can talk about maybe also Ayurveda or whatever, other disciplines.
Ajith Shankara: Yeah, sure.
Mireia Mujika: Thank you very much.
Ajith Shankara: Namaste.
Mireia Mujika: Namaste.
Ajith Shankara: Thank you.
Mireia Mujika: Thank you.
List of authors, resources, and books:
Swami Sivananda – author
Divine life society – organization in Rishikesh, India
Yoga Sutras – classical textbook