“Yoga is a panacea to the infinite stresses modern life brings.”

Pune-based Malabika is a BSc graduate with honours in Economics, who has worked with various corporates for 15 years as a Graphic Designer. A wellness enthusiast, her journey has been from making materialistic things look good externally, to a yoga teacher who now designs her sessions to raise self-awareness in every student and make them feel good both internally and externally.

Here she talks about yoga with A.Radhakrishnan

Describe your personality in three words.

Sincere, Compassionate and Resilient.

What does yoga mean to you? How has practising and teaching it impacted your life?

It’s not just a physical exercise but a journey towards realising our true potential as humans. Balancing our lives and calming the restless mind, yoga is a panacea to the infinite stresses modern life brings.
Earlier, I was physically, mentally and emotionally weak, and had lots of health issues like bronchitis, asthma, gynecological disorders, emotional restlessness, anger, etc. Practicing yoga brought me to a level of inner bliss and contentment as a person. Whatever I teach today is more from my inner awareness, through self-practice.
This beautiful journey has transformed me as an individual, helped me know the purpose of my life, and made me strong. I am learning to live worthily.

Malabika Marzabani

What style and tradition of yoga do you teach? What is unique and effective about it?

I teach and guide Classical Ashtanga (eight limbs) yoga, divided into three disciples. The Bahiranga-sadhana comprises ethical practices in the form of Yama, or general ethical practices, universal morality, Niyama, personal observances, and physical practices in the form of Asanas as well as Pranayama through breathing exercises and control of prana.
The second discipline, Antharanga-sadhana, is emotional or mental brought to maturity by Pranayama and Pratyahara or mental detachment.
Antaratma-sadhana is a successful quest of the soul through dharana, dhyana and samadhi.
Rather than instructing, I attempt to raise awareness amongst my students, on how to apply yoga in daily life.
I first studied under Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati (Bihar School of Yoga, Munger), then was for four years under supervision of B.S.K.Iyengar Yoga, Pune and lastly was with Dr. Renu Mehtani of Param Yoga, Pune.

What qualities are essential to be an ideal yoga teacher?

A yoga teacher should be deeply involved in both own personal development, as well as of his/her students. His/her thoughts should be motivating, inspiring, energetic emerging from the heart and the higher self, rather than just from the mind. Always well prepared, respecting the students and committed towards teaching and available for discussion after class, recognising a student’s potential and invest in it.
The teacher has to constantly challenge and encourage the students, at all levels, offering alternatives. This requires observation skills, taking into account the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual state of the students. He/she should give individual guidance to each student according to their age, ability and health condition. 

Is yoga a way of life or just a way to exercise and meditate? Is it more mental or physical? Is it is an alternative form of healing and medicine?

Yoga is a way of life. It also improves the functioning of whole body systems (nervous system, respiratory, circulatory, digestive, and hormonal and lymphatic systems). An ancient art, based on an extremely subtle science, that of the body, mind and soul, its prolonged practice will, in time, lead to a sense of peace and a feeling of being at one with the environment.
Yoga is thus a dynamic, internal experience, which integrates the body through asanas, the senses through pranayama, the mind through concentration, and the intelligence through meditation, with the self.
Diseases are caused by fluctuations in the brain and in the behavioural pattern of the body. In yogic practices, the brain is quietened, the senses are stilled, and perceptions are altered, all generating a calm feeling of detachment. Practice helps treat the brain as an object and the body as a subject. Energy is diffused from the brain to the other parts of the body. The brain and the body then work in tandem and energy is evenly balanced.
Yoga is thus termed sarvanga sadhana or holistic practice. No other form of exercise so completely involves the mind and self with the body resulting in all-round development and harmony. Other forms termed angabhaga sadhna or physical exercise, address only particular body parts.

Is yoga just another buzzword or the next big trend in well-being that will come and go?

Yoga is not buzzword or any big trend…
According to Maharishi Patanjali, the aim of yoga is to calm the chaos of conflicting impulses and thoughts, which leads to pain and distress in our daily lives in the forms of false pride, ego, false knowledge, reluctance to work, laziness, doubt, indifference, unsteadiness in the body and unsteady respiration. Only yoga eradicates these afflictions, and disciplines the mind, emotions, intellect, and reason. It is a necessity of human life…to bring balance in our nature and environment.

Do you associate yoga with Hinduism? How can yoga be honoured and not appropriated?

Yoga is not associated with any religion, though it is a philosophical approach very much connected with fundamental Indian philosophy. It is for everyone and can be honoured through practicing it in its true form. We need to develop the receptors to yoga. This is the way our asanas can evolve, and the way our living can change. We will then respect and appreciate everything, our environment, our nature, our life as well as other lives.

Your views on the idea of competitive yoga?

Yoga should not be a competitive sport, as it is a way of life. People should use it for self-improvement rather than to win rewards. The reward should only be in bettering themselves and sharing that knowledge and experience to improve others’ lives as well, and raise awareness.

What is the single most defining issue facing the global yoga community today? How has the yoga community adapted to the Covid crisis?

In today’s world, the essence and tradition of yoga is getting diluted. People are creating their own versions of yoga for professional benefits without considering the wellbeing of their students. A true practitioner is not bogged down by the negativity around. The community is utilising the current situation by spreading positivity and inculcating the sense of self improvement and discipline.

What is your yoga philosophy, dharma, and life mission?

My yoga philosophy is simple. Imbibe the practice in daily action following eight paths and help others to do the same.

What’s your favorite quote/affirmation/mantra?

Om sarve bhavantu sukhinah
sarve santu nirāmayāh
sarve bhadrāni paśyantu mā kaściddu
Om śāntih śāntih śāntih
May all become happy,
May all be free from illness,
May all see what is auspicious,
May no one suffer.
Om peace, peace, peace.

How important is meditation in yoga practice? How do you handle stress and pressure?

Meditation (dhyana) is the higher stage in yoga, the seventh path. This state of freedom is the goal of yoga and can be reached by constant enquiring into the nature of things. It is our tool to see things clearly and perceive reality beyond the illusions that cloud our mind. Through concentration and meditation we bring out true potential or wisdom as human beings to understand a situation.

What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced as a yoga teacher?

The only challenge I face is to raise self-awareness.

What is your greatest weakness? What are you doing to improve it?

A yoga teacher should be bereft of any weakness and if it exists, not to allow it to get the better of him/her. I am compassionate and get attached to people easily. I can feel their pain and hence I am practising detached compassion with dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation).

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out on their yoga journey?

Be persistent, practice hard and never give up. Regular practice will help you to look at yourself and your goals in a new light and help remove the obstacles to good health and stable emotions and help achieve emancipation and self-realisation, the ultimate goal.
Sometimes, despite their best efforts, students are unable to perform certain asanas. It is important to practice a series of actions before moving on to the next. Sequencing helps derive the essence of the asanas, experience their beneficial effects, and elevate the mind’s structure. Guiding students about principles of eight limbs of yoga build the right mannerisms that help us attain the sight of the soul. Initially students apply force to perform asanas that can lead to sprained muscles, painful joints, and shakiness in breathing and instability in the body.
The brain and body cannot be like dry earth. It is the intelligence or the mind that softens them into clay. I teach the importance of setting goals in order to perfect asanas, but also insist that students be compassionate towards each part of their body.
Without sincerity, complete involvement, and truthfulness, asanas remain mechanical. There is enthusiasm and chaos at beginning, when students often get carried away and aspire for advanced asanas, without practicing the simpler postures. I teach them the inner awareness about their own body. The foundation of Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation) has to begin from the practice of asanas and pranayama. 
The eight paths have to be followed one after other by perfecting each stage, as it is a holistic focus which eventually brings completeness to the individual, as they find connectivity to the divine.

What is the age group you train? You prefer a Zoom or actual class? Do you prefer to instruct small groups, large groups, or one-to-one?

For yoga, age is not a barrier. You are never young or too old to imbibe yoga in your daily life. I have students as old as 5 yrs and as young as 86 yrs.
I prefer both Zoom as well as taking my classes in person. Virtual platforms have their benefits as well as limitations. On virtual platforms, I prefer small groups and one-to-one. In personal actual classes, large groups are preferable.

Why should yoga be shared? Has one got to be religious or spiritual to do yoga?

We gain knowledge only when we share. If our yoga knowledge is going to benefit someone, it is better to be shared.
Practicing all the stages gradually, spiritual awareness flows into the student. Pain and misery vanishes, and the art of simple and peaceful living is realised. It brings spiritual dimension in our lives and in our relationships. This has led many reflective people to realise that solace and inspiration, peace and happiness cannot come from the external environment but must come from within.

What legacy would you like to leave?

All my Gurus have already shared pure and vast knowledge and discipline selflessly and patiently. I am purely taking it forward. I don’t want to leave any legacy. I just want to be remembered as someone who brought about a change for the good and betterment of students. Everyone should be truly happy.

A. Radhakrishnan

A.Radhakrishnan is a Pune based freelance journalist, poet and short story writer, who when not enjoying is favourite cup of kaapi, loves to make people happy.

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