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Our neurons | Carlos Rui Ferreira instructor of this art “more famous than known” studied with Indian masters and is the major driver of our yoga practice, is here and now to demystify preconceptions and abuse that this technique has suffered through five thousand years, until it came to us “this trend of yoga”

The art of YOGA

No, yoga is not those crazy sitting for an hour to meditate or chant mantras of peace and love. Yoga is: the word is masculine and spelt with y without carets or brazilian translations of Indian. Not only is the ultimate trendy fitness, cover of Time last April, or favorite sports of movie stars. It is an ancient discipline that needs to be demystify to realize what thousands of instructors in the western world are doing. Carlos Rui Ferreira continues to investigate daily with hundreds of students who seek him, and until he returns from India, he leave us the answers to our questions about the origins and effects, the schools and quacks, while talking us about his experience: from the late 70s sifting the wheat from the chaff in a discipline always adapted and sweetened to the interests of many.

Interview by Sandra Oliveira | Photos of Raul Cruz

Notícias Magazine (NM) – How were the first contacts with yoga?

Carlos Rui Ferreira – My interest in yoga began in 1978, between 18 and 20 years of age, when we need references and at a time when professional proposals didn’t motivated me – I was sort of an outsider kid and was always upset with the world …

By chance I came across an Indian, Mr. Unas, who played chess and won to everybody. It amazed me the concentration, his tranquility in adverse situations, and I happened to find him doing some weird exercises: he was doing yoga. Was he who raised my curiosity for the control of mind and offered me a book of yoga.

From then I started to buy all the books, I didn’t even knew there were schools or classes. I thought yoga was learned from books. They were almost all in brazilian and a great mess, I took a while to learn what was yoga… The more books I bought, worse they were: more doctrinal and moral, much peace, love, do not do this, do not do that. But of yoga practice nothing, it was all theoretical.

Then I found some movements that taught in Portugal and began to practice in all the places where they did yoga. Some I liked more, some less, others I understand nothing, and had no reference to give me a critical sense on the matter. At the start, had the romantic notion that all the people who gave yoga classes were fantastic, almost enlightened, and they also laid themselves on a pedestal, in extremely seductive atmospheres. And I felt like a fish out of water: they all talked to me about great experiences they had, almost trips…

NM – levitation?

Carlos Rui Ferreira – Almost. They had fantastic sensations in meditation, while I, after five minutes my body hurt, was bored to be there quiet, my head didn’t stop and I didn’t realize how in the end people were with that air of ecstasy, speaking of light, sound and visions. Until I began to realize that maybe some of those people suffered from real mental problems, and maybe they needed medical monitoring! I was realizing about the poor training of some of the people who led the movements, the inconsistent practice with what they were advocating, and with the intention of taking advantage. Occasionally, I found some extremely honest and nice people – of whom I am still friends – but these were the exception in yoga culture and western mystical movements. So I decided to go to India.

NM – How was that experience?

Carlos Rui Ferreira – At the time little was known in Portugal as to what was happening in India, and went with a set of references in the hands – names like Iyengar, Sivananda – to see what I could find: really wanted to study yoga. My encounter with lyengar was purely casual: I didn’t even knew the city where he lived, was looking for a man in a country that is almost a continent…

In India, contrary to what is often believed, nobody knows anything about yoga: it belongs to very limited circles, the average Indian knows nothing of yoga, never heard and has other things to do – is not like China where everyone does Tai Chi.

Accidentally, bumped in Bombay with a taxi driver who had a suspended OM – which is a symbol that they have everywhere – and, in my naivety, I started talking gleefully: “Om, symbol of yoga”  and the driver told me he had seen a television program with a yoga master, lyengar who had his school in Puna… And there I go to Pune, in a white cab, half afraid that the man might be deceived me for a small fortune (in India, not here) on that taxi ride. And find lyengar in Pune, a city six times greater than Lisbon?

On top, there is a school in Pune, Oxo, where all the westerners, many japanese and americans go make their madnesses: bacchanalia or esoteric experiences, living sexual liberation in disinfected and air conditioned paradise, which has nothing to do with India. And they sent me systematically to Oxo.

Walked for three days to discover in the opposite side of town the Iyengar Institute. In which I was received very poorly because they are not known for sympathy, and didn’t wanted to know from how far I came! They put me right on the street, and I had to wait three more days to get a vague commitment to take some lessons after a year… It was then, in 1988/89,  when my story with lyengar starts.

Meanwhile, I went to other reference sites in India, had classes with several teachers, and after a year there I was. Got a tradeoff, and although I’m not a teacher trained by them, I have classes at the lyengar Institute for years now.

NM – For someone orient themselves in the middle of all schools and types of “yoga” with strange names, how to disentangle the main ones and where they get their influences?

Carlos Rui Ferreira – In the west, there are numerous: the Bikram, Iyengar, Ashtanga Yoga connected to Pattabhi Jois, the Kashemira Yoga, Satyananda developed with the Sivananda: these are the schools with more influence worldwide.

Then there are many schools and movements impossible to know, is ultimately a matter of marketing. To study yoga seriously, the ideal is to go to India, because usually good teachers do not go out of their space.

Much of the masters of an art are radical in the way they that they do not go looking students, as western teachers do. Hence, there’s a big difference between teaching an art and sell a product.

NM – How you managed your training?

Carlos Rui Ferreira – Did all the training I could here in Portugal. In London, I was connected to a movement that gives formation and where I went to do proofs of instructor training: also did the Satyananda courses in India, and I have followed seriously the method of yoga in southern India, where lyengar operates – but the Indians do not give diplomas, it’s almost an insult to ask an Indian master a paper saying that we do yoga, they throw us out on the street. Just in the West that gains importance.

NM – How the Portuguese Centre of Yoga come together?

Carlos Rui Ferreira – In principle I am very averse to organize and institute something – not only don’t have the patience as I don’t like the idea of leading movements. But this was almost an imposition, to guard the interests of people who are connected to yoga in a serious way, and to have a legal juridic figure in the western world. Many people with experience in yoga, practitioners for many years, come together in the Portuguese Association of Yoga.

NM – What do you proclaim?

Carlos Rui Ferreira – As a project we intend to promote yoga teaching our practice – not the best or the worst, our, that we like and try to improve. As a secondary objective we do training courses for instructors who want to teach yoga, but it is essential to promote: we do retreats, workshops, demonstrations, and everything that is connected to yoga as a practical art.

NM – Spoke of practicing yoga as you like, technical yoga and yoga as art. What do you practice anyway?

Carlos Rui Ferreira – Inside of what is understood as yoga in the west, we do a more physical yoga, connected to the Hatha Yoga, in the sense that we don’t indoctrinate anyone or pass strictly theoretical knowledge without an intense physical practice.

NM – In contrast, technical versus mystical?

Carlos Rui Ferreira – Assuming that yoga is a way to integrate and unite the human being as a whole [from Sanskrit, yoga means to unite], hardly human beings by their own can reach the interior spaces of mind. The physical structure – and posture, and the way humans live and move their body – is a reflection of mental activity or psychological and emotional adjustment to the world.

Yoga uses this characteristic, physical structure and the body to release the mind. Because the body is conditioned, and is conditioned by the mind. The alignment techniques, joint correction, realignment of the spine, act deeply on the internal organs and the psychological structure. Why? Because to release the body implies freeing the mind, there is no border – the body is an extension of the mind and mental activity an extension of physical activity

Since we can’t go inside the head and open space, yoga uses the physical technique, breathing technique and relaxation to lead the practitioner to the purpose of the beginning of this conversation, to freedom: freeing the body leads to a sensation of wellness and the ability to manage its own existence.

NM – How to determine the therapeutic effects of yoga?

Carlos Rui Ferreira – If you swim you know has therapeutic effects, if you do aerobics, play tennis , all activities that move with the body have, in some way have a therapeutic effect – improvement of cardiorespiratory activity, reflexes, etc..

The therapeutic effects of yoga are more visible and the action is deeper than in sport, why? Because consciously acts on the internal organs, and all movement the practitioner does has as its goal conscious action on the internal organs. What happens with many “sportsmen” is that the exterior is robust, they have a tan, look muscled, but are organically impaired – while the good looks of the yoga practitioner only reflects the internal effects on organic health.

The purpose of yoga isn’t to do therapy, but has a profound effect on people’s health – this therapeutic goal is an a posteriori and western concern.

NM – The yoga has became a trend, this wellness and good looks make it sought after as an antidote to stress or way to be fit. In Portugal the number of practitioners has also increased. They arrive with other motivations?

Carlos Rui Ferreira – Any motivation to do yoga is great and worthy: is for aesthetic reasons, for improvement in health, out of insecurity, for wanting flexibility. Only exceptionally people come for interest in yoga and its objectives, most want to accomplish their goals through yoga.

NM – There is a vague idea in the west that, if studied scientifically, yoga could be a medical assistant. You believe yoga can be transformed in a science?

Carlos Rui Ferreira – First, yoga is a world heritage and it is undeniable that produces effects in psychophysical structure. In some cases and in some diseases, mainly linked to habits of urban life – lack of movement and poor eating habits – yoga can enhance changes in lifestyle.

As a structure or strictly therapeutic technique, I have many doubts because yoga was never proposed to be a therapy and for that India has the Ayurvedic medicine, which works as a therapy and that uses some of the yoga exercises.

If it were taken seriously in some cases of joint recovery and organ dysfunctions, could have real effect. But how will a conventional doctor who smokes two packs a day and listens to 20 patients in two hours, prescribe some exercises that he never did? Teaching yoga implies experience and practice from the one who teaches.

I very much doubt that yoga will ever be used as therapy in western medicine.

NM – You know recovery cases of health problems with yoga practitioners?

Carlos Rui Ferreira – Many, but because they changed their lifestyle and consciously used yoga, at nervous system problems, digestive disorders, recovery of joint motion, and especially in the prevention of stress-related diseases. At another level, in India there are some clinics that use the techniques of yoga forcefully in more serious problems such as traumatology recovery.

NM – At what age can we do yoga?

Carlos Rui Ferreira – Since we are born until we die. With reservations due and appropriate adjustments to age or physical condition, anyone can do yoga. I have students who started at 60, and today, at seventy-something, are in better shape than they were at 50.

What is fantastic, especially in western society, where, as a rule, it is considered that people lose skills and activity with age. On the contrary, the yoga practitioners of older age groups often have more quality of life, mobility, and even greater dexterity, than twenty year olds.

Aging involves no physical disability and immobility, on the contrary, is synonymous of increased body intelligence. People lose youthful vigor but compensate with speed, finesse and ability to concentrate.

NM – Some myths associated with yoga make it look at with suspicion…

Carlos Rui Ferreira – The first great reluctance of people is by how it is presented: often try to pass a religious or philosophical message that they want to give the name of yoga, which causes a certain withdrawal of western-educated people, who have already found their options and are not willing to be colonized by some kind of “Indianism.” But that has nothing to do with yoga as physical technique, of movement, has nothing to do with religious messages.

The other reluctance is that, in general and in portuguese society, people are not very motivated for physical activity. Not because its yoga, but because physical activity in schools is considered secondary, in health institutions the importance of exercise is not taken into consideration for the health of individuals and society itself – which would mean a huge savings in medical services, even in work accidents and / or traffic accident, because the attention span and motor control of individuals influences the life of societies.

NM – What kind of misconceptions arrive with new students?

Carlos Rui Ferreira – Most people think they will come to a class to sit and stand cross-legged, eyes closed and thinking in I don’t know what, in a passive state. They think I’ll go indoctrinate, or levitate or do very strange things or you’ll find a superior entity that will guide them…

NM – Expect a guru?

Carlos Rui Ferreira – They do not expect me to be (something that any of the instructors attached to this association will always reject), but many people are waiting for someone to solve their lives, because it requires effort to take care of their own health and life itself. One of the things that can cause a bigger shock is that yoga leads to self-consciousness, and the obligation to manage the existence in a self-sufficient manner.

NM – A yoga class can enhance this autonomy in humans?

Carlos Rui Ferreira – I think so. The feeling is of independence and achievement, as practitioners conquer communication with their own body and that gives an undeniable freedom: create new spaces of movement in joints, decompress the spine, loosen tensions between / on the organs, and the organic space that it creates is the equivalent of a mental space opened by the intelligent use of the body – even if at conscious level is not noticeable.

NM – Yoga is the key to a healthy life?

Carlos Rui Ferreira – Yoga can be one of the keys to a healthy life, and to a certain range of people – as many other options. If a person has no empathy with this art of Indian origin can do something else – skateboarding, diving, long walks…

NM – What activities can cause wellness and identical levels of energy as yoga?

Carlos Rui Ferreira – It may resemble to rafting: we arrive there at the bottom and then there’s a series of jumps and leaps, with a level of inner dynamism similar to a yoga practice – without rest and tranquility of course. The sense of challenge and achievement of extreme sports may resemble, yoga is radical in sensations. But on the other hand, yoga can resemble the tranquility of sitting on top of a mountain, creates a state of interiority associated with dynamics. Moreover, yoga is done everywhere, cooking, eating, sitting at a table talking…

What is yoqa?

The simplest definition of yoga, summarizes Carlos Rui Ferreira , will be “a practical discipline of life ” and “a purely theoretical attitude towards yoga is devoid of common sense.”

Another definition, more knowledgeable, is copied from the classic text of Patañjali, Yoga Sutra, saying in Sanskrit, the cultured language of ancient India,

“Yoga is the control of the activity of the mind.” A more technical explanation argues that “yoga is the strictly practical methodology that leads the practitioner to Samadi”, or to liberation. It is then a means of achieving individual freedom, not a doctrine (never says what the individual should do with their freedom).

In these five centuries of proven existence, attempts of exploiting or marginalizing came from all quarters. “Yoga has always been a counter-culture movement in the predominance of Indian cultural structure”, injuring the essence of the caste system dominated by Brahmins, divine mediators (versus liberation of the individual). Even after Patañjali (300 BC) elevate yoga to one of Darshana (views) of Indian culture, yoga changed a lot in the huge pieces of cultures and mystical movements of the sub -continent.

It comes to the west through the rough translations of christian evangelizers or as circus attraction (“the man who breathes and writhes in a ball!”), and returns “back in the 60’s of XX century.  With the Beatles and the Hare Krishna and all these people, in that movement that pretends to reassure protesters of the wars of 60 and revolutionaries of May 68. There’s nothing better than putting all youth chanting mantras, taking LSD and preach peace and love.”

Is only when a more technical yoga appear in the West, in recent decades, that the image of mystical immobility of yoga disappears. But always filtering the theoretical or speculative or Samka part of yoga because it goes against the western institutional structure: “99.9 percent of western books on yoga contains a Vedanta part” (a smaller school of Indian culture, which requires monism or unique reality), it appeases the christian monotheistic belief. ”

Your name is… Carlos Rui Ângelo Couto Ferreira

Born in… August 3, 1958

The paradox of Zen… are the small western masters and gurus wanting to impose misfits methods in our reality

The Samadi on Earth… is to remain in a state of learning through all life

What makes levitate… is the fantastic side of people with whom we have the privilege of living
If the powers of the world practiced yoga… the planet’s health could improve

The best position for Guterres…  the Urdhva Dhanurasana, the “bridge ” – he would lose weight and it give him more vitality

To Bush only radical methods… as cleanings and fasting, could detoxify him mentally. He could go chanting mantras with the Hare Krishna…

“In Portugal, people are not motivated for physical activity and the institutions do not yet recognize the importance that it has in health and economy of society”

“Anyone can do yoga, I have students who started at age 60 and are in better shape today than they were at 50!”



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