“There are those who sell yoga by the meter”

He is the pioneer of the portuguese yoga teachers, even when the ancient sanskrit word was not associated to Sting, to Madonna and to the nirvana business.

Carlos Rui, 49 years old, founder of Portuguese Yoga Center, prefers the term instructor to master, title he deem most appropriate for plumbers or carpenters. Contrary to the trend of yoga, he does not advertise his school, does not allow to be photographed “in action”, does not sell books, incense or magic potions, and only gives interviews “in the king’s birthday”. Also believes that happiness is a life project and yoga can give a help – if the student so wishes.

Western idea of yoga is sold as a kind of exotic gymnastics with miraculous feats. Is this the commercial way of attracting customers?

Carlos Rui – Yoga is not intended to be a gymnastic activity, nor intends to occupy a space of hygiene. That is not its purpose, although in the West cleaning has won many fans, especially since the invention of soap. However it is preferable for people to move around, even in a hygienic manner, than to do not. But that subverts the purpose of yoga, which is the transformation of the body and consciousness of the individual, in order to know thyself.


A vicious person, smoker, friend of wine (or ginginha), is sentenced to unconsciousness, or only takes longer to get “there”, wherever there is?

Carlos Rui – It is not necessary that the person does not do any of that. One thing is to pick people who have a careless life – in the sense that violate their own body and not respect the animal cycle – and take them to a state of normalcy. That’s great and people feel very good. It’s almost a therapeutic moment that leads to comments such as “how great, it changed his life, he quit smoking, he as more attention to diet, started to be more careful with resting.” Without this is difficult to continue the practice of yoga. To make yoga you must start from there. Then, comes the integration of movements (called “asanas”), which must be done naturally, not in censorship or in a suppressed manner. This type of obligation, to fulfill a routine, never brings benefits to the wearer of this decision, unless it does so willingly.


You match yoga to an art. An art with creative or profit purposes?

Carlos Rui – We do not sell yoga per square meter, although some do. Yoga is an art and has its own rules, like any art form. Follows the same principles as sculpture, painting, literature … We deal with both parts, emotional and material. The mind has the tools with which we “sculpt” our existence. The fact that systematically we visualize the world that does not exist leads us to create a tendency for it to materialize. This is also one of our concerns, that people realize the power and strength that yoga brings them. We can use this phenomenon. The fact that people are well and happy can be a technique.


Violinist and conductor Yehuldi Menuhim, yoga practitioner and friend of a reference in yoga teaching, professor Iyengar spoke of a progressive refinement, like playing an instrument. Is this your teaching method?

Carlos Rui – And he spoke very well… It is implied to the practice the concept of sensitivity, which is something that transcends us. Yoga is an art of inner development, but to finish in real time. Not to say: well, if not in this life then in another. The approach we have is in a relatively short time – a few years – being able to accomplish the objectives of yoga. Otherwise, we enter the field of assumption and we are selling illusions.


Is there a way to sell the miracles of yoga that is not the commercial bombing?

Carlos Rui – What shocks me is not what you see outside, in marketing and advertising. Sometimes they even manage interesting and creative solutions. Bothers me is that some movements so-called of yoga schools use people in a manipulative relationship and that will not contribute to mental health and physical integrity of practitioners. They assume that they will manipulate, deform, use and throw away when the human material ceases to have interest. That yes, lets me apprehensive. It is not an occasional phenomenon. It exists, is operating and can be verified. It can be a serious problem for fragile and sensitive people who enter the world of yoga with an open heart.


Attended these schools?

Carlos Rui – Yes, I went to those schools but I will not mention names. Moreover, when I speak, I never speak about what was not experienced or which I have no clear knowledge. Besides in my experience, students have arrived in very poor conditions, full of preconceived ideas about asceticism. Life here is much more pragmatic. We are not exotic birds.  We don’t float.


In your case, what was the fascination of yoga?

Carlos Rui – I started practicing in 1977. It was the time of youth rebellion, when the person has not yet decided to make something of his life. He just knew he did not want to accept the “status quo”, didn’t interested me having a steady job or get a degree because of duty and obligation.


And yoga was seen at the time as a future profession?

Carlos Rui – Was seen as a life project. And had high costs, because there were no schools where to learn. There was only the macrobiotic and vegetarian movement. Played chess at the Ateneu, when I found a very interesting gentleman, Mr. Unas, which was a Portuguese-Indian returned, coming from Mozambique. I thought it was amazing that despite the long age, he could maintain concentration for so long and because of that won most games. People, even in chess, show emotions and Mr. Unas did not move an eyelash. He was always quiet as a saint. I discovered he practice yoga and a while later offered me a book of Hatha-Yoga, by Anthony Blay, and from there I started practicing.


Following the April 25th who did yoga was a subversive?

Carlos Rui – There was nowhere to join. Was a “naïf” and fledgling movement. There was a very strong communist and socialist movement and I was not interested in those festivals. Not that I did not think (and think) that politic matter for social life, but it was not (and is not) a priority.


India is the birthplace of yoga, but ordinary Indians have little or no interest in the matter, except as a business to attract zen tourists. Do you agree?

Carlos Rui – It is indeed a possible reading, but continues to be the country of origin and where some of the best “ashrams” [schools] are. On the first visit I had a reaction of wonder and disgust. When on the plane I said “never coming back to India.” Not by yoga, but by the culture shock, the explicit poverty. As for yoga I was searching, had no defined place to practice.


Where Iyengar appears in your life, which at the time was already a sort of God in the west, as popular as Mohammend Ali?

Carlos Rui – Had one of his books but was unaware where he taught. At that time there was no Google (laughs). One of the people who talk to me about Ivengar in India was a cab driver who had an ÕM (symbol of God) in the dashboard – which I found amazing, but after all it was trivial. He spoke of him as the individual who made television programs, who was a celebrity and had a school in Pune. Iyengar is an innovator and an essential landmark of contemporary westernized yoga. He managed to create a school within standards that are accepted and that the west needs. Yoga has always been a rebel and revolutionary art form in the way that it goes against the “status quo”. It promotes the individualization of the practitioner, because of that schools should be spaces of inner freedom and not temples of veneration of the master. Of course thinking that way is inconvenient for the world and for a controlling teaching form that wants to format the people and lead them to interpret their propaganda as bibles.


That’s why you refuse to open a subsidiary school of Iyengar teaching, as already was proposed to you?

Carlos Rui – That is due to wanting to maintain autonomy in my teaching, and the rules of Iyengar are limiting. And also due to my natural anarchy towards institutions.


There are many myths and misconceptions for those looking for yoga, especially the part of spiritual achievement?

Carlos Rui – We do not use this terminology of decency towards the individual practitioner’s path. But everything is spiritual. When someone manages to tell me where the boundaries of the physical and spiritual are, I will be grateful. At my school, we avoid succor us of that vocabulary, which is very attractive for the manipulators of signs and symbols. This is a way to condition people.


There is much to those who come to yoga hoping to be saved?

Carlos Rui – All goals are legit. All students expect something that is their own essence. Who are we to say they should start practicing yoga with these or those expectations? “A priori”, is censorious and restrictive. Some people come to lose weight, some because yoga controls endocrine system, because it brings calm, because it tones up…


Yoga or “ioga” as a graphical presentation is another myth?

Carlos Rui – Yes and is limited to a mental health problem of Lisbon and Brazilian community. We import great things from Brazil, this is the pitiful and accessory. There are several families of yoga, but the word is the same for thousands of years.


Yoga is trendy, perhaps for three thousand years?

Carlos Rui – Being trendy is subjective. The tai-chi remains widespread in China, but it appears that most Indians know nothing about yoga.


Maybe it’s intrinsic, see the hours they spend sitting on the floor in lotus pose…

Carlos Rui – It is possible, but yoga is not a part of Indian common culture as football is in Europe. The large movements of yoga in India exist by the demand from western and non-Indian people. The reaming Indian yogis go to the mountains, caves, sacred sites, isolated from the outside world. Are ascetics and are not in sight of tourists.


How you like to be treated: by master, guru, instructor?

Carlos Rui – The term guru not has relevance in the world we live. Have (had) application in India as the individual who gives birth and removes from darkness. Masters, there are the masters of various arts and crafts, the electrician or caulker, which are more useful, but who uses the term as a yoga teacher has no such modesty. We must examine the role of the person transmitting the teaching of yoga in the western world who has two decades of existence. Meaning, it does not have any expression in the context of the history of yoga. We are still in the process of “falling in love” and the experimental and the term instructor is perhaps the least leading to confusion because instructs but does not interfere in people’s lives.


What is the difference between the essential and accessory?

Carlos Rui – There is a big difference between the essential and accessory. Light incense, recite Sanskrit words, be devotee to a Hindu deity, wearing saris, have shaved hair, train a asceticism physiognomy, deny the objective reality of the outside world (though ephemeral) is part of the expendable folklore of “new age”  yoga. As referred in Hatha-Yoga Pradippika (Chapter 1 verse 66): “The perfection in yoga is not reached by having the outward appearance of a yogin, by chatting and discussing yoga… the practice of yoga is the only way to success”. This is the truth without any doubt. We can’t change the culture as you change a shirt and wipe the past and change personal history, but we can decide what makes sense for us in the world we know, what we want to improve, transform, transport, as aid on the path to our freedom .

“The purpose of yoga is the transformation of the body and consciousness of the individual in order to know thyself”

“It bothers me that some movements so-called yoga schools use people with manipulative relationship”

“It is critical to learn to laugh”


At heart you want to live that mystical and esoteric side of yoga, with which probably much of western students dream of?
It is certainly a good question to end this pleasant conversation. But, frankly, I still like to know what it is the mystical and esoteric side of yoga that fills the minds of western students:

  • Walking dress as Indian with shaved hair?
  • Parroting uncritically and in a brainless way some guru’s books, selling fervently (innocently at first) the fallacy of wonderful old yoga?
  • To give uncritically and accountability, the management and control of your life (and belongings) to a community of some guru?
  • Express yourself with smooth speak, look nice, emanate a sense of whom only have high thoughts?
  • Have hysterics attacks when accidentally steps a worm or an ant, when every breath and digestion exterminates thousands of poor bacteria and viruses (which only intended to dine)?
  • See lights, have tremors, spasms and physical screaming like a madman in a group?
  • Spending hours writing and discussing the lessons from a guru, concerned about every word as the most important, without realizing the context and meaning of his speech?
  • Always practice the same sequences of postures for several years, be operated to the knees, get herniated discs, do the “asanas” misaligned and in an anti-physiologic manner?
  • Remain locked in a room at a temperature of 40 degrees, sweating like a freak, drink water like a camel, and wait for the collective clap of applause because today the teacher decided you did one of the best positions of the patented sequence?
  • Join a pseudo tantric yoga to release with acquittal the sexual imagery?
  • Not knowing what to do with your yoga practice, if you don’t use compulsively and frenetically the “tools” (blocks, belts, bolster, strings, etc.)?

It is obvious that some of the situations listed above or others may be part of the initial process of approaching the world of yoga. It is essential to promote humour and learn to laugh at our naivety and inexperience. The problem is that these conditions become chronic behavior and are incorporated as the objective (distorted) of the life of a yogin.

Yoga for all tastes

The yoga is conquering the world?

Yoga seems to be perfectly integrated in Europe and the United States, but hasn’t dismissed the image of something exotic that the west, romantically attributed. Nowadays, the term yoga is much more famous for minor reasons and accessories than in its essence. It is often confused with something dull and many times over reduced to a kind of gymnastics of therapeutic “asanas”, with wood apparatus, belts, blankets, or a repertoire of contortionists and acrobatic “performances”, very trendy in international rock stars, magazines and newspapers, we find that yoga is regular news, being used as a powerful tool of marketing to attract new customers to so-called natural products (yogurt with bifidus, etc.) and their dubious benefits. Trendy SPAs must have a yoga teacher for the welfare of their customers, the best gyms of major cities also offer trendy yogas in the prime hours. The stars of show business, from television series and soap operas began eating vegan three times a week and practicing yoga, between two cigarettes, some forbidden product and sips of absinthe. Appear also announced the various types of yoga: yoga for nervous people, yoga for pregnant women, yoga for asthma, zen yoga, transcendental yoga, power yoga, dance yoga, kundalini yoga, yoga for scoliosis, yoga for dogs, etc., etc…

As if by magic, an incredible number of humans discovered the vocation to teach yoga, so the pseudo masters and yoga teachers are born every day, as transgenic mushrooms, such is the proliferation. For these reasons, I conclude that the market for yoga is in great vitality in the west.

In my honest and humble opinion, yoga is taking the first consistent steps in modern world.

Frankly, it still seems premature to make peremptory assertions about the notoriety of yoga in the west. The great awakening for yoga in the west began in the 70’s/80’s and it is still early to qualitative statements, although quantitatively there is a real “boom”.

Text – James Salazar
Photography – Dora Nogueira