Where and how did your yoga journey started?
It was around 10 years ago in Santiago, Chile and I was in the first years of my engineering studies. At that time I started to feel very curious about eastern culture and philosophy, and I started looking for something different to do. I can’t really remember my first yoga class, but I do remember that for almost two years I tried more than ten different yoga and meditation styles. At that time I didn’t have too much money to spend in yoga classes so I was going from one place to another trying all free yoga lessons and cheap yoga festivals available! It was not until 2006 when I went with my girlfriend to our first ashtanga class. It was a led class and the teacher was Pia Donoso. That first day I was very impressed by some very challenging postures like Marichyasana or Bhujapidasana. They seemed so easy at first but impossible when I tried myself. In high school I was used to be a very active guy doing a lot of sport but then, when I went to university, I started to have a more sedentary life. So for me the ashtanga method was a good combination between a passive/meditative with a more active/physical practice. After some time practicing regularly only led classes I said to my girlfriend: “Why don’t we try this other ashtanga teacher called “Mysore”? And we went there just to find out it was the same teacher but everyone was practicing at a different pace. That’s how I got to know the mysore self-practice style!
Who are your most inspirational teachers?
I feel there are three important teachers that inspire me in my daily practice and teaching. My first teacher, Pia Donoso, with whom I started and then practised for more than 5 years, is one big inspiration for me. She is the person who planted the seed of my current devotion to the ashtanga method. I have a huge gratitude for her because she also gave me the opportunity to start teaching in her yoga studio. And it was also because of her that I met my second and current teacher, Matthew Vollmer. I remember it was for one workshop Matthew did in Santiago in 2008 when Pia told me to go to meet him. I really connected with Matthew’s teaching and his approach to the practice. For the following four years I practiced with him during some periods of time in Brasil and Chile. Then, in 2012 I moved with my girlfriend to London, and I was very lucky because Matthew was moving with his family the same year to Berlin. So from that time on I try to go there every year. I feel inspired and full of energy every time I go there to practice with him. It is nice also to see many good friends I have found in that ashtanga community. Finally, it was also when I moved to London that I met Elinore Burke here in TLC. She was very important for me, specially the first year when I was adapting and settling down in this city. I was passing through a lot of pressure, anxiety and uncertainty, and she helped me a lot with my practice, supporting me in a way that I could connect deeper with that internal strength I needed at that time. And it was also because of her that I started teaching in London. One year after I moved here I started to feel nostalgic for teaching again and she invited me to assist her. It was great to have the opportunity to reconnect with the teaching experience again and it helped me a lot to feel more connected with my life here in London. Then, when Elinore knew she was moving to Germany she asked me to take over the Mysore classes, and I was so blissful!. So now here I am, feeling very looking forward to start teaching in TLC regularly and sharing with more people the ashtanga method.
How did you come to decide to teach?
Well, I really think it was not my decision. I had been practising for a couple of years with Pia, when she asked me if I wanted to start assisting her. I think I was not expecting it at all, but I felt so happy that I said yes immediately. It was a very gradual process in which I spent a lot of time with her working in the different aspects of the ashtanga practice and teaching. It was a great time, and from that time I feel so privileged to be able to share the practice with other people. I don’t know why but when I teach I feel so energised. It gives me another dimension and meaning to my own practice creating a beautiful positive feedback. So even though I didn’t decide to teach in the first place, each day I’m more convinced that this is what I want to do.
What is the most important lesson yoga has taught you?
It’s a very tricky question because it’s hard to say how much of what you learn is because of yoga or just because you learn as you grow. There are so many experiences and situations in our lives that can teach us. Maybe the only difference is that when you practice a method like ashtanga or any other mindfulness practice in a regular way, it gives you the opportunity to have a controlled and safe space where you come back every day to explore how you are and how you feel. It’s like having a lab where as a scientist you return every day to check your experiment´s progress. In such environment it is easier (but still difficult!) to recognise the changes you are passing through in your life. It’s like using a magnifier to see more details of your physical and mental processes and patterns. In that sense, I think the yoga practice has given me the opportunity to see and to realise that a lot of things I do have consequences. If we learn how to better react to different situations, we can avoid creating more suffering in our families, society and environment, and we can have a more peaceful life. But there is still a big part where it doesn’t really matter how hard you try, sometimes this experiment you are checking every day in this “yoga lab” has its own processes, out of your control. And I feel it is in those situations when we can learn what I personally feel is one of the main yoga teachings: be able to recognise how difficult it is to avoid becoming attached to our expectations and desires about our practice and our lives.
What can you tell people who are attending Mysore self practice for the first time?
I think the Mysore self-practice is a really good environment to start learning yoga for the first time. The instructions are much more personalised and there is more time to work with students (especially if you come early!). I feel it’s easier for people to develop their practice in their own individual and safe space, feeling at the same time some sort of connection with everybody else in the group. There is a very particular feeling of community in ashtanga that I really enjoy. Even when you travel and go to another yoga studio, you really feel at home when you hear the call to “samasthiti”, stand at the beginning of the mat and chant the opening mantra all together.
What do you think makes a good teacher?
I think it is difficult to give a general definition of a good teacher because every student will have a different opinion about it. For someone a good teacher can be someone who is very demanding and strict. For others, they will prefer a more gentle and relaxed teacher. I feel at the end it will depend on the student’s personality. I think it is important to feel comfortable and connected with your teacher. Personally, I like to practice with someone who can transmit a sense of humility, dedication and devotion towards the practice. Someone who is able to keep a sacred (but not too serious!) environment in the room. Also, I think it is important to have a teacher with whom you can continuously learn new things or new perspectives of the practice, so the process of learning doesn’t end, independent of the student’s condition.
Give us 3 tips for beginners to ashtanga
First of all, they don’t have to feel as the only beginners in the room. If it’s true that yoga is an endless path, everyone is a beginner! Only three tips? Bring a towel, forget about the results and enjoy the process!
Read more about Gonzalo on his website.