It's a beautiful summer morning here in Lucknow, a city that exudes old-world charm and tradition, while also sporting a modern visage with its bustling streets, vibrant markets, and colorful people. Like everyone else, I am all geared up to begin a brand new day but with a little trepidation because in the latter part of the day, I have an interview lined up with the owner of an incredible yoga studio in Goa.
Lucknow, too, has a full bag of amazing yoga studios. As many as 450 yoga centers grace the city. If you wish to know more about the best of them do read our views on the Top 10 Yoga Studios in Lucknow. Anyway, this interview got me thinking about how popular yoga has become today, especially post the scare of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Yoga has the power to change the lives of millions of people, and that too in a positive way. It's incredible how such a simple practice can have such a profound impact on our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
As I prepare to interview the founder of Mahamukti Yoga Studio, I am all pepped up and excited. This is a great opportunity to learn more about the yoga community and how it can impact people's lives. I want to get all the facts right, ask pertinent questions and get to the core of Mr. Akhilesh Bodhi, the man behind Mahamukti Yoga Studio. I'm confident in my research. To prepare myself I have reviewed their website & social media and brainstormed a list of thoughtful questions to ask. I am sure that I am prepared to not only learn about him but also to understand his passion for yoga and how it has influenced his journey. I am looking forward to the interview and the chance to delve deeper into the world of yoga with someone who is knowledgeable and passionate about it.
First impressions are often quite important in getting the feel of the person. When Mr. Akhilesh Bodhi steps into the office, the first thing that attracts my attention is his all-white attire which speaks of purity. He is a cultured man with a serious persona but sometimes a little smile breaks through changing his entire demeanor and making him approachable. With warm felicitations from both sides, we hunker down for some serious Q&A session. But before taking you on to the main interview here is some very basic background on the man of the hour.
Mr. Bodhi hails from the City of Nawabs & Tehzeeb - Lucknow. He used to live in Telibaug and comes from a business family. His father and his uncle used to handle the business that consisted of agriculture land, hardware shop, restaurant, cement shop, etc. As a youngster, he himself, along with his brother and cousins worked in some capacity or the other in the family business. They would help before and after school and do whatever was required.
As the founder of Mahamukti Yoga Goa, he is a traditional teacher who wants his students to follow a strictly disciplined life. He discourages keeping pets at his center as they are a distraction and tend to drive one’s attention away from themselves, which defeats the purpose of self-discovery and a transformative journey through Yoga.
Mr. Bodhi - The story of my life is a bit strange. I was a very sensitive child and my father was a very strict man. I could never digest when I was called out for other people’s mischief and mistakes and reprimanded by my father. So one day, with no proper preparation and very little money in my pockets I left home. This happened sometime in the 90s (almost 30 years back) when I was still in high school. I had told no one, simply boarded a train without any ticket and landed in the glamor capital of India…Mumbai. Every day I would go out on foot and explore the city with its huge buildings. For a young child, these sights were surprising and mesmerizing. When tired, I would come back and sleep at the railway station (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus). Within 4 or 5 days whatever little money I had got over. In the meantime, there were several unsavory characters recruiting runaway boys like me for begging, stealing and menial jobs. I did not want to walk down that road so I decided to come back home.
When I came back people took to mocking me. They said, “So you came. Why? Is all your money finished?” and so on. My parents did not say anything and life continued. I was unsettled but plowed through and completed my graduation. Sometime later, I saw a picture of Swami Chinmayananda in a newspaper. He had an ashram in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. I was so impressed with his photo alone that once again I left home without telling anyone and reached his ashram. There Swami Ji interviewed me and selected me for a 2-year course in Vedanta Philosophy and Sanskrit. For 6 months I did not tell anyone where I was. This was the beginning of my spiritual yogic journey.
After 6 months of learning at Swami Chinmayanada’s ashram, I realized I had not told my family of my whereabouts. I sent a letter informing them where I was, what I was doing and how happy I was learning in the Himalayas. My parents had thought that I was either dead or someone had killed me. They were completely hopeless.
One day a telegram came saying, “Your mother is hospitalized and your father is sick. Your whole family is searching for you. Please come immediately.” I went to my guruji and made him aware of my circumstances. He encouraged me to go home and make peace with my family and once things settled I could resume my studies. They gave me money to take a train back home. A few months I spent with my parents but that was not my cup of tea because after tasting the spiritual path I could not stay with them. I told my parents that I wanted to continue with my studies in the ashram and came back. For a long time, I continued to go home and come back to the ashram. Nevertheless, I understood the spiritual path was my calling.
Mr. Bodhi - After the Vedanta course that I was doing in Dharamshala was completed, I left home wandering to many places like Rishikesh, Uttarkashi, Gangotri and Yamnotri. Some days were hard and I resorted to begging. On one such journey, I was told about Swami Dayananda’s ashram in Coimbatore. I wrote a letter immediately and was told that yes a course was starting and I could join it. So I went to Coimbatore, stayed there for three and a half years and completed another course. After this, I went to Dehradun and started teaching there. The people who came to me were old and were constantly complaining instead of learning the Vedanta Philosophy that I was teaching. I realized this is not going to work, teaching them will not make me happy. So then I decided to teach Yoga. Somehow yoga was in my blood. I went to Himachal Pradesh and there I started teaching tourists. This is how I started my spiritual journey to teach Yoga.
Mr. Bodhi - The top 5 traits or characteristics which I think a student must have in order to become a successful yoga teacher are:
Mr. Bodhi - Mahamukti has a traditional approach. I as the founder have spent years learning from great teachers like Swami Chinmayananda, Swami Dayananda and Mr. B.K.S. Iyengar. So when I was learning it was not with the thought of teaching or starting my own business. This is something that started with the Yoga Alliance and they have made it into a way of survival. This thought itself is wrong because when you are struggling for your survival or existence, Yoga is not for you. When you go beyond your survival instinct and leave yourself in the hands of existence and plunge into the path of self-discovery, which is Yoga, that is when you are ready to share this knowledge. Doing so requires courage and that is the tradition…to have nothing and still have the courage to move on to find the ‘Ultimate.’ While the Western approach is that you need to have something in your hands already and then try to find something which is beyond time and space. But to have something in your hands and try to capture the universe is not possible.
Mahamukti’s approach is that you need to have Trust…in the tradition and the ultimate. Only then will you be able to learn yoga and teach others.
Although we are traditional in approach, we still know and understand that people come from different backgrounds. So we also give the Western approach of how to make your living through Yoga, which is what Yoga Alliance is doing…not targeting your complete freedom but how to survive in this world. Once you are free from survival mode only then can you have ultimate freedom. So you must have some job security and financial security, then only you should seek the path of Yoga.
Apart from that, Mahamukti Goa conducts courses in winter when the temperatures in Goa are very pleasant between 25º C to 30º C. So one can really enjoy doing practice here. Being close to the beach one also has the vision of the ocean and the sky which in itself is very calming.
Mr. Bodhi - There is a fixed program of 8 hours that consists of self-practice, the Art of Teaching and the Art of Adjustment. The mornings start at 07:00 am with Yoga practice & Pranayama till 09:00 am. This is followed by breakfast after which there is no active physical workout. Instead, there are learning sessions for Ayurveda, Philosophy and the Art of Teaching. These go on till 12:30 pm. Then we break for lunch and rest. At 03:00 pm we resume classes with Art of Teaching and Yoga practice. As evening approaches, we start with active meditation to relax the nervous system and as days go by we gradually move into passive meditation. Once or twice a week, the students are taken to the beach for sunset meditation.
Initially, students feel the need to put a morning alarm to get up on time, but as days go by their body’s biological clock adjusts so the alarm is no longer needed. After freshening up, the classes start. Foodwise, there is a restaurant on the beach where we all gather and have vegetarian or vegan meals. Breakfast usually consists of fruit salad, porridge or muesli. For other meals (lunch and dinner), we have salad, vegetables, rice, chapati, etc.
Since the study schedule is strict everybody has to adhere to the timelines, so any recreational activities they wish to undertake, they may do so post lunch in the free time they have. But they need to be back on time for the remaining classes.
Mr. Bodhi - Once a year Mahamukti Yoga organizes retreats in different parts of the world like Greece, Georgia, Switzerland, etc. Those who have time, space and funds attend these retreats. Once in a while, ex-students return to Goa for the same experience.
The retreats are very intensive because I want everyone to get maximum benefit. The schedule is packed with morning & evening Yoga, Pranayama, Meditation and Philosophy classes. These 4 things are practiced very-very strongly in every retreat. During the break time, depending on the location of the retreat people go hiking or swimming. Some may decide to use their free time for reading, writing or contemplation. Nights consist of Q&A sessions, Mantra Chanting, singing Bhajans, mythological stories, etc. Basically, the retreats are a bit more relaxing than Teacher Training Courses.
Mr. Bodhi - I would say they should start by teaching their friends, family members, brothers, sisters and neighbors. Once they start teaching, they gain confidence and almost 99% of people get positive feedback from their students. They share something precious with their students who knew nothing. The positive feedback and encouragement they gain from this give them the motivation to start finding a job as a yoga teacher and ultimately start their own business.
Mr. Bodhi - Sometimes past students pay for accommodation and food and act as volunteers and help during classes. To do so they must contact us first. So they need to send in inquiries for open positions to assist us during classes and even teach. This allows them to continue their learning of how to assist and how to teach. Past students always get priority but it is always on a first come first serve basis.
Mr. Bodhi - I never thought of a name for competing with others. My path was very clear, which was ‘Freedom.’ The path of Yoga is the path of freedom. Keeping that in mind, I did not think of any competition and success. Instead, I focussed on the message - every human being must find freedom…not just from external afflictions, but also, freedom from the cycle of birth and death itself. Mahamukti means ‘Great Freedom’ or ‘Ultimate Freedom.’ So the name itself reveals the vision of my path and the vision of my teaching. I want to help people lead illness-free life and be free from mental and emotional tensions.
Mr. Bodhi - The best thing in the world to do is to share the wisdom of the ‘Vedas.’ Or you can say share the wisdom of Yoga, which is the ultimate ‘Samadhi’ or freedom. There cannot be a compromise with anything else. This is the best thing one can do for rest of the humanity…with one person or thousands of people, it does not matter. This would be my wish.