Dr. Gilad and Miri Harouvi are the married for 36 years couple, and the first Israel Ashtanga Teachers, who brought the knowledge of it in 1986. They learned from the very first Ashtanga teachers in all ethnic groups, and they’re still learning it today. Ashtanga yoga helped them to build the long-lasting relationship full of love and understanding, having three grown-up kids, one of which is also a Yoga Teacher. Gilli and Miri started with Contemporary Dance, and after 43 years of practice meeting yoga, they developed two distinct yoga education tools: ‘The Anatomical Ashtanga technic’ and ‘Yoga Dance Therapy method”’.
In interview below they will tell you the story of their way.
Your pathway in physical practice is impressive. What was the game changing point, when you step out from professional dancing to yoga teaching?
G: Let me speak about myself, and Miri will answer for her.
In 1985 I met my first Ashtanga Yoga teacher Danny Paradise. Probably you know him. He was the first travelling ashtanga yoga teacher, who personally made Ashtanga popular worldwide as he was the first to teach the high profile people like Sting and Madonna. I started practicing with him, when he was in Israel for 3 months.
By that time, I was a dancer. I started dancing late, when I was 23. And when I met Danny I had several injuries, typical for dancers. I started Ashtanga practice and despite it being very demanding, I felt that my body is healing itself, the ability to move is coming back and I could maintain my dancing performance.
I felt better not only on a physical level, but also mentally and spiritually. That is what yoga is about. And this attracted me.
As I was a dancer, I easily performed the first series. My teacher told me that I should move to the second series. I started to practice the second, and felt that I could move further. And my teacher told me that I should start teaching, and that is when I become a yoga teacher.
Dancing seems a very creative and sensual physical practice based on self-expression, while ashtanga vinyasa yoga is structured and rigid. Did your yoga practice influence you as dancers, or did your choreography impact your yoga routine?
M: I think that both — ashtanga yoga and dance is a form of discipline. And in fact every simple routine, you do requires some discipline. Even if it is some familiar household work, it contains some discipline.
Only with discipline you improve yourself and achieve more happiness. Some days you can feel great, some days you feel tired and stressed, but if you keep practicing, you feel the growing satisfaction and joy. Dance requires a lot of discipline. And it was easier for us to do ashtanga practice, as we both were experienced in daily discipline in our choreographic background.
Being practicing ashtanga vinyasa for years, do you still follow the same canonical asanas series session each day?
G: In modern yoga, there is a misunderstanding that asana series is something divine. But it is not. Yoga is about freedom (Kaivalya, Moksha) and concentration (Samyama), and so on. And all the physical practice is a way to get into it, to change the brain chemistry. Tantra is about changing the brain chemistry with physical practice. And thus you become a better human being. Yoga doesn’t tell you what to do, it improves you in what you are doing. Either you are a businessman or you do a spiritual practice, or you do both — you need to focus (that can be developed with yoga). Actually ,all yoga approaches in our time are Tantric.
The ashtanga message is not about doing a series. Before it was 4 series, now they teach 6, it doesn’t matter. The aim of asana series is to keep you happy and healthy, and thus you can be free to do what you want. And anything you chose to do, you can do better. Yoga helps humans to achieve excellence. Until you are not a human anymore, but that is another question.
Dance is about performance, but yoga is working with your brains. Every ashtanga yoga series focuses on each aspect. Primary series is good for everyone to keep healthy and happy till old age. We and our teachers and examples of that.
You teach Anatomical Ashtanga Technique and Yoga Dance Therapy method. Tell please about your approach and what to expect from your classes?
M: In the yoga dance we provide people with personalised instructions as every human is different — some have longer legs, some are more flexible. We are not the same and thank God for this. If we have several people in the group, they will not be able to do the same asanas. We need to see the people, there are no general instructions.
Yoga Dance is a mix of yoga asanas and movement. And I see after class that people feel more freedom in their bodies. I lead them into some free movements and some precise movements. You don’t need to be a dancer or a yogi, you only need to breath and to focus on your body and on your movements. We also use a concept of 7 chakras. And concentration on chakras increases mindfulness and helps to liberate the body more.
G: I want to add something about yoga dance connection with ashtanga. When you lock the bandhas and you breath, it is hard to move. This is vinyasa — how to move with breath and Bandha. It requires discipline and force.
I often hear people are advised to breathe naturally. But what is natural breath? The one you get used to. But yogic breath is about special breath, and vinyasa is about special movement. The main idea — if you can’t breath properly in asana, don’t do this asana. This is the main message is ashtanga — bandha, ujjayi, vinyasa, this brings drishti (concentration). It is not about asana, it is about doing asanas in a special way. Yoga dance is bandha, ujjayi and vinyasa, but in a different way.
Anatomical Ashtanga Technique is a reaction to popular tendency in modern yoga, when teachers use many anatomical terms. Yoga is not necessarily a healthcare, nor a physiotherapy. Teaching yoga doesn’t require special or extensive anatomical jargon, and many people don’t understand special terms and names of muscles.
What do we call anatomical technique? We try to find special slogans, «mantras» that self-explain the needed info and convey the physical correction, and create mutual understanding and communication with the students.
The first mantra is “first of all — calm down”. Many people who do ashtanga became hyper. From some point it is good, as it keeps you going. But if you keep moving like a teenager it will kill you. Yoga is not about killing you, but about making you a better person. Until you are not a person anymore. But this is a philosophy, this is something else.
Another good mantra is “do the action, not the pose”. Asana is not a pose, it is a configuration that incorporates an action. If you do a forward band, it is not about a form, but about what is this action teaching you.
You will get this unique opportunity to try yoga through the dance moves from highly experienced and supportive couple on Avatar festival this year.