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Interview with Upaya Yoga Teacher Rohil Jethmalani

by Miriam Cihodariu

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Rohil Jethmalani is a Lead Teacher for Upaya Yoga. He began his journey into yoga by coming into contact with meditation 6 years ago. In a quest to find his true Self, he visited many masters and guides from different parts India. Soon the realization dawned that the real Guru is within, and other masters are simply mirrors. 

As he is getting ready for Upaya Yoga’s first training to be delivered in Bali, we sat with Rohil to discuss his yoga journey and get to know him in more detail. 

rohil jethmalani portrait

Q: How did you get into yoga? Please describe your journey to yoga: Why do you devote your life to this practice, and how has it changed you?  
A: This story begins with my desire to "save the world" that I had in college. I was (and still am) very passionate about the environment and wanted to work with policy to help bring change. I went through a phase where I was deeply troubled by the events in the world; from war to industrialized agriculture, pharmaceutical healthcare, centralized finance and a general disregard for our Earth. Some deep soul searching brought me to the conclusion that the root cause of all of this is lack of connection; to others and to the Self. A deep sense of lack pervades the human collective leading to a culture of greed and accumulation. At the time, I realized that I also felt an emptiness that something in my life was lacking. I decided that I had to work on myself before I could point fingers at others. So began my journey into yoga through meditation. A couple of years later I began practicing Asana regularly as well. 

I don't believe the practice has changed me. It has put me in touch with a part of myself that is beyond change. It has made me associate less with my beliefs, habits, roles, which are ever-changing. What is changing or can be changed is not me.  I'm devoted to this practice as a lifelong path because I understand it's potential to stimulate individual awakening, which in turn creates a possibility for collective healing. We need yoga teachers to pass on this practice, but we also need yogis that are changemakers, politicians, environmentalists, etc.  
Q: Any reason you chose Ashtanga Yoga as a practice? 
A: I am drawn to Ashtanga because I find it deeply meditative. Once learned, it is a self-practice. My focus is not directed at a teacher but at myself. The combination of the breath, Bandha and Drishti, along with the count of the vinyasa makes the body a vehicle through which one can experience the inconsistencies of the mind.  I'm also drawn to the athleticism required by the practice, having done lots of running, sports and mountaineering during my childhood.  

rohil practicing asanas
Q: Who are your mentors and what is the most important lesson you have learned from them? 
A: My Ashtanga teacher is Ajay Kumar from Sthalam, Mysore. He is an incredible teacher who taught me that the only way out of suffering is through it. To quote him, he would always say, "you have to go through that one". I also keep a running knowledge of great saints and enlightened beings (past & present), which I look to for guidance and inspiration. Another great mentor is the Ayahuasca spirit, who has shown me compassion and selflessness, which is a prime reason why I wish to be of service to the Earth.

Q: What characteristic do you believe makes a great yoga teacher? 
A: Practice. Practice what you preach. Whatever aspect of yoga one is teaching one must be practicing regularly. Past practice is important but doesn't qualify if it is not continued into the present. Practice for long periods of time, without breaks (Tapas). If a river stopped flowing, would it still be a river? 
Second, a good teacher creates and holds space for the student.  

rohil teaching a yoga class
Q: What’s your relationship to your own body? How has this changed over time?

A: I see my body as a temple. It is a space where I have the opportunity to realize the soul. It's an amazing tool for the soul to manifest its vision in physical, 3rd-dimensional reality. The human body is at the cutting-edge of universal technology.  There was a time when I loaded my body with junk and mistreated my body, but it was more from a space of ignorance than purposeful action. I find that people's relationship to the body is a reflection of their relationship to the Earth. I'm learning more about my body with every passing day and am in awe of all that it is capable of.  
Q: What advice would you give someone who feels they can’t practice yoga because they don’t have the right kind of body, they don’t have time, they have limiting beliefs, etc?

A: In asana practice, we use physical postures as a means of pushing our boundaries (physical + mental) in healthy ways. When we master one set of asanas, we progress to more advanced asanas, again to push ourselves outside our comfort zone. I often see people discouraged from practicing because they don't believe they have the right kind of body. Yoga is for all bodies. You don't adapt to yoga, the yoga is meant to adapt to your body. Any and every action produces an effect. Yoga as a method produces certain effects regardless of body type. The journey to reach those effects will vary. But if done regularly, the effects are certain. As I often say to my students it is never the body that is unprepared, it is the mind that is unwilling. And when people speak of lack of time, it's more to do with priorities. Do you prioritize your own well being first? I know yogis that practice daily, have a full day at work and bring up children all at once.  

Q: What are some other common, incorrect assumptions about yoga?

A: "Yoga is for women" this is something I hear more often from Westerners. Guys feel that yoga isn't strengthening enough, or that they are not flexible enough.  
"Yoga is not a physical practice" this is something I hear more commonly in India. I partially agree that the essence of yoga is spiritual. However, asana being a physical practice doesn't take away from yoga's spiritual dimension. The only possession we (the soul) bring to this life is our physical body. We must first become masters of the physical body to then become a master of the mind. 

rohil jethmalani practicing asanas
Q: What’s your favorite asana pose? 
A: Siddhasana.

Q: What advice would you give a well-practiced yogi to take their practice to the next level?  

1. Don't ever stop practicing

2. Don't ever think that you understand the practice fully. Stay humble.

3. Be willing to hear and integrate opposing viewpoints. 

4. Meditate. In my experience, this is what will make your Asana practice loads more enjoyable and deeper. 
Q: Finally, what is the goal of yoga as you see it? Beyond the walls we often construct, how are we all truly connected in this practice? 
The goal of yoga is self-realization. Yoga as a spiritual tradition is infused with immense power from many immortal masters. When we practice with integrity, devotion and correct intention, we can tap into this power as well. Through yoga, and other spiritual traditions as well, we connect to the essence of divinity within us. Just by practicing, we are participating in a global transformation, becoming servants of light. 

Want to get a chance to meet him in person? Rohil is teaching with Upaya Yoga Teacher Training so check out their retreats to see where you can see him next.  

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