Transforming the physical body – Transformation of the mind

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Interview. In March 2020 Stéphane Lalo will come to Berlin to teach a weekend workshop at the Iyengar Yoga Zentrum Berlin. In advance of  this event, Stéphane was so kind to do an interview with our teacher Claudia Lamas and her Iyengar Yoga blog claudiyengar.com.

claudiyengar.com: Was there a certain reason for you to start Iyengar Yoga? And why did you stick with Iyengar Yoga? 

Stéphane Lalo: In my adolescence I would borrow books from the  library in Paris, I was attracted to the books on philosophy, particularly Indian philosophy and yoga. Books such as  Vivekananda’s yoga, Aurobindo’s guide to yoga, the Upanishads, Mircea Eliade, Alain Danielou etc…

Yoga was not widely known at the time, it was seen as a very esoteric subject and even in Paris there were very few teachers. Even if I could have found a teacher ,I would not have been able to afford to take classes. When I was 17 years old,  I found an interesting book by Yesudan and Haich on “Hatha-Yoga” and started to practice asanas using this book. I was very frail physically and very stiff  and I realised how much I needed to connect my body to my mind.

I gave up my formal studies and decided to spend a few years in a Buddhist Vipassana community in Holland. There I practiced 3 and a half hours a day of observing the breath and the walking meditation. It was challenging and my mind kept wandering or else I’d fall asleep – that connection between mind and body still wasn’t there. I went back to  practicing asanas. Other people in the community saw what I was doing and asked me to show them some of the “exercises” before the meditation sessions.  I was still practicing from books, I hadn’t even heard of Guruji at this time.

I spent 10 years travelling in Europe and United States, living in different ashrams and communities “on the road”, hoping that one day I might be able to afford to go to India and find a teacher from whom I could learn.  That didn’t happen immediately but I ended up back in France where I met some  Iyengar Yoga teachers and I started classes in 1986.  After three years of classes,  I finally went to Pune!

Guruji was very kind and allowed me to come back whenever I could and over the years I participated in several intensives there. Geeta, Prashant and Guruji were teaching most days back then and I  made sure that I returned every year for  3 to 6 months periods.

claudiyengar.com: You have been to Pune regularly for many years. What is your favorite memory with Guruji or Geeta or Prashant?    

Stéphane Lalo: I remember being in a class with Geetaji. I had crossed Guruji many times over the course of my first months stay in Pune, but I was too in awe of him to dare to do anything but greet him respectfully. During this class Geeta had us in Virabhadrasana I for what seemed like an eternity, with the din of the monsoon rains outside and a hot bath of humidity inside, my gaze was raised upward when I suddenly had the sensation of being elevated, lifted up, and yet melted at the same time. As I lowered my head, I realised that it was Guruji, who was sat on my thigh to adjust me and who had brought me to this incredible place of freedom in myself and in my asana.

I recall too, that after having attended several intensives  I was asked to assist in Geeta’s and Prashant’s  classes and in the medical class. There were hardly any assistants then and they did not really tell you anything, you had to guess what was needed!  That was my “teacher training”.  In fact, at that time I did not really want to teach, I felt too introverted. Somehow Guruji encouraged though and so when I got back to France, to Marseille, I began teaching some classes alongside my studies in Osteopathy.

claudiyengar.com: Is there anything in particular you would like to share with us from your experience in Pune? The main message you took from there for your own yoga path and process?

Stéphane Lalo: There are so many memories! While in India , I was studying the “Bansuri”, a classical Indian flute. One day I invited to Guruji to accompany me to a concert and to inaugurate a Bansuri festival along with my Indian music teacher. He agreed to come and gave an incredible talk describing the links between yoga and music. In the weeks that followed however, he kept reprimanding me.saying that I should use my body with the delicateness of a flute . Geeta scolded  me often too, when assisting in ladies classes if I was not quick enough or else I neglected to see something because of my dullness. I could not always understand her obsession with watching and caring for absolutely every student in class.

claudiyengar.com: Finally, you are coming to Berlin soon in February 2020 to teach a workshop, who can attend it and what can students expect?  

Stéphane Lalo: For me teaching yoga is about sharing and about exploring our potential for feeling and understanding our existence. It has little to do with comparing or competing. We work on transforming the physical body but this is just a tool to enable us to work on the transformation of the mind. As Prashant would say, it is not a workshop but a meeting of ourselves with ourselves!
Each one of us has glimpsed that state of freedom in our practice, that guiding light leading us toward that exploration of our consciousness. Guruji would often ask us “where are you not existing?”. For me that was his way of asking “Who am I?”
There are so many ‘teachers’ available everywhere in the world now and they all bring their subjective interpretation of the teachings but the question remains for each of us to answer ourselves.

As Sensei Munenori, a 17th century Samurai, wrote “Learning is the door, not the house. When you see the door do not think it is the house, to enter the house you have to go through the door. As far as learning is concerned do not confuse the teachings and the Way.

claudiyengar.com: Thank you very much for this amazing insights and your time, looking forward to meeting you in Berlin in February.

All Photos: Stéphane Lalo, Iyengar Yoga Institute Marseille, France.

Workshop with Stéphane Lalo:
February 21 – 23, 2020
Friday 19-20:30
Saturday 9-12 and 14:30-17:00
Sunday 9-12 and 14-16:30

Registration: