Interview with Devi (Biba) Mohan by Penny Fray from Y Magazine, Muscat, Oman, 2013
1) How did you become interested in Yoga?
I must admit that my initial impression, if not prejudice, about Yoga is that it is too slow for me – since my student days (2004), I was practicing Tae Kwan Do and was used to intense training. While in Dubai (2005 – 2009), I was preparing for the Black Belt in Tae Kwan Do, plus was actively practicing Latino Dance (Salsa especially) and Yoga was nowhere on my list of preferred activities.
My first experience of a proper daily practice of Yoga was during one spiritual retreat in India, when I practiced Yoga and breathing techniques for two weeks and noticed immense changes at the level of body, mind and spirit. In physical terms, I’ve noticed my body changing into a beautiful shape within days, my skin becoming smooth and radiant; I experienced many signs of detoxing.
I learned how to withdraw from the senses and simply float into sleep, which increased the quality of my sleep as well as freshness in the morning – I was able to get up early without any problem. The lightness and causeless joy that I experienced were indescribable. Not only did I lose weight, but it dropped from the right areas – my body looked completely different, and my overall radiance increased visibly. More than the looks, it was how I felt that really mattered – I became balanced, my mind became calmer and concentration levels increased, while stress levels decreased. In line with Yoga philosophy, I trained myself to witness my emotions and thoughts and thus not react in given situations but respond with maturity. I discovered a new dimension of me, a beautiful inner world, and started enjoying the company of myself while also feeling/admiring everything around me, especially the beauty of the nature, much more intensely. Just like one gets excited when exploring new countries and new landscapes visible from the top of the hill, exploring our inner world brings immense joy and truly expands our horizons.
Similarly, when in company of other people, I noticed a big change – I became more compassionate and started sharing love and joy much more than before, pausing for a moment and looking deep into the eyes of each person, admiring the uniqueness of that soul. A desire to do charity work, to serve others and simply express love for no selfish reason, came to me naturally. I also started to feel uncomfortable/unnatural about eating meat and fast food – healthy food habits happened on their own.
Most importantly, I learned to simply flow with life, with no fear, accepting everything that comes my way with gratitude. And this is where the big lessons of life come into the picture, I guess, just so that we can affirm to ourselves experientially whether we have passed certain exams of life or not…
I trained hard to become a Yoga teacher because I wanted to share that joy, lightness and wisdom of Yoga with others. Soon after I became a Yoga teacher, the company I worked for went through financial crisis and monthly salary became a promise that was delayed from one month to another.
I’ll never forget the moment when I came to know that the company which enabled me to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle in a villa by the sea, simply went bankrupt – I was suddenly left with no job, no income, no accommodation and a massive debt on my credit card. I experienced something similar in my childhood, when war in former Yugoslavia erupted in 1991 and, over night, I became a refugee.
But this time I was more prepared to deal with the situation.
I remember my first reaction – I looked at my Yoga mat and thought to myself “I’m fine – well, I have my Yoga mat to sleep on. I will be just fine.” This courage, centeredness and surrender were gifts I could enjoy only thanks to Yoga.
2) There are so many types out there – from yoga to Bikram to Hatha – how do you know which one is right for you?
I must say that a lot depends from the depth of one’s interest and from the Yoga teacher him/herself. It’s not so much about the skill but about the feeling – whether one really allows him/herself to go beyond the mind and ego and become aware of every cell of the body vibrating in perfect harmony.
I remember meeting a photo model from New York who was showing off in a coffee bar, saying loudly “I practice Ashtanga” – unfortunately, to many, Yoga became just another ‘in’ thing to do, but at a superficial level. I spoke with her for a while and soon came to know that she suffers from insomnia. I told her that something is not right with her Yoga practice because insomnia and Yoga definitely can’t come in a package.
There are many schools of Yoga nowadays but I’d say basic Hatha Yoga done with lots of feeling and awareness, followed by a meditation, is just perfect.
What I feel matters the most is the following:
While performing Yoga asanas with full awareness and breathing through the stiffness consciously, we should understand that we are addressing something that is far beyond mere lack of flexibility. Awareness of each movement and intention with which we move the body while performing Yoga asanas is the key.
The lack of flexibility is associated with energy blockages in the nadis, energy meridians in the subtle body, and with samskaras, negative/painful impressions of the mind stored in the muscles (and subconscious mind), which add on to the ‘luggage’ we carry unnecessarily. Yoga practice helps us to remove these blockages by working on our physical body, and to thus start experiencing the lightness and cause-less joy of our true Self.
Furthermore, it is important to keep the following in mind:
- There is nothing competitive about doing Yoga asanas and one should never become egoistical about his/her ability to perform asanas. Do not compare yourself with others as all of us have unique blockages and our inner journey is individual. While performing each asana, go as far as you can and each time push yourself just a bit more beyond what is comfortable. You will be amazed how fast your physical body will respond.
- While performing each asana, always be aware of your breath – never hold the breath, strain or frown. When breathing through the stiffness, keep your mind calm, facial muscles relaxed and focus on your breath. The quality of the breath will reflect what is going on in the mind, and consequently in the body. Thus, the breath should always remain smooth.
- Most importantly, train yourself to simply witness your physical, mental and emotional reactions as you perform Yoga asanas – do not allow your mind to wander to other subjects or follow other stimuli.
- As you become more regular and more adept in the practice, you can hold the asanas for longer, one to three minutes, without straining, always with relaxation in between. The goal is to hold the asanas with ease and enjoy the practice. Intense and challenging postures should always be followed with a short relaxation and each pose will have its counter-pose.
- Always allow some time for meditation (either in Shavasana or cross-legged position, but always keeping the spine straight) after your Yoga practice, to allow the energy to sink in and the cleansing to take place.
During my first ever Yoga class I met my husband Mohanji (www.mohanji.org ), who is definitely on top of the list of my greatest blessings in life. One of his great gifts is the ability to deliver profound inner experiences during meditation and help people unburden themselves from the unnecessary ‘luggage’ of negativities from the past, stored at the subconscious level.
We recently started conducting detoxing programs/Retreats during which Yoga, breathing techniques, healthy food, spiritual insights, fun-filled gatherings and dance all come together to bring about a profound inner transformation. Our next Retreat will be happening in Serbia in May and is designed for those who want to truly work on themselves with the aim of deep inner transformation.
3) What are the benefits? How has it helped you? You mentioned that you gave birth more easily, without drugs, thanks to Yoga.
Another unforgettable benefit of Yoga that I experienced was a natural delivery of my baby girl 2 years ago – at the age of 33, without episiotomy. I noticed I was the only lady on the entire floor of the Zvezdara hospital in Belgrade who had a natural delivery without episiotomy.
A month before delivery, one doctor tried to scare me (in order to persuade me to schedule a Cesarean in advance) by saying that, at the age of 33, natural delivery is too risky cause sphincter muscles are already less elastic and I am most likely to get torn badly. But he did not know that I practiced Yoga for years and Pregnancy Yoga (which includes techniques similar to Kegel’s exercises but much more effective because they are done in postures that increase the effect of muscle contraction and relaxation) during entire pregnancy. I also walked a lot every day and would amaze my cousins who would wake up in the morning seeing me doing a full split on the floor with a big belly in the middle. I was so joyful throughout the pregnancy and I prepared myself mentally for the challenge of delivery with a mindset of a warrior – I will go through it without any chemicals no matter what.
As all mothers know, the pain of contractions is immense and way beyond the threshold of bearable pain. I challenged myself to somehow shift to the ‘right brain’ (active during meditation, creative work, dance..) and relax through the experience regardless of the pain. But the immensity of pain surprised me. I struggled for hours and reached the point at which I thought that I won’t be able to survive this challenge. I witnessed those thoughts and then, at one point, the ‘brave warrior’ in me rose from the ashes and I intuitively discovered a method that worked wonders for me – I stood next to the delivery bed, swayed my hips (similar to Salsa dance) as if spiraling with them, and swayed my head left and right, not caring how I look to others and whether anyone is watching. I just let go and when the pain of contractions would kick in I could somehow flow through it, just spiral through it all, and go beyond the usual body sensation. My midwife came to check on me and was amazed – it took me 14 hours to dilate 5cm and only 30 min. of swaying the hips to open the remaining 5!
Soon enough, a beautiful little girl, the most amazing miracle of nature, was placed on my chest and agh, my joy knew no bounds. In a rush of joy hormones I laughed and cried at the same time in complete delirium – I was on top of the world, I was the Universe!
There are no words that can describe the immensity of that joy – for the first time I felt deeply grateful, deeply honored, for the privilege of being a woman! Thank you Yoga and the ancient sages, thank you Divine.