an Interview with David Andrew Miliotis
by Alex Medin, Mysore, 29 Sept 2006
Here follows an interview with David Andrew Miliotis. He's a stud from the hood in Santa Barbara, California. We met first time here in Mysore in 1999 and ever since then we have had many good discussions in the vast subject of Yoga.
David has been a dedicate practitioner for many years & he runs a Yoga centre in Santa Barbara together with his wife, Andrea Werner Miliotis called Eight Limb Yoga.
Don't miss this! Read through it slowly when you have time, because this is an honest account of a true seekers personal experience and how the practice of Yoga awakens us to a new sensation from within. Enjoy:
How long have you been practicing Yoga? I began practicing yoga in 1989. When I began, it was with the idea that taking classes was for the purpose of learning to develop my own practice. So from the beginning, from my first yoga class, I have had a self-practice. The first week, I practiced sun salutations every day. I was so sore from that first class, but doing sun salutations gave relief; they dissolved the stiffness and loosened the body.
Why do you continue to practice it? Very early in my relationship with yoga - during my first year - I sensed that yoga has much more to offer than simply just what is felt and experienced immediately: i.e. during and after practice. I sensed that the truly profound benefits of yoga would only come after a very long time of consistent dedicated practice. I remember making a vow with myself and with God that I would continue with yoga practice indefinitely - until the very end - until I have reached the goal: whatever that may be. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that for one who wishes to scale the peak of the mountain of yoga, yoga practice is the method; and that for one who has already reached this peak, then the method is meditation on the eternal [BG 6.03].
What impact has Yoga had on your life? Yoga has been a wonderful tool for helping me to consolidate and direct my efforts to grow spiritually. Being raised as a Christian Scientist, I have always had a good philosophical exposure, but what was lacking was a practice, a practical method to integrate and actualize that knowledge. Yoga provides this foundation; it purifies and strengthens the mind, and supports one to become established in the knowledge and realization of life's eternal mystery.
How many times have you been to Mysore and why do you keep coming back? Since 1999, my wife and I have made regular trips to Mysore to study and practice Ashtānga Yoga with Guruji Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Learning from him is very different than learning from Westerners - regardless of how knowledgeable or advanced these other teachers may be. Guruji is very solid in his embodiment of the tradition from which he descends; this is an invaluable experience that connects us with an ancient and authentic yoga lineage. There are two Sanskrit words that convey two distinct yet related concepts. One is sampradāya and it means a tradition. The other is vaṁśa; it means an unbroken lineage. Guruji is not only part of the yoga tradition as a whole; he is also part of a long unbroken teacher student lineage. There is a lot of energy supporting us all - Guruji included - as a result of this living lineage. So, it is a combination of experience and faith that impels us to continue returning to Mysore, to continue strengthening our relationship with this yoga lineage.
What is your profession and what do you do when you are not here? At home I teach Ashtanga Yoga: Mysore Style classes six days per week, privates and also to "at risk" teenagers. As much as possible, my life is very much the same while at home as it is while in Mysore. I wake early to do the bulk of my various sādhanas (personal practices) before work. I share with my wife, Andrea, the duties of maintaining the house and cooking for ourselves. I study Sanskrit; and, Andrea and I like to get outside and take walks through down town Santa Barbara, in the mountain and at the beach. Santa Barbara is a very lovely place: the coastal air is fresh and clean, the weather is mild and there is pristine wilderness - ocean and mountains - surrounding us on all sides.
Why do you think so many people keep coming here? Any benefits or is it all hype? Everyone comes for different reasons. Surely some are merely following “hype” as you say, but some are here with a sincere interest in yoga. Some people feel something that attracts them to return and others feel lost in the crowd and do not return. For most people - even for those who feel something from the beginning - it takes several trips to begin understanding what is going on here, to develop a trusting relationship between yourself and Guruji and to finally surrender and receive the deeper insights of the practice. One of the beautiful principles of nature is that in order to have insight into a system, practice, tradition, etc, one must have faith. One cannot have doubts about something and at the same time have any valuable insight into its nature; one must have faith for insight to come. So we should trust what Guruji teaches and practice it mindfully - i.e. with an intention to understand how it works and how to better apply our efforts; then slowly our minds will become more steady and pure, and, one-by-one, we will realize how and why the practice works, how the practice is leading us back into our true divine nature.
Does Yoga help your daily life? The benefits of yoga are two fold: immediate and cumulative. In the ordinary realm and on a daily basis, it improves physical health and mental clarity, and so yes, yoga definitely helps my daily life. But, it is also a lot of work and there must be faith in something larger than just the immediate if one is going to sustain the practice and the lifestyle for an entire lifetime. In yoga as we surrender to the practice - particularly during the days when we feel resistant to it - our minds - i.e. the lower mind - becomes more pure. Every moment we hold our attention on the activity of practice, when we resist the tendency to wonder mentally, our mind becomes stronger and more pure, and our habitual approach to life improves. We all have various mental patterns, psychological and physical patterns; these are our samskaras, the habits, tendencies and impressions of which we are composed. The deeper benefit of yoga is the evolution of our natural inclinations and tendencies; our samskaras become purified as we practice consistently over long period of time. Guruji often likes to laugh at the idea of people thinking that they benefit from only one day, one month or even just a few years of yoga practice. He says it takes at least 10 to 15 years just to begin to understand yoga properly and another 10 to 15 years to have a good understanding of yoga.
What does it mean to be established in Yoga? When the mind remains equanimous in the face of both good and bad experiences, then it can be said to be established in yoga (BG 2.48). We should always remain in a state of perceiving; we must not mistake our own thoughts for what is happening around us. Equanimity is important for correct perception because desires and aversions prevent us from perceiving the world clearly; desire and aversion cause false perception. That is why both the Bhagavad Gita (BG 6.35) and the Yoga Sutras (YS 1.12) say that both detachment and practice are the means to yoga. Thus for becoming established in yoga, equanimity is the first level to be understood and acquired.
Why do you practice Yoga? Animals can feel pain and pleasure, and express themselves. Humans beings also feel and express, but additionally, we can reason and understand things. With this human life comes a great opportunity to discover and directly realize our true divine nature, which is the same as the nature of God and the universe. We should not waste our time with pursuits that do not lead us to higher levels of divine understanding. We should be practicing yoga, learning to harness the immense power of our minds, and using mental focus in cooperation with all the realms of creation - visible as well as invisible - because everything is connected and everything we do effects the whole of God's creation. As we evolve on a personal level, our actions become more and more harmonious with the world. This is beneficial to all.
What does the word Yoga mean to you? Yoga is the effort to turn one's mind inward towards the core of the body where the spiritual force of creation is most concentrated and tangible, where one may find God, their true source. To do this effectively one must develop mental and emotional stability, free from the prejudices caused by likes and dislikes; then one may begin to see things clearly and objectively. So long as the mind is controlled by its desires and aversions, it cannot perceive things very accurately; a mind with prejudices distorts what it perceives - this distortion can be subtle or obvious. So we must first over come the sway of our desires and aversion; then, we can gain control of the mind and focus it for the purpose of understanding and perceiving our spiritual self and God.
How do you view the state of Yoga in the world? Today there is a lot of yoga spreading quickly throughout the world. We need not concern ourselves with the quality or validity of what others are teaching to be yoga. Instead we should continue to focus on our own progress, understanding and realization. We should practice and study yoga, diligently and faithfully as much as possible. This will benefit us directly, and in turn, ensure the preservation of yogic knowledge.
What inspires you? I am inspired by Pattabhi Jois' understanding of yoga. He is the foremost among those yogis whom I have met in his understanding of how the physical practice works to form the foundation for our spiritual evolution. His faith in yoga and God is so absolute that he is naturally very humble about his own level as a yoga practitioner. He never brags about his accomplishments or his contribution to humanity. Instead, he sees himself as a student. This is because of his strong faith in yoga, life & God, being infinitely deep; he knows he still has further to climb to the peak of the mountain of yoga. For such a man who has been practicing diligently for nearly 80 years, what does that say for me and my relationship towards yoga? I am a complete beginner! This is truly humbling and inspiring.