Teachers on a Mission

Singh and Brett with Ilse Mindling (centre)

Ravi Singh and Ana Brett talk to Halima Malik about kundalini energy, the benefits of a live food diet, and why we’ve never needed yoga more.

Ravi Singh and Ana Brett are yoga teachers on a mission. With 40 years’ teaching experience between them and a star-studded client list that includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, they are ambassadors for kundalini yoga. Their teacher training, workshops, books and DVDs are enjoyed worldwide, and they see kundalini yoga as the most effective tool for vibrant health, self-expansion and exciting personal breakthroughs.

Ravi is known as the “teachers’ teacher” and he has trained more than 300 practising kundalini yoga teachers. He has also helped found yoga centres in New York City and Los Angeles. His innovative and poetic style has been seen as instrumental to yoga’s current popularity. Ana has been studying dance and yoga from the age of ten and now teaches at all levels. Known as “technique guru” to the New York City Ballet, she is also a fervent proponent of a live food diet. When Ravi was growing up he was fascinated by Eastern spiritual and philosophical traditions. His curiosity led him to study in greater depth and he took up hatha yoga and Transcendental Meditation (TM), a system of meditation founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1950s. “It was one of the first systems that came from the East,” says Ravi. “When I was at college I thought I had everything covered. I took a psychology course and got an overview of all the major Eastern modalities that were coming into vogue.” At that time one of the late guru Yogi Bhajan’s first students came to give a kundalini class. Ravi remembers its immediacy and recalls how powerful that class was. “I realised ‘there is something here: it’s really quite a technology.’ That started me. Soon after, I moved to New York to be a poet of all things. It was the 1970s and I was in my early twenties, so moving to New York seemed like an obvious move for me.” As he evolved as a yoga teacher, he grew to better understand and connect with kundalini energy. This is understood as a powerful source of internal energy which is located at the base of the spine, coiled like a snake, which when activated, rises up through the body, opening the consciousness.

Ravi and Ana’s style of kundalini yoga has been described as “poetical”. Ravi says the inspiration for the style is based on a fusion of his literal poetry writing and Ana’s dance background. He describes his experience of coming to the yogic path as similar to Ana’s. “I quickly came to see that I wanted to transform lives. I had been living in a kundalini ashram in Chicago. Most of my friends were writers and we would get together in the living room and have a yoga class. I came to realise what art purports to do and that yoga actually transforms people. I embraced the yoga and chose to devote my life to it because it helps people immediately.”

Kundalini Yoga for Strength, Success and Spirit and Ravi’s other book Kundalini Yoga for Body, Mind and Beyond are both bestsellers and he has a rich and deep understanding of the style of yoga he practises from a practical, theoretical and philosophical angle. So what motivated him to become a yoga teacher? Ravi says: “If you want to master something, you have to teach it. Part of my motivation for teaching it to my friends was to be certain that I got my practice in. I realised that having other people there doing it with you stopped you from slacking off. You have to be accountable. So that was my motivation initially. I really believed in it and kept doing it because it’s so relevant to people’s lives.”

Ana’s background is in dance, which informs her approach to yoga. She met Ravi in 2001 in New York, when she was teaching in his yoga centre. They merged their teachings, and then their lives. Finding a peaceful and harmonious relationship together, they married. “Yoga offers the opportunity for people to get everything covered and still have time for a life,” says Ravi. “Yoga also opens you to a lifestyle. For instance Ana follows a live food diet, which is raw vegetarian food.” For many people this is a natural consequence of practising yoga: you begin to question what you consume and gradually change your diet to a healthier one.

The process works two ways: yoga inspires a healthier lifestyle, which in turn boosts our practice. “The more subtle and pure we are the more the yoga works the way it should do,” says Ravi. “I am a vegan – a pure vegetarian – but Ana has taken a step forward. and embraced this live food path. It’s not for everyone and it requires commitment. In terms of health and beauty it’s unparalleled – you really see the difference.”

“Live food diet means eating food not cooked above 116 degrees,” explains Anna. “This is the temperature at which food loses its essential enzymes.” She’s keen to point out that live food offers more than just carrot sticks. “I eat a lot of nuts and avocado. I probably eat more fat than most people, but the fats are essential fats. They help regulate your weight.

“The biggest misconception I hear from people all the time is ‘you must have to eat a lot of food’, which isn’t true,” she says. Ana’s glowing skin and amazing level of fitness are probably the best answer to any critics. Some recent news reports have portrayed yoga as contributing to eating disorders such as anorexia. Ana takes a pragmatic view. “Yoga, but especially kundalini – which seems to do it quicker – balances people’s glandular and nervous systems and works on an emotional level. If you are too heavy, it will bring you into balance to where you should be. I can’t see anyone turning anorexic, but then there will always be people who go to extremes.” Anorexia and obesity can both be linked to emotional or glandular imbalance, so yoga should be a useful tool in managing these diseases. Ana says: “A regular yoga practice is definitely going to look after that. As for live food – I found it’s increased my energy so much because of the enzymes it includes. And enzymes are the life force or prana of food.” “We try to increase the life force in the body and the diet helps. I eat good amounts of food but no more than regular people. I have coconut milkshakes everyday. It’s really not a hardship. I also have live food recipes on the website. But I think yoga gradually detoxes the body. As the body becomes purer you naturally move towards to a diet that is more pure.”

During her teaching Ana has also come across yoga teachers who say, “If you are going to practise yoga you need to give up this and that”. However, it’s difficult to give up everything in one go, for instance eating meat, or drinking cola. Over time, as yoga becomes an integral part of life, people tend to become aware that their mind and body is changing and so they will change accordingly. Ana elaborates: “People come up to me stressed and say ‘I am still smoking’ when they have just started yoga. I tell them, ‘Don’t worry about it. Those things naturally fall away.’ I don’t think anyone needs to struggle – I think ‘stop trying to quit’ – the body naturally comes into balance and bad habits fall away. You know some people may need some meat too. I don’t push any particular diet. Different people have different needs.”

Ravi and Ana lead teacher-training courses together in Amsterdam, Hawaii and the USA. So what makes a good yoga teacher? Ana says: “It’s someone who really embodies their practice and someone who is still learning. I think you can only teach what you have experienced yourself. “During our teacher-training sessions we try to emphasise being grounded a lot and being present because the more present you are the more sensitive you are to yourself and so the more sensitive you can be to other people. So you can experience what’s going on with you and translate that to other people.”

When he started teaching yoga, Ravi remembers being inspired by the people who had been teaching kundalini because they had a presence and what he calls ‘a core strength and immediacy’. “When they spoke about higher consciousness, they were speaking from experience,” he says. Through their teacher-training Ravi and Ana aim to create ‘well-rounded teachers who have the credibility to teach’. “We also try to project kundalini as a continuum of yoga, not just some isolated style – because all yoga is all-encompassing,” says Ravi. “The other thing we feel makes good teachers is to empathise with the students and to come from a place of love.” Ana and Ravi have taught yoga classes all over the world, and in situations as varied as prisons, backstage on Broadway and to street kids. “We have taken a lot of yoga classes and we believe that a teacher should serve the student,” says Ravi. “The essence of kundalini yoga is to activate the spirit, the chakras, the inspiration; that’s when the teacher knows the spirit is alive in them, that’s when it makes an impact, that’s when they come across as a teacher,” Ravi says. He believes that some form of regulation is important, but says: “a piece of paper doesn’t make a teacher.” It takes years of training and practice.

Ravi suggests that students need to take responsibility for their study, especially since they will produce the next generation of teachers. “I think students need to be a little bit wary and really explore the credentials of whoever they are learning from,” he says. “I think it’s really important for yoga students to understand what they are getting into and I think that will improve the quality of teachers as well.” Ravi believes there’s more to teaching than simply imparting knowledge to a student. “There is a symbiotic relationship between the teacher and student – teachers learn from students as well. When Ana came into my life I had been teaching for 25 years and I learnt a lot from her about alignment and anatomy and how you use proper form to take a step forward.”

The “spirit” is the core to yoga for many teachers, but some people shy away from this idea. Ravi feels that it is absolutely key. “Above and beyond all the methodology is that spirit. It will come across even if the person isn’t eloquent, but if that inner fire is there, people feel it.” He sees the teacher’s role as passing on that flame of spirit. “That fire lights other people and that’s what makes a good teacher – to kindle souls and get people motivated within.”

Over the years Ravi and Ana have witnessed the impact yoga has had on people’s lives and how it has changed them for the better. Ravi cherishes seeing students become teachers themselves. “I have seen how they blossom. I see their impact on other people and that’s awesome. When they start teaching their lives are transformed and they are witness to so many miracles.” Yoga’s current popularity in the west suggests it is sorely needed by contemporary society. “In America people’s lifestyles are just getting so out of control,” says Ravi. “People are under a lot of stress and more and more are taking mind-altering drugs such as tranquillisers and anti-depressants. The need has never been greater for something like kundalini yoga. Pretty soon something has to give.” He is sure that yoga holds the answer. “What we see is people returning to balance. The reason why yoga works is because it helps you keep a balance in life. I think that these problems have never been so acute and there’s a lot of work to be done. It’s why we are so inspired to train teachers.”

Ravi and Ana acknowledge that people come to classes for a variety of reasons, from improving flexibility to getting a flatter stomach to tuning in with their spirit. “I think there is a direct route through the physical to the spiritual, and they are going to get there whether they come for their flexibility or their navel,” says Ana. Ravi goes on: “Everyone is interested in a firm stomach, but achieving this also works on the manipura chakra, the seat of will. So when a person’s navel is strong you can get more done and you become fearless.”

Their Warrior Workout DVD helps to improve circulation and detox the body, but goes a step further. “On another level it is the archetype of having the ability to go beyond,” says Ravi. “We say that how you participate in exercise is how you live your life. Learning to do more than you thought can transform your mindset and give you greater possibilities.” Yoga demonstrates that the mind and body can’t be separated into two entities and Ravi and Ana demonstrate this in their work. “The warrior workout gives people the opportunity to do more than they thought they could. We don’t want people to do more than they are ready for. But we want people to understand that they have a lot more strength and resources inside of them than they knew.” Both Ravi and Ana are buzzing with a vibrant energy. Their secret? Ana explains: “The more energy you put out – the more you get back. And it helps to love what you are doing.”

Ravi and Ana’s DVDs include Ultimate Stretch Workout, Navel Power, Warrior Workout and Fat Free Yoga. They are priced at £14.99 and available from www.yogamatters.com

For more information about Ravi and Ana’s tour schedule and teacher training courses in Amsterdam, Hawaii and the USA visit www.raviana.com

Halima Malik for Yoga Magazine


1 Response to “Teachers on a Mission”

  1. 1 Gursant Singh June 29, 2010 at 7:48 am

    I am an American Sikh who studied with Yogi Bhajan for 30 years. I want to introduce you to a free e-book “Sikhism and Tantric Yoga”; a rare and out of print book by a Sikh scholar and historian which takes a critical look at Yogi Bhajan’s kundalini and tatric yoga systems. I discovered this book during my two years in India.“Sikhism and Tantric Yoga” has been a real eye-opener for me and makes complete sense when I think about the last thirty years of my life with Yogi Bhajan. Written by the esteemed Dr. Trilochan Singh, author of over twenty books on Sikh history and philosophy and lecturer at sixteen Universities, “Sikhism and Tantric Yoga”, describes the Sikh mystical path and is critical of Yogi Bhajan’s Tantra and Kundalini Yoga.

    I have included here a sample of one chapter and the entire book can be downloaded for free at: Gurmukhyoga.com


    Thanks for the link, but comments shouldn’t be longer than the articles that inspire them, especially if they’re copypasta jobs like this. Keep that in mind, to stave off the spam label.

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