Interview with Yaroslav Tokarev, a teacher of Universal Yoga in Kiev
Today we have a conversation with Yaroslav Tokarev, an instructor of yoga in Kiev with great experience of personal and teaching practice. Yaroslav combines techniques of Universal yoga with principles of ayurveda and individualized approach to every student.
TopYogis: Yaroslav, what do you think is the purpose of yoga? Why do we practice?
Yaroslav Tokarev: Each of us practices for different reasons. Yoga is a multifaceted instrument of personal development, and everyone can choose what to practice for. Originally, the purpose of yoga was to attain samadhi, but not just to attain it, rather use it in everyday life. Hatha yoga was developed with the purpose of extending human life so that one could attain samadhi within one lifetime. Later, other applications of yoga were discovered: yoga can improve health and fitness, help cure from some diseases or diminish their effect on one’s body and mind, improve one’s strength and flexibility, manage one’s weight, detoxify one’s body. Compared to other types of physical activity, yoga is special because it is so diverse, even if you practice for one benefit only, you get additional benefits, like meditation, cultivation of calm and serene mind, improved emotional management.
Yoga is a multifaceted instrument of personal development, and everyone can choose what to practice for.
TopYogis: Have you changed your approach to yoga over the years of practice and teaching?
Yaroslav Tokarev: My approach was not changed as much as it was developed. I have acquired new knowledge, understood many mistakes in my teaching. I understood that it’s very important to have an individualized approach to each practitioner, as we’re all different, we have different minds and bodies.
The main factors that formed my approach to practice and teaching yoga were the school of Universal Yoga established by Andrey Lappa, Ayurveda, Reiki, Vipassana meditation, and individual practiced of Vajrayana Buddhist school. I believe that Reiki is a pranic yoga. It is a practical application of pranayama for energy transfer and healing. Also, for me, Reiki was a key to the subtle world of energy.
Universal yoga has given me the understanding of principles of asana mechanics and a roadmap for sequences of yoga, and also work with yoga mandala.
TopYogis: And what is yoga mandala?
Yaroslav Tokarev: It is a collection of quality of a person, from physical to psychological, and its interconnection, it’s a map of informational possibilities of a human being for self-realisation and spiritual development. Ayurveda believes that we do not have to build the entire mandala, as we have part of the mandala already in us. An experienced teacher can see what parts are missing and develop a strategy of developing those parts. The strategies can include practices like kriyas, asanas, meditations, herb preparations, depending on goals and possibilities of a person.
TopYogis: If a person has only 15 minutes for the daily practice of yoga, what most important things would you recommend to do?
Yaroslav Tokarev: In fifteen minutes, one could pick one of the following options:
- Dynamic cat pose, and then surya namaskar. Even if the person’s goal is only meditation, by doing dynamic cat-cow, one can improve blood circulation around the spine, increasing its flexibility. If one wants to practice power yoga, cat-cow is a good way to start it, as it’s a good safe warmup. If one wants to practice pranayama, one can do breathing exercises synchronized with spinal movements. Nowadays, people lack physical load and movement. That’s why if you have time for practice, it’s a good idea to start with a physical exercise.
- Chanting OM, as this is a meditation and a breathing exercise at the same time. As we inhale quickly and exhale slowly, this breathing pattern calms down the mind. Also, the sound “o” resonates in the area of the heart, thus tuning our entire body to the rhythm of the heart is useful in many respects, it improves the immune system of the entire body.
- To concentrate on one’s breathing, like in anapana meditation. On one hand, it focuses the mind, and on the other hand, induces pratyahara (withdrawal from sense signals) which ceases anxiety and negative thoughts.
Nowadays, people lack physical load and movement. That’s why if you have time for practice, it’s a good idea to start with a physical exercise.
TopYogis: Do you think an instructor can assess his students’ progress in yoga just by the way they’re doing exercise?
Yaroslav Tokarev: In what type of yoga? Hatha or Raja yoga?
TopYogis: Do you mean that in hatha yoga we can assess this progress easily, if somebody is doing difficult postures nicely, they are progressing?
Yaroslav Tokarev: Not necessarily. To perform a posture correctly, one needs to observe and accept their sensations and reactions triggered by this posture. So that their asana does not cause reactions of resistance in the body. Because there are many people who perform tough postures, but these postures do not help them get healthier.
TopYogis: Can you, as an instructor, see who does not accept sensations in their postures?
Yaroslav Tokarev: Yes, an experienced yoga teacher can see that. You can see these things by facial expressions and by the eyes, by the degree of tension in the body. Sometimes, a person does everything very seriously, and they think they have reached a higher level, but in fact, they are wrong. Because what they have done is suppress themselves. This may lead to the development of tension both in body and mind. Hatha yoga by its name implies that the goal is to develop both concentration and relaxation on all levels, and also ability to switch between these two qualities.
To perform a posture correctly, one needs to observe and accept their sensations and reactions triggered by this posture. So that their asana does not cause reactions of resistance in the body. Because there are many people who perform tough postures, but these postures do not help them get healthier.
All that one needs to do in yoga is to establish a contact with one’s body, to learn to relax it in both physical and mental way. The main task is to feel your body and not do anything via pain. Don’t hurry in this regard. Because, even if you achieve an external result, you will not achieve internal progress. You have not opened this body part, have not removed the block. In fact, you have created an even bigger block with over-extension and over-tension.
That’s why my goal is to construct physical training in a way that it is conducive to more subtle training because I think that most of the diseases are originated on a subtle level, not the physical one.
All that one needs to do in yoga is to establish a contact with one’s body, to learn to relax it in both physical and mental way. The main task is to feel your body and not do anything via pain.
This is my advice to all yogis: don’t chase the physical form, honor your body, your sensation, learn to listen to it and relax.
If you have practiced with Yaroslav and want to share your experiences, leave a review on his personal page.