Home / Articles / #2 June 2011 / Olga Sydorenko: "Life is a constant study" Interview with Gabriella Giubilaro

Olga Sydorenko: "Life is a constant study" Interview with Gabriella Giubilaro

Question: How did you start practicing yoga and why?

Gabriella: At the time of my studying in the university a relative of mine gave me book on yoga, starting from this book I became interested in yoga. When I met a person, who was already practicing yoga I was so curious that I went in to yoga class with this person. I liked yoga and hence continued practicing. It was Iyengar yoga in Florence in 1973.

Question: Why did you decide to continue yoga practice?

Gabriella: I didn't decide at the beginning. I just liked going in for classes and I went there once a week.

Question: Did you practice by yourself as well? Do you think i's necessary to do practice not only in the class?

Gabriella: Yes, I also started practicing at home, although nobody told me that I had to. I was interested and puzzled with the poses, I found them challenging and difficult and wanted to study them throughly so I started practicing daily by myself. And because of constant practice by myself I started to understand much more during the classes.

Personal practice gives you more intelligence of the body. Those people who practice only in the classes hear the same story at each class and they never learn. So it's very important to practice by yourself.

Question: How would you advice to start practicing yoga for those, who are now only interested in yoga but don't know what kind of first step is better for them? To read books first, or to find a true Guru, or just to go to the nearest yoga studio?

Gabriella: As for me, one definitely can not learn yoga from the books. One can only become interested in the subject. But when you are already practicing yoga, you have to learn from the books as well. From the books one can learn about intellectual and philosophical parts. Practical things you can only learn from a teacher.

And I absolutely don't recommend to choose school by the principle of the nearest or the most convenient one. It's important to be discriminative when you choose a good method and a good teacher. A good teacher is of crucial importance, cause you always absorb something from a teacher. Moreover, if you don't go to a good teacher you may damage yourself. And I know many people who just go to any place or a teacher to study yoga, either because it's cheaper or more convenient location, etc. Personally I'm convinced that it's better to go for less classes but to go to a good teacher.

So one have to develop a discrimination to understand, who is a good teacher and what is the good method for him. And it's not easy. But this principle works not only for yoga, it's for everything - e.g. for the food it's the same: if you eat junk food your body becomes junk, but if you eat good and healthy food your body becomes healthy... Probably you'll need to spend a little more money and time in order to get it at the moment, but in the end it appears that you've saved your money and time.

Question: You are talking about "a good teacher". And what kind of teacher is a good one? Or it's a matter of an individual compatibility?

Gabriella: You can not say in general. But those teachers, who studied yoga a year or two and picked up different things from different methods can not give truly deep knowledge. Because deep knowledge comes through years of experience only.

Question: So, how can one understand, if it's a good or a bad teacher?

Gabriella: When you study languages for example, you can understand very quickly wether the teacher is a good one - either you have progress with him or not... Either he can see your limits and consider them or not.

If a teacher is a good one, he sees what the problem, what the limits of each of his students are, and he helps them to understand how to solve those issues... And of course he must have profound knowledge of the subject.

And quantity of people, who go to a teacher, could not indicate the goodness of this teacher. There're unknown teachers, who are great and at the same time there are very famous teachers, who are not as good but they may give more fun to people. So popularity only means one is good in making himself popular, not that he's a good teacher.

A good teacher is not the one, who explains something that he perceives important, but the one, who watches students and sees their individual problems and is able to explain to each of them, what he needs to improve. And he's doing this in such a way that it's possible for them to understand him. This is a real work. And this is another feature of a good teacher - he gives you something useful during the class, something from what you can grow. Good yoga teacher is able to make bodies of his students intelligent enough for they were able to do asanas in the correct way.

And it may be a different person during different stages of your life. I think I'm lucky, because I've found Iyengar, who remains a perfect teacher for me since the beginning.

Question: After some time of yoga practice, when poses don't seem so difficult anymore, one's Ego tends to pop up. Some people even become arrogant. Why do you think it happens in yoga?

Gabriella: It's possible effect in any field. You may think that there shouldn't be such things in yoga, in fact, yoga is not an exception.

There is a danger, when a person learns something that require a lot of practice, than he becomes skilled in it, he may think himself something special only because of this skill. This danger exists in every field, not only in yoga. For example, if you learn the piano good enough to give concerts, you may consider yourself a great person. In yoga is the same - you learn how to do difficult asanas, then you learn how to help others in asanas, than - how to teach... than you have many people, who like you and that may make you consider yourself great.

It's in human nature - to consider oneself greater or better if you know something. But the real greatness is - when no matter what you can and know, you understand that you're nothing special.

If you read yoga sutras of Patanjali, it says a lot about all those dangers. Not an Ego specifically, it says you have to consider all the things that happen to you in a detached way, not to get stuck in the achievements.

So no matter what you do, you have to be able to observe yourself and to constantly develop your personality and not your ego.

And that's where you can also see whether a teacher is a good one or not - when you see a teacher with a lot of ego, you'd better run away. Sometimes students confuse strong teacher and teacher with strong ego. You see, a teacher has to be strong during the class. Personally I do consider myself a strong teacher, cause I know what I want and I know how to make people learn, what I teach. But outside the class I'm equal to everyone else, I don't consider myself more important or greater than others only because I know, how to move my pelvis or had.

Question: Is there any success in yoga and what is it?

Gabriella: I'm sure, that if a person thinks he's successful in yoga, than he doesn't understand what yoga is. For yoga is a path without beginning and end, so there is no success. There are difficulties and work we have to do. One has to be careful with those difficulties. One of these difficulties is an illusion that you have power and success. And to think that you have success in yoga only on the basis of your popularity as a teacher is a big mistake. Because our path in yoga has nothing to do with how much popularity you have as a yoga teacher.

Question: If not talking about success, what should be the aim, the goal of yoga?

Gabriella: It's transformation of the mind and personality. A person shell become more compassionate, more open, more joyful and lively, and feel more energy. You can feel and see those changes in people. When I travel and go to different yoga conferences, it's very interesting to see years after years how these yogis develop and change. Sometimes they're becoming grave and dark, or sad and depressed. And it means that their practice is not OK. And it doesn't really matter how much beautiful one's poses are, if a person becomes more open, more joyful and radiates more life and compassion, than you can say that the practice is correct.

Question: One of the important question for those who practice yoga - the meaning of brahmacharya.

Gabriella: Brahmacharya meaning - is to walk with Brahma. My interpretation of Brahmacharya depends on your status: if you're a teenager - you're supposed to study not to concentrate on sex, if you're in a relationship, you do sex not only for the enjoyment and you also maintain fidelity to your spouse. If you're not in a relations, than you do like teenagers... :) Sex is a part of the nature for propagation of our spices, so it's very important. But the problem is that it becomes misused quite often or people become too much obsessed with it.

Question: There are lot's of couples in which one of the spouses practice yoga and another one is not practicing. It may create some sort of tension in the relations. What would would you advice in such situation?

Gabriella: Yes, it may be very hard, because the other person usually doesn't understand, why you need so much time for your practice. Most of the time a partner is jealous. You need to have a very intelligent partner, who understands that yoga practice doesn't take your love away but it makes you a better person. And hence, your practice is going to improve your relations as well. But such a partner is a rare one. Especially this situation is hard when the relation started before one of the partners started to do yoga. Than a partner of this person feels like yoga taking his partner away. And he becomes jealous instead of being happy that this person has something beautiful to do.

So the person who does yoga should be able to explain and show that he's not marrying to something else, but he's just practicing the thing that can make him a better person. And in order to see the benefits of yoga practice, the partner who doesn't practice, shell be open-minded.

Sometimes it happens that I speak to a husband or a wife of my students in order to explain all those things. It is really important that a partner supports your work, than your efforts give really beautiful effect for both of you.

But of course, the best situation is when a person comes with his partner and they both practice and enjoy yoga and help each other.

Question: Yogis sometimes tend to get rid from the social life and duties, do you think it's a necessary step for yoga practice?

Gabriella: I can not say wether it's good or not. There are two paths in yoga: one is to retire from the world and live in the cave - the vertical way; another way - horizontal one, the way of Bhagavad Geeta, when you learn how to live in this world. And Geeta says it's a better way, because it's more difficult to live in the family, to be involved in the work and daily activity and still practice yoga. The daily life - it is what difficult and challenging.

Question: You love to learn different things? You learn languages, take piano lessons, tango lessons...

Gabriella: Yes, I love to learn. I think it's good to be a student and to feel someone's authority. I like when my teacher gives me home exercises, which I have to do. And when I haven't done something it's very interesting to observe, how my mind tries to find different excuses, etc. And especially for those who teach, it's very important from time to time to put one-selves in the student's shoes.

But so fare, in terms of languages, I know only Italian and English. However, every time I go somewhere, I try to listen and to catch up some phrases. When I listen, I can understand, if the person translates what I say correctly. When I went to teach in Poland, I used to study Polish, and because I studied it, its's very easy for me to understand in the class Russian, Czech and Polish. Than I become more interested in Russian and I started to learn a little bit of grammar, to know how to write. But Russian start to be confused with Polish in my head. I also wanted to learn a little bit of Japanese when I went there with seminars, I studied Spanish a lot. But what I study seriously - is Sanskrit, I'm very serious about it. It's only one year I started study it. Everyday I do some exercises, I have a teacher and I really love it. And every little progress I do is very exciting. More I understand Sanskrit - more beautiful and intelligent it seems to me. In fact all the time, when I'm not practicing yoga, I study languages, and I like it.

Before I start learn Sanskrit, during all my travels I used to do sudoku. Now, when on a plane, I take out all my books and dictionaries and study sanskrit. And of course better knowledge of sanskrit helps a lot in understanding yoga, words of Patañjali, names of the asanas and Indian mentality as well.

Question: How often do you travel to India?

Gabriella: I'm going there every year. Since I went there in 83 for the first time. I used to go there in the Summer, but than I started to go in winter. So I'm practicing yoga for 36 years and I continue to study. When Gita was in Europe, I went on every convention. I do believe that it's really important to study.

Question: And you go only to Iyengar, or other places in India?

Gabriella: I go only to Iyengar, for I don't have time or luxury to travel with no particular reason. Occasionally me and my husband do travel just for visiting places. But when I go somewhere alone, I go either to teach or to study myself. You see, now travel for me is not fun - it's very tiring. I'm not so much interested in seeing places but I like to meet people, I like to meet my old friends, when I visit different countries.

So in terms of India I go to Puna, because Iyengar lives there. India is very polluted so it's not easy to stay there. And local food doesn't meet my kind of constitution. So it's a hard experience for me, but I go there because I do believe that it's really important to be in the class and to have someone telling you: "You don't understand anything! You think you're great, but you don't even know, how to use your feet!!" It's also very important for one's ego. It's not good only to be a teacher, as I've mentioned, it's also good to be a student.

Question: What was your first impression of India, when you first come there?

Gabriella: I was really impressed by all the poor people on the road there. It was a shock for me. Now you don't see so much of them, but it's not because there are no poor people anymore, but because they are at different places. The government put them away of the sight of tourists but it doesn't change the situation with poverty in India.

Question: Do you feel a kind of connection between you and India?

Gabriella: To be honest, no. I feel a connection with yoga, with Iyengars, but not with the India itself. I never been fond of India, maybe because their food doesn't go with my stomach. When I eat spicy food my blood pressure rise up too high and I get too much acidity and feel very sick. So finally I gave up and don't eat spicy food anymore. And I always get sick in India - I get cough, sore throat, headaches, etc. And in Europe or States I never get sick. So honestly, I'm not looking forward for India but for the classes with Iyengar.

Question: Talking about diet, what is your usual diet?

Gabriella: Usually I eat without salt and spices. I'm not a 20 years old anymore and because in my family we've got problems with blood pressure, I have to take care of it. And I'm doing it very well just with the diet. I don't drink coffee and alcohol, don't eat meat or fish. My diet is very simple: grains, salad, vegetables, lentils.

Question: So you're a vegetarian?

Gabriella: Yeah, I've been a vegetarian since 1973 - most of my life. And I do not drink milk or other dairy products.

Question: How did you come to this diet and why?

Gabriella: I didn't have the same diet all the time. It evolved gradually. First I stopped consuming coffee, than I decided, I don't need milk and sugar anymore. Than after some time I started with the coffee milk and cheese again but I didn't feel good after eating them. And a couple of years back I was back to eating fish for healthy reason, for the vitamins. But now I stopped again.

I'm sure, when a person stays very careful about his diet for most of his life, than if he eats something unusual, he feels whether it's good for him or not. For example, I can eat a chocolate and pay very hard for it the day after. Before I could eat a lot of chocolate and didn't feel anything. I can eat anything but my body asks for some food and do not appreciate another, so I listen to my body.

Question: Do you have a favorite dish?

Gabriella: I feel very happy in front of the plate of salad. The more salad is green, hard and bitter, the better for me, the more I'm happy. I'm famous for traveling with my suitcase full of salad :) When I travel for example to Moscow in winter, I take a suitcase of salad with me.

Question: Do you have favorite books that inspire you?

Gabriella: One of the books I like a lot is a book written by the Jack Kornfield "After the ecstasy, the laundry". It's a beautiful book, it speaks about all of the spiritual systems. Which most of the time start well and than after the main teacher is out of the track, they fall into decay. And this book gives different reasons, why many different beautiful systems become evils. And it's true, one can start from very beautiful believes and surroundings and than get into troubles - they end up being in a sick system, where one can be even abused. This usually happens because a head of the system is unable to maintain integrity. Moreover it could be very dangerous for a person to surrender completely to any system or another person, than he lacks stability.

And from this point of view, I'm very happy that Iyengar didn't organize any ashram, any rule how to live. In that extent we're free to live any life we choose.

What Iyengar does - is teaching us, how to be stable in our legs. How to have stability and firmness. And we are not in the position of giving everything up, we are in the position of discrimination between bad & good things for us.

Question: How did you met Iyengar?

Gabriella: First I've met Iyengar on his workshops in Holland and in Italy. 10 years after I started yoga, I decided to go to India and study with Iyengar there.

Question: You've mentioned during the class that Iyengars give you rules but do not explain a lot the reasons and background of these rules.

Gabriella: Yes, it's difficult and challenging. But do not forget that originally yoga was not meant for anybody. And we have to use our brain to understand why and how it works. Only after several years of practice and discussions with other teachers the understanding comes. However, Gita sometimes explains to us, why we have to do in a particular way. Iyengar doesn't explain so much. And in such a situation, if one understands - he follows, if not - he doesn't follow. So sometimes I think probably this is a better system.

Question: Have you tried other styles, systems of yoga?

Gabriella: No, I never did anything else. I went once to Bikram yoga class and some Ashtanga yoga classes. But I went there more to understand the students, who come to my classes from other systems, in order to understand better their mentality, so it was for a teaching reason. And it really helped. I think that any system has something positive. And when you know positive sides of other systems or lacking sides, it's much easier to help those people, who come to my classes.

Question: What would be your wishing for the readers of Wild Yogi Magazine?

Gabriella: Be meticulous while finding a good teacher and keep studying for the whole of your life.

Home page of Gabriella's Institute of Iyengar Yoga in Italy: http://www.istitutoiyengaryogafirenze.it