An American Yogi In Bali - Interview With Daniel Aaron

Anna Coventry
An American Yogi In Bali - Interview With Daniel Aaron

Bali is a buzzword on the lips of many yogis around the world right now. No doubt that interest in this corner of the world was given a rather large nudge by the famous book Eat, Pray, Love, yet Bali (particularly the small inland town of Ubud) has been a destination for yoga loving travellers for a long time.

Ubud. It’s a town where Buddha statues and chakra jewellery are more common than rubbish bins and there seem to be more yoga clothing stores per head of population than anywhere in the world! There are also many delightful discoveries to be made within the yoga scene here. Not least of which is meeting the founder of one of the leading yoga studio’s in town and finding out he’s a down to earth American guy who starts his classes with ‘let’s get started y’all’ and has the ability to make you laugh out loud in every class!

The guy is Daniel Aaron. Founder and director of Radiantly Alive, an incredible yoga haven in the heart of Ubud. He has been teaching yoga all over the world for 17 years and since 2005 has been leading their renowned teacher training programmes.

I thought I’d have a little chat to Daniel about yoga.

You’re From The East Coast Of America Right, So How Did You Find Yourself Living In Bali?

I came to Bali by intuition. I had moved around my whole life, never lived in a place longer than a year and something just switched at a certain point. I knew I had to live in one place. I spent about 6 months trying to figure out where and then a friend suggested Ubud, I’d never even heard of it but then something went done and it was clear that I was going there. 2 weeks later I was on a plane.

Where Did The Idea Of Setting Up A Yoga Studio, And Running Teacher Trainings Come From?

The seed had been planted many years earlier. I knew I wanted to offer residential experiences for people. I’d been a training junkie myself and I had opinions on what yoga teacher training could be. We did things in reverse, in that we opened the studio last year (April 2012) but we have actually been running teacher training courses here since 2005.

I know The Studio Is Influenced By A Number Of Yoga Styles, But You Lean Mainly Towards Vinyasa Flow. What Are Some Of The Key Benefits To Vinyasa Over Other Styles?

I think the biggest benefit of Vinyasa is that it automatically has included in it, a practice of presence similar to meditation in a way. It also automatically includes Pranayama (through the use of Ujayi breath) and that isn’t necessarily part of a lot of yoga experiences. I think Vinyasa has a much better chance of vitalising prana than a lot of styles. By this I mean making the practice energetically effective. And it’s great for people who want to work on their body. Sure other styles of yoga are great for that too but to me, Vinyasa is the most potent way of combining all of those things.

What Are Your Thoughts On Music In A Yoga Class?

Yeah, funnily it is a controversial topic in the yoga world. Certainly it’s not required yet I feel it can inspire energy and create a dynamic in class and it has great potential to increase a student’s experience of yoga. That’s really the most important part of teaching you know, what can we do to optimise the chances that the student will experience yoga.

I have To Ask Then, What Is Yoga To You?

Well, simplest terms it’s a word that has two applications.

Firstly it’s a state of being, it’s a state that we all know and have experienced, even if for brief moments, where we are at peace with what is. It’s also a practice and a set of techniques to help us remember that state. The question becomes, as a teacher, what can we offer to help people experience it, if even for a moment during the class. To me, equally valuable is to give them some ways of looking at life so that they can experience that state more off the mat.

Yoga Is Obviously Massive In America. What Do You Think Are Some Of The Advantages To Training And Practicing In A Location Like Ubud?

There is something about this place that makes it conducive to practicing and studying yoga. Whether it’s the Vedic connection from the past, Bali being this rare Hindu island in the midst of a mostly Muslim country. Or more likely there is something powerful about the land here that creates a certain energy. That might sound horribly new agey but environments have energy to them and this one seems to be especially conducive to development on a personal level.

And in general, the idea of going away for teacher training is very powerful. Any transformation requires letting go of something and if we leave our habitual environment we are more open to developing ourselves in ways we might not otherwise.

If You Had To Choose A Favourite Yoga Pose, What Would It Be?

Handstand. It’s so simple yet so powerful, and so much happens in such a little period of time in that pose.

So Lastly, Any Final Comments About Yoga?

Well, if I consider my life journey so far, I was born in a small state in America and if you compare then until now, living here in this very different culture on the other side of the world, it certainly looks like a big journey. I think in a way that could be a nice parallel to the potential of yoga and human development. You know, we all start somewhere. We start where we start. The most exciting thing for me in the world is asking who can we be and who do we want to be. I think a really worthwhile thing to do is to imagine and consider how we want to live our lives. Then somehow do whatever it takes to develop the belief that we can create that and then find out how to do it. Whether its yoga or jumping jacks, it’s such a valuable and beautiful thing to do.