On the Importance of Finding your Unique Yoga Path: an Interview with Florian Reitlinger

Photo credit: yogamehome.org

As I look for my “next victim” in the series of interviews that I do for the Barcelona Yoga Conference 2017, I come across Florian Reitlinger’s profile and feel immediately impressed by his long resume. Florian has acquired in this lifetime a spectacular list of accomplishments: he studied different yoga styles (Sivananda, Anusara, Jivamukhti) and modalities (Ayurveda, Yoga Therapy, Yoga Philosophy, and Kirtan). He owns a yoga studio in Vienna, manages a Yoga magazine, and teaches regularly, using each chance to learn further from his students and the situations that arise in the process.

Florian agrees to the interview, and as I receive his answers, I’m further impressed by this person, yogi, teacher.

First, it’s the amount of smiling faces that are staring back at me in the text – I just love that Floarian comes across as so simple, friendly, and almost childlike. This world is filled with self-important people, yoga teachers, unfortunately, are no exception to this rule. The fact that all of these smiling faces are there, tells me that Florian is easy-going and humble, someone who is not trying too hard to impress or create a certain persona in the eyes of others.

Second, Florian has this honesty that almost shocked me, I didn’t expect it, really. As you will read what he shares, you will appreciate it for yourself also. How beautiful it is to come across somebody who just tells you about his fears, insecurities, and weak spots, openly, without hiding anything in fear of not fitting in with his status or reputation.

Third, Florian starts and finishes with this very positive message that is so universal and welcoming: yoga is for everyone, you just need to find your unique path that fits in with who you are and where you come from. I guess the fact that Florian is not attached to any one tradition specifically and had to work hard to find his own approach made him realize this universality behind yoga. We definitely need more of that in the modern yoga community!

Photo credit: T. Wassermann for tauchen.de

A: Florian, thank you so much for your participation in this project, I feel very privileged to engage you in this format. You are a person of immense experience and I’m very excited to share your story with others. First question: based on your resume, you have studied extensively for the past 20 years under various yoga lineages, so where do you situate yourself now in terms of the yoga method and why you chose that method to be your main guide on the path of yoga?

F: Hi I started off with Sivandanda, as almost everyone I know did. After thorough studies in yoga therapy and doing Anusara Yoga teacher training, I decided to change the direction and follow my passion for music and the more “sensitive” [subtle] aspects of Yoga. This brought me to Costa Rica for a Jivamukti Teacher Training, which was a very intense experience. I was very impressed by the activism [social responsibility] of the Jivamukti tribe – their commitment to protect ALL holy beings, especially the animals. So in my heart I’m a Jivamukti who has strong Sivananda roots and uses brilliant alignment techniques of the Anusara method.

A: Hatha Yoga Sivananda style, Anusara Yoga, Jivamukhti Yoga, considering that you have studied under these modalities, what in your opinion makes them very similar and what makes them nonetheless different? Do you believe that regardless of the differences, all the yoga methods offer the same message underneath?

F: All styles derive from the same source – they can be traced all the way back to a small group of very powerful teachers in India.

I consider Sivananda “the father” of modern yoga. He was a very eminent yet humble teacher and a doctor, who devoted his life to spread an integral and simple [hatha] yoga method all over the world.

John Friend, the founder of Anusara Yoga, was inspired by B.K.S. Iyengar and modified his method to suit the “western” people and their needs. I’m deeply convinced, that EVERYONE who teaches yoga, no matter which style, should integrate the alignment principals of Anusara in his/her yoga classes. It’s a matter of responsibility towards the yoga students and their health!

Sharon Gannon and David Life, the founders of Jivamukti Yoga, spent many years studying Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore with Pattaabhi Jois. They founded a studio in Manhattan, turning up the radio to practice yoga with rock tunes. They thus attracted a lot of people with their wild yoga style, yet managed to keep their heart bound to the silence of India.

Yes, all these yoga methods have the same message: let go of your ego, be kind, dedicate your life to the happiness and freedom of all living beings. All these methods chant the same mantras – so all methods speak the same spiritual language!

In my opinion, the difference among these methods is in the folowing: Sivanda is still rather a traditional method that does not integrate new medical insights and principles of body alignment the way for instance Anusara Yoga does. Jivamukti sets a lot of emphasis on activism (almost political, when it gets to animal rights), which can distract from the focus on the actual yoga practice.      

A: So, what is the true message of yoga? What is the ultimate goal of yoga?

F: Walk and practice your very own and personal yoga path with your very own and personal yoga practice.

That basically means that EVERYONE can practice yoga: asana, pranayama, positive thinking, what you decide to eat and drink, etc.

Photo credit: yogamehome.org

A: What have you found particularly challenging about practicing yoga and how have you learned to overcome this challenge?

F: Asana practice is challenging for me. I spent so many years with running sports (Marathon & Co) without stretching. I have had a hard time getting into certain asanas. My strategy to overcome this hurdle is to take my time to build up to a specific asana step by step. Then I ENJOY this asana: every breath! After I become acquainted with it and then I proceed to the next. Most important: NEVER COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS!   

A: What difficulties have you faced as a teacher? How have you learned to work around them?

F: I love teaching! I love to share the practice of yoga with other holy beings This is such a precious gift!

Difficulties? Well, to be quite honest, if someone attends my class and looks at me in a critical way, I can sometimes feel nervous and a little insecure. Most of the times the reason why a student is critical doesn’t have so much to do with me! So when this happens, instead of paying too much attention to the critical student, I try instead to connect myself more to the more supportive yoga students in the class. In the process, I do what yoga had taught me: breath in, breath out, think positive, and don’t always take everything personal, and it works! 😉

A: Besides a yogi, you are also a musician. Do you find that music is another way to connect and perhaps even transcend the true self? What has paying devotional music added to your yoga practice and teaching?

F: I always have my guitar with me, when I teach – it is a part of my voice and my connection to the participants in the class. Music touches people – sometimes much deeper than spoken words. Music is Bhakti Yoga… it is said, that Bhakti Yoga is the fastest path to enlightenment! Let’s see 😉

Photo credit: Xperience Yoga Festival

A: I can see you also studied the science of Ayurveda. Do you follow the principles of Ayurveda in your life and how has that made you life different? Would you recommend it to others?

F: Although Ayurveda and Yoga are very closely connected, I have trouble living both disciplines because I don’t cook … I can’t … not in this life! But I love to wash dishes after lunch or dinner, so people like to invite me for dinner because I clean up everything afterwards 😉

Fact is, if you are into Ayurveda and integrate this art of healing and living into your life, you need to cook and have all the ingredients – which I don’t have … unfortunately

Having said that, I respect everyone who knows about Ayurveda, I enjoy Ayurvedic treatments and Ayurvedic food … and then I wash the dishes and clean up everything afterwards 😉

A: Last but not least, in the light of where the modern yoga is at and where it is moving, what words of wisdom would you give to the yoga students as well as the yoga teachers?

F: As I wrote previously: walk and practice your very own and personal yoga path with your very own and personal yoga practice.

P.S.: let yourself be guided by a diligent teacher who sees and respects you as his/her teacher

Florian will be teaching the following classes during the BYC 2017:

Vinyasa Yoga (with Brigit Pöltl) Friday July 21, 2017 3:45pm – 5:30pm

Jivamukhti Live Music on Sunday July 23, 2017 2:45pm – 4:30pm

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