A Hero’s Journey: An Interview with Olga Oskorbina

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Photo credit: Oscar Munar

Today I am presenting to you a story that sounds very familiar to me personally, it is so familiar, that it almost seems as a mirror reflection. See for yourself:

Olga Oskorbina is a Yoga teacher in Barcelona. Initially from Russia, Olga had an opportunity to immigrate to the USA. Determined to “make it” in life, to live up to the American dream and the capitalist notion of success, Olga studied MBA to become a financial analyst. In order to stay healthy and fit living a demanding lifestyle, Olga started going to the gym where she discovered yoga. Initially attracted by the physical benefits it had to offer, over time Olga discovered a passion for its philosophical and spiritual aspects. After doing a Jivamukhti teacher training, Olga has also found a passion for teaching it to others too, which is exactly what she does, alongside her husband and a group of dedicated students.

I was born in Ukraine and at 15 I had a chance to move to Canada. While I started practicing yoga in order to manage my scoliosis, I was determined to have an exciting and successful career in Marketing and Public Relations, and that’s what I studied at the university there. After coming to Germany and working in the field here in Berlin, I realized that it wasn’t really my way: my chosen career path just didn’t sit well with my deeply philosophical and spiritual nature. Ever since I did a yoga teacher training 5 years ago when I already had a decade of yoga practice behind me, I finally feel like I’m on the right track.

The truth is, this kind of story is not that personal. The fact is, a true yoga journey is a typical hero’s journey Joseph Campbell style.

At first, we all start by swimming in a pool of conformity, from which we are called out to take on an adventure, to embark on a journey of self-discovery, from the Known into the Unknown. If we listen to this call and follow the lead of our heart, we are actually aided along the way by some magical forces, serendipities, and mentors/teachers. No doubt the path is full of challenges and temptations, but over time, layer by layer, we learn to shed off all the misconceptions and psychological patterns that don’t serve us and cover up our true nature. Those few that are fearless, disciplined, and consistent enough to stay on the path receive its gift: one or numerous revelations, from which true understanding of oneself can be born. This personal transformation very often leads the hero “back into the world” to spread the message of the path, teaching and helping others to transform.

Below is the actual interview that Olga was kind enough to find the time for. In it, she shares about her path and some of the precious discoveries along the way.

A: First of all, a question I like to ask: how did it all start? In which circumstances have you realized that your path was that of practicing and teaching yoga?

O: I was working as a financial analyst after getting my MBA when I started to take Vinyasa Yoga classes at a local gym in Wichita, Kansas. I was drawn to the vinyasa practice as it reminded me of my dance experience in Russia, and it was great to move and stretch with music after 8 hours of sitting in front of computer and doing lots of numbers. After my honest attempt to build a finance career, I suddenly felt that this path was not for me. I wanted more out of my life – with it being so wonderful and precious and full of discoveries -that spending it in the office with just two weeks of vacations per year was somehow not how I wanted to live. I packed books on yoga and went to babysit French kids of a lovely surfing family in Hossegor, France. Having plenty of free time and immersing myself in reading about Yoga Philosophy, I found in those books what I was always interested in: the journey within, the inner quest to finding out who I am. I felt a deep desire to dedicate my time and energy towards studying and practicing yoga. Going into a teacher training program was a great way to delve deeper into both the philosophy and the practice, Yet,  I didn’t know which school or method to go to – all I did before was vinyasa classes in the gym setting with zero chanting or spirituality. The desire to teach was only born during the Jivamukti teacher training course.

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Photo credit: Ludovic Baussan

A: Why did you decide to practice the Jivamukhti Yoga Method and later teach it to others? What makes it special for you personally?

O: I attended Yoga Conference in San Francisco after my return from France and took classes of different yoga methods to find out which one would draw me most. After taking chakra tuning class with Sharon Gannon and a workshop with David Life, founders of Jivamukti Yoga method – I was convinced that it is the method I wanted to be a part of. This method is not limited to you and your asana performance, it takes one on a journey of self-transformation. The teachings of Jivamukti Yoga challenges the way our society lives and thinks, expanding awareness of interconnectedness. The method is a strong advocate for a compassionate vegan lifestyle, which, In my opinion, is essential for a yogi or yogini, and for well-being of our planet Earth. Being a Jivamukti Yoga teacher or practitioner means being an activist, so that every action we take in some way contributes to the benefit of all, becoming the change you want to see in the world.

A: You also practice Vipassana meditation and some of the Buddhist ethical principles that come with it. What brought you into it and what do you find difficult about the daily practice?

O: At the same time I was reading on yoga philosophy in France in 2009, I tried to meditate for the first time in my life. Setting the alarm clock for 5 minutes I remember opening my eyes 3 or 5 times to look at the clock. Meditation was something I didn’t understand and had hard time sitting even for 5 min. I recalled a friend talking about Vipassana meditation courses on my way to France. I googled it, found a course in Italy and signed up. After 10 days of silence and sitting for 10 hours a day, the 5 min struggle seemed ridiculous and proved to me once again that our potential as a human being, as a spiritual being, is incredible and definitely worth exploring. With each taken course, I have a deeper understanding of the meditation technique and the practice changes in its quality as the concentration and awareness become stronger. The most difficult part for me is to find the discipline to do the daily practice: even after having taken 9 courses, it is still difficult to commit to sitting daily regardless of the events of the every day life. Vipassana meditation is a great blessing in my life, for which I am forever grateful.

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Photo credit: Ludovic Baussan

A: Besides the physical practice, there are other “limbs” of yoga on the path of self-realization: the practice of yogic ethical principles, breathing exercises, concentration techniques, and different levels of meditation… From what I understood about you, it seems that you truly practice all of them. Which limb of yoga do you find the most challenging for yourself and which aspect of yoga is it the most difficult to teach to others?

O:The most challenging limb of ashtanga yoga for me is the first one – the Yamas. Yamas represent our relationship with and how we treat others. Non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, not misusing sexual energy and non-stealing are the five codes of elements of the Yamas. When looking at my day-to-day life, I can see how I’m missing out on these practices, in my thoughts, words and actions and that’s why it is a life-long practice. My decision to be vegan is one of the ways of practicing the Yamas, as Sharon Gannon explains it in her book Yoga and Vegetarianism. And it’s the same limb that I find most difficult to teach to others. Why? Because it takes a special kind of teacher to be able to change the prejudices, habitual tendencies, and cultural memes we grew up with and that are so ingrained in our minds and behavior that we don’t even question their validity and consequences.

A: Do you also sometimes feel that the modern yoga is moving too much in the direction of the physical practice, losing some of it more “spiritual” aspects?

O: Modern yoga, in my opinion, has always largely been focused on physical practice. But it’s a good starting point. Then it’s up to each individual how deep they want to go. And I hope that with growing yoga communities around the world, there are more and more people who decide to delve deep until the very core of it. Within Jivamukti method, where non-violence, devotion, meditation, study of ancient yogic texts and yoga of sound are the five principles, there is much invitation for spirituality.

A: As a yoga studio owner, do you find it sometimes difficult to balance “giving” and “receiving”, family and work, business and spirituality?

O: Giving and receiving is easy if one does not focus on the receiving, but rather on giving;  then receiving becomes natural and subtle. My husband is a Jivamukti yoga and martial arts teacher. Teaching yoga can hardly be called work, it’s more of another aspect of the yoga practice that we love and are passionate about. And we do our best to bring yoga into our family and relationship with each other and our children. It’s important to always keep in mind the clear intention behind teaching yoga. If you don’t loose the pure intention, your yoga business will not be an obstacle on the spiritual path, but a way to share the teachings. Integrity is the right word, integrity in all aspects of life, and between thoughts and actions.

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Photo credit: Olga Oskorbina

A: What would you wish others to known/understand about yoga?

O: That it’s a journey of getting into our original state, state of peace and love. It’s not about acquiring new skills, getting more yoga friends, or mastering asanas. My teachers say: there is only one asana, and it’s a joyful asana. You can’t do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. The asana practice only reveals to you where you are resisting your true nature.

Olga will be teaching the following classes at the BYC 2017:

Friday, July 21 • 11:15 am – 1:00 pm

Sunday, July 23 • 8:00 am – 9:45 am

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