Talking Shop with Aadil Palkhivala

If there were a dictionary definition of “renaissance yogi,” Aadil Palkhivala would fit the description. Born in Bombay to a family of lawyers, Palkhivala started his training with B. K. S. Iyengar at age 7 and by age 22 was the youngest student to earn his Advanced Teacher Training Certificate. As a child, Palkhivala was also introduced to the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and Mother Pondicherry, whom he cites as his spiritual teachers, along with his wife, Mirra, who teaches a form of transformative spirituality.

Today Palkhivala can add lawyer, certified naturopath, <a href=”/health/ayurveda“>Ayurvedic practitioner, and bodyworker to his credentials. He co-directs Yoga Centers in Bellevue, Washington, with Mirra and runs a food company called Eastern Essence Organic Whole Foods.

Yoga Journal:What was it like studying with Mr. Iyengar as a child?
Aadil Palkhivala: It was very intense. Iyengar is a very strict teacher. Though not as strict now as he was then! Since I wasn’t exactly born supple, I had to work really hard to get the movement he wanted. But he was more than just a teacher to me-he was also a friend. He would come over to our house, and we’d have breakfast and lunch and all that. Often he would stay at our house when he came to teach in Bombay many weekends. So we got to know the other side of him, which is one of the major reasons my family stayed with yoga. Had we only known him as the powerful teacher, we may not have continued. But the other side is very beautiful-gentle, sweet, childlike, full of fun, loves adventure.

YJ: Obviously your asana teaching is based on the Iyengar method, but can you talk about how you blend other styles into your teaching?
AP: We have a very firm belief that yoga is very vast. I cannot say this is my yoga and that is your yoga. I believe that yoga is so big that we all have to share what we know. So I believe that the blending of knowledge is very important without losing the essence of what you are teaching. I can’t teach Ashtanga; I can’t teach Viniyoga. But I can learn from them and see what is appropriate in my system. So that’s what I do: I teach mostly physical yoga in the Iyengar tradition and the internal yoga is based on my wife Mirra’s transformational meditation teaching and Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s teachings.

YJ: With your busy schedule, how do you find time for your own practice?
AP: There is just no option. Every morning I get up, do my basic rituals, and then go and practice. Practice is the first thing I do. If I miss the practice in the morning, I never practice! So it just goes without saying: I always do my practice first thing in the morning.

YJ: How does your background in so many vocations affect your teaching?
AP: It really helps to have experience in different fields. Then when you are teaching, you can tap into the different experiences and use language that resonates with different people. For example, one of my greatest loves is poetry-and I’m talking about classical, gorgeous, romantic poetry from Browning, Milton, Keats, Byron. And when I quote these, it makes a huge difference in class. Similarly, if I use a legal term or an anatomical term, it resonates with certain people, and it makes the class richer.

YJ: What advice do you have for beginning yoga students?
AP: I think the main thing is finding a teacher who truly knows the subject, which can be a tough thing because if you are new student, you don’t know if your teacher knows the subject. This is the main pitfall and the main joy of being a beginning student in yoga. It’s a time to explore and find somebody who truly knows their job. And then stick with that teacher for a good five to 10 years. And then of course yoga becomes one lifelong journey to internal revelation.”