Part One: Path of the Yogi
By Ali Valdez
“What I propose is something that is effective: not too easy and not too hard. You always choose for yourself modification if needed, but the general structure is the same except for intensity of the yoga. But if you always choose easy, easy, easy, you will die undeveloped. This I can guarantee.”
Few people have the diversity of life experiences, the veracity for the abhyasa and vairagya of yogic studies coupled with the karma of being both a seeker and the good fortune of finding. An international traveler from a very early age, Ukrainian yogi master, Andrey Lappa, has been on a road few dare travel. I had the pleasure of interviewing and working with Andrey earlier this year in Houston, Texas where we spent time discussing his innovative and unique contribution to yoga, a scientific method cultivated over years of interdisciplinary studies throughout the world, Universal Yoga.
The name itself, ‘Universal’ yoga, was born out of practical differentiation catering to the American marketing mentality. Having come to the States twelve years back, Andrey was constantly asked by yoga studio owners what to call his ‘brand’ of yoga. Seriously, how would a studio owner fill an event simply labeled ‘YOGA’ with a teacher sitting in Paschimottanasana? Being a man whose heart is true to the authentic spirit of yoga, Lappa was a bit flummoxed, jokingly calling his method “yoga- yoga.” Finally settling upon a name, Andrey felt his style incorporated the full spectrum and universal aspects of yoga and thus began the Universal Yoga system.
Originally from the Ukraine, and having spent extensive years throughout Europe, Southeastern and Central Asia, Andrey now spends half of the year (the cold, winter part) in the Himalayas in Nepal devoted to internal practices which I had the pleasure of studying with him in Asia last year. His journey into yoga reads part spiritual awakening and Lonely Planet travel guide.
His father was sent from Kiev back in 1976 to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Back in the Soviet era, activities were readily available at no cost for all families. Lappa, a world-class swimmer, was a busy young man in bustling Kiev, only finding himself in a remote, now underdeveloped environment with nothing to do after school.
“Back in Ukraine it was Socialist, so many special programs were there for children. I was very busy. Busy with educational stuff. In Mongolia, nothing was available.” He sought and found inspiration the moment he arrived in the dusty capital city that summer.
“I remember our train arriving with all our furniture to Ulaanbaatar. While we waited it was hot, so I opened the window. Then a camel stuck his head into our train car. There were not camels in Ukraine. I was a boy and there appeared my first impression when we came to Mongolia. I was so impressed, I still remember that head of camel.
So I know that camel inspired me to study something unique to the East.”
After settling in, one day Andrey walked by an Eastern equivalent of a ‘monastery.’ After looking in, Andrey found his “uniquely Eastern” inspiration and decided he would devote his after school time watching, learning, then participating . Already fluent in multiple languages, Andrey quickly learned all their chants and became fascinated with the spiritual Eastern traditions he was observing.
“My father made arrangements for me to attend and study under a monk at the monastery where I learned Mongolian, about Buddhism rituals and puja (form of worship). Mongolian traditions come from Tibet, and the monk there was always talking about Tibet.
I did not imagine that was yoga; I was just lost in the presence of that beautiful spiritual influence that I had there. When I left to go back to Ukraine, I was glad but I also knew I lost something very special.”
Returning to competitive swimming, Andrey began looking to diversify his training, develop his breathing and found himself drawn back to Eastern influences, choosing martial arts and yoga.
Over time, he realized that the path of martial arts was focused on self-defense, “to push someone down” and yoga was where the real potential was because it is about “non harming”. This somehow brought back the work he had done at the monastery. From there, he avidly dove into yoga, having access to forbidden books, and finding an easy and ready retention of all that he learned.
Once challenged by his coach’s ultimatum, Andrey’s decision was made and yoga increasingly and profoundly became his primary occupation. The culmination of his experiences, physical conditioning, and exposure to Eastern traditions all comprise elements in Andrey’s Universal yoga system, popularly known for creative mandala style sequencing, digital balancing and innovative asana creation, including arm stretches to balance out the multitude of stretches in earlier times reserved just for the hips and more variations on arm balances than an acrobat would employ during their tenure. But beneath the conditioning of the body, or ‘hardware’ as he calls it, there is a need to maintain and keep healthy, the software. This is the heart of the Universal Yoga system.
“Karma. Why do we have suffering? Dualistic thinking. To overcome this, we use techniques in yoga which has this name ‘unification – to be one with the supreme’. There is no antagonistic thinking, no struggling.
According to book two of the Yoga Sutras, we must overcome kleshas or sufferings. How is method for this? Ten minutes of meditation and pranayama each day is NOT enough time.”
Andrey’s methods actively include rigorous asana, believing at any point there are four levels of physical development for the practitioner and at least twenty percent of the class sequence should be beyond their abilities, so the sadhaka can continue to develop and grow. In addition to the physical work, practices can go past three hours with muiltidimensional turns on the mat creating influences on the body and the brain, intricate integrated pranayama techniques, concentration techniques including mantras and yantra visualizations.
“Universal yoga we practice yoga on the every shell (mayakosha). We have practical tools for every shell. Most teaching in United States are external practices only and the ego is not affected.” Andrey points out that this is a problem it is the ego that will make you run away from the practice.
“As soon as we cut a little deeper using rasas, we meet internal challenges that come out. Some people have childish karma and childish thought. With time and practice, internal challenges become internal changes.”
In essence, the Universal Yoga value proposition is conditioning and transforming the practitioner at every shell of their being, architecting one’s personal karma from the inside out to the point of unification.
“Computer has software and hardware. Corpus of laptop very flexible, this is yoga on the physical level. But the software was not changed. You can go inside and see ignorance, suffering and a strong ego. Internal practices most classique. Software is more important than hardware. But hardware has suffering so we practice vinyasa and asana to learn to control our energy.”
Next month, join us for Part II of the Andrey Lappa Interview, to learn more specifically about the science of the practice, the conditioning and balancing of all koshas and more.
For information or registration for Andrey Lappa’s event in Seattle September 26th-30th, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website: sattvayogaonline.com/andrey-lappa.