The Unexpectedness of India

Laruga Glaser has been visiting India for over 15 years and loves how the country and its people still surprise her.

Sacha’s Shop in Assagao, Goa, is a restored bungalow where designer Sacha Mendes curates her collection of clothes and accessories. The space will soon be shared by the Tamil Table, a new restaurant run by Sacha’s husband, Chef, Karthikeyan S. SanātanaYoga was invited to a preview dinner of the restaurant’s menu by our dear friend, Chef Sam Shem, and I met Laruga Glaser for the first time at this dinner. I was in touch with her over email and messages, and was going to interview her at Purple Valley Yoga, Goa, but I was delighted when Sam told me she will be at the dinner. I had only watched Laruga in videos and photographs — I was glad to find that she possesses the same ethereal quality in real life too. Her lithe figure sways more than it walks and she speaks with few words, only when necessary. I was intrigued at our first meeting and couldn’t wait to interview her at Purple Valley Yoga two days later. Here’s what we spoke about:

Sophia: Why did you choose the ashtanga method?

Laruga Glaser: When I was first entering yoga, I was exploring lots of different methods. Even prior to that, my introduction to yoga was through its philosophy. I came upon the Yoga Sutras and the eight limbs of ashtanga, which I found very interesting. There was something about the philosophy that really struck me. Even at a young age, I understood asanas. Being someone who loves movement, the practice drew me in. But it wasn’t just asana practice that drew me to yoga, my introduction was through the philosophy.

I was experiencing back pain and when I practised asanas, it was helping me a lot. I tried many things when I had this pain — doctors, physical therapists, but nothing helped. So I decided to try yoga and started with really soft forms of yoga. It was the one thing that unlocked the problems in my back. It struck me that these asanas have a healing effect and from that point on, I started to research yoga more and pursue various methods. But, when I found ashtanga, it felt quite complete. The rhythm of the vinyasa and the sequences went beyond my logical mind, and just going through the pace of this practice sunk in really deep. The experience was enough for me. I didn’t need an explanation. The feeling was enough to convince me that this was the practice I want to do.

Sophia: What is your relationship with India?

Laruga: This is my 15th or 16th trip to India. It’s such an interesting place to practise and study yoga. India is about expecting the unexpected. It teaches you to surrender and let go. I was born in the US and live in Sweden now, and the West is predictable. India is not predictable and I love her unpredictability. It’s perfect to deepen your yoga practice. India has a way of getting under your skin. In a frustrating way at times, but also in a positive way. Every time I come here, I spend time in India and when I’m packing and feel ready to leave, I always end up in tears on my way to the airport. You don’t realise when you’re in India. You only realise when you leave and you miss it. That’s how India gets under your skin. For me, it has gotten into my blood. I have come to love and appreciate the culture and people. Indian people really take you in. It might be someone you met at a shop or at the chai stand but they remember my name even if they haven’t seen me for a few years. I find it fascinating how Indians really take you in and make you belong.

“India is about expecting the unexpected. It teaches you to surrender and let go. I was born in the US and live in Sweden now and the West is predictable. India is not predictable and I love her unpredictability.”

Sophia: How is the yoga that’s practised in India different from yoga in the West?

Laruga: I have had contact with Indian students and taught briefly in India. I even connect with other Indian practitioners as I visit India as a student too. I find that Indians tend to be more relaxed about everything — in a good way. The ashtanga practice is demanding and challenging. I feel it’s important to be relaxed through the process and I appreciate how relaxed Indians are about their experience. I was recently introduced to a group of students in Mumbai, and I was inspired by the energy. They were so focused and working hard, and wanted to deepen their practice but were still relaxed. I think in the West, people tend to get a little bit tense and pushy sometimes if we are not careful with the practice. But hopefully, long term practice will iron those issues out. Another thing Indians do effortlessly is bhakti, their natural devotion to their practice as sādhanā. I think sometimes that has a way to sneak up on western students — they even resist it. But, in India, bhakti penetrates a student’s practice at an early age.

Sophia: What is your connection to Purple Valley Yoga and Goa?

Laruga: Purple Valley Yoga is the reason I come to Goa. I hadn’t been to Goa prior to doing retreats here. What makes Purple Valley Yoga so special is that it is an ashtanga yoga retreat. All the teachers who come here are ashtanga teachers, so I feel blessed and lucky to be part of that heritage. The retreats have been going on for over a decade. It’s a special place that is connected to the lineage of ashtanga yoga and the practice.

Sophia: What advice would you give to students who are new to the ashtanga method?

Laruga: It might sound simple, but get started. I have met so many people who have said they want to try ashtanga, but never do it. So ya, get started. Once a student makes the commitment to get started, I would stress to them to think about long term results. This practice has a lot of challenging postures and at first, it seems elusive. I can identify with that feeling when I think of myself as a beginner. When I first started, I didn’t think I could do many of the postures in even the first series, but what kept me going and sealed my commitment was how I felt after each practice. Even if I failed at doing a certain asana, I still felt great. I felt a deeper connection with myself and more calm and relaxed. That feeling after each practice kept me pursuing ashtanga even though it is difficult. So I really tell students to understand that yoga has immediate benefits and long term benefits. Asanas can take time, so don’t get deterred by difficult asanas. Those difficulties will make us stronger and greater versions of ourselves.

Sophia: How do you differentiate between yoga, religion and spirituality?

Laruga: The reason I delved into yoga is because it is experiential. It’s a practice that makes me revisit or rather, it helps me to adopt an attitude that goes beyond identification, status, rules, etc. Before finding yoga philosophy, I was searching for religion. I was born into a certain religion, but I was always interested in various religions. Luckily, my parents were open-minded enough to let me explore. I think moral values are important to me and I always found a disconnect with my spiritual self till I started practising yoga. When I started practising yoga philosophy, I understood that it enables a transformational development that is not found on the outside, you have to find it within. That’s what really drew me in. The core of all religions are good, but many religions required me to adopt or live up to certain rules and expectations in order to be a good person. The spirituality of yoga works through an internal connection. That internal connection motivates me to be a better human being a lot more than living up to the expectations of an institutionalised religion. That to me is pure and true spirituality.

Laruga Glaser is a Sweden-based Certified Ashtanga Teacher. Find her teaching schedules, here.

March 19, 2020
Photos Simon Meier

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