Baburaj Raghavannair: The secret to bliss? Mastery, devotion and love

Welcome to the episode #7 of the Good Karma interview series!

What’s the “secret” to mastery? “Practice”, of course.

Or “correct practice”, you might say.

And how do you know you’re practicing correctly? “That’s what a teacher is for”, you might add.

Well, Baburaj did what most of us would have thought impossible. He learned and practiced all by himself - with nothing by BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga book as his guide.

And he did that everyday for 10 years. 10 years!

What can 10 years of focused, disciplined practice do for you? Keep reading to find out.

I felt incredibly lucky to speak with someone with the kind of focus, determination and dedication that Baburaj demonstrates. But even beyond that, it is his compassion and love that will win you over.

Here’s the complete audio of the interview:

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Early years

Baburaj’s father passed away when he was 14.

Soon after, his older brother discontinued studies to work and fend for the family.

While Baburaj had been drawn toward a more spiritual life even before these things happened, these incidents pulled him further toward the life of a monk.

Fast forward a few more years. He’d now completed graduation and was ready to leave home: To lead the life of a Parvrajaka Sanyasi - a traveling monk, who is never “attached” to any one place.

He would rely on the Bhagavad Gita and other texts to guide him while starting to embark on this phase of his life.

A note for all parents reading this

Baburaj shared an interesting insight that is quite useful for all parents reading this. Looking back at his earlier years, when he was reaching adulthood - he feels that, had he been more fortunate, he would have certainly gained from better guidance, more company, a deeper friendship with his parents.

For me personally (as a parent of a 7 year old), this was a great tip. I’d been leaning more toward the thought that as our children reach adulthood, we should step away more - and let them make their mistakes, go through their individual struggles and learn to stand on their own two feet through those difficult, but necessary experiences.

Here is Baburaj’s thoughts on this:

It is important for the parent to be emotionally available to the child as they reach adulthood.

To make the time to lend an empathetic ear to listen to their children when they want to share what they’re going through.

Not to give advice, but just to be a friend who keenly listens.

Getting attacked...at 3AM

Baburaj was now routinely doing long walks to get accustomed to the life of a traveling monk.

It was 3AM in the morning. He was walking back from Guruvayoor (the famous temple town) to his hometown, Thrissur - a 28 KM walk.

At one point, there were no streetlights.

The pitch darkness made me uncomfortable, afraid. I turned around and started back toward Guruvayoor again.

Soon, I was stopped by 4 men, all very drunk.

In the conversation that ensued, things got heated. And then, one of the men hit Baburaj on the chest.

Thankfully, it ended there and the 4 of them went on their way.

But this incident shook Baburaj so much.

He realized he needed to become stronger: Both physically and mentally.

Some questions he asked himself:

Why did the pitch darkness scare me so much? Why could I not think of something to tell those 4 men, that could have calmed them down?

It was now clear he needed to grow in a different direction.

He chose Hatha Yoga.

Getting started..

Why did he choose Hatha Yoga? He’d seen his brother practicing it for a long time already. So, he knew how to get started. In fact, he’d himself tried it once in the past and discovered that he was already quite flexible.

Who was his teacher? The Light on Yoga book, by BKS Iyengar.

And to continue on the path of spirituality, he would combine chanting mantras mentally while performing asanas.

That was the plan. For how long would he do this? As long as it took. To get stronger physically and mentally. That was the goal.

It was a tough life. I was earning a meagre Rs.500 [$10] per month at the time working as a bookkeeper at a local firm. I would return home from work, freshen up and start practice.

I was lonely. Didn’t interact with anyone. My practice was the only thing I did after work.

The practice

For the first two years, he practiced just 2 asanas: Bhujangasana and Paschimotasana.

When I tried the forward bend, I couldn’t reach my toes. My spine needed to become a lot more flexible, before I could try more advanced postures. So I stuck with the basics for the first 2 years.

[In the pursuit of mastery, this is called the deconstruction - breaking down the skill into its fundamentals - and then honing those basic pieces with repeated practice.]

He continued his self-practice and training for a total of 10-12 years in obscurity, before he was “discovered” by the outside world.

Avoiding boredom, retaining focus, achieving acceptance.

I personally found it difficult to even imagine practicing just 2 asanas for 2 years, forget actually achieving it. My mind is always looking for “new” things - to avoid boredom.

I asked Baburaj how he was able to maintain such focus and discipline and not get bored.

He laughed :).

For me, the yoga practice was the time of self-exploration. I would chant mantras mentally to help me go deeper into myself. It was a time of deep meditation.

When he’d first started practicing, he was unhappy with the state of affairs and his difficult livelihood.

But after the first couple of years, he gradually moved into a state of acceptance and started to feel the peace he’d always been seeking.

Mastery

What can 10 years of practice do for you? Watch the following video to find out.

The Chinese Bamboo

Have you heard of the legend of the Chinese Bamboo? The story goes that, for the first 3-4 years, the plant hardly shows any sign of growth. But if you keep watering it, tending to it through those years - one day, it’ll start to grow. And then within a few weeks, it’ll grow to be many feet tall.

Baburaj’s story is similar. He’d been training for 10 years. And then one day, his neighbor asked him.

Will you teach me suryanamaskara?

And that was the beginning of the next phase of Baburaj’s life.

That of a teacher.

Medals, certifications, international travel

Since Baburaj’s goal in training himself in yoga was purely to grow spiritually, he’d never explored the world of yoga teaching and training during those many years of practice.

But after that initial stint in teaching his neighbor, the word started to spread. Baburaj won prizes in competitions. More teaching engagements followed. And that was how Baburaj started being known as a yoga teacher.

After another year or so, he was then invited to teach at Bangkok.

Are you a certified yoga teacher?

That was the question he was asked, when he started the visa application process.

The fact that you could get “certified” as yoga teacher was a new concept for Baburaj. He looked around for various options to get certified and eventually signed up for a teacher’s training course at the SVYASA institute in Bangalore.

As I was going through the course, I discovered that I’d taught myself the asanas and pranayama techniques correctly during those years of self-training. That was good feeling.

Baburaj continued his training in other places as well, including the Sivananda Ashram in Madurai.

It was there that he met his future wife Amandine - who had temporarily moved from France to learn yoga and dance in India.

baburaj-with-amandine.jpg

International experience

Baburaj has since taught at locations all around the world: Thailand, Russia, Ukraine, Laos, France.

What has been experience teaching at these places?

The goals of most yoga practitioners, is largely physical in nature. I found little interest in going beyond the body or to grow spiritually.

But he would still encourage his students to grow spiritually, where ever there could find a translator who could convey his thoughts to foreign students.

Today

Baburaj is currently back home in Thrissur to take care of his ailing mother.  

Yoga is not about asanas and flexibility. It is about love and helping others stand on their two feet.

He hoped to continue his teaching journey, when his mother feels better. Until then, he’s in her seva.

Baburaj also sings Bhajans. Listen to him singing and you’ll also feel the love that he spreads.

Tips for practitioners

I asked Baburaj to share his thoughts on his journey so far. And to share his tips for yoga practitioners everywhere.

His response:

It’s fine to start with asanas practice. To get into a discipline of practice. And to stay out of depression. But don’t get stuck at the asana stage. Keeping moving forward. Learn to be compassionate and less selfish.

Life is always teaching us. Every challenge we face is a lesson. And it’s one lesson after another. Whatever the situation is, if we can face it, accept it, without complaining, life will start to “flow”. That is yoga.

Conclusion

Before I started writing these interview notes, my mind was a bit agitated. Full of thoughts, fears, anxieties.

But just sharing Baburaj’s journey through these words has made me feel peaceful.

I hope you feel the same way, after reading this.

Needless to say, if you can make time to listen to him speaking, nothing like it. Just scroll all the way up and hit play.

How to contact Baburaj

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/baburaj.raghavannair

Website: http://www.yoga-pranidhana.com/

About Good Karma


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