OUR GURUJI. OUR TEACHER.
Gu = to move towards. Ru = light. The role of a Guru is to help you move towards light.
Since 1987 Andrey Lappa has moved thousands of his students and disciples towards the light of liberation. Aside from the time required for his own spiritual journey, Andrey has devoted most of his life to create yoga teachers who become vessel for his knowledge, and yoga masters who can impact societies by furthering his yoga lineage. in cities of the former USSR, USA, Israel, Germany, France, Greece and Nepal. Andrey Lappa is considered the knowledge custodian of many different lineages as a result of his pursuit in archives and libraries of Indian States,
Life Journey of a Yogi
“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.”
“If we are looking for liberation, we need to investigate the complex of karmic motivations that you have from birth. Babies on their first hour already have character and tendencies, why? They don’t have life experiences but they have a previous life. It is very important to understand karma rules.”
In the first part of the interview, Andrey was discussing yoga as a tool for eliminating suffering or kleshas, as outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Universal Yoga system has been designed to create a well-developed state of balance by conditioning each of the mayakoshas, or shells.
For the conditioning of the first shell, ‘hardware’ as Lappa calls it, Universal Yoga employs rigorous asana and vinyasas that work the body multidimensionally in space and are perfectly balanced to put influence on one’s consciousness, or citta. He uses asana as a balance of energies so the inside work of the second shell can be accessed. He believes in working the body in all five dimensions in space and conditioning the physical body in all seven ways, including the oft forgotten coordination and reaction and in the era of lightning-fast vinyasa, endurance.
“We don’t start with sweating right away; first we understand what it is we do, then we begin. In music, just like you need to know how to use all keys on the piano, you also need to work the body in all directions and full mobility of the joints and the spine.”
Another important tenet of Universal Yoga is the importance of sequencing that is also balanced evenly across dimensions in space, planes of the body and types of body conditioning which is why you will see unique in the Universal practice turns on the mat, shoulder stretches created by Andrey to compliment those of the hips, and digital balancing across the composition of the asana and pranayama sequencing. You don’t have to be a geometry major or Rhodes scholar to devise either very simple or stunningly labyrinthine configurations in beautiful harmony, an energetic mandala of movement with the human body.
“You want to leave balanced, not with disbalance. You need to reach the point of internal peace. Karma is surrounding you. We want to impact all seven shells, but we start sending energy signals by getting our muscles moving. We take care of our organic shell by how we eat, how we move our bodies and where we devote our time. 24 hours a day, we are accumulating karma. So one hour per day you do yoga, something very good. But 23 hours per day you don’t. What becomes heavier on the scale?”
Balance across all seven mayakoshas is one of the aims of Universal Yoga. He understands that attention only to the hardware, or body, leaves us unchanged in areas of tendency, habit, and predisposition.
“So if you have American dream: property, children, parents, you are always working hard and staying busy to find happiness. Non-stop civilization, when you finally die then you can relax and be happy. You don’t own things: your things own you. Karmic freedom: either you have it, or you don’t.”
Universal Yoga was designed to aid the practitioner to reign in the monkey mind, the citta running wild, and get to a state of where one’s thoughts are under control.
For the second shell, Universal Yoga employs pranayama combinations and other energy exercises. “Ten minutes of pranayama and meditation is not effective,” he says simply. Lappa typically will lead mandala classes in excess of three hours to allow ample time for all layers of mayakosha to be influenced. Depending on which way Lappa wants to effect the energy through sequencing or pranayamas, either circular, crosses, symmetric, assymetric, visamavritti or samavritti, as much mindfulness is made in the course of the students’ breathwork as in the complexity of the asana.
The remainder of the shells are also influenced accordingly as Lappa teaches how to use rasas, operating from your own personal power to overcome the will, pratyahara techniques to suspend the flux of the five indriyas, or organs of perception in the body, cognitive senses,through yantra and mantra. For the fourth shell, Lappa’s Universal Yoga skillfully weaves in meditations and concentration techniques that are accessible to all students.
“On a mental level, information is our food. Don’t let poison install onto your hard drive by being programmed by TV. Computers, TVs, iphones are all universal installers of ideas onto your mind. Vijnamayakosha is the concept of idea, the intellectual shell organizing our minds into who we are in reality. Our senses are five internet lines always connected to the wall and downloading, and without conscious work, you have no anti-virus software.”
Universal Yoga strives to help the disciplined practitioner overcome the elements of the four previous shells to enter into ananda, creating an authentically blissful state where people can truly be happy and content. Lappa believes on the sixth level, the cittamayakosha, exists samskaras, latent tendencies that play out in your present life from past ones, “if you can overcome any patterns, habits, automisms it will be another state of consciousness.”
From there, we can enter into atmamayakosha, the soul itself, or as the Light on the Yoga Sutras by BKS Iyengar says, “Mastery of contemplation brings the power to extend from the finest particle to the greatest.”
Lappa is the first to admit that although Universal Yoga is available to everyone, not everyone is ready to embrace the depth of what Universal Yoga can be:
“Time in my course will answer whether or not you really want to practice yoga.” When speaking with Lappa, setting aside the strong Ukrainian accent and directness in his speech, he is a humble and gracious man,
“It’s not about me; it’s about the essence of science. If you want to have results, you have to challenge yourself and understand your motivations. Wrong motivation in yoga will lead to wrong result.”
Truly Eastern at heart, with a vast travel, yogic arts, and contemplative repertoire scanning Russia and its former Soviet states, and both southeastern and central Asia, he has been teaching yoga for many decades to different types of students, and certainly embraces the more traditional Eastern view of student and teacher which can sometimes confound the Western minded student.
“Yoga is that related to evolution. I enjoy teaching in Eastern cultures that understand the meaning and purpose of teacher. They respect and they do. It may not always feel ‘good’ but they do it because they trust the teacher has the right result. You must challenge yourself on the physical level just like sports or there is no development. If you can always do 100 percent of the teacher’s practice, you are not pushing yourself. Twenty percent should be undoable so you as a student can have extra goal and grow.”
Part of being a teacher, Lappa also believes, has nothing to do with pushing dogma about yoga, just making sure that as yoga continues to expand in the West, it doesn’t fall prey to shallowness but can evolve with the full intention of what the science of yoga can offer faithful practitioners. He offers freely his wisdom and insights to all that show interest.
“I bring science of yoga. Under the name Universal Yoga, I give people universal laws which can be represented in all styles of yoga, which is basically about yoga itself. All my teaching is only about these principles.”
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