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The Art of Happiness in Yoga – Interview with Simon Borg-Olivier at BaliSpirit Festival

What is Yoga Synergy? What is the aim of physical yoga? What is the art of happiness? Simon answers these and more exciting questions in this short interview shot during the 2015 BaliSpirit Festival. Watch it now or read the text version below. Warning: you might learn some shocking truths about popular yoga… 

Join Simon at the upcoming BaliSpirit Festival: March 29 – April 3, 2016. Early Bird passes are still on sale here. Also check out the Yoga Synergy website.

Interview between Simon Borg-Olivier and Andrea Paige

Andrea: Hi, my name is Andrea Paige. I’m at the Bali Spirit Festival 2015 and I’m here with Simon Borg-Olivier and we’re going to talk a little bit about yoga and the business of yoga and perhaps your own journey.

Simon: Andrea it’s very lovely to be here. Thank you very much for inviting me. I’m honoured and privileged to be here at all and really happy to be talking to you. Thank you very much.

Andrea: Thank you. It’s an honor to be seated with you as I’m a new student of Simon’s. Well how did you decide then to put that into an institution and create a centre?

Simon: I never did.

Andrea: You never did?

Simon: Bianca never did either. We just had to have a name, you know so every yoga school has a name so we thought, all the things I mentioned, Yoga Synergy, but there was never a Yoga Synergy style. We just had a name. But, what we noticed was when you really take into account how the body works, take into account also that the Western body is different to the traditional body, not as babies but by the time we grow up, then it makes sense that no matter what yoga you do if you apply certain principles then yoga works better and it’s those principles of an understanding of the applied anatomy and physiology of the modern body, applied to anyone. I can teach anyone’s yoga and find better ways of doing it, but the best ways of doing it are using the special techniques, sequences and practises that we’ve used and we’ve ended up calling the Yoga Synergy Sequences. But actually I never wanted to call it a Yoga Synergy style; to me it’s just doing yoga. Iyengar never called his yoga Iyengar Yoga, he just called it yoga you know, so it’s the same with us. But in the end there is a particular system which we’ve developed, which we can use to give anyone which we could call the Yoga Synergy style or approach.

Andrea: So you say that you didn’t start Yoga Synergy as a business or an institution, was it people around you who were pulling your knowledge or your wisdom out of you?

Simon: Look I mean I’m fairly useless when it comes to administration so if I have to give any credit to making the institution that we’ve got as Yoga Synergy, I have to credit Bianca Machliss because she’s the clever girl that put it all together, so that I have to take no credit for. She’s organised, all together we’ve had five schools that we’ve opened, we’ve got a massive web resource, we have online courses and stuff like this and most of that and I do administer the online courses. And we’ve also got a branch where we’re actually running our online courses as part of a Master of Wellness degree at the RMIT University based on Melbourne. They’re online courses where you can get them as accreditation for your Master’s degree or Undergraduate degree. One is called ‘Body, Breath and Movement’ which is essentially the applied anatomy and physiology of yoga. Another is actually called ‘Teacher Training Essentials Yoga Fundamentals’ and that we teach as part of this university course. We also teach a separate version of the course publicly for my Yoga Synergy website, but both of those courses you can get online as university courses and that’s also what we run as part of Yoga Synergy.

Andrea: I mean it sounds amazing to have not only the institution itself in Sydney but sharing it globally via the web. I mean I would say that what you are presenting from my own personal opinion is not only incredibly brilliant but also really successful.

Simon: Oh bless you, well it’s fun.

Andrea: I mean how does that success come about? How would you define success both in the business world and in the yoga world as a Yogi?

Simon: The biggest success in my life is the realisation that there’s only three actual things that you have to do to make life work:

  1. Enjoy your life.
  2. Look after your body
  3. Help other people enjoy their lives.

Three things, you know it’s not more complex than that. There’s a guy called Bernie Clark who’s worth reading and one of the things he said was classical yoga and samskara yoga are not about union at all. There’s often this thought about purusha and prakrti; where purusha is ultimate consciousness and prakrti is everything else and actually that type of yoga is trying to get a divorce straightaway, they even wonder why they got together in the first place. Whereas for me it’s like, many people have tried drugs for example and are like ‘let’s get out of it’ whereas along the yoga path you realise that actually it’s really nice to get into it. Get into your body, feel connected, here and now and that to me is yoga. And so the essence of physical yoga is to be living in your bodies, be in this world, here and now. Who knows about the future? Who knows about the afterlife? But really people are happiest when they actually choose happiness for a start. The hard version is have a really miserable life, have a really sick body and still be happy. That’s yoga. It’s easy to have happiness when you’re wealthy, when you’re physically fit, strong and healthy. It’s much harder to do it if you’re sick and miserable. But I’ve been blessed to see Indian people, some of them in India or even in Bali living the most miserable life, sometimes with no arms and no legs and they express a greater amount of happiness and contentment in their live than I see rich people living in Australia. So the art of happiness is the real secret of yoga, it’s Santosha, can you actually go ‘I’m happy with what I’ve got’. You don’t find happiness, you don’t wait for it, it’s something which you’ve just got to choose to be and that’s something that’s the ultimate realisation of yoga and daily life. But that can be done whether you’ve got a healthy body or not, but it’s much easier with a healthy body so my suggestion is Enjoy your life, choose to be happy, but take care of your body because when you take care of your body it’s much easier to enjoy your life and then with a healthy body you can help other people enjoy their lives.

Andrea: And how do you do that in your life? What is your giving back?

Simon: Well, one step at a time, like Mother Theresa said how do you change the world? One person at a time. But, my passion is teaching yoga with one on one conversations, with my friends, with the people in my classes, that’s my passion. I love to share and connect, but it’s limited. So if I had a choice I’d rather have a hundred people with the same passion in a room and like this wonderful Bali Spirit Festival to have the bliss, the honor of having one hundred and fifty people in a class, just there, it’s magic. Put up your hand if you’re a yoga teacher, half the people in the room put their hand up. Put up your hand who practises yoga, the other half. So everyone’s a yoga teacher, if you practise on yourself your teaching yourself so to be in that bliss of being able to share things like I’ve told you now with a hundred people at once, that’s better and if they can go share it with a hundred people at once that spreads it through the world a lot quicker I figure. So that’s what would be nice.

Andrea: So I told you I just came from moderating the Tantra panel and there was a big discussion there about the essence of a guru and how to make sure that in the world of today, this 21st century of Mia where we have lots of people who are perhaps misleading people, there are many scandals now of all these gurus and their yoga styles and this and that. How do you make sure in your personal life, your business life, in just you living yoga that you can maintain integrity and authenticity in what you do?

Simon: It’s challenging in a world where sexuality is so important to many people. The way we look is important to so many people. That there’s so much in the world of girls looking at boys, boys looking at girls, boys looking at other boys and girls looking at other girls and everyone’s having this stuff so to let go of that is quite difficult for anyone and a lot of people end up falling by the way side. And I feel so sorry for many of these gurus who get told that they have done sexual misconduct and it’s like they’re just human beings and I feel sorry for them. And I also have problems sometimes with different people but I try as much as possible to treat people equally. I love hugging a beautiful girl, but I love hugging an old, ugly person as well, I love hugging a big, fat, smelly man. I’ll hug anyone, I’ll hug anyone you know, but it’s funny how if someone sees me hugging a beautiful woman there’s often judgement, if someone sees me hugging a man there’s another type of judgement. So I try not to judge others and I’m hoping that the resonance of me not judging others and trying to be equal to others will spread eventually. But none of us are going to be infallible, myself least of all, you know you can’t judge others, it’s unfair to judge others and I think if we all remember this and try and do our best and try to spread the best, maybe that’s the best we can do, it’s the best I can do. It’s a funny world.

Andrea: So as we have seen here yoga is your life right?

Simon: Yeah.

Andrea: This is your aim as a Yogi you could say, your living every day not only to the yamas and the niyamas but also every aspect to share it with your students and everyone worldwide. Is there anything in life still that you feel you haven’t mastered, anything that still stresses you?

Simon: Totally, totally. Yes of course. The number one thing that stresses me out most is that.. I often tell girls who reach the mid-thirties stage, and often come to that point at mid-thirties where they go ‘Am I going to have a child or am I not?’ And I always say to them it doesn’t matter because if you have a child you are going to be focused on them for the rest of your life and it’s going to be really hard to focus on much else, not impossible but much harder. Whereas if you don’t have a child every child in the world is yours. And this is the same with me because a male has that as well, maybe not as strong as a woman, but for me it’s that I’m torn; I want to teach the world, I want to share with the world, I want to learn from the world but I want to be with my kids. And that’s my biggest stress; how can I be a good father to my two beautiful children and still share my message for the world? And that’s the biggest stress. And part of that stress is to be a good father to my children I’ve got to feed them. They’re expensive to run; they’re really expensive to run. So part of that stress is what I was saying before about the way I think yoga should be taught. Yoga should be taught slowly, gently and safely. There’s no shortcut, but in the beginning it can seem boring. It’s not something which should just excite you with endorphin release and over beating of the heart which will make people think they’ve got yoga. You can make someone generate endorphins; stimulate blood flow to the brain so they think they’re on. If you make people breathe a lot they’ll get really spaced out but that’s just cutting blood flow to the brain. You jack people’s nervous system up by shooting adrenaline through them by jacking up with back bends and making them tense their tummy they will secrete endorphins and adrenaline. They will feel like after a class like that they’re just like marijuana in the brain, cocaine and then heroin and they’ll finish the class going ‘I feel great, I’m on a high’. No, you’re just stoned. Whereas this yoga which is very popular in the world; over tensing, over breathing, over stretching is popular in the short term but it leads to problems. You become a drug addict and it leads to joint problems as well. So this yoga actually, it’s better if you teach people slowly and gently, but that’s boring and it’s not that exciting for many people so when I change the focus from my stimulating and exciting, drug generating yoga which is still taught today to the slower, more gentle but much more effective long term yoga you don’t get as many students so the problem is then you don’t earn as much money. So ethically I know what I have to teach but it’s a hard path because it’s not the most popular yoga. The most popular yoga is what’s being taught mostly today which is essentially very similar to the aerobics of the 1980’s which we know had problems with peoples bodies and what many people teach now is no different to the aerobics of the 80’s or 90’s but it’s almost worse because you’re doing more dangerous postures; squashing peoples backs, overstretching people’s knees and that’s my biggest stress probably that I could earn more money to feed my kids if I taught that popular yoga but ethically I can’t do it. So that’s a little bit of a quandary.

Andrea: So how could you say that you’re still making money and that you’re incredibly successful?

Simon: I’m a reverse millionaire. I owe more money than I ever have. I owe a million dollars. I earn less money each year than I actually spend so I borrow more. I’d like to earn more money, but ethically I can’t do what it would take to do it. That may be a contradiction to some people. I’m not a successful financial person. I love sharing my message, I earn enough to feed my kids but every year I borrow more from my bank. That’s the truth of my finances, which is a bit of stress.

Andrea: What is that here to teach you, I mean in the greater realm of life?

Simon: In the greater scheme of things maybe I should be taught to be a financier, but I don’t want to be a financier. I want to share the message of yoga so I’m hoping that someday some financial boon will come to me that will enable me to feed my kids. Or I’ll be happy with my life which I’m doing and eventually my kids will grow up enough and maybe they can earn enough money themselves and I won’t have to feed them.

Andrea: Yeah.

Simon: Which is all I want really.

Andrea: It’s a very Indian way.

Simon: It’s very Indian.

Andrea: Also though what if the whole world wakes up to understanding that yoga can be safe and we have a new way of being natural in our body.

Simon: That’s what I’m searching. That’s what I’m looking for. We need more people like you.

Andrea: The third door, I’ll go for that one.

Simon: Yes, yes. I’m going for that one too. That’s why I don’t mind borrowing more money every year because I feel that for the long term the world is becoming more and more connected. I don’t want to go down the Rupert Murdock path, I want to go down the let’s all get connect path and I think if you know that means for a while borrowing a bit more money from the bank I don’t mind. What’s the expression? They say that if you die and you owe a thousand dollars to the bank you’ve got a problem but if you die and you owe a million dollars to the bank, the banks got a problem and I live with that one. I don’t know it’s just fun. It’s all just fun. Do your best without aggression or violence in body or mind to yourself or others, be happy with the outcome, do it in a loving way and I think that’s a good approach to yoga and life. That’s what I try and do.

Andrea: Thank you Simon.

Simon: Thank you.

Written by : BaliSpirit 

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