A conversation with Yiannis Mukta Om, yoga master01 March 2017 - interviews
When Yiannis Mukta Om was a child, he wanted to be a professional soccer player. However, a chance encounter with a poster of his guru, Sri Dharma Mittra, while studying in New York changed his life course. Today, Yiannis is a yoga master, something that requires a similar athleticism to a sports player, but with a different focus. He focuses on the heart and mind—patience, compassion and understanding are the cornerstones of his practice. As a yoga master, meditator and devoted practitioner of the practice of Self-Realisation, Yiannis’s story is one of the inner world, believing that the mind is able to create positive changes in the internal and external worlds.
The Mindful Company (TMC): Where were you when you decided that you wanted to move to New York?
Yiannis Mukta Om (YMO): I was in Greece at that time and I had a friend from New York. Initially, I just went to visit to see and experience the city. [I wasn’t planning] to stay, just to visit. I went to school to learn English as I went on a student visa. So at the beginning, before I discovered yoga, I was at school to learn the language.
TMC: How did you meet Sri Dharma Mittra?
YMO: Well, a friend of mine mentioned yoga and he told me that there was a studio teaching classes so I thought, “Okay, let’s try that” because I heard from people that it’s good. I went and took a few classes and really liked it. And after one class, I saw a big poster that had a photograph of my teacher and master when he was younger. I asked who he was and my friend told me that he was here [in New York]. So I went to visit him and took a class with him. So that’s how I met him: through a poster.
TMC: Why did you decide to fully immerse yourself in yoga?
YMO: It came to me naturally. At that time, I was searching for something, not just the physical. When I took [yoga] classes, I really experienced something that was not the same as regular exercise. I used to do lots of fitness, sports, gyms and all that. [With yoga], I felt it from within, like a calling, that this is something that I can do to improve my health and also to help others. It came naturally, like a really, really beautiful transformation had happened.
TMC: Can you tell us more about the practice of Self-Realisation?
YMO: Self-realisation is in the yoga system. It is the ability to place yourself in others. To see yourself in others. This is the first step of self-realisation and that comes when the practitioner—and this doesn’t have to do only with yoga—seeks for something that’s more internal and eternal. It’s something that comes naturally and helps with compassion. It can bring insight to the practitioner about who he is, the real self inside of him. It can take a lifetime for some people—it depends on the person.
We can describe the goal of life as the desire inside a person. It brings eternal happiness. Only when the person realises his true nature is he truly happy. Before that, he is suffering, in pain, or bored, because the happiness that he experiences is subject to time—it comes with time and is not internal.
It’s very difficult to describe self-realisation in words, because it’s a state of mind. It’s something that is very unique and personal for the person that the practice reaches. But I believe that the ultimate goal of life is to realise who you are.
TMC: Is the practice of Self-Realisation attached to a certain religion?
YMO: No, like spirituality, it’s beyond religion. My view is that self-realisation has nothing to do with religion or yoga. You can direct all that you have learnt in yoga and the process of self-realisation to anything that you believe. So you can practise it no matter your religion.
TMC: Is it like self-awareness?
YMO: Yes, there are many different ways to describe it.
TMC: What’s the biggest lesson you have learnt as a yoga teacher?
YMO: Patience and understanding. Patience is really important, because you have to cultivate that quality to meet people’s needs and of course, your personal needs. It helps you to progress and it’s something that I’m still learning and cultivating. But I can say that [the biggest lessons are] patience, understanding and compassion.
TMC: Why do you think it’s so difficult to be patient?
YMO: Because we are living in a very distracted society. Plus, we grow up with technology early on and our education gives us intellectual knowledge, which creates disturbance within us. Very few people are in touch with nature, and that creates agitation and doesn’t help patience to grow.
TMC: Can you give us tips on how to develop patience in a distracting world?
YMO: I believe one of the things that can help is the breath. Mindful breathing. You come back to the breath when you catch yourself [feeling agitated]. The mind is very busy and agitated, but you can train yourself to come back to your breath.
And one more thing: Observe nature—how things accept us, how other things move in nature. This is also a very good lesson because [nature] moves differently from humans.
TMC: What does success mean to you?
YMO: To me, success is something to do with the deepest desires that we have. You can succeed in the material way and that can bring some kind of satisfaction and recognition, but success to me has a deeper meaning. To realise and understand things—this is the real success.
TMC: When do you feel moments of success and how would you describe it?
YMO: Peace and eternal joy. Something that comes from the mind, like joy, peace, harmony. That’s how I can describe it. Moments of unity with everything.
TMC: How do you overcome self-doubt?
YMO: All negative beliefs are just a facet of the mind. You have to use knowledge from masters, teachers and of course, the ancient books. Self-doubt and negativity belong to the small self, the personality, and can create lots of disturbance.
But know that you’re more than that. When your mind goes to those [negative] places, recognise and embrace that part of yourself. You [need not] fight it and that’s how you usually transform it.
Or have a person that can help you [embrace] the positive aspects [of] you. Sometimes we need help from other beings when [you’re experiencing self-doubt]. Everyone needs help.
TMC: What would you tell your 20-year-old self now that you wish you knew then?
YMO: I wish I knew about yoga earlier. But when I learnt yoga, with the help of my master, I realised that everything is perfect, everything is running according to divine laws. I suppose I [wasn’t meant to] meet yoga at that age. But if I could, I wish I could have done yoga a lot earlier.
TMC: What characteristics do you most value in other people?
YMO: I value humbleness, humility and compassion. Not judging, respecting all beings, loving all beings, being compassionate—that’s where self-realisation is. Compassion is the first step of self-realisation.
Yiannis Mukta Om spent over 10 years studying daily under Sri Dharma Mittra, one of the greatest yogis of our time. Yiannis is visiting Singapore for the first time and will be conducting six yoga classes at The Yoga School from 3 to 5 March 2017. Classes include Maha Shakti, Yoga Nidra, Maha Sadhana, Psychic Development Techniques as well as a Master Class. All levels are welcome.
You can find the full schedule and sign up here.
- The Mindful Company Team