Leading teacher in the school of Transformational Yoga “SRIMA” is Diana Skydaniuk. She is also a principal of the Ukrainian branch of the Yoga Alliance International (YAI). Her experience includes 15 years of personal hatha yoga practice and around 12 years of being a teacher. Throughout the years of personal practice she has been taught by masters from Ukraine, Russia and India. Currently Diana Skidanyuk is the only person in Ukraine possessing a title of Grandmaster of Yoga.
We publish here an interview which reveals the main stages of Diana’s yoga path and her personal view at practice.
I: Hello Diana. Let’s begin with a trivial question. How did you get acquainted with yoga?
D: First time I had hatha yoga introduced was in 2001. I had an opportunity to learn an interesting sequence that I’ve practiced from time to time. But it was not a regular practice.
I: Could you tell more about this sequence and who was your first teacher?
D: My first instructor was Viacheslav Aleksandrovich. Viacheslav wasn’t a teacher in a full sense. He simply shared with us a certain knowledge he obtained while serving in the Soviet Army – he was an intelligence officer on Hungarian territory in 60’s. At that time servicemen underwent different sorts of experiments due to the USSR intended to prepare “ultrasoldiers”. For this quite non-traditional methods were applied. Now yoga is something common. For instance, the U. S. army soldiers practice asanas as a part of training. But what exactly were Soviet soldiers taught and what were the methods – they didn’t know. Nevertheless, some of ex-officers kept on using the knowledge for the whole life – they practiced sequences and some even started to “dig” and search for information to find out what exactly they were taught. I’ve been impressed with physical condition Viacheslav had that time, aged 64. He was exceptionally strong, flexible man who wielded his body far better than many trained (!) youngsters who attended his classes to explore the system. Especially I’ve got impressed by Viacheslav’s sense of balance as he jumped onto rickety table and performed padangusthasana (it is difficult to make it even on stable surface). The complex itself consisted of few asanas and abdominal manipulations (uddiyana bandha and nauli) all together lasted 15 minutes maximum. Probably this first experience and object lesson what you can do if practice regularly, what quality of life could be reached even in seniority – persuaded me that life without hatha yoga is far worse than with life with it.
I: What was the reason for interest in yoga? By that time it wasn’t that popular as it is now.
D: Before I got acquainted with yoga, I have been doing practices for several years which constitute essential part of yoga. But I personally learned about them from other spiritual traditions. For instance, contemplative exercises, practice of the “observer” when a person tries to be present here-and-now, observe himself from the outside, without being distracted by an inside chatter. And also I’ve been practicing lucid dreaming. It was important for me since I’ve been emotionally unbalanced person and I strived for control of myself at least a little. Before I’ve discovered yoga, I read all sorts of literature I was able to find (that time internet in Ukraine simply did not exist), tried all kinds of methods – useful I’ve applied in daily life, nonsense – winnowed out. All this knowledge I’ve received not from yoga sources, but from different traditions. However, judging impartially, my practice has started 20 years ago, so it is hard to say now which tradition served as a primary source for my knowledge.
I: So what encouraged you to practice yoga purposefully?
D: It was an interview with Andrew Sidersky I watched on TV. While watching it I simply realized the person has changed a lot comparing to early video. And I decided to find out what this “yoga” is, how it works and apply this knowledge to myself. I should admit, by that time the subject consisted of myths, false images of yogis who seat in a lotus posture under the palm tree and meditate while at night they sleep on a bed of nails. I had no idea what I’m going to deal with. But I was determined to find all the peculiarities of this tradition so I have attended classes of all the instructors in my home town Lutsk and traveled to Saint Petersburg, Kiev and Moscow to learn there, also I’ve been to seminars in the Carpathians.
I: And was it enough?
D: I’ve tried to read literature and learn classical texts, but it didn’t go smooth with books of prominent yogis. The only author I’ve managed to understand was Swami Satyananda Saraswati, although I disliked his dynamic approach to hatha-yoga. I preferred static approach – prolonged fixation of body positions, namely asanas.
I: So you have decided somehow to integrate everything?
D: Not at all. I’ve decided that hatha-yoga would stay in my life apart from my worldview and the rest of practices for a while.
I: And what made you follow instructor path?
D: The universe did. Sometimes I asked myself how do people determine to become teachers. I need to say that time no one suspected some trainer courses had existed, that is why people’s readiness to trainer’s career was built on independent and sometimes overconfident decision. The first alliance was established in the USA, if I’m not mistaken, at the beginning of 2000s. And this organization conducted certification courses. Then Indian Alliance followed them and Ukraine joined the trend far later. But getting back to the topic, once I’ve been asked to replace an instructor in a group as administration failed to hire someone quickly. I supposed to work there around 3 weeks, but eventually stayed for 4 years. Since that time I constantly notice that Universe is pushing me in this direction.
I: How exactly do you see that?
D: Quite often I find myself in the right time at the right place when it comes to yoga-related business. Acquaintance with Swami Vidyanand, for instance, and I treat it as a turning point. I simply wanted to discuss with him some issues regarding registration in Alliance. He had graciously agreed and after the talk suggested to teach me and invited to India. I tend to trust the Universe, that is why I went to India with no idea what I should expect from training. It is impossible to express my surprise when in the hall after another class I’ve founded a photo of young Swami Vidyanand being blessed by founder of Bihar School of Yoga – Swami Satyananda Saraswati. When I asked Swami Vidyanand why did not he tell anyone he has been a disciple of Satyananda Saraswati, he replied shrugging his shoulders, that he had been taught by many. I should say, I’ve been interested in the teaching of Swami Satyananda Saraswati for years. But this system is not that worldwide popular as Sri Krishnamacharya’s branch. For this reason it is hard to find an instructor who possesses the real knowledge. And so my wish came true – I’ve been trained by person who had been spiritually initiated by founder of Bihar School of Yoga.
I: What is so special about Transformational Yoga?
D: School of Transformational yoga follows not only traditions of Bihar School of Yoga, but also includes methods of Integral yoga, founded by Sri Aurobindo and his spiritual campaigner SriMa. Transformational yoga method is complex. It comprises a variety of practices and affects all human spheres at the same time. If to highlight only asanas as a part of system, it is worth to mention that static approach is in use – this is something consonant and clear personally to me. Such approach totally coincides with my point of view and conclusions I’ve came up to after a long years of practice. Precisely fixation of asanas leads further to complete relaxation of all muscles. During the training of such kind the balance between tension and relaxation could be reached.
I: And how does this affect the physical body?
D: Our body has been designed for we to use it, in other words, slack leads to destruction. In this case there is no chance to be healthy. That is why it’s important to learn how to strain whole our body and perform this systematically. And we should learn how to relax for not to use all our energy on keeping muscles in permanent tension – we do it even while sleeping. Thus, we could use “saved” strength for our purposes more effectively.
I: Let’s say tension that helps to find strength is essential for everybody, but there are many who also abuse relaxation. Do you think static exercises would fit them too? What for they would need it?
D: Observe yourself for a moment now. Pay attention to your face and now to your chin. Is it relaxed?
I: Yes, it is relaxed when I do not talk.
D: So why doesn’t the jaw sag then? I can see the gravity is in force, so how does the chin holds when you believe the muscles are relaxed?
I: OK, now I get the idea. We do not feel our own body and judgments about its state are wrong.
D: Exactly. And yoga helps to get acquainted with our own body. This is the first important step. But human consists not only of physical body. That is why yoga path implicates also contemplation of own emotional reactions, mind and consciousness functioning for later to move from observation to routing and conscious governance of this life spheres. This is a tough way that requires efforts. It is great when a person who followed the way and systematized knowledge appears and ready to share with it. Me personally was lucky because there were such people who showed the proper direction. And I sincerely wish everybody to have great teachers and successful practice. Namaste.
I: Thank you for a conversation. Namaste.
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