Aug 19, Mysore, India
Tania Ryneiskaya: There is not much information about you on the Internet, and I couldn’t find any articles in Russian. So, I know that you live in Australia, but where are you from originally? How did you decide to move to Australia and when did it happen?
David Roche: I was born in the state of Georgia in the US, in the deep South, in 1944. I was trained as a modern dancer in the Martha Graham technique. I was teaching and dancing in New York, and then I was invited to teach in several universities.
From the universities I was invited at one point to go to Australia and help to start the first Bachelor of Arts course in modern dance at the University of Adelaide. I was to go for 9 months and I have stayed for 35 years.
I had managed to establish this modern dance course which was going well but later the university decided to amalgamate with two other universities in South Australia, and I was made redundant. It was then I decided to go along my yoga path rather than sticking with the dance. That was when I was 40 years old. I already had been studying yoga part-time but then I decided to come here to Mysore to study fulltime.
Tania: You run a yoga shala in Australia, right?
David: My family has the yoga shala, I travel to teach. My family keeps the yoga shala going. My son and my daughter-in-law, his wife. My daughter has moved just this past Friday to Chili so she is no longer going to be in Australia. She and her husband and her three children. He is Chilean, I haven’t heard from them yet that they have made it. It was going to be a long trip.
Tania: Do you travel all the time? Or do you take breaks? I have seen that you have a lot of workshops this year.
David: My break is to go back and stay in Australia during the summer months because I prefer the heat to the cold, but now it is still winter there. So I do my touring when it’s cold in Australia and warm in the Northern hemisphere. And then I go back to Australia in the summer, so I follow the seasons to stay warm. I schedule my touring according to the seasons, and it seems to suit most people wherever I teach.
I feel that any student who comes here deserves to be recognized as an individual and that’s my way of doing that.
Tania: How did you start to practice Ashtanga yoga? Do you remember your first practice?
David: It depends on what you call my first practice. Are you talking about Ashtanga yoga or are you talking about all the way back to the beginning of my experience?
Tania: Can you tell how you started to practice Ashtanga yoga and about your first experience of yoga in general?
David: I have been studying other forms of yoga – all the way back to the dance form that I danced. I think of it as a form of yoga – the Martha Graham technique is a very yogic form. They use different words for mula bandha and uddiyana bandha, but it is the same. The movement is the based on pelvic control. So, that was my first technique and that I started when I was 19 years old. But then I moved on later to study Hatha yoga and my first experience was in Japan in 1988.
I took my son to Japan, he was 11 at that time. We went to do something called a Life Encounter course in Oki yoga. Masahiro Oki was a Japanese master. He had passed on by the time I got there but he had senior students who were teaching. So my son and I studied that. I was enjoying the asana part of that very much. The teachers suggested that I had a great yoga teacher in the city in which I lived in Australia, although I didn’t know about it because I hadn’t studied any yoga.
That master teacher was Shandor Remete who now goes under the name of Zhander and he has developed his own form of yoga knows as Shadow Yoga. It was Shandor who inspired me to really delve deeply into yoga and the teaching of yoga.
At the time I started studying with Shandor (1988) he was teaching Iyengar style yoga. I stayed with Shandor for six years and then went to Pune to study with the Iyengar family at the Iyengar Institute. That same year I decide to come to Mysore from Pune to study Ashtanga yoga with Pattabhi Jois.
I had gone to Hawaii to participate in a workshop by Guruji (Pattabhi Jois) in1991, but 1995, was my first experience to come here to Mysore. I have been coming to Mysore almost every year since.
Tania: Your background as a dancer – what impact did it have on your practice, in your point of view? Did it affect it in a positive way?
David: That form of dance that I do, that I did, had so many similarities to what we do in the Ashtanga yoga. The movements themselves are based on generating motion from the pelvic floor, just as it is in yoga. So it was a natural transition for me into Ashtanga. I can still remember those lessons in that form of modern dance, as I do my practice now. They are very beneficial to what it is that I do now. So, this is a very positive influence on my Ashtanga yoga. Even some of my transitions into postures such as Kapotasana in Intermediate series – they are very similar to something in technique of modern dance called “The Exercise on Six”. When Guruji was alive and I was doing Kapotasana I would use that transition to get into the posture, rather than the other (classic) one, and he did not mind at all. He watched what it is that I was doing, and (for me) it was more effective way of getting into the posture. So I used it.
Tania: A few days ago I noticed that you put the names of the students on the list. Do you remember all (of your) students? Why are you doing it?
David: I feel that any student who comes here deserves to be recognized as an individual and that’s my way of doing that. When do I get to know their names? First I see their faces and then I hear their names, often I will ask where they come from or from which cities and that helps me to remember them. Then I have a much more personal relationship with them when I come around to assist them, they are not simply being just another body for me to work with. They have taken on an individuality. They have taken on a persona. This I enjoy working with, and we can have a discussion. A discussion seems to be more personal if I’m working with your body than if I am just giving a blank criticism to somebody I don’t know. So yes, I remember all the names.
Tania: Yes, I believe, it is very important for the students too.
My energy would go up and I would be fine through my practice but then I would crash down, and would then need another espresso to go back up.
Tania: Are you a vegetarian?
David: I am, totally.
Tania: (Have you been one) all of your life?
David: No, I started in 1987, after reading an article about the pain and the terror that animals are going through in their slaughter, when they are taken to be slaughtered, to be killed for food for us. And that terror releases enzymes within their bodies that we consume within our own bodies. And I thought – that’s it, I am out of here, that’s finished. I am not going to do that anymore. So it was like this.
There was no question, so from 1987, and until this point, I don’t touch anything with a face. I do drink milk, I’m not a vegan. I drink a lot of milk. I’m more of an Indian vegetarian. I don’t eat eggs, though. But anything coming from a cow (is fine). I like milk, butter, curd – all of that is important. Otherwise I stick with Vata recommended food as part of an Ayurvedic diet, it is very strict for me: no sugar, no caffeine.
Tania: No caffeine? How about the famous phrase “No coffee – no prana”?
David: No coffee. It leaches the calcium and my body needs calcium at my age. Also, everything I eat and drink is warm.
Tania: But what is your view on taking coffee in the morning before the practice?
David: Before I gave it up, I was having it every morning. It was the first thing. My wife gave me a beautiful Jura coffee machine. All I had to do was press the button and it ground the beans and made an espresso and that’s how I started my morning. My energy would go up and I would be fine through my practice but then I would crash down, and would then need another espresso to go back up.
Now I start my day with milk with an Ayurvedic product called Bheemashakti which is what Guruji used to tell us to take, it’s a paste, a rasayana or rejuvenative and I also take Kesari Shakti Kalp with saffron and gold. This if a form of chaywanprash which is good for boosting the immune system.
Tania: And Ashvaganda and Shatvari?
David: Yes, I take those and warm milk with spices in the morning and in the night.
I start my practice at 3AM before any of students come in. I leave home at 2:40AM, and I go to the shala and start.
Tania: What do you usually eat for breakfast?
David: For breakfast I have oatmeal and amaranth porridge also with almonds that have been soaked overnight and peeled, because one doesn’t digest the almond skin. You need to peel them. Yes, oatmeal porridge, or anything warm. I don’t eat fruit for breakfast. I will have bananas in the middle of the day, but not for the breakfast. I don’t eat apples and dry fruits, but I eat bananas, berries – juicy fruits. My body needs juiciness. As you get older, you get dryer. The joints and connective tissue dry up, so you need to keep the body with a lot of liquid; hydrated.
Tania: What would you recommend to eat in the evening before the morning practice?
David: In the evening I eat chapattis and drink milk. I just need something very easy and light. My main big meal is between 2-3PM. So I’ll eat my breakfast after I have finished working with students in the shala – In the morning, about 10AM. That will sustain me through till about 2PM. And then I make most of my own food here, at home.
So, at night I just have chapattis, sometimes with the peanut butter. I don’t take anything like vegetables (in the evening). Sometimes, when I teach, for example, in France, they don’t eat until 8PM. I will have finished teaching my workshop at 8PM. and then they start preparing the food, so they don’t eat until 9PM, and I cannot do that. So I said – we practice in the morning, and if you cannot do that I cannot teach a workshop. So they changed their lives to get up at 6AM and start practicing. After this I could have a decent teaching day and also sleep at night.
Tania: You are in a perfect shape. Do you have any tips on how to save energy, to be in form and in balance?
David: The practice and my attention to the practice; keeping the practice constant, this I am doing all the time. Everything is contributing to this. The food is important, as I told you already. (Sleep is important). I try to sleep 7 hours if I can. I keep myself quiet for the rest of the day. I go to Dr MA Jayashree and Professor Narasimhan where I do the chanting: Bhagavad Gita or Yoga Sutra – that is a big part of my day. And the rest of the time is quiet, as much as possible. Usually I stay at home, I don’t go out. That seems to help me to stay in form. When I’m in Adelaide, if I need extra cross training, I will do Pilates. I have a student, a former student of mine, a dance student, who is a teacher of Pilates. So I go there and work with her, just as a sense of getting a different perspective on things, that I can apply back to my (practice).
Tania: What about your own practice now?
David: I start my practice at 3AM before any of students come in. I leave home at 2:40AM, and I go to the shala and start. So I will do some warm up things that I need to do, I will often do headstands and shoulder stands and variations, as beginning of my practice to strengthen my back then I will start my Ashtanga practice. I will do all of Primary series and as much of Intermediate as I have the time. Often I feel pressed to start helping Saraswathi if there is a lot of people there, but I will work as far as I can into the Intermediate.
Interview by Tania Ryneiskaya