LILA YOGA is unity within life

Yogacharya Erica Kaufman - Erica Kaufman, MFA, E-RYT500+, is the founder of Lila Yoga and the owner of Lila Yoga Studios in PA, USA. She is a life long student of JidduKrishnamurti’s philosophy and Krishnamacharya’s teachings. Erica’s mother introduced her to yoga at age 9 and she has continued as a devoted practitioner ever since.

Teaching since 1984, Erica has the highest Registry with Yoga Alliance, been awarded Yoga Journal’s Karma Credit, and is featured in numerous publications: The Times of India, DNA India, THE WEEK-SMART Life Magazine, Centered Magazine, and Center Daily Times, along with European and American TV.

Workshop at The ICCR, Kolkata
Erica is faculty at Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado, the world famous International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh, India and at the Penn State University in America. Erica teaches the ancient wisdom of yoga as a daily practice and is dedicated to wellness and appreciation of life. As a mentor to yoga teachers, aspirants, and community members alike, Erica tours the USA, Europe, Israel and India teaching the full spectrum of master classes, workshops, and teacher training programs on Lila Yoga, Movement Improvisation, and Contact Improvisation. Recently Erica conducted a  4-day programme on Lila Yoga Surya Namaskar and Lila Yoga Asana Practice at the  Abanindranath Gallery, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), Kolkata and taught in Chennai as well.

What is Lila Yoga?

LILA YOGA awakens energy in our yoga practice & our lives. It is a holistic vinyasa practice that aligns body, breath & intentions. Yoga postures become playgrounds to awaken, explore and unite with prana—the universal life energy.

You see LILA YOGA combines physics & consciousness. Lately it’s feeling like a revolution of love and life! You see lila is the Sanskrit word for the loving-creative divine rhythm of life. Yoga is Sanskrit for unity. So LILA YOGA is unity within life.

Why practice YOGA in a class?

One of the most magical things about yoga is how it can melt away differences and illuminate our common humanity. Yoga is a practice that continues throughout our lives. We learn from each other. We are a community of diversity with a common heart truth.

What we do on our yoga mat should not stay there. In fact what we do on our yoga mat is only useful if it is applicable in our lives at large and how we relate to each other, ourselves, and situations.

I am forever thankful to the community of people I meet and the opportunities to learn and grow and discover.

As a teacher, I learn from each person who practices with me. I learn from teachers who I once taught and trained. Life is a beautiful opportunity to learn and evolve.

Being together in a yoga class offers us the opportunity to be in each others presence and respect and honor the journey we each need to go through. Yoga is a life long practice that provides tools to support a healthier way of being.

How did yoga become such an integral part of your life?

I was sick as a child. I was suffering a lot with health. My mother is  a smart marvelous creative being who was very interested in  Krishnamurti and his philosophy. Through this she learned about yoga and Krishnamacharya. She started to teach me pranayama, meditation & simple yoga postures. It had a profound effect on me. The first time we practiced, I felt a sense of ‘vacation from suffering’. That’s what I told my mom. It was powerful in a great way, so I wanted to continue practicing and we did. We continued ever since.

What do you like most about yoga?

I like that there is no end to it. Yoga is an extraordinary expansive and complete science of the human experience and our potentials within that experience. I so appreciate that every aspect of human  nature is addressed within it.

Stress, tension, frustrations, depressions are key things identified in today’s youth life. How can one get rid of such symptoms through Yoga?

Yoga is extremely powerful.  Even just allowing 10/15 mins a day to practice can enable healthier thoughts and energy within our lives. Yoga enhances our coping abilities, recovery capabilities and capacity for joy. And all of this is measurable in the neural receptors of our brain. Science has shown if you practice yoga, you can actually create an environment within the brain that is more receptive to positivity and to relaxation.

Workshop at The ICCR, Kolkata
Many of today’s youth have grown up with constant access to computer devices. These devices are amazing but can also pull us out of the current moment. Think about how rare it can be to just walk down the street and not being caught inside of your own thoughts or inside of your own computer/phone. I think this has been a real challenge for the youth. They grew up with it.

It used to be that doctors were the only ones who had to deal with the stress of being on call. Now everybody is on call all the time. We don’t have as much down time that is free of devices (phone, television, etc).  I’ve seen first hand how many youth suffer from anxiety, stress, tension and even panic attacks. Those of us who are in the field of yoga can extend ourselves with compassion to our marvelous youth and offer to sit quietly with them for a few peaceful minutes.

Yoga has tremendous benefits for children and it would be fantastic to see this integrated in schools. Do you possibly see this happen in the future?

 Yes. Traditionally India has offered yoga in school. I think India  is at a pinnacle point right now between tradition and modernity. I  hope India keeps its India spirit…and yoga is a big part of that beautiful spirit. Perhaps some think that it’s more modern or sophisticated to abandon the great science of  yoga. But honestly, I have never encountered anything more current or sophisticated than yoga. So, no matter how modern or posh a school is, I do hope that the basics of life skills that yoga can offer us continue to be an integral part of education.

Do you see any trends or tendencies in yoga industry?

In the US, for the general public, there’s been an emphasis mostly on fitness and the physical beauty that results from the physical practices of yoga. Now, there seems to be more interest in meditation. In India I’ve noticed that there’s a shift happening in the past 7 years or so, where yoga is not only being offered in traditional ashrams and schools but in studios as well. I plead to all of India to keep the heart of yoga honest. As yoga becomes more available in studios, I plea to the studios owners to keep the integrity and depth of yoga as a central focus.

My body is very fit, but that’s not my focus. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Yoga supports me and feeds me, excites and stimulates me. Through the application of yoga practices I learn how to rest my troubles; how to broaden or clarify perspectives; how to elevate awareness. These aspects of yoga are profound and have contributed into my health in all aspects of my life.

Do you have any advice for beginners? How do we start?

Find a good teacher. Even before you find a good teacher know  that inside of each of us is a wise teacher. There is a part of us that  is wiser than our years. We just don’t listen to our wiser self. We don’t listen to our higher soul. Even if you are not in a position to finding a teacher, try to sit with yourself (even for few minutes) to be peaceful. Relax your body. Relax and slow your breath. Feel a peaceful heart. Allow yourself to enjoy being in a quiet state of being. Allow yourself to develop a relationship to that particular state of being.

Here it is in a nutshell: What you think and how you are, affects  everything about the way you act in the world. Taking a few minutes a day to relax and be peaceful can allow a calmer mind to make wiser decisions that are in harmony with the heart.

Workshop at The ICCR, Kolkata
Do you believe yoga can act as a catalyst for World Peace?

Lately I’ve been interested in inner-peace. Science shows that when we are within a calm, peaceful, healthy mind, we make better decisions. Yoga can bring about these qualities and help establish them within our ways of living. If we can start locally, I believe it will affect us all globally. Let’s each take time to cultivate a calm mind and a peaceful heart. And within that state of being, wish well for everyone, everywhere always.

This conviction is evident thought yogic literature and traditions. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the first ethical declaration is ahimsa—non violence. He states that when we are firmly established in yoga, all hostilities cease. In order to live peacefully, our breath, heart, mind, words, actions towards others must also be peaceful.

So yes…I do believe that the tools of yoga can be a powerful catalyst for inner-peace, which in turn leads to peace within thoughts and actions, which leads to more and more peace in our world. There is a beautiful mantra often recited in yoga practices that serves as a declaration of such peace:  Lokah Samastah Sukino Bhavantu—May All Beings Everywhere Be Happy and Free.

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