|Teacher Profile: Arun Deva|
|Written by Felicia M. Tomasko, RN|
Ayurvedic Practitioner And Yoga Teacher Who Asks Himself, “What Would Hanuman Do?”
“Since 1984, I’ve been trying to leave Los Angeles.” Considering that it is currently the year 2010 and Arun Deva still lives, teaches Yoga and Ayurveda and practices Yoga therapy and Ayurveda – all in Los Angeles (and points beyond) he hasn’t managed to leave yet. And it’s a fortunate thing that fate has kept him in this city since 1975.
It’s fortunate as the crises and chance meetings which have taken place in LA have paved Arun’s path to integrating a life that not only embraces the teachings and practices of Yoga and Ayurveda, but is fully framed by the ritual and routine inherent in these traditions.
When asked what he did or studied before living an Ayurvedic lifestyle, Arun’s answer was that he studied excess. It’s a common field of study these days.
His transition from excess to remembering the family wisdom to which he was introduced as a child was instigated initially by a health crisis in 1990 that nearly took Arun’s life. While grateful to Western medicine, he was left looking for something that offered real and sustainable answers. A cry of help to the universe delivered via unexpected messengers, as often occurs. In Arun’s case, the messenger was a frequent customer in the restaurant he was managing, owned by sister. So it happened, this lunchtime regular was an acupuncturist, herbalist and practitioner of Ayurveda who began encouraging and mentoring Arun, inspiring him began testing the philosophy and practices of Ayurveda on himself, with reportedly phenomenal results. This was in 1993 and that mentor was David Crow, author of In Search of the Medicine Buddha, co-founder of The Learning Garden at Venice High School, teacher and sustainability expert and founder of the ethical essential oil company Floracopeia.
David Crow was far from Arun’s first mentor for Ayurveda, herbs and the teachings of the dharma. As a child in India, Arun spent a lot of time with an aunt who served as the family doctor. She taught him Samkhya philosophy, the meanings of the doshas – vata, pitta and kapha, how to see the body in terms of the dhatus, the tissue layers, and uses for herbs. Even more significantly than any of these lessons was the teachings she passed on from the epic Ramayana.
Decades later, Arun says that if he ever has a doubt about anything, he asks himself:
What would Hanuman do?
What would Lord Ram do?
“As a practitioner, I always think of Sushen Vaidya, the royal physician on the battlefield when Ram and Lakshman were wounded.” For Arun, the physician immortalized in epic poetry is an example of complete mastery and complete devotion to both the art and science of Ayurveda. “I did not so much study Yoga and Ayurveda as I immersed self completely; I surrendered,” he says. Arun’s formal training in Ayurveda includes a certificate of study with Dr. Jay Apte and ongoing continuing education via regular pilgrimages to the Ayurvedic Institute in New Mexico to study with Dr. Vasant Lad.
The year 1993 also reinstituted Arun’s Yoga study which felt more than familiar in his adult life as a result of his childhood introduction to the practice. The reintroduction began with Bikram Choudhury’s book and continued with study of the texts in Sanskrit (including the Hatha Yoga Pradipika) and then study with Gary Kraftsow, T.K.V. Desikachar, Martin Pierce and Sonia Nelson. Referred to Shiva Rea if he wanted to learn Yoga, when he studied with her, he felt he was in the presence of a goddess. He continued studies with Anthony Benenati at City Yoga and spent time with Anusara Yoga founder John Friend. The experimentation and discovery of Yoga for himself informs Arun’s own teaching, along with the person whom he sees as the most profound influence on his practice, Srivasta Ramaswami, who teaches in the certificate program at Loyola Marymount University. The 2005 teacher training with Ramaswami, Arun says, shifted the way he practices and teaches Yoga. In a manner that integrates the art and sciences of Yoga and Ayurveda, Arun regularly practices Ayurveda and teaches Yoga and Ayurveda at various locations including Liberation Yoga and Dancing Shiva Yoga and Ayurveda in LA, in San Juan Capistrano, in Encinitas, Salt Lake City, Nashville, Las Vegas and other locations (including an upcoming workshop at Black Dog Yoga in the Valley).
Arun teaches from a place of gratitude for the tools of Yoga and Ayurveda. Anything we do, any practice we engage in, any tools we use, even potent ones, are merely tools, Arun points out. He gives the example that, “A pen can be used to write a love letter or a declaration of war.” Through the crucible of his life, he has chosen to allow the Sanskrit slokas to create love letters to health and well-being, celebrations of balance rather than indulgence in excess. He feels that his own practice of these arts have allowed him to be healthier now than at any other point in his life. As a child and young adult he suffered physically, coming down with anything that could cause a complaint, including a childhood bout with tuberculosis. Learning to manage his own health from experience transferred into the practice of digesting the teachings, the ancient texts, the Sanskrit chants and prayers.
He encourages his students to embrace the permission to then digest the information for themselves and to incorporate it in their own lives. He’s an able and conscientious guide and over nearly twenty years of being committed to healing himself by translating the essence of the ancient texts into a modern vernacular and everyday practice.
His favorite component of his own daily practice is currently pranayama. As he describes, “Prana is life-force, without prana, we’re just matter; prana brings consciousness into the body. As human beings we are unique on the planet, we have the option of reaction or response, and it is prana and the awareness of prana that allows us to shift out of reactive firing mode into the ability to pause, breathe and consider whether the action we are about to take is necessary, whether or not it is infused with joy, or if it is a reaction out of fear or grief.” As Arun emphasizes, prana is the thread that runs through all the disciplines. Through practicing pranayama, shifts can occur that promote replenishing rather than depleting the body’s dhatus (tissues), and shifts can also occur that allow for the experience of gratitude.
Even though Arun hasn’t moved away from West Hollywood since he first had the hankering to return to India, he’s hoping that in seven years, when he reaches the age traditionally marked by retreating to the forest, India will be his final, or at least next, destination. When he considers this wish, he is not dreaming of his birthplace of Mumbai, nor the location of his boarding school in the Himalayas, nor Delhi, where he spent the cigarettes and alcohol phase of his life. At the moment, he is thinking it might be Rishikesh. But he pauses to confess that even though he doesn’t know, it will be where he needs to be. He’s just hoping it’s in India. Wherever it is, he will greet the sunrise with his characteristic joy and gratitude.
For more information on Arun Deva’s practice and teaching, along with his upcoming Fall retreat in Kerala, India, visit: yogarasayana.wordpress.com.