The Real Titans of Yoga: Georg & Brenda Feuerstein—the Elephant Interview.
Hi, Brenda and Georg. It’s a great honor to have you here on Elephant Journal.
Let’s start by talking about your Distance Learning offerings. What made you choose to do “distance learning” instead of just publishing great books and teaching face-to-face?
Hello Bob. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to talk about our distance-learning program, which has now been going for eight years. I (Georg speaking) started our 800-hour course, because I felt that my book The Yoga Tradition was difficult to access. The course was meant to make this possible, and it did.
But it was still too condensed, because The Yoga Tradition is somewhat like a dense jungle. So, once I had relocated to Canada, Brenda and I worked on a number of other courses: The History, Literature and Philosophy of Yoga, Classical Yoga, Foundations of Yoga, and most recently the Bhagavad-Gītā.
These courses are all meant to unpack The Yoga Tradition book. There may be other courses, but we are undecided about this.
What are the most surprising things you’ve learned in those eight years you’ve been doing distance-learning?
What has surprised us is how many students can stay focused over several years and how many students are making good use of this opportunity to grow spiritually. We are delighted that so many students from around the world want to learn as much as possible about the teachings of Yoga. This is deeply humbling.
It has also been surprising how many students maintain the connection with us through the Facebook core groups, which allows students not only to process the course but also stay in touch with fellow students world wide.
Have advances in technology changed how you approach distance-learning since you began eight years ago?
The most noticeable change has been in social media, which allows us to reach more students. We are now also able to upload files as e-books and digitally delivered courses. Of course, this has brought new problems, because some people either knowingly don’t respect copyright or are ignorant of it.
The fact is that copyright applies to the Internet, and you can’t just steal the work of others. I (Georg speaking) still learned on a Wang computer in the early 1980s, having to constantly change floppy disks to do what are now considered the simplest tasks. In this respect, I feel really spoiled.
For the most part (Brenda speaking), I see that Yoga teacher training programs are not educating potential Yoga teachers in the teachings that would be of the greatest assistance to the public, especially taking into account the current state of the planet. I don’t believe that teachers in training are being prepared to teach much more than āsanas. This is one of the main reasons why we continue to develop courses in the hope that all Yoga teachers and students will have access to the philosophy, history, and practice of Yoga no matter where they live in the world.
Amen! (Georg speaking now). After writing fifty some books and studying Yoga philosophy and history for fifty plus years, I would like to ensure that people get good-quality materials and also understand them.
Tell us about this emphasis on social activism, as represented by your recent book “Green Yoga.” Is this a recent phenomenon for you, or has social activism been an integral part of your view of Yoga all along?
I (Georg) have been interested in environmental issues for years and have referred to them when it was still somewhat unpopular to do so. I have always regarded living sanely as part of Yoga. This means making an attempt to live in harmony with the environment.
In 1983, I published an article on “Yoga and Ecology” in the quarterly journal of the Indian Academy of Yoga (Varanasi, India). A decade later, Quest Books released my anthology Voices on the Threshold of Tomorrow: 145 Views of the New Millennium, which included many contributors who wrote about the environment. Hard to imagine, this was 18 years ago.
Sometimes I feel that not much has happened since then. But while I have been busy with “consciousness-raising” projects like this, I regretfully admit, that full-fledged social activism entered my Yoga practice only with Brenda’s complementary activist approach.
Good question! (Brenda speaking). I guess I have been a social activist since I was a little girl. I remember being 4 years old and seeing an image of starving children, I couldn’t believe this was happening in the same world where I had an abundance of food to eat.
It was during that time that I encouraged my parents and teachers to support organizations that fed hungry children. I started practicing postural Yoga during those early years but it wasn’t until years later that I read about the yamas and niyamas and made some deeper connections in regards to Yoga and social activism.
For numerous years we have supported organizations that we felt passionate about, and this year I was asked to be an Ambassador for Shanti Uganda. After taking on the position, I decided to start a project called The Journey of 108, and in 2011 started the Journey of 108 Beads project to assist in the fundraising and building of awareness for Shanti Uganda.
I believe it is our responsibility as Yoga practitioners to be compassionate activists and set an example for others to follow.
I noticed that your wonderfully informative website, in addition to featuring your distance-learning courses, is filled with free articles and papers for all levels of students, including beginners.
How should potential distance-learning students go about deciding which is the right course for them? Let’s say they’ve looked at the site and have a strong interest, but they’re not sure what to do?
Generally speaking, students start with the 800-hour course. I (Brenda) like to refer to this course as our umbrella course and the shorter courses are under that one although all of our courses can be taken as stand-alone courses.
After students have completed the 800-hour course, they usually take one of our other courses that allow them to go even deeper into an area of study that interests them. Many of our current students have completed at least two of our courses and are continuing their studies with us either in a course or in the mentorship program with Georg.
If students feel they simply don’t have the time to commit to the 800-hour course, I usually suggest they start with the Classical Yoga Course which is very user-friendly and requires approximately 250-hours of their time to complete.
Potential students are always welcome to email me if they are unsure where to start and I’d be happy to try to find a course that fits their needs.
That’s very clear. I’m sure our readers will appreciate your offer to personally help them figure out the best course for them. (I can also personally attest to the quality and depth of the Bhagavad Gita course, although I’ve had to put it on hold ever since I became Elephant Editor).
What’s the more interesting question I haven’t been smart enough to ask you yet?
What, if any, are the limitations you have encountered in distance-learning programs?
I (Georg) will field this question. There are indeed a few limitations that one ought to bear in mind. The first set has to do with the students themselves. And the second set relates to me as a teacher.
As you know, everyone learns differently. Some people depend on having the teacher in front of them. This is not the case in distance-learning programs, and so people of this kind need to have a lot more motivation to make up for the tutor’s personal absence.
I spent many years, traveling from center to center, from event to event. In 2004, I stopped doing this. Some of my former students are still lamenting that, as they see it, I withdrew from them. I see things somewhat differently. I am still writing books, am tutoring our courses, and mentoring a group of students online. I grew tired of all the traveling, and I took the opportunity of relocating from America to Canada to end my lecturing and workshopping.
Some students like to listen to a recording, and I have several recordings, including at least one video recording. Those who need me in front of them can easily avail themselves of the video recording. I might do another one in the future, but this is not my preference.
Definitely, the other limitation is that I don’t have the knack of making things easy on students. The simpler I have to make a presentation, the more difficult it is for me. I prefer the academic discourse if it is also relevant to life.
But this middle path is not popular. Academics want purely academic presentations. Yoga students want most practical stuff, which I don’t find easy to cater to. So, I am somewhat in limbo, if you like. I don’t have a problem with this, but some students find my books and courses overly challenging. But I tell them that they will learn if they can stick it out, and many do.
Some students have learning limitations or don’t have English as their mother tongue , and I greatly admire their stamina. Studying, as I often remind them, is a Yoga in itself. Svādhyāya-Yoga. In some way, I am trying to resuscitate this approach, which is traditional.
Great question and great answer. Makes me want to try it again.
What’s the second most interesting question I haven’t been smart enough to ask yet? (Maybe I should start my interviews like this. Charlie Rose often starts his interviews by asking “What is it you most want people to know about…?”)
Every course I have designed is the best I could make it. Because of the financial situation in the world, we have lowered our prices substantially. Each course comes with an extensive manual. So, what you are getting is the best for very little. I would make the most of it. I wish I had had this kind of course when I was teaching myself the ropes in Yoga. Honestly.
I (Brenda) would like for students to understand the Yoga teachings well enough to apply them in all aspects of their life. I think I speak for Georg as well when I say that especially Yoga teachers who have taken one of our courses should acquire the ability to articulate what they have learned and be able to motivate their own students to respond to all of life’s situations in a meaningful and compassionate way.
I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed this interview. Thanks for being here. Now let’s turn the discussion over to the readers and see what questions they have.
Georg Feuerstein, Ph.D. became interested in Yoga in his early teens and has increasingly studied Yoga philosophy and history since then. He did his postgraduate studies in England and has authored over 50 books—not all on Yoga and including a couple of poetic titles. His major works are The Encyclopedia of Yoga and Tantra (Shambhala 2011), The Yoga Tradition (Hohm Press 2008), Yoga Morality (Hohm Press, 2007), The Deeper Dimension of Yoga (Shambhala) and The Bhagavad-Gītā: A New Translation (Shambhala 2011).
Georg created and at present is the main tutor of several distance learning courses, which are made available through TYS, his wife’s Canadian educational company. He officially went into semiretirement in 2004. But in 2011, he agreed to make himself available in a TYS mentorship program to encourage those who are seriously interested in digging deeper into Yoga philosophy.
Brenda Feuerstein, Georg’s wife, started practicing Hatha-Yoga postures as a young child, which primed her for her later path as a Yoga teacher. Over a period of twenty-three years, she operated a health business offering training and educational programs in Canada. She conducted numerous workshops specializing in stress management, positive lifestyle, and motivation.
Since 2003, she has been involved in getting TYS’s distance-learning program off the ground. She now serves as director of Traditional Yoga Studies and also teaches Yoga classes, workshops, and retreats.
She coauthored Green Yoga and Green Dharma with Georg Feuerstein and contributed to his book entitled The Bhagavad-Gītā: A New Translation. She is the author of The Yoga-Sutra from a Woman’s Perspective and an audio entitled Yoga Nidra/Yoga Sleep (forthcoming).