Mas­ter Class

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Yoga Journal - - Contents -

Cre­ate a con­crete foun­da­tion for med­i­ta­tion and peace of mind with ISHTA Yoga founder Alan Fin­ger.

LIKE MANY MAS­TER YOGA TEACH­ERS, Alan Fin­ger’s first foray into the prac­tice came early. He started dab­bling at age five with his fa­ther, Kavi Yo­gi­raj Mani Fin­ger, at their home in South Africa. At 15, he got se­ri­ous about study­ing, and a year later, he was teach­ing classes across Jo­han­nes­burg on the path to sys­tem­atiz­ing a pro­found yoga method that would come to be called ISHTA—now stud­ied widely across the globe.

Though Fin­ger had no ini­tial am­bi­tions of be­com­ing a teacher, it was prac­ti­cally or­dained by his fa­ther’s teacher Parama­hansa Yo­gananda, a fa­ther of yoga in the West and pre­em­i­nent teacher of Kriya Yoga, ad­vanced med­i­ta­tion tech­niques to move you through dif­fer­ent lev­els of con­scious­ness. And as Fin­ger de­scribes, his first time teach­ing was al­most sur­real: “It was freaky,” he says. “I said all of these things and I didn’t know where they were com­ing from. It sim­ply came through me. From that mo­ment on, I just taught; I didn’t even think about it.” Keep read­ing to hear the rest of Fin­ger’s story, plus more about ISHTA Yoga.

My fa­ther was shell-shocked in the Sec­ond World War; he had shrap­nel in his back, and he be­came a drug ad­dict and al­co­holic. My grand­fa­ther was a wealthy busi­ness­man, and he tried to get my fa­ther in­volved by send­ing him on a busi­ness trip to Los An­ge­les. One time at their ho­tel, Yo­gananda hap­pened to be giv­ing a lec­ture. Drunk, my fa­ther went to the lec­ture. Af­ter­ward he went up to Yo­gananda, who said, “Come; I’m go­ing to teach you Kriya Yoga. It’s go­ing to change your life. I want you to go to the Si­vananda Ashram in In­dia, and then go back to South Africa where you’ll be­come a fa­mous yogi, and one of your sons will fol­low.” And so he did!

I was five years old when my dad came back from In­dia. In South Africa, there’s a very large In­dian pop­u­la­tion, and they brought all the yo­gis and swamis over. My dad would get them to lec­ture or stay at our house, which slowly meta­mor­phosed into half ashram, half home. I started do­ing a lit­tle bit of yoga then. Swami Venkate­sananda, from the Si­vananda lin­eage, was a ma­jor in­flu­ence in my life. He would spend up to three months of the year at our place. Swami Nishraisananda from the Rama Kr­ishna would come for a week at a time; Shud­dhananda Bharati con­trib­uted a lot to the tantric part of the ISHTA prac­tice.

By the time I was 15, I had var­i­ous psy­cho­so­matic prob­lems be­cause of the way my fa­ther had been for the first five years of my life. My mom got me to go to a psy­chi­a­trist, and when my dad asked how it went, I said, “Ter­ri­ble! That guy can’t help me!” We laughed, and then I said, “Dad, you’re teach­ing all these other peo­ple how to use yoga to get bet­ter; I need you to teach me, please.” He told me I’d have to wake up at 4:30 in the morn­ing and join what­ever prac­tice he was do­ing, which in­volved 1.5 hours of pranayama, kriya, med­i­ta­tion, and 1.5 hours of asana. I did it! Im­me­di­ately, it worked—I felt so much more clear and sta­ble; the psy­cho­so­matic breath­less­ness and light­head­ed­ness I was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing all went away. In four and a half years, I missed only two days of prac­tice.

One day, when I was 16, my dad had to travel to a fu­neral and he couldn’t con­tact the stu­dent who was com­ing to see him. He came to me and said, “You need to teach Mrs. Lazarus.” So I met her in the yoga cen­ter, and I asked, “Is there any­thing in par­tic­u­lar I can help you with?” She opened up and started cry­ing and telling me all her is­sues and stresses. I ex­plained to her how the ner­vous sys­tem works as it had been ex­plained to me by the swamis, and be­fore I knew it, she stopped see­ing my dad and be­came my stu­dent. Then her grand­daugh­ters wanted to learn, and then her cousins. When my dad’s back col­lapsed and he had to have surgery, I took over all his classes. It was never a thought— I’m go­ing to make this my pro­fes­sion— it was just a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion.

De­vel­op­ing the sys­tem of ISHTA was my do­ing. My dad was a ge­nius, and very aca­demic. He and all the swamis used to sit to­gether with their books, dis­cussing kriya and Kriya Yoga. But the in­for­ma­tion that was be­ing handed down was be­ing taken for granted. I wanted to sys­tem­ize it. I told them, “It’s too all over the place; peo­ple have no idea what we’re talk­ing about.” Even­tu­ally, I got Venkate­sananda and my dad to agree to it, and we started or­ga­niz­ing. And then we had to give it a name. My dad liked ISHTA, be­cause it comes from Su­tra 2.44— Svad­hyayat ishta

de­vata sam­prayo­gah— which means, “When you are grounded in self-study you will find the ap­pro­pri­ate yoga prac­tice, life’s pur­pose, and path that re­ally res­onates with you.” I love that, be­cause I be­lieve ev­ery hu­man be­ing is dif­fer­ent. The yoga that res­onates with you is the yoga that’s cor­rect for you. Even­tu­ally we cre­ated an acronym for ISHTA: In­te­grated Sciences of Hatha, Tantra, and Ayurveda, which are the three sis­ter sciences in In­dia and what ISHTA yoga re­volves around.

Things be­came very tough po­lit­i­cally in South Africa. I got in trou­ble be­cause I wasn’t sup­posed to go into neigh­bor­hoods that were black or In­dian, but I kept go­ing there to teach. Even­tu­ally the po­lice ac­tu­ally threat­ened me with house ar­rest. My wife said, “Why don’t we go to Amer­ica?” She had friends there, so we moved to Los An­ge­les. Nor­man Se­eff, a fa­mous South African pho­tog­ra­pher, was in Los An­ge­les. I went to see him, think­ing I’d get some pho­to­graphic work with him to make ends meet, but he wanted to learn about yoga. His girl­friend at the time was the ac­tress Taryn Power, and she was to­tally into it too. I started teach­ing at her apart­ment. Within a month, I was teach­ing two classes a day with 30 to 40 stu­dents. So I moved my classes to Nor­man’s stu­dio in West Hol­ly­wood, and one of the peo­ple he was shoot­ing was Cindy Wil­liams from Lav­erne and

Shirley. She took my class, and af­ter­ward she told me she was about to sign a con­tract for a new sea­son, and she wanted to write me into it to help her cope with stress. I said yes, and my busi­ness grew from there. Robin Wil­liams signed me into his con­tract for Mork & Mindy, and the di­rec­tor of

Fam­ily Ties brought me in once a week to teach. I ended up teach­ing all these stars, which is funny be­cause I’m not into celebri­ties—it’s not a part of me.

I even­tu­ally started Yo­gaWorks with Maty Ezraty. She was look­ing for a teach­ing space, so we joined forces. I had al­ways taught ISHTA Yoga, but as yoga was be­com­ing more pop­u­lar in Los An­ge­les, I wanted to open a stu­dio that en­com­passed all dif­fer­ent styles of yoga. I later moved to New York City to open an­other Yo­gaWorks stu­dio, then Maty bought me out, and I went on to open Yoga Zone, fol­lowed by Be Yoga, and fi­nally, my first ISHTA stu­dio in 2008.

Over the years, ISHTA has evolved into dif­fer­ent teacher train­ings, mas­ter pro­grams, mod­ules, and man­u­als. But the an­cient se­crets of yoga, specif­i­cally of Kriya Yoga—how to change and al­ter your con­scious­ness in the en­er­getic body—haven’t changed. It’s so pro­found that sci­en­tists are be­gin­ning to say the same things as the an­cients. Peo­ple come to ISHTA to learn more about the sci­ence of yoga—to look a lit­tle deeper than just the phys­i­cal body and to learn how to pu­rify con­scious­ness so it’s not filled with thought and with vritti (fluc­tu­a­tions of the mind), and in­stead be­gins to re­flect spirit, knowl­edge, and ge­nius.

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