This text was written for the Zinal Congress of the EUY in 2024

Interview with Alberto Paganini

Conducted by Michel Wolff

Michel Wolff: You have certainly already participated in the Zinal Congress. What are your two best memories or your best one?

Alberto Paganini: Yes, I’ve already been there three times to teach. My best memory dates from the first time in 2009. I had just written my book Prana Yoga Flow, which was in the process of being published. But I already presented its contents in Zinal  and participants were very enthusiastic. A lot of them ordered the book even though it hadn’t yet been published. 

Another excellent memory is nature and I did several classes outdoors, making the most of the closeness and purity of the river. I also remember a very inspiring series of lectures given by Indian swamis and many photos taken in Zinal in 2014, some of which are still on my website.

 

Michel: The teachings In Zinal are connected to the tradition of yoga but must also respond to European practitioners’ current aspirations in the twenty-first century.  There’s a duality there.  What is your standpoint regarding that duality? 

Alberto: In my youth, when I started out in yoga, I was lucky enough to be taught by Gérard Blitz. My teacher Marie Schick had been trained by Desikachar and Gérard Blitz. So I became part of a lineage which is linked to tradition, while at the same time ensuring that it adapts to contemporary western people. And now, we’re a good forty years later and I’ve written my book and developed several systems (Prana Yoga Flow, Yoga of the Heart…) which are connected to tradition (the search for the Self) and don’t lose the essence of yoga.  In addition, practitioners here are not like those in the Himalayas. Circumstances and needs are different here. That’s why my approach aims to make yoga accessible and effective for Westerners today, with their current problems.

A little example of difference: when you practise in India, it’s usually hot. So you can stay in postures for a long time. Whereas here, especially in the winter, it is often cold.   In addition, people who arrive for their class in the late afternoon have spent the day sitting down, unlike yogis who would have been active in nature. So I always start with a warm-up. Then, in order to maintain internal heat throughout the rest of the practice, I attach importance to vinyasas between poses.

There is another important difference in mentality: Westerners are particularly familiar with their physical body whereas in the East people start from their spirituality. So here you have to start with the physical body and from there consciously guide people towards perception of the subtle body and  of energy flows (paying attention to alignment) and then slowly guide them towards mental and emotional calm and (in silence) experience of self-knowledge. That’s very different from what used to happen in India in ancient times, when teachers had a 1:1 relationship with students, who were already used to meditating, sitting in lotus position…

 

Michel: As a teacher, what do you think you can transmit better in the mountains than in the ‘Flat country’? What is the difference between a yoga class in Zinal and one in the city?

Alberto: In Zinal there’s a very pure, high energy in the whole of the environment: the mountains, the water, the air, the birds… Sounds, particularly those of the river, are completely different from those you hear in town. That brings people closer to themselves. In addition, when you’re there for five days you are mainly meeting participants in the congress. All of that put together helps the process of quietening down and going towards oneself. That’s why I’m happy to go back there. I’m happy to have been invited once again.

 

Michel: Can all yoga practitioners experience the flow of prâna?

Alberto: Prâna is life energy. There is prâna in everyone because everyone is alive. If you want to feel or experience your prâna, you have to observe it. For example, if you only pay attention to your physical body, or your teacher, or to thoughts, it will be difficult to feel your prâna. But if, during your class you are encouraged to become aware of the flow of prâna and of your breathing (for example by breathing in the arm or the shoulder…), even beginners will be able to feel prâna. Someone who isn’t used to it won’t be able to do it immediately on their own. If guided to become aware in a selective way, everyone can feel the flow of prâna, just as you can feel your heart beating or the movements of your breath.

To go further, if you achieve control of prâna, you can achieve things in the body which you would not otherwise have access to. When faced with certain problems that cannot be resolved using material means, if we enable prâna to circulate well, we can bring everything back into harmony. It’s a bit like a river, as in Zinal, where the water flows pure and clear, but lower down rocks form an obstruction. Then the water darkens and rubbish of all kinds accumulates there.  If the water is allowed once again to flow freely, it will become clear. The same thing happens in our bodies, and where prâna is not circulating, rubbish in the form of toxins and poisons builds up. By becoming aware of that, whether in our knees or our elbows or elsewhere, it will once again be controlled thanks to the flow of prâna.