Discussing the truth about yoga and other things with Aaron Wickramasekara
A personal trainer turned yoga instructor, Aaron Wickramasekara acquired his certification as a RYT 500 teacher trainer certified with the Yoga Alliance in 2017, where he studied under Mathieu Boldron from Paris and Annie Au from Canada. In addition, Aaron is a certified Thai massage therapist as well as a Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) movement specialist.
With a large social media following and a growing YouTube channel dedicated to teaching yoga, Aaron has accumulated a dedicated audience that follows his life as a yoga teacher, where he promotes establishing yoga as a lifestyle to enrich the lives of those who take up the discipline.
Aaron is currently scheduled to attend the 200-hour Yin Yang Yoga Teacher Training programme in Bali, Indonesia scheduled for October, to which he will be attending as the lead trainer. At the end of the programme, participants will face a final exam, qualifying them to conduct transformational, safe, and inspiring yoga classes globally.
We reached out to Aaron about his journey, from being a personal trainer and body transformation coach to becoming a yoga instructor and training those who aspire to become yoga teachers themselves. He very candidly shared with us his journey of going from being an obese teenager who had to overcome numerous social, mental, and physical challenges to learning to prioritise his health and developing an interest in sharing his personal journey and learning experiences to improve the lives of those around him.
Below are excerpts of his interview with The Sunday Morning Brunch.
Was there an inciting incident that got you to make this switch? And what about yoga attracted you to it?
To be honest, I was always one of those guys who really didn’t think much of yoga other than that it was a glorified form of stretching. You can’t really blame anyone for thinking that due to how yoga has been portrayed in Sri Lanka. You wouldn’t be wrong to assume that I was very clueless about the thing that would soon change my life for the better.
I was thrust into my first yoga class as a fun experiment. I was invited by one of my friends, who was a very advanced practitioner. Unknowingly, I stumbled into a world of hurt practising with all these advanced yogis when I could barely even do a downward facing dog at the time.
To paint you a picture, these guys were popping into handstands around me as I just looked around in awe during the class that lasted for two hours. Come the end of the class, I was absolutely exhausted, sitting on my mat in a puddle of my own sweat, and everything hurt…immensely!
It is at that moment that I realised that even though I might have looked physically fit, I had absolutely no control of my own body. I just knew I had to master my body, mind, and spirit and thus started my journey into yoga.
What inspired you to get into being a personal trainer in the first place? Have those motivations changed at all, now that you’ve moved to teaching yoga?
In order for me to explain why I became a personal trainer, I have to go way back to my teenage years. See, growing up, I was an obese teenager who weighed 138 kg at the age of 16. As we all know, growing up as an overweight kid has many challenges – socially, mentally, and physically. It came to a point where I needed to change this and so I decided that I’m going to prioritise my physical health over the comforts of food and television. Since then, I made a significant change in my life and went over almost a decade of experimentation and education in that field.
My motivation to become a trainer was to improve the lives of people around me, mostly the ones who also had to endure the troubles society puts on you when you look different. Now that I am a yoga teacher trainer, my motivations still remain the same; I still want to improve the lives of everyone around me through the practices and teaching of yoga.
Are there any common elements between the two disciplines? What have been some of the biggest changes you’ve had to make moving from being a personal trainer to teaching yoga?
Honestly, these are both surprisingly similar. Then again, all disciplines are similar in that sense. In order to excel at anything, it takes commitment and consistency as well as the willingness to keep pushing through in the face of challenges and setbacks.
Personally, I feel like my background in coaching set up a good foundation for me to transition into teaching yoga. Furthermore, I have come to find that consistency in the gym or being physically fit in forms of exercise other than yoga has greatly aided in my own personal practice and helped me excel at a very rapid speed. So for everyone who thinks that they cannot start their yoga journey due to the fact that they love going to the gym and think it has to be either, well, you would be very pleasantly surprised in how they both aid one another.
You and your partner are based in Sri Lanka, but it seems that you move around quite a bit. What does your regular work schedule look like?
As much as we love conducting classes, what we actually do is conduct yoga teacher training programmes. And in terms of moving around, we conduct around 10-12 of these teacher trainings around the world over a year. We would spend a few months in Europe, a few in South America, and a few in Southeast Asia.
Currently, we do offer free full-length classes/tutorials on our YouTube channel where new videos are uploaded on a weekly basis. It is called “Ayu Yoga” and you are most welcome to check it out and practise with us.
How important is fitness when it comes to practising and also teaching yoga? Is there a level of athleticism involved?
The physical practice of yoga is the absolute control of every fibre of your physical being. It is finding the sweet spot between strength, flexibility, and elegance. You simply cannot power your way through your practice. One must find a middle path depending on how much they want to progress in their practice. One of the biggest keys in the practice of yoga is the development of patience and the ability to trust the process.
In terms of teaching yoga, it is extremely important to have your own physical practice in order to understand how everything works in your own body before you teach it. In my opinion, all yoga teachers must have an understanding of how things work in their own body with an apt understanding of the human anatomy before they begin teaching. All human bodies are different and not everyone can do things the same way. Therefore, the physical teachings of yoga have to be manipulated and adapted based on each student.
What are some of the common myths and assumptions people have when it comes to disciplines such as yoga and the lifestyle that surrounds such practices?
The myths that surround yoga are endless, but here are some of the most common ones I get questioned about.
- If you do yoga, do you have to be vegan?
Absolutely not! As much as this is a stereotype, this is furthest away from the truth. Yes, yoga does teach non-violence, which is why this stereotype comes into play. However, just because you are not a vegan, it doesn’t mean that you cannot be a yoga practitioner. There is nothing wrong with being a vegan or being a meat eater. However, no matter which path you choose, just make sure you are doing it with an apt understanding of nutrition and based on what suits your body instead of doing it so you conform to what society expects from you.
- I am super inflexible. It is impossible for me to do yoga, right?
Absolutely wrong! I myself was super inflexible when I started and I could barely touch the ground. Comparatively, today, I can put my legs behind my head. You know how that changed? Through the practice of yoga!
- If I start yoga, will I get thin and lose my muscles?
Absolutely not! Yoga and bodybuilding can work hand in hand, if you want it to. I personally go to the gym five times a week (when I’m not travelling) and I weigh 84 kg. Having stronger muscles has helped me excel in my practice, helping me to hold myself upside down on my hands with more stability rather than I would have if I didn’t go to the gym. Additionally, the practice of yoga has enabled me to utilise my entire body at once, which translates to bigger and heavier lifts in the gym.
In Sri Lanka, what’s the attitude like when it comes to practices such as yoga, and what are some of the motivations you come across when it comes to people getting into yoga?
I feel like people have similar reasoning across the board, but where Sri Lankans differ from most people around the world is that we have not been exposed to the proper practice of yoga. Having worked in the hospitality industry for a few years, something I understood is that the yoga that you see in Sri Lanka today was only started because tourists who came to Sri Lanka wanted to practice yoga on their vacations here. So most of the yoga you see here today has been catered around serving the tourism industry and making holiday packages more attractive.
It is really nice to see Sri Lankans interested in the true practice of yoga for the development of their own self-practice, and I intend to help in the establishment of yoga as more of a lifestyle rather than just a thing you do for one hour and forget about.
What was life like for you during the height of the pandemic? And in carrying out your regularly scheduled programmes, how has it affected your work and progress?
When the pandemic hit, I was teaching in Malaysia and I was stranded there for four months due to the border and airport shutdown. Luckily, my wife and I were staying with dear friends. I was able to focus on developing my self-practice and also focus on a lot of other projects, which was nice. However, due to the travel restrictions, we had to cancel around eight teacher trainings across the world throughout the whole of 2020.
As hard as that has been, it has led me to appreciate being back in Sri Lanka for a longer period of time and has also freed up time for me to start teaching here. I will begin teaching weekly yoga classes starting from the month of August, which I am super excited about. The response has been great so far and I am looking forward to meeting you all.
While things are still uncertain, in the hopes that we are experiencing the final phases of the pandemic, do you have any upcoming projects you would like to share with us?
Well, due to the uncertainty of the situation right now, it is hard to plan out any bigger projects. But as for now, I am starting out with weekly classes on Mondays and Thursdays at 6.30 p.m. at the Spa Ceylon Nawala outlet. I intend to do this until things get safer to host larger workshops and training sessions here in Sri Lanka.
My goal is to eventually run yoga teacher training in Sri Lanka and have legitimate, certified yoga teachers circulating in society in order to establish yoga as a lifestyle and to enrich the lives of as many people as possible through the teachings of yoga.