Aadil Palkhivala was first introduced to yoga when he was still inside his mother’s womb. “My mother could not get pregnant,” said Palkhivala. “She tried for seven years.” It wasn’t until Palkhivala’s mother started practicing yoga with the renowned B.K.S. Iyengar that she finally was able to conceive. “My first experience (with yoga) was in the womb hearing Iyengar’s voice.” Today, Palkhivala is known worldwide as a yoga master and one of the foremost “teachers of teachers.” He has spent a lifetime mastering yoga, and today shares his gift with his students across the globe and at his Bellevue yoga studio, Alive and Shine Center, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2017. We spoke with Palkhivala to learn more about his approach to yoga and what it was like opening Bellevue’s first yoga studio 25 years ago.
When did you first start practicing yoga?
I started observing the great B.K.S. Iyengar teaching my parents when I was about 3 years old. I would do art class downstairs, and then I’d climb up the stairs and sit and watch while Iyengar taught a few students. In those days, he was not famous. And I watched, and I did not pay much attention to it. I just had the feeling of what they were doing. And then at the age of 7, I was allowed to join.
What was it like studying under B.K.S. Iyengar?
I did not want to do it. And the reason was because B.K.S. Iyengar was the world’s greatest asana master, and he would jump on me and push me and pull me and make me cry and make me hurt … But I kept going because in India you don’t defy your parents. You trust them. And so, because of the trust I had for my parents and that they knew what was best for me, I continued going.
When did you transition from student to teacher?
My principal asked me to teach yoga to my colleagues, so I asked Iyengar and said, “Guruji, they want me to teach in school. Should I teach?” And he said, “Yes, teach!” And so I started teaching about the age of 15.
What brought you from India to the United States?
It had nothing to do with yoga. This was plain and simple love. I fell in love with a lady. The most beautiful girl in the world, of course, and she lived in the States, and I lived in India, so we had a long-range romance for four years. I wrote her hundreds and hundreds of letters — one letter every day, sometimes two. And then I asked my teacher (Iyengar), I said, “She lives there, I live here — I would love to go there. What do you think?” And Iyengar said, “Don’t worry. I’ll arrange it for you.” And so he arranged a worldwide tour. I was in America for about seven months, then I went to Canada for two (months), then I was in Europe for about four months. I traveled around the world spreading his message, and the traditional, very formal, very rigorous, authentic style of asana.
You eventually planted roots in Bellevue. What inspired you to open your own yoga center?
I started teaching on the Eastside in 1986. I was teaching at the Pro Club, and then started teaching at the Washington Athletic Club in Seattle, and then I started teaching at the Little Gym out here — I was teaching at different locations all over the city. And one of my students said, “Why don’t you open your own center?” And at that time, I was also traveling around the world teaching, so I said, “Find a place close to my house. If you find a place within five minutes of my house, I’ll do it.” And she did! She found this location, and so we started our center in 1992.
You opened Alive and Shine Center 25 years ago. When it opened, it was the first yoga studio in Bellevue. How has yoga changed in the past 25 years?
The word started to get around, studies started getting published, and so yoga studios started to spring up around the city. As people started to experience the yoga that we taught, they expected the same thing out of the studios that were closer to their homes because people would drive from everywhere to come here. And so slowly, over time, the competition, if you will, started to increase. At one time we counted, and there were more than 36 yoga studios around our area in Bellevue, including classes at the Y — not just actual studios — but places where yoga was taught.
How has an abundance in yoga classes changed the way people do yoga?
(People) don’t know the difference, and so they just jump into anything that’s cheap. And that’s what has happened to yoga now. It’s become cheap. And so the quality, of course, has gone down the drain. You can’t get great teaching when you haven’t had great study.
At Alive and Shine Center, you teach Purna Yoga. What is it?
Our yoga (Purna Yoga) is the only yoga that has all of yoga in it … (it’s) the physical, the spirit work with Heartfull Meditation, the applied philosophy, and the nutrition and lifestyle. Those are the four major petals of Purna Yoga.
Your wife, Savitri, is a meditation master. She developed the Heartful Meditation that you incorporate into Purna Yoga. What is Heartfull Meditation?
Savitri developed Heartfull Meditation to cultivate the light in your heart, which is where you feel love. You don’t feel love in your mind; you feel love in your heart. And so she developed this technique of Heartfull Meditation. It’s the only meditation that has techniques where you actually move the energy with your hands — you actually move it, rather than just sit around.
Why should people incorporate yoga as a regular practice in their daily lives?
If you practice (yoga) regularly, if you do the correct things, then yoga will actually help you deal with the stress in your life. Yoga will help you deal with the aches and pains in your body. Yoga will help you keep your mind fresh and alert. Yoga will help you with backaches. Yoga will help you with your relationships … there are mental benefits, physical benefits, and the big one: the reduction of stress.