Also with yoga, there's rarely judgment about bad habits. For instance someone may try for years to give up smoking or drugs - usually from any number of self-coercive strategies. But often through practicing something like yoga a person will find that negative habits simply fall away. They don't give up the habit, the habit gives them up. It's an exceedingly common phenomenon. I had a gentleman who wrote to me after attending a week long yoga retreat with me. He had been addicted to dope for over ten years, but after a week of healthy food, deep yoga practice and being around gentle people, he just stopped using drugs. Something shifted in him towards this more positive direction and drugs were no longer needed.
Q: When did you first truly embrace yoga into your life?
Donna Farhi: From the first moment I began yoga at the age of sixteen I was absolutely taken with the practice. I began an hourly daily practice almost immediately after my first class. At the time my family was going through many crises and as a young adult I felt deeply confused and depressed. I would say that at that time I felt extremely fearful, that was the substance of my daily experience of life. But when I practiced yoga I felt that I had some control over those feelings; and regardless of what was going on outside of myself I could make contact with some part of myself that was untouched, safe and content. My situation demanded that I find some kind of self-sufficiency and yoga was the perfect practice to develop that interior strength.
Q: You have said that "the breath goes everywhere so it is a perfect tool for bringing about major transformations." How important is breathing in yoga?
Donna Farhi: Perhaps my understanding of the importance of essential breath work can best be relayed in a personal account. I had studied formal yogic breathing and meditation practice as well as intensive asana or posture practice, for many years, and I realized finally that I was using these very controlled and manipulative practices to unconsciously suppress my deepest fears. At the same time I seemed to be stepping in the same puddles over and over again-in my relationships, in my work and in my yoga practice. I was constantly getting injured and I was deeply unhappy. A very well known yoga teacher by the name of Angela Farmer introduced me to the idea of working with ease rather than effort, and although our approach is very different, she gave me the courage to follow the scent I was sniffing. After about a year of this work my breathing, which had been very restricted, began to open. And as it opened up I underwent a dramatic crisis in my personal life. I began to experience flash backs to some very traumatic experiences in my childhood which had been a black hole in my consciousness for the better part of my life. It seemed to me that the moment I began to open my breathing I also opened the flood gates for this experience. I cannot say it was an enjoyable experience. But the end result was a profound sense of liberation from the past and an ability to engage with life on my own terms rather than the ones determined by the fixity of my past. I knew then that change happens through the body. Trauma imprints itself on a cellular level in the way the nervous system patterns itself and if you want to change that's where you have to go. Or as one of my mentors used to say, change happens on a cellular level.