Sweetness and Light – Interview with guest teacher Romi Kalova

Yesterday, I sat down over a couple of mugs of hot chocolate with Romi Kalova, one of the extraordinary guest teachers in both the 200 and 300 hour Yoga Teacher Training Programs. Here’s what she had to say about yoga, and the sweetness of life.

CS: Thinking about a teacher you enjoy taking classes with–what is their teaching like, and how does it inform your personal practice?

Romi: The teacher that comes to mind, I would say, is my dear teacher Kim Schwartz in Chicago. He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and he is ordained as a Swami. He was one of the directors of the teacher training there at the Temple of Kriya Yoga, where I took my initial training. He is very steeped in the Iyengar tradition, but what I really love about his teaching–not only the depth and how deep he can go when it comes to the physical body, and the whole organization and all the systems in yoga, but how he incorporates that, and how he’s able to connect the physical to the energetics and the whole thing.

What I love about his classes is also the humor that he brings in, and that in the depth that he is trying to pass on, there is also a sense of lightness. That balance that we always strive for. He does that beautifully. His authenticity and gentleness, you can see it radiating from him. To me, when it comes to my own personal practice it’s about just staying authentic and connected to what’s really deep inside. The knowledge and the facts we learn in yoga is part of it, but that connection really gets to the essence of yoga. Very much for me it is experiential. I believe that it’s hard to be authentic and connected to ourselves if we don’t experience deeply the direct experience of what yoga really is. And then it translates into life. Each one of us has a different experience of that depending on where we are. That essence of yoga to me is just the expression of how we live our lives, and how we are able to make that connection. Yoga to me is about that connection, and that was the experience I had the first time, and it is constantly evolving and informing my personal practice. Making that never-ending connection with my core, with who I am. Seeing that, reflecting that, and taking that into the world. Implementing the Yamas and Niyamas, and all the facts. But the question is how do we really take it in, and live it? And that is why yoga is so unique. Sometimes it’s really hard to teach that!

CS: It’s hard to live it; it’s hard to be there; it’s hard to make that connection, and then be present with what you’re connecting with.

Romi: Yes, yes! And so teaching it has such a delicate balance in it. Because it’s individual experience. It’s different for every person. So I would say it’s more of just sharing rather, what my experience was, and if it resonates with someone who might be at the same time and the same moment in their life that that situation might apply. Basically we’re just sharing it

CS: You never know…whatever we give…how it might land with someone else. We think, this is what I have to offer today. And it might land, and it might not.

Romi: Yes, and that is what I treasure so much. If we can keep it fun, with humor and lightness, because at the end, that is what yoga is, that essence. It can become really hard and difficult. As they say, yoga is a discipline, but we can get too serious. Really, yoga is about balance, and in order to be able to bring about the balance, it is asking for the constant connection, that continuous connection and reflection and going back and being there with myself in my inner universe, and discovering everything there is. So I can see what I need, what I can do. And then it just translates to the outer universe.

CS: It seems like when we can continue to show up for ourselves, that the rest falls into place.

Romi: Yes, yes!

CS: So what was your first experience of yoga? What was your introduction to yoga?

Romi: It was very interesting. I was going through a really hard time. I was living in Chicago, and going through a very difficult time. My physical body was not feeling well; I was working three jobs, and my injury from when I was younger and doing track and field came back. One day I couldn’t get up from bed. I had to go to the doctor, and when I asked them if this could be fixed, he said, “Well…no, but you could TRY yoga”. So I did. But what was so interesting was that in my very first yoga class, I almost threw up. Even though I was physically very fit from track and field. You know, I got the postures: the lunges…it was very familiar. But we did the practice on the floor and then we got up into standing. Right when I got up into Tadasana, I couldn’t stand up straight; I almost vomited. I had to fold forward, and I was like whaaats happening? And so after class I asked my first teacher, Meg, “you know I had this interesting experience. Can you tell me what this is?” So she first just told me to step against the wall and lean my back against the wall, and then just as if I was doing my Tadasana, lift up and stand up straight. And then she touched my belly, my solar plexus. And I couldn’t breath, standing there. Then she asked me a question: “Are you going through some tough time in your life?” And I said, “how do you know that? What does it have to do with all this?” And she explained to me in my very first yoga class how it’s not just the physical practice. She explained what yoga is about, and how it moves the energy and the breath, and how on the physical or energetic level if there are blocks, the practice makes it all move and the sensations come up, and everything comes up. To me, that was the first AHA moment. That moment when I thought, how does she know this about me when she just met me? She had no idea what I was going through. That clicked. From the very first moment, I knew. So that was my first yoga class that completely blew me away with its profoundness, and it’s profound power and the gift that it is. Within 3 months I was enrolled in the yoga teacher training, and that was it.

CS: Wow. How many years ago was that?

Romi: That was in 2005. Eleven years ago. It’s one of those moments that just stays with me forever. I will never forget that moment.

CS: It had an impact on your life, for sure. Thank goodness for that doctor.

Romi: [laughing] And just like that. Although, I would say the way I actually got into that yoga class, was this. After I was at the doctor, my friend was actually going to this center–the Mystical Sciences Institute. Every Friday, they would do a loving-kindness meditation. So my first step into this realm, this world of yoga and meditation, was attending the loving-kindness meditation. I knew nothing about anything. I knew nothing. I just went there open to experience whatever there was to experience, because what I was experiencing in my life didn’t feel good. I went there to be open to all of that. I remember after the 30 minute meditation, when I even didn’t know what I was doing, sitting and listening and woooooo [gesturing]. The beauty of it was what I experienced afterwards. It was very profound, because I sat in my car, and I was driving home in the crazy Chicago traffic, and I was looking around me thinking, something is different. And you know? Everything was different: the colors were different,  the drivers and the cars didn’t bother me, the craziness on the street didn’t bother me, and I thought, hunh this is interesting…ok! That was my very very first experience of the benefits of yoga…the essence of everything.

CS: So your current focus is the yoga of sound, Nada Yoga. Were you a musician before you started practicing yoga? Have you always played the guitar? How did you get into nada yoga?

Romi: So I played guitar when I was younger, but then I moved away from it because there was too much…I don’t know if order is the right word. I tried playing classical guitar, and it just drove me crazy because it was too stiff. So I moved away from it. But when I entered the yoga therapy program with Joseph Lepage at Kripalu in 2009, he opened up the program by playing guitar and chanting, and it just blew me away. He would take the chants and traditional mantras, and he wrote his own music to it, and it never occurred to me that one could do that! I mean, that’s allowed??

So back in 2009 that was the first reconnection for me with the guitar and music. So, I started just playing with it. There was something really amazing–I would just sit down, and I would start playing just whatever came up, and then, hunh! I would hear a chant or a mantra with that music. And that’s how it started. The music came to me. It was not me sitting there and trying to write the music, you know, the tones and chords. No. I was just playing and then the words started flowing, and there it was. And this was not the traditional style of chanting we hear and experience in India, but to me that’s the beauty of yoga. It brings me back to that essence that I discovered through the music and the sound. It is our direct experience expressing through us the essence of the universe. And yoga is the vehicle to me to bring that experience in and feel it. So there’s this creativity. I would play for an hour just repeating the words and the sounds I was hearing, and I would have no idea it was an hour. And then I would stop and there was this experience that in yoga we can call nothingness–this amazing stillness and the silence within. And that was another of those AHA moments. What power! Oh my. Wow. How come and how is this possible?

So that experience was really just deepened with the playing of the guitar, and it started to bring about so much more awareness because it was leading me and guiding me to that essence of yoga, to that source of creation, and that direct experience that is beyond words. And when someone would ask me about the chants, and ask how did you come up with it. I would say, “I don’t know! This just came through me.”

When I saw the training being offered in India, it was a calling I couldn’t resist. It was always my dream to go to India, to the birthplace of yoga. I had no idea what I was about to experience. Being in India, and getting to learn the essence of yoga, the essence of life. That is to me is yoga. The expression of life itself. That essence is one of love. I had no idea that connection that we really make is within us is just this beautiful circle. The circle where we return back home from where we came, again and again.

Being in India where there are unbelievably high vibrations is just beyond words. It’s experiential, and can be experienced only if we are ready for it. It will either scare us and we have to run away, or we stay with it and go deeper. Learning about Sanskrit and the pronunciation, and how actually with yoga in India, the physical practice is such a little part of it. It’s all about the mind, and how we can find that place of stillness and come back to the center and to our essence. How we can come back home. The creation and this circle, how to come back home, is embedded in every single Sanskrit vowel, every consonant in the alphabet. It’s right there. And the sound is the creation. To me it was so profound, and it was that direct connection, that direct experience of the creation and of the essence that translates through the sound. It is vibration, and it is frequency. It’s either the silence, or the inaudible sound. Another step deeper, another dive in that I had no idea I was taking. We have no idea how much further we can go.

CS: We always think we’ve reached the peak, but really it’s not true. It’s not true at all.

Romi: Yeah, and that’s the fun part to me, it’s “OH! Wait a minute.” Right at that moment when I think I’ve reached that point, the universe is about to kick my butt. [laughing]

So that’s why Nada Yoga is my passion, and why actually my whole journey has led me to this place. I was always striving, I was led, I was guided to go to that essence, to find the essence, to find what this is all about. So that’s where it led me. By listening and by being open to it. And it never ends, it never stops, and there is so much more and so much more. As complex as we are as human beings, and with everything we carry with us from past lifetimes. It’s all there for us to reconnect to it. That continuous reconnection. Again. Yoga. It’s the good stuff. The sweetness of life itself. Like chocolate! [lifting her mug]

CS: [laughing] Yes! Exactly.

So you’re going back to India in a few weeks, and if i’m not mistaken, you’ve completed the training there?

Romi: Yes

CS: So what are you going back to do this time?

Romi: It is the teacher’s assistant mentorship. Some of the graduates from this training were invited to become teachers of this type of training. It’s the only teacher training in the whole world that’s based entirely on sound, so there are not many people who share it, partly because it was so sacred in India. And really, you have to learn Sanskrit, you have to learn mantra. You have to have that experience. And it’s not here in the West yet. There is the history and ancientness in India. There is a need to be able to share it more. The time has come, I think. It’s needed. So, we were invited to come back, and be part of each module again as teacher’s assistants. To be a part of the training, but on the other side. So in a few years, depending on how often I can go back to India, I will be able to share it from the position of the teacher. I feel so strongly just like I did all those years ago in Chicago, that this is it. This is my calling.

CS: What a gift. Let me see if I’m missing any questions here. I think we’ve defined yoga. [laughing]

Romi: So many times, and yet there’s still so much more! That’s why it is challenging for me to even come up with one sentence or one answer, because to me it translates to everything and every single moment, and so the essence of life is the essence of yoga.

CS: And it’s undefinable except through that direct experience.

Romi: Yes, so depending on where each one of us is, that’s how we will describe it, and put it in words. And sometimes as we learn in Nada Yoga it’s really the sound, and if we can express that essence of yoga is the inaudible sound. Sometimes the language of love requires no words.

CS: True enough. Well, thank you Romi.

Romi: Thank you!


Post by Cara Sparkman



It’s a beautiful crisp morning here in the jungle, by the ocean…and I am feeling more settled in some significant ways after 5 days here. Then there are ways that I feel quite unsettled in my mind, particularly while watching the news on my laptop each evening. I told myself that I would take a break from it, but it draws me, the actions of this new president…the frightening possibilities that threaten to separate us from the rest of the world and from each other. And then I remember…
I remember the unchanging presence that underlies this world of change, and I see that others are standing up, speaking out, from an awareness of this presence, whether consciously or not. This presence is the connecting force that draws us together when outer forces threaten to pull us apart, and one could give it many names…Love is the word that comes to mind at this time.
For 25 years I have been teaching a winter retreat in this lovely little village of Puerto Morelos, between the ocean and the jungle. Each year, I come early to prepare, to work out the many details of the workshop and to give myself time to open to the experience of creating space for, and guiding the group through a journey of self-inquiry and exploration in breath-inspired movement. Each year, I spend this time in contemplation of their needs, hopes, dreams, wishes, concerns, and anticipate a wonderful week for them as they decompress from their daily lives and open to all that this generous environment offers. This year, another feeling keeps creeping in…a sense of the anxiety and helplessness that they will be bringing…and my own sense of helplessness in being able to lift them out of that shadow state. And then I remember…
I remember what I have come to understand at a very deep level over my 40 years as a teacher, and continually remind the teacher trainees of to lessen their fears of teaching… the challenges that they face in feeling responsible for the students and their experience. I remind them to trust the practice, and that we as teachers are mere guides and facilitators of these ancient techniques that have been evolving through the years to meet the needs of our modern world. I remind them that our responsibility level is high, yes, but that the responsibility lies in our staying in the practice ourselves, to keep coming back to that unchanging presence that connects us all and reestablishing the balance between our outer and inner worlds in such a way that we can better serve our higher purpose. I remind myself, and them,that awareness is the key, practice is the tool, and Love is the answer. This is the Essence of Yoga.
Now…having remembered, I rest in the  knowledge that our week together will be a reminder for them, the students, of this awareness that the practice of yoga opens us to. And I am flooded with gratitude for the practice, for the opportunity to share the practice, and for life itself.

Postcard From the Jungle

Our director and lead trainer, Amanda McMaine, just arrived in Mexico for her annual week-long yoga retreat. While she’s there, we’re all continuing to work together to refine our plans for the 200 and 300 hour yoga teacher training programs. Amanda sends this message of gratitude…

“I am sitting outside in the jungle , at our little table on the porch where we have our meals. The sounds are of the jungle birds and animals, the breeze through the trees which have magnificent huge foliage, and the ocean breeze in the distance. The papaya is amazing and the Mexican coffee divine…Michael has gone to the open air fruit and veggie market where the local farmers bring in their produce…a weekly shopping expedition. We will buy fresh fish from the dock this afternoon…It is warm and breezy and the air so very fresh. All of this makes the list of challenges about being here rather pale, or at least the scales tip toward bliss much of the time. I will not list the challenges! I am grateful…”

Allow, by Danna Faulds

There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a
stream and it will create a new
channel. Resist, and the tide…
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry
you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in –
the wild and the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes.

What We’re Reading – Keeping Quiet, by Pablo Neruda

Keeping Quiet, by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

I stumbled across Alastair Reed’s translation of this poem from Extravagaria, 1974, and it was like running into an old friend. I was reminded that we had met before in another season of my life, in another language, in another version of myself. I remember feeling drawn to the idea of silence as a healing force; thinking, “what a delight that might be!” I know now that yearning was that deepest part of myself, that quiet ground of being, reaching out to be renewed, reaching out for connection, giving me a nudge toward the yogic path.

My introduction to yoga through studio classes gave me glimpses of the magic of silence and stillness. When I completed my 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training, opportunities for silence became, as Neruda writes, “exotic moment[s]/without rush, without engines…” Neruda points directly to what yogis know, that we are all of us connected in that ground of being, when he writes in the next lines about “…be[ing] together/in a sudden strangeness.” It was that sudden strangeness that drew me back in, again and again. It is the power of silence and stillness to “interrupt this sadness/of never understanding ourselves” that has kept me coming back to my mat, and to myself, ever since.

post by Cara Sparkman