by Deirdre Breen: “If you can be in spirit, the rest unfolds for you.” – Yogiraj Alan Finger
Alan Finger has dedicated his life to teaching yoga and empowering others to live their lives from the essence of who they truly are. As ISHTA Yoga celebrates its 5th anniversary in New York, the first edition of the 300-HR TT alumni newsletter, LINEAGE, comes into being. To help launch LINEAGE, Alan has shared his journey and vision for ISHTA with us. The following are excerpts from an interview conducted by newsletter representatives, Deirdre Breen and Carlos Barros.
Alan on… his early years
Alan grew up in South Africa with his family. Having been raised in a religious Jewish home, he went to synagogue regularly. Alan recalled being too young to read and yet was expected to recite Hebrew prayers: “I could only mimic their sounds and didn’t understand anything. The rabbi would pat our heads and say ‘good boys’; it was ridiculous.”
As teens, Alan and his brother would play hooky and go to the movies instead of to temple. One day he wandered into an Indian temple and witnessed a fire burning ceremony that included body piercings and “grotesque rituals”. Alan went home and told his father, Yogiraj Mani Finger, “I need to know the science of yoga. I don’t want to be in a religion. I don’t want the beliefs.” In essence, that was the beginning of ISHTA. Alan studied, practiced, and eventually taught with his father and developed a style of yoga that integrated hatha, tantra and ayurveda. Together these components offered Alan liberation and access to what he wanted in life: “To know that state that I am born from without having a religion.”
…coming to the United States
At about the age of 30, when apartheid in South Africa made it dangerous for Alan to teach yoga freely, Alan and his family came to America and settled in California. There he connected with a photographer from South Africa and thought he would learn the art of taking pictures. He casually mentioned he was a yogi and within a month he was teaching yoga morning and evening in the photography studio and was contracted with TV celebrities to teach yoga on set. This was the pathway that led Alan to develop yoga studios and teacher training programs.
“The shakti is much more powerful than the mind – that’s how life happens. I didn’t come with a vision like Bikram. My life is to share and help people to evolve. I didn’t plan anything, but that’s how I work in life. Everything I do is like this… it just flows.”
…coming to NY
After having co-founded YogaWorks in California, Alan came to New York and founded Yoga Zone in the 90’s and then BeYoga in 2000. Later, he reunited with YogaWorks when they bought out BeYoga. At the time, YogaWorks was owned by investors from the “” bubble, whose vision of creating a yoga school with multiple lineages (including ISHTA, Iyengar, and Ashtanga) never came to fruition. The school instead became more of a corporate yoga factory, with little room for ISHTA. Alan then decided to move on and re-create his vision with the help of Sarah and Julie and Bruce Wilcox.
…establishing the ISHTA studio
Once Alan decided he wanted to open up an ISHTA center, he was supported by his partners at the time, the Wilcoxes, as well as his wife Sarah, not to mention the ISHTA teachers and community who wanted to see Alan have his own space. They created ISHTA Yoga, LLC in May, 2008. ISHTA has grown rapidly in the five years since the studio was founded.
ISHTA is referenced as a tantric school. Many trainees and students are sometimes confused about what this means and how it comes to play in their yoga practice. We asked Alan to explain what tantra means for the ISHTA community.
“Tantra has many different forms and rituals. It grew as an opposition to the suppression of Hinduism. My father studied with Paramhansa Yogananda and Sivananda and was initiated into Kriya Yoga, which didn’t need any beliefs. We didn’t want any ‘ism,’ but wanted to know the science. How real can we really make this? Tantra gives us the tools to remove the veils of mind and ego and bring us into a state of yoga. ISHTA helps people be in the now and live from spirit without any beliefs.”
… ISHTA Meditation
Each week ISHTA meditations vary in pranayama and kriya. We asked Alan how they come into being.
“My father was a very studious person and learned all the different kriyas and how they worked. He’d teach a different theme each week. I grew up doing that with him. When it came time for me to teach I wanted a system people could follow and understand. My father was really intellectual and would go so deep with the information it would make people’s head swim. It was hard for people to learn what he was saying.”
So began a weekly meeting where Alan and his father would decide what the talk was going to be, which kriya, pranayama and asana to teach and they would all focus around a concept of yoga. Today, Alan credits Sarah with deepening the structure further. “Every week Sarah and I plan out what we are teaching and why. Sarah is very instrumental in ISHTA’s developing a theme of the week that can somehow be woven into all of our classes by teachers who can talk about it in their own way.“
… ISHTA’s future – Alan’s master view
Alan couldn’t speak of ISHTA and its future without his partner and wife, Sarah. “Sarah has practiced all kinds of yoga and finds them all inadequate. She has always felt that ISHTA rocks, has it all, and that it has got to get out there! After Satya was born, Sarah assumed the responsibility for running ISHTA, and she’s doing it.” He expanded further, “I have a master view. What we need to do is to have the acharya program run by the yogirajas…people who have been with me a long time. With my guidance, the yogirajas must lead the acharya. Out of the acharya program, yogirajas will bring to me individuals for the sadhaka program, which is a closer study group that meets with me once a month. I’ll teach them and eventually make some yogirajas. They can then represent me in other countries.“
Regarding the newsletter initiative and how it relates to the continuing education of the acharyas: “I am very happy that you are here putting this newsletter together. We need to offer the acharyas something more, and this could become part of that. LINEAGE can be a voice for the alumni. We need to continue evolving and I am excited it is happening. It’s miraculous really; that’s kind of my life.”
… the achayra and mentorship programs
Alan referred us to Sarah to respond to questions regarding ISHTA’s management. She described with great excitement the return of the acharya program and introduced an advanced mentorship program brought into being with the vision and assistance of Yogiraj Mona Anand. These two concepts were born from the larger objective of maintaining and supporting the ISHTA community – especially 300-HR TT graduates.
“The acharya program will be offered the way it was done in the past: everyone will meet for a topic of inspiration [and to] continue their learning and then have Q&A, social time and snacks. The mentorship program will be more nuts and bolts – technical study. Both programs developed will offer alumni a way to stay connected to the roots of ISHTA sadhana, firmly rooted in the system, practice and lineage,” Sarah explained.
[For more information on the acharya and mentorship programs, please go to the Alumni Programs page]
… living ISHTA
“Everything you go into in life—when you have felt who you are—will be filled with the grace and inspiration of that true knowledge. We are not looking for happiness in life; we are looking for our essence that will spread happiness into each moment of our life.”