When yogi Andrei Ram was about 10 years old, he vowed never to become an adult. He's kept his promise, and Ram says it's his strong determination to remain a kid that allows him to live the traditional life of a yogi in a modern day world."Everybody must become a child," Ram says. "I really believe somehow we all are born with the purpose of yoga already achieved. We lose that ability. As a kid, we are so connected to nature. We have this insight. We are so clearly awake. But we lose it."Ram travels to Dogma Athletica in Edwards Feb. 21-27 to help people find "it" again, and by "it" he means the true self - that sparkle of spirit that tends to shine brighter in children. Ram will teach his weeklong Yoga Self Realization Immersion Course, followed by a weekend of workshops, also at Dogma.Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not about making the body beautiful. Yoga is actually a deep study of the self to uncover one's true nature, one's true purpose in life and beyond. Sounds more complex than doing a couple of lunges - and it is. But the ultimate goal of yoga is quite simple: Find yourself and find happiness."Ultimately, I want to give people the tools to find themselves," Ram says. "Asana, the physical part that we know as yoga, is only .001 percent of the ocean of yoga. You can be a yogi without even touching the mat, without even doing meditation. Whatever your tendency, yoga has a tool for you to enhance yourself, to enhance your process toward the search of yourself."
Ram says the body is a perfect place to start the journey inward. Ancient yogis spent years and years contemplating themselves, and they started with the physical aspects of human nature. This is good news for most of us since the physical postures - asana in Sanskrit - are all that we know of yoga, anyway. But Ram wants to expose students to yoga's other teachings, practices that help the true self emerge so one's purpose - or dharma - will become clearer. Yoga teaches that without purpose, you can't truly be happy and free, Ram says, so he created the self-realization course to bring about self-freedom and joy in the world.The immersion course is organized by the "koshas." It's a five-layer system charted by yogic sages some 3,000 years ago that acts as a road map to the self. Yogis believe we are composed of five layers, and when we work our way through the layers - like taking apart one of those Russian dolls sets - we'll reach the embedded soul. Each day of the course will have a kosha theme: the physical, the energetic, the sensorial mind, wisdom and finally reaching supreme bliss. The classes are a combination of lecture, discussion, pranayama, meditation and physical practice.The course is designed with yoga teachers and advanced practitioners in mind, but anyone who wants to take their yoga study to the next level is welcome. You don't have to sign up for all five days. You can sign up for individual days based on the kosha that interests you, and there's also the weekend workshop.Natalie Rader, who teaches yoga at the Vail Athletic Club and at the Vail Cascade, studied with Ram and his guru Dharma Mittra in New York to earn her 200-hour yoga accreditation. She says Ram, aside from Dharma Mittra himself, was the most powerful of the teachers."I think you can tell when meeting him, that he does the work and operates on some different level of consciousness," Rader says. "Anytime I had a question or inner turmoil during the training, I wouldn't even have to speak it, and Andrei would always address it. It was like my thoughts were channeled to him. He would say that is 'being receptive' - a big part of Dharma's teachings. Andrei is extremely compassionate, but at the same time extremely fierce and intense. He is a loving combination of power and grace."
The self-realization course blossomed out of Ram's own experience - and success - with self-discovery. Originally from Colombia, Ram has spent his most recent years studying and serving under his guru. Dharma Mittra is the yogi best known for completing the Master Yoga Chart of 608 postures, a poster hanging in many yoga studio walls across the world, including the Vail Athletic Club, which will host one day of Ram's immersion course. Ram continues to live in New York and has recently branched off on his own to teach.But long before Ram met Dharma Mittra, his path as a yogi had begun."When I was a kid, people told me so many different things. There were so many contradictions; you didn't know what was truth. So I decided, I'm just going to pretend I'm the first human on earth and I have to figure out everything on my own," Ram says.Pretending to be the first human wasn't all that difficult for Ram. Growing up, there were plenty of times he felt a bit alien, anyways, because as a child Ram had the ability to see. He could see energy chakras. He experienced visualizations and impressions from past lives. He saw energy leave bodies, visuals that modern society calls ghosts. He saw many of the non-physical aspects of reality, Ram says.Back then he didn't know yoga. There were no names for what he was experiencing. He just knew his experiences were real, despite friends and family saying, "it doesn't exist."Fast forward to Ram's late teen years. After a stint bartending in a party city, where Ram never felt comfortable, he moved to the mountains to be closer to nature. He began taking two daily walks through the wilderness, stretching and meditating for two-hour periods. "It was all intuitive," Ram says. "I didn't have any introduction to formal yoga at this point."But Ram has always had a tendency toward movement, he says, and his intuitive stretching was an extension of this early tendency. Knowing his love for communicating with the body, Ram decided to study dance, and his abilities lifted him to professional status. Dance is what eventually led him to formal yoga, as it was a post-modern dance teacher who gave him his first yoga book. This simple read began a spiral into the study of yoga. Ram found "Light On Yoga," by Sri Iyengar, a modern day yoga bible, and took a formal yoga class from a Venezuelan teacher who taught him how to practice asana sequences. Then he started four to five continuous daily self-practices on his own, not having a teacher in Colombia."This practice was not just asana. It had deep study of pranayama techniques, not including the meditation, which I was faithfully practicing twice a day every morning and at night," Ram says.Dance then brought him to New York City, and it was again dance that led him to his guru. A friend gave him Dharma Mittra's "608 Asana Book" during a dance class, and Ram was smitten, instantly pulled in his guru's direction. He sought out Dharma's studio - and after a sensorial experience - went in and basically didn't come back out until now.
"Everything is interrelated," Ram says, and "when you follow your tendencies, you realize your duty in life." Yoga is a tool to figure out tendencies, abilities, and eventually how to use those aspects of self to serve a higher purpose. If Ram didn't follow his tendency to dance, he would have never met his guru and would have never found his purpose.Ram's dharma is to help people find their true self; just as he was blessed enough to find his own self. He wants to integrate the self-realized into a collective community, which in part is why he travels and teaches. He hopes this ripple of awakened souls will cause a wave of change in society. "I really believe yoga has a lot to give in this critical moment on earth, and we really need local leaders to support and guide their communities," Ram says. "Yoga teachers can and have to become this kind of leader."What Ram means by "critical moment on earth" is our planet's waning health, and whether you think it's climate change or the Mayan prophesy 2012, which predicts an end and thus a drastic change in the world, Ram says we have to change the way we're treating mother earth. "We come from earth. Everything we have comes from earth. We have a responsibility to take care of this planet, because if this planet goes down, the whole universe is upset," Ram says.Cassie Pence is a freelance writer based in Vail. She can be reached at email@example.com.