Podcast: Michael de Manincor on Sharing Yoga with the Community

Yoga Institute founder and director, Michael de Manincor, guests on this episode of Live Like You Love Yourself – recorded in April 2021and shares the evolution of his own yoga journey, against the backdrop of some of the big questions in yoga today, including what it really means to be a yoga teacher or yoga therapist today and how yoga’s temporary feelgood effects may extend to lasting changes.

With an upbringing in conventional Catholic religion, Michael de Manincor’s greatest fascination with spirituality as a teenager always lay towards the mystical, meditative side of religion, the part that included nature retreats and contemplative practices, practices he now recognises as actually being somewhat yogic. His inquisitiveness around spirituality lead him to join a Catholic order at age 18.  Following exposure to swamis of the Satchidananda tradition, who visited the Catholic order to teach yoga and support spiritual growth, Michael’s yoga journey officially began.

Curious about the concept of self-understanding (what the classical ancient Greek philosophers referred to as ‘know thyself’), inclusiveness, connectedness and pathways to healing, Michael increasingly surrendered to a new spiritual path, the holistic approach of yoga.

Personal yoga evolution

Yoga practice will tend to evolve and adapt to best support us through different life milestones. For example, what best nourishes us as a 30-year old will unlikely be exactly the same as a 50-year old, and not just in relation to asana, but also aspects such as breathwork, mantra, meditation and whether we practice more alone or with a group.  Equally, other external circumstances may trigger changes in our practice. 

The global pandemic is a fitting example: In Australia we count our many blessings (and Michael gratefully acknowledges that even during lockdown he was at least able to walk on the beach and connect with nature), but as a population, we all experienced a shift. As the term ‘social distancing’ entered our vernacular, as a society we lost a great deal of connection with people outside of our immediate household.  Many of us lost a connection with nature, and some have suffered from mental health issues, a disconnect from our very selves.   We may be needing different self-care practices to navigate the new landscape.

“Whatever works!” is a broad menu

One positive to come out of this chapter is the increased sense of awareness for many people that they need to look after themselves better in order to stay out of the doctor’s office, and there is increased interest in learning how to apply acts of self-care into daily life. 

Indeed, Michael points out that he frequently uses the term ‘self-care practices’ instead of ‘yoga practice’ these days, in acknowledgement of the immense range of self care activities that can form part of our yogic journey, that a walk on the beach or walking barefoot on grass can be a meditative experience and allow us to feel connected to something greater than ourselves.  He warmly recalls a saying of his teacher in India, Mr Desikachar, describing the personalised and holistic approach to yoga and healing as “whatever works”, and relays an anecdote of Mr Desikachar prescribing treatment to a depressed patient, to go out and take photos of beautiful things every day, invoking involuntary feelings of wonder and gratitude.  

For yoga practitioners and teachers, this chapter has also meant an explosion of online yoga with greater accessibility and opportunities.  However, the trio cautiously discuss the concept of a mental health pandemic, still yet to be truly felt and measured. 

What the world needs from yoga teachers and therapists right now

Michael would like to see the effects of yoga extend past the first few minutes of wellbeing immediately after class or after an appointment, to something more lasting.  He acknowledges that the yoga industry globally has built somewhat of a rod for its own back, projecting the physical benefits to the public as a marketing hook, and then becoming trapped in one’s own business model that sees many yoga teachers feeling compelled to spend most- if not all – of a 60-minute block of time doing asana, to match an expectation we as the industry, have created. 

While the physical benefits of yoga are widely understood, and the meditative side is increasing in profile and understanding (thanks also to concepts such as ‘mindfulness’), the trio discuss the often-forgotten link of breathwork.

Michael postulates that being a yoga teacher or therapist today is not just about classes as we think of them.  Indeed, classes of the pandemic era have been as much about people seeking a sense of community as wanting to cleanse their body or de-stress.  He proposes perhaps a new way of thinking where yoga could mean a more holistic means of self care. 

Michael goes further to suggest that while it can feel gratifying and financially rewarding for yoga teachers and therapists to collect a little following of loyal clients, there is an opportunity for a more humble approach that sees teachers and therapists acknowledge when their part in someone else’s yoga journey has gone as far as it can, and to allow that person to fledge to the next phase of their unique yogic journey, be it a different environment, approach, class or teacher. 

Lifting the bar

Michael recounts the many graduates of short teacher training courses who have come to The Yoga Institute seeking more training. Many have had wonderful and enriching experiences, but they simply do not feel sufficiently knowledgeable to confidently teach.  This observation informs the 500-hour Teacher Training programme at The Yoga Institute, but it is far from just about number of hours. 

The pandemic has seen many teacher training courses go completely online and completely self-paced.  This can be great for someone studying purely for enjoyment and personal development, but in order to go out and teach –  and the trio reference the great mantle of responsibility on a teacher if they truly want to guide other people towards transformation –  a short course simply isn’t adequate.   Michael believes in the power of a hybrid model, that combines both live learning (with at least a portion of that being physically in a classroom), with time for people to absorb and process information and experiences at home at their own pace.    He passionately believes that adequate training for yoga teachers can assist the shift in thinking needed and empower teachers to give clients a further-reaching rippling effect of yoga, out into people’s daily lives. 

Listen to episode 34 -Live Like You Love Yourself, with Dr Michael de Manincor here.

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Written by Nicole Small, The Yoga Institute

Michael de Manincor

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