I am happy to feature Vidya Jacqueline Heisel, who is at the forefront in the world for teaching yoga and also happens to be to a personal friend of mine. Vidya travels the world running teacher trainings and has recently set up her own magnificent resort in Southern Spain, named ‘Suryalila’.
L. I have known you 24 years and I remember the times we would do casual yoga together in your home in Bali whilst you were a fashion designer. We had a long period of time where we didn’t see each other for many years. When we did reconnect I remarked an incredible shift in your energy as a person and your direction in life. You had become a master in yoga and your level of fitness had increased as well as your zest and focus in life. What caused you to make this incredible shift in your life and change paths?
V. I have always been driven by a search for the Truth. It started when I was a child. I always longed for something more and knew that life had a depth and mystery that I deeply yearned to know and experience. When I was 19, I started to meditate and read multitudes of books on Eastern philosophy. This new trend in my life led me to head to India at the tender age of 20, on the spiritual trail. That was where I met Osho and ended up living for 6 years in his ashram. During that time I had several powerful spiritual experiences and lived for many years in spiritual bliss as I discovered real love, opened my heart and unknotted years of repression and conservative English conditioning. I discovered my inner Brazilian!
I spent a few years in the USA after India but then came to live in Bali in 1986, which was the time we first met. Those were my wild years, still unravelling the shackles of my uptight upbringing, I guess. Bali was a party scene then, one of the best, and I was right in the middle of that for a number of years. Despite my walk on the wild side, I always had self-discipline and yoga was my anchor then and now. I offered drop-in yoga every evening in my home in Golden Village, when we were neighbours. The desire for something deeper in my life resurfaced after six years of partying. I burned that out of my system and returned to pursuing my deepest love, the spiritual life.
I left Bali in 1993 to go live in another ashram in USA with an American teacher. During the next 13 years I led a very disciplined life, with hours of spiritual practice every day. I am an extremist it seems! Yoga was my anchor throughout that monk-like period too. This led me to open my own Yoga Studio in 2002 in Massachusetts and that was when I began to lead Yoga Teacher Training Programs. One thing led to another and I soon began to teach the trainings around the world in exotic location and finally, encouraged by you, returned to Bali with my program. Many years of practice are what changed me really, and a deep engagement in contemplation and meditation. And teaching. Yogi Bhajan said “if you want to really know something, teach it” and I think that is really true. Teaching has made me strong and confident that Yoga is a valid spiritual path for this modern age.
Two years ago I opened a yoga retreat centre in Southern Spain with my business partner Peter Simmons(who is an old Bali friend). Suryalila, our retreat centre, is gorgeous and I teach a number of my trainings there every year as well as living there.
I feel so blessed and am so grateful for the life I am living.
L. You help many people every year to empower themselves through yoga and diet? In a nutshell what changes can a person make in their day to day lifestyle towards health and vitality?
V. Firstly, diet is of utmost importance. I subscribe to the idea that food is medicine and a plant-based wholefoods diet is the best way to support your health. And yoga, daily if possible. Walking in nature is important too. Learning how to meditate will also help someone to make profound shifts in their life. Finally doing what you love is fundamental to feeling good and nourishing yourself and that is different for everyone.
L. Since I have known you you have always been a spiritual seeker. Can you tell us a little who have been your greatest teachers in life and why?
V.Well Osho had a big influence on me when I was in my early twenties and helped me to discover spiritual love. Later a lot of things went wrong with that organization so I have not been actively involved with them anymore, even though I still have dear friends from that time. My second teacher was Andrew Cohen and he also had a big influence on me but also he had some big issues with his methods, so I would not recommend him now. Many of my closest friends were involved with Andrew.
Other people that have touched my heart…Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadhatta Maharaj, Krishnamurthi, Eckhart Tolle, The Dalai Lama and Pema Chodrin. All of these people gave me spiritual depth, experience and understanding.
Some yoga teachers that I have loved and been influenced by: BKS Iyengar, Patricia Walden, Anna Forrest, Richard Freeman and Rodney Yee.
And I am a big fan of Tony Robbins the inspirational giant. I love his philosophy and how he endeavours to get people to optimize their lives and seek for magnificence.
L. If you had one message to broadcast to everyone on the planet today what would it be?
V. Drop the drama and embrace life just as it is in every moment! Be kind, humble and generous at all times.