We had the good fortune of connecting with elia nikolaev and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi elia, what do you attribute your success to?
Love and passion for this work! I have been fortunate enough to have discovered Yoga at a time in my life when I needed it the most. It wasn’t a matter of physical fitness or flexibility gains for me, as much as it was an attempt to find peace of mind. When I discovered Yoga, it was as if I discovered the antidote to the bouts of uncertainty, anxiety, and depression that punctuated my early twenties. The alleviation of these heavy states, however temporarily, proved to me that seeking to quench my thirst for deep existential satisfaction was not to be garnered from my social life, parties, or romantic relationships.
It was only natural that from then on Yoga became the object of my sincere affection and love. It made sense that if I wanted balance and poise, both in my inner and outer life, optimizing the functions of my body and mind, which is precisely what the manifold techniques of Yoga offer, was indispensable. Of course this was not an overnight transformation, although the effect that Yoga already had on me from my first . I began opening my mind up to such previously dismissed frameworks as vegetarianism, and kirtan (devotional singing). Gradually but consistently, every new amendment in my life, came with improvements to the quality of life I was experiencing. If it wasn’t for these palpable upgrades to my daily existence, I doubt my commitment to the disciplines would have sustained as long as it did. The way I see it, is that I really didn’t have a choice but to love and have passion for something that has improved my everyday life to such a degree. My love for Yoga was born in the happiness and wholeness that the practice itself delivered. Without that I would not have had a basis to want to share and spread it. It is a thrill to me to see people becoming better versions of themselves. This is important to see because it puts human biological organism front and center, as the pathway to Realization/Enlightenment. The human experience is produced within the matrix of the body, and to the degree it functions well, it influences a better experience of life for the individual. My zeal for the practice made studying it, and developing myself professionally, all the more exciting, unlike many of the subjects I had previously had experiences with in school. This naturally translated to how I taught, and how it was received by students and clients over the last 14 years of my career.
Whatever success may be attributed to my career, I credit to the power of Yoga completely. A big part of this credit goes to the teachers and gurus of Yoga’s traditions. If it was not for their painstaking diligence in passing this ancient knowledge along, and help it evolve, over the millenia, Yoga’s survival into the present day would have been impossible. Gradually coming to realize that my own happiness was limited by the degree to which others’ happiness around me was limited, was yet another factor that compelled my excitement to teach and offer the life-enhancing advantages of Yoga. How could I be completely satisfied or happy, if people that I knew did not share a similar experience, especially if there was something I could do to help? To me this is an important life lesson about humility. To see that the fortunate place I find myself standing in right now, is not merely the product of my own effort or grit, but was given to me. I am the lucky beneficiary of knowledge collected over a time scale that I could hardly comprehend.
Although there was action on my part, to follow through and stay on track with the academic and professional demands of being a yoga therapist, this action wouldn’t have had a hook to hang on without the existence of Yoga that was there long before I laid my eyes on it. So the most important factor that I feel is behind my success in Yoga, is Yoga. It is a medicine that not only helps me, but also infects me with interest in sharing it. Yoga is a portal to something bigger. It is not merely about the improvement and refinement of techniques, as it is a vehicle to Life itself. It is not Yoga that Yoga teaches us about. It is how to live and feel better that Yoga teaches us. It brings us closer to the fullness of being human, and realizing the potential that our body and mind are capable of.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am most excited about the spread and popularity of the field of Yoga Therapy. Its scope and power is still not fully understood, or embraced by both the medical and lay communities. Authorities such as Larry Payne, who are working to prove its efficacy in the management of so many conditions, are making important headway in bringing Yoga within reach of more individuals. As a certified Yoga Therapist by the IAYT, I am thrilled about the opportunity to
share this knowledge with the greater community. I am also excited about facilitating further and more in-depth education for Yoga instructors. The current 200 hour standards to become a certified yoga teacher, are unfortunately insufficient in imparting the skills that are necessary to support the nearly incalculable variety of students that attend yoga classes. I want to play a part in helping elevate these standards through my own trainings, and eventually at the industry level. This links back to how I got to where I am today in this profession. It was through the mentorship of senior teachers and experts that I was armed with the knowledge of the body and how Yoga may be applied to facilitate individuals’ health goals. I would not call this necessarily easy, but the subject itself is endlessly fascinating to me, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I was very fortunate that I was able to surround myself with people that believed in me, and supported me through my training.
The biggest challenges I really had to face was believing in myself. As an adult that had to still work and pay rent, I had to believe that there was still a way for me to continue my education, without compromising my livelihood. This belief was affirmed by people that sponsored these educational efforts. My employer at Yoga Tropics sponsored my first trip to India to study at the Bishnu Ghosh Yoga College in 2010, and a generous student of theirs sponsored my second trip to the Iyengar Yoga Institute in 2013. This was monumental in my life. Not just because I had the opportunity to study at two of the most esteemed Yoga institutions in India, but because it impressed the possibility of something I not only didn’t consider, but actually thought was impossible. It forced my mind to be open and entertain something that I was so counterposed to. Not to say that I am entirely free of these beliefs now, but life’s circumstances have been indispensable in helping me break through these old thought habits. What has been so enriching is that these experiences showed me how strong, yet subtle, and important the mind is in the creation of our lives. This reinvigorated my interest in Yoga as a meditative practice more than anything else. I learned even more that the mind is in fact, my greatest asset, or my greatest obstacle. Yoga is fundamentally a training of the mind. Whether by employing postures and breathing techniques, or any of the other ways that Yoga can intercede the quality of one’s life, it is still our conscious experience that defines our wellbeing. This is what I hope to share with more people. I want to help others resurrect their hope to live a more fulfilling existence, as the practice helped me. I am interested in bringing any part of Yoga forward that suits someone’s situation. Yoga’s techniques cover the entire range of a person’s lifestyle, and allow them to approach their wellness holistically. Postures, breath, and movement cannot encompass all of a human being’s biological and psychological requirements. Yoga isn’t just something that has to be formal. The best thing about it is that it applies to virtually every action and interaction we undertake. From proper hydration, to adequate sleep, and everything in between, I want to spread the message that Yoga is a method of everyday living, which transcends culture, age, gender, and any other seeming boundary between humans. I have seen in myself as well as others, that our bodies are posed to heal and thrive, if only given the right conditions. When we learn how to supply it’s requirements, it begins to function with a vigor that is often surprising. This is the reason I am so confident about the efficacy of Yoga Therapy, and what I strive to represent with my work.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
This question makes me realize I’ve never had the opportunity to do this with anyone, and have missed out on a pretty fun week! Haha!
Well since I have been so thoroughly conditioned by the simple and natural pleasures in life, I would say that most of this time would probably be organized around some solid outdoor activities. San Diego County, and Southern California in general, have some amazing places to go enjoy nature. I grew up surfing, which imprinted a deep affection for the natural world in me, and I delight when I get to share it with someone. I love to cook, and my wife is a professional at it, so a good portion of the meals would definitely be home cooked, especially since we are fanatics about eating high quality organic foods as much as possible. Since we are both long time vegans, I would do all I can to show them the best of what fully plant-based meals can provide.
The morning times would always begin with some kind of movement. We are so lucky to have many choices of hikes in north county. I rarely start my day without some kind of movement, first thing. So it would be either a yoga practice, a hike, a jog, or some strength training at my home. From there, I would take them either to Ki’s restaurant in Cardiff, Naked Cafe in Solana Beach, or Milk Organics in Vista, all of which are the few establishments that offer high quality ingredients.
From there we would either go to the beach if it’s a nice warm day and there’s some surf, or I would take them to Balboa park, which is one of my wife’s and my favorite places in all of San Diego county. We would probably go back to Balboa Park a few times, since the museums and attractions there would take much more than a day to take advantage of. For lunch, especially if we are in the vicinity of Balboa Park, I would take them to one of the many fantastic vegan restaurants that have amassed good reputations. This would either be Cafe Gratitude, Civico 1845, or Donna Jeans. The days we end up staying in North County at the beach, I would love to take them to lunch at the Wrench & Rodent or The Plot in Oceanside for lunch or dinner. My values around ingredient quality would not allow us to eat out for all 3 meals of the day, so either lunch or dinner would definitely be home cooked. There are some amazing waterfall hikes like the Punch Bowl, or Three Sisters, that we would have to take a day trip to, since they take about 90mins to get to (one way). We would bring a picnic and our dogs, and would make a great day out of it.
My wife and I also love going to Los Angeles for a day or two, as it has museums and cultural attractions that far out number San Diego’s. The Getty museum is world famous there, as well as the Petersen Automotive Museum. The restaurant and food scene in Los Angeles is a completely different galaxy, that contains a plethora of high quality and vegan friendly options that can, and do, quench almost any palate.
But overall I would be most excited about sharing the beaches and hikes with them.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Wow there are so many forces and individuals that deserve a shoutout!!
It seems to me that because my work in Yoga was of personal interest and utility to me in the beginning, before it became a profession, that my debt of gratitude spans both of these areas of my life. Everyone that has been indelible in the effect that they have had on me as a student, have likewise impacted my work as a Yoga Therapist. I feel so fortunate to have stumbled upon a subject that has, and continues to develop and challenge me, as both a person and a teacher. I discovered Yoga through the work of Paramahansa Yogananda, in his seminal book “The Autobiography of a Yogi”. My first read through the book occurred when I was about 21 years old, and it had an overwhelming impact on my life from then on. I can say with near certainty, that without having this book, my life would not be on the satisfying, stimulating, challenging, and life-affirming track it has been on ever since. I consider myself to be a student of Yogananda, through the legacy he has left. As he was primarily a teacher of meditation, I cannot overstate how much this piece of the practice kept me going and interested in the subject. To have a practice that continually reveals how central the habits of the mind are in undermining our well-being, and how to surmount them, is the driver of why I continue to practice and teach.
With this, I cannot overlook the gratitude I have for my mother as the one that introduced me to Yogananda’s teachings, in gifting me his Autobiography. She has been my biggest supporter and fan from the very beginning of my Yoga journey. Even before I was interested in Yoga, she raised me with a philosophy of finding what I actually love doing. She always reminded me to be grateful for what I have and to really capitalize on the richness of life experience, as well as health. She impressed upon me that I have to be unremitting in my commitment to stick to my passion, instead of to a bigger income. This was not easy for her to impart to me, as there are so many tempting options for a career path predicated solely on the size of the financial reward.
Growing up with this influence I feel is what allowed me to even be open to the message of Yoga, and the role that I have taken on as a teacher.
I have been privileged with the opportunity to be with teachers that are of a caliber I can only hope to reach. Every single one of them has played an immense role in building me up to be the person I am today, but the two teachers that stand out the most for me, are Richard Freeman, and Larry Payne, Ph.D. These teachers have been practicing Yoga longer than I’ve been alive, and their ability to distill the most potent and relevant insights on the nature of human life and consciousness, has completely reoriented how I approach practicing and teaching Yoga. Richard Freeman is a long time teacher of the Ashtanga Vinyasa system, and he brings his background in meditation and Buddhism to his teachings in such a clear and compelling way, that I cant help but to be just absolutely transfixed by his instructions and guidance. No matter how physically intense his classes/workshops may be, he never misses the opportunity to engage the student in a meditative perspective of their current experience. Larry Payne’s accomplishments in the world of modern Yoga are beyond the scope of this answer to enumerate, but the founding of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), has pushed the quality of both classes and teachers more than almost any other teacher I can name. He is approachable, humorous, sincere, and steadfast in continuing the work that he has contributed so much to since the 1970’s.
Lastly, I feel that the most overlooked debt of gratitude that all teachers have is to the students. The fact that I have had students that were showing up to classes, privates, and trainings throughout my career, has been a consistent propellant of my striving to be a better teacher. Having the trust of students and clients, was a weekly reminder for me to stay on the cutting edge of education and skill that would ensure their health and safety. Additionally, students provide an invaluable educational opportunity for me, by allowing me to extend the methods I was learning to them. Education by itself would never have been enough for me to grow and improve as a teacher, if I did not have students be the willing recipients of what I was learning. I actually doubt that any student I have ever had, really knows exactly how much I’ve learned from them. Being able to teach a spectrum of students, from the young to the old, and from the healthy to the ill, allowed me to become better acquainted with the differences between individuals, and refine my approach to helping them in their health goals.