Saturday, April 20, 2024

India meets Mexico through the practice of yoga

Yosef Zur grew up on a kibbutz. For him, the day to day of such a lifestyle was rather mundane. Everyone wore, did, and seemed to believe the same thing. Everyone, that is, but him. Yosef felt disconnected from the community and its goals, leading him to think there was something wrong with himself. This nagging doubt resulted in years of eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and general self-hate.

“I was always looking for something to bring magic,” Yosef remembers. And then one day, he was given a book about India. He realized that there were other cultures with different ideas about life, more philosophies out there that might help him understand his distorted feelings. 

Yosef Zur was looking for more out of life when he discovered yoga, and the rich spirituality of India. (tulum_portraits/Instagram)

At age 32, he decided to move to New York.

Ironically, it was in the United States that his interest in India resurfaced through the yoga practice of Ashtanga. According to website Yogapedia, Ashtanga is:

…named after the term given in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras for the eightfold path of yoga, or ashtanga, meaning “eight-limbed” in Sanskrit. [The eight-limbed path is a holistic guide towards liberation and self-realization.]

It was Sri K. Pattabhi’s belief that the asana [postural] “limb” of yoga must be practiced before the others could be mastered. The practice was developed in Mysore, India where Sri K. Pattabhi Jois taught and set up the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute.

Yosef’s life quickly became all about the path of Ashtanga. He committed to the standard six days a week physical practice of postures [asana] and immersed himself in ancient Indian philosophy. The readings and scripts are where he experienced an instant, powerful connection. “It wasn’t until that moment that I actually understood what I was feeling in words. There was a homecoming element to it,” Yosef explains. “Here was a philosophy that came from outside of me, from a different country, yet it connected me to a truth of life and human experience that I had always felt.”

This interest in Indian philosophy led him on a journey of movement, veganism, meditation, and travel to India. He started practicing with an Ashtanga master in New York, with whom he eventually began his career as an instructor. Through practice, Yosef learned a valuable concept that he hadn’t grasped as an insecure, self-deprecating youth — self-love. 

After 11 years of teaching in New York, it became apparent to Yosef that it was time to move on. “I quit and didn’t know what to do. I thought about moving to India or Thailand, but then I remembered a yoga student had mentioned his friend’s yoga retreat center in Tulum.” 

Because Yosef spent five years as a child living in Nicaragua with his family, he spoke Spanish fluently and felt comfortable with Latin culture. After reaching out to the owner of the retreat center and receiving an invitation to visit, he went to Mexico.

While India was magical, it was Tulum where Yosef really found inner peace. (tulum_portraits/Instagram)

“It’s funny,” says Yosef, “the first time I went to Bangalore to take the train to Mysore, I thought to myself ‘This looks so much like Central America’. And then I get to Mexico and I think ‘this feels so much like India!’” The smell of burning copal in the morning, the traditional languages and costumes of small villages, the artisanship and intricate textiles — these cultural similarities made him feel right at home and ready to start teaching.

Yoself picked up classes fast once arriving in Mexico and just as quickly learned how to adapt. Most notably, he had to let go of the structure of time. “Mexico is showing me to be in the now. It’s teaching me how to live in the moment and accept things as they are.” 

Which, by all accounts, is the overarching lesson of yoga.

In other words, Mexico has taught Yosef the true meaning of yoga.

Assimilating into Mexican culture is exactly this. A slowing down, an appreciation for what is, a sense of human connection and above all, humility. It’s interacting with people of all classes and ages, cultivating respect for the wisdom of ancient practices and developing an innate understanding that we’re all here together on this planet, so we might as well laugh and sing while we’ve got the chance. 

The essence of Ashtanga yoga is not a religious one. It’s a spiritual one, which is why, according to Yosef, Mexicans connect with it so well. As a relatively conservative Catholic society, “Mexicans are not looking for a religious connection [because they likely already have it]…they’re looking at [yoga] from a spiritual lens, they want the essence.” And it’s easier to connect to the essence of yoga’s teaching when it’s not intellectualized, like it tends to be in countries like the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. It’s a profound acceptance that has to be felt internally. 

Be in the now. Live in the moment. Accept things how they are. The morals of yoga are a wise approach to life in Mexico.

Just like the practice of Ashtanga, moving to Mexico requires you to be humble. As Yosef puts it, it means “leaving what you think you know outside. You came here, they didn’t come to you. You came here as a student.” Life in Mexico is a golden opportunity to learn and adapt to a new way of doing things.

The beaches of Quintana Roo have become an increasingly popular spot for yoga in recent years. (Elizabeth Ruiz/Cuartoscuro)

Yosef is dedicated to leading his students through the reality of Ashtanga, the “friction between wanting something, not achieving, but showing up anyway.” Doesn’t that sound a bit like…learning Spanish?

This begs the question — will yoga deepen your connection to Mexico, or will life in Mexico deepen your connection to yoga?

That’s for you to decide.

If you’re in the Tulum area, practice with Yosef between Monday — Friday at Holistika Tulum

Bethany Platanella is a travel planner and lifestyle writer based in Mexico City. She lives for the dopamine hit that comes directly after booking a plane ticket, exploring local markets, practicing yoga and munching on fresh tortillas. Sign up to receive her Sunday Love Letters to your inbox, peruse her blog, or follow her on Instagram.


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