1How Did You Come Across Yoga?

Yoga classes, yoga workshops and yoga events have always been part of my journey. My mother, Tara Patel, was making yoga videos, inviting students to our home and was generally fully involved in everything to do with the subject, ever since I can remember! As a child, I was shuffled around from class to class with her. I’d happily sit in the corner, coloring or writing quietly, until the class was over. I remember watching in silence as my mother guided everyone into relaxation so carefully. I tried not to disturb anyone. But my stomach always rumbled in the evening classes! I was also taken to meditation centers, where I’d sit on the floor, by my mum’s feet, while she meditated. Sometimes for hours on end. I felt comfortable there. I think my exposure to yoga in these ways trained my mind to be still and silent in a very disciplined way.

Her guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, who eventually become my guru, played a big part too. From around seven or eight, I remember his photo, books and music filling our home. I don’t think there was ever a point (perhaps before I was walking!) where yoga was not in my life. My immersion into the subject, from boyhood, by my mother – and the presence of a guru in my early years, is probably the greatest blessing / good karma that I will ever experience.

2What Do You Most Enjoy about Yoga?

Studying scriptures. My personality has been bent towards conscious exploration and the need to seek out answers, ever since I was twelve or thirteen. I used to go to bed at night wondering where God was, how He made the world, where we all were in space etc! These thoughts persisted in the back of my mind, then featured in my poetry, raps and discussions until I was seventeen or eighteen. At that age, I started getting more influenced by mum’s yoga path - and her guru and all his gurus! To me, yoga was starting to answer my boyhood questions for me. Once I got through my teen years and began teaching yoga, I was able to dive head-first into studying scriptures, philosophy, metaphysics, and so on. Once I learnt to meditate properly, my mind was further opened to the scripture of the soul and the direct teachings therein. In addition, meditation exposed me to, what I understood to be my gurus from other realms and God, for further teachings. It was as if meditation unlocked me.

I still study scriptures and meditate every day. And will probably do that until the day I die. I will have to! If I want to master the conscious universe I will have to keep working hard at it! Once I am in meditation, I experience something deeper than enjoyment. There is no real name for what happens there (or no short word or sentence!). I like the results asana practise gives me, so I enjoy the benefits of that too. But I would not say asana makes me as happy as meditation or study. It is a practise I do because I love my body, and I love helping others to have a good body too. It is the same with pranayama practise (breathing exercises). I treasure the benefits, but enjoy the working from the mind more than anything else.

3What Does Yoga Mean To You?

It is the way in, to the “way out”. To me, yoga is everything. I don’t see society surviving for more than a hundred years, without yoga needing to spread like wildfire, in order to save it. The world needs yoga like it needs nothing else. Yoga is the one philosophy that can draw us all away from conflict, misery and frustration; and into peace, harmony and order. But real yoga. Not just the physical yoga. Yoga is separate from all religions, yet it is about God and the soul and Spirit. So, anyone, from any background, religious or not, can get on board, and find, at the minimum, tranquility. And, at best, they will find God, alive and kicking, in their own heart and soul!

And at the same time, yoga is built in such a way where it is not a requirement that you give your life to God, to use it. People can start with some simple asana at home. Then gradually work up towards the more spiritual side of the spectrum of yogic activities. A good yoga teacher will watch your development carefully, and will able to urge you on, or answer your questions, when you are ripe and ready for spiritual development.

Humans will always need a spiritual connection. If they cannot find it in their religion or home, yoga will fill the gap. I have watched yoga fill “gaps” in lives through six decades of my own life here. So, to me, as a human on the planet now; yoga means salvation.

4How Do You Use Yoga to Combat Cancer?

For me, in my experience, cancer is the disease of the lost soul. I got cancer in my twenties, when I was struggling an extraordinary amount with my life. I was a yoga teacher, but it wasn’t enough. The turmoil was far greater than my practise. However, after trying various means of curing myself naturally (like juice-fasting etc), it was a stronger, deeper and more disciplined surrender to yoga that finally overpowered the disease, and put it in its place. In simple terms, yoga helped me rouse my soul to such a degree that something mysterious happened in my immunity and genes – and the cancer ceased to be a problem. I am writing a very detailed book, which will explain my methods, experience, philosophy and the science behind the battle I am still currently winning (by the grace of God, guru and my soul’s inner guidance). There is no doubt that the vast and varied amount of asana practise I did, after having cancer was extremely helpful. I also mastered pranayama and got to very high level of meditation. My study of yoga scripture helped me develop a level of wisdom, which cleared out many of seeds of cancer in my being, thus setting me free from what my doctors described as sure-fire death sentence.

5How Has Yoga Changed You as a Person?

I owe my life to yoga. I would not even be a person anymore without yoga! There would be no Neil Patel in this present moment, to compare to a past iteration of myself, without my yoga. Without yoga, I would have either died of cancer, been completely broke (I had no education to speak of), been involved with the “wrong type of people” and many more things I care not to mention right now! Yoga straightened me up, gave me an incredibly strong spiritual spine and rebirthed me, at least twice, within the same body. Yoga filled my mind with depth, knowledge and understanding of the world I was in – and what I was doing here. This, in turn, gave me peace – and peace of mind.

Yoga, and indeed, the whole range of Vedic subjects I’ve studied have taken a critical, unhappy and disillusioned teenager, and transformed him into a wiser, stronger and more capable adult. I am now capable of managing my way through most things, without losing the connection to my emotions, soul, heart and God (It’s easy to get through life by blocking these things out, but I don’t believe that’s truly living.)

Yoga is like God’s oven, to me. Before I went into it, I had all the ingredients to be successful at things, but I was raw, ugly and out-of-shape! But after going through the transformative fire of yoga, I came out crispy, well-cooked and healthy!