Verve talks to Columbian yogi, Juan Diaz.
From an early age, Colombian yogi, Juan Diaz harboured “curiosity about ancient techniques that help gain a deeper understanding of existence and the self”. As a teenager, he discovered yoga and felt an instant connection, realising “through movement, breath awareness, and meditation, I would be guided further into this exploration of the self and reality”. Juan has been practising for more than 10 years with different teachers around the world and is constantly developing his “intuitive, fun and strong self-practices to integrate into his teaching, ancient and modern philosophy to create a space of connections within the body, mind and emotions”.
Like in so many other parts of the world recently, yoga’s popularity has boomed in Colombia, but when Juan first started practising more than a decade ago, the philosophy was met with much scepticism in his deeply Catholic homeland, some viewed it as “guys lying on beds of nails” and even “devil stuff”: “But it’s so interesting to see yoga be so embraced across so many cultures. Every human being is looking for happiness and this physical practice teaches you to go deep within yourself, to alter subtle parts such as your breathing.”
Juan also imparts his aerobic expertise to prisoners at Mount Eden, an endeavour that he describes as “an honour”. “It’s something I’d always wanted to do,” says the yogi. “It’s an incredible feeling to be there, I find it humbling to spend time with those guys. They are human beings, just like everybody else. They have also made mistakes just like everybody else—of course, some mistakes are bigger than others, with bigger consequences. But, they are fulfilling their responsibilities. It’s interesting to see them in that environment immerse themselves in the practice and to see how the medicine of yoga works in their bodies and their lives. During thier practice, they have a feeling of not being judged. It teaches me a lot too.”
What do you take from it?
“Being in the prison brings me to a place of love and compassion. When I have those connections, I am fulfilling my purpose in life. I must also learn to keep a firmness within myself, to have a certain presence in the room so that I am not pushed around — not physically, but you have to hold that space. This has brought more confidence into my being.”
Prior to Auckland, Juan spent time in Hawke’s Bay where he introduced yoga to kids with autism: “Their attention span is short but I managed to teach them in short periods of times. The repetition really helps them with their breath and to find stillness and connection with the world. Most of the time they are in their own space but when they are having to reach to the extremities of their breaths, they are in the present. They have fun, and it improves their behavioural patterns.”
Juan says that he too is in a constant state of learning, learning to not judge, and to approach every situation with a sense of equanimity: “Yoga is an amazing tool. The more we practise, the greater connection we have with ourselves, and the universe. It is a constant process of refining, of peeling back layers, rewiring our thought patterns. It is an anchor in my life and I feel grateful and privileged to be able to share it with other people. Even those who feel yoga isn’t their thing should still try to incorporate more movement into their lives. To concentrate on breathing and spend some time withdrawing from their senses and just being still. The changes to your life are endless.”
Juan teaches classes at Studio Red, Yoga Sanctuary and Hot Yoga Works.
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