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048: My Spiritual Rebirth Through Yogic Philosophy – Adi Shakti

Adi Shakti is a teacher’s teacher, philosopher, and serial entrepreneur whose work and life is based out of an experimental yogic living permaculture center on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica. She has trained hundreds of yoga teachers in the 200 hr, 300 hr, Lifestyle Social Entrepreneurship, Pre-Natal, and Trauma Informed professional focus areas through her company, Passion Yoga School. She has also led international programs across the globe – including to Thailand, Cambodia, India, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Ecuador. Adi is the founder of SoulWork and producer of SoulWork: the Film – focusing on the journey from deep inner inquiry to clarity around social purpose and responsibility. She is also the Executive Director of Shakti Seva Inc, a 501c3 organization focusing on uplifting the indigenous community near her home among other global projects.

In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • About Adi’s introduction to yoga in Indiana.
  • How she received a name from her yoga guru in India.
  • How Adi started the Passion Yoga School in Costa Rica.
  • About her integration of yogic and Christian teachings.

My Interview on Soul Work with Adi Shakti: 

Connect with Adi Shakti:

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Interview Transcript

Adi, thanks so much for taking time to hang with me today. I really appreciate it.

Oh, thank you for having me, David. I’m really excited to dive in.

I want to know the story of when and how you were introduced to yoga. How did it impact your life in those early times when you were introduced to it?

I found the practice the same way that I think a lot of people find it, which was through the physical fitness doorway. I think that that’s an important path and having a foundation of physical health is really the beginning of being able to move into these deeper emotional and spiritual layers. I think I was about thirteen the first time I practiced yoga. I then became certified as a teacher in Chicago at the age of nineteen, which is super young. Shortly thereafter, I went to India where I spent about three months with my teacher at the Ashram in Rishikesh, which is in the foothills of the Himalaya. That’s when I really started to understand the depth of the practice.

When you first get started, like I mentioned, there’s this superficial layer that we learn about and being able to safely perform the asanas but then what really, really fascinated me and what’s really driven my life is an understanding of the energetics of the practice and how we can use our body and our voice as a tool for opening and getting into the deeper layers of energetic healing. That’s really what I focus on now in my teachings and the physical practice was the doorway for that.

Did you grow up with a family that was into that sort of thing? Or was that new for you? How did that play out? That’s a big transition from thirteen to nineteen being certified and going to India. I’ve been to India nine times myself.

Me too. Nine times. I just counted.

Yeah, it’s an amazing country. Was that new for your family? How did that play out?

My mom is a yoga teacher but she did not get certified until much later. I actually grew up in black communities and black schools and then I went to high school at a Jesuit school and I eventually studied at a Jesuit university and they really emphasized philosophy and lifestyle ethics as the foundation of what it is that they offer. They actually had a yoga teacher come to the high school and that was how I found the practice.

When you went to India, you could have gone to a bazillion places. How did you choose the place that you went?  How did you know about it? How were you introduced to it?

Google. I am a Western seeker, so I wanted to find a program that was Yoga Alliance accredited. I did have goals for being able to offer in different ways in the United States and around the world, and being a Yoga Alliance accredited program was important for me. At that time in India, there weren’t that many that were Yoga Alliance accredited. I found my teacher in that way and then studied with him. It was an interesting story actually, because the first time that I was in India, a lot of my colleagues that were there studying with me, they took names from my teacher. I did not want to take a name the first time that I went. I didn’t feel aligned with him and I wasn’t ready to make that level of a commitment to him as a disciple, which is what the naming process really is about. It took me a couple of trips before I finally surrendered and asked him formally to be my guide and teacher and that’s when I received my name. But it all started with a Google search in my little hippy casita here in Costa Rica; that’s how I found my teacher.

What does that mean? I’m ignorant when it comes to this. What does it mean to take a name from someone like that? What does that mean for you legally? What does it mean for just your rest of your life?

It’s a re-birth. In the yoga philosophy, we talk about samskara. The normal person in their life, they’re born and then they receive a lot of conditioning from their parents, from the schools, from the government, from where it is that they grow up. They’re shaped and without any say in how that’s done when it comes to the religion that you’re introduced to and all of these different components that happen early in our lives. Really by the time we’re seven years old, we are who we are. The normal human being from the point that they turn about seven years old, they’re on a trajectory based on their conditioning and they follow a path that’s been laid out to them for them based on that conditioning.

With the yoga practitioner, there’s an interruption. There’s a recognizing that the state of our mind, the state of our emotional body and our emotional system is a product of conditioning in that we have the ability to actually start to see that conditioning from a third party perspective and make choices around who it is that we want to be moving forward. When you take a name, it is a commitment and a deep spiritual re-birth, where you are taking radical responsibility for your life. You are committing to shedding the substance of the ego, which is this conditioned process and these patterns of mind and emotion. You’re committing to shedding that and to allowing your life to become a devotion to God. You are taking responsibility and are going to be moving forward in your life in a way that you are developing conscious choice around how it is that you make your decisions. So, rather than being a victim of your conditioning, it’s a big day in deciding that today when you take that name, is the time that you’re ready to move forward with awareness.

I apologize if my questions are ignorant, because this is what I do when I interview people, I learn. So, do you provide names for people that you now train?

No, I don’t. I’ve had several students ask but I just had my thirtieth birthday and I’m so blessed to have been bestowed with so much support and love and wisdom in my life. I think I need at least a half a head of grey before I have any business naming anyone.

Well, I’ve got a whole head of grey.

Alright, well maybe you could loan me some.

Yeah, yeah. I’ll give you a lot of names.

I would not describe myself by any stretch of the imagination, as an enlightened being. And really that is, for most people that take a name, they’re working with a teacher that has arrived and who has a stillness and is able to maintain that third party perspective and is really dwelling in a different state of consciousness. And while I’m really confident in my ability to support the people that I support, the concept of giving a name for me, would feel very ego based. And so, maybe one day I’ll arrive, but I don’t think anytime soon.

I was actually a Christian pastor for over a decade and a lot of my work in India has been humanitarian work with people. I would work with Christian organizations and we’d go into a lot of remote villages. I’ve actually spent very little time in cities. I don’t know if it’s true for all Indian families, but for Christian Indian families, they wouldn’t name their child until their first birthday. I remember my second trip, I’ve got a team of twenty-five people from my church and the pastor there says, “Hold this child. What do you want to name them? The family wants you to name them.” And I’m looking at him with my wide eyes saying, “I don’t know.”

It’s a big responsibility.

I literally just put my hands up in the air. I’m like, “I don’t know.” He’s like, “Pick a Bible name.” Anyway, so I’ve been there. I know what that feeling is like. It’s a wild feeling. But as it turns out, there are multiple people in India that I have named.

That’s beautiful.

Not because I’m enlightened but just because I was put on the spot. So, now you are in Costa Rica. I heard you say that you were in Costa Rica prior to going to India. How did you go to Costa Rica? Tell me the story.

I graduated college in 2011 from Loyola University in Chicago with the Jesuits as I mentioned. Very shortly thereafter, I moved to Costa Rica. I worked on a butterfly farm and with the Rainforest Regeneration Project and then I got hired by a non-profit to start an after school program for a very, very rural and poor community here in Costa Rica. They literally sent me down here with a backpack full of construction paper, and it was my job to create a program. I lied a little bit. It’s true, I lied. I said I spoke Spanish, and at that time I kind of thought I did, but I really didn’t.

Burrito, Taco and Quesadilla do not count as speaking Spanish.

Exactly. Right, I was a little arrogant at that point about a lot of things. I came in with an “S” on my chest and thinking this community was going to be better because I was there and all of these things that we believe when we start to move into this world of service. I learned very, very quickly otherwise. But I moved into this community and I was serving them and I was there for a year. I started the program and then I laid the logistical foundation of where the place was going to be, the times, getting students enrolled, the curriculum, all of these different things. I educated a local woman on how to do it and then, I went to India. After that I went back to the United States, and I started working for an organization where I was leading humanitarian tours all around the world.

I was working with different organizations that would raise a lot of money, sometimes over a million dollars, to do beautiful things abroad. Then we would take those funders to see their projects. Throughout those couple of years, I was in the Ecuadorian Amazon with the Cofan people. We opened clinics there and rainforest watch centers to keep an eye out for illegal logging and to clean rainwater catchment. I was in Guatemala and built a couple of schools with funders there. Human trafficking was our focus in India, in Kolkata, which is near Bangladesh in the North East corner. Here in Costa Rica as well, we built a community center for the indigenous.

I had this lifestyle and at that point I was twenty-two and I was traveling constantly. I was in Bangkok. I was in Phnom Penh. I was in New York. I was in L.A. I was in D.C. I was back in Indianapolis, which is where I’m from. I just had this really intense travel schedule. I was in all these high poverty areas and it was heartbreaking. I was also with my husband, we weren’t married at the time, but it was difficult because I would go into Kolkata, India into the red-light districts and then I’d come home to my husband and I’ve had this intense traumatic experience. I’d feel shame that I felt traumatized because I’m with these girls that were just rescued from the human trafficking industry and here I am feeling bad. I just needed to toughen it up and spend time trying to restore harmony with my husband after having these intense experiences.

I did that for two years and I’m so, so thankful that I have that foundation. I saw the world and learned a lot about humanitarian giveback. But then I couldn’t take it anymore. I moved back to Costa Rica at that point and started my company in 2014. I’ve been owning and operating our organization here in Costa Rica since 2014.

So, you originally went there to teach students but then it sounds like you just had a connection with the place and a desire to go back there to teach yoga. Is that correct?

Yeah, absolutely. We are here on the Southern Caribbean coast. We’ve got a huge Jamaican and indigenous influence and there are lots of ex-pats. I’m really blessed. I’ve seen a lot of places around the world, this is by far my favorite. I tried to move back to Indianapolis but it’s hard to live in the Southern Caribbean and Costa Rica and then move back to Indianapolis. My mom is still working on me. Maybe one day I’ll surrender and move back but for now, I’m very, very happy here.

How do you legally do that in terms of staying in the country? Is it because you have a business? How does that work?

Yeah, technically we’re tourists. We have to leave every three months and that’s how that works. But you can legally operate a business here. We’re on track to becoming residents. We have land here and have roots and we just need to go through the process of becoming residents. It’s quite easy for Americans anywhere around the world really, as we know. It’s an incredible blessing to figure all those things out.

Tell me what you’re doing now in Costa Rica. You’ve been there six years now full time?

Something like that, yeah. Two years ago, we started the Soul Work Jungle Ashram. I partnered with an American gentleman here that had a huge piece of land and wanted to develop it but didn’t have a partner that he was confident in that could actually deliver in bringing groups to him. He wanted to work with somebody that was more established in order to get that started. It’s an incredible story. I walked up there; he barely knows me. I have a reputation in the community but other than that, he didn’t know anything about me. I looked around and said to him, “I want this here and I want this there. I need twenty-eight people and I need a house for my faculty and I need a kitchen here and a yoga platform there and that’s what I need.” He said, “Okay, okay,” and I’m just kind of looking at this guy like he’s crazy. Sure enough, six months later, there it is, my freaking permaculture yoga ashram. It’s just insane that it’s worked out the way it has. That’s the cherry version, but there was a lot of challenges, of course.

We have the Soul Work Jungle Ashram here and we welcome groups throughout the year. We have two-hundred hour yoga teacher training immersion programs. We have trauma informed yoga teacher trainings. We have silent retreats and we host mostly women from all around the world for these intensives. We have a strong focus on taking them on a journey from deep spiritual inquiry to empowered entrepreneurship. I educate on the techniques and practices of yoga. We talk about social justice. We talk about the ethics of giveback and I really work to empower the women that I work with in financial competency and really getting skills to transform their passion into successful entrepreneurship through the practices of yoga or these alternative healing techniques. I help them find a way to actually sustain themselves as healers out in the world doing that work.

So, you are teaching them business skills as well?

Yeah, absolutely. It’s something that we focus on a lot here that I think is really different. It’s important. I think we talk about the market being saturated and if you’re talking about a yoga teacher trying to get a job at a studio, of course that’s really difficult. One of the things that we talk about is competition and the theory of competition. When you actually take a step above where everybody else is operating, there is a lot less competition there. For me to try and make good money as a yoga teacher in Indianapolis, working at a yoga studio, of course that would be almost impossible. But if I’m creating a business in Costa Rica and running my permaculture farm and operating at a different level while keeping my mind open, I really have been able to build a thriving business with that model. So, it’s been really important for me in supporting people in thinking outside of the box a little bit and helping them with freedom entrepreneurship and lifestyle design and all of these new paradigm ways of thinking about how it is that we can support ourselves and our families.

What are some the creative ways that you’re teaching people that they can rise above the competition? What does that look like to rise above the competition in the yoga teaching world?

I think there are similar practices across the board, but really being clear about your niche and figuring out what exactly it is that you’re good at. Something that we teach in our programs is we actually talk about shadow work and the wounds and how that, very oftentimes, is the exact place where we can draw inspiration from when building our business. Just to give you an example, I had a student of mine that came through one of my programs and she had breast cancer when she was twenty and they had to remove one of her breasts. Of course, that was traumatic for her and during our program she came up with this idea that she wanted to host circles for women once they found out they were diagnosed and through the process of having a breast removed and then after. She wanted to build this spiritual community. And not just a spiritual community but a spiritual community with a hippy vibe, because that’s how people are thriving now. You’re coming together and you’re burning candles and you’re in nature and there are these ancient songs and weaving in these indigenous components of practice or the yogic way is really attractive. People really feel connected to that.

I think a lot of people have trauma around the traditional Christian model, because it wasn’t a choice for them. I think some people leave it and then choose it and come back and it’s really powerful. But I think that can be a trauma to have this religion forced upon you if it doesn’t really resonate. So, choosing this different spiritual path is really, really powerful for people. She came up with this business model while she was with me and we fleshed it out and talked about it and how we can market it and how we can do this. She went back and now is supporting women that are going through that struggle and it came from her own wound. We really educate on that and figure out how we can transform our trauma and transform our wounds into ways that we can actually give back out in the world.

Would you say that a Christian experience in your early years was wounding to you? Did you find that to be a challenge for you personally?

I did not. I am lucky in that and I was raised with a lot of pride and an understanding of my family line and family history. I do think there was a period of my life in college most specifically, I studied Western Philosophy and there was a point where I moved away from my faith. I just wanted to believe in myself and I wanted to make sure that what I was practicing and what I was preaching came from a conscious choice, rather than just something I’d been told. I had a very loving introduction to Christianity with my grandmother and I going to church. There was definitely a point in my life where I fought with that though. I wanted to make sure that it was something that felt good to me and that just because I grew up in Indiana with white Anglo-Saxon Protestant parents and grandparents, I refuse to accept that somehow, I’d been born into the right way and that that was the only right way. I really needed to grapple and have that struggle with my faith in my life.

It sounds like Christian faith is still a part of your life even now. How do you integrate that with the yoga teachings and philosophies? Or do you?

I actually spent some time in Srinagar, which you may or may not know is an area in Northern India and some people believe that Jesus is actually buried there. There are books and all kinds of interesting ideas around the belief that that is where he was during his missing years and that he was there in India studying.

There are actually some really interesting parallels between when we look at the teachings of Jesus and when we look at the teachings of yoga. In yoga, the primary focus of what it is that we’re doing as yoga practitioners, is identify with the inner witness. And so, in the yoga philosophy we ask the question, “What is permanent in you?” Your body is always changing. Your mind’s always changing. Your emotions are always changing. What is it that’s permanent in you? The answer to that with the yoga philosophy is the witness. There is a belief  that there is some all-conscious being inside of you that is watching the fluctuations of your life unfold and that the witness inside of me is actually the same as the witness inside of you. And so, we share this consciousness that is watching our lives unfold and when we look at Islam or when we look at Christianity and when we look at these different religions, that witness is believed to be God.

So, when Jesus shares, “Behold the kingdom of God is within you,” this actually completely aligns with the teachings and the practices of yoga. When we look at the ethical commitments and when we look at the way that he lived his life, it’s in perfect alignment with the yogic philosophy. I’m not sure what your school of thinking is, but I’ve sat with different thinkers and teachers and leaders in the Christian faith and have had explained to me that Jesus is the bridge from this human experience into the kingdom and the afterlife. In my belief, I believe that there are many different walks and paths to arrive there. Jesus was the first master I was introduced to absolutely, but there are many different ways to dance with the divine and his teachings were incredible and 100% in line. In yoga, we just don’t teach Jesus as being the primary teacher, but that there are many and it all falls together very, very beautifully.

How is your approach to yoga unique? I’ve watched quite a bit of your videos. I’ve read quite a bit of your material and you say, “There’s a uniqueness to what we’re doing  and it’s not just these different positions.” Talk to me about that.

I think what’s really special about what we do in the West, is that we are rooted in lineage but I think that that is something that has been lost. When we look at the history of yoga and how it’s developed in the West, just in the last twenty or thirty years, there are a lot of white teachers that are educating the next line of teachers and I’m one of them. That is very, very new. For a very long time it was a series of Indian teachers that came with lineage from India that were offering the teachings. Then they offered those teachings to the West and then from there, now they’ve been offered again and again. We’re in this third or fourth generation from the Indian guru and the teachings being taught in the West and I think that there’s a lot of depth that can be lost in translation. It’s a natural thing.

It’s become more of this physical practice. A lot of the Sanskrit and the philosophy and the understanding of the eight limbed path has been lost, including the Sanskrit songs, the mantra, and all of these other things. I think what’s different about us is that my lineage comes directly from India. It comes directly from my teacher and he actively guides and supports me regularly. We are still very much so connected with the ancient teachings as they are in India, as well as educating on these Western business practices and things that really support people in building a powerful business. I have been blessed by my teacher to offer these teachings and there is accountability and integrity and a lot of depth to what it is that we offer.

So, people come and train with you but they can also just go for some sort of retreat, right? They don’t just go to be trained as a yoga teacher, but to just go and experience what you have to offer. Is that correct?

Yes.

I know you do some work here in the U.S. You have a few retreats here but you also host retreats in Costa Rica. What is the best URL for them to visit?

Yes. So, www.soulwork.com is going to be where people can find all of our upcoming retreats and our trainings. We also have the silent retreat later this year, which is a really powerful opportunity to dive into a lot of the emotional detox. And then we also have the Soul Work Academy online, which is a membership based tuition at $9.00 a month. There we are offering yoga teacher training quality education, philosophy, the postures and everything is available there as well. We also have the film that just came out this week, which is really exciting. There are all kinds of different ways that people can collaborate with us and find free trainings on the website as well.

Tell us about the film. Why did you create this? What is it? I’ve watched it. It’s amazing. Tell us about the heart behind it.

So, the idea is that through social media, through email marketing and all these different tools that we have to connect with our audience, there’s really no substitute for really seeing and feeling and being with the process here in Costa Rica. The film just felt like a really, really important anthem for this generation of leaders that are emerging and weaving together a spiritual life with thriving business. Really moving into this new paradigm way of being of service and creating businesses that are both profit based as well as serving the community in a powerful way. We really wanted a super visual and emotional way to connect with our students. Our students that have participated with us are super proud of it and it also serves to call in people and to really give people a taste of who we are and what we’re about. We’re excited to call in the tribe that we will be working with in the future.

Adi, I’m blown away by what you’re doing. You’re an adventurist.

Awe, thanks David.

Without a doubt. I love your heart behind, “Hey, we’ve all got to make a living.” You want to help people make a living and want to use tools to do it. You have a value for the traditions and lineage that are super important to you and I love your heart behind what’s sustainable in terms of lifestyle and the actual physical property that you have. The ashram there is just gorgeous. I mean, goodness. The video that I’ve seen, it’s just beautiful.

Thank you so much, David. I appreciate that a lot.

So, beautiful. Alright, so we’ll get people going to www.soulwork.com. You’ve got to sign up and get access to watch the film. It’s about forty minutes, am I right?

Yeah, it’s right under fifty minutes.

You’ll love it. It’s like a fifty minute meditation just soaking in the beauty of Costa Rica. I started to sweat from the humidity just watching it.

Yeah, I can relate to that.

Thanks so much for being with us, Adi.

Awe, thank you, David.


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