'As a Kid I Was Enchanted by What Yogis Do, Like Levitating. So I Became One'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: A father who travels the world teaching yoga, and his daughter, who travels the world collecting vintage clothing

Shir Reuven
Shir Reuven
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Yul and Eyal Shifroni.
Yul and Eyal Shifroni.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Shir Reuven
Shir Reuven

Yul Shifroni, 28; lives in Tel Aviv, arriving from Barcelona. Eyal Shifroni, 67; lives in Zichron Yaakov, flying to Warsaw

Hi, are you arriving or departing?

Yul: Dad is flying out and I’m arriving – we met completely by chance.

Eyal: I’m flying to Poland, to Warsaw, and from there to Wroclaw. I’m a yoga teacher and I’m giving a workshop there this weekend.

How did you get to the point where you’re a yoga teacher who travels abroad to work?

Eyal: I’ve been practicing yoga for more than 40 years, and gradually I began to become known and started conducting workshops all over the world. I teach the Iyengar method. I’m not the only one.

Yul: But he’s the best.

Eyal: My children think I’m the best. I published a few books on yoga, so people around the world have gotten to know me. One is called “A Chair for Yoga” and it’s about all the ways you can use a chair in yoga, because in Iyengar we use all kinds of props that help our practice. Following that, I wrote a book called “The Psychophysical Lab,” and I will soon be publishing one called “Yoga in Nature.” They’re all in English and have been translated into many languages, but not Hebrew, regrettably. In Israel there is a small audience and they all know English, so it’s not really profitable to translate. But my first book was translated into some nine languages.

Including Hindi?

Hindi no, but for the same reason it wasn’t translated into Hebrew: Indians know English.

Iyengar is very meticulous yoga, very physical.

Meticulous, I agree, because much care is taken regarding precision in the movements. But physical, no, because through the body one arrives at consciousness for the mind.

Yogis always say that, but maybe you’ll explain how it works – body and mind.

Yoga is actually a spiritual path. The postures, which are called asanas, are only one of the lessons taught on that path, and that’s what people are generally familiar with. The ultimate goal is to arrive at some sort of union with creation, or whatever you want to call it – a state known as “samadhi” in yoga. The body is used to reach a quieter, more balanced consciousness. Just practicing the asanas is quietening and clarifying. Even if you start out confused, edgy, sad – no matter what your frame of mind was, you complete it in a far quieter state; something becomes clarified in your consciousness. And then you reach a situation in which it’s possible to gaze inward and begin learning how consciousness works, and very slowly to advance to the yogi state, which is one of quiet and clear consciousness and freedom from conditioning. It sounds remote but that is the end goal.

When was your first encounter with yoga?

At some point as a child I was enchanted by the stories of the yogis, by the wonderful things they do – levitating and things like that. I always wanted to do yoga. When I was in the army, there was a period when I suddenly managed to have more time, and I came across a book on yoga, the first that was translated into Hebrew, and I started to practice. It was clear to me that after my discharge, I would immediately start learning. As soon as I finished my first class, I knew that this was it, this is for me. I had no second thoughts. I studied math and I did a PhD in computer science, but all along yoga was there, the most important thing to me.

What’s it like, having been a teacher for so long?

It’s interesting. There are teachers at my center who were my students, and you see people growing within the practice.

Forty years ago is the “desert generation” for yoga in Israel.

My older daughter, older than Yul, recalls that when she was young, in the 1980s, I used to do yoga on the beach, and she was ashamed that her father was doing weird things. Today she’s super-proud that her dad is a yoga teacher! There’s been a revolution in the field. It’s simply a good thing, and people discovered that it does them good, so it started to become popular.

Yul, were you channeled into a career in yoga?

Yul: I simply can’t do any other yoga, or Pilates, because I have an Iyengar chip in my brain. It’s a whole different experience. Recommended. But I’m involved in a completely different field, more in art.

Yul, what do you do?

My partner and I have had a vintage [clothing] brand called Essell for the past three years. So I’m always traveling, like my dad, usually to find interesting merchandise and items. But there is yoga in the art, for sure. You need a great deal of attention and attentiveness, and also meticulousness, which is something specifically related to my father. We have to select our items, which is like curating; you must be very attentive in that, too. Those are things you can learn from yoga.

Eyal: I am meticulous about the correct yoga posture; she is meticulous about each item of clothing.

So you import clothes?

Yul: Yes, but also vintage shoes, handbags, jewelry. Both my partner and I have had a passion for rummaging, looking for items, since we were little.

What’s fun about all that searching?

It’s all about items that have a story, and also quality – there’s nothing like it. You really see the value of the clothing and all it’s gone through, and that’s exciting. A lot more than going to Zara and buying a shirt that another million people have. I get euphoric when I find a pile of good clothes or a special closet.

So is quality related to a lack of mass production?

In mass production things are cheapened, and also people are used. It’s a lot less fun to know what the [mass-produced] thing you’re wearing went through. But there’s also the fact that in the past many women went to a tailor and had blouses made to measure, and things were far more personal. Even if something was made from plastic materials, you feel that the seam is a seam, the lining is a lining.

You deal in items with a history, so did you ever come across something that someone left in a piece of clothing?

I did. I found a cake recipe in a handbag – something right out of the 1950s, for chocolate cake, something basic like that. The feeling was that it’s a recipe the woman used a lot; it’s tattered, she schlepped it everywhere. I want to make the cake.

Do you think that in the future people will look back admiringly at clothes that can be bought in malls today?

I don’t think that mass-produced items will get to the point where they will really have value, but I think independent designers can create things that someday can stir in the mind of a person who sees them the thought that, “Hey, I once owned something like that.”

What’s fashion like in Spain?

The feeling in general there is far more liberated, also sexually. It’s really fun. People go around in much skimpier clothes, many women go topless on the beach, and there is even [full] nudity on some beaches. That makes one think a lot about Israel, where all that is impossible.

Does openness like that trickle down into the general culture?

Yes. The southern part of the country is very calm, they go with the flow, it’s a pleasure. But in Barcelona I noticed an interesting phenomenon: There were a lot of really young women street cleaners, pretty and also well-groomed.

What did you think about that?

That maybe it’s a more egalitarian thing, for everyone to do all the jobs. There was one nicely turned-out cleaner with a ponytail and lip gloss, but with a garbage collector’s uniform. These women seem to be very goal-oriented, they are really into being clean. I was sure it was some sort of performance. There’s another thing there: The waiters are also a lot older. Interesting why that happens, if it’s just because they have fewer job possibilities.

Can you sense that they have fewer options?

A friend who traveled with me said that he was asked what he does, and when he said he creates art, they asked, “Is everyone in Israel an artist or a producer or a therapist?” It sounds as though everyone here does what they want to do. Maybe there’s a different conception, because in Spain they don’t have work.

Did you feel a clash between the lifestyle in Tel Aviv and in Spain?

It’s a joy the way they live, wow. During the siesta everything is closed, it’s really relaxing. I recommend going now.

You said you work with your partner, what’s that like?

It all started from our artistic connection. We met at Bezalel [art school in Jerusalem] and only afterward became a couple. Somehow until now we shared some of the same creative craziness. It is a bit difficult to get things done, to manage a home together, our brand and also do creative work – it’s complicated. But it’s a once-in-a-lifetime connection.

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