An Interview with Master Kusum Modak by Kamakshi

Pune Magazine 2007


You have spent 20 years with Shri B.K.S. Iyengar, how has that enriched you?

Kusum Modak: My health was not good, I had a lot of physical problems, I was a very weak girl, my spine was like this, my breathing was bad, and my immune system was very weak. I had tried many different things, but nothing helped. Then I thought one last thing I would like to try to do – that is Yoga. So I enrolled myself in the Ramamani Iyengar Yoga Institute, I owe quite a lot to my respected Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar for what I am having today. I am not teaching Yoga or anything, that is not my field. I just do it for my good health. When I started going to the Institute – once, twice a week; slowly, slowly I started getting healthier. I could feel it, my posture was becoming good, and my appetite and breathing started getting much better. Now you have the example in front of you. I am a 69 years old woman…

Kamakshi: And you look great…

Kusum Modak: Thank you.

Kusum: For example, someone comes with a severe back problem, and then I would say, maybe I will try to use my foot to do a little bit more pressure, maybe I would like to try this stretch to see how she feels, or he feels with that. And the next time when the patient comes, the client, they said “Oh I feel a little better with what you did. When you were doing the work I went through a little bit of pain, but I feel a little better after that.” Then I felt that this is a good stretch for this, this is a good pressure for that. Like that I’ve developed this work. The work that I’m sharing with all my students – nobody taught me. All my clients are my books. I hate to study, to read books, and this and that. I always say they are my books, with them I learned many, many things. Since I’ve started working, I’ve never looked back.

Kamakshi: Why do you use stretching and breath work?
Kusum: Because when we are trying to do the stretching, it is more intense work for you; and if you hold the breath, instead of opening the body – you try to resist my work. So you have to be fully aware with your breathing, to help me. For example, you are doing the stretch with fear or with tension, not knowing what is happening with your body; then if I hold my breath, instead of having good results, you will get bad results from me; because I feel suffocating sensations in my lungs. So, breathing is the most important thing; especially when we are doing deep work. When they come after a few sessions, they say, “I don’t have the desire to smoke anymore, I don’t have the desire to drink” Because when your body is healthy, your mind is healthy – your life is happier; so you don’t have the desire to go through the side ways, to do all these things.


What are the three humours, Kapha, Vata, and Pitta, how do you work with them?
Kusum Modak: Kapha, vata, pitta are the elements we are all having,

and according to my understanding, if one goes down, your energy goes down, then you feel the tension, then you feel the pain. So with our complete bodywork, with the stimulation of the organs, the body, the joints, the muscles, we are trying to balance everything. You may come with a back problem, but we don’t concentrate only on your back; because you should feel the complete body work. Then only it helps you. And we always keep the problem in our mind. Because everybody has some different problems, so we keep that problem in our mind, and first start to work on the spine, because the spine is the foundation of our work. If you come with a knee problem, I will never start with the knee, or my students will never start with the knee. We first have to warm up your spine, later on we concentrate on the knee. The session starts with the spine and ends with the eyes. Back as well as front. We never work only with the problem area.

Kamakshi: Traditional Ayurvedic Yoga Massage – is this a term you have coined or was it there? How does your system differ from traditional massage?

Kusum Modak: Because we are using a lot of stretches for the body, no? That comes from Yoga. If you go to Kerala, they do with a lot of oil, and just the bodywork. But my experience is that after warming up your body, when we are trying to do little stretches – the progress is easier. That is why we are calling this Traditional Ayurvedic Yoga Massage. Until today, whoever wants to come to me to learn this art, I am open for that. But I never do any kind of publicity, because I believe that word of mouth is a much better way.

Kamakshi: Is the massage according to the individual?

Kusum Modak: Yes, of course. If the patient is very chronic you cannot do a lot of the hard work for the first one or two session. Let them get feeling of some opening, let them get the feeling of their breathing, and then later on you can proceed further.

Kamakshi: Do you mix oils with powder? What is the powder? What oils do you use?

Kusum Modak: We use pure oil, whatever oil is available, that is, sesame oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, almond oil; olive oil is also very good. We never use coconut oil for the body massage because it is not good for the skin; it is only good for the hair. And the powder we are using is called ‘Vaikhand’, in English it’s called ‘Calamus’, it is a root and it is very good for blood circulation, it brings out the toxins from the body, it stimulates the blood and it is antiseptic. You can get it in ayurvedic shops, the root of calamus.

Kamakshi: I was doing a Google search on ‘Kusum Modak’, ‘Ayurvedic Yoga Massage’, and you are attributed on so many people’s sites and blogs as their Guru in this art. There is absolutely no information about you, but you are everywhere.

Kusum Modak: That’s what I said; I’m a very low key person. Even from the ashram, many therapists learned this work from me, many of them. One of my students Taruna, is giving groups and sessions in the ashram. She learned from me 4-5 years ago. A few doctors also learned this from me. The ashram story is also very interesting. I had been going to the Yoga Institute for something like twenty years. When Osho came back from the States, a friend from Yoga was at a party in Koregaon Park; and he was talking about me to some of his friends. One German lady who was listening to him, said she would like to try some work with this person you are talking about, who is she? And he said it’s my Yoga friend, Kusum, who is doing some body work, and it’s very strong work; but it helps tremendously to do yoga more easily, and makes you more aware of the physical body also. She asked for my number, but at the time I didn’t have a telephone, nothing. So he gave her my address. And one day she came. My mamma said, “Someone is looking for you.” She came in and said “I’ve heard about you, I would like to try your work. And then like that one, three, five, twenty came…just like that. According to me, your Master Osho is the man of the century, I respect him a lot, I like his understanding; I like everything.

Kamakshi: What do you feel of the new ways in society, where people are less and less in touch with their bodies?

Kusum Modak: If you tell an Indian college-going girl, that I don’t have a dining table; you have to sit down on the floor and eat; like in the olden days, what we used to do. She will say, “Oh, I have difficulty sitting down…” which is a very disturbing thought. I don’t want to say that everything modern is bad, and everything ancient was good. But we try to take the middle path; we try to make the balance in between that. We have to accept some new things, and we have to accept some old things also. Why don’t you listen to your own mind? Why don’t you listen to your own feeling? Most of the time, we are following the society. Many people ask me, “You are feeling comfortable with the sari? You are giving massage with the sari? You are teaching this work with your sari?” I feel very comfortable with my sari, I am very happy. I am a very traditional woman, and I am very happy – this is the way I am. I must say that living in India, not getting married, doing this work with men and women; all the credit goes to my Mamma, because she was a pillar behind me. (tears flow down as her voice falters) Otherwise I would not have been able to do all this. She never forced me to get married, she never ever, not even once; did she ask me what work I am doing, whether I am comfortable like this. So all the credit goes to her, she was a very firm strong pillar behind me. I miss her quite a lot.

Kamakshi: I have heard that your work is very structured; it covers every part of the body systematically. That once you’ve had this kind of a massage; with another style you feel the difference, you have shared something amazing with all your students, who are taking it all around the world…

Kusum Modak: I feel very happy and contented that my students are flourishing. I’m just doing one drop of the work, but I feel very happy with what I’ve developed a little bit. And to be very honest with you, now at this age, I’ve done a lot of work, individual sessions also. Now at this stage, I would like to pass on as much as I can. From the olden days there were still so many hidden secrets which we don’t know about. It carries on just within the family. You are my son, you are my daughter; and I pass it on only to you, not to the others. So many hidden secrets are still hidden. But my thinking is the other way around. Till today, if I feel that this might be a good thing, I feel very uneasy till I can pass it on to my students, because maybe the next time won’t come. You get my point? That’s why I always wanted to pass it on. That is why all my friends, my senior students, say that not a single workshop of yours is the same, it is not monotonous. Every time something comes, I pass it on…

-Interview by Kamakshi, Pune, India.

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