VERONIQUE NICOLAI is the Director of the Heartfulness Yoga Academy and the coordinator of the Yoga4Unity platform. As a pediatrician, she is also passionate about mental and physical well-being for all ages, especially children. Here she is interviewed by VARSHA KUSHWAHA about her own journey.
Q: Thanks for joining us Dr. Veronique. We wish to know where your journey started, and how is it you’re here today?
VN: Thank you for inviting me. To make it short, I started with Heartfulness Meditation, a modern form of Raja Yoga. I didn’t start with Asana and Pranayama but directly with meditation. It answered the need I had when young to understand myself better. That’s why I also became a doctor, to understand how we work.
Why Heartfulness? I was impressed with the people who were doing it. To be precise, they attracted me because they were joyful. I felt they were well established in their family, successful in their profession, fun and authentic. I could be who I wanted to be, and it was extremely relaxing. Maybe that’s the purpose of yoga, to feel relaxed. I wanted to know what made them like that, and made me feel that way in their presence. There was joy. Only much later I discovered that yoga is all about inner joy.
I didn’t stumble into yoga after a trauma or an event. I was having quite a nice life, but I did have a question from childhood onward: “Why are we here?” I would ask, “Why go to bed if I have to wake up in the morning?” I felt that deep search for the purpose of life.
By the age of 21, I had an apartment, I was studying to be a doctor, I had great relationships with friends, and I thought, “If this is life, then I’m done. It can’t just be this! What am I going to do for the rest of my life?” I needed to find something deeper. And when I met people who were meditating, I could see that they didn’t have the same insecurity.
The Heartfulness way offers
all the limbs of yoga,
including asanas and pranayama.
It encompasses the entire
philosophy of yoga,
based on the Vedas,
and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras,
all for modern life.
Heartfulness did not give me immediate answers, but it showed me a path so I knew the answers would come. I think everyone has the same question at some stage in their life. One day it comes. Some suppress it, but it’s there in everyone.
For many years, I was part of a team coordinating an international scholarship program for Heartfulness, with people coming from many countries, especially those where we didn’t have trainers. They would spend a month with us and go back to their countries as trainers. We had amazing people from all walks of life, from Burkina Faso, Sri Lanka, South America, CIS countries, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, etc.
Meditation with a trainer, with Pranahuti, is a catalyst for growth. You see the results quickly without much effort. It is like climbing a mountain; you can climb up on your own, or you hold onto a rope and go up much faster. Pranahuti is the rope that takes you up. You just make the effort to sit in meditation everyday. Of course, there is practice, there is continuity, and there is discipline. Once you have all three, you become effective in everything you do. You work faster, make better choices, and manage your time better. For me, time management equals meditation. When I am all over the place, and I’m not able to get to where I want to be, I first align myself by doing my practice well. I then become more efficient, to manage my life successfully and give back. I think we’re here for that.
Heartfulness Meditation is simple. You don’t need a mantra, chanting, or any preparation. It’s silent. You don’t need an education. Even if you cannot read and write, you will receive the same benefit when you meditate. There is no need to speak. That’s its strength. Heartfulness is for everyone.
Nowadays, the Heartfulness way offers all the limbs of Yoga, including asanas and pranayama. It encompasses the entire philosophy of yoga, based on the Vedas, Sankhya philosophy, and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, all for modern life. It’s extremely practical. You cannot know by reading or by watching other people do it.
Heartfulness Meditation is supported by Pranahuti (from the word “prana,” which means energy). We call it Transmission in English. It is the subtlest energy that flows from the heart of the trainer to the heart of the practitioner, and it was the key for me. I will remember that first experience all my life. After I had my introductory sessions, I was walking home from the trainer’s place and I wanted to tell everyone, “This is so simple. This is available.” I wanted to wake up my entire city.
I was in France at that time. To this day, that has been my effort, the revelation was so strong. Many Heartfulness volunteers have a similar experience and dedication. We want to give time to train others, because it’s the best thing that has happened to us. Actually, for yoga teachers, the spirit of service is part of the fiber of our being. In Heartfulness, the trainers never charge for the practices.
Q: When you say yoga, I only think of asanas. I think meditation comes later in life. So how do asanas, meditation, and all the other parts of yoga fit together?
VN: Heartfulness is known for meditation, but it has always been based on Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga philosophy.
What is asana? In Patanjali’s words, it means to be comfortable and stable in your posture so that you can sit for meditation.
Heartfulness starts with meditation, but there is still a need to take care of the body. Being a doctor, I know it’s very important to do something for the body. I used to do all kinds of sports, like anybody raised in the West. I came to yoga later. At the beginning, I didn’t like it much, because it was too slow for me, my mind was too fast; but asanas have definitely helped me. They are good preparation.
Even if you already meditate, asanas are a fantastic way to take care of your health. You can hit the gym, swim, and walk, but if you want to do something that is complete and aligned to your practice of meditation, then yoga is a great way to take care of your body.
The asanas evolved that way. In ancient times, when yogis meditated, they sat for hours. Their muscles, their strength, even their nervous system started withering away, because they were not using them. So they devised a way to take care of the body, too. Asanas support meditation. Start with meditation, then include pranayama, and then use asanas to prolong the condition that you have after meditation.
There’s another element that’s extremely important. In Heartfulness we meditate on the heart, reconnecting us to the heart. Children bring joy because they’re in touch with their hearts so completely and freely. In psychology, we know that children develop ego at the age of three. They start to say “I” when they speak. Before that, they live in the present and bring joy to the whole family.
Unfortunately, when we educate the brain, and the mind takes over, we start remembering and worrying, so we’re no longer in the present. Linking people back to the heart is the most important thing we can do. In Heartfulness, before we do any asanas, we sit on the mat and connect to the heart. Then, throughout the practice, we come back to the heart. Meditation connects us to the heart and nourishes the qualities of the heart.
Asanas are a fantastic way
to take care of your health.
You can hit the gym, swim, and walk,
but if you want to do something
that is complete and aligned
to your practice of meditation,
then yoga is a great way
to take care of your body.
From the perspective of the chakras, the heart chakra is the middle one; it’s connected to all the other chakras. So we start with the heart chakra, nourish it, and clean it. Asanas and pranayama are also all about cleaning and preparing. We prepare the mind to be still. So, in Heartfulness, we start from inside with meditation, developing the qualities of the heart, and from outside we also shape the body.
To be continued.
Véronique is a French pediatrician, meditation trainer, and Yoga instructor. She was a coordinator of the International Heartfulness Training Programs and a co-founder of the Heartfulness program for cancer patients. She is currently the Director of the Heartfulness Yoga Academy.