Can you begin by telling us about how you first became interested in yoga and why?
From my early teenage years I was contemplating fundamental life questions but most of what I found didn’t seem very satisfying, or uplifting let’s say. I often experienced pretty heavy weltschmerz but luckily I always trusted that I just hadn’t found the right answers yet.
I was very interested in the human nature and I was deeply inspired by personalities and mind transformers such as Gandhi, Mother Theresa, the Dalai Lama…. And I began looking more and more for a path, some system or structure that would help me cultivate deeper contentment, fearlessness and happiness.
In the beginning I found it quite difficult to get started, I was curious both about yoga and martial arts but I felt pretty overwhelmed by the amount of different schools and styles. The only thing I was certain about was the physical approach. I’ve always been physically quite active (except for my teenage years, hehe) and training the mind by using the body sounded very appealing and like the right thing for me at that time.
What struck me the most with the first yoga classes I joined is that I didn’t have to perform, compete or even be good at it. This felt like such a big relief and made a deep and lasting impression on me. I knew that this was good for me and exactly what I needed. It was like love on the first sight and I have practiced ever since.
How many years have you been teaching?
I started teaching in 2009, right after I finished a 200-hour teacher training in Berlin, which was under the direction of Beate Cuson. Initially I didn’t intend to teach. At that time I was still writing my PhD in climate research and it was more out of self-interest that I embarked on the course. But then friends and friends of friends were asking me to teach privately and for a year or two it was all donation-based with the money going to charity. I learned a lot during those initial years thanks to my “guinea pig”-students, they were lovely and very patient 🙂 I am happy that becoming a teacher wasn’t on the agenda to begin with. It wasn’t the driving force and as such I couldn’t really fail but simply go for it and learn along the way. The whole process felt just very organic.
The 200-hour teacher training was a great way to start but obviously it gives you only but a glimpse of the most prominent aspects the teaching is about, such as the physical work, breathing techniques, the historical and spiritual background, maybe some insight into meditation and how to teach all this and to design an intelligently sequenced class. In the end I was left with more questions than I had in the beginning – which was great! I mean, I was overwhelmed, ok, but really hooked at the same time and very eager to learn more. Since then I joined numerous workshops, trainings and courses. At some point I decided to add massage to my toolbox and again – in the beginning it was less because I planned to give treatments but because learning hands-on techniques would make me feel more confident and be more precise with hands-on adjustments during class. Now I give treatments on a regular basis. All of this is obviously an ongoing journey where I got to meet very inspirational people along the way. And throughout the years I changed focus and direction several times. That happened in response to changing circumstances in my own life (pregnancy, injuries ect) as well as to questions and issues my students brought up. This quality of flow and adaptability is what I love so much about Yoga! The Yoga practice is very personal, it changes and it grows. My own practice as well as my style of teaching are pretty eclectic and experimental. I often like to think of the practice as a river. Most rivers grow the further they flow. They flow through changing landscapes, sometimes wild and rough, sometimes quietly meandering. I have still quite some way to go to reach the ocean…. Exciting to see what happens then 😉
Where can people find your classes?
I teach weekly group classes in Stavanger centre. Besides that I offer private classes, office yoga and people can also find me online and join free classes from the comfort of their home.
Is yoga more for the body or the mind and why?
One of my teachers always used to say that Yoga is a work-out for the body and a work-in for the mind. But Yoga is such a rich and variable practice, providing so many different approaches and tools. With some styles the focus is clearly physical and with others it is clearly working with the mind, but the goal is always the same: the union of body and mind, to bring the mind where the body is into the here and now. The body is always here and now, the mind usually isn’t. The mind travels through time and space. It’s only when the mind joins the body that insight and understanding can happen. Yoga poses are like keys that unlock our conscious awareness, and physical forms of Yoga use the body as a tool in order to gain deeper clarity and understanding. But this might already sound quite spiritual for somebody who is new to the practice….
That’s right. So for someone who knows nothing about Yoga how would you best describe it?
I like to think of Yoga as a system of self-care. For many people who want to try physical forms of Yoga the initial motivation is to become stronger, more flexible, more graceful in the way they move ect. That’s all great stuff and the good news is, it will happen along the way! But it has the potential to go much deeper! Besides self-care it’s also about self-investigation: We get to know ourselves better and as such the practice has an effect on all aspects of life! I often compare the Yoga mat to a laboratory or playground where we can give in to the curiosity to learn more about ourselves in a playful manner, knowing that we are safe and welcome with all that we are. On the mat we cultivate qualities like clarity and attentiveness, we learn how to pay attention and to focus. In doing so, Yoga increases our understanding and slowly, gradually, we begin to see our weaknesses and strengths. We get to see our habitual responses to difficulties, to our likes and dislikes and it gets only MORE interesting once we are able to identify the typical reactions that do us more harm than good. Because then we can begin to make better choices, meaning choices that serve us well on a long-term basis.
You also practice ‘baby yoga’, what are the benefits of this to young parents? Is it still a mindful experience doing yoga whilst holding a baby? (By the way, today I learned that there is ‘cat yoga’! Crazy?)
Drinking a cup of tea or doing the laundry can be a mindful experience. It’s actually an expression of an advanced level of practice once it extends out into the daily life and isn’t just restricted to the mat or the meditation cushion.
But you are right, I mean, Baby “Yoga” often just serves the simple purpose of getting to stretch out, take a deep breath and move. We get a short break from the physical demand it takes to nurse and care for a small baby and it can help take off the edge.
But then Yoga is often translated as “union” and I like to think that Yoga can unite the baby and mom in a common activity. I loved these moments during the day where it felt we were actually doing something together. With a baby only a few months old it’s not that easy to really share many activities, you know:)? But then the two of us practicing together also felt like a natural continuation of prenatal Yoga when we were also sharing the mat.
A very important aspect is the intention behind our practice. Yoga is not interested in creating something for others to look at. Nothing against acrobatics, circus performances and the art of contortion – I love Cirque du Soleil…! However, Yoga is interested in personal and spiritual development. And if this can be achieved with your dog or cat on the mat, it’s not me to judge. Some doubt it’s possible with a baby, which is fair enough 😉
Of course, the intention can (and most likely will!) change and refine along the way. The practice is a path that we walk. And as we walk this path it can be helpful to pause now and then and have a close look: What is it that motivates my practice? I strongly doubt it’s enough to put our bodies into the shape of a Yoga Pose in order to label something “Yoga”. My imagination definitively hits its limits when it comes to naked Yoga or beer Yoga, but it might just be me…
What would you say to someone that says ‘It looks too hard’ or ‘I can’t even touch my toes?!’
Very simple, very brief: “It’s not you who needs to adapt to yoga but yoga must adapt to you. Not just to your level of fitness but also to your individual goals.”
Actually, not everybody is interested in being able to touch the toes with legs straight and it’s certainly not a prerequisite for to become a better person or live a healthier life. However, a good place to start is often a beginners class with a limited number of participants so that you can be sure that you get enough attention and guidance of a teacher that truly cares.
What do you believe is the most powerful benefit of Yoga?
I am not sure if I can think of a most powerful benefit, to be honest. The term “benefit” fails the goal of self-realisation (which sounds very big, I know…). But what makes Yoga such a powerful tool is, I think, that it is accessible and that it meets you right where you are. Like we said a moment ago, you don’t have to change or get anywhere before starting to practice. I guess this is part of its success story and why it has become so “mainstream” so to say. Also, because there are so many different styles and approaches out there that almost everybody feels addressed in one way or the other. Of course, there are problems attached to that as well and we’ve touched on that before. If practiced with the right intention then Yoga increases your insight and understanding. It empowers you to differentiate between choices that do you more harm than good. Once we manage to put this understanding into action we become the architects of our own fortune. We are more in charge than we might think and already that is very good news! But if you think that one very important aspect of the practice is ahimsa (translated as non-violence, loving kindness etc) then these choices not just benefit ourselves but also the world at large. I guess you can call that a very powerful benefit 🙂
Les mer om Sandra her – www.sansche-yoga.com