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Guest Teacher Series Lifestyle Yoga

Guest Teacher Series | Susanne Mayer : Hands & Feet in Yoga

May 22, 2020

Today we had the privilege to have Susanne Mayer as our guest teacher.  Susanne’s session was called Hands & Feet in Yoga.  The hands and feet are the base in all asanas, and we hardly pay attention to their placement and positioning.  When practicing asanas our attention moves to the gross body, and we rarely think of the seemingly ‘unimportant’ aspects of the asana. During the session we learned how to use our hands and feet to bring stability to our asanas and used blocks to understand them more.  Below is a recording of the class, since I know many of you will want to follow along.

I met Susanne about 4 years ago at RIMYI (Pune) and last year we hosted our first yoga retreat together in Liguria, Italy. Below is a snapshot of a conversation I had with Susanne some time last year.  I had intended to put it up on the blog back then, but have only gotten around to it now.

When did you start practicing yoga?

On a day off during our Liguria 2019 retreat.

I started practicing a long long time ago, but it was not Iyengar yoga.

My first Iyengar-like Yoga experience came from a used little pocket book I saw in the street of some South American city, I believe it was in Buenos Aires or Santiago – don’t remember. It was titled “Yoga for Americans” and is written by “Indra Devi” who was, just like Iyengar a student of Krishnamacharya (I didn’t know anything of that, back then…), but I guess she was at Krishnamacharya’s a bit later than Iyengar. She was the first woman who Krishnamacharya agreed to teaching yoga –- after first refusing to do so. He was basically forced by the Maharaja of Mysore’s wife in whose place he had lived and taught their children for so long. Indra Devi was American from Los Angeles and had developed an early love for India and the films produced there, subsequently she starred in several old movies from that time around the 1930s onwards…

That little book traveled with me and was pulled out each morning when I had to get up and out of our tight bed in our VW camper van in which I traveled with my boyfriend and another friend through South, Central and North America from 1977-1979. We were sort of hippes then…

But each morning I rolled out my woolen blanket when I had found a level patch somewhere near and started with some rounds of Surya Namaskara, then some other poses, but mostly learnt and practiced headstand. Without any wall behind my I just did as she describes in that book, and one day it worked. Don’t ask me what that looked like… 😉

Between then and my first time with Iyengar yoga, there were lots of periods when I’d rather dance, Contemporary, Jazz, Brazilian and classic ballet styles alike. But after a while I always returned to yoga, as it seemed to offer something on top of the beauty in bodies moving along with nice music, something deeper. resonating within me with more satisfaction and promising more understanding of whatever there was out there.

On that long way I had many different teachers and went to different yoga centres – Sivananda was the most wide spread in germany at that time, but only in big cities like Munich where I lived for a while, and Frankfurt where I also had a stint for work at television. Nothing in Stuttgart…   Somehow I lost it again and again because either I moved to another place for work or a good teacher changed pathways and went elsewhere.

Until I met an old friend at a jazz club one night who I hadn’t seen in a long time. I told me: ” I’m doing great, I practice yoga.” I was surprised – he didn’t seem like a yoga student type to me. He told me he had suffered from migraine all his life and was “out” for a few days each month but had been alright since he started yoga.

I instantly asked him where he went to practice and he told me about this great teacher close to my house, and I was there the next morning… 😉

After those first 90 minutes I walked out and felt my whole body vibrating and lifting up by itself.

 

That was it for me. I went back for years, up to 3-4 times a week. Until I asked my teacher how I could get deeper into the philosophy of yoga. He recommended a teacher training to explore that.  As I had been teaching at university for many years and was happy being a student, I didn’t quite want to go there, but he said I could just do it and then see if I’d really want to teach. So….

Susanne’s cute mini cooper was also our main ride to the city during the retreat.

What brought you to yoga?

My mat was and is my island – away from my continuous stream of work and my little family back then, and

presently, as someone who recently retired and has all the time of the day to their own disposition, it’s more and more to meet with my deeper inner being, experience my breath, and to still these endless movements of my all too vivid mind.

Back then, luckily my young son also had training sessions of sports on some evenings or didn’t mind me returning home a bit later, and my partner usually never returned from his office before 7:30pm for dinner anyway, and sometimes I also went in the early mornings, before I went to uni… It was doable. In 2012 I started my teacher training and since then, for me my life has continually developed in an uplifting and creative way, breaking through what had been limits to my life so far, and it’s simply great.

I somehow also started teaching just because I really believe in the power of practicing yoga in a multidimensional way and felt an urge to help passing it on to others.

I experience teaching as a most giving process. While I still worked at uni, sometimes I felt really tired when I went to my yoga classes right after returning home in the evening, but after teaching one or two yoga classes, I come out somehow elated and energized. Which is amazing and very fulfilling.

What keeps you going?

Yoga keeps changing my life for the better, my body is healthy, my mind is alive, I feel younger than ten years ago, in some ways at least as far as my energy goes.

With age my body is giving me new challenges with problems in several joint areas. Iyengar Yoga is the best to deal exactly with such issues, and this made me start studying yoga therapy a year ago. It is physio therapeutic work including the aligning, joining and relaxing aspects of yoga.

Yoga helps a lot with another process which comes with getting older, which is much more important than physical ability, I believe.It forces us to look inside ourselves and towards an understanding of our mind’s workings.

We overcome new challenges of all kinds with new and never ending confidence about our ability to tackle almost anything by simple continuous practice of asanas and meditation.

And so on…

The entire Liguria 2019 crew having one last dinner before we bid each other adieu…until next year.

What was your day job?

I worked at the Stuttgart Media University, where I held a professor position for more than 20 years.  Nearly 35 years of facing ever changing media, software and computer systems, the amounts of communication that come along with these jobs simply made me sit, and sit and sit, looking into this square screen, not noticing how time flew away, until my body cried for help.

Plus – my son told me I was hunching forward at the dining table like an old woman (…children usually tell the truth as bitter as it may taste…), and mostly my bones told me I couldn’t really get up and walk after long hours of computer work –  I HAD to do something….

Why Iyengar yoga for you?

I noticed this was a different kind of teaching. I was told what do with my different body parts, where to put my attention to and what parts to connect or stretch – unlike in other yoga styles where there is no real instruction, just  showing poses with the order: …and now you do it (…which ever way you can…)

There was helpful correction into alignment and I started understanding little by little what yoga really was about.

I could feel the wholeness of my body and its limbs, including my minds workings, and I  understood the ways some parts wouldn’t go unless I was shown or told how to do it “right” – after which it always felt like another epiphany, one after the other…

How many times have you been to India?

Only twice in my life – but there will be more… 🙂 I had been scared for a long time, that India would catch me emotionally and I might not be able to bear seeing so much poverty next to utter luxury and not cry out loud…

But now… maybe due to my yoga practice and learnings on Indian history and philosophy I might be able and also want to understand a lot better. I can definitely feel my fascination with India’s culture after my only two visits during those last years growing…

The first time was in February 2017 when I flew back from Australia via Delhi to visit an Indian friend who came to visit my partner and me  some years before in Germany. She had invited me to come and meet her family in Delhi, always telling me, if I ever come to India, to come to her house so she could plan all else from there with me.

The whole family was incredibly helpful in answering all my “newbie” questions about their daily rituals, and also the reason for all these  maids in the house who all shared a different kind of mini job. Like one came just to do the dishes, another who actually lived in the house, was presently trained in cooking specials, where to shop for food and what to prepare, yet another came in each day for washing clothes (by hand…) and another one came to clean the house…

Still, my friend seemed utterly exhausted by having to manage all that along with her mother-in-law in whose house they lived.

I thought – WOW,  at home I do all that by myself… plus I raise my kid and have a full-time job…

After 3 or 4 days Delhi I sort of fled to Goa, just to be able to walk and breathe some clean air on an open beach again which I had just left behind in my favourite places in Australia…

But that didn’t happen before I explored some really stunning places in Delhi – like the Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb and I couldn’t get enough of the beauty of architecture, harmony, geometry, and the poetry and music which was offered through the audio guides there.

All in all this was a great introduction to one of the biggest cities, rounded by a surprise concert with my favourite Tabla player Zakir Hussein who happened to play a charity concert at my friends’ sons’ college on my last night there.

Coincidence organized by the universe I like to think.

After about a week in Goa I went to Pune to visit the RIMIY institute for the first time – mainly to find out of I really felt I could go there half a year later for my practice month which I had signed up for already years before.

I had heard all kinds of stories…

I had passed my teacher assessment just 2 years before I went there for the first time, and BKS Iyengar had already passed away by then.

 

But I was received very friendly, was allowed to go into the big shala to watch a class given by Abhijata and Raya who I had both met before during yoga conferences in Berlin and Basel/Switzerland.

Your favourite aspect of Iyengar yoga?

The unending depth of further explorations into our true being which keeps evolving more and more over the years.Exploring interpretations of the Patanjali Sutras with those more than 2000-year-old insights on the workings of a human brain and how Patanjali mentions bit by bit all the obstacles from simple to complex we as humans are confronted with on a daily basis… then obviously as today: it’s the very same phenomena as we experience today what is being discussed there.

Western psychology could have won tons of insights many years ago from these deep Eastern philosophical musings, had it not been largely ignored by Western snobbishness. It’s very slowly showing and dawning on the horizon in Western medicine and psychology/psychiatry, thanks to the hard work of a few determined doctors, academics, philosophers and healers alike.

Blog Lifestyle Yoga

2019 : The End of a Decade

December 28, 2019

The last blog for the decade can’t be anything but a collection of highlights of the year gone by…

January 2019 started with me defining my theme for the year.  Month after month I strove to stick to it.  I reminded myself of it in gratitude journals and monthly reviews.  When asked about my word for the year in a bloggers’ group I’m a member of, I realized that mine would have to be perseverance.

February saw me travelling for the first time to Sri Lanka, to teach internationally.  I was excited to be teaching in Tangalle, a beautiful and calm little beach town.  We had a blast and on the way back I wrote a poem through which I tried to capture my thoughts and feelings.

March was a month of planning and preparing for a possible retreat in Italy.  TBH, I wasn’t sure I would be able to pull it off, but I told myself that I’d already taught in Sri Lanka to positive reviews and with the right attitude, this would also materialize.  It was a charmed time, teaching alongside Suzanne, sharing food and stories, long walks through olive gardens and along the Mediterranean.  I can’t believe it’s happening again in 2020, and this time we promise it’s going to bigger and better.

In April I watched ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and wrote possibly the most fun blog ever (going by the views and comments).  What else do you expect from a yogini?  Read the blog now, I promise you’ll love it.

In May I did a little bit of humorous soul searching, trying to gain clarity on who I am and what I want.  It will resonate with all those of us who have ever used #myfitnessjourney.

June was D-month.  The month of the long-awaited yoga retreat in Liguria.  We had advertised and planned.  Discussed and thought.  It comprised getting documentation work ready for my sister, my cousin, my boyfriend and myself to head to Italy on a 15 DAY sojourn.  None of us had done anything this exciting ever in our lives and we were stoked to say the least.  We booked tickets and accommodation.  I planned my classes.  And we were finally on our way.  Read more of our adventures here.

By July I was a published author.  My book, Beyond Asanas, was in bookstores and I did my share of promotional activities for it.  My friends, family and students clicked pictures of my book wherever they saw it.  Being a published author which was a life-long dream and in August I was forced to think about reading and writing.

In September I was in Pune for my month at RIMYI (which is fast becoming an annual tradition).  I also attended my first Lit Fest as a writer and that memory will always be special.  A chance question at my session became one of the most viewed blogs of the year.  It’s called “Why Am I Not Losing Weight?” and you can read it here.

October saw me back in Bangalore to resume classes.  And a pleasant surprise came to me as if by Providence herself!   An old friend living in Tokyo, googles for yoga teachers and comes upon me.  And just a few weeks later we have a reunion after 10 whole years.  A decade changes us in more ways than we can define.  And good friendships – they remind you of why you were friends in the first place..

In November I was compelled to take a walk down memory lane and into my closet!  It was also the month where I received a sweet note from the PMO.

December was a month of national turbulence.  My mind was also restless which is why my Christmas post wasn’t all eggnog and reindeers like I had hoped it would be.  I wrote a hard-hitting poem about another event that shook the country, and for the first time performed it on stage too!

It’s almost the end of December, and with it the end of the decade.  I’ve been thinking of my word/theme for 2020.  I’ve been extremely fidgety in the last few months.  The main question plaguing my waking moments is ‘What next?’  I realize I want to move on to doing projects that have a greater impact.  I want to use everything I’ve learned and experienced this far to do something more meaningful in the coming months.  I want to do better projects, push the envelope in terms of what I have to offer.  Therefore my theme/word for 2020 came to be quite organically.  And my word is : fruition.

I wish you all dear readers a very happy new year and promise that in 2020 this blog will be have you more engaged, informed and inspired.  So stay with me and stay safe!

 

In March I was extremely honored to receive the ‘Woman Achiever Award’ in the field of yoga by the prestigious Karnataka Association for Small Scale Industries (KASSIA). The night was magical and truly special.

 

‘Beyond Asanas’ was adjudged best book under the ‘Health and Fitness’ Category at the Gurgaon Lit Festival in November. This was my first award as a writer and I was thrilled to bits.

 

Travel

Dolcedo – How Did I End Up Here?

June 27, 2019

You can see the ancient clock tower of the old church in Liguria behind me. It would chime every half an hour. This is the road connecting Molino Pincion to the rest of the town. Down on my right is a stream which you can hear clearly every time you walk on this path.

Where

A yoga retreat in Liguria.  To be honest, I’d never heard of Liguria.  Genoa is close by, and I’d read references to it in a Shakespeare play, but never thought about visiting.  Little did I know that one day Liguria would hold a special place in my heart.  The location of my first full-fledged international yoga retreat.

We chose a small little getaway called Molino Pincion in the town of Dolcedo to conduct our retreat.  The town is tiny, only 7.6 sq mi!!!  The air is fresh, the streams are clear, the place lovely.  The Pincion is a short walk across the town, through cobble stoned streets, across the church and up a small hill.  The gurgling of the water in the streams is a constant as you walk around the town.

Although I’ve conducted numerous yoga retreats in the past, this one still got me out of my comfort zone.

Many of us experienced breakthroughs during this retreat. The headstand using chairs was something that no one had tried before, but as you can see, everyone gave it a go.

Susanne, a certified Iyengar yoga teacher, showed us many easy techniques to practice pranayama, including the usage of the bandage.

Who

It all started with an idea (as it usually does).  The idea possibly germinated in Susanne mind when we went for an outing while at RIMYI in 2017.  When she shared her idea with me. A year later she pinged me again and mentioned the retreat.  Believing in our ability to plan a great retreat, I always responded in the affirmative.  Finally 2 years later we had more detailed Skype discussions.  The idea was evolving and gradually becoming a plan.

On the far right- my cousin Ishani on holiday from college. Center: my sister Ana on her birthday trip.  Pictured here on the flight to Nice.

How

We were lucky to have a great mix of people.  One of my sisters and a cousin even agreed to come with me!!!  We had Lily dropping in from Berlin for the last four days and Paola coming in for a day from Genoa.

Susanne and I planned each day meticulously.  I took the morning sessions, where we worked on building up to an advanced asana.  Susanne took the evening and the pranayama sessions.  It was the ideal mix.  Morning were for a high-energy asana-intensive practice, while the evenings were to wind down and relax.  Many participants also got pointers on how to use props to tackle personal challenges.

Personal

To be honest, I was super nervous as we touched down to Nice.  My attempts to calm myself by writing down sequences also didn’t help.

Yoga teacher tip: writing down sequences can actually help you visualize them and deliver a better class.

It was only after the first two days of class that I felt I found my bearings.  Susanne, on the other hand, was simply amazing.  Clear instructions, confident and sure, firm adjustments.  I knew I would learn a lot from teaching alongside an experienced and certified Iyengar yoga teacher, but I couldn’t have gauged just how deep my learning would be.

I don’t think I was ever relaxed during our seven days in Dolcedo.  I went to sleep thinking about the sequence for the next day, I woke up before everyone else to flesh the sequence out.  Once the class was over my mind automatically veered towards the class plan for the next day.  However, I think that is part of the experience and possibly something that we have to come to terms with as teachers who conduct long retreats.

At the end of the retreat, many participants expressed a desire to come back next year…and Susanne and I will certainly be back next year to give you a bigger and better retreat.  Stay tuned.

To read more about our retreat click here.

I love working with other teachers. There’s so much learning and growth that comes with it. Honored to have done this retreat with Susanne Meyer.

Travel

My Overnight Yoga Retreat

November 19, 2018

When I plan a yoga retreat location is the first thing I home in on.  To find a place that resonates with you and the experience you want to create is challenging. So I’m always on the lookout for interesting places to conduct retreats.

A few weeks ago I drove a little out of Bangalore to a farm called Hollas Halla.  You can check out their Instagram profile here.  I’d already spoken to Manali Holla and we had decided to meet to see the property and see what kind of experience we could create there.

10 years ago Suresh Holla, chanced upon some acreage of absolutely barren land and a lake.  An MTech from IISc, no one really expected him to buy 5 acres with the dream of bringing this land to life.  Everyone dismissed it as madness.  There were no proper roads, no electricity, nothing.

 

 

When I went there a couple of weeks ago I saw the fruits of Suresh Holla’s labor.  The lake is still there, but now there is a lush jungle around it.  The Holla family conducts camps, retreats and treks at Holla’s Halla.

Initially I planned the usual yoga retreat with a morning yoga session followed by lunch etc.  But as we looked at the lake I thought it would be a dream to practice yoga next to it.  I spoke to Swetha, my co-teacher, and we decided to modify the plan so that we can practice yoga as the sun sets and rises.  An experience that few yoga retreats can offer.

The itinerary for this exciting is below:

Day 1 (Sat 8th Dec):

3-4 pm: Arrive at the farm.  Receive the grand tour.  Check-in to your tents.

4-6 pm: Tea/Coffee/Relax

6-7 pm: Sunset yoga session.

7-8.30 pm: Dinner

9 pm onwards: Bonfire

Day 2 (Sun 9th Dec):

5 am: Wake up

6-7 am: Sunrise yoga session.

7.30-8.30 am: breakfast

9 am: Trek to the nearby hills/enjoy the lake/get a water massage!

12 noon: Lunch

 

This retreat is priced at Rs. 5000/- all inclusive.

Call 9686233003 or 9886062268 to register.

You can check out Hollas Halla’s facebook page here.