That yoga is like a medicine : taken the right way it can heal you but taken the wrong way it can destroy you.
As my last name shows, I am from Sweden but moved away in my early 20’s and have been spending most of my adult life in France and Indonesia. I first started practicing yoga in the early 2000 but even long before then, in my early teens, did my aunt teach me meditation. She taught it to me as if it was a super power, a tool to bring focus into a situation where I could not control the ways of my thoughts. And I think it’s something that has followed me through my journey with the yogic lifestyle.
When I decided to take an interest to yoga it has to be mentioned that it was not at all a popular practice. There was no studios or schools anywhere around where I lived, even though it’s one of the biggest cities in France (Toulouse). So I started with a book and it was still in the focus of learning how to control my thoughts because I have always been a very mind focused person. It was only several years late, around 2011 that yoga took a real importance in my life physically and emotionally. I was going through some big changes in my life and I started to implement yoga in my morning routine so that I could find more peace in the turbulence of my life.
What was it about Bali that drew you?
I came to Bali for the first time over 20 years ago and instantly feel in love with the island. I believe there is a magnetic attraction that is very intense here. There is an explosion of beauty in the nature and also in the balinese. I do believe that there are places in the world where we feel more in balance, not forever but at certain times. And that first time, that’s what I felt. So for many years I had the deep desire that one day I would live there. And so I did!
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is part of the Vedic philosophy, just like yoga. It’s a sister science actually and the two work perfectly together. Ayur means life and veda means knowledge of science so this is the teaching of how to live. We call it the science of life. It’s the Indian traditional medicine and approaches the human being and the way to live from the holistic view point. This means that it looks at the human as a part of everything else in nature, not separate. It explains why we say that we are all star dust. What builds up the human body are the same building blocks that we find in all matter of the universe. Therefore we can look at a symptom and instead of focusing on it, we seek which element of matter is out of balance.
Just the same way that the winter months in Scandinavia also affects the mental (we know that very well!). The reason western medicine has not taken the holistic approach is because it does not acknowledge the existence of energy. Because that is what links all together and since it can seem intangible it has been labelled as not definable and therefore, non-scientific. But of course energy affects everything. Just the fact that the lack of sunshine makes us dull is a proof of it!
Please, describe, how has Mysore practice touched you and your life so fare?
Mysore affected me tremendously. I would call it a “tough love” kind of teaching. I fell in love with this very much like others who do : because it’s quite addictive! Especially for people who are drawn to the sensation of intensity and the release that the after-effect has. I had to learn just how badly I push myself in anything I do as I kept practicing without listening to my body. I think that what sums it up quite well is the idea that what we practice on the mat is showing us what we also practice off the mat. Are we being soft and gentle or are we pushing and striving? Are we being present and enjoying each moment or are we doing for the next asana? There is of course the whole concept of how you progress in the practice that will teach you a lot as well. Learning how shame can feel and how we identify with “doing” much more than “being”. Is my worth and value linked to how well I perform on my mat? All this comes up in the practice and it’s amazing because it can sometimes take years of therapy to come to those insights!
Because it's quite addictive! you say.
I know all about that but, is that a good thing?
If we are addicted to something , do we then love it or we think we need it to be happy? Doesn’t that makes us weak?
Well! This is very interesting indeed and I think that things are not good or bad, they are what they are and we make them into something else. I believe that what we see of yoga in the world today, whether it's Ashtanga or the very westernised types of yoga : all of it is a symptom of a world that is not in balance. If I would to express it from an Ayurvedic perspective : The whole ego wanting to prove itself due to fear of not being good enough as we are, might not have been at play at all. If we look at the ones drawn to this practice today, it is often the VATA and PITTA kind of people who already are too dry and heated maybe. They have more of an addicted personality as well and quite the A-type as well. When things are taken out of their context (as we have seen in many situations) they can be misused and detrimental. In the Mysore shalas we also see teachers with strong egos (they were drawn to ashtanga for a reason!) It does not belong in this practice at all. It is not ahimsa for sure.
Like many things we do, the hidden intention behind it will determine whether it's good for us or not. But often we don't acknowledge that intention. So yes, I agree that maybe it's not so great. But not because there is something not right with the system or the practice, instead of how we have decided to interpret it. Look at religion, isn't it exactly the same issue with that?
Another thing I am curious about is, so many souls like you and me, after practicing this system, slowly find them self living the “ yogic» lifestyle. It becomes a very big part of life. And that result in we find us self outside “ normal “ life.
I'd say that we are the living proof of what the philosophy is promising, we start to peel of the layers and reveal the hidden gem inside of us. As we do so, a certain calm, peace and inner voice becomes stronger. Less inclined to fall back on the old patterns of habits that weren't actually serving us. Once again, speaking from Ayurveda : we balance the doshas and therefore we reduce the tamas and rajas gunas, allowing the sattvik quality to take over. As we feel lighter and clearer, we are not drawn to indulging in things that are heavy and too heated. To illustrate it for someone who might not be convinced by these words : imagine one of those times where you have had the most epic yoga practice. You take your shavasana and when you have finished you feel so calm yet energised, clear minded and centred. At that moment, you can't imagine going to a busy night club for drinks and you don't see the need to scream at someone who cut you off in traffic right? Well, it's not more complicated than that. The more you practice, the more you condition your whole being to be in that state regularly and so you naturally feel less drawn to "normal" life.
What is a normal life anyway? It's conventional life right? It means, very structured according to expectations. How could we imagine that every single person would feel like that one type of structure would be what suits them? With all these variations of personalities existing? We can't imagine that, so there must be another reason people chose to life the "normal" life. Because it feels safe to do what is expected of us. And then we might not feel fulfilled and satisfied. But that can be taken care of by simply distracting ourselves enough to not pay attention to the signals of disatisfaction. Why do we have so high crime rates, so much addiction, so much obesity and other kind of diseases of the modern lifestyle? Because we have found ways to distract our unfulfilled mind and that is not a clear and peaceful one.
Is the method mystical? Or is it just natural?
I think it depends on what mystical means for you. For me when something is mystical it has a spiritual meaning to it. And in that case, what do we mean by spiritual? A higher reality, something larger than what the eye can see, a meaning beyond the material? In that case, yes I do believe that it’s mystical but I don’t think that natural can be separated from mystical. If we look at the system of yoga as a response to a human quest of self realisation, then it is to search for something beyond the most apparent. It’s a search for ease and freedom, a search for connection and meaning. For me, this is highly spiritual and I do think it will only be understood by those who commit to the practice. A deep yearning of the human soul since we developed our pre frontal cortex and our capacity to imagine, to travel in our mind. By that logic, it is also a natural yearning.
What is the most surprising your discovered about being a yoga teacher?
That yoga is like a medicine : taken the right way it can heal you but taken the wrong way it can destroy you. Depending on how we use the tool that this system and philosophy is, it’s a support or a blockage. People destroy their bodies by over exercising or practice spiritual bypass by choosing to not see what is in front of them in the spirit of only wanting to see certain things.
How has/does Bali effect your life?
It has probably affected me on many levels but the most obvious is that it has soften me. I was very hard before, very disconnected from my heart’s deepest desire and cerebral. Over the time that I have lived here this (and yoga) has opened me up to the feminine much more. It has also given me the insights on how materialistic we are in the west. How deeply unhappy we are in our constant search for more things to fill up our lives.
Now that you know how much this affected your life, would you have chosen this, path again?
I stand in the logic that who I am today is the sum of every single experience I have ever had. I would not be the person I am today without any of them so if I would do it again, I guess is also a question if I am happy with who I am today. And the answer is yes. I’m sure that there would have been wonderful alternatives but some of the hardest choices I had to make in the past allowed for me to become so much more fulfilled. I cannot imagine how I
would feel today if I hadn’t made those decisions. Everything is exactly how it is supposed to be.
Feel free to add something to the world?
I work with people both in yoga, Ayurveda and psychotherapy. The combination of the 3 is a wonderful tool for self realisation.
You can connect with me on instagram @yogicha or find my podcast on any of the platforms:
Ayurveda & Psychology podcast
Via my website yogicha.com you can find some information on my online 8 week program Nourish Balance Thrive but you can also simply email me for more information on any of this at firstname.lastname@example.org
Editors: Charlotte Skogsberg & Vibeke Melby
Photos provided by: Charlotte Skogsberg
SOULS THAT CROSS MY PATH
Please say a bit about yourself, where do you come from and what have you done until now in life?
My name is Jessica, I am 30 years old and come from the Netherlands. I had a nice childhood there with my parents and a younger brother, doing a lot of children stuff. As I have always enjoyed learning, after high school I went on to study Chemistry. I was doing pretty well and felt happy, but during the first year of my studies things changed and I developed an eating disorder. After an initial period of denial, I did at some point realise I had a problem and over the years I sought different kinds of help and therapies to overcome this. I went a bit up and down, although from the outside I would not show this and tried to live a perfect life. After I finished my chemistry studies I pursued a second master degree in Neuroscience and then continued with a PhD in fundamental Neuroscience. My research project focussed on investigating transport of proteins within a single brain cell. I found it really interesting and loved doing research. Next to my PhD I also played a lot of Ultimate Frisbee, and exercised a lot, pushing myself hard. Again, I tried to live the perfect life with a scientific career, being fit and doing well in sports, being a good girlfriend and having a nice social environment. It all looked perfect on the outside, but on the inside I was not happy at all. My eating disorder had different forms over those years. From not eating, to eating obsessively healthy, to over exercising, to very restrictive patterns and rules. But it does not really matter what form it took, in the end they were just mechanisms for me to not look inside for what was really there.
In 2019 I played for the Dutch national team in the European Championship in beach frisbee. It was a great experience, but at some point I stood on the line, ready to play, and I thought: ‘I am standing here, I worked hard, I have come so far, this should be the best moment of my life… But I am not happy at all. Actually, I feel really, really unhappy’. This was an important realisation for me and I decided to again search for therapy and get help with my struggles on the inside. I found something that really worked for me and that helped me to look inside. I found out that there was quite some trauma there, that I had been covering up with all kinds of masks (perfect PhD, top athlete, perfect girlfriend) and been running away from for years. I went through a tough time of trauma processing. But in the mean time I was still running. I worked hard in my PhD and still pushed hard in sports. The things I found inside were still too much for me. I could not stand still yet and face them. In the end the combination of intense therapy, my PhD and sports was too much and after finishing my PhD I burned out. I decided to take a year off to recover from the stress, recharge and think about the rest of my life. What I did not realise then yet, was that not only did I have to recharge and recover, I also still had to go inside in order to make changes and come out stronger. Anyway, at some point I decided to go to Bali as this seemed to be a good place to recover and think about my life, and it was here that I finally found my way inside.
3. Where did you meet Vibeke? Why did we connect?
I met Vibeke in Bali at MySore in Ashtanga Yoga Bali Research Centre (AYBRC). I think we connected because we had a similar energy that attracted us to each other and made that we also met outside of Mysore and found a connection in life. This thing called energy is actually very interesting. I feel that everything has an energy to it. It is people, but also things or places, there is all kinds of energy everywhere around us. In the end we feel best when we surround ourselves with an energy that fits our own energy. This may sound a bit vague, but I think that that is why we feel attracted to specific people or places or things and not to others. Anyway, I think Vibeke and my energy are similar, which is why we felt a connection!
4. Where are you now?
I am still in Bali. I have been in Ubud for two months first. My idea of coming to Bali was to relax and to do Ashtanga yoga. So, before coming I researched my options and found AYBRC in Ubud and Ubuntu Bali in Canggu. At that point, somehow the AYBRC felt like the right option an
d I decided to go there for two months. After that I had a mini adventure in Australia and then came back to Bali for another two months. At this point I also wanted to experience a different place and environment and I thought it would also be nice to be a bit closer to the beach, and therefore decided to go to Canggu and practice at Ubuntu Bali. Canggu is very nice, but in the end I did like the vibe in Ubud and the yoga at AYBRC better, so I returned there for my last month. I think again this comes back to this energy we are surrounded with. I felt the energy in Canggu was different from mine. I am not sure whether that was due to the place or due to the people that were staying there. Probably a bit of both as I guess the energy from Canggu attracts a certain kind of people with a similar energy. It is hard for me to give words to this energy, but I think it might be something like rushing, pushing. Also, suddenly the word fake pops up in my mind. I think this actually describes my feelings pretty well. There are a lot of people in Canggu that are still wearing their masks, all living perfect lives and now having perfect holidays on the beach. It could be that a year ago, I would have felt different there as I was also still wearing my masks, so my energy would fit there better. However, I feel Bali has made me go inside and take my masks off. I feel more true now and I think that is also the vibe that is around in Ubud. If I should give words to it they would be: authentic, friendly, calm, grounding.
5. What is Ashtanga Yoga Mysore Style?
Ashtanga yoga is a series of postures that you follow every practice. Mysore style is that you go to a teacher, where you do your own practice and the teacher adjusts you in some poses, can help you deeper into poses and teaches you the next poses when you are ready for it.
Why do you think people think it’s challenging?
I think for most people it is challenging for two main reasons. First of all, it is a big commitment to say you are going to get on your mat everyday and make this time for yourself. People are so busy with running through life, that I think for most it seems impossible to spend 1/1.5 hour each day for themself. Second, Ashtanga yoga is not a quick fix to solve all your problems and make you calm straight away. People are always looking for quick solutions and if they do not feel the benefits straight away, they will look somewhere else. The thing with Ashtanga is that you need to develop your practice, and that takes time, in order to feel the many benefits it has. So, I think many people try, but stop too early to really experience what Ashtanga can do for you.
6. When and why did you start practicing yoga?
I started practising yoga at the end of 2019 and my main reason was to try to find some balance in my life with yoga. I was running around between my PhD, intensive therapy, sports, and social life, but already then I started to feel really tired. Also, I was a lot in my head, thinking and worrying about stuff the whole day. I thought yoga could maybe help me with balancing my busy life and bring some peace in my mind. Initially I started with other forms of yoga. At the yogaschool I was at, there were many different classes and I tried Vinyasa flow, Hot yoga, Yin yoga, and Ashtanga led classes. In the beginning I mixed up the different classes, depending on the class schedule, my schedule and what fitted. I did enjoy all of them, but they did not quiet my head down or made me feel more balanced. I guess I was also looking for the quick fix, but that did not work. I think the main reason that it did not work was because yoga became something I had to do. It was just another way of keeping myself busy and occupied and running through life, but now from yoga class to yoga class. And I kept telling myself: ‘it is not running, it is yoga, it is good for me and brings me peace’. Even though I did not really feel this, my mind was really strong in telling me that it was good for me, so I kept doing yoga.
7. Why did you choose Ashtanga?
So, I started with joining different classes and I did enjoy all of them, but at some point I really got into Ashtanga and started doing that more and dropped the other classes to the background. I think there were a few reasons why I ended up choosing Ashtanga. First, I enjoyed starting the day with yoga and I liked the idea of having my own practice and not just following the rhythm of a teacher. I also got attracted by the physical component of the Ashtanga. I liked the challenge and that I could push myself, which I can see now, where not really the right reasons and not what Ashtanga is about, but it did fit perfectly with the rest of my lifestyle of pushing myself in my work and in sports. I think this is also the main reason why I kept practising, it was another way to push myself and to keep running through my life. And in the meantime I just kept telling myself: ‘well, it’s yoga, it brings me peace…
8. Please describe, how has dedicated Mysore practice affected you and your life so far?
I have been practising Mysore in the Netherlands for like two years, although not consistently. As I said before, I always kept telling myself that practice made me feel good, but I can see now that I did not really experience that, because I was in the wrong energy of pushing myself and not listening to my body. I guess I said it, because that was what people expect: yoga makes you feel good, so I thought it was making me feel good. But here in Bali, I started to see, learn and experience what Ashtanga yoga is all about. I think that there have been two important factors that helped me to experience this: consistency and good teachers. Over the last 3 months I have grown and developed my own practice in which I listen to my body, take care of it and nourish it with what is needed. I love the saying: how you act on your mat, is also how you will act in real life. I feel that on my mat I transformed from pushing to kind, from torturing to nourishing and from strict to open. And that shows in my everyday life now as well. I feel more kindness for myself, I take care of myself and life is more loose. These things have made a huge difference for me and are helping me in recovering from my burn out instead of steaming on and running further through life. So, I have changed my life through my practice. Then there are also other components of practice that I experience on a more day to day basis. In the mornings it really helps me to check in with myself. When you start your flow you get a lot of feedback from your body. How does your body feel? Stiff, open, tired, energised? How is your mind doing? Focused, tired, all around, full of thoughts? How is your breath? Slow, fast, pushing, calm? From there you can then start to change things on your mat. For example, sometimes I can still get into my pushing mode and have the feeling that I have to do a lot of things. I can notice this in my practice in that my breath gets really strong, it’s faster and the exhales are really short. When I notice this I can then slow my breath down and bring more softness into my practice, which helps me to get out of this pushing mode and prepares me for a much nicer and more balanced day. Practice also energises me for my day. The breath is a really important factor of Ashtanga yoga, and I feel that the flow of breath nourishes my body and energises me. Another important component of the practice for me, is the grounding. I have the tendency to be in my head a lot, and sometimes I can feel as if I am flying around with my thoughts fluttering around from here to there. The Ashtanga sequence starts with a series of standing poses and these poses really help me to ground myself. In these poses I can feel a strong connection of my feet to the earth. It almost feels as if I have roots growing out of my feet into the earth, allowing me to stand stable and strong. This grounding effect also continues to a mental level and I feel as if my mind gets grounded too. Instead of fluttering around, my thoughts return into my head, where they just sit down and relax. This then affects my nervous system in that I feel more calm and I can experience a sense of peace. I guess I did find what I was looking for in the end ;)
9. Do you have the opportunity to practice consistently with a teacher in your area?
I do have the opportunity of going to Mysore consistently in my area. However, after my experience at AYBRC I am not sure if I want to return there. I feel that the environment there is very much about pushing and achieving something, while for me now my practice is about kindness and listening to my body (and yes, I still like to challenge myself, but only if my mind and body are ok with that). The energy at the yoga school I was at is not the energy I want to practise in right now, so when I get back I will keep practising at home by myself. I am thinking of looking for another place with an energy that suits me, where I could go and practise with a teacher. However, this will then probably be a further travel, so more likely be a once every few weeks thing. I think in the end Ashtanga is a self practice, so it doesn't really matter where you do it, but it is good to practise every now and then with a good teacher that can give you feedback and help you to develop your practice further.
10. When and where do you feel the most grounded and connected to yourself?
Either on my mat when listening to the sound of my breath or when I am out in nature. I love being in the forest, taking in the fresh air, listening to the sounds of the birds and the wind blowing through the trees, and enjoying all the colours and beauty there is to see. I also like being at the beach. Being in the water, playing with the sand and listening to the waves has a very grounding effect on me as well. I guess the most important thing for me is that it is a place where I can just be. Nothing else, just be.
11. What inspires you to keep practising?
It is amazing how it reflects your life and if you are open to it your practice is your greatest teacher.
12. Do you want to add something to the world?
My biggest wish is to fully find my own balance again, to grow my inner sparkle and share it with the world. I want to shine for myself and for others. Not entirely sure how this will turn out practically, but I am curious and looking forward to finding that out in the future!
From the bottom of my heart thank you Jessica for your heart openess and for being real, natural & free
Editors: Jessica Hummel & Vibeke Melby
Photos provided by Jessica Hummel