Interview with Pinelopi – Hatha Yoga Teacher

This interview was taken by Clelia, an Erasmus entrepreneur working as an intern in learning how to set up a small yoga business such as English Yoga Berlin.  During her stay here, she decided to interview the English Yoga Berlin teachers to find out more about their past and their pathway that lead them to yoga.

1. When was the moment that yoga became something else for you than just another experience?

interview with PinelopiThe first class I took. I was 19 years old, and mostly aware of my body through pain created by the imbalances brought about from a club foot at birth. Up to then, I would look at all physical activities more as a challenge and a “must” rather than a source of pleasure and opening. When my friend, Eve, took me to my first yoga class in Chichester, England, I experienced a form of opening of over-contracted muscles and untying knots and habits of my body that was incredible. I experienced the first “physical exercise” that brought me pleasure and made me feel capable – whilst at the same time built muscles and made me strong. When the teacher arrived to the guided relaxation, I had an incredible experience of “being” which was in stark contrast to my overwhelming “doing” mode. At that moment I knew that this was not just another experience, like a zumba class would have been for me, but a path for me to take.

2. Can you pinpoint a time when you could say, this is life before yoga, and this is life after yoga?

A year later, I moved to other parts of the world and left my wonderful Chichester teacher. Unfortunately, the chronic pain in my leg got worse and was spreading. I ended up needing to take six months off to solely focus on physical therapy and finding a way to deal with the pain in my body. I had to do at least two hours of physical therapy exercises every day for my body to function. That’s a LOT of time to dedicate to your body daily!  And they were the same five exercises repeated over and over, again and again and again.  That is when I started remembering my yoga and slowly turning the exercises into yoga.  Soon,  I had a two hour daily yoga practice, with a relaxation to calm the nervous system down from the chronic pain… and to access that “being” state again and again.

That would be the moment where there was a life before and after yoga.  The life before was predominantly painful. When I started doing my daily yoga practice, I felt like I had a tool box. I would wake up in pain, and than I would take the toolbox out to loosen some screws and tighten some others and oil the rest… and then I could function for the rest of the day.

My teacher used to say that “people approach yoga for a specific reason, but they stay for other reasons”. This is definitely what happened to me. I approached yoga out of being in a lot of pain, and I stayed because it opened the doors to another way of relating to life. To the “being” state that brought lightness, depth and connection with every thing that mattered to me.

 

3. Why are you teaching yoga, rather than just practising it for yourself?

I love teaching. Before I was a yoga teacher I would teach kids extra curricular theatre, languages, and all kinds of stuff.  I taught young women self defence workshops in Spain. I learned lots of incredible and alternative teaching techniques at a popular education seminar we organised in ESCANDA. Teaching is something that I have always been attracted to, that always felt natural to me, and that was a way of learning.  When I was a kid, I would learn or do my home work  by putting my dolls in a line and pretending to be their teacher! Teaching, for me, is the best way of learning.

And so it is with the yoga classes too. It is through teaching that I learn. It is through saying things to students while I teach, that I notice the gaps in my knowledge and am able to dig deeper…. or that I comprehend better the understanding of the yoga teachings.

Of course, one of the biggest sources of happiness for me, is when a student who suffers from chronic pain is able to untangle the different parts that contribute to that pain through yoga and gets to breathe more freely. Being able to teach pathways that bring people to such self exploration, body awareness and understanding of their own knots is one of the most precious parts of my work, and a reason in and of itself to teach.

4. How did you find your way through the ancient tradition of Yoga?  Why Hatha Yoga and not another yoga?

I have been drawn to hatha yoga because it is a slower kind of yoga, giving me enough time to check in with my body as I put myself into an asana. For me, the time factor, is very important. I use this kind of yoga to increase body awareness, have a communication with my body about what is happening right now and how it is affecting the rest of me, and to induce an embodied presence.  Lots of students say that the way I teach is meditative. I would have never described it that way, as for me, meditation is something very different. But I am starting to understand where they are coming from when describing the classes in this way.  They are referring to being guided in keeping the mind present to what is happening right here in the body and the energetic field at this very moment. I would describe that more as mindfulness.

Pinelopi specializes in Hatha Yoga. Her yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. She offers Berlin business yoga, pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes for people struggling with chronic pain.

A Tantric Way of Dealing with Pain

Does it hurt?  Can you do something to get rid of the pain?  No?  No problem.

You can remain content and relaxed in the midst of any experience. Including pain, sorrow, fear, or anger. Hang on… nobody said it’s easy, but we categorically say that it is possible. And not only that, it is possible for everyone.

rocksOne way I know of dealing with pain is amazingly simple: To directly experience what is happening, in a steady and concentrated way. In other words, to meditate on the source of the experience.

I have been using the Tantric meditations to deal with chronic pain for years. And, although the pain hasn’t entirely gone away, a lot of the side effects (mental anguish, fear, or other physical tensions) have disappeared.  When my knee hurts I can accept it and remain relaxed, so it doesn’t cause me any real disturbance.

Of course, if you don’t know the cause of a pain, it’s best that you seek prompt medical advice. But, if the pain is already there, you might as well meditate on it on your way to the doctor.

You will find that many pains actually disappear when you experience them in this way. Or the quality or intensity of the pain may change. Or it may move, or get smaller.

How does one do it? Simply by going to the place of the disturbance. Locate it physically with your mind, and then experience it with curious detachment. Experience it, not like you want it to go away, but like you want to know about it. Where is the center of this sensation? How big is this area? Explore it like an objective investigator; or watch it like you watch a film.

We experiment with this method during the Tantric Tuesdays at KiKi, for example, feeling a tension during a yoga pose.  We also practice some of the meditations that (like Antar Mauna) cultivate this ability of detached experience, or (like Tratak) teach the mind to concentrate intensely on one point.

I recently visited a friend, who’s also been coming to my guided moments.  I found her in a desperate state due to an intense headache.  Although she has only practiced for a few months, she has been very consistent and regular, so I felt that the meditative approach would help.  Below I transcribe her impressions of what happened next, written the day after.

I woke up with pressure in the head. Something very usual for me since I´m eight years old. Lucky that since I´m a teenager I can take medicine against it. And I do, immediately, with the first signs of pain. So hard is it for me to resist the pressure, the burning and stinging at my forehead. So with 3 pills per day I get over it and stay 2-3 days without pain, and can continue my daily life …. Therefore, I always have medicine in my handbag. Always!

 

But this morning I received a lovely massage from caring hands and I felt I din’’t want to swallow the pill. The pain got worse and then my stomach rebelled, so it was too late to take a pill. Ohhh I wanted to hit my head against the wall, like I did as girl, when the pain was unbearable.

 

I actually do not remember how I got on the chair in my room. I just remember this voice guiding me into my body, the stillness inside…. Ohh the throbbing got so heavy.. But I trusted and followed the guidance into the movement of my breath. I felt how my body was relaxing little by little, and at the same time the pain in my head became more intense. And I was guided directly into this pain. I felt the pain coming in waves and my tired body, leaning forward devoting to these waves. There was only pain and heaviness, and it felt eternal. I was awake and at the same time like sleeping, sitting on the chair. Until… Hari Om Tat Sat.

 

I just observed how my body laid down on the bed beside the chair. When I woke up, my head was completely free! I could not believe it, and noticed how I started to search for the pain. But quickly I dropped this idea and enjoyed my day.

 

Kathi hasn’t had any more headaches in the two weeks since this happened.  But she claims to be eagerly awaiting for another episode, so she can try this method again.  She also says that this experience has completely changed the way she approaches any pain or unpleasant feelings:  Now she meets them as their curious explorer, rather than as their victim.

On another post, we will write about the mechanisms that make this shift in the experience of pain possible.  For now, just take our word that it works.  Or come and practice it yourself to find-out.

Pedro teaches Tantra yoga and meditation at English Yoga Berlin.

Soundwalk and Flow Meditation Workshop

feeling the cobblestones
feeling the cobblestones

When: Wed. 30. July, 2014 / 18h to 21h
Where: HeileHaus eV / Waldemarstr. 36, HH, 2.OG
Cost: € 15 (reduced rate €7 or more)
…or one stamp on a 5er card or one recuperation

When going from place to place, we often go through the world disconnected from our environment and with closed off senses – looking at mobile devices, listening to music on headphones, or simply with thoughts on other things than the present moment. We rush about, eager to get to the next place, rather than strolling along and observing – not only to what is happening around us, but also ‘within’ us – our physical sensations as well as emotional reactions to what we see, hear, feel, taste.

When we learn to become aware of our own sensations, we are more readily available to react to unforeseen circumstances and make better choices in the moment. This practice is often called ‘mindfulness,’ and it’s something that we learn to do during exercises of being present, ie; meditation, yoga and tai chi.

This workshop takes us out of a Berlin yoga studio and into the city (around Kottbusser Tor) for an outdoor walking excursion, practicing awareness of our surroundings, and ourselves within them. It blends together several traditions – Vipassana Walking Meditation, Vinyasa Yoga Flow, Chi Yoga and Soundwalking.

What is a Soundwalk?

A form of interactive audio-art where the audience member participates on a walk of a predetermined path set-out by the artist, either listening to a recording on a mobile device or listening to the environment. This workshop will draw from the variation developed by Hildegard Westercamp, which very much resembles Vipassana walking meditation, with a focus on silent observation of the present moment. Despite being called a “soundwalk,” people who are deaf, non-hearing or with limited hearing are encouraged to participate using other senses.

What is walking meditation?

Vipassana walking meditation and Buddhist walking meditation are two forms of walking meditation where the participant strolls along, silently observing their own way of walking, the details of their surroundings (like the sensation of cobblestones beneath their feet), as well as their own feelings in relation to them.

What is Chi Yoga?

Craig Perkins, a yoga teacher trainer and tai chi practitioner of the Yandara Yoga Institute developed a standing warrior sequence, specifically for practising yoga asana on the sand, that combines some tai chi movements with vinyasa flow yoga. His ideology towards yoga is as an anusara-inspired peaceful warrior – meditation, movement and balance in readiness for whatever comes.

The workshop facilitator:
Juli has been teaching vinyasa yoga since 2009 in Berlin, a practitioner of different traditions of yoga since 1998. She is also a filmmaker and sound designer, and has instructed media arts classes that often include soundwalks.

If you are interested in attending the workshop, please contact us to reserve your spot, and get more details on the workshop page

English Yoga Berlin is a collective of yoga teachers dedicated to providing community yoga in Berlin. We offer yoga classes in English, and we teach hatha yoga, classical yoga, restorative yoga, vinyasa yoga and yoga nidra. You can see our schedule here.