Taking advantage of getting to know Helga personally at my first module of her Yin Yoga teacher training, she kindly agreed to do this interview.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! You will discover how she came to yoga and how it helped her on her way.
Many thanks for your time after our philosophy module of your yin yoga teacher training. It was a great honour and pleasure spending those days with you, the other students and most of all Ammajj leading the course about the yoga sutras.
Within the week you told us how you met Ammajj, being in India and passing her ashram for a day and ending up staying a week.
How did you get in contact with yoga? Where and when did your journey begin?
I had my first contact with meditation at the age of 14. This was when I found my mum at home paralyzed in her bed with a stroke. After this experience I was becoming an easily stressed teenager. As soon as she had recovered enough, we started taking MBSR, meditation and self hypnosis classes. This was my first contact with meditation, and I started practicing some basics. But it was not until 6 years later that I also started to practice yoga asana. I was still easily stressed, quite hyperactive and was suffering restless leg syndrome. I found the yoga practice extremely beneficial and healing right from the very beginning. It gave me release on a physical, emotional and mental level from the internal stress I was regularly experiencing. I started practicing at home every day – but I did not quite understand the depth of this practice at first. At that time like many who are new to Yoga I understood it simply as stretching and exercise. This helps me empathize with others who are just beginning their yoga practice. It didn’t take long though until the practice automatically guided me to understand that yoga actually means meditation in asana.
How did yoga change your life? Ammajj showed us how yoga can be used as a tool in order to purify mind and body so our true self can be better reflected. Do you think this is what helps us recognizing our true nature and giving us the strength to go our own way – even though it might be different to what society expects us to do.
Yoga means to allow a transformative process to begin within our Self. At first I only ‘wanted’ the instant benefits of yoga, my deeper connection with the practice came, as for many practicioners, when yoga became my ‘therapy’. That happened when I was diagnosed with a genetical disease at the age of 23 and felt my world was breaking apart. And then again when I was living in Barcelona and was afraid to apply for work as an architect in this foreign language and culture and was slowly sinking into a depression. The yoga practice helped me overcome the crisis in both occasions. Then again when my granddad was dying and I was in such a panic about it, and with other situations in my life where I felt that all my known factors of stability were breaking apart. Yoga can make us feel very raw, when we are taking protective layers away. And it can also make us feel very strong, when we start to connect to our inner source, the bigger ‘I’. From my experience, yoga helped me to be less driven by fears (“what will others think of me when I do this”), but more by courage, wisdom and compassion. So yes, I absolutely I think yoga is a great tool for both self-empowering and self-awakening.
When did Yin Yoga ccrossed your way and how did you met Paul?
I came across Yin Yoga when both my life and my yoga practice were very ‘yang’. I was working as an architect during the day, and in the evenings was teaching Vinyasa Yoga classes in Barcelona, a very vibrant city that never really sleeps. I was practicing Ashtanga Mysore, Iyengar, Flow and Meditation. One of my best friends, the amazing Yin Yoga teacher Jose de Groot then invited me to a Yin Yoga class of hers. It was an amazing experience for me! When I opened up my eyes at the end of the practice I was just laughing and laughing, the very first Yin practice really had opened up something inside me. I discovered that it combines the benefits of a sitting meditation as well as an asana practice. I could remain still, as in meditation, as well as opening up the areas of tension as in asana practice. At the same time, there was no pressure to do anything, to master anything, to compete in any physical form whatsoever. I was simply blown away by this first encounter with the practice. Jose had been studying with Pauls book and DVDs already for years and had met him in trainings, and she was the one introducing me to them. The next thing I did was signing up for a teacher training with Paul and Suzee Grilley. Now I m one of their ‘old’ students and attend one training a year with them in California, at the beautiful retreat center ‘Land of medicine Buddha’.
What kind of yoga did you practice before doing Yin Yoga and in what style consists your yang practice nowadays? Did it change after knowing more about the Yin Yoga tradition?
I started off with mindfulness practice, Marma Yoga, Hatha Vinyasa Yoga, Ashtanga Mysore, Iyengar and Flow. Apart from the meditation, it was all a very yang focused practice. In the yin trainings I was then exposed to a slowly moving but fluid yang practice, called Taoist Yoga. At first I had an aversion against what I thought was not a ‘classical’ Yoga. But I found my body more and more asking for this invigorating, nourishing, slow and fluid form of practice. Now, when teaching Yang classes, I’m often times mixing elements from different yang practices. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the students really love the Taoist practice, and I’m more then happy to share it.
I believe it’s so important to spread the knowledge about our anatomy to more people. So many yoga teachers tell you to go on practicing and with consistency you will be able to do any pose. This is just not true as our body and bone structure limits us in some directions but still many teachers don’t know this. Here I really would like to recommend the books written by Bernie Clark- they are a pleasure to read and even though technical written in an easy to read style I would recommend not only to people interested in Yin Yoga but in your own body.
I absolutely agree with you. Bernie is an old friend and old student of Paul, who is now himself a very strong person representing the importance of an ‘anatomical awakening’ in the yoga field. As yoga teachers, we should practice, but we should also continue to study in all fields related to yoga to slowly convert our ignorance into wisdom. So apart from studying philosophy, we also need to grow in our compassionate understanding of the uniqueness of the varying anatomical make-up of different people.
Exactly. I totally agree. I believe you never should stop learning and being interested in discover new aspects. Like this you will be able to slowly but constantly grew.
Munich and southern Germany region has a big yoga community with a lot of events going on. How do you see the development of the yoga tradition in Germany?
A very deep question. I have just been discussing that some days ago with friends and with my dear partner. The yoga community in Germany is big, and it is growing. And this is great, absolutely, no doubt about that. But every one of us sharing the yoga practice has to reflect deeply every time we are teaching. Whenever an income is being produced with yoga we have to carefully make sure that we are not losing the heart of the practice. Yoga has so, so much to offer. But this quality is not a loud, sexy, lifestyle, marketing quality. It is a very silent, profound and intimate growth of our own good heart and a transformation into our deepest potential within. I hope that all of us really honor this depth, and use this precious tool for the benefit of all beings. For a growth towards more kindness, more support, and more compassion with ourselves and with all the creatures we are sharing this planet with. This is my hope for the development of yoga.
This is sotrue! And so important. Many thanks for your time and openness. I’m so looking forward to our next module of the teacher training regarding anatomie next April at the Yogalounge Munich.
If you want to find more about Helga Baumgartner, kindly check her homepage http://yinplusyoga.blogspot.de/