Natural Medicine yogi @kristalution is creating a yoga retreat called 'Off Grid Yoga' in Spain. Her practice space is the envy of all us yogis here and we'd love to practice vinyasa, yin or meditation in such a beautiful space! Her website suggests that this kind of retreat is a 'perfect opportunity for people who want to try living basically, using the surrounding nature for tools and bushcraft, and for those who want a complete digital detox' as well as practice yoga!'
@riverflows is also mad on yoga, so what ended up a usual interview session ended up going on for some time, as both yogis talked across time differences about their love of yoga. We've love to invite more yogis into our Discord channel to chat - click on this invite to come along!
RF: So, what were your first experiences with yoga? I know you started young. A lot of teenagers find it 'boring' but clearly for us it was something special.
KL: I definitely was hooked straight away. My first experiences with Yoga was when I was about 16. I was crazy into surfing at the time, and I had heard that Yoga was good for surfing - improving your balance, strength, flexibility etc. I went out and bought DVDs called Yoga for surfers. The main thing which initially drew me to it was the physical benefits that could be gained from Yoga as a compliment to other physical activities.
Yoga Studio at Bells Beach, Australia
RF: That's amazing... I was crazy into surfing too and a lot of the surfers did yoga as a compliment to that. Especially the big wave guys. I used to hang out with one in particular and he'd take me surfing and we would do yoga in his back room! I was kinda in love with him too so that helped haha. But mainly it would be with an Iyengar teacher, and she was the only one teaching on that coast in those days. Now there is at least 10 places to practice in various studios! Her place still exists though and is easily the most beautiful studio in the area. So what do you remember as some of the early benefits of yoga? Was it a physical or spiritual thing for you?
KL: Oh right cool! That sounds fun. It started as a physical thing for sure. Early benefits... it's difficult to say as it was so long ago. I remember the first really nice shavasana I had, where I just felt weightless, like all of my weight had sank into the floor. But there was no spiritual awareness, or any knowledge of the spiritual side of it. Flexibility must have been one too because I remember being really happy when my heels could touch the ground in downward dog! The more spiritual side started to come to me after I went traveling when I was around 24.
RF: Oh yeah it was physical to me too... I remember feeling a sense of lightness and grace, a comfortable in my body that I wasn't used to, especially as a teenager. I think that sense of body awareness is so important for teens, to pull them out of their heads a little and into present awareness. I remember shavasana, totally melting, in the winter covered in a blanket with the lights off and rain on a tin roof. So many beautiful yoga memories which I can't imagine being the same as, say, a gym! So when and where did the more spiritual side of yoga start to infuse into your practice? Can you tell us a bit about that?
KL: Ok, so the spiritual side of things... Well I went traveling and opened my mind to so many different new experiences. Since then I have been (and still am) on one long process of letting go. Letting go of a lot of emotional baggage, a lot of things that I felt were important that actually were not that important. Then I experienced my first big, real heartbreak. I felt myself break in pieces, and then put them back together. I learned that I didn't have to be at the mercy of my thoughts, that it was actually possible to have some space in between them, and that you could really learn to be happy anywhere; happiness does not depend on your circumstances but on what's going in your mind. I had to peel back the layers of self to really let Yoga do what it is supposed to do. The spiritual side really came into full force when I learned to be creative with it. When I started doing it on my own more regularly I would step on my mat and do the same thing every time, the same routine, but when I realised that I was being so rigid in my approach to it, everything changed. I remember this moment so clearly! That's when I really started to really thinking about breathing, and incorporating it into my practice.
@kristalution getting her spiritual on
RF: It's a lifelong process this Letting Go stuff isn't it. Once you start bringing your breath into the practice things change completely. Yoga isn't yoga without breath is it. It took me years to realise that I think I guess because my early years were all about Iyengar and I can't remember flowing with red so much as I do now with vinyasa. I also love how lessons on the yoga mat can be applied in real life. I love what you say about how yoga can become a kind of play on the mat. It is a very liberating feeling knowing that you don't have to force yourself into shapes but listen to your body and allow the shapes to come. Is there a particular sequence you like to flow through or a particular warm up that helps you drop into that state of presence that carries you through a practice?
KL: I agree the breath is so important! In my early twenties I was so focused on getting as much exercise as I could, burning calories and not getting fat, and looking more toned. I was so worried about that! So I came to Yoga with that kind of mentality. I actually remember saying to someone "I don't bother with the breathing and stuff, I just do it for exercise." Not that there is anything wrong with that! But I am so glad if found something deeper. I pretty much start with wide-legged child's pose every time, I find this pose immediately grounding, and I feel the tension release from my shoulders instantly. Then I usually work through some sun salutations, adding poses on as I got along. How did the spiritual side, and the breathing come to you?
RF: Oh, so many people start for the fitness and stay for other reasons! It's like a gateway drug to spiritual awareness! There was always an element of the spiritual in it for me, to some degree anyway, as I was always fascinated in any kind of philosophy or literature or history or mythology or any of those kinds of things that could help me understand life. The so early on I had read - like The Upanishads, The Bhagavid Gita - they were part of a bigger story that I didn't really put together at first. I kept doing Iyengar practice mainly at home as I was travelling and my life was pretty inconsistent. Then I started Bikram Yoga and boy you learn if you don't breathe in that class you will end up in a wet puddle on the floor! I'm sure any people who have done Bikram will understand how obsessive do you get about Bikram classes. I felt awesome for a good couple of years and then I got really bad anxiety and had a stress breakdown. I couldn't do Bikram anymore because the heat that is generated was just feeding my anxious mind. Also then I started vinyasa classes as it was beginning to take off around here big time. I was lucky enough to go to a couple of Studios that were I mix of more traditional philosophy and thought combined with more modern flows. I decided to do my yoga teacher training so I could really get into the spiritual side of it more fully. My teacher had a very traditional background where she trained under some big yoga gurus - Mohan, Sri Dhamma Mittra, others. She really lived her yoga and it wasn't about fitness for her - although for a 60 plus year old woman she was rockin it! Funny thing, she started in the fitness industry! It was during that year that I read Patanjali and everything just fell into place for me. It was all the understanding of all the experiential meditation I had been doing and everything else I had read about yoga thought all in one text and it kind of blew my mind that no one had introduced me to it or it had never been on my radar, which feels kind of weird now. We also went into Bhagavad Gita in more detail as well as mantra pranayama and meditation. I feel lucky that it was such a well rounded course because so many of them are all just about fitness, but it's so much more than that.
I'm lucky that there are so many Studios here as there are so many great ideas about how to sequence and I'm constantly learning about anatomy and the subtle body, meditation and all kinds of incredible stuff. At the moment I'm really loving that beautiful rock between high plank and downward facing dog, and how these strengthen the lungs and heart and thus the breath because of the meridians that run up from the hands to the chest. I love all these intersections between Indian traditions and Chinese, other traditions that inform my practice.
@riverflows on the beach, yoga-ing
So I guess I have to ask what is your favourite yoga pose! I bet there's many. But for me I can absolutely narrow it down to triangle or half moon (ardha chandrasana) which are essentially the same pose with the relationship to the ground changed in my thought at the moment. I love the spreading of limbs in all directions from the heart centre.
KL: I know that feeling of looking for anything to help you understand life. I think that the same drive in myself also led me down to a more spiritual route in Yoga and in life generally. I've never tried Bikram or Ivengar, both are quite rigid in their approach to Yoga from what I understand. I appreciate that some people really like to get on the mat and do the same thing every time, it makes it more familiar, you know what you are going to get. I also liked that at one point in time. Ashtanga vinyasa, which I tried recently, is similar in that regard. It seems like the more creative vinyasa flow appealed to both of us in the same way. Oh yeah, those are great poses, I love goddess pose for that same reason, the limbs spreading out in all directions for the heart centre, that's a nice way of putting it.
@kristaluton being a tree
RF: Ah, goddess pose! Super thighs! Yes and that rigidity can be a one size fits all approach, where people can hurt themselves too. I don't like alignment based yoga because peoples bones are super different. I've done a lot of functional anatomy training and somatic movement workshops too which are more getting us to tap into our own bodies rather than what's on the cover of Yoga Journal. Patabi Jois used to say 'practice and all is coming' which people believe is about fine tuning the body to fit a perfect pose. But the truth is some of will never be able to do particular poses due to our bones. Its not all just being flexible! Practice and the spiritual bliss is coming through unity of mind breath spirit body maybe is coming, but I will never be able to do the standing splits against a wall! Lol. Still, I have a lot of gratitude to Iyengar as it taught me to be really aware of how particularly actions of my own bones and muscles create a particular dynamic. Although I've shifted away from that instructive model, I'm eternally grateful for that foundation.
KL: Yeah, I agree, Vinyasa flow is as soft and gentle as you feel really, or energizing too, if that's what you feel. It seemed to me that for all of the more soft and gentle poses I knew, ashtanga had a more complicated, extreme version of it. All of the like twisting yourself into awkward poses, and I didn't really see the application of being able to do that crazy pose, you try and try for years and years to get it, just to get the pose really. Where as in Vinyasa flow, a softer gentler pose can be a really nice way to work up to something else.
RF: That's exactly it! I really love a nice slow flow, really feeling into each shape. And sometimes a really hard sweaty core work out - like the other day moving from forearm plank to dolphin and back again.. phew! And it's fun and creative and intuitive! I think too, Dad's been a yogi for 40 odd years - being ill, and past 70 now, he's not going to pretzel himself but there's no need. It's just about keeping supple and mentally strong to prepare for death - might sound harsh, but it's true, and it's true for all of us no matter how old we are.
KL: So fun an intuitive!! You jsut let your feelings guide you. Sometimes I'll end up doing core work or something more intense, having no plan for it, because it was what my body wanted at the time and it's fun and energizing. Another day I might get on the mat for vinyasa and end up with, as you say, yummy yin. So my fave pose - and it's such a hard question, you're right! - is a headstand or any inversion, really, I love the energizing feeling of all that blood rushing in and around your brain. It feels so healing and relazing, as well as being so energizing. I catch myself full of thought sometimes, and I release it because for an inversion you really need that discipline, that single pointed focus. Handstands, for example. You have to let go that part of yourself that has to be able to do it RIGHT AWAY, because it takes TIME.
RF: Right, practice and all is coming haha! I'm still trying to nail a headstand in the middle of the room! I can do it against a wall no problem but .. yeah, patience. I do have a hole in my plaster from flipping over and putting my foot through so I'm a bit nervous, lol. Dad used to rock them. I'd come home and he'd be doing one in the middle of the loungeroom. I bought a yoga trapeze and it's in my loungeroom so invert on that, better for my neck.
@riverflows yoga swingin' - when alignment goes out the window and play takes over
Give me a shoulderstand as inversion followed by halasana though - mmm! Like coming home. Now, we can talk for hours about this, but tell me about Off Grid Yoga!
KL: Great! I would be happy to. So the off-grid Yoga is a project very much still in its infancy, but it has been my dream for years. I want to set up an off-grid yoga/creativity retreat. This combines some of my big passions: my desire to share this healing place with others, my desire to teach Yoga, and my love for drawing, writing, crafts and pretty much anything creative. I think it could be such a nice combination: you get the Prana awakening and flowing with Yoga and meditation and channel into creative things. I love to share these things with people, as there is a such a special power and potential that you can feel it in the room when people come together like this, and I couldn't think of anywhere better than to do it than here. It's a complete detox from stressful and hectic lives, living back to basics, close to nature, and peeling back those layers of self.
RF: I really want to come and practice yoga in that amazing space of yours! Sounds really special. Peeling back those layers - it's an ongoing task but having the opportunity to do it in such a nurturing place would be amazing. Good luck with the retreat - I hope I get to come and practice in that amazing studio of yours one day!