Whats your story/background?
Before I started getting into yoga I was in a different kind of flying…I was a stewardess. I had my first ever yoga class when I was pregnant and stopped after I had my baby. Only a few years later, when we moved to New Jersey, USA, I took yoga classes with a neighbor. Seriously, I had 5 classes and thought THIS IS IT. I didn’t want to become a teacher, but back then, the only way to gain more knowledge was at teacher-trainings. So I gained a lot of skills but I had no intention to teach because it was absolutely outside of my comfort zone.
I found out much later why I was not comfortable teaching in the beginning; Growing up I was bullied quite a lot in school I and from then on, I was terrified to stand in front of a group. But the first 10 years of teaching I did not even know my bullying past was even an issue for me and I just didn’t know what was going on when I would feel so anxious. To become a yoga teacher and talk to a group was confronting me with my deepest fears without me even knowing! When I finally did realize that my past was blocking me to be the best person I could be, to just be myself, I started working on myself and this fear Over time, I allowed myself the space for all the fear to come up, without fighting it or judging it. And I learned to feel the tension and fear, recognize it and relax my body into this feeling. Over much more time, I learned to let go of the story of being fearful and simply be with the physical sensations of being in front of a group. And honestly, this is still a practice for me today. I can still feel nervous and contracted when I stand in front of people I don’t know! This acceptance of what I am feeling has made all the difference in my life. Oftentimes you push the “negative” down and just make it bigger by not dealing with it. Besides showing myself in front of a group I had a lot of those negative things I was trying to push down;. I used to be so scared to make mistakes. When I started to examine that and all the other crap that lived in my head, I found out that all that shit is only in your mind. It was a relief for me to learn that nobody else really cares about my shit, everybody is too busy with their own!
The funny thing about failing, for example, is that nothing really happens after things fail. It’s worth investing some time to develop a certain faith in failing. Because if you are all comfortable and happy, nothing happens, but all the shit actually makes you grow, that’s when you get alert and things actually happen. I mean, the shit’s where the gold’s at.
How would you describe yourself?
The word that I would like to use for myself is curious. Because there is a lightness in it, it’s not all so serious. There is an open-mindedness to it and a positivity that I feel describes me.
How would your friends/students describe you?
Well, open is what I got back a lot, they see a person that is not shy to also show internal struggles and that it’s not always easy and a walk in the park.
Any big passion besides yoga?
Tantra because that’s what the whole practice of all the things I’m talking about is. I love yoga to create and cultivate awareness of my body and mind. But yoga is mostly a solo practice. Tantra practice you do in the world, interacting with other people. Tantra helped me to examine all my emotions like guilt, fear, and shame and allow to make myself vulnerable without being ashamed of anything. Tantra gives a very honest interaction with others in general and gives you a new level of consciousness, allowing you to be more truthful to yourself and others.In every moment when you connect to someone else, you have the opportunity, to be honest. First with yourself and then with the other person. For example, talking to someone you don’t really like or have time for. How long before you act on that before you let the other person know that you want to move on? I used to just stand there, hoping and wishing the conversation would end but not doing anything about that. Out of fear of being rude and the other not liking me anymore. So besides that not being very honest, how is that even kind to the other person? Although a little painful, I appreciate it when people let me know they don’t have time for me so they don’t do what I used to do to others! And honestly, that’s a true win-win situation. (Laughing)
What is your favorite yoga pose?
Savasana (laughs loud) and the crazy thing is, I rarely practice it. No, for real, I would say it is downward dog. I practice it a lot and enjoy it so much. It brings a lot of things together, it’s a resting pose, but also energizing. It opens hips and shoulders and it’s really giving me the same feeling of recognition every time I practice. Like…oh yeah, that’s it.
Which one do you keep avoiding?
Right now? Back bending. For years I pushed myself too hard to go deeper and deeper. Now I start to question, why the fuck am I doing this pose? If the answer is not sense-making, I question why I do it. Once you are out of the “push it further” mentality, you can develop a new approach to the pose. So I think soon it’ll be time for backbends again. 🙂
Words of wisdom?
There is this polarity of, yes practice, yes showing up, but also of letting it all go every now and then. And then even changing this behavior every now and then. Just step back and take a look. Consciousness helps you to do that and step between an emotion and what is actually going on. And it gives you the choice: Will I react or will I respond in a smart way. The magic of yoga is the ability to make this response from a place of relaxation. Example: I used to have a lot of suppressed anger and kick the door when I would walk into it. That was a clear example of reaction: Hit the door and the door would break. Nowadays I try to pause, not to make the pain go away, it fucking hurts, that’s a fact. But I can choose if I hit the door to break it or let my anger out in a less destructive and less painful way. Fucking life happens, there’s no way to avoid pain but it’s how am I gonna deal with it.
Who was/is your most influential teacher and why?
That’s really hard to answer because at different times you need to hear different things and you are drawn to a certain teacher. So there can be many teachers that gave me exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. My last influential teacher is Doug Keller. He is really about questioning why are you doing that? What is it doing for you? Relax a bit more and don’t be so tensed.
On a philosophy side of things Douglas Brooks. He is a professor of eastern philosophy and besides being a great storyteller, the insight that I got from him is that it’s like that Forest Gump thing…life is like a box of chocolate and you don’t know what you get but you still get to choose something. There is a deeper mystery to life but it is not something that has to be solved and you have the freedom to do what you will with the time given to you.
Whats your biggest vice you want to get rid of?
I talk too much. And that’s a judgment and I should judge less and get rid of that…and that’s a judgment too. (Laughing)
Whats your biggest vice you want to keep?
Not taking things so seriously; Myself, my life, my problems, my achievements and even my longings and desires.
Whats your specialty in yoga?
Interesting one….apparently I am an alignment expert…but is this what I want to do? I don’t know. I allow myself to move in the direction my curiosity takes me….
Whats your favorite place in this world?
Like a geographical place? Well….home is where your heart is. Sometimes I love to be at home, sometimes I hate it. Sometimes I love to travel and sometimes not. It changes. In general, I can say (and that’s also becoming a bigger part of my spiritual practice) I’m getting more and more comfortable being myself. It would sound so boring if I would read it from someone else…but that’s then judgemental again, you see the dilemma?
When it comes to a no bullshit approach towards yoga, what has been your biggest learning?
In my practice and in the way I teach I’m going to the edge according to your personal capability, and see what’s there, what you feel and what your body thinks, there is a lot to learn. Your body gives you feedback and it’s just about what you do with that. That can cover a lot of your own conditioning and your own judgment and really give you some good insight into how to approach your asana practice. And that can help you with how you handle things in your life, off the mat. Be honest, take a good look and then take action.
What would you want to give people starting with yoga on their way?
Just have fun. Make sure you choose a class and a teacher that looks like fun. You are more likely to stay with it if you are having a good time because when you first start with yoga, it’s probably gonna hurt for a while….
At the moment, whats your favorite song?
Carolina on my mind – James Taylor (without even thinking 🙂
To find out a bit more about Sandra’s schedule and what she is up to check here