The many faces of Yoga: India edition – Marit Skogli

MANGE VEIER TIL YOGA – Det er mange ulike grunner til at man begynner med Ashtanga Yoga. Clair fra Irland står bak og intervjuer vanlige mennesker, fra ulik bakgrunn og alder, om hvorfor de startet med yoga, og hvorfor de fremdeles holder på. Denne samtalen fant sted i Goa i januar 2016 under felles praksisopphold hos mangeårig Yogi og Ashtanga-Lærer Rolf Naujokat.

Another dear yogi friend I had the joy to meet during my time spent practicing in Goa. Norweigan Marit talks about how yoga helped her in her recovery from stress overload and burn-out syndrome. I was really moved by Marit’s story – it is so relevant to today’s society and we are all suffering from an excess of stress in our lives. Thanks to yoga Marit has slowly recovered and has even now left her stressful job at 45 and now shares yoga with others full time!

What brought you to yoga?

It was in 2004, I think that life forced me to yoga – I didn’t go there by myself.

I had been living in Russia for many years in the nineties. An interesting, but challenging time. Moving back home, I found it really hard to adjust – both to work and social conditions. Shortly afterwards I did a masters degree and ended up in a very stressful job with a lot of travelling. It was just too much.

I wanted to get back to a healthy lifestyle here so I was doing a lot of sports; running, mountain climbing and diving. There was a lot of things happening in my life, and I started to feel the pressure, both mentally and physically. My mood was changing, I became more aggressive and angry, more tired and had less energy. I could not sleep, digest food properly – I was falling apart and a small thing became very big. I started to avoid things, I wanted to do stuff but I couldn’t because my body was totally out of energy, and I was slowly going into both depression and anxiety. I was very embarrassed about it, of not being able to cope with life. I realised that I was in a spiral that was far from good. I knew it but was not able to find the stop button and to do something about it.

I was in a job situation that didn’t suit me very well and I knew I wasn’t doing what I love to do. Sometimes you are making too many adjustments to fit into an environment that doesn’t suit you, follow the crowd, do what you think society expects from you. There was no time to just chill and be quiet. No healthy balance. I was sharing an apartment with my sister at that time and of course some of my anger affected her, she saw my dark side so she suggested that I try out yoga. The best advice I ever got!

I felt physically and mentally that my body was going towards a heart attack and in the end it escalated and it became burn-out syndrome. I was desperately looking for something that would help me calm down and help me to find peace. I didn’t take my sister seriously, I thought yoga was for old people or hippies but eventually I started an ashtanga yoga course at the gym I trained at. I couldn’t have been more surprised. After the first class, in savasana, it was like I saw myself from the inside and I saw a lot of chaos. Also I realised that I might be doing sporty things and be well trained but I was actually very stiff and I had a hard body and was not very flexible. After that I became interested in mainly the chaos thing, I knew I wouldn’t find peace unless I sorted out the chaos, and I also started questioning the whole aspect of being healthy that I had been my reality until then.

What is your background in yoga?

I have tried a few different types of yoga, like yoga for stress back when I was really sick. It was really good as it focused on the mental aspect and whats going on in your mind and body when you are experiencing stress, eighter imagined or actual, over a long period of time. I also did some kundalini yoga, some yin and restorative yoga but ashtanga has always been my main practice since day one.

Did you have an idea of yoga before you started to practice?

I thought it was boring. We didn’t hear so much about it back then– it did exist in Norway in certain circles but I had never heard that much about it so I guess I was very judgmental. I was very ignorant about yoga. I thought it was rubbish. I thought I was already doing everything in my power to be healthy by being outdoors a lot and keeping fit at gyms. I thought, “What do we need yoga for”?

I used to run from work and in between travelling -to the gym, run into a class of spinning or body pump or whatever and run back home – but I didn’t feel more energized. On the contrary, it just added to the stress. I kept doing that along with slowing starting to look into the yoga thing, until I realised that what I had been doing until now wasn’t for me and that’s when the yoga lifestyle was taking over, slowly but surely. I think that yoga certainly changed my life, if not saved it.

How did your idea of yoga change?

I realised that most people have stiff bodies and think they are not flexible enough to do yoga. That idea is something people need to get rid of because if you are stiff, if your body is hurting you it is not going to hurt you any less as the years go by and its a process you have to start yourself. We are so used to expecting everybody else to fix us but we have to take responsibility for ourselves.

I have realised that this is something I want to do for the rest of my life. It has been so integrated in all I do. Yoga gave me back my life, or I gave my life back to myself through yoga. I realised that it is an amazing system for both recovering from and also improving your physical and mental health and healing. I haven’t been experimenting with many types of yoga apart from ashtanga. I can really see the benefits of keeping one system for a long time as then you can really see it at work.

I just see yoga as a very amazing system for healing your body and soul and becoming more true to yourself – honoring yourself more and respecting yourself and others. It is giving you more peace of mind – eventually through the chaos you will notice that the peace is coming, the calm is coming. It benefits both yourself and other people. It all about bringing back the balance to your life, listening more to your true inner voice and stay present with whatever happens around you.

Did you find your lifestyle change with yoga?

Yes, yes. I have from childhood always been very found of being outdoor, doing sports and eating well. During my years in Russia I was smoking a lot and hanging around in bars because that was what everybody in the expat community was doing. A bit of alcohol and cigarettes made me feel outgoing and a bit cool – being an introvert and a shy person from the countryside, I loosened up a bit and I liked that back then. Nevertheless, it was ultimately never my thing and after a period of being ‘wild and crazy’ and not being very worried about health, moving back to Norway again was a step of bringing me  ‘back to nature’ and my origin again.

When I came back to Norway my stress situation was well established within me after a hectic life in Russia, it didn’t improve at all over the coming years and I ended up being really sick and stopped working for two years all together. I kept practicing yoga moderately during this time and I really was forced to change many things in my life that I knew deep inside were wrong. I managed to do this turn around process one thing after the other and change my job, living situation and also a lot of useless beliefs about myself and the world. It was not a fun time but I learned a lot from it and it was absolutely necessary to get my life back on a better track.

Now I go to bed at 9:30, I don’t smoke or drink – pretty boring some might say but I love it. I get up in the morning, listen to the birds, do my practice and have some coffee and get on with the day. I am more interested in how to maintain a good balance and how to sustain the body and mind in the right way, through good and nourishing food – both for the body but also mentally. I’ve become much more conscious about the choices I make and why I do things- but it was a slow process. For me I think its best to gradually build up the practice and gradually make changes – build physical and mental strength, as it will all naturally happen anyway. Your body and mind will get rid of what it doesn’t need anymore by itself.

A few years back somebody asked me could I teach them yoga as they were curious. So I started to teach a class and then more people came. Suddenly my regular job was getting in the way of me teaching and this summer I quit my job to start teaching yoga full time. I had to think about that for a while because quitting your job at 45 is a big step – but it feels very good, and it is never to late to change.

What inspired you to come to India?

That was also funny. When I started with yoga it was very practical, there wasn’t much relating to India. We didn’t do any chanting at the beginning, just being guided through the practice. I liked that as it may have scared me away from it but when I changed studios and was introduced to it, I thought it was nice. One thing led to another and as I grew into my yoga practice I became more aware of the continent of India, the great philosophy behind yoga. I didn’t see the point in going all the way to India to experience yoga when you can practice in Norway.

I did a yoga teacher training in 2010 and I was working in a governmental organisation and there was a business trip to India and I was asked to join. I was thinking India is not for me but after that trip I was truly fascinated, especially with the calmness that was so evident among all the people and chaos. I was on my way to Mysore the following year and I came to Goa this year. I had been doing home practice for four years and when I quit my job I felt I could dedicate time and space and be with a teacher for some time so that’s why I came here.

How do you find practicing here?

There are a lot of things that are different here; colours, people, animals, but life is quite simple so you start to get some space for yourself from the daily routine. Its turning more and more into taking it moment by moment, day by day. If you are here for yoga then that is your main focus, you can give it some time – you don’t have to rush or go to work afterwards. I find that break really useful. You get to meet other people doing yoga, people doing the same thing as yourself from all over and talk to them- and we all get along so well its like we all know each other from before.

Its definitely a good break, especially if you only have a home practice its good to sometimes break the routine and be with a teacher who can help you.

Anything else you would like to say about yoga?

Ashtanga Yoga is great as a tool to recover and to take you through stress and illness. It doesn’t do the work for you but it gives you the strength to do it and to listen more to your heart and not your brain or too much to other people- to listen to what is right for you, from the inside.

Going from being very skeptical and judgmental on myself, I can really recommend embracing a regular yoga practice – even if you are only a small bit curious about it. People start practicing yoga for so many reasons, but by a steady practice over time it really grows on you. Perhaps that is why so many people from all over, from all ages find their way to yoga because it is something there we look for, although is not always fun to change and stretch a stiff body or a stiff mind.

Perhaps you also may find some great support and guidance from the yoga philosophy and psychology and the mental discipline that it gives. For me it definitely started as a mental discipline to sort out my very messy mind and life, but later on I also started to enjoy the regular asana practice as it strengthens the body but also makes it more flexible, in a holistic way that no other training did for me. Something happens when the body opens up and lets go of resistance.

I am also very grateful for the yoga teachers that have guided me further and further into the practice from the beginning, on many levels. A good teacher is important and also other good people that I have met along the way, that have helped me open my eyes to a better kind of living.

I am very grateful that I was introduced to yoga and think it will benefit many people if they started it. We are so lucky to be introduced to it.

Life gives you experiences of various kinds in order to grow and yoga gives you the strength and courage to deal with them in the best possible way – there and then.