A lifelong student, but also a yoga teacher trainer: A conversation with Vimala

Today I am in conversation with Vimala and am especially excited about it. Vimala is a trained florist, yoga teacher, spiritual coach and also a yoga teacher trainer. I couldn’t imagine my own yoga teacher training without her – so I can’t think of anyone better to talk about this exciting topic to! Even though she now trains yoga teachers, she is always a student herself and is constantly continuing her education, for example to become a relaxation trainer or in the area of pregnant women’s yoga. She especially enjoys teaching themed classes and workshops. When she is not on the mat, you are most likely to find her in nature, doing geo coaching or photographing. I am very happy that in the midst of all her various activities she found time to talk to me about yoga teacher training, tell me about her own yoga path and share anecdotes from her training groups.

Dear Vimala, tell us a bit about your yoga path. How did you get started with yoga?

I started yoga thanks to my best friend and my physical therapist at the time. I had work-related tension in my shoulders and neck and the physical therapist told me to do something that involves movement, like yoga. I ignored that for the time being and devoted myself to autogenic training. This did me a lot of good, but it didn’t relieve the tension. I was still of the opinion that yoga was not for me and so I didn’t bother with it any further… until my best friend suddenly started talking about nothing else but yoga. So we both decided to attend a beginners course at Yoga Vidya Frankfurt. With the firm conviction to do only this one course and that yoga is absolutely not for me, I went to our first class…

… and you were proven wrong?

Yes, it was love at first sight. I felt so good after the first class that I actually threw my preconceived notions right out the window and yoga has been an integral part of my life ever since.

What was it exactly that made you stick with it?

That the effects are so profound. Yoga works not only on the physical level, but also on the mental, emotional, spiritual, all levels. I noticed this quite quickly and I also very quickly had the feeling that asanas are only the tip of the iceberg. I don’t know where the knowledge or the certainty in me came from, but I wanted to go deeper, to get to know and understand yoga in its entirety.

I went to the yoga center almost every day and I’m still there on average three times a week, even though I no longer work right around the corner.

So yoga takes quite a big place in your life today?

Yes, yoga, or rather holistic yoga, is my approach to life, so to speak. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are my main guide and also the Bhagavad Gita and other scriptures have become an important part of my life. Meditation is at the heart of everything.

How do you integrate your practice into everyday life?

The whole life is practice ­čśŐ

That’s a beautiful attitude! Did it also lead to the decision to train as a yoga teacher?

I was approached about it. One day a sevaka, an employee of the center, said to me that I should do the training. I was at the center several times a week and asked for yoga literature. My first book about yoga was the Yoga Sutra by Patanjali with commentary by Sukadev. A sevaka recommended the book to me, saying, “It’s good for a start.”

I read the book, sometimes indeed laboriously, to the end, and it awakened an inner fire within me. I truly did not understand everything, but it ignited the spark and intuitively I knew: this is my path. The classes and open hours I attended were good, but they felt like they were only scratching the surface, and so after this stimulation from the sevaka, I actually began to think seriously about doing the training.

I was still of the opinion that I needed more experience and practice first, but it germinated in me. I then met many fresh yoga teachers or trainees who all told me that the training was the best thing they could do. At some point I gave myself a jolt and signed up, half a year before the training began, that was in 2011. Then in 2012, the training finally began.

When she is not practicing or teaching yoga, Vimala can be found in nature

How did you experience your training?

On the whole, it was wonderful and very enriching. I made friends, found myself again and had great experiences. However, there were also moments that hurt or when everything was in disarray. I haven’t changed externally, but my entire outlook on life has changed and this is not always easy. The training is just so incredibly transformative, I didn’t expect it to that extent. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I felt very similar, and there were only a few exceptions throughout the entire training. Others, however, have also had “dry spells” and thought they would never make it. Do you know something like that from yourself?

Not really. In fact, I was never overcome by thoughts of ending my training prematurely, and I never really had the feeling of a lean period. But I seem to be the exception to the rule when it comes to what I experience as a trainer. As I mentioned earlier, the two years were not always easy, but the training also carried me through “difficult” times. The only thing that got on my nerves a bit was the exam preparation and the constant repeating of the questions. This is where the feeling set in that now it’s enough and it could slowly come to an end.

What happened after your training? Did you start teaching yourself straight away?

I started teaching my mother and her work colleagues in the first half of the training. Through this group I learned an incredible amount, especially being flexible and able to change the plan spontaneously, because they had all kinds of aches and pains and couldn’t do this and that.

Towards the end of the first year, I started assisting in yoga classes and from the second year, taking substitutions for classes.

I can recommend the assistance to every new yoga teacher, because you take a lot with you. 

From about the second half of the second year, I was already teaching regularly at the center, including pregnant women’s yoga and continuing to teach my mother and her colleagues.

After the training, I also began quite quickly to teach outside of Yoga Vidya and also took very many substitutions in the most diverse places. I was allowed to learn so much and am grateful for it. In the meantime, however, I hardly accept any substitutions outside of Yoga Vidya, because my schedule is quite full and there has to be time for my own practice, and I also have a part-time job as a florist.

How did it come about that you now train yoga teachers yourself?

I was simply asked if I could give the yoga class for the 6 Darshanas at the center weekend and I said yes. That was my first yoga class as part of a training and the topic is known to be one of the most complex of the training.

Then followed the question whether I could give the theme evening “Pregnant Women’s Yoga”, since I have been teaching this for some time and had also attended further training on this.

And at some point, I was asked if I could imagine giving most of the Hatha part of the training. Why I was asked, I don’t know (laughs). I said yes directly, without knowing how I could even reconcile that with my work. In 2017, I started my first training, which I accompanied completely.

As a good yoga teacher, Vimala knows: laughing is healthy!

For all those who were not lucky enough to be in one of your training groups: What are your responsibilities at Teacher Training?

I teach 90% of the practical part, but often also give the lectures and lead pranayama and meditation. In addition, I am available to the participants for questions and like to give sometimes special lessons for the training in addition. During the pandemic, things like technique preparation and technique consultation have been added. Giving good training requires some organization and intuition in the background. The lesson plans, for example, are not that easy to create and you have to pay attention to a lot of details here. My colleague and I complement and support each other very well here.

What do you like most about it?

That’s hard to say, because I enjoy almost everything. Sure, checking the lesson plans with the literature references and such isn’t quite as nice, but it also has to be done and serves the greater good.

It is simply wonderful to be able to accompany people on their way for two years and to see the developments. So it fills me with deep joy to be able to give the trainings.

Is there also something that is rather difficult for you?

Proofreading the lesson plans is not necessarily my favorite task and of course some topics are easier and others more difficult for me to teach.

How long have you been a part of Yoga Vidya now?

In the training team since 2017, but before that I have also taught one or the other topic in the yoga teacher training.

In these 6 years of training support, has one experience in particular stuck in your memory?

This year (2023) I was present for the first time at a final weekend in the Westerwald and this was very touching and beautiful.

Overall, there were many beautiful and touching, as well as many funny and exhilarating moments. For example, the son of my training colleague, he must have been 4, sat down on my seat shortly before the beginning of the hour – most of the participants were already in Savasana – and simply said “it doesn’t work like that, you’re all doing it wrong.” Last year he was there almost the whole time during the partner yoga, despite his arm being in a cast, and we all had fun, especially when he then asked completely seriously who all wanted to eat pizza after the class.

How did you experience the trainings during Corona?

I was able to learn the names of the participants much faster thanks to the name insertion in Zoom (laughs).

Oh, itÔÇÖs rather rare to hear people pointing out advantages!

That was definitely an advantage. Overall, I felt the training was even more intense in a certain way, and I can’t describe it exactly.

Suddenly, a lot of the training leaders’ work revolved around technology and optimizing it. We had to adapt many things again and again at short notice on all levels and a lot of time was spent keeping up to date with the Corona regulations. All this organization was going on in addition to the actual training, and that was quite a challenge. For example, I now know what can be used for online lessons. 

It may sound strange, but in retrospect, the crisis has been very enriching for me. Many new ideas have developed and some of them have already been implemented. Without Corona, many of them would probably not have come into being.

Nevertheless, I am very happy that the actual training now takes place exclusively on site again, which makes the training evenings much easier. Whereas purely online is also quite okay, but hybrid is really exhausting, especially when the technology or the Internet does not play along. 

A less enjoyable and extremely challenging part of the time was the division of opinion among the training participants regarding the Corona measures. We always tried to bring everyone along, to understand everyone, but unfortunately, we weren’t always able to.

What kind of classes do you give when you are not training new yoga teachers?

I often give the pregnancy class or the class at the center and teach online on Sunday mornings. The last two years I have given a lot of workshops. This year I am leading the meditation teacher training in a weekend format at my place in Bad Nauheim Steinfurth. I substitute for a class now and then or teach additional classes, gladly special classes.

Before Corona I also had a great group in Steinfurth, but unfortunately this fell victim to Corona. At the moment, however, I don’t have the feeling of wanting to set up an additional permanent class again. Let’s see what the future brings.

Where would you like to put your focus in the future?

Right now, everything is good as it is, and everything else will show up and happen.

What do you wish for future yoga teacher trainings?

Motivated and inquisitive participants and a great training team.

In closing, what tip do you have for anyone considering taking a yoga teacher training?

I would check out the center beforehand, get to know the style and tradition a bit, listen to yourself and if it fits to some extent, then just be brave and go.

Thanks a lot for your time, Vimala!

A yogic Journey: Traveling to India by Bike

Felix shares his story

While I’m talking to Felix on the phone, he is sitting on a beach in southern Turkey. His companion has injured her knee and needs a few days off, so they’re pitching tents on site for now. “That’s the way it should be then,” says Felix, who can handle unexpected events with enviable composure – an important quality for a trip like the one he’s experiencing right now.

Felix has spent the last few years as a sevaka at Yoga Vidya Ashram Bad Meinberg and is now on a mission to spread yoga around the world. To do this, he has embarked on a journey to Rishikesh, the origin of the Sivananda philosophy, which has enriched his own life. In this interview, he told me about his travel plans, experiences along the way and his mission.

Dear Felix, you are currently on a very unusual mission: riding a bicycle from the Yoga Vidya Ashram in Bad Meinberg to the Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh, India. How did this idea come about?

Because I have been an avid cyclist for a long time. In my hometown of Innsbruck, I was on the roads full time as a courier driver. This is a different form of cycling, but it definitely fueled the idea. For me, cycling is a dynamic meditation. Whether fast or slow, I’m focused on my breathing and my surroundings.  On top of that, cycling to India has been at the top of my To Do list for about three years now. The motivation behind it is to trace the roots of yoga, but also to get there, travel, and learn about alternative lifestyles and cultures along the way. On the bike it is possible for me to get to know the planet in an environmentally friendly way. In times of climate change, it doesn’t feel right to me to hop on a plane to beam myself to another place quickly. The journey is the destination and that’s how I perceive it.

What do you want to achieve with this great journey?

On the one hand, I want to put myself in situations where I can grow – “seeking discomfort” is my motto here. It’s very easy for me to sink into my comfort zone within the comfort of my own four walls. I quickly find the path of least resistance. But I feel better physically and also mentally when I master challenges. That’s why I’m actively entering a challenging life situation with this bike trip, from which I may subsequently emerge greater.

On the other hand, I wish to take yoga out into the world. I got to know and appreciate yoga in the ashram. Now sharing my knowledge and practices in the outside world will be an adventure, but also has a great added value, because I can inspire people who have no points of contact with yoga and would not come to an ashram.

What was the planning process like?

I looked up the approximate route on Google Maps and divided the total mileage by travel miles per day. That’s how I came up with nine months. Now, however, I realize that this was utopian. On the way there are so many surprises, the weather is sometimes unpredictable, meetings with and visits from great people make the trip longer than expected. Of course, sometimes the muscles are tired or you make flying visits to massage centers and yoga studios. But all of that is totally okay and just right the way it is.

As the next step in the planning process, I organized my material and bought it secondhand and coordinated everything with Yoga Vidya. Then it was time to pack up and leave everything else to the universe.

To what extent do you also leave the route planning to the universe?

Quite a bit. The destination is clear and the route lives from what I hear and see on the way. Locals give recommendations, political situations change, routes look more attractive in my navigation system than others – by a lake or a river, up a mountain or along a federal highway. For me, it works best to set stage destinations just a few days in advance. Even those are allowed to change depending on my state of mind. In this respect, the universe also has a hand in it.

You’ve also taught in various yoga studios along the way. Tell us a little about these collaborations.

Mostly it was in Yoga Vidya studios. I used social media to draw attention to my trip and thus established collaborations. I taught Hatha Yoga in the Yoga Vidya style, but also Acro Yoga and Laughter Yoga. Partly I slept in the yoga studio, also I was referred to friendly yogis from the area. Pretty cool! I was also cooked in some places.

When exactly did you start your journey? How did you experience the first time?

I started in August last year. In the beginning, it was an adjustment period. I kept the daily stages small and quickly realized that 40 km a day is too little. 80 km is more realistic, but sometimes more is possible. Since I started late, the autumn reached me quickly and accompanied me actually until today weather-wise. Often it has rained for days and I was allowed to learn that there is no bad weather, but only bad thoughts. Sounds easier than it is.

You’ve been on the road for 5 months now. Which countries have you crossed during this period?

Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, and finally Greece.

Wow, 10 countries! Which experiences do you remember the most?

I can list a lot…

I can imagine that!

Lots of sunrises and sunsets, waking up in nature, not knowing at the beginning of the day where you will pitch your tent, but knowing that you will always end up in a beautiful place – by chance, meeting nice people… It is also wonderful to be able to live and pass on my enthusiasm for cycling and yoga.

In Greece, on the beach one day, I called out “Hey, I’m doing a yoga class!” and sure enough, about 10 people came and joined in.

How great!

Yes, we then practiced yoga together every day.

All ages, I assume?

Yes, it felt great to unite everyone together. It broke the ice and we were like one big family. After I left, I was sent another video from a participant of them doing sun salutations together.

What do you enjoy about your trip, what do you find more challenging?

Being outside all day is awesome, but it also exposes me to the elements. When it gets dark early and is cold, personal hygiene and laundry are very minor.

Sitting on the bike and moving around as my main job also appeals to me, but I don’t find it at all easy to practice yoga on the side. Especially when it’s cold, the ground is damp and prickly.

Where are you right now and when will you continue?

In southern Turkey, on the Mediterranean coast. In a few days you will go on to Antalya.

At the moment you are traveling with a companion. How did that come about?

I have Yoga Vidya to thank for that! Leoni, my current companion, was once in such a workshop about two years ago. A year and a half later, just as I was getting on my bike to start the journey, she wrote me a message to congratulate me on my venture. She herself had been on the road for three months at that point, so she sent me some tips. Then, in Greece, we teamed up. Cycling, laughing, practicing yoga, doing handstands and cooking are even better together!

If the universe wills it, we will travel to India together. She will continue her journey there.

What a beautiful story! When do you plan to arrive in Rishikesh – alone or together?

That is all still uncertain. The route of the ancient Silk Road takes us through countries where we are still unsure about the visa situation. But we estimate in about half a year.

How long will you stay there?

You can ask questions ­čśÇ I can’t say yet. It will come as it should come.

What do you want to experience while you are there?

To absorb the Indian Spirit, to come closer to enlightenment.

ThatÔÇÖs an ambitious goal! Just like the whole journey. What will your return trip look like?

That’s also still uncertain, but I think I’ll dust off my flying carpet and saddle up for the return trip.

I hope you and Leoni continue to have a lot of fun and a great trip!

Felix started his journey with a sponsor and is now continuing the trip on his own. If you enjoyed the interview and feel like contributing to his journey, you can do so here.

Curious what these two yogi cyclists are up to? Follow their journey on Instagram:

Felix

Leoni