Determined, strong-willed and focus, Smadar displayed great strength and resilience in her healing process and search through the practice of Ashtanga Yoga. We know her story will inspire many who are deterred by their physical (and mental) limitations and that Ashtanga Yoga is indeed for everyBODY.
1. Please share with us about your background and how you started practicing Ashtanga Yoga?
I’m a designer from Israel and the founder and creator of ‘the City’, a small chain of Interactive Learning Playgrounds. The concept of ‘the City’ is based on role-play whereby the environment stimulates imagination and creativity and in order to play a game, kids have to communicate and interact with each other.
We were very lucky to be recognized by influential bloggers and pre-school chains in Singapore. Today ‘the City’ is a well-known establishment with 2 outlets in Singapore and 1 in Myanmar.
My yoga journey began in 2010. I had gone through back surgery due to a lumbar spine injury and yoga was recommended by my doctor as part of the healing process.
In the beginning I practiced in one of the big chains and it was mostly physical exercise. At that time I used to read a lot about yoga and intuitively knew there was much more to it than meets the eye.
In 2015 I decided to take a Teacher Training Course (TTC) in order to get a better understanding of yoga. There were few options available and eventually I chose Ashtanga Yoga.
My teacher who was Desikachar’s student inspired me and during the course of my training I felt that this ‘yoga thing’ was gaining more clarity in my mind. Since then I have been practicing Ashtanga but it took me a while to find the right teacher. Recently I took the next natural step and started an Ashtanga Yoga Therapy Course.
2. What is your biggest obstacle / challenge with the practice?
My biggest challenge would be not being able to excel to the extent that I wish. I am highly energetic and competitive in nature and put a lot of effort in everything I do and expect to succeed.
In the Ashtanga practice, because of my injury, no matter what I would do my starting point is way behind the rest. And most probably with all the effort I could put in I will never be able to get to the place where other practitioners would effortlessly flow in. I am not used to being the ‘challenged kid’ in class.
That’s why in the beginning I was intimidated and this feeling held me back for a long time before I could gather the courage to step into The Yoga Shala Singapore (where I currently practice). I have heard about the Shala for a long time ago during my TTC but had the impression that it is a place only for advanced practitioners.
Once I started going to the Shala things took a different turn. As time went by I stopped comparing self to others and observing my own practice instead. And everyday I start my practice with the acknowledgement that I am the most beginner level practitioner in the room and surprisingly I am fine with it. It is a new and more relaxed place for me to be in.
3. We know you have had injuries previously, have you ever had doubts or fears about whether the practice is suitable or will work for you?
I practiced different styles with different teachers in Singapore and every experience ended up with me being unable to move, followed by a visit to my specialist for anti-inflammatory injections. I was under constant spinal pain that made me stop practicing for weeks or months and then start all over again.
At some point I gave up and decided to practice only at home. That period of self-practice was fun but obviously I didn’t make as much progress as I had desired. Without losing faith in yoga I gradually stopped practicing asanas and took an hour of swimming everyday instead.
One of those days I watched an interview with Petri Raisanen, an Ashtanga Yoga teacher who is known for his healing techniques and decided to travel to Goa to practice with him. Petri recommended that I practice with James when I go back home. Basically this was the last chance for Ashtanga and me.
During my first days at the Shala, every time another teacher approached me for adjustment, especially forward bends or when my teacher was away, I was completely vulnerable and scared. I didn’t want to end up with another injury. Deep down I knew that this practice was very important for me and felt that I had to be constantly on watch in order to avoid any unfortunate injuries.
I have no doubt in the Ashtanga practice, I have a strong and deep understanding that it is the best practice for me and I enjoy the concept of self-practice with its meditative nature.
4. Which is the most challenging pose for you and how do you work towards overcoming it?
Drop backs. I think I’m physically and mentally incapable of doing it on so many levels. I don’t have any hopes and expectations about this pose. I just use it as an opportunity to lengthen, which has therapeutic effects on my spine and to practice letting go.
I still think it is very ambitious to expect from a person who had gone through a spine injury to drop back but I had the same thought about wheel pose, which I am able to do now, so I’ll have to be patient and see the practice unfolds.
5. How has the practice affected / changed your life?
I can let go…! I think it is the first time in my life that I’m not putting all my energy in controlling certain things, which are beyond my ability. I do my best and accept that sometimes things will take a different turn and won’t match my expectations.
Besides that my life rhythm has slowed down. I go out less and prefer to sleep early, enjoy walking and using public transportation (I used to drive everywhere!), follow Ayurveda based diet and almost don’t drink any alcohol.
One thing that keeps fascinating me about yoga is that every time I learn something new or finish a milestone I realise there is so much more lo learn. Its depth is endless and as I delve into it I become more humble about yoga and life, in general.
6. Use ONE word to describe what the practice means to you and why?
Therapy. The practice improved my posture and took away my spinal pain completely! These days I see my practice as mostly mental. Yes my asanas are getting better but I prefer to look at it as a place to explore my boundaries.
One unsolved issue which I had was my doubt in my ability to teach. Since my TTC I taught occasionally but not much even though I had good feedback from my students. Yoga changed my life and I wanted to share this experience but found it difficult. I guess it was related to my injury and past experiences.
During my yoga journey I experienced different styles of teaching. While practicing in a safe environment at the Shala I was able to shape my understanding of the qualities (which are important for me) in order to become the kind of teacher I want to be and at the same time people around began to ask me to teach them. So I return to teach few times a week and am extremely happy about it.
7. How important is the teacher and student relationship based on your personal experience?
Extremely important! It is the key to the actual practice. You must have a teacher who sees you, whom you can trust and who is capable of leading you safely through your physical challenges and your mentally darkest corners. It is important to set good foundation in order to remove doubts and be able to let go.
During my first practice with James, he pulled my mat to the centre of the room. He asked me to do a headstand, which I was able to do only against the wall at the time, as I was unstable and shaky. All other teachers whom I had practiced with before allowed me to enjoy the comfort to rely on the wall but he didn’t!
Then he stood next to me and said something like ‘Don’t worry you are not going to fall – I GOT YOU’ which could sound as a very obvious thing to say. But for me it made the difference because he pushed me out of my comfort zone to face my fear and was there to support me.
The teacher and student relationship reminds me of parenting. In the early stages the child is completely dependent and needs excessive attention and guidance. As time goes by and with good foundation being set, the child is groomed and equipped with all the support and knowledge. The child becomes more independent and will need the parent’s attention only with the more complicated things.
Sometimes when my kids challenge me I have to put my interpretations aside and respond in a neutral way. Other times I challenge them even though it could’ve been faster and easier for me to be more supportive, all in order for them to be able to take something out of it and grow. And I find it similar in a way to what I experience through my journey with James.