Yoga Around the World: Guest Stories
Finally! One of the biggest trends in the world today is good for you.
Yoga is a growing practice in North America, Latin and South America, Japan, China, Europe and Asia. Recent statistics indicate there are 300 million people now practicing yoga worldwide.
Surveys in the United States show this increase is having a positive impact. The majority of the practitioners surveyed said they have a strong sense of mental clarity (86%), feel physically strong (73%), and give back to their communities (79%).
At the Sivananda Yoga Retreat, yoga practitioners come from all over the world, as students, vacationers, or karma yogi volunteers. All have diverse reasons for coming, such as relaxation, spiritual growth, professional trainings, and connecting with like-minded people.
Not all of them come from strong yoga backgrounds, and for some, yoga is only beginning to trend in their home country. Here are some of their stories:
Rachel Jansson, 30, Stockholm, Sweden.
An international labour lawyer who works for Global Reporting Initiative in Amsterdam, Rachel practiced various types of yoga for years, though inconsistently. She’s tried Hatha, Ashtanga, and yoga in a gym setting.
“In Sweden, yoga is becoming more popular, though there aren’t many yoga studios yet,” Rachel said. “Many people I know only do yoga as part of a gym practice. You lose a lot of the essence of yoga that way.”
Because Rachel was considering changing the focus of her work from education to working in the field, she decided to immerse herself in the life of the ashram. A vacationer for several weeks, she stayed in a dorm and started to practice asana every day.
The changes she felt extended beyond the postures. “Now the ashram has been giving me space to figure out my direction … to have some clarity,” she said. “The meditation practice was a huge part of that, and so was the Essentials of Positive Thinking Course,” she said, referring to a Sivananda Essentials Course offered monthly at the ashram.
“I took the Positive Thinking course, which is all about facing challenges with a positive mindset,” she said. “And it worked! I fell on the sidewalk this morning, right on my knees. At home I would have been so upset, but here I didn’t let it ruin my day. I kept on smiling.”
Tineke Duyvestyn, 27, New Zealand
Tineke has been a world traveller for the past five years. Trained as a graphic designer, she started practicing yoga seriously in her early 20’s and then two years ago completed her yoga teacher training in India.
She started her yoga journey by practicing Bikram yoga while studying at school. When she lived in Australia for two years, she did many more flow classes. “People are more and more interested in yoga in those countries,” she said.
Tineke has noticed many different types of people now practicing yoga in Australia and New Zealand. “Even my mother is going to yoga classes,” she said. Others are more interested in meditation.
Now Tineke calls the ashram home, and she has stayed for three months as a karma yogi. She said she hopes to make changes in her personal practice that will counter her kapha temperament — she describes herself as slow, but creative. “I need more of a physical practice,” she said.
“I grew up in a secular home, but I’ve always believed in magic,” Tineke said, “To me, yoga comes close.”
Ole Hoyer, 44, Copenhagen, Denmark
Ole is from Denmark and has a place of residence in New York City. But he has another place of refuge: the ashram. He has been spending three weeks in the ashram every year since 2005.
“I have a practice, but mostly when I’m here at the ashram,” he said. “Normally I come during Christmas and New Year’s, and I’ve met so many great people from all over the world.”
Running a consulting business training executives in holistic and sustainable approaches, Ole loves his work. But with offices in New York, Copenhagen, Zurich, and London, this can also be a stressful way of life. “I come here to wind down, to get back to myself,” he said. “And I also spend time here to plan the year ahead.”
Ole also practices yoga when he’s in New York at Dharma Mittra’s Dharma Yoga Center, and he will sometimes opt for the pay-per-class model that some studios have. “In Copenhagen I go to Hanna yoga and I also have a practice at home,” he said. “There’s much more yoga there now, plus teacher trainings and retreats in places like Italy and Mallorca.”
Ole’s time as the ashram, he says, is all about self-care. “It’s extremely important. Plus, I like the ancient teachings. And at the ashram, it’s so very special at Christmas time with all the traditions and celebrations.”
Nadia Koppers, 27, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Nadia began to practice yoga at age 19. “My first yoga class was a Sivananda one in my home town of Almere,” she said.
She described former self as a lazy teenager who was looking for some sort of physical activity that didn’t include team sports. “My mom suggested yoga. After my first Sivananda class, I felt so relaxed and at the same time so different,” she said. “I now can say that it was the moment I realized divine energy.”
After four years of practice, Nadia went to Kerala and took her yoga teacher training, the same place where her Sivananda teacher in Almere had taken it. “After I graduated, she invited me to start teaching back in Holland,” she said. “I began filling in for her and then teaching classes on my own.”
Nadia later did a second teacher training in a different lineage in the Netherlands, and began to teach both types of yoga. “In my town, I’ve taught older people, young people, and increasingly more men,” she said. “When I started, it wasn’t as popular. Now it’s more accepted,” she said.
In Amsterdam there’s a lot of yoga, she said. “There are different styles, hip places with younger groups. You can find something to fit anyone there. It’s very diverse.”
Four years ago, Nadia decided to stop teaching and concentrate on learning. “I’m now thinking of the Advanced Teacher Training Course,” she said.
Pablo Cruz, 32, Mexico City, Mexico
Pablo found yoga in Mexico City when he sought a program to help him meditate.
“I was 25 when I started, thanks to my time in rehabilitation,” he said. “Part of the program was to search for prayer and meditation. When I looked around, I found a yoga teacher.”
Pablo began to practice with a Sivananda yoga teacher in Mexico City who had been hired by his employer, so the employees could attend classes. “He gave the class at 6am every day. I was the only one who showed up,” he said.
He later took an intensive four-month program on weekends. Because he began a career as a commercial photographer, he was able to exchange his skill for the cost of the program. “They talked about the ashram and all the swamis, so I really wanted to go. But at that time I didn’t think I could take off a full month off work,” he said.
For several years Pablo’s’ practice lessened, so he decided to go to a retreat with a teacher trained by Dharma Mittra, who had been a disciple of Sivananda. “I practiced with them for a year,” he said. Finally I made my way to the Bahamas to do my Yoga Teacher Training course at the ashram.”
That was in 2016, and since then he’s returned to Mexico City to teach and continue his photography work. “Now half the photography I do is yoga photography,” he said.
He has since has been twice to the Bahamas ashram as a karma yogi doing photography, and will soon head to the Sivananda ashram in Colombia.
Back in Mexico, he says, there’s a huge market for yoga, and the interest is now in more than the asanas. “We are still in the process of people getting to know what yoga is,” he said. “We have satsang in Mexico City every month, and it’s always getting better.”