My Journey with Ashtanga Yoga

By Andrea Drottholm

MOVEMENT AND SPORTS, STARTING YOUNG…

At an early age I was exposed to sports and movement. My mother knew I needed an outlet for my over load of energy. When I was two years old, my mother dreamt of me as an Ice Princess.  She bought me the smallest ice skates possible as it was so important for my mother to invest herself into my activities; dance, swimming, basketball, choir, you name it, I did it. The one activity my mother did not agree with was football. She would often say “bruised ballerina legs is not on.” I continued football throughout my school years which sincerely upset my mother and her idea of an Ice Princess.

The first time I was introduced to yoga was with my hippy weed smoking American friend, Heather, who was into crystals, incense, praying to pyramids and talking about healing people with her hands. She was exotically different, lovable and fascinating to say the least. I clearly remember standing in warrior pose under her instructions for what seemed like a long time. I quickly decided yoga was not my thing, it was boring…

In my early carrier, I worked on cruise liners. Amongst some of my job titles on board, I was the sports director conducting “stretch classes” on a daily basis entertaining a range of mid to elderly aged passengers. However, committed to my work, I went hunting for inspiration to invite more variety into my classes. This is where I discovered my first yoga book “Power Yoga” by Beryl Bender Birch. It later realized it was an Ashtanga yoga book. Long after, for whatever reason, I left the cruise lines and stretch classes to carry this book across the world as I went on my adventures.

THE SEARCH FOR THE UNKNOWN…

After years of travelling and working abroad, I landed in Barcelona, Spain. I felt deprived of a balanced life style due to long hours building my first company. I knew something had to change and I needed a way to connect within. I heard meditation could do the trick to stay fit in the mind and body, but I felt my mind telling me that my busy life was limited with time. Someone kindly suggested, “try yoga”. Hmm I thought. Thinking back to that day in the Caribbean sunset holding warrior pose, “but ok, maybe I should give it another go” I said to myself. I began exploring different yoga classes at various studios. Yoga in those days was something for house wives, the elderly, and hippies.                    The yoga scene was much different than what it is now. Let’s say the studios were not crowded with young beautiful girls, in colourful leggings, throwing their legs behind their heads or into the splits for that matter. It seemed Hatha yoga was ruling the city, and again it was just not my cup of tea.

Almost giving up, I shared my mission and disappointments with a friend who suggested I try the yoga classes he goes to. We found ourselves in some old warehouse in one of Barcelona’s shabbiest neighbourhoods with a Scottish yoga teacher, Diane Bell. Right then and there, Diane became my first Ashtanga yoga teacher and dear friend. It was underground, grungy, fast paced and very challenging. I loved it! Admittedly the amount of times I cycled around with my yoga gear in my bag promising myself that “today I am going to yoga!” but failed to get there. I was simply too busy with work and living according to Barcelona’s frantic life style.

It took a couple of years before I decided Ashtanga yoga hooked me and that it was time to dive deeper within. I managed to find a “mini me” replacement at work to take the lead of my company. I happily handed over my Blackberry phone, and set off for India with the promise that I would return without getting hooked into some weird sect.

MYSORE SEDUCTION…

It was 2006 when I first arrived to Mysore, India as she seduced me with embracing arms. It was not love at first sight, I must admit.  Coming from Goa I did not see myself spending the next two months in Mysore. Within the next 24 hours, I found myself sitting in my room wondering why I was there…the sounds of drums outside engaged my curiosity and I was pulled into a religious ceremony, dancing in the streets, blessed by the local people and stuffed with food! I was charmed by the many smiling friendly faces around me. This was something else… the adventures did not stop there, even going to the bank would turn into blog writing material. The practice, yes, the practice got intensified a few notches. I left Mysore knowing very well that I was going to be back. Since then, I was blessed enough to return to Mysore almost every other year since then. Spending anything from two to six months, loving every minute of it.

YOGA AND BARCELONA LIFE STYLE, COMPATIBLE?…

Diane left Barcelona and I sought for a new teacher, I came to know Nick Evans. Nick was a true inspiration in my yoga journey as he inspired me with his love and commitment to his students. I realised through his teachings that the role of a yoga teacher was not only to teach asanas and adjust people, but to be a support pillar within a community of people.

After 20 years in the service industry, I started to study Life Coaching as I felt it was time to deepen my call for service with people. Watching Nick, I realized that being a life coach and a yoga teacher could be a fantastic combination. Though at this point, becoming a life coach was just a dream of the future.

I was committed to my practice no matter how late the nights and temptations of socialising. I still showed up to my mat. Nick had it in for me; he was loving, caring, but oh was he strict! If I did not show up for a few days because of a ladies’ holiday followed by a moon-day, he would be on the phone questioning my absence. Bless him. I have sincere gratitude towards him for enhancing my discipline and not letting me slip off the mat. God knows living in Barcelona and my life style was not exactly compatible. It came to a point where I had to make a choice; to keep living the busy hectic life of an entrepreneur during the day, followed with late nights, Party and socialising,? Or go deeper into my practice? With time, the answer became very obvious…

I tried convincing myself of being invincible, to having a complete melt down crying in the arms as Nick gently told me “Its ok, but you cannot burn the candle from both ends.” The practice had me by its claws and the choice was obvious. I made a deal with my friends during the week and by midnight, like Cinderella, was my cut off time.  No matter what the happening that night, I was heading for bed to go and practice in the morning.  Now that I look back, I feel quite proud of myself to manage this compromise and to have finally found a healthy balance between the two.

In 2009, Nick left Barcelona and I was now practising with my teacher Hojung. Hojung offered to have me assist alongside Damien who was also my partner at the time. Damien and I would often dream and fantasize of an exotic tropical place where we would manifest a dream we share. To have our own yoga retreat centre where people would come from all parts of the world to invite amazing teachers who we could also study with. Our dream was to include the locals living around where we were, which at the time was still unknown to us.

For whatever reason, Bali had been calling me back lately. Back on the cruise ship days in 1999 we would pass through Bali and I almost settled there. Bali had remained lingering within me to one-day return. Years later Bali called me back, so it was, we decided to pack up, say goodbye to Barcelona, and head for Bali.

THE DREAM BECOMES REALITY…

The universe was on our side as we were called to teach for Prem and Radha at their newly opened shala in Ubud, Bali for a few months. We ended up staying a year in Bali, only to return a year later to settle down. We drew up that same dream we had fantasized in Barcelona. It was time to make this dream come true, I wanted it on paper. The search for the yoga retreat place began and almost one month later I had the first meeting with the property owner, Jacques. I showed him the idea and he loved it so much that he wanted to be a part of it.

To set up a business in Bali is far from easy. Not only the language barrier, culture, the documents required and the time to wait for all to fall into place, and lastly a local sponsor. I asked my friend Abdi who shared our passion for yoga if he was willing to come on board. In 2013, Samadi Bali was established, a dream came true. Four owners with the same vision… When I say a dream, I mean literally! From writing our ideas down on paper and prayers to the universe, finally the dream came to reality. I was not shy to write down every little detail and lay out the BIG dream; the shala, the funky rooms, the vegetarian yummy food, the fair trade shop with a community around us. Slowly but surely, our baby was born – Samadi Bali.

We inaugurated our shala and Mark Robberds had just finished a retreat in Ubud.  All ready to go sea side and looking for a space to practice, we opened our doors on June 1st surrounded by friends and a beautiful shala.  Rather busy, we were blessed.

Naturally the shala didn’t always fill up. Soon after our friends left the island and very few stayed. There were days when we had 2 – 4 students in class and the local yogis were not convinced Ashtanga yoga mysore style was for them as they were already committed elsewhere. Canggu was still a sleepy surf place and not exactly a yogi hang out like Ubud. In the planning of naming the shala, Damien suggested Seabud, Ubud by the sea. In the past 4 years, Canggu has gone from a laid back surfers hang out to a happening hipster health hub where yogis bring their surfer friends to class.

MY YOGA TEACHING CAREER…

I went from being Damien’s assistant to battling my ego as I did not want to be an assistant, but a teacher. Damien had 12 years of teaching experience ahead of me, although I was a keen yogi who had lots to share. So I thought… The more I taught, the less I knew. I managed to kick my ego in the butt and submit to my seat as an assistant. I was nowhere near a teaching standard that I imagined myself to be. I watched, I learned, and I soaked up what I could to be a teacher of Damien’s calibre. It was challenging in the beginning to be corrected on how to teach. It was not always easy for us, however our commitment to grow and be the best we could to our students was most important to us.

During my trip to Mysore in 2014, I received a blessing and authorization from Sharath Jois. I was now officially upgraded to a teacher. I recall saying to him, “thank you for your trust in me as a teacher” he replied, “yes, now you prove to me I was right!” The pressure was on! It was hard not to copy and paste Damien as a teacher as I would see myself lacking confidence in my own style and teaching. But somehow being authorised by Sharath pushed me forward towards centre stage and I started gaining more trust in my ability as a teacher.

Though I see myself as a student for life, I never cease to learn. I love this practice and feel the need to share it with others. Yoga is not about the asanas, it’s not about having the bendiest back or the flowiest vinyasas. This way of practicing yoga is not what I teach and nor for me personally. Yoga is a commitment to thy self and a discipline to bring you back to yourself. The practice grounds me and allows me to be my truest self. It is a process unmasking a paradigm. The practice is my teacher where I observe my breath on days when the mind is filled with thoughts good and bad.  It is a challenge, yet a struggle. There are clear signs when I am unbalanced on all levels of the body and mind, and that is ok. We are human and we will all have these days.  There is no need to push and punish myself as the mind will often be judgemental when not having a beautiful crafted physical practice. I do my best to teach students to accept themselves, be gentle, and accept the present moment. There are days when the body feels heavy, stiff, painful, sad, and slow.  To be grateful for where you are, is to surrender oneself. It will take you to places you never imagined to exist, it’s a tale which never ends. We must be open to receive it, and that in my opinion can only be done if you keep yourself open minded.

The practice of yoga will always be there whether you choose to leave it or not.  It is a saviour and will always keep you afloat. When it’s easy, its easy, we never doubt. Although when it’s hard, and I mean when it’s hard, we judge and lose engagement. The real yoga journey begins when you are challenged. When one is faced with moments and feelings of failure, it becomes a relationship mirrored in pain. If we can just stay in the mess, the pain, the breath – the storm will pass. It’s in these moments you begin the real relationship with the practice.  You will receive what you put in. Trust and embrace it in whichever which shape or form it comes.  Only you can choose how you want to receive it.

THIS IS PRACTICE…