GenevieveInterview with the Berlin-based Yoga Instructor
4 May 2021
Hey Genevieve! Could you introduce yourself to our readers?
Gen: I am from London, but I’ve been living in Berlin for four years. I am a Yoga teacher and I have been teaching since 2019. I first trained as a Hatha-Vinyasa teacher and am now a LYT® Yoga teacher.
What sparked your interest in wellness and Yoga?
Genevieve: My mother is a complementary therapist, so “wellness” and taking care of oneself using natural methods was always a part of my life. I was so lucky to have this at such a young age, and now it has led me to a similar path in life.
I took my first Yoga class at 16; I went because my mum’s friend taught a class at my local gym. It was an hour of hatha – I remember thinking my body felt so good and I had never felt so relaxed after moving my body. At this stage, Yoga was just movement for me, an alternative to the gym.
Years went by, and I dipped in and out of my Yoga practice. It wasn’t up until my mid 20s that I started practicing more regularly. I began to do some self study and started to discover more aspects of the practice. My self study also led me to find out why we were moving our body in these ways and what the practice of Yoga meant beyond the asana (poses).
When did you make the switch from just practicing Yoga to also teaching it and what motivated you to make the switch?
Genevieve: I was always quite scared of wasting my life doing something I didn’t enjoy – it’s something I realised quite young and it has always stuck with me.
In Sanskrit, there is a word called “Dharma”, it comes from the word ‘dhri’, to uplift or hold. It has multiple meanings – one of them being ‘right direction’ and finding your truth in your path in life. There has always been something within me that called me to both work with people (providing them a way to navigate life) and to have fun in what I do.
I worked in various corporate jobs, and always felt like I was not contributing to society in the way I wanted to. I constantly felt that something was missing in my life. I trained as a massage therapist in 2014 and since then I knew I wanted to be involved in the wellness area. I took my first teacher training course to dive deeper into the practice and knew eventually I’d love to teach [Yoga], but didnt know when.
Then in 2020 the pandemic hit, my job contract ended, and at that point I thought it was time for a change. Although the studios were closed, spring was arriving and we had the parks as a place to socialise. I decided to gather friends and started teaching Yoga in parks. I then gained the confidence to offer this outside my circle of friends and dropped a message to some studios in Berlin asking if they were looking for teachers. Here I am a year later, making a living from something I love doing. (Big thank you to Green Yoga and Yoga on the Move!)
How has your relationship to Yoga changed now that you are also teaching?
Genevieve: In Yoga philosophy, Ahimsa is one of the Yamas (a set of righteous ways to live your life). Ahimsa means to cause no harm. This is a very important Yama as a teacher; [it’s important to] provide a safe space and safe practice for your students.
When I finished my Hatha-Vinyasa teacher training, I began teaching and as you teach you begin to observe different people, I slowly began realising there was a big gap in my anatomy knowledge. I lacked confidence offering adjustments to a different groups and that was a signal that more education was needed. The asana (poses) practice is so important in today’s society and as a teacher I wanted to be able to offer people the best way to move their body to help connect with their mind.
I came across an inspirational Yoga teacher Lara Heimann, a physiotherapist and Yoga teacher. She created this method of Yoga called the LYT Method®; this style of Yoga can be described as speaking to the physical deficiencies of modern life and uses freedom in movement to champion wellness and balance.
I’ve followed her page for a while. As well as offering the physical practice, she also had a platform in which she represented different people in the Yoga world. I knew I wanted to take this teacher training to learn from someone who is so in touch with her world community. A great opportunity arose when I saw she was advertising opportunities for BIPOCs to apply for a scholarship for the course, in order to open up more opportunities for BIPOC in the Yoga world. I was lucky enough to be selected for the course, and it’s definitely the best thing I have ever been given a chance to access.
I knew that this path of functional based Yoga was important for the community around me and the people I have been teaching. Her methods and the teacher training gave me confidence in my knowledge of the human body and with asana practice, philosophy, and how I can best share that to a wider audience.
Yoga has been heralded by many as a great regular practice not only for physical wellbeing but spiritual well being as well. What kind of changes have you seen in your life since incorporating Yoga into your daily lifestyle?
Genevieve: [Yoga] allows me to learn, explore and play, and to be open to always being a student. I will always be a student of Yoga and I am comfortable in knowing that I do not need to know everything. I want to have fun in exploring and discovering new and different things in and out of Yoga.
Yoga is more than just, expensive leggings, a series of poses, and saying “namaste” at the end of a class. Yoga is a 5000+ year Hindu practice dating back to around 2700BC and is just one part of a larger system of beliefs. The movements themselves were traditionally designed to prime the body for long hours of meditation. While exploitation of non-western cultures and cultural appropriation are absolute no-gos, there is certainly space for all non-Hindus to partake in the practice of Yoga (and other wellness activities with their origins in the East) in an authentic, respectful, and meaningful way. Do you have tips for how students of Yoga can do so?
Genevieve: Check out @susannabarkataki, she has taught me a lot and I really admire her work.
The mind, body, and spiritual connection all play a role in authentic Yoga practice and yet even focusing on this connection can be problematic, as wellness has turned into a booming industry. Will Williams, the founder of Beeja meditation, states, “It’s not a bad thing that people are trying to help others and share knowledge, but when money is prioritised over the wellbeing, integrity or history of a practice, there has to be a dedication to that culture.” How can we safeguard against the commodification and inauthentic practice of Yoga?
Genevieve: I am no CEO of Yoga and cannot tell people who to give their money to. This is a choice for you, the student. Is your teacher doing something positive for you and your Yoga practice? If yes, then your money is going to the right place for you.
Yoga for members of marginalised communities has an even deeper level of meaning when we look at the importance of self care, self preservation, self healing, and spiritual resistance in a world still plagued by systemic inequality and oppression. How can Yoga empower people from marginalised communities?
Genevieve: Isvara Pranidhana is one of my favourite Niyamas. It means Isvara – Supreme/God Pranidhana – ‘fixing’. The meaning of it together is to surrender or let go [with] God being our higher self.
We are invited to surrender our Egos, release judgements and ideas that we have, and to open the idea of expressing ourselves in our truest form, which will lead us to freedom.
In the practice of Yoga, empowerment can come in many ways. For some it could be practicing Asana and realising that the human body is a lot more capable than what we thought or maybe it is Pranayama (breathwork) and taking the time to slow down from a busy life.
Empowerment in Yoga is realising and owning your truth, [and asking yourself:] what in your practice made you feel free?
Later this week, we will be doing a workshop with you centering around the ways in which we can extend Yoga past our own personal practice and relate it back to community care. Why is this so important to you?
Genevieve: Yoga is not only what we practice on the mat. It is how we take what we have learned on the mat into the world. As a teacher you create a space for people to unite and share a practice, this can create communities of people sharing the same ideas. In the studios where I have practiced and taught I can see this; you grow bonds with the people in the studio.
Yoga is a practice of self care, you have chosen to take this time for your practice. You have chosen to take these practices in the world around you. By taking care of your body and mind you are able to be stronger for others.
Do you feel like Yoga can aid in activist work from both the perspective of active community work as well as slowing down and doing internal self care and introspection, as we are all constantly growing and learning?
Genevieve: Totally, the practice of Asana Yoga gives strength with the body. This is so important in activist work, going out to marches or demos, your body needs to be able to endure the physical aspect of a protest. Pranayama can help with difficult times, taking time to focus on your breath and arriving back to the present moment, can be a part of self care. Taking time to understand the Yamas and Niyama, can help us to remember why we are doing activist work.
By the practice of meditation, it can help us to find focus and discipline to do the work we need to, or for self care, helping to manage anxiety and stress and to tune inwards for self awareness and reflection.
And lastly, what big plans do you have for your wellness and spirituality journey both personally, as a teacher, and as someone looking to make an impact on the community level?
Genevieve: I am already seeking out the next path, I will be taking the second level (300hr) of LYT Yoga and continue to grow my knowledge of functional based movement. I’ve always had a love for human anatomy and the body and mind, so hopefully that’s where my Yoga path will carry me.
As a teacher, I want to be able to give people the confidence to be free in their body and mind and to be bold in their lives. I want to collaborate with as many different people as possible, closing gaps and bringing different communities together.
Photos by Rae Tilly exclusive for YEOJA. Photos were shot at JOY SPACE featuring the paintings of Runa Ikeda. Thank you so much to BESONNEN for sponsoring Gen with both Yoga sets in orange and grey. To keep up with Genevieve on Instagram, click here. For more interviews, click here. To sign up for Genevieve’s workshop in collaboration with JOY SPACE, click here.