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From feelings of disappointment and discouragement to those of contentment and balance: Sandrine Bremer spoke with us about her experiences while practicing the Second Series and how they have affected the way she shows up on and off the mat.

My Yoga Path

I first discovered yoga through a magazine article - I had been experiencing back pain and was looking for relief. Soon after I took my first Hatha Yoga class. Yoga became an irregular companion, it was really just another exercise alternative. I was fond of practicing the physical exercises, but there was no real philosophical connection in what I was learning and so my life continued on as usual without even knowing that there was something much more profound awaiting me.

It was in fact only when my then current relationship had ended that I was drawn inward to understand who I was and what my life and its "reality" truly meant. Yoga is a tool that can bring us to find inner peace. In the moment that I realized that yoga might be more than just a way to help me with some back pain or to keep me fit, I was inspired and motivated to find the right teacher to guide me in an in-depth training.

Yoga Student and Yoga Teacher

I met Anna Trökes at a workshop where she captivated me with her vivid descriptions of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. To me, Anna was always within hand's reach, meaning she was intimate and authentic with her students. I discovered through her teacher training program the Ashtanga Yoga teacher training led by Ronald. It was after participating in one of Ronald's MTCs in Braunschweig that I had found my teacher. Although I only had to that point very minimal contact with Ashtanga, Ronald was able to create an atmosphere that made me feel that I could entrust him with guiding me through the practice. I completed the AYI Inspired Training with Ronald and Anna over a period of two years, from September 2014 till May 2016. In this time something completely unexpected happened. What started as a small spark of fascination with yoga blazed into a full fire. It flared within me and caught onto others. What started as a small group of friends who practiced with me developed into an entire yoga school in Wolfenbüttel with the name "Ashtanga Yoga for You". Here I teach my students every day with the same enthusiasm and joy that I had from day one.

The Second Series: Getting Acquainted with the Energy Channels

After a good foundation in the First Series over the first three seminar weeks of my teacher training I started practicing some of the exercises from the Second Series. Apart from the Anjaneyasana sequence, however, I did not integrate them into my own personal practice. It wasn't until about half a year later, during the fourth week of training, that I was led through the Second Series to Eka Pada Sirsasana with the modifications for the intense backbends. Following that week, I practiced the Second Series regularly three times a week. After six weeks of practice, I was forced to take a mandatory time out for my back when I got an acute case of lumbago that started out of nowhere one day while teaching.

Treatment: Searching for Help

The harmless, but very common lumbago soon developed into a chronic problem. I could not bend over, drive, or visit my pony. I could only wear slippers because I could not bend my legs to put shoes on, and I ate standing because I could not sit down. Every movement had to be carefully thought out before being executed. My back was pain-free only when unnaturally upright and stiff like a candle. For four weeks I suffered through work, teaching, and exercise in this state. My chiropractor was manipulating and adjusting my back weekly. He was able to free up some blockages at the sacroiliac joint, but continued to be perplexed by the severe pain. As I was quite within the 'normal' range of motion, he said that perhaps my body was exaggerating. From that point on, we focused on treating the painful memory within the body. It was possible that an unpleasant experience had manifested itself in my body, and an old problem was looking for its way to surface.

Samshaya –Sabotage from within

"A brain is as a brain does," is what Anna had told us in training. I would have to say that mine can do this particularly well. I spent quite a lot of time pondering things and thinking things through. My first considerations were about the timing of this misfortune and what caused the lumbago in the first place. Had I given and adjustment with poor posture? Was there something going on in my body or mind on that day that required more of my attention? Why was it that it had to happen right now - just when I was taking time to analyze my behavior patterns?

After a good four days of no improvement, the thought carousel went on: "What if this isn't really lumbago? What can it be? Who can help me? Will I ever get well again?" My mind was all tangled up in a web of fears, uncertainty, doubt, impatience, self-pity, and sadness which was dragging me down. I felt helpless, without support, and alone.

At the same time, I was pressuring myself with various expectations and high demands. "I have to work again," said the inner voice. Every week I had a guilty conscience for calling in sick to work. What do my colleagues and bosses think of me? I practice yoga but I can't even move. My life seemed to have come to a complete halt.

Coming back to life

The longer I sat there and muddled through why this was happening to me, the more gloomy my outlook was and the worse my physical immobility became. I had fallen into a downward spiral.

I was finally able to turn things around by focusing on what it was that I could do. The list started off with quite small things like lying flat on my back, grocery shopping, cooking and walking in the woods. After four weeks using this method of self encouragement, my back condition improved slightly and I could sit for short periods of time, drive short distances and put normal shoes on. It took many more weeks to heal completely, and now and again my back even today still reminds me that I need to take it slow or treat myself well.

Through autogenic training I was able to come to a surprising conclusion on a cognitive level: I had to let go of expectations and the inner pressure of having to be healthy as well as the assumption that I was only a valuable and loveable person when my body was "functioning correctly." What a huge relief it was to have this burden lifted off my shoulders. I also used visualization as a tool: I started visualizing standing and practicing on my yoga mat again. I would conjure up images of the most beautiful sun salutations possible. Then I visualized myself someday sitting on a mediation pillow and telling my students about my current experiences: "At that time, something special happened to me ...." It dawned on me that my thoughts were incredibly powerful in my life. The way I see the world is my reality, be it gloomy and unjust, or colorful and friendly. As a result of this realization, I bought a flight ticket to spend two weeks in Purple Valley this year.

Pramada and Upeksha – Negligence and Non-Attachment

In the phase where I was immobile, I also began to question my own yoga practice. At the same time, I came to the conclusion that I had had no complaints before, and that I had always felt good and well-balanced after the practice. Nevertheless, I also had to admit that I had not always had a loving, caring relationship with my back, or even my body in general. Even during this time there were days when I had dragged myself onto the mat, even though my back was screaming for a break.

"Yoga has to help me!" was my only thought during these moments. The next day I was out of commission again. I had to let go of all of these thoughts and instead of working on physical stretching, my mind needed to work on its flexibility. I was past the point of recognizing the problem and needed to actively work out a way to improve my situation. Doing this also gave me the strength to deal with other difficult aspects of the past. For example, coming to terms with my relationship with my mother, which was a very painful process. However difficult, this work was necessary and became another important building block on my way back to vitality and balance.

Sandrine, sharing her experiences as a yoga teacher.
Sandrine, sharing her experiences as a yoga teacher.

Cultivating Gratitude

Looking back, I am certain that this forced hiatus was and is a very valuable experience for me. This situation made me aware of things which I would not have otherwise seen with such clarity. Through this process I was able to see how much I had taken for granted, simple things from everyday life such as waking up fresh and well-rested, enjoying a nice walk, having a cup of tea, driving somewhere or even practicing yoga. After having to struggle accomplishing these simple things, I am able to really appreciate their value now that I have them back. I see how beautiful life can be and I am able to remain mindful and curious.

I wanted to share this experience because it might be helpful for others who are confronted with similar challenges, fears and doubts. I want to encourage you to be attentive and caring to yourself and to make the most of your life.

Sunshine always follows the rain.

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