I’m a Yogini. Yes, yoga has been an intricate part of my life for the past 15 years. I’ve explored many forms over that time span. I love most of them and alternate my practice according to the needs of my body, my mind, my spirit.
In 2010, I came in contact with a woman named Susanne Koltai. She had come to me for a massage – I earn a living as a Thai Yoga Massage therapist. During our first massage session, Susanne told me she did yoga. «What form do you do?», I asked. «Svaroopa®!», was her answer. I had never heard of it. It piqued my curiosity.
What is Svaroopa® Yoga?
The word svaroopa means the bliss of Being. First and foremost, its about opening up the spine, starting from the tailbone and sacrum right up to the shoulder blades and base of the skull.
Svaroopa® Yoga was developed by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati, formerly known as Rama Berch. She’s been teaching yoga since 1976 and has studied many disciplines and yogic philosophies in India and North America. Following many trials, tribulations and physical challenges, she began to create variations on the classical hatha yoga asanas (poses), inspired by her in-depth knowledge of anatomy and mind. Her students were amazed and delighted.
Over time, she was urged to name the approach she’d developed and been teaching. Hence, Svaroopa® Yoga was born. Yoga Journal listed Svaroopa® Yoga as a style in 1996, providing national recognition of its expansion and effectiveness. She also founded Master Yoga Foundation, a non-for-profit organization that supports the teaching of Svaroopa® Yoga.
Awareness is at the centre of her philosophy. She told Australian Yoga Life (issue Sept-Nov. 2010): «All the practices of yoga turn your attention inward, specifically for you to find and experience your own Presence within yourself. Yoga is about being aware of your own presence, your own Self, which is a completely different direction of awareness: inwards instead of outwards». Interesting how this awareness is the opposite of how yoga is taught here, in the West, where most of the focus is on the superficial outcome of how yoga makes your body look…
Each class begins and ends with Shavasana (Relaxation pose), focuses on a particular theme and has what is called a marker pose. This is a pose that you’ll do at the beginning and end of a class, allowing you to feel the progression of how your body has opened. It can be encouraging to realize that, yay!, that right shoulder can now reach the ground while doing a gentle twist.
One of the core sayings in Svaroopa® Yoga is «Support = Opening = Release». An abundance of props are used to support you as the postures are held. Rolled up blankets, stacked blankets, blocs, chairs, little head rests are used throughout the session. The rationale is that if you are straining or forcing in any way, the spine cannot release. You need to be as aligned and supported as possible to get the maximum benefits of your practice. And find your Bliss.
The sequence of postures is designed to follow a progressive opening of the spine. «The most important part of it is that as the core of the body begins to open up, so does your inner experience of yourself», explains Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati, in the same aforementioned publication. And I can personally attest to this: I’ve lived with generalized anxiety disorder for most of my life. Since starting Svaroopa® Yoga, I can honestly say that 95% of my anxiety has melted away. Finally, relief.
In addition to being a Svaroopa® Yoga practitioner, Susanne also teaches it part-time. Teaching is a big part of her life, being a full time teacher of Interior Design at Dawson College, located in Montreal. She also had a previous career as an interior designer and worked in sales and marketing linked to the same domain.
She discovered Svaroopa® Yoga 13 years ago when she was looking for stress relief from her highly demanding job. The recreation centre where she lived, in Town of Mount Royal (TMR – located on the Island of Montreal), was offering that form of yoga. She absolutely loved it!
Not only did it help to relieve stress, but she found it to be nurturing and it made her body feel better, younger and more toned. Her mind became calmer and her spirit, nourished. «I found all those benefits to be long lasting, the new found sense of calmness being the most important one», she related to me over a nice little Indian lunch she had prepared for us, «I love that it meets your body where its at. Not only is it powerful and blissful, its accessible to all, whatever shape, size or age».
She would soon discover how Svaroopa® Yoga could be a tool for healing as well. About 10 years ago, Susanne had to undergo major brain surgery. She knew she’d be in for a long rehabilitation. After spending about three weeks in the hospital, she slowly began to rebuild her strength and stamina, dealing with issues of balance and double vision.
Her prior practice of Svaroopa® Yoga helped her in three ways. First, it allowed her to be better prepared for the surgery, with spiritual calmness and harbouring a positive outlook. She went in with the mantra «In my spirit I believe and in my neurosurgeon I trust!».
Second, while recovering in the hospital, she was able to lie in supported Shavasana, where plural pillows were stacked up under her knees, allowing her spine and back to release. This was a tremendous opportunity since she had to spend long periods on her back and bed ridden. Susanne also did Ujjayi Pranayama, an ancient yogic breathing technique that helps calm the mind and body. Its rhythmic sound is akin to that of the ocean or what a fetus hears in the womb. Its very soothing and profoundly healing physically, emotionally and mentally. It’s a very important part of Svaroopa® practice.
Third, along with physiotherapy, the gentle and supportive form of Svaroopa® Yoga ensured she could get back to her yoga practice rather quickly, in little bits and pieces. It helped her regain use of her body and senses. This trying experience reinforced her beliefs that Svaroopa® is accessible to everyone, meets your mind and body where they’re at and helps to heal and grow spiritually.
«After the surgery, I knew I coudn’t (and wouldn’t) want to go back to the pace my life had before. I started thinking about what the next path would be», elaborated Susanne. «I had a desire to bring beauty, balance, bliss and harmony to myself and share it with others».
This became a mission statement for her life. And she knew it would come through Svaroopa® Yoga and teaching. Although she had taken the basic Foundations training in 2004, she started the complete Yoga Teacher Training in 2010 and became a certified teacher. Susanne also continued to take various Svaroopa® Yoga workshops, has regularly attended Svaroopa® Yoga conferences and has taken additional training in Embodyment® Yoga Therapy, teaching standing Vinyasas and teaching half day workshops.
She long had a vision of a home yoga studio. Her husband and herself had been planning renovations to their house, and they decided that the home studio would be a part of those renovations. They had an extension built, where a tower leads you to the cozy, luminous little yoga studio nestled at the top. «Build it and they will come», she believed.
And we have been going! I was one of a few students to begin classes with her in the summer of 2010 and now, her classes are full! Granted, the yoga studio accommodates about 8 people, but Svaroopa® Yoga is usually practiced in small group settings, privileging connection between teacher and students and facilitating alignment corrections and adjustments.
Susanne plans to devote more time to teaching Svaroopa® yoga once she retires from her teaching job at Dawson. That’s good news for all of us!
If you want to know more about Svaroopa® Yoga or locate a teacher in your area, please visit www.svaroopayoga.org, the website of Master Yoga Foundation. If you swing by Montreal and would like to take a class with Susanne, you can reach her at www.studioSyoga.com.