The art of letting go is a task with which we are sometimes more or less busy our whole life. Our everyday life is mostly characterized by structure and rationality, whereby we often forget that things can only be planned half as much as we would like. Letting go and surrendering to the only constant that life has in store for us - change - is all the more difficult under these conditions. A conversation with a woman who sees yoga as a way to surrender to the flow of life and trust in the laws of the universe, as well as herself. To have yoga as an anchor that brings you back to yourself again and again.
"Yoga just healed me on so many levels. I just wanted to keep giving it because for me, when you really practice it, it can do the most magic."
Corona conditional, I meet Julia at the all-knowing Zoom meeting, which has established itself as a best friend and helper over the past year. Spontaneous as ever, I take it upon myself to ask Julia the questions that arise in our conversation without having a concrete plan. Intuitively, I pick up on what Julia also wants to convey to her students - to surrender to what is.
Raphaela: How did you come to yoga, or when did you start with yoga? Whatis yourbackground?
Julia: Actually, I don't believe in coincidences, but I was actually more or less "forced" into my first yoga class. My mind has always been very busy. I was generally often very restless and unfocused, except when I really loved something. Other than that, I've always been rather all over the place. My mummy always said 'Julchen, yoga would do you a world of good, why don't you try it'. At the time I just thought, 'Come on. Leave me alone with your yoga. I don't want anything to do with it. Don't bore me. You're welcome to breathe for yourself', because she did gentler yoga, which I couldn't identify with at all.
Then I was on holiday and my then boyfriend's mum asked me if I would go to yoga class with her. I just thought to myself: 'For God's sake, you have to come along now, you can't say no now...'.
"What I write and what I tell comes from my experiences, from how I felt in it, just more subtly."
That was in Vietnam, in August 2014. I went to yoga with her there. There were three of us in the class and I felt so good afterwards...even though I didn't know where up and down was during the class. I used to do gymnastics and it reminded me so much of gymnastics and I loved gymnastics. It felt so good that I actually went back to yoga the next day.
From this, my practice has then gradually established itself. I first went to the fitness studio in Munich. Then I found a great teacher there - Jane - whom I went to - and at some point she said 'that's not enough, you have to practice more. Why don't you go to Jivamukti? Go to Kari. I had my first Jivamukti class with her. When I wanted to go to her again, she wasn't there, Petros did the subbing and that's when I found my teacher. From then on, I was more or less done with yoga.
Raphaela: So it sort of started in 2014 that you started going to yoga regularly?
Julia: At that time I went to yoga once or twice a week. I studied law at the same time. I never intended to become a yoga teacher. It was more my balance to study and to sit there, to come to me. August 2014 until March 2016 I just practiced for myself. This gradually became more and more intense. I was about to take my state exam at the time and I was like, 'Okay. I needed some kind of bright spot, something to look forward to.' That's when I booked my first yoga training.
"I just needed a bright spot like that at the time."
Raphaela: Was the Yoga Teacher Training then at Jivamukti?
Julia: No, first I did an Ashtanga training. Jivamukti came afterwards. At that time I simply needed a ray of hope. But to be honest, I was still totally naive. At that time I simply searched the internet for yoga trainings and came across one in Thailand.
Then I got a recommendation from an acquaintance who had also done her training there and thought: 'That'll be fine if she liked it'. I booked the training and flew to Thailand without knowing what Ashtanga actually was. It was exactly what I needed at the time. Structure. Discipline. Alignment. (Laughs)
In Thailand I lived in the Jungle for 5 weeks and did my Ashtanga training. Looking back, that was one of the happiest times I had, even though at the beginning I often cried and called my family that I wanted to leave - but I don't remember that anymore (laughs).
It was also one of the most intense times. Because of course, first of all it was the first training, a lot happens to you, secondly Ashtanga and thirdly you are taken away from every comfort. For me it was like that. The teacher training was remote on Koh Phangan in the jungle. We had no hot water for showers. Insects everywhere and exotic animals suddenly living in bed with me... All very new and unfamiliar.
"It was super intense. But it was also. It was just gigantic."
Raphaela: What is it like to do an Ashtanga training? Because there are 4 levels in Ashtanga. Do you only do the first one?
Julia: So there are six series. Julia:Exactly. But we only did the Primary Series there. It was also called Ashtanga/ Vinyasa. We had two three other classes, like also Rocker Yoga, Vinyasa and Yin. But the Primary Series was the main thing. Traditional Ashtanga is very teacher-centered. And you practice it Mysore - so independently under the supervision of the teacher. Your teacher then tells you - now you've breathed through the first series, you can go to the second if it's followed very strictly. It wasn't that strict in this Ashtanga practice. But I've never done so many chaturangas in my life. (Laughs)
Raphaela: (Laughs) Hey but good - at least you build up a good basic musculature.
"I needed the most extreme physical practice to first be in the clear. To connect with myself. I couldn't have just sat down. Some people sit down, they're there, and they don't need an asana. It's different for everyone."
Julia: I have never been so fit in my life. I think!
Raphaela: So that was kind of in the time after your first state exam?
Raphaela: Did you continue with your law studies after that?
Julia: I came back and failed the state exam. Just on the second to last day of training I got the news, but it didn't matter because I was so happy with and for all that I experienced, did and learned there. So I came back and started learning again, but then realized, this is not it. This is not what I want to do. It doesn't fulfill me at all. It's not fun for me. And then I decided I'm going to drop it and I'm going to focus on yoga.
From that everything has developed so much. When I was still in Thailand, we also had a Yin class. And that Yin class, for me it was just 'Wow. Wow Wow...What was that?" Sarah, who had given the class at the time, studied with Meghan Currie. Meghan is now, along with Petros my other yoga teacher. I had never heard of her until then because I had zero exposure to the yoga scene at the time.
But during the Ashtanga Teacher Training I learned about this from my next teacher and so it all unfolded on its own.
Yoga just healed me, on so many levels. I just wanted to pass it on because for me, when you really practice it, it can unleash the greatest magic.
"(...) it takes time and it's a process. It doesn't work if you practice yoga once a week."
Yoga is an experience. Yoga is a state. And you have to experience the state by doing different practices, be it pranayama, meditation, asana, chanting For everyone it is different. Everybody starts somewhere different. And everybody needs something different. It's very personal. Preferably, of course, something from everyone. But it's a path and a process and it takes time to find out what you need.
I needed the most extreme physical practice to first be clear. To connect, to come to myself. I couldn't have just sat down. Some sit down and don't need an asana. It's different for everyone.
Raphaela: So you would say that you first came to meditation through the physical practice?
Julia: Completely. I was the most un-spiritual person you can imagine. I was totally head controlled, super rational, very logical. Structured and also very controlled. That has become very hard.
Raphaela: You teach yoga exclusively then? That's your main profession?
Julia: Yes,I don 't want to do anything else. And that is also the most beautiful thing for me, the thing that gives me everything, when you see your students, how they are in practice. And then you always have the same students who come and you realize: 'Wow, yeah' - they go beyond themselves and overcome their limits. Growing beyond themselves and something opens up, changes. Because yoga is not just this feel good every time. Yoga is hard work, even though it's often sold differently. Because no one can do it for you. It's your path.
The Art of Letting Go - "You just learn to be more equanimous with everything. You learn to accept and embrace things."
It is a new experience every time. You connect your body and your mind by combining breath and movement. Learning to listen. Immerse yourself in that oneness, and then see what happens. It's just magical to me. But it takes time, and like everything in life, it's a process. It doesn't work if you practice yoga once a week.
Raphaela: But at Kale&Cake you mainly teach Yin Yoga at the moment?
Julia: Online only Yin. In the studio I used to teach more dynamic.
Raphaela: What would you say fascinates you most about Yin?
Julia: The yin training I did back then was difficult for me. Sometimes I went "to the toilet" three times in half an hour, because I couldn't stand being quiet, couldn't lie down anymore. It's been super mentally exhausting for me to be in this complete silence. But I think that's why I've also found a really good way to design the yin classes I give. I talk quite a lot in my Yin classes. Which is rather untypical, but I tell a lot. It's very much about letting go and also about shifting attention in the body, where emotions in particular play a big role. That was also my way of learning to become calmer and softer, to let go.
"I just want to give my students a space where they can have new experiences for themselves."
It is very situation and emotion dependent when I teach Yin. Yin grounds me insanely. It gives me a lot of peace and stability. And that also came from my teacher Meghan, because I was introduced to Yin and Nidra in a way that was very captivating to me, rather than the conventionally taught, "classical" Yin, which has a lot to do with: 'I'm going to put people in a position and read a poem and then leave them alone with themselves'. That's not really my thing.
With yin, I find - I mean it depends on the guy again - I personally find it insanely difficult, if you don't have a yin practice, to just let people lie in the postures. It's a good exercise for the mind, no question, but just very challenging.
Raphaela: Do you read things then? Or what do you do to fill these spaces so that your students don't feel left alone?
Julia: I talk about personal experiences, but of course I package them differently. So I don't tell directly about my pain of separation or whatever. But of course, what I write and what I tell comes from my experiences, from how I felt in it, only more subtle.
"We're further away from us every now and then. Then we're closer to us again. Sometimes we lose ourselves again and then we find our way back to us."
Raphaela: What would you say is your intention behind teaching? What do you want to give your students?
Julia: I simply want to give my students a space in which they can gather new experiences for themselves. Which they can then, in the moment in which they need them, always fall back on.
Every now and then we are further away from ourselves. Then we are closer to us again. Sometimes we lose ourselves again and then find back to us. Depending on the situation. Emotionally. The yoga path, when you practice it, gives you so much. You learn to deal with everything more calmly. You learn to accept things and to accept them. But also to act self-responsibly. To take personal responsibility. I can't really describe it. But it's a feeling that comes from experience in practice and connection. And once you've had that feeling, I think you're cathartic.
"(...)by realizing that you are not alone, you get so much compassion yourself. Also because you learn to really feel yourself again, which also makes you much more accepting."
The yoga reminds us that everything is always there. That is the state. The state in which nothing is missing. Purnam. Fullness. That's always within you. And we always get these glimmses of that state in practice. Then when you're in savasana and you wake up and you're like... (No Words)
Those are glimmses. And I think that just gives so much support for and in the material world and so much stability that you know you can always come back to that feeling. Even if it's work, but it's always there. We forget it far too often, unfortunately.
Raphaela: Absolutely. I forget it myself far too often.
The Art of Letting Go - "Everyone needs something different depending on how far along they are in their journey."
Julia: But I want to say that because it's okay that we forget. We all have the same needs. We all have the same feelings, thought patterns. Are often trapped in all of our conditioning. We just always think we're alone in our story. Yes, they are different stories and different scales and you can't compare it because the intensity is always their own for each person anyway. Most personal.
But by realizing that you are not alone, you get so much compassion yourself. Also because you learn to feel yourself properly again, which also gives you much more acceptance.
Raphaela: Yes, you really just learn a really nice, loving way of dealing with yourself.
Julia: You learn how to deal with yourself, but you also learn that the whole universe, the whole life, that always springs out of you. We always say, we always have to take care of ourselves first. Do that for ourselves. And we do that in a certain way. Just more sustainable.
Because in yoga philosophy, it's presented a little differently. When we practice, we set a sankalpa, an intention, a dedication. We dedicate our action, our practice to something higher. Call it God. Call it nature. Call it universe. Call it what feels right to you. To then discover from it that this higher consciousness, the divine is within yourself. And that selflessly.
"That is, after all, the central question so. Who am I? And what am I?"
Raphaela: That is so much new input for me right now. Maybe I just got out of this yoga mindset a little bit.
Julia: I don't know. There's always something new coming along. What is a "yoga mindset"? It is more the recognition that everything is constantly changing and in flux. All philosophies, and yoga is a philosophy, are not perfect and there is always so much room for interpretation. And that's why I also say that there's a justification for everything. Everyone needs something different, depending on how far they are on their journey.
And it's terribly scary to go deep into that because so often you feel like the ground is being pulled out from under you. And where is the reality I know and my identity and who am I anyway?
Raphaela: How do you deal with the question of your identity? Would you say you are already at the point of recognizing it in something higher?
Julia: I think it's never quite there. It's always a falling in and a falling out. It's like that with me, anyway. And every time you think, 'I've got it,' it falls on you twice. But that's also the beauty of it, that it never stops. You're always discovering something new. Even in asana practice. There's no end to it. It's always about the path.
"We fight ourselves so much, all the time. Because we think we have to and it's necessary. But is it?"
Raphaela: But don't you find that frustrating sometimes, that it just goes onand on?
Julia: Sure - I know these moments very well! But isn't that the most beautiful thought, that it just goes on and on, no matter how crappy it is at the moment? I always try to remember that.
Raphaela: Yes, but I sometimes long for that arrival, something that is just stable and lasts forever.
Julia: Maybe it lasts forever if you're particularly talented, at least that's what the scriptures say. (Laughs) I think things repeat themselves until they dissipate. Until we learn what we're supposed to learn from it. And either 'we surrender into it' and we get into it and we go through this fucking pain and it sucks and it sucks and you don't feel like it. Or you go back to the control and the structure and what you know and what gives you supposed support. But I think it's also going to blow up in your face over and over again. But that's ok too.
Sure, it's always about taking personal responsibility. But it's also about letting go and looking at what is and accepting it. And not fighting against it. We fight against ourselves so much, all the time. Because we think we have to... keep going... more and more... and it's necessary. But is it? And then where is the arriving?
"It's all about the journey."
And why is that? Because of our imagination. And why our imagination? Because we identify with it. That's an important part too. That you give yourself time in the process. Then we always want everything now, right away and fast and preferably yesterday... Or we're on hold...No, No. You also have to give yourself time sometimes. And just be.... (Laughs) if only it were that simple.
I really always try to see what good it has in the end for my development. Or also for teaching or for life. Because in the end we might be able to influence it a little bit, but is it right for us to fight like that? I don't know. And everybody has to decide that for themselves. That's up to you. Your decision.
The Art of Letting Go - "It's never in our hands. We only think it."
We are made of so many layers. And the deeper we go, the more comes out, moves to the surface. Even when we think we already know what's coming, there's always more and more to come. BUT. When it's overcome. When you're through that resistance. Through this situation. And even if it seems unbearable and unbearable in that moment. After that, so much arises and so much magic happens.
That's also an aspect of yoga, if you really go that deep into it, you really need a teacher, a teacher. You have to do the work yourself, but someone to guide you is very important in my opinion. Yoga can enrich your life immensely, it can also turn your life upside down quite a bit and if you are alone in that.... Phew then good night. (Laughs)
Raphaela: I think everyone who has you as a teacher can count themselves lucky. In any case, one feels in good hands with you. Well, I feel in good hands right now.
Julia: (Laughs) And that even though you've never practiced yoga with me.
Raphaela: That's right. But just talking about it, it just did me a lot of good. Just to be reminded again that actually the only constant in life is change and even if it is sometimes difficult, it will always pass because there is nothing static.
Julia: How? And also now during Corona. Is everything really that different? We never have it in our hands. We only think it.
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All photos are by Susanne Schramke: https://susanneschramke.com
Interview guide and article: Raphaela Baumgartner.