Saskia Bolscher ~ Body Positive Yoga

You can listen to the full episode for free here.

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Todd McLaughlin

I’m so happy to bring Saskia Bolscher on to the podcast today. Please check Saskia out on her website, which is yogawithsaskia.co.uk. Also you can find her on Instagram @yogawithSaskia_ and also on TikTok, same handle @yogawithSaskia, no underscore. 

I found Saskia through Instagram and I am really inspired by her posts. I find her message to be really motivating. I’m just going to read her intro on the homepage of her website. She writes “I’m Saskia, a curvy yoga teacher who’s passionate about making yoga accessible to anyone, regardless of ability, size or background. As someone who has continually experienced being the largest person in yoga classes, and teacher training courses. I know how difficult it can be to step into a studio class. But believe me, yoga is not just for flexible and thin people. I strongly believe that yoga is for everyone. And so I will make you feel welcome in my classes. I encourage modifying poses and the use of props to make poses work for your body, not the other way around. Yoga is for you.” 

So on that note, let’s bring Saskia on the channel. 

I’m so happy to have Saskia here with me today and Saskia. You’re joining me from London in England. Is that correct? 

Saskia Bolscher

Yes, that’s correct. Thank you for having me. 

TM

Of course, I saw you on Instagram and I love your message. So I really am excited for or thankful for you to take some time out of your day to speak with me. When we were getting connected, I realized that I only put in my timezone and then when it was taking us a second to actually connect I thought, “Oh no, maybe I wasn’t clear about what time we were supposed to meet.” So I’m so glad that it worked out. What time is it over there?

SB 

Actually, it is 6:45pm in the evening.

TM

Oh, that’s not so bad. It’s 1:45pm here. Perfect. That’s pretty reasonable. All right, cool. Thank you so much. And I’m curious if you can just get us started in the direction of what you’re passionate about? In your your teaching?

SB

Yes. Thank you very much for asking Todd. I have been a yoga teacher for almost four years now. And I have practiced yoga for much, much longer than that. I’ve always been sort of in a bigger body, I’ve always been curvy. And so I’ve always found that I’ve had to adapt my practice a little bit to fit my body. And I’ve always been quite conscious that I’ve often been, you know, the biggest person in a yoga class in my yoga teacher training. And for a long time, I felt that as a yoga teacher, I wasn’t good enough. Because I thought you know, you have to be thin, right? Because you see all these other yoga teachers, they’re all thin and flexible. And I was like, oh, you know, if I’m really want to make it then that needs to be my goal. But along the way, I’ve sort of come to realize that it’s good to have representation of different ranges of bodies. So I’ve actually twisted that around and sort of made it my goal to show that anyone can do yoga. And if you’re in a bigger body, you can absolutely do yoga. You may have to adapt along the way and use props. But I’m all for it. And I show that in the classes that I teach, and I show that on Instagram on TikTok. I make videos to show people how they can make yoga work for their body rather than the other way around.

TM

That’s cool. What type of response are you receiving?

SB

Very positive. Yeah, actually, only almost only positive. Yeah. People are very grateful to see how they can adapt poses by using a block or a bolster, or strap or whatnot. And also, I’m getting lots of messages from people similar to me or, you know, yogi’s, in a similar size body, saying, Oh, it’s so nice to see someone else who’s also bigger, who’s practicing yoga, who is a teacher. I’ve had a student in the studio, where I teach locally come up to me and say, you know, I’m so amazed, and I’m inspired. And now I’m gonna take a teacher training, because I know now that I, you know, I can also do it. So yeah, it’s been really, really cool.

TM

That is cool. How did you first get involved in yoga?

SB

Oh, that’s a good question. I get this question a lot. And I don’t really have a good answer to it. I think in I started going to yoga classes at the gym, I think like a lot of people and I think it’s a long time ago, and I just I enjoyed it. I mean, I enjoy moving my body. I enjoy different types of exercise like dance and, and other things. I was never into sports really. So yoga worked very well. I’m fairly flexible. Not super, super flexible. But enough. So to that, yoga felt good. Yeah. I just kept kept going. And over time, I got more and more into it. I started practicing more, took it a bit more seriously, went on some retreats, etc, etc. 

TM

Cool. What style did you gravitate toward? You mentioned  the gym, but do you remember the teacher that you had at that time? Or maybe there was multiple teachers? But was there a specific style or arrangement of postures that stuck out in your mind? Or sticks out?

SB

It was hatha yoga at first. And I vividly remember practicing with ujjai breath, you know, in those first few classes, and I thought it was really cool. And it really added to the practice. And I hope as well that, you know, when I teach people in my classes that they are experiencing the same. But yeah, mostly Hatha Yoga. I  experimented with different styles, going to different teachers, different styles of classes. I’ve tried Kundalini. I’ve tried Bikram but wasn’t a fan. It’s a tough one for various reasons. We won’t go into that. Yeah, vinyasa, ashtanga. All different styles. And then further along the line, I discovered yin yoga and this is one of my one of my favorite styles now. It is really cool to practice and to teach.

TM

That’s how I found you. I thought, let me go into hashtag yin on Instagram and you popped up! 

SB

Oh, cool. 

TM

Yeah, I know, right? Sometimes when I do hashtags, I wonder like, “what the heck am I doing?” I mean, does this even do anything? It does, actually. It’s kind of fun to explore hashtags. It is such a great cataloguing system. You do a great job with your videos. I like the one that you did the most recent on Instagram that you we’re just kind of showing how to use a block to be able to get your spine straight. I’m curious, you’ve had a chance to practice in multiple styles and try different classes out and have gravitated toward yin. Is there a specific prop or modification that is your favorite? Something that you go to every single time that you like? 

SB

Yeah. So definitely when sitting in meditation, as you’ve seen in my latest IG Reel or TikTok video, I always set up either on blocks or on a bolster because it just allows you to sit, you know, up straight, and more comfortably. It doesn’t take any effort. And you can actually be in the pose with ease as we’re meant to be, right? Yeah. So yeah. Sthira Sukham Asanam. Yeah, stable and comfortable. But I think the main thing for me in making yoga work for my for my body and for other people who are in a bigger body is to make space for the body. So like in a child’s pose, taking the knees wide. Taking the feet a little bit wider, so that there’s space for the belly to go in between the legs. In twists, you know…. you can’t sometimes twist that far. So maybe like opening arms to help facilitate the twist. Things like that. That’s the main thing I would say. I always use props in all of my practices. If in a forward fold, if the floor feels far away, you know, put a block underneath. 

TM

Nice. 

SB

Things like that.

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Conversation with Eric Shaw ~ The Sacred Thread of Yoga Philosophy

Ever wonder if there is more to yoga than yoga postures? Join my guest Eric Shaw for a discussion around his new book called Sacred Thread: A Comprehensive Yoga Timeline: 2000 Events that Shaped Yoga History.  Eric’s teachings and passions have been influenced significantly by his teachers, in particular Shandor Remete and Rod Stryker. You can visit Eric on his website at prasanayoga.com and you can purchase a copy of Eric’s new book on Amazon here.

During this conversation we discussed:

  • the history and philosophy of yoga
  • the timeline associated with modern yoga
  • the origins of yoga in relation to the archeological findings at Mohenjo-daro
  • Eric’s experience with Iyengar yoga
  • What yoga was like on the West Coast of USA during its peak
  • Yoga as a global realization vs. a cultural specific identity

and quite a few more topics.

You can listen to the full podcast episode with Eric Shaw on our podcast site here.

Todd McLaughlin

I am so excited to have the opportunity to join in conversation with Eric Shaw today. Please find him on his website, prasanayoga.com. You can click the link in the description to easily access his work. He is the author of a book called BKS Iyengar and the Making of Modern Yoga. And he has also just released a new book called Sacred Thread: A Comprehensive Yoga Timeline: 2000 Events That Shaped Yoga History. 

Eric Shaw

Yeah, yes. 

TM

Thank you, Eric. And I’m so happy to have this chance to speak with you. I love yoga philosophy. And you’ve done a lot study. And on that note, can you fill me and the listener in….have you gotten your doctorate degree yoga studies?

ES

No, I’ve done a lot of a lot of academic work. I started a doctoral program in 2004, finished my studies in 2011 and pretty much got the knowledge base that I desired at that time. I was able to parlay that into practical purposes. It’s kind of like I feel like it’s something I want to do that is like climbing Mount Everest. 

But yeah, I didn’t get it done at that point in my life. I could talk all day about why it didn’t happen. Yet I did get a master’s degree out of it and I got a knowledge base. It was quite useful for me for writing work and lecturing work in the yoga world.

TM

Nice. Well, when you had to write a thesis for your masters, what did you base your thesis on?

ES

I based it on the life of BKS Iyengar. I did a very deep study of him. Partly because his followers were so prominent in the Bay Area where I was working in San Francisco. And because that system, according to my training was so alien to me. I was so confronted by it. Iyengar’s system, as everyone knows who studied it, it’s arguably the most comprehensive yoga system out there. You know, unless you went to some ancient system, perhaps as far as the modern systems go, it’s complexity, it’s philosophy, it’s understanding the body and the way that it’s set up structurally to function. The Iyengar view of function in yoga is very clear and vastly articulated. So the people who teach it, have a pedagogy, a pedagogical style, a teaching style, which is strangely aggressive. That’s to say, all those things were quite confronting to me when I arrived in the Bay Area in 2004. After training in Kripalu Yoga and other forms of yoga, which were much more meditative, and much more I thought holistic based. Pranayama based in spiritual aims. Here I was faced with this very physical culturalist yoga, which some people from that tradition might argue with me as characterizing it that way. But to me, it was so body centric and so awesomeness centric. That I think it’s kind of strange to say in the year 2022, because yoga has become more and more and more body centric. I mean, it’s been a processes happening for hundreds of years. But it seems like it’s only been accelerated. It’s come into the American context. But for me, that was difficult. And part of my working that out, to write this mono focal paper on my anger.

TM

Wow! Let me back up so I can get a timeline of your history of practice. When did you start practicing yoga? What was your first introduction to the yoga world?

ES

It’s kind of an interesting, funny story, given my history. My parents were ministers. And they were very open minded liberal ministers. They come from the west coast. So it’s very much different from the south where I’m living now. Yeah, yeah. Me talking about Christianity in this part of the world. But where I came from, they were liberals, they were, you know, anti war protesters. They were raging leftist. So I did get a political orientation in my Christian experience, but it wasn’t a right wing one, it was a radical left wing. So that was my background. And so there was a certain openness there to intellectuality at all levels. So when I told my parents I was an atheist, they didn’t bat an eye. When I told my parents that I was into Eastern traditions and studying Buddhism and meditation, they didn’t bat an eye, you know. So that became my practice very early on in my early 20s, and very much a life saving practice, because my mind was kind of out of control. And it may still sound that way. But meditation helped me control my life. And I dove right into meditation and have maintained that practice to this very day. 

TM

Got it. 

ES

So like, I did some early investigation in Buddhist traditions. And it wasn’t till the early 90s that I joined Siddha Yoga, which is the Hindu tradition, I actually did that in the midst of a time I was studying Christianity and a Religious Studies degree in many Minneapolis, Minnesota. But that kind of opened the Hindu world to me a little bit. And then when I started practicing Hatha Yoga in 2000, then I started to investigate Hinduism more properly and understand how different it was from the Buddhist tradition. How much richer, how much more embracing of the human experience and all of its aspects and even culture in all of its aspects. And so it was incredibly compelling to me, given my background and it pretty much became a gestalt experience for me, I just dove right into it.

TM

Wow. You made mention of the appreciation for Iyengar tradition and Iyengar’s guru being Krishnamacharya. Did you investigate other practices with any other teachers under that lineage?

ES

Yeah, actually with quite a few. I mean, the Bay Area, as I said, was a hotbed of strong Iyengar teachers. So it was easy to study with strong teachers who not only came to town to teach, but who were residents there. So my chief preceptor was Tony Briggs and he had a relationship to Shandor Remete, who was my primary teacher. A teacher I’d met actually was still in Portland, Oregon and before 2004 started studying with Matt Hewish at the time, who was a primary follower of Shandor. Strange to talk about Shandor in the Iyengar context, because few people even know that he studied with Iyengar. He actually stayed with him for 20 years, extremely long time and he was actually the president of the Iyengar Federation in Australia. But he made a jump to  embrace of martial arts and Bharatanatyam yoga, or rather Indian dance and he integrated into practices that he claimed to have learned at the Chidambaram temple in India into a new form that he called Shadow yoga. He’s continued to evolve his forms and change the names of them, but I learned from him and his teaching was profound and very vinyasa based, very movement based. But he was an Iyengar teacher. And then Tony. Tony had worked with Shandor, or so that was my connection with Tony. But Tony was a classic Iyengar teacher. I mean, he was gonna put you in a pose and hold you there and break it down into all its constituent parts in which muscles are engaged, and released and yada, yada, yada. So that training and another with Ramadan Patel and other big names in the Bay Area helped me understand asana and the alignment perspective, which I feel is, is very, very important. I mean, it’s at so many levels. But then I also worked with Paul Grilley, who was into kind of destroying the whole alignment concept. So I got a lot of a lot of input around yogic philosophy and yoga practice in those years that are invaluable.

TM

Amazing, just to touch upon what you just mentioned, I’ve enjoyed watching Paul Grilley’s work around anatomy and yin yoga, can you explain how Paul’s philosophy shatter that existing idea of alignment that you were studying? Can you tell me what that means? Or what that sounds like?

ES

Yeah, yeah. And it’s a good story. I think for anybody who wants to be a serious practitioner of yoga, I think it’s important to understand alignment principles, particularly from the Iyengar perspective, but it’s also very important to understand their limits. And Paul has done the spade work, he’s done the deep work in defining those limits. And I’m just shocked that so few people know his work, because it’s utterly revolutionary. Even if you don’t have Iyengar as a conversation partner for it. So Paul Grilley, you know, he’s ostensibly known for his work in yin yoga. And that’s how I first understood him and met him in yoga was my actually my teaching practice early on, because he was one of the first major teachers I met in Portland, Oregon. I wrote a small profile for him for a local yoga magazine, and we got to be friends. Then he was in an early video company making videos on yoga, you know, and when DVD still existed. A group of people there in San Francisco, who I met and hung out with, and then Paul was a part of that group, and he came down to do yoga videos there. And so he wrote, when I was there in San Francisco, and he recorded his Yoga Anatomy DVD, in which he distills all of his knowledge around bony limits in the body. So it’s the skeletal structure of the body, which determines which poses you can get and in which you can’t. And that’s, I know, that’s a very black and white statement. But it’s actually quite true that the soft tissue, of course, creates limits that we can push through in the attempt to attain any given Asana. And that’s what Iyengar practices are based on. That there is a limitless potential to achieve anything in yoga. Paul Grilley’s work debunked that theory in a way showing that bone structure does create limitation as to how far we can push into a posture. What he really determined and demonstrated directly in that DVD by comparing different human bodies, that the length of your bones, the orientation of the bones, in a given joint, the way it spirals out of that joint, the way it engages with the next joint in the chain determines whether or not any given poses even available. And that’s for a yoga teacher, who is attempting to guide students of different shapes and sizes into positions, proposes knowledge that is absolutely critical. Particularly if you’ve been trained in Iyengar yoga, because it does not integrate that knowledge. In fact, it’s kind of philosophically opposed to it.

Listen to the full episode with Eric Shaw for free on our podcast site here.

Thanks for reading this blog post from this podcast episode. Check out: 👇
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New Student FREE 30 Minute Yoga Meet & Greet ~ Are you new to Native Yoga Center and have questions that you would like us to address? Whether you are coming to In Studio, Livestream or Online Recorded Classes we offer a one time complimentary 30 minute zoom meeting to answer any questions you may have. Schedule a time that is convenient for you. Click Here

Native Yoga website: nativeyogacenter.com
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Native Yoga Blog: toddasanayoga.com
Instagram: @nativeyoga
YouTube channel: Native Yoga Center

Listen to the podcast here on our Podcast website: Native Yoga Toddcast

Please email special requests and feedback to info@nativeyogacenter.com
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