Saskia Bolscher ~ Body Positive Yoga

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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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One Door Closes and Another One Opens

One Door Closes and Another One Opens  
Today, Saturday, August 29th, 2015 marks the end of the first Third Series Teacher Training with Tim Miller. As the session came to a close there was a feeling of complete excitement and appreciation for the opportunity to be a part of this community. We had our closing celebration last night at a beautiful home in Solana Beach and found ourselves having so much fun that when asked why didn’t we do this sooner we found ourselves wishing we had. When we arrived today at TT session for Yoga Sutra studies it was a bittersweet moment. The closer we came toward the end the deeper we connected together as a group. We spent the first part of the afternoon studying the fourth chapter of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The chapter is called Samadhi Pada and it seemed a very befitting topic of discussion for the last session. The fourth chapter has some very beautiful sutras that, in my opinion, inspire us to enjoy this opportunity we have to make the most of our lives.

   
 Tim then read to us the portion of the Ramayana when Hanuman realizes that he is going to take the leap of faith and jump for Sita in Lanka. As the story was being read I couldn’t help but feel that this was a perfect metaphor for where we are at this transition today. Anytime we encounter new and exciting information there is a zeal that is ignited and serves as a catalyst for change. There is also often a sense of foreboding though when realizing that we will be on our own again and trying to implement the techniques that were introduced. Hence, it is up to us to make up our minds to know that we can achieve our dreams and aspirations. We can utilize our minds to recall the acquired inspiration and use that as fuel to maintain our motivation along the road ahead. In the story Hanuman remembers he has the ability to rescue his teacher’s beloved and sets in his mind that he has already succeeded before he even makes the infamous leap across the great ocean. This story is so wonderful and poignant.  
After having a heartfelt graduation ceremony we dried our eyes and relaxed our jaws from smiling so much as we listed to each student share their thoughts and feelings upon completion. It seemed now the only thing left to close the training was sing the Hanuman Chalisa, and that we did! We put out hearts and souls into it and and there was such an amazing feeling of harmony and connectedness that we were left feeling totally charged up. All I can say is that it blew the doors off of any kirtan experience I have encountered thus far. It was like I could feel the zing in everyone’s voices.

  
We then tied all of the loose ends with a group photo and a chance to give everyone hugs and farewell wishes goodbye. In the past during these type of group events I have felt bummed to say goodbye and like I didn’t want to leave. What was different about today was that I genuinely feel thankful for the time we had and know we are all going to see each other again. Generally there can be sadness when saying goodbye to friends and relatives because we will miss them, and we want to continue to be beside them. I feel though there is a link that binds all of us together and even though we are apart we are connected through love and devotion. I can hardly wait to see my wife and children and feel like they are the most important thing to me. As I was walking to my car I saw a man changing the diaper for his baby in the back of his car with the hatch up. I couldn’t help but stop and contemplate because in that moment I felt that the time we have in each stage of life with our loved ones is so precious. I can actually say that I can’t wait to get home and change some diapers!

Tragic or Magic~You Choose

Today is Tuesday, August 25th, 2015. We are in the second week of a Third Series Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training with Tim Miller. Here is a brief recap of today’s events.    6:00am Pranayama ~ Seriously challenging! At the Bhastrika, Surya Bhedana and Chandra Bhedana segment the breath holds were clocking in around 45 seconds. I figured this out because I could hear the second hand ticking away. I started to wonder why I was having so much challenge today. I stated to count the ticks as the clock went around and realized, yes, Tim seems to be pushing the edge a bit further out.

  
7:00am Led Primary Assist ~ I had the opportunity to help assist in the Led Primary class that Tim taught this morning. I really enjoyed working with the students from the training and I am learning so much by watching the assists the other trainees are using. 
8:30am Hanuman Chalisa ~ Today we had Tim on Harmonium and guest musicians on, drums, guitar, acoustic bass and I played the ukulele. The choir was enormous and it was absolutely amazing. At the end Tim said, “We should have recorded this one. That was epic!” It truly was so much fun and a complete inspiration.
9:00am Mysore Practice ~ I felt really good today. The energy in the room kicked up a notch and it felt like the students were pushing the limits a bit. I had this feeling like we were all encouraging each other to put more effort into our focus and that Tim was orchestrating something quite wonderful. I feel like I am working harder than ever but in a relaxed way. Hard to explain. It just feels comfortable in the room.

  
12:00pm to 5:00pm Teacher Training ~ I am so sore right now I can hardly lift my arms up. Every muscle is worked to the nth degree. We covered the poses, Viparita Dandasana, Eka Pada Viparita Dandasana, Viparita Salabhasana, Ganda Bherundasana, Hanumanasana, and Supta Trivikramasana. If trying to read those words feels like a foreign experience, all I can say is doing them out of the sequence of the mysore practice is like an exotic escapade. It is an adventure in to the far reaches inner terrain. I am trying to be funny because I feel giddy right now from working my body and mind so intensely. You get so sore that you forget that you can hardly move and you just keep moving. It actually feels quite liberating. It is a very sweet soreness. We got to sing another Hanuman Chalisa after the break. This somehow neutralizes the intensity of the experience.
6:00pm Sunset Surf Session ~ This is not a part of the curriculum but I decided to add it in. It is the best way for me to absorb all of the info and experiences of the day. When I got to the beach it looked smaller than yesterday. I went out and had so much fun catching some baby waves. The swell began to build though and the sun set on the horizon and it was magic.
Today Tim read a quote from the book called Hanuman by Vanamali which said, “We cannot choose our life but we can choose how we live it.” Everything about this quote speaks to me of truth. It leaves the door wide open for us to decide how we would like to view our present reality. We can make excuses and blame others or we can take responsibility and rise to the challenge. This quote encourages us to accept the past and to choose how we would like to interpret the reality of this moment. The beauty is that is a choice that is up to us.

  

Home Made Goodness

Home Made Goodness  
Pranayama

It felt like a memorable practice this morning. Pranayama to begin first thing. At his time of the day it is dark outside and the lights are off in the room with just a small candle in the center. Everyone maintains relative silence in a combination of still waking up and to honor the tranquility of remaining introspective. Tim is taking us through the full pranayama routine every day. I am so grateful for this. For obvious reasons, when Tim teaches pranayama in workshop settings he often does an abbreviated routine and with gentle breath holds, so that when one is learning this for the initial time it is beginner friendly. I enjoy those elemental sessions with him because you have the chance to have him give explanation regarding the technique and philosophy behind the art of breathing. The first time I joined into Tim’s pranayama circle here I was so unbelievably nervous. Here in his shala he practices the full routine and you just begin and see what you can do. He does use hand gestures to explain whether to inhale or exhale, and he uses his index finger to point the direction of which nostril to breath in our out of. Mainly you listen to the sound of his breath and try to follow his routine. He does explain that if you are having a hard time that you just need to squeeze moola bandha more. This often seems tongue in cheek to me because when your whole body is sweating profusely and you are quivering and just staring at his hands waiting for the transition to come, moola bandha is last thing I can think about. Herein must lay the secret! Often we hear in the asana practice that really it is a breathing practice with some movement incorporated in. It seems to me that the pranayama practice is a moola bandha practice with a some breathing thrown in. When you try to not cheat and actually follow the routine it can really bring so much emotion to the surface. 

  
As a child I was blessed enough to grow up free diving with my family around Florida and I always enjoyed the experience of holding my breath under water. I remember bringing my watch into the pool and timing how long I could hold my breath for in the effort to train for diving deeper. I also enjoyed the practice of holding my breath for as long as possible and just floating face down on the surface with my eyes closed and body completely relaxed and just enjoy the feeling of silence in the water. I say all of this because I feel drawn to the pranayama practice. I love the moment after a big inhale and you use your right hand, thumb and ring finger to close off the nostrils and tuck the chin in deep to the throat and just sit and hold. The thing that I never did as a kid was try to hold my breath after exhaling all of the air out of my lungs. That just never occurred to me as a very good idea. I enjoy taking a deep breath and floating and then exhaling all of the air and letting the body sink down to the bottom but then coming back up pretty quickly. So the pranayama routine takes things to a whole new level with exhaling the air out and holding close to the same amount of time as the inhale retention. This is when things get really interesting and I must say, some panic can arise. Today I felt a bit more brave and pushed the edge and feel kind of stoked right now from the experience. I can’t wait for tomorrow morning to give it another go.

  
Mysore

Today felt really sweet in the Mysore practice. I am so sore that I had to slow down a bit but that was helpful because I felt a little more calm in the breathing. Yesterday when I got to Kapotasana I got so close to catching my heels. I mustered up the gumption to ask for some assistance and Atsuro, Tim’s instructor (who is amazing by the way) came over and pulled me all the way in. So when I got to Kapotasana today I decided I would do it on my own. I got to that intricate point when you are so close but the most tiny bit more seems like it is yards away. This is one of those precipice points where you either give up or you give it that little bit extra, and then even a little bit more, and bam you nail it. It is these little moments that are so entertaining.

  
After Kapotasana Tim assisted me in Supta Vajrasana. That is the one where you put your legs in lotus and then cross your arms behind your back and grab a hold of the feet. Then your teacher holds down your knees so you can back bend and touch your head on the floor and you don’t let go of your feet. Midway through I struggled to keep my grip and lost it. When I came up Tim made joke and asked if I ate to many cookies? I said, Tamara’s grandma is an incredible cook. Check out this photo of some key lime pie she made for us. Being a Florida boy I am a sucker for some homemade key lime pie.

  
When I got to Kasyapasana, Atsuro assisted me perfectly. It is one of my favorite poses. You put one leg behind your head and then lay on your back and try to straighten the extended leg so the leg comes down to the ground and simultaneously extend the spine and open the hips as much as possible. It is one of the poses that assistance seems so essential to make some progress in. This is a key ingredient to the Ashtanga practice. Hands on assistance done intelligently is a truly a form of art.

  
In our Teacher Training session we covered the details of the remaining standing poses from Ardha Baddha Padmapaschimottanasana (Half Bound Lotus Intense Pose) through Virabhadrasana (Warrior Pose). Typically nowadays if one is going into the second or third series you would make that entry after Parsvottanasana (Side Intense Pose). So there were many questions as to why is Tim is having us cover the remaining standing poses after that. His thoughts are that they are very beneficial poses and that it could be a good idea to still do them. He made reference to the point that we think that there are these hard cut in stone rules that actually don’t really exist. I took from his points that he is encouraging us to keep an open mind. I really appreciated that fact that he took the time to include them into the study. I learn more each time and hear different things when the details are explained again and again.

  
Today we began our foray and investigation into the poses of the Third series. We covered Viswamitrasana and Vasisthasana. Tim has such an wealth of knowledge regarding the mythology of yoga and can recall these very lengthy stories in a concise way that cuts to the essence and conveys the deeper meaning behind the names of the poses and how they relate to yoga as a whole. Plus we get to sit and listen to these stories after taking a lunch break and avoid the inevitable…..practicing these poses and possibly getting adjusted in them. After a full day of practice I started to wonder, how in the world are we going to pull this off. I have faith Tim has a few tricks up his sleeve.