Three years ago Elizabeth Smullens Brass realised her dream of opening Iyengar Yoga Zentrum Berlin which has quickly established a growing community of people interested in starting or developing their Iyengar Yoga practice with classes and workshops covering a broad range of topics, such as, ‘How to set up a home practice’, ‘Yoga for Depression’, and self care techniques with Ayurveda.
For those who may not know, Iyengar Yoga is a form of Hatha Yoga which was developed by B.K.S Iyengar. It’s become the most widely practiced form of yoga today and has a unique focus on detail, precision and alignment. Iyengar Yoga is known for the use of props – blankets, belts, chairs, ropes and blocks to support all who practice to do so in a safe way.
Elizabeth has been my teacher for four years and has kept me laughing when the fatigue associated with my underactive thyroid has been too much. Elizabeth talks to us about how there’s never really the perfect time to start yoga and has shared with us a fifteen minute sequence that anyone can do to get the morning started in the right way.
How did you come to start teaching yoga?
I started teaching yoga at the time I was teaching ballet in a studio. The owner knew that I did yoga and I took over when the yoga teacher went on maternity leave. I was very active in my dancing career back then, so yoga was something I did for myself. People seemed to like it though and I got more work doing it. I had no idea of doing anything formal, there weren’t that many yoga teachers then. But my Iyengar Yoga teacher, Joan White started doing a teacher training so I joined it. Occasionally I’ve taken other styles out of curiosity, but I found that the method of Iyengar really clicked, so I stayed with it.
What do you hope that your students take away with them after class?
That’s a really good question. I think one of the goals of yoga is building self awareness so that we are more conscious. We start with our body, just being more aware of how we sit, how we stand, and how we can use that as information to understand that we can make small changes in our lives without criticising ourselves. And with that awareness we can understand that we can improve or help our physical condition.
It is through the poses or asanas we feel we have more knowledge that can help us feel more at home with ourselves.
What do you feel are triumphs with your students?
There are definitely moments – simple moments. I’ve seen people get over their fears to be able to kick up into a handstand, or you hear them say, ‘I can’t do this’, or they say why they can’t, and then you find a way for them to surprise themselves with a capacity that they didn’t recognise before. I have to say that is very exciting for me. Also, when I see people at the end of class and have a sense that they’ve relaxed and given themselves time and space, I take that as a win.
How do your students develop in terms of their health?
Yoga is not just about what they can do, it’s also what they can’t do. Like going in both directions. It depends on the person, what their problems are and how consistently they come to class. Sometimes progress is just staying on the same level, and not going down in terms of health or energy, but for others, they can really move forward. Some people have more mental resistance, some people have more physical resistance, whether it’s from an injury or longer term problems, so it can be harder for them to make changes.
And that’s partly why I teach. I try to emphasise my own difficulties, because they see that I can do a lot of things physically, and I want them to know that I also struggle, although maybe not in the same way. I think it can help people to realise that they don’t have to wait for everything to be perfect to do yoga.
…I try to emphasise my difficulties, because they see that I can do a lot of things physically, and I want them to know that I also struggle…
How do you support yourself through your personal practice?
I find the older I get, the more aware I am of my nervous system – I can feel when it is getting overtaxed or when I’m not rested. Before I’d just have another coffee and really push myself to my limits, and it somehow worked – when you’re young you really can do that, and if you’re lucky you feel ok, but some get burnt out really quickly.
Can you tell us more about the home practice sequence that you’ve shared?
Yes – it’s a sequence designed for beginners who can hold each pose for 10–20 seconds. For people with more experience they can hold the poses for up to a minute. It is an easy to follow approach to shake morning stiffness.
Iyengar Yoga Zentrum Berlin can be found on Hochkirchstraße 9/2, 10829 Berlin, Germany and Elizabeth is hosting her second Iyengar Yoga retreat in the Algarve, Portugal in June 2017.
You only need a small amount of time in the morning to change how you will feel throughout your day!