Interview with Yogagenda’s Editor Elena Sepúlveda
As founder, publisher and editor of Yogagenda, Elena is the beating heart of this project that brings together her love for yoga and her passion for publishing. She is a yoga teacher (Vinyasa and Yin) and a body worker (Chavutti Thirumal), but also a freelance writer and translator. Her aim is to blend both facets creatively and to find enjoyable and beneficial ways of sharing the results.
ON THE PERSONAL SIDE…
What brought you to yoga?
It was meditation that brought me to yoga -and now, yoga brings me back to meditation. When I was a teenager growing up in Málaga, Spain, a friend took me to my first yoga class. There, I caught a glimpse of “something”, and although I couldn’t quite put my finger to it, it made feel intrigued. Mildly. Since then and for many years, I had an on-off yoga practice with that “something” always in the background. It wasn’t until many years later that it stepped into the foreground. I was spending time in India with a fellow traveller, who talked non-stop about Tibetan tantric meditations. But what took me to the meditation centre next to our little guesthouse in Leh wasn’t so much my friend’s colourful tales of naked dakinis sky-waking in cemeteries. It was the fact that sitting quietly was all my body could take after an exhausting three day bus trip from Delhi to Ladakh. I headed to the meditation centre in the hope of catching a glimpse of (why not?) a wrathful deity drinking blood from a human skull. And a glimpse I did get. Of “something” that still had no name, but felt like… a peaceful mind! My mind! I was fascinated and totally hooked: I wanted more of that. Badly! Once I returned to London, where I was living at the time, I found a Buddhist centre, and meditation was my daily practice for over 12 years. I still did yoga, but just for the sheer enjoyment of asana practice and as a way of keeping comfortable in my body. From 2001 onwards, I started spending more time in Spain and practising more yoga -and sitting less. Little by little, the way to my peaceful (or not so peaceful!) mind was my body and my asana practice.
How has your yoga practice changed you / is changing you?
These days, my asana practice keeps me honest and grounded. While my mind or my feelings may mask or obscure what’s really going on in or around me, my body never lies; it tells me when something is not right or out of balance. If I ignore it, my body screams for attention, manifesting some form of pain or discomfort. Yoga can take care of that, and meditation (often, Yin yoga too) sheds light on what’s going on. If more than a few days go by without a yoga practice (and teaching doesn’t count in the same way), I turn into an unhelpful stranger to myself: I crave foods that don’t suit me, I push my limits to the point of fatigue, my thinking become loud and convoluted, life gets confusing, and I lose my sensibility towards those around me… But a good yoga session realigns me at a very subtle level and puts everything back in place: prana flows again to different parts of my body, washing away cravings, discomforts, tiredness, messy thoughts, and irritability. Doing yoga is walking on a path to wellbeing, having more energy, and being in a clearer and kinder mood with myself and others. Yoga has taught me there is always a safe place to go to, and we are able to contribute significantly to our own physical, emotional, and mental health.
Whose teachings have been a major influence for you?
The Dharma teachers at Gaia House Buddhist retreat centre in Devon -and the English countryside ancient trees! – were a major influence for me during some years of intense spiritual seeking. Christina Feldman’s Dharma talks, in particular, greatly inspired and encouraged me to inquire into the nature of our own minds, to investigate how we create our identities and our places in the world. If things go pear-shaped, I can hear her quoting the Zen master: “When my house burnt down, I gained an unobstructed view of the moonlit sky.” It was during those years of attending silent meditation retreats for extended periods of time that I could finally put a name to the “glimpse of something” I caught in my first yoga class almost 20 year earlier: real inner silence, the famous “gap” between thought and thought. Freedom!
Recently, I’ve felt very inspired by the discipline of Yin yoga and in particular, by the teachings of Sarah Powers. Yin yoga seems like the perfect medicine for a potentially fatal combination of personal circumstances: having a rather rajasic nature (being more inclined to activity and motion than to just relaxing and watching life happen), living in a city, running my own business, teaching yoga classes, giving massage treatments, and not being able to exhaust my exhausting nomadic karma. Yin yoga teaches me to accept that things are fine just as they are; every situation is impermanent and will change without me having to fiddle and rearrange everything all the time. I seem to learn and then unlearn this over and over again.
I have to confess I (still!) have some authority issues, so I feel drawn to teachers, who come across as and are approachable people, who walk on the same earth as the rest of us mortals. In the last few years, I’ve felt influenced by the teachings of David Lurey, Mirjam Wagner, and Helen Noakes. I’ve also very felt inspired by the coherence between their values and the way they live their lives, and by the bright and creative ways they have to share their wisdoms with the world.
What has teaching taught you?
Teaching teaches me something every time I teach.
Perhaps, the main thing I’ve learnt is that we can’t teach anything we haven’t really experienced ourselves. And by extension, there are no absolute truths. Because of my chronic authority issues, I’m a great fan of the Buddha’s words: “Don’t believe a thing, simply because someone tells you, but find what’s true for yourself from your own experience.” So I tend to teach only what feels true to me, and I like to encourage my students to listen to their own bodies and see what’s true for them at different moments in time.
Teaching also teaches me that constant and complex dance between ego and humbleness, between needing people’s approval and showing yourself as you are, between knowing and keeping your beginner’s mind.
Teaching has taught me that we all have a yearning for that “something.” People may show up to a class to get a tighter butt or alleviate their back pain, but if they stick to it, chances are, they catch a glimpse of freedom and intuitively recognise it as integral part of themselves.
Teaching reminds me, time and time again, how important it is to have a very personal and intimate space, where we can feel vulnerable in the knowledge that we’re respecting and not judging ourselves.
In which direction is your yoga teaching heading?
I enjoy every time, more and more teaching quieter yoga practices. I also believe meditation is indispensable, because it opens us to wider dimensions of our being. That means, I will be teaching more Yin yoga and more meditative practices in the future.
I often teach small groups (5-6 people), as well as private sessions, where there is room for getting to know students and customising the sessions so it really serves them. In that context, I’m seeking to gain a better understanding of yoga’s therapeutic potential, from the point of view of anatomy and also in how we deal with injuries. Three years ago, I had a series of injuries in different parts of my body -the most frustrating, a shoulder tendonitis that had me feeling like a bird with a broken wing for over 18 months. It took me ages to accept it and start modifying my asana practice accordingly. I remember my friend, Juliette Allard, of Yoga con Gracia telling me it was a blessing and a teaching, and that life was bringing it to me, so I could understand and empathise with my students’ injuries. She actually had a point!
I also enjoy teaching philosophy, and for the last two years, I have taught Patanjali’s Eight-Limbed Path of Yoga at Yogalinda‘s Teacher Training in Barcelona. It is a wonderful opportunity to explore what this ancient wisdom means to us, Westerners, in this day and age. The more I look into it, the more sense it makes to me, and I find very enriching and thought provoking the different questions and perspectives students bring to it.
Later in the year, there is a plan to lead yoga retreats in the UK. For more about my coming yoga events, please visit my page: www.seed-joy.com. And of course, there is always the Yogagenda project itself!