March 14, 2012

Riding the Magic Yoga Carpet–False Gurus, Malaria, Miscarriage & Cults. ~ Linda Karlsson

Rui Guerra

My longest relationship ever, is, without competition, with yoga. My union with yoga has been going on for exactly 10 years now. This union has taken me places.

Oh man, has it taken me places…

It has taken me places both inside and out. Mostly out, I guess, because the inner part, is a process, which is slow and not that tangible. The inside one is not an unfolding…or is it? I mean, it is more like…maintenance, connection to the source.

From simple Hatha classes in my hometown Lund, Sweden, to rough Iyengar classes in my mother’s home town Kraków, Poland, I went to India in search of some “real” yoga. What I found, even before I came to India, was the guy I would spend the next four years with, get married to, and learn very much from.

We met in a Thai massage course in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. He was excited that I was going to India, but encouraged me to start a daily yoga practice on my own. He encouraged me to not only do asanas- but also pranayama, meditation, and different cleansing practices, such as rinsing the nose every morning, and scraping the tongue. This was my first major step into my yoga practice: to actually do it. Every day. On my own. Wherever I was.

Squeezed, dark, smelly hostel rooms in Bangladesh and India- it didn’t matter. I did it, every day, from then on, in the beginning sort of as a reason to impress him.


To make him want me more. But it changed my life. Forever, I would dare to say.

Once in India I had only spent a few days in the ashram when I got ill and had to leave. Thanks to an incredible Italian soul, Giulio I was taken to a doctor in a town called Gokarna.

I had cerebral malaria and spent the next two months of my yoga/India/spiritual-experience staring into a ceiling fan, alternating with staring into the cracked wall of my toilet.

Once I was ready to move on in my spiritual journey, I got salmonella. I gave up. I left India. In the airplane, I stared at the runway, and said “I’ll be back”

When I came back to Europe I was due to move to London and to an undergraduate degree in Middle Eastern religions and Arabic. The university was SOAS- School of Oriental and African studies.

My dream was to become a journalist, like the Norwegian woman Åsne Seierstad, and report from the war, like she did from Iraq.

But as yoga, India, malaria and guru-boyfriend had influenced me strongly, I changed my degree to the Study of Religions, where I could focus on Indian philosophy, Sanskrit, and yoga.

This was my first “cliché” of yoga: the 18 year older boyfriend, who is half Indian, but grown up in the US.  A yoga-teacher who “lives his yogapath” and talks like a guru and wears patchouli.

Completing my degree in Indian philosophy with a final dissertation about the Shiva-worshippers who eat dead human flesh, drink from human skulls and dance and laugh like Shiva, I worked in the Jivamukti yoga centre at the front desk and saw a Western yoga studio from the “inside”. There, I got the opportunity to study with some incredible yoga teachers who passed through, and also witht he resident teachers at the centre, who were all very professional and creative.

My whole life was about yoga, India,  and philosophy.

On top of that, to go all the way, I went vegan, and soon, 50% raw. I ate only organic foods, I didn’t drink alcohol, never smoked, didn’t eat sugar, didn’t eat any white rice/pasta/bread etc. My diet was very strict and took a lot of my time.

It was all some kind of a competition with my guru-boyfriend. I wanted to be better than him. I wanted to impress him. I wore Indian jingly-wingly thingies around my ankles and I went to all possible meditations, satsangs, kirtans, chant sessions and moon dances in London.

I consumed yoga classes and workshops like a shopaholic does shopping. I went to Sikh gatherings in northeast London to try chakra-chanting, I went to the Buddhist centre in Bethnal Green to try blue-light-healing meditation. My home was full of incense, moon-calendars and growing sprouts.

I loved yoga and I hated yoga.

But I kept doing it. In classes, or on my own mat, at home.


I hated my professors, being so dry about yoga and philosophy.

I hated yoga teachers, being so ignorant of the scriptures, background and language of yoga.

Eventually, I was extremely thin. I was dizzy. I left the keys in the fridge and went out to my uni, always hours late, from doing yoga for hours.

I lost hair. I had candida. I felt as if I was walking on clouds.

I went to every single alternative healer possible in London. I thought that I was purifying myself with my diet, and that “truth” was coming out. I felt as if I was getting closer and closer to the “real me” by detoxing, purifying, cleansing.

In a way, I guess I was. I was so ultra sensitive eventually, that I could not sit next to someone on the bus, who smelled like they ate meat, or felt as if they were really angry.

I was too transparent to function in a huge city like London.I paid hundreds of pounds for naturopathy, healers, mediums, flower remedies, etc.

When I eventually decided to try the last option- acupuncture- I called them and said “I’m losing hair” which was my main worry, superficially enough.

I went to a Chinese Medicine School, where the students treated patients for a discounted rate. This meant I could go once a week. It also meant they used me as an example in their course, because I was such an “interesting case”. In Chinese Medicine, the state of the blood is one of the most important indicators of the health, and my blood was lacking a very big amount of vitality.


The student asked the main doctor/teacher at the school to come and see me one of the first few times I went. They went through everything together, checked my pulse, tongue, eyes, everything. He finally stated: “If you don’t start eating meat and drink wine and have fun soon, you’ll die.” Then he left the room.

I was shocked and could not believe what he had just said. But I knew deep down, that he was right. I was denying myself fun, nutrition, freedom, laughter and being young. I was living a strict life, following rules, depleting instead of nourishing.

All in the name of “yoga”- the yoga I was reading about, hearing about, and the yoga I wanted to “achieve.”

I also became friends with a yoga teacher at the time. A blond whirlwind, teaching at the studio I was working at, who drank wine every day, ate red meat, smoked, danced, had an Italian lover, a wild daughter, but who was one of the most light and radiant beings I’d ever met. She was healthy, smiling, full of bouncy laughter.

I talked to her a lot regarding my health. She said she’s had the same journey- but that she now ate both sprouts and spinach, and drank espressos and ate croissants, too, and that she had found balance. That she felt no less yogic. That she felt much more in tune with herself. Following her own body.

I went to buy sushi. Feng Sushi by Notting Hill gate. I walked into Hyde Park and sat down. Once I started eating, I felt as if I had been starving for years. The feeling of being full, feeling whole, spread through me, and I felt such a deep gratefulness from my body. I knew I had to start to listen to that feeling now, and not what others were telling me, and what I was reading in books.

After finishing my degree and time in London, I wanted away from him.

Escaping him in order to free myself from his “teaching-grip”, I promised I would do a yoga teacher training because he always thought I would make the perfect complement to his teaching (his dream was that we travelled the world teaching together, me being his flexible, blond assistant, wearing bindis and making pretty altars) but I had other dreams- which I couldn’t define, and so we had a constant conflict.

I knew I had to do a yoga teacher training at one point, just to feel if it was “for me”. I had been reading “Eat pray love” which had deeply affected even though it is a literary not so advanced piece of writing, it is still a journey that someone had the guts to do, and it touched me and encouraged me to get out there again on my own.

The yoga teacher training became my excuse and my reason to be able to go to Italy, just like Liz in the book did. The one training I found “happened” to be in the south of Italy, and I disconnected from the world, and created my dreamtrip to Italy.

Without phone and without checking my Facebook and emails, I journeyed through romantic beauty, landing in Tuscany, going with a train to Roma, train again to Calabria- feeling so alive and beautiful- and finally arriving by train to the southeast of Italy, my yoga teacher training destination. I did my yoga practice in train stations, dorm rooms, beaches and …anywhere I could.

Yoga, my constant travel companion.

Tim van Kempen

The training was held in a beautiful retreat in the incredible landscape of southeastern Italy. Surrounded by millions of olive trees, vineyards and little round houses called “trulli”, we embarked on a three-week-long course in Vinyasa Flow Yoga with a very good, and very experienced teacher.

I couldn’t focus at all. My mind was all over the place. Leaving a four year-long relationship, leaving London, finishing a degree… Life was somehow feeling like one big ending, and I was looking for something to hold on to. I became critical of the teaching, by relying a little too much on my academic studies, and I was a little bit arrogant towards the teacher and the course. This only damaged me in the end- I missed out on a lot of things, while “being there” physically, my mind was completely off into pink clouds. I missed out, unfortunately.

The pattern was the same as before; I was arrogant towards yoga teachers, whom I felt were using the terminology and the teachings disrespectfully, and at the same time, I couldn’t stand the “dry” take on the practice of yoga, that an academic view would have- so I was silent in the classes, with a constant inner conflict.


Then the next “yoga-cliché” happened.

The people who ran the retreat were an Italian family. One of the people was called Angelo. I fell head over heels. I dumped my guru-boyfriend. I stayed after the yoga course. I stayed in the yoga-ashram. I was in love, I was blind. The “spiritual family” of the yoga retreat damaged me more than I can describe. They named themselves “spiritual” and I had to “follow” them if I wanted to be there.

And I did, because I was so in love, more in love than I have ever been in my life. So I “followed” but it hurt me. I “followed” on the outside, for the sake of being so in love, but my insides were boiling with rage towards their ego-based ruling over other peoples’ lives.

I got pregnant. According to the gurus, it was thanks to them, because they felt that I couldn’t get pregnant, because my body was not functioning properly, because I had not been a real woman until I was brought there, where they would help me become one.

The baby I was carrying was going to be a “big man” who would “save the world”- thanks to the fact that they had “channeled him to be born on their sacred ground.”

In fact, I was carrying the next Messias, they said.

It was a yoga-retreat, but I was not allowed to do my yoga. Only karma yoga allowed- meaning hard work like cleaning and cooking, for us girls. The boys did gardening and building work outside in the fields and gardens.

I did it in secret. I sneaked into my room to do a few minutes of yoga every day. Which made me realize how strongly it is a part of me.

Even though I cannot handle authority and teachers and “gurus” in yoga– I become arrogant and critical towards them- the essence yoga is so much part of me, that I cannot breathe without it.

I left Italy, broken down, crying every waking minute. I had not been allowed to be me. They were “helping” me become a “better woman”- but I just cried. All the time.

Back in Sweden, I spent a few weeks staring into the ceiling. Full of pain and anxiety, I woke up at night in panic attacks.

I had a miscarriage. The gurus said they “knew I’d had an abortion.”

One day I literally sat up, and knew that life is not going to wait for me while I’m grieving. I decided to try it. To teach it myself.

I got two great yoga jobs, only after sending two easy e-mails. One in a great studio in my hometown and the other in an amazingly beautiful retreat in Ibiza. Both bosses were called Daniel.

I chose Ibiza. Ibiza changed my life. Thank you, yoga. I taught for two months and then I could not stand it.

I hated it when people asked me questions about their life, their bodies, their well being. I hated it that they saw me as more accomplished in some ways because I can put my foot behind my head. I hated it so badly that I escaped the job. One of the greatest regrets of my life, as I now spend a lot of time in Ibiza, and would have loved to have that job back.

But I have issues with yoga. Huge issues. I take a class, and I get so critical. Annoyed, critical.

Not that i’m super advanced or anything- I just don’t like the “teacher” thing. Still, it’s the one thing that haunts my life and has marked me. Teachers. “Teachers”. Good ones and bad ones. True ones and false ones.

I cannot stand being taught, and I cannot stand being a teacher. And still, I am drawn to this topic, to these people.

I think of it as so ridiculous that someone talks, in front of a group of students, about yoga, as being something they “know”. It’s hard for me to explain, but I feel as if it’s something which we cannot claim to “know”. Honestly. it’s 3500 years old, and it comes from India. How can a western teacher stand in front of a class, and with confidence, teach “their” style of yoga- when it’s something that has been passed down for thousands of years, from guru to disciple? Or is that it..? Because it is a passing-down, once we “know” it, we are allowed to claim the rights to teach it?

So after my escape from teaching, I withdrew completely from the public yoga-world. I started doing CD’s and DVD’s at home- only. For years, I only did my yoga, for me, with myself. I studied with world renowned teachers such as Shiva Rea and Sean Corn- in my own home.

Then I had to give India another go, like I had promised.

And hated the ashram. Hated it.

I decided to give teaching another try. I couldn’t leave it alone. In Sweden, in the dullness of a mirrored gym-room it went well. I did it for 6 months- the time I was supposed to do it. I hated myself for the mistakes I made. Somedays it went well and I almost wished I could have taken my own class. Some days I felt so ridiculous. But I thought of it as part of my personal evolution, to put myself through the fire of doing something that is such a huge issue for me.


Then I moved to Barcelona, where I saw myself teaching classes in English, to foreigners. I tried twice to set up a class. I backed out in the last moment. It’s like there’s this invisible wall between me and teaching yoga and I can’t find the door to go through.


I do it every day. Every single day. I cannot live without yoga. I enjoy it so much. I feel so good when I do it. I feel even more if I don’t do it. Then I fall apart. It’s like I’m held up by it. I’m strong, steady, pain-free. I’m aware, in touch, in connection with myself. It’s so much part of my daily routine, that it is equal to brushing my teeth and drinking my coffee.

So I do this shit-job now, which kills me. The 100th shit job in my life. How much shit am I going to take? I have dreams. They are definitely not to have shit jobs. But to teach yoga? Not sure…But I do know that I would like to be part of a yoga community.

Or, at least be able to pop into a class, which challenges me, and makes me feel connected to others, too. Without being critical. But it’s so hard for me to find. If a teacher pronounces a Sanskrit word wrong, I turn to this arrogant Ego-idiot, and I can’t stand the class anymore.

I would like to let go of this, and take my practice out of my privacy, and share it, somehow, without negativity. With light, positive vibes. Without fear of becoming trapped in some false teacher’s sticky ego net. Without fear of becoming a starry-eyed disciple.

So I received a gift from my beautiful friend Tine. A class pack of 10, in a studio not too far from my house. I called the woman. She was a bitch. (Sorry). She could not fit me into her classes when it suited me. Only Monday nights. How un-flexible can she be? And she’s supposed to be a yoga-teacher?

But it started something in me. I started looking around my neighborhood, Grácia, for yoga studios and yoga flyers. And man, are there a million of them! So here we go. I decided. It’s time to take my yoga out into the world and share without judgment and fear.

I found a flyer for free trial class. I emailed the girl, she is called Sofia. Her flyers were everywhere in the hood and I took one. They are yellow and have a big Kermit from the muppet-show on them. I didn’t like the design at all.

She said to come the following day; tonight. I was nervous and I felt bad- for her. That I would be in her class. Me- the perfectionist, the arrogant critic, who cannot even teach her own class without hating herself badly and wanting to run as far as she can from herself.

But I went, and tried to really keep an open mind and not judge. I had trouble finding the place, and almost escaped. But it was too late. I was there.

Hola, two kisses. She was Argentinian. I liked her voice.

The room was simple. Nothing special. Some white IKEA-curtains. Ugly, very bad yoga mats. I had of course brought my own Jade yoga mat from organic, very grippy, rubber. It’s orange and I love it. We do a lot of downward facing dog on it… Nevermind, what really bothered me was that she called downward dog “postura de la montana” – is it really ok to change the name like that???- and then I thought her “aiiiiiiiii” sound between every posture sounded way too sexual, but ok.

The practice was super simple and mega beginners, and I could tell she was also a beginner teacher. I did enjoy it though- I liked her voice and I liked her energy, and I felt I could relax and just allow myself to be guided. Afterwards, she came to me, and asked which yoga I normally do. I asked her which style this was, and she said “it’s my style” and then I hated her a little bit.

But what I felt, when walking home though the cold, empty streets (FC Barcelona is playing) was that I could do that- and I could do it so much better. What is actually stopping me?

I have so much issues regarding teachers and teaching, that it is stopping me from doing something that I have spent 10 years, one marriage, one degree, one (slightly lost) yoga teacher training, a lot of work- paid and unpaid- and one spiritual cult to learn about! What is the problem?

I have decided to throw myself into the yoga world of Barcelona. It is in a language I only speak so-so; therefore I can go slowly and just start by observing. I don’t need to arrive with arrogance and ego-fear-competition-problems. I can try to arrive as a foreigner with a language-barrier, and just go slowly.

I need to start to take my yoga practice out of the darkroom, and develop it into a beautiful, vibrant, and alive image.

Breathing with life. Where it belongs.

Fearless, free of judgment, and with an ability to hear the teaching come through the teacher. Not the teacher come through the teaching. If that makes sense.

Tomorrow: Yoga Dinámico Mandiram, Grácia. 09:15. Phew…


Editor: Hayley Samuelson


 Lindahas been practicing yoga for 10 years. She has completed a degree at SOAS, University of London, in Indian Philosophy. She is a certified Vinyasa Flow Yoga teacher, and currently completing her Master degree in Photojournalism in Barcelona, Spain. She has had a rocky and deep, messy and exquisite journey in her yoga-life. She is currently writing a book about her experiences with yoga.  Visit her Blog: lindadreams.blogspot.com or Flickr: flickr.com/lindusja


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