What do you do when growth shows up at your doorstep in the form of a car crash?
He started practicing yoga when he was just thirteen years old and from the moment he had to yell for his mom to come and help him remove his foot from behind his head, his appetite for yoga grew stronger and stronger. He’s travelled the world from New York to India and has practiced all sorts of styles with all sorts of renowned teachers. He’s been teaching yoga for eleven years and opened Hamsa Yoga Studio in Copenhagen seven years ago.
We met on a quiet and rainy hump day evening in the cozy haven of Hamsa. While naked yogi feet softly padded in and out of class, Soham and I took refuge on the couch overseeing the entire welcome area. I couldn’t help but to recall how different the studio looked just a few years ago when I first arrived in Denmark. Since then it has sprouted colourful books, a reception, some more books, yoga accessories and tools, tea, a mat rack and lots of other sweet little yoga bits and bobs.
He was wearing a hoodie and jeans, had a smile on his face and his two loving (and protective) dogs were not far from his side. As sweet as they seem, they always growl at me softly—not at first, but after they’ve given me permission to pet them a couple of times—maybe it’s my patchouli or bad breath (come on, I’m pre-summer detoxing).
Anyways, the handsome chap I’m talking about is Soham Johansen. There’s no relation to Scarlett. She spells her last name differently (but, I wonder if she was born with that name). Wait, Soham wasn’t born Soham. He used to be Søren (and what a cool Danish character ‘Ø’…the circle slash). Really? Yep.
He’s Søren turned Soham. Not the point of this article, but I love when people change their names. Now that’s rebellious. Or hippy parents…but it’s not like I wouldn’t love to be called something like Unicorn Butternut Squash Romulus Triple Chocolate Cake or Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Wait. What? That’s from Gladiator. This is about Soham Johansen.
His favourite pose at the moment is Utkatasana (awkward pose) and his studio was probably built over a hundred years ago and was most likely a home for farm animals. In Danish these types of houses are called ‘baghuset’ or roughly translated ‘backhouse.’ (By the way, did you know that Denmark has the highest pig to human ratio in the world? For every Dane, there are five piggies. Talk about CO2 emissions!) Something else that’s cool—Soham’s studio was one of the first in Copenhagen to offer sign-ups online, invite drop-ins, host international teachers and offer classes and a website in English.
So what’s he like? He’s got a scruffy face, baby blues and he’s handsome—a total darling. There’s a little twinkle in his eye, which I think is some kind of combination of naughty and nice…an Aum Namah Shivaya mixed with something saucy like, “I got a bottle of bubbly and I can do the splits…standing up…in a phone booth. You wanna play?”
He’s been known to Aum like he’s one of Mariah Carey’s back up singers (if not Mariah herself) while sitting like a geisha in virasana (I know this because I’ve sat right next to him during a workshop). He’s super fun, he’s poetic and within just the past few months, he’s been gutted, he had his heart torn out of his chest and then those mean guys from Karate Kid, you know the ones from Cobra Kai, came and made a few donuts on his front lawn with their European Smart Car. Wait, no, that didn’t happen but his sweet Danish heart was indeed crushed and trampled on (and maybe a little kung foo-ed).
They say a Muslim prays fives times a day while a lover prays 500 times a day.
He was in love. He fell hard and deep. He felt the kind of love that made him okay with the idea of growing old, of perhaps someday getting sick, even dying. It made him okay with life. It was the kind of love that made him pray 500 times a day; a prayer of gratitude and protection for the rarest rose that ever dared to bloom. Then a few months ago, the whole thing fell apart, crashed and splattered all over the floor. He discovered that him and his partner were in extremely different places and their relationship came to a screeching halt. It was a total shock to his system, just like an unexpected car crash.
“It is the heat of the midnight tears that will bring you closer to God.” —Mirabai
He’s cried more in the past few months than in his entire life. Each tear washing something away, each droplet a gentle request for him to let go of something he’s held onto so dearly. It is one of the most difficult things to do in life…to get over a broken heart. It’s a lot of hard work…trial and error…trial and error…just like having the courage to try something new, to take a risk, make a change, open a yoga studio, let go of someone you have loved and go deep into the brokenness of the heart…
“Somehow, in some way, there is always someone or something supporting you, even if you don’t know where it’s coming from. You just have to trust it. Trust the experience. Do this. There’s help.”
As hard as it has been, Soham views his ex as an important teacher in his life, despite the ocean of loneliness that vibrates while he’s sitting very still and very quiet in his own body. This ocean is also a home to his worry of not being able to make good decisions, of not knowing enough to be able to change anything and of knowing something but not having the power to do anything about it. (Do you know this ocean? I’m sure most of us do. I know I’ve been there without a compass and without an anchor many times.)
“The ones that break you, they are your teachers too.”
But he also knows that deep down inside, he did everything he could in the best way he knew how. He knows that he’s loved truthfully. He knows that he’s grown and he knows that he’s going to continue to unfold, just not with this person.
“This is what life is about—being present and accepting of the sweetness, but also the pain.”
You are never alone with Ben & Jerry.
As Soham poured his heart out to me, I adored how real he was. He didn’t shy away from telling me that he tried to replace his broken heart with rebound ‘relations’ or that one of his ‘healing tools’ for dealing with sadness was eating sugary sweets…enter stage left: Ben & Jerry’s. By the way, who hasn’t done this? (The real question is: who actually admits to it? Me. Yes. Been there. Still do that.)
“To hell with it! I’m getting three flavours!”
Soham bought three flavours of Ben & Jerry’s for this heartache, but after only three spoonfuls, they were chucked up. No way. Not this time. This is what his body told him. His old pals weren’t going to numb his sadness. He knew he had to stay awake for this one. He knew he had to stay present throughout this experience. He knew he had to keep deepening his understanding of what was happening and that the moving on will come naturally when it has all been digested…without ice cream.
I will survive.
Nope, sorry, not this time Gloria Gaynor! Soham isn’t going to just smile his way through this heartbreak. He isn’t going to fake it, but instead he’ll try and really feel his way through it.
This exploration into pain and sadness, he says, is asking him to really find his deepest resources of strength, but he knows that all of this effort will deepen his experience to joy, to grace and ultimately back to love. How does he know? Well, for one reason, because of yoga.
Yoga has taught Soham to not only be present in the pleasures of life, but also in the sadness. The pains and challenges are an awakening to grace.
“Do you really want to taste the mango? Then you really have to be prepared to taste sadness and grief…Can you find the beauty in a car crash? That is yoga.”
And, let’s just say, a little bit of Mariah Carey goes a long way:
“The lightning of love—lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same spot, but when it strikes again. I’m gonna be there.”
Join Soham for joyful, heartbreaking opens, playful, healing asanas and for sitting together in the delicate silence after aum at Hamsa Yoga Studio. For more about Soham and his studio, visit www.hamsayoga.dk.
Can we become aware of what is really happening? Can we feel the support of our bodies, our families, our friends, the Universe even in our worst moments? It’s always there, we just have to tap into it.