HER SADHANA: Marta Magdalena

HER SADHANA: Marta Magdalena

1.As a woman, a mother and a yoga practitioner, tell me what do you find the most important teaching you’ve discovered from this practice and what would you share to those who are on this path?

As many of us, i have found my yoga practice (in it’s most basic – physical form) while dealing with various emotions, bodily issues, pains and discomforts. I have first stepped on my mat at a quite tender age of seventeen, while dealing with lack of self acceptance, unhappy with my body and overwhelmed by the emotions of a teenager turning into a woman. I had suffered severe psychosomatic lumbar pain for more than a year and joints inflammation in my legs, which made me walk with crutches for a couple of months. It seemed like there was no actual reason to this pains and nothing was bringing me much of a relief. 

Through the practice of a very simply hatha techniques, I slowly build up a confidence in my body, but most of all – I begun to develop a sense of self understanding, self care and love. 

And it is this connection and self love, which through the practice of asana, helped me to become more confident in my life; and that also helped me to get rid of the mental and physical pain, which I am truly grateful for as a woman, as a human, and now also as a mother. 

I have heard once, during my first trip to Mysore, India in 2014, that the practice of yoga is the practice of love. It took me a few years to understand it, and im still learning how to embody it in my life and in my practice. But I personally find it the most deep and profound statement about yoga. And this is what this practice is teaching me every day.

2. What is Feminism to you? How do you feel women can support each other?

To me feminism comes from the understanding, that a female body has a unique power of growing and bringing another human being into this world. This is the feminine super power shared by almost all other species on the planet. The priviledge to choose if we want to carry and bring a human life through our own bodies, should be a granted basic choice that every woman should meet, no matter the nationality, level of education and socioeconomic status. 

Yet, nowadays we observe that many countries decide to take this basic right away from us. Very often, through the practice of arranged marriages women are still not allowed to choose their spouse, are not being asked if they want to have children, and are not granted the right to stop the pregnancy at an early stage – even if the development of the embryo in the womb may cause a harm to health and life of the mother. 

Very often these above rights and rules are dictated by the male patriarchal governments and societies.

So, for me, personally the act of feminism is to acknowledge these feminine and human rights, speak about them, and support women through the journey. Very often, we don’t have influence over what’s happening in our countries, or our voice is unheard. But as women, we can support each other. We can spread the awareness over females’ health, pregnancy and postpartum. We can inspire others to care for their own bodies and well-being. And to choose – whenever they can. 

As teachers – we can encourage practitioners to observe their own bodies and it’s needs and most of all – honour the menstrual cycle, as this is the most powerful cycle of the planet. It’s highly interconnected with the cycle of the moon and with the seasons. And understanding it, and tuning into this cycle, is an act of self love, self care and feminism too. 

3. In ashtanga practice, how do you feel we can keep the community strong and supportive for one another?

I believe that as a community, we should understand that we are there for one another, and not only each of us for ourselves. And it all begins by how we perceive our own practice. If we practice to achieve more physical goals – or if we practice to get closer to our own true selves. 

Because if we practice for the physical goals and achievements, then it’s easy to start comparing ourselves with others, feel not good enough, or feel better than somebody else. Just because our body is capable of more or less than we wished for. 

Once we focus on our inner experience, then we don’t perceive others through the prism of their asana practice, but we look deeper inside. 

And so then the small differences in the tradition or lineages that we follow, don’t really matter any more. We grow beyond that insignificant elements, and we look deeper within. This helps to keep us together and grow together, as individuals and as the community of all. 

4. With this practice we are constantly challenging ourselves  both mind and body. This requires a lot of self discipline, focus and consistency in our daily routine. In this moments we are opening ourselves up, we are vulnerable and  processing whatever emotions that rises. What would be your advice in these situations? What did you find helpful to you?

The more consciously we breathe, the less we think. Very, very often, the practice that seemed almost impossible for me to begin, not even thinking of accomplishing it in any way, turned out to be the most beautiful and inspiring one. Just because I have put my all energy and intention into the breath. 

The more scattered the mind, the more thoughts and emotions will be arriving. By just focusing on the rhythmic inhale and exhale, we are able to still the mind. When the mind is clear, that’s when very often this “aha-moment” arises, when we find solution to our problems and dilemmas and the clarity arises. 

5. In this modern world we are surrounded by distractions, whether it’s the constant stream of negative news, social media and the perfectly manufactured image of how to liveness life, our appearance and body shaming. It has the power to knock us off balance. How do we nourish ourselves? How do we find acceptance?

Looking at our human species, it is easy to understand that we love to go from one extreme to another. Finding a balance and self regulation is something that as a civilisation – we struggle with a lot. 

From the early age, we are taught in schools and even in kindergarten, how to read, write, count, sell and self present. 

But we are not being taught how to self regulate, how to deal with difficult emotion, loses, traumas etc. Many of us don’t even know that such ability is a skill, like many others, that can be taught and learned through the practice. 

When we begin practicing yoga, and it becomes our daily routine, we very often begin the process of self enquiry and self healing. We start asking uncomfortable questions like Who Am I? or Why Am I Here? And this slowly starts bringing clarity and also acceptance… There will be always negative, death, injustice. As Buddha says: “There is the suffering in the world”. We need to acknowledge it. We can’t change the flow of the river with a stick. But Buddha also says “There is the way out from the suffering”. And this is through the practice of mental equanimity. Acceptance. Letting go. 

It also reminds me of the dialogue of Krishna speaking to Arjuna: 

(B.G.1.19) “He who takes the Self to be the slayer and he who thinks He is slain, neither of these knows. He slays not, nor in He slain.”

The way I try to understand it, is that there is in the world a greater power than us. And certain things have to happen; due to the occurrences in the past or even past lives. And we can’t change certain things. All we can do, is to keep trying our best, but accept the results and the world as it is. 

I believe that for some, this may be hard to accept. But acceptance comes with the practice.

6. Who are the women that inspire you, who are the women that you admire?

The other day, while attending a yoga retreat with my husband and our 2 years daughter, I met a lady who traveled alone to India for the first time, all the way from New York for two weeks of practice. 

She’s, as I believe, in her early 60’s, is a mother of seven. 

To me, her and all other women who devote their lives to bringing up children are the super-heroes. 

Having one calm and peaceful daughter, all I can tell, is that going out for 10 hours of work and coming back home is much easier, that staying at home alone with a child. 🙂 And with seven children…?

I have been really privileged by the past two years, that my husband was there most of the time with me, sharing the duties of work and parenthood almost equally. But despite that, the 22 months of breastfeeding day and night were not easy. I really admire women who do it all by themselves. 

Women are really amazing, they do all this hard job of bringing up children in the background, hidden behind their husbands who leave for work to earn money, and very often receiving the ovation for supporting such a big family. But who is the one who’s doing the biggest amount of work?

I am truly inspired all women; especially mothers and working mothers, who still in this daily chaos find time to continue or maybe even develop their own Sadhana and find time to pursue their own dreams. 

7. What are your daily rituals and routines that you feel ground you?

It’s been more a decade now, that I have been very consistent in my daily asana practice. This really gives my day a solid foundation. 

Over the past few years I added changing sutras and recently also pranayama to my daily habits. Of course, on certain days it’s 5 minutes chanting and 3 minutes pranayama. Because as a mother I can’t afford more time. But this really grounds and calms me, and prepared me to face even the most difficult day with ease. 

8. What makes you feel safe and secure?

Having my husband and my daughter around, makes me feel like no matter the circumstances- everything is going to be alright. 

9. Which element of nature do you feel most connected to?

Oh it’s a beautiful question. I love all elements when they are in the state of balance. 

I love water in all its forms, for it brings purification and life. Water is related to cleansing and has a special place in many religions. In Hinduism for example, Ganges is the holy river, and Godess Ganga is considered as mother of humanity…

I love wind and fresh air, for they bring oxygen for us to breathe. Wind is related with movement and change. And without the oxygen, we wouldn’t be able to breathe… 

I love soil and smell of the moist earth. Earth gives life to plants and trees and feels so grounding. It is related to self-nourishment, stability and reliability. Possibly, this is my favourite element of all. 

But anything of excess is not good. It’s always good to keep the balance. 

10. Our energy is always shifting in our monthly practice, as female practitioners when we receive our ladies holiday, whether its a seasonal change or when we travel to different climates. How can we find a balance and a grounding when we feel these changes happen?

Especially since around one year post pregnancy, when my menstrual cycle resumed, I have been feeling these changes quite intensely. I not only feel the menstrual pain, but I also experience strong inner shifts during or right after the ovulation. And it can bring a lot of discomfort. 

Having an established and quite intense physical daily practice, to some extent I am able to regulate these sensations by what I do on the mat. But of course, there are often days when I can’t move my body at all. 

I have been always taking “ladies’ holiday” during the first three days of my cycle and I consider it of an outmost importance for every woman. Honouring the changes in the body, as well as changes of the seasons, moon and life circumstances helps us to keep the practice sustainable. 

I personally believe that stepping on the mat every day is very important, because only by cultivation of this daily habit we are able to look deeper within; but on certain days of the week or of the month, it’s absolutely necessary to step down; to light a candle and chant or just sit in silence for a couple of minutes, instead of bending and doing the postures. 

For me, chanting, has been always an absolutely magical practice. I was never a good singer, and in fact, only thanks to ashtanga practice and the obligation to chant the opening mantra, I ever dared to sing loud in front of the public. It was so hard for me initially, as my throat chakra was really blocked, that I was sweating profoundly each time I had to step in front of the class and chant. 

But after years of practice I absolutely love it, and you can find me chanting various mantras throughout of the day. I used to chant the mantra  “Om Gan Ganapataye Namah” to my daughter when she was born… Recently she turned two years old and now she started chanting it back to me… It’s a pure magic, and hearing her chant it, takes away all the troubles of the daily life. 

Chanting is a really wonderful and powerful practice and I can absolutely imagine, that once I get older, I may substitute asana with pranayama, chanting mantras and devotional prayers. I have already started planting the seeds.

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