Sometimes I forget how lucky it is to live in a city as international as Bonn. The German phrase “klein, aber fein” (small, but nice) perfectly matches how I feel about this city. There’s a huge expat population as a few major companies reside here. As residents, we Bonners have the additional advantage that Cologne is just a 20 minute train ride away.
When you combine Bonn and Cologne, there’s a wide range of yoga to choose from. You’ve got dozens of studios to hone your regular practice and there are several annual events to get your big yoga fix. Renowned and skillful teachers from all around the world come to Cologne to teach workshops and many of them even consider Cologne their home base.
One of those teachers is Liz Huntly. Originally from Canada, she’s lived in Germany for the last 7 years. Her name may sound familiar to you if you frequent the Cologne yoga studio Lord Vishnu’s Couch or have attended the Groove Yoga Festival, whether it was in Cologne, Ontario or Hvar Island in Croatia.
Liz made the short train ride from Cologne to Bonn at the end of October to teach a workshop at The Vinyasa People Studio focusing on arm balances. From crow to forearm stand to handstand, Liz’s workshop allowed us to see the world from a different perspective by balancing on our arms. It was also a great opportunity to challenge our bodies and engage core and arm strength. I was sore for three days, no joke.
After the workshop I had the pleasure of interviewing Liz and got to pick her brain on quite a few topics, including her life before yoga, being an expat in Germany (albeit not for much longer) and her teacher training background (that’s me trying to get some tips for me and my fellow SYTT-ers!). Enjoy!
First thing’s first – how did you get into yoga?
I started with yoga kind of as a sport. I was a little bit interested in spirituality, but more interested in the physical movement aspects of it. So I started at a studio in Toronto that was an Ashtanga Vinyasa flow. Lots of sweat. Yeah I did a lot of other sports at the time and thought it would be a good compliment to flexibility.
Yeah I was the same, the flexibility part.
Yeah. I love that about yoga that you can have the intention starting and it gets you into something else you weren’t expecting. Whatever you reason you start, you end up somewhere else.
What was your life like before your “yoga life” started?
I studied graphic design, but I never really worked as a graphic designer. It was clear to me in the process of studying that I didn’t want to spend my life sitting in front of a computer. I was really searching for something. I was in a phase of trying to figure out what is it that I want to be. I went to my first (yoga) class and thought, that was amazing, I need to go back tomorrow! I had some anxiety issues and felt some things were missing in my life and felt there was ground for a spiritual practice to enter my life.
How did you become a teacher?
I started in Germany. I kind of had it in my head that I wanted to do a teacher training in the distant future. Then I was traveling in Europe and ended up in Cologne and didn’t really have a plan with what I was going to do in Cologne. I found the teacher training and thought, now is the time. So it was a lot earlier than I expected, but it was the right thing.
When did yoga become a conscious part of your life?
It was probably later that I was very consciously aware of it. When I went through my teacher training I was still pretty focused on the physical practice. It was more than just a sport, but my practice was very physical. I wasn’t doing a lot of meditation. It’s only been in the last 2 years that I’ve developed a more meditation practice.
I had a boyfriend for a while that thought yoga was super weird. I was a yoga teacher and he thought yoga was weird. It was this thing I did as a job and when I got home I didn’t talk about my work so much. So that was a block for a while.
Then I wasn’t in that relationship anymore and then in a relationship with someone who is a yoga teacher with a deep spiritual practice. It happened really fast and I realized that this is not just my job, but this is the life I have and this is everything. All the pieces of my life are part of this yoga path and it was allowed to bloom.
You’ve lived in Germany for 7 years. Do you still consider yourself an expat?
I don’t know, that’s a hard question. I think for a long time I felt like a huge foreigner. And then there was a period where I felt like it was my home. I thought that I would stay at least for a long time. I had no plans to go back to Canada. And so I felt like I was settling in here, that this was really definitely home for me.
Then about a year or so ago we started to plan transitioning back to Canada as our home base, my husband and I, and now I kind of feel like I’m getting excited about that because I’m going home and that’s making me reconsider my relationship with Germany a bit.
But I feel like I’ve had such an amazing time of growth and all the things that have happened while I’ve been here have been huge in terms of self-development. And there’s a lot of attachment between how I feel about myself as a person and the place that it happened. I love Cologne and I think it will always have a home feeling for me even if it’s not the place where I’m living. I feel wherever you end up it’s possible to have more than one home and you can find home in people and relationships and the work that you do, and less attached to the physical place.
Are you usually teaching in Germany or English?
Right now I’m mostly teaching in German. I’m still doing some drop-in classes in Cologne and they’re about half English-half German. But almost all of the workshops and traveling that we’re doing right now is in German.
Do you feel you can express yourself just as well in German as in English?
No. It’s getting better. When I first started teaching in German it was like I was a different person than I was in English and part of me still has to go with that. I say a lot of things that are stupid in German and are not well put together sentences. I know that I’m making mistakes and people are giggling, but I don’t really know what the mistake is.
But you have to accept that and that’s part of who I am and how I teach as a German teacher. There’s that element of laughter which is nice but also more and more I can still be myself, even though there’s a little bit of difference in expression. So yeah, it definitely takes a lot of practice and time. But it’s more or less comfortable. I get really excited when I get to teach in English.
Are there any big things that you’re focusing on in yoga over the next months?
My feeling is that there’s a lot of focus now, in the general yoga world, on the physical shapes, the physical body and it’s becoming more material and commercial. It’s a lot about leggings. I don’t know. Some of it’s good because it’s attracting more people to get into yoga who might otherwise not be interested.
But I would really like, at least in my own teaching, to make sure that there are other focuses and that it’s not just about appearance, but what the personal development opportunities are. That we can use the yoga practice to strip away everything we don’t need instead of acquiring more stuff and attachments.
Do you have any advice for aspiring yoga teachers? Is there something you wish you knew before you started your yoga teacher training that you could share with others?
I think, don’t wait until you’re ready because you won’t ever be ready. Just start.
And be prepared to have so much patience at the same time. It will take so long. I think when I first got out of my teacher training, I thought, now I’m gonna be the best teacher ever, it’s gonna happen now. Then I taught my first class and was like, I’m terrible! The expectation that somehow you’ll get out of a teacher training and be complete as a teacher is unfair. It’s a long process and a process that goes on forever. I still don’t think, “Now I’m a great teacher.” No, now I’m still a developing teacher.
To read more about Liz and find out about future workshops, visit her website – http://www.lizandroland.com/.