Running late is not my favorite way to make an entrance to a yoga workshop, but when there is some serious travel involved, then exceptions have to be made.â€¨ I was relieved that it was a 15min overlook as I parked in front of Yoga Flames impressive new studio in Moore St, Essendon. With huge signage, and the color red standing out, it was easy to find, which was a relief. On entering, there was a quiet calm in the room as Barbra Noh held the group’s attention with a gentle yet authoritative voice. I instantly felt a part of this group of yogis and teachers, and settled into my spot on the mat for a detailed afternoon of contraction vs expansion = balance.
I often wonder how the Anusara community is going with their front man, John Friend, no longer at the helm, and from my experience with Barbra, the knowledge, passion and detail that Anusara training has imparted to her is a gift, with or without a captain of the ship. So much so, that Barbra is head of the Anusara teacher training in Munich, Germany. Which was the other surprising factor for me, Barbra is actually born and bred in Melbourne, which instantly gave me an alliance with her, in sisterhood of being from the same place. It’s an inspiration to see what Barbra has done with her teachings abroad.
Are you willing and are you open to change the habits that aren’t serving you?
I guess this is a basic and fair enough question, yet as we explored our natural alignment and posture more deeply, and questioned, how we unconsciously bring these ‘habits’ into our asana practice, the significance of the word “willing” becomes more evident as we feel awkward and back in beginners mind as we realize the shapes we need to create with our bodies to allow energy to flow seamlessly, are perhaps not our first instinct and need some time to feel natural.
Barbra offered us Asana as an opportunity to practice and create new patterns in our posture, to observe how alignment supports the flow of energy within our body, and to continually be sensitive to where we need to contract or expand in order to experience the freedom of feeling balanced.â€¨ Principles we explored to find this balance included:
Settling the foundation â€“ always begin from the feet, the earth. Muscular Energy: inward-turning, contracting, centering.â€¨Organic Energy: outward-turning, expansive, expressive, creative.â€¨The Spirals, which describe expanding and contracting forces along the arms and legs, refining alignment of the joints, and integrating the actions of the limbs with one’s energetic core or center â€“ the central axis of the spine.
Barbra’s thoughtful and approachable manner led us into self inquiry with our general standing posture, partnering up and exploring the plumb line from the hip to the ankle. Needless to say it was an eye opening experience to be told to hug the shins in more. It felt strange yet oddly familiar in my body.
By the end of the workshop I felt like I was remembering some long lost information that I already knew, but had been overlooking. There was a sense of simplicity in the intricate explanation of this Universal Principle of Alignment. By observing others, and also experimenting on my own body, I gained deeper insight into how to perceive another person’s energy by imagining how it might feel to be in that shape, and then consider where the contraction and expansion is needed to optimize overall balance.
I left a couple of inches taller and the affirmation that we are complex and interesting beings, there is a lot to discover and we can use our yoga as a life enhancing tool.
YW had the privilege of meeting with Barbra for an interview afterwards.
How did yoga come into your life?
When I was in my mid twenties I was on a real search for something to help me cope with everything. I was hopeful that there would be some way to feel better about myself and gain insight into how I could live more happily. I had some vague idea that meditation might help. That brought me to a yoga centre in my local neighbourhood that was very traditional and â€œIndianâ€ so to speak. This was just prior to yoga becoming a popular mainstream activity, available on every corner, so at that time it was all a bit of a mystery that one had to seek out. I attended a free trial class one evening and that was it. I came up from my first Savasana and thought, “I want to feel like this all the time”. I felt I’d come home and could finally be me, with peace and clarity. I was deeply impressed that a simple sequence of breathing, movement and postures followed by relaxation could have such a profound effect on how I perceived myself and my world.
What attracted you to Anusara?
Yoga was having such a positive effect on me and I was so enthusiastic about it, people who saw that would ask me to teach them some yoga. I had very little training, but at a certain point found I had quite a number of students. Knowing how limited my knowledge was, I began to seek education and further study. I tried many forms of hatha yoga, with many great teachers, and enjoyed so many aspects of each style. But the most profound changes in my practice, my attitude, spiritual progress, understanding of yoga and how to apply it to my life came from the Anusara teachers I encountered. When I applied the principles of Anusara Yoga to my own teaching, I saw students making progress in such a beautiful way. I continued studying Anusara Yoga as it was enriching my own practice and that of the students. It was also very empowering to be able to get myself out of pain, as over the years of daily practice I had developed quite a few aches and pains. It is deeply satisfying to be able to help those who are having difficulty or discomfort, become more confident and free in their bodies and in their minds and hearts. I am very grateful that Anusara Yoga has given me this possibility.
What led you to Germany?
I grew up in Melbourne, and trained as a dancer at the Victorian College of the Arts School and the National Theatre Ballet School. I had a yearning to go to Europe and work as a dancer there. So that’s what I did at the age of 19. Most of the work I got was in Germany, and I eventually settled in Munich after living in Holland, Switzerland and Austria. Munich is in the south of Germany and a great base for me to travel all over Europe teaching, as I do now.
How has yoga influenced and shaped your life?
Where do I begin? Yoga has served me well as a physical practice that enhances my health in so many ways, but even more as an approach to life and handling the challenges that come with being a human being. I feel it is a great tool for integrating and supporting personal growth on so many levels. It’s helped me to become more conscious of how I fit into this complex field of energy called â€œLifeâ€, and understand better how to connect with reality in meaningful and joyous ways. Most of all I am grateful for the wonderful people, teachers and friendships yoga has brought into my life.
How do you find life traveling and teaching? Do you still find time for your own practice?
I do still find time for my own asana practice â€“ but it has become more difficult due to so much travel and a constantly changing teaching schedule. Time and a space for my own practice is now all the more appreciated and a real delightful. I don’t see my yoga practice as being limited to the time I spend on a yoga mat. The willingness to embrace life and be in the moment finds expression in many other moment too. I love connecting with so many different people and yoga communities around the world and I have learnt to feel at home in pretty much any environment. There is something very liberating about realising I don’t need much to be comfortable and happy. Travel and the accompanying 20 kg baggage limit has brought a pleasant sense of simplicity regarding my material priorities.
What’s coming up next in your busy schedule?
I am delighted to be teaching at two great Melbourne yoga studios while I am here. Yoga Lab and Yoga Flame. From here I head to Byron Bay and teach a three day intensive at Ananta Yoga. Then it’s straight from Brisbane to my Magic Morocco Yoga & Surf Retreat. By late March I’ll be back in Europe and then my Spring/Summer teaching season starts there. Before I know it, it will be European winter again, a great time to head back to Melbourne!
To find out more about Barbra and her schedule of events visit her at www.barbranohyoga.com.Â Pictures courtesy of www.barbranohyoga.com.