Summer Yoga Island Retreat
Izabela, we know that you are a certified teacher of yoga and yoga therapy – RYT300 at SVYASA Yoga University in Bangalore (India), RYT200 at the Gaia Yoga Centre in Zagreb and RYT800 at the Sunce Institute of Yoga and Ayurveda with yogacharya Jadranko Miklec.
You are currently attending the Radiant Coaches Academy in the USA for Holistic Life Coach certification.
We know that yoga has been your companion for 20 years and that you have been introduced to various styles of yoga during your 4-6 months stays in India every winter since 2004.
You are the founder and head of the Verbasana Yoga Studio in Zagreb, a former dancer, mother of a 15-year-old daughter, and graduate Indologist and Russianist. We know that you have taught Hindi and Sanskrit and that you are experienced in organising and leading yoga retreats in Croatia and further afield with your partner, who is a sound therapist and also a teacher of yoga and meditation. We know that you have organised and led Sea Cruise Yoga Retreats along the Adriatic coast with the singer Tajči.
Welcome to Valamar and the island of Rab!
Can you remember the moment or situation when you realised that being a yoga teacher was your life’s vocation?
I became acquainted with yoga as a child when my mother took me with her to yoga classes. In 1999, I started practicing yoga on my own at the faculty. After a traumatic period of life, I was able to heal through yoga and at that moment I felt the call to help others by teaching yoga.
In 2015, I closed the Studionet school of foreign languages, which I had successfully ran for a full eight years, and started my own yoga studio.
What does education for yoga teachers in India look like?
After 10 winters spent in India, the Embassy of India in Zagreb gave me a scholarship to complete my third yoga education at SVYASA Yoga University in Bangalore, which was an exceptional experience. I spent a month with 60 yoga teachers from all over the world. It was very intense because we got up every morning at 4 am and practiced yoga before sunrise, and the lectures ended at 10 pm. A wonderful experience.
Mostly we have an idea of what yoga is, but what is yoga therapy?
Through yoga therapy, one can give additional support in the treatment of various diseases. This includes practising asanas, following a proper diet and a disciplined lifestyle. Ayurveda effectively complements physical and mental therapeutic yoga exercises. Our health is affected by the state of our body – asanas, the state of our mind – meditation, breathing – pranayama, as well as diet, lifestyle and environment – ayurveda. From the above factors, it is necessary to see which area primarily has an influence on our problem (that is, in which area is the cause) and to put the emphasis on yoga therapy there.
For someone who would like to try practising yoga for the first time but isn’t sure if it’s for her or him, what is your message?
Everyone starts from where they are at the moment, be it physical constitution, greater or lesser flexibility, an old injury or the like. It is at this point that the yoga journey and a conscious encounter with the limits of one’s own body begins. When practising yoga, the breath is very important, as each movement begins with a breath, which is followed by movement. The attention of the mind is all this time with breath and movement. With the attention of the mind, we especially touch those parts of the body in which we feel tension. Over time, we gain confidence and explore new yoga positions or extend a position. In yoga we learn to listen to our body and respect its limits. We learn to be gentle with our body and always enter a position to the limit of comfort.
In the pictures, some Yoga poses look really demanding; how did you conceptualise your practice for Valamar guests?
The yogis you see in pictures with their legs around their necks and in similar positions most likely practice from a young age for several hours a day. This is not our goal: experience has taught me that the effect we want to achieve – the state of relaxation in the body, the feeling of happiness in the chest area and a calm mind – can also be achieved through some very simple yoga poses. For Valamar guests, I have prepared three yoga sessions a day: earlier in the morning there’ll be a more dynamic class, designed to wake up, move and unlock the body after sleep. This session ends with the yogic breathing technique and a short meditation.
Later in the afternoon, we will practise lighter, gentler and more fluid yoga classes. In the evening, we will prepare our body for rest in the evening, so that it can regenerate better during the night. The body intelligence which governs our individual bodies (for example, we do not have to consciously remember to inhale or exhale, nor heal ourselves following an injury), as well as the myriad processes that this intelligence manages, will be further awakened through the practice of yoga.
Yoga for the spine, what is that?
A healthy spine is key to good health because it is the pillar of our body. Most people today spend a lot of time at the computer, occasionally feel back pain, breathe shallowly due to stress, are constantly tired, and suffer from a herniated disc or sciatica. It is by such symptoms that a painful spine reflects on the overall physical and mental state. With selected yoga exercises for the spine, we strengthen the back muscles that support and protect the spine. This preserves vitality and easily overcomes everyday life challenges.
Is there a possibility of injury?
One of the important principles of yoga is ahimsa, which means non-violence, and that includes non-violence towards oneself too. We always follow our body; we listen to the call from the inside for movement. It is not essential to reach some extreme ideal position. It is important that we feel relaxed and comfortable in every pose. We learn to place ourselves in a comfortable and stable position on our yoga mat, and also later in everyday life beyond the yoga mat.
Often we are not aware of our body: only when something hurts do we remember that we have it. How does yoga practice teach us to become aware of our body?
Sedentary work or activities that require daily repetitive movements as well as other life stress factors (family, finances, work, etc.), but also the monotonous rhythm of life from day to day, have created certain limits and tensions in our muscles and thoughts, and have also shortened our breath. A yoga retreat is an opportunity to stop that everyday pattern for a moment and insert something positive and invigorating into it that will fill us with new inspiration. Yoga poses are designed so that by alternating stretching and contraction we help restore the flow of life energy (prana) to tense parts of the body, increase circulation and oxygen supply, and the result is muscle tone. It is not good to have too weak or overstretched muscle, rather balanced – that will be our goal.
What makes yoga different from other physical activities?
The traditional yoga story or yoga anatomy knows bodies other than our physical one, and calls them koshas or sheaths. Anamaya kosha is our physical body, Pranamaya kosha is the subtle body (these are all those sensations we feel), Manomaya kosha is our mind, Vijnanamaya kosha is our intellect, and Anandamaya kosha is the feeling of pure joy and bliss. Imagine Matryoshka, the Russian doll that contains a lot of Matryoshka dolls – as we open them, we discover new ones. This is how we can somehow describe these five bodies. Through yoga asanas, pranayama and meditation, we work on all the above bodies and that is what makes yoga unique.
What are the benefits of a yoga retreat that lasts for a series of days?
After a few days, you will learn to enter into silence, nurture the hygiene of the soul, and feel joy regardless of whatever external circumstances. This is a valuable experience.
Tell us something about pranayama and meditation?
Proper breathing raises energy levels and calms the mind, and meditation relaxes us and reduces stress. We will practice simple breathing techniques with which you can change negative emotions into positive ones, strengthen your immune system, and increase the likelihood of a happy, quality and healthy life. At the same time, you can provide the body with more energy needed to strengthen the immune system, cope more effectively with stressful situations, improve memory, increase self-confidence, and lead to a better social functioning. It is known that emotional stability is directly related to productivity, concentration, learning ability, and success.
You will teach yoga in English. Will Valamar guests who do not know English very well be able to fit in and follow the lessons?
I will adapt the language to the participants – working in English and Croatian, and Russian if necessary 😊
What should participants bring with them?
Definitely a yoga mat, a blanket and a small pillow for the evening session. If it is cooler, it is best to wear cotton and comfortable clothes in which it is easy to move, and which does not restrict our movements. A bottle of water. From what I hear, after the morning session, a refreshing and healthy Valamar smoothie will be waiting for us. Ideally, as it is summer, we will all be barefoot, which is best for practising yoga.
Do you have any more advice?
Do not consume food for at least two hours before starting exercise. As some asanas massage the internal organs, it is not very pleasant to massage the abdomen while it is digesting.
Why the island of Rab?
Each island has a special aura. Wise ancient Romans called Rab Felix Arba – the Island of Happiness, so is there a better place to discover joy in yourself than on Rab? We will be surrounded by greenery, in the summer months crickets can be heard everywhere – I can already hear them in my head! – and the scent of pine trees combined with the warmth of the sun and the aroma of the sea alongside a light touch of wind on the skin will revive all our senses. In addition, the island of Rab is full of natural and cultural attractions: guests can spend time between sessions swimming, walking, jogging or exploring the island by bike. Those who love sandy beaches will find lot of them on Rab. Finally, the top-quality accommodation and culinary offer in Valamar hotels closes the circle.
In the end, please share with us a yoga recitation or meditation?
Sit comfortably, close your eyes, focus on your heart, and ask yourself the following questions: Who am I? What do I want? What are my life goals? What am I grateful for? It is not necessary to look for answers, but it is necessary to be aware of the thoughts and images that appear. Concentrating on your own breathing for just ten minutes leads to great refreshment. In addition, such actions lead to synchronicity and harmony with life goals and what the person wants. Meditation makes life better, changes mental health, improves sleep, and helps achieve material and spiritual goals.
Before coming to the retreat, think about the intention, sankalpa you would set for your retreat. Intention is a powerful internal agreement that we make with ourselves and that does not only serve to achieve some important goal. Intention is the path to happiness.
Sankalpa can also be translated as determination, will, belief, decision. It is a positive statement in which we commit to ourselves, and sometimes to someone else, that we will fulfil a specific goal. It is a powerful inner agreement that we make with ourselves and express through our actions. Sankalpa can refer to any part of our lives: from work, relationships and health, to our spiritual aspirations. Sankalpas – intentions – nurture and encourage our motivation, determination, patience and perseverance, qualities that allow us to be more stable, more mature and to achieve each of our intentions.
See you on the island of Rab! 😊