teaching yoga in greece and beyond
Practicing yoga with Angela Farmer and Victor Van Kooten, you’d never guess they were once devoted disciples of B.K.S. Iyengar, studying and teaching his method in Europe and elsewhere for many years. Their style has evolved from Mr. Iyengar’s famous stern, structured approach. Angela and Victor are now renowned for a more organic, self-expressive and self-healing way of practicing the familiar – and not so familiar – yoga postures.
In just one day, I discovered an authentically soft quality in my being, as my body found its way into a shape and then allowed the shape to bring me into a deeper experience. I understood that it’s as important how we practice as what we practice. To force our bodies into a rigid shape at warp speed can be a peculiar kind of violence, not a likely pathway to bliss!
Angela and Victor have been teaching together since 1984. Angela was born and raised in England by an American mother and an English father. She studied physical education and dance in college and was involved with the Sufi path for about ten years, where the focus was on finding your own prayer and your own connection. With a desire to go deeper, she was drawn to yoga and to Mr. Iyengar. Within the community of Iyengar-trained teachers, she met Victor, who was born in Holland and taught in Switzerland and elsewhere. After more than twenty years together, Angela and Victor have built a yoga center on the Greek island of Lesvos, in the Eftalou Valley, where they hold retreats. They also travel regularly to California and other U.S. destinations.
Yogi Times: Why does this way of practicing feel so different?
Angela Farmer: All of the yoga poses come from energy moving through the body. Outside, it looks like a fixed position. Inside, you’re unraveling yourself into space. The flow of energy is natural. Once you come into an asana, you feel how the energy moves in that posture. We want to cultivate a deeper knowledge of how to get inside. Everyone has this. It doesn’t belong to any one culture or tradition. We want to bring people to this place of personal insight, to their own essence.
YT: Your practice has an unusual balance of male and female energy. If Hatha yoga was created by and for men, how does the feminine fit in?
Victor Van Kooten: The feminine is important in yoga. Historically, women had pregnancy and other experiences that brought them to listen inside, while men were more externally focused. Yoga can bring men back inside and contact the deeper listening. This practice holds an equal chance for men and women.
Angela Farmer: When I imagine the origins of yoga, I see that it came naturally from women. Women naturally feel inside their bodies. The male mind saw it from the outside and tried to formalize it. This created a kind of prison. Now people are breaking open those containers and rediscovering that original freedom.
Victor Van Kooten: Shiva is half masculine and half feminine. The energy comes from the feminine; the male creates the form. Then the female side dissolves the stuck form. You have to respect the past, but be true to what is true right now.
YT: How do we know what is true right now?
Angela Farmer: Each individual has to go into their own process and get connected to that.Every day, go back inside. Can you break open some little area of yourself? Everything that’s ever happened to you is inside your body. The physical practice can cleanse you for the day and the practice helps you to be less fixed. There is more to let go of within yourself, so why get fixed now?
Instead of challenging yourself to see how far you can go in each asana, go inside. Is there a place that’s holding? From inside comes the urge to move. When you go deep inside, you meet something that can’t wait to come up and express itself. So the practice is exploration and playfulness.
Victor Van Kooten: If you fix too much on doing a particular thing, you get too focused on the body. But the essence has no form. If the formless is never allowed in, you won’t access creativity. You’ll have to always be told what to do.
YT: What do people most need right now?
Angela Farmer: Relaxation. They need to believe that it’s okay to be comfortable in who you are and see what comes from there. When you don’t allow yourself to relax, you stay superficial, you’re less grounded. Your defenses stay up all the time for fear of going there. Relaxation is not flopping around. It’s dropping into a deeper level of your being. You can drop deep down into an ocean on the earth. You can recover from nervous exhaustion. You rise up from the deep: strong, quiet, wise. A channel in touch with that universal self. You find you are aware. And there’s less of a need to react to everything.
Victor Van Kooten: With this kind of practice, you need less rest. You can be refreshed while talking, while acting. You can hear, see -- have total awareness both in acting and in deep rest...Look at nature. Cats never quite sleep. There is always some awareness in their resting. They can instantly rush into action. It doesn’t disintegrate the body.
YT: Do we need to inhabit our bodies differently?
Victor Van Kooten: We’re born with this body, and it’s a great gift. We need to enjoy the energy, being here -- not deny the body.
Angela Farmer: I see also the need to honor our connection with the earth. To explore the root chakra. Modern living is in the mind, the upper chakras. Our new yoga center is on the floor of this beautiful valley, surrounded by olive trees and birdsong, mountains all around, the sea in front. There is a powerful energy in the land. We can experience ourselves as channels to celebrate the connection between earth and sky.
YT: How has aging influenced your practice?
Angela Farmer: As you grow older, you become more tolerant. It’s good to notice what is working for you at this time, and also stay open to all areas. Whatever your age, it’s important to honor the body’s needs.