Esther Ekhart is an internationally renowned Yoga teacher, trainer, and founder of EkhartYoga.com. From her studio in the Netherlands, Emma Newlyn conducted this very special interview with her to find out more about her long journey through Yoga, health and wellbeing. Esther offers advice on how navigate through life without attaching to the ‘stories’ and habits we get locked into, to know that “You are already perfect and need nothing except to see through the obstacles that keep you from experiencing that. Even with an ‘imperfect body’, an ‘imperfect mind’, you are beautiful and unique”.
If you’ve ever thought about starting a Yoga practice, but aren’t sure where to start, then Esther explains the benefits of Yoga, how she’s learned “not to take it all too seriously”, and advises beginners that “a little goes a long way. Even 10 minutes of Yoga a day will make a difference!”
- Having taught yoga internationally for over 20 years, what is the ‘Yoga World’ like now compared to when you first began teaching?
Hmm, I’ll have to dig deep :-)). I suppose it’s faster now, like everything. The ability to get known beyond your town, or city through online yoga and social media is much easier, so yoga has become more of a business. Alongside that the standards are quite high, because everyone has online access to experienced teachers. In the past, you’d have had to attend workshops with a range of experienced teachers to get the same breadth and depth of knowledge. I love it though, everything changes and also the yoga world adapts…
I also notice lately that because everything is faster, I get a lot more young people looking for calmer forms of yoga, meditation, ways to relax and tune in, to get out of their heads…
- When and where did you first come across yoga?
My mom introduced me to yoga at home. She started practicing it and then trained as a teacher. I saw her become stronger, more relaxed, happier and most of all loving it!
- Has your yoga practice changed much over the years?
Yes, it has slowed down a lot. Initially my practice came from a more ‘grasping’ approach, I wanted to to be stronger and more flexible, trying to attain certain poses. These days I approach the practice from a much more meditative, slower, functional place. I want to take care of my body but doing yoga purely to gain more strength isn’t what makes me or my body happy. I found that the real benefits have come in the quieter, more mindful practices, where I really take time to tune in and feel.
I was teaching in my own small studio in West Cork Ireland, and I had waiting lists. I wondered how I could get more people to benefit from yoga and grow beyond my small studio. Also, I needed yoga inspiration myself (being, as I was at that time, on a mountain in the middle of nowhere!) and couldn’t find good quality yoga online. So the idea was born to provide it.
- What three things do you do each day to look after yourself and your health?
Meditation / Pranayama / Cold shower
- Have you always been ‘healthy?’
No – I’ve gone through rough times with a big shortage of b12 and iron, so felt very, very tired at times. There have been great lessons in how to look after myself, when to slow down and the effects of stress. These experiences help you to grow.
- What does Yoga mean to you?
Ha, I wrote a whole article about that! Basically at this stage in my life it is a way of living. On a practical level it’s about asking ‘what does this system need to function well? How can I be compassionate and loving towards myself, others and the earth?’. On a more philosophical level, how can I stay with what is, with the reality, how can I stay out of the stories and just observe life dancing through me and everyone else.
- What do you feel is the most important thing you’ve learned from practicing yoga?
Not to take it all too seriously, not to take on yet another identity – the identity of a ‘wise yogi’ – to stay real, loving and honest.
- Other than Yoga, do you enjoy any other forms of movement practice?
Somatics, I think is great for anyone, especially yogis, to free up the body and make your yoga practice easier and more fun. Besides that, anything that makes you happy, go for it!
- EkhartYoga.com has a wonderful and varied array of teachers. Do you plan to add any more styles of classes or guest teachers to the site?
We will always be open to add styles and teachers that add extra value to our website.
- The Clarity Process is an important part of your spiritual studies. What first drew you towards it?
I think at that time of my life yoga was more of a physical practice and I had looked into my own pain quite a bit, but not enough. For me, the Clarity aspect took care of that part. This involved everything from personal development (through understanding my psyche and pain and what blocked me from enjoying life to the fullest) through to the spiritual aspects of what it really means to be in the moment.
- What would you say to someone who was thinking of starting a Yoga practice, but was unsure of where or how to begin?
Just begin. You can’t go wrong, the yoga will gently help you along. You can start with a teacher, at home, with a book, online …just begin! And remember a little goes a long way, even 10 minutes of yoga a day will make a difference. Make sure you keep it relatively easy at the beginning, so you’ll enjoy it and want to come back!
- What message do you most hope to get across to students when you’re teaching?
That you are already perfect and need nothing except to see through the obstacles that keep you from experiencing that. Even with an imperfect body, an imperfect mind, you are beautiful and unique. Yoga just helps you to feel better so fully accepting that you are perfect, just as you are, will be easier to access and accept.
- Having taught yoga for many years, developed your online Yoga classes and set up trainings and retreats for many years now, is there anything left on your ‘to do’ list?
I feel the thing that will always stay on my to-do list is helping people see the beauty of themselves, of each other, of living on this earth. I’m sure I will keep finding new ways to do that!
Beyond that, a year of doing very little, going deeper into the nothingness myself, but that will come… one day ???? Until then I’ll enjoy the fullness and richness of making yoga accessible to as many people as I can by working on my website EkhartYoga.com and my trainings and retreats.
If you’re interested in training, workshops or retreats with Esther, see the following for more information:
- Intensive 7-day yoga retreat