Anahata Yoga: A Practice For Cultivating Bodily Love Awareness, Health Restoration, Balance & Peace
Interview with Annette Davidsson by Dr. David Klein
A native of Sweden, Annette Davidsson has been a most popular yoga teacher in Denmark. She taught yoga at various venues in Copenhagen and also co-led the Fresh Food Festivals. Now residing on the Hawaiian island of Maui write your dissertation with her husband Dr. David Klein, she teaches yoga at her Anahata Studio. Annette’s approach is gentle and loving. She emphasizes deep stretching, core strengthening and poses which are doable by everyone. This practice promotes healing and vibrant wellness. Her Yoga for Digestion Perfection DVD guides students through simple poses in an easy manner, making the practice enjoyable and rewarding. You can order the DVD at Annette’s website: www.ayoga.us. Here she reveals her influences and the goals of her teaching approach.
You have studied and incorporated many styles of yoga. In your and everyone’s practice, what do you feel the ultimate goal should be?
AD: The most important thing is to be 100% present in your body—feeling, sensing what’s going on and being present with the experience, with yourself—getting to know yourself. We can learn a lot about ourselves by how we react on the yoga mat—our reactions mirror how we act in our daily lives. The goal of yogic practice is not about getting fully into the poses; rather, it’s to do the poses to the best of your ability, at whatever level you are at. Yoga poses have been developed to give us goals to work toward; but, it is okay to simply work on them over a lifetime without ever accomplishing the ultimate forms. We need to simply do the practice and be in the present moment.
When did you first become interested in yoga, where were you living, and why were you drawn to yoga practice?
AD: At age 20 I lived in Sweden and was interested in everything that had to do with Indian culture. I had a brief introduction to yoga and tried practicing at home, but that did not work out well for me. I needed some coaching to do the poses, however there were no yoga teachers where I lived at the time. When I was 27 I found a Hatha yoga teacher in Sweden and got into it.
In the beginning, what style of yoga was your main interest?
AD: Hatha yoga was slow and good for me. Then Astanga yoga became popular, so I explored a beginner’s course in Copenhagen. I found it to be too fast and draining, so I steered away from it. I then learned about Iyengar yoga, which focuses on alignment and doing the poses properly and carefully. That is very important to me because alignment makes yoga safe. Power yoga styles do not enable us to get into the poses properly and fully receive their benefits—they rush from one pose to the next, often with improper alignment. Today I’m combining slow Vinyasa with Iyengar and Yin yoga.
How do you practice your Anahata Yoga style?
AD: I like to begin with some Vinyasa to build up the heart rate and heat. After that I like to methodically stay in the poses and breathe deeply. Staying a long time in the poses, allowing the muscles to stretch, is very important. It takes at least 30 seconds for the muscles to relax, release and elongate; if we stretch less than that, the muscles will only resist and contract and we get no benefit. Some yoga traditions recommend stretches of 5 minutes or more. This stretches the facia and gets deep into the muscles.
What are benefits of your Anahata yoga?
AD: One builds strength, becomes more flexible and experiences more relaxation and peace of mind. We stay in the final resting pose for 10 to 15 minutes so that the yogi can experience deep relaxation.
Please talk about the kinds of props used in your classes and their purposes.
AD: I use mostly blocks and straps, and sometimes pillows and blankets. They have many functions. For example, the blocks help support people with limited flexibility get deeper into the poses without over-stretching and losing the alignment.
How does one formulate a good routine of poses that induce balance and healing?
AD: For me it’s important first to do some poses which build body heat, then to do some stretching. All poses accomplish different things, affecting the body in different ways. For example, a backbend will raise your body heat and energize you. A forward bend such as the child pose will relax you and may help you sleep better at night.
You were recently certified as a Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga Teacher by Sadie Nardini. Why do you incorporate core strengthening in your approach?
AD: Core strengthening is very important for everybody; I believe it is the way to begin any yoga pose. The approach of many instructors is to begin with arm and leg stretching followed by quickly getting fully into poses. This rushing toward the final pose expressions locks the body out of important foundational activations in the deep core. By incorporating Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga techniques, such as bending the knees, rounding the back and starting on the floor, I am able to methodically back students off the final pose expressions. This keeps the spine and pelvis mobile so that the deeper core muscles can be reactivated and strengthened from the earth upward. Consequently, the limbs are brought into service of the spine, and not the other way around, and the students are always able to practice in optimal spinal alignment. This promotes the balance and internal harmony we desire.
Do you believe that yoga practice is especially important for rawfooders?
AD: Actually, I think that yoga is very important for everyone. At the least, we all need some kind of stretching practice to maintain flexibility. We can all benefit from some form of meditation. For me, yoga is a form of meditation. We can all benefit from yoga.
For me, holding the right relaxing pose can bring on feelings of bliss within—I am reminded of the sanctity of being in a healthy body as the flow of my vital energy surges, my mind is calmed and I feel a connection with the divine. Correct poses also maintain my posture, enhance my range of motion, keep muscles strong and enhance my physical functioning, self-confidence and sense of ease. Do you have any special benefits beyond those that you particularly enjoy?
AD: The benefits you described cover most of it. I’ll add that I feel more balanced and centered when I do my yoga. It feels so good in my body, and it even seems to change my brain chemistry in a pleasant way. Yoga gives me a time of being present and aware in my own body. During this time I am not engaged in thinking about things that are going on in my life. It’s a treat to dedicate 90 minutes for yoga, for connecting with myself and nothing else.
Please talk about how important yoga can be for people who are on a program for overcoming an illness?
AD: Thinking back to when I was sick with Crohn’s disease, my body became very stiff from the acidic condition—my muscles and fascia were very tight. So, for me it was very important to slowly and steadily work on loosening everything up. As I proceeded while alkalizing on a mostly raw vegan diet, the freedom I felt in my body was fantastic. We need to do the stretching and releasing work to come alive and move well again. For those who have been sick for a long time, there will be a lot of toxins in the muscles and other tissues which must come out; yoga is a great way to help with the detoxification. The stretching, twisting and strengthening will assist the purification and rejuvenation.
Do you feel everyone should do some form of yoga every day?
AD: Yes—I think we should consistently do some form of yoga daily, at least a little bit, say 10 minutes to keep flexible, even on resting days. “Use it or lose it.” If we feel we need to take a day of rest, especially if we do some form of hardcore power yoga, that is certainly sensible.
How do we bring yoga into our daily lives in a way which keeps us energized, balanced and healthy?
AD: It’s very useful to set a daily schedule, perhaps at a certain time of the day, and assert the discipline needed to be consistent with it. A routine, perhaps each morning or before dinner, some time that works for you, is the way to approach this. Do at least 10 minutes each day, and take 60-to-90-minute classes as often as possible.
Can we do yoga at home without a teacher, or do we need to, at least in the beginning, learn with a teacher at a studio or via a DVD?
AD: This depends on the level of yoga we are practicing. If it’s a simple form of yoga, such as I teach in my “Yoga for Digestion Perfection” DVD, that should be easy for everyone to do without a teacher by their side to guide and correct them. If we want to do something more advanced, I’d recommend finding a yoga teacher who is well-educated in the alignments—maybe an Iyengar yoga teacher who will teach the value of doing the alignments properly.
For those who may think that yoga is too complicated or a hassle, what do you say?
AD: Yoga is not about getting into those amazing extreme poses we see in magazine photos. Rather, it’s about being aware in the present moment and sensing your body. There are alternatives for all poses. Props can be used if your reach is limited and can’t go all the way into a pose. Don’t take yoga too seriously. Make it fun. Don’t look at what others are doing and judge yourself. Have fun—play with the poses, varying them in enjoyable ways that are easy and feel good.