Brunhilde Maslen is a senior trainer and visiting master for Ananda Spa in the Himalayas, Shanti Ananda Maurice, Six Senses and ITC hotels. She has worked with many people from film crews, stressed business people, professional athletes, frustrated home makers, the rich and famous, disabled pensioners, children and mental health patients. Each taught her a lesson. In her point of view, each is looking for the same thing: health, happiness, connection and peace of mind.
The first time I met Brunhilde was at the Beyond the Kale restaurant in Bath at Green park station. While talking and enjoying lunch, a paradox became slowly apparent to me: Brunhilde has so much experience and wisdom and at the same time I experienced her openness, curiosity and cunning humor similar to that of a child. Even though we talked for a long time, walking outside after our lunch, back to her car it was just silence and peace between us, as if nothing was being said and nothing had happened, all was good in the world.
1. What is yoga according to you?
Brunhilde Maslen (BM): That you can say ‘ I like myself the way I am’.
2. Why do you teach yoga?
BM: I never intended to teach yoga, but I wanted to help my therapy clients. Yoga gives them a tool to be more in charge of their therapeutic process, so that they can become engaged and/or responsible for their healing. When I did this, people felt empowered to look after themselves and they felt the changes through the practice. They felt stronger and calmer. I lived in Portugal and taught Yoga to senior citizens with no previous experience. One day, one of the ladies who came regular to class told me she had locked herself out of the house the day before. She said: “I was just about to panic, then I thought of you and what you would do in this situation. I then took three deep breaths and that helped incredibly well and I did not panic!’ I really am a therapist, I am always looking for ways of not fixing people but improving their confidence in themselves and Yoga does that. Some people are addicted to therapy, it is good money, but if it is an addiction, it is not good, Yoga helps them to find a way to look after themselves.
3. Name three of your favourite things about yoga.
BM: Personally, I feel great when I practice regularly. If I don’t, there is something missing and I don’t have as much energy. I don’t have as much to give. Working with the mental health patients, people who are ‘written off’ by society, who are useless, I am inspired by the effects of yoga on them. I saw them come into their body and completely relax, which is mind blowing if you consider where they come from. Also working with the senior citizens in Portugal was very inspiring. I had 48 people in my class, all aged over 60 years old. None had previous experience. The reason they came and they enjoyed Yoga was very simple, it was because of the message I kept repeating: ‘You are alright the way you are’. They have always been told they are not good enough. And most of us think that about ourselves. I kept saying: ‘ Do the best you can today and that is good enough. They had never heard that before.
I am always looking for ways of not fixing people but improving their confidence in themselves and Yoga does that.
4. Why do you think people should try yoga?
BM: There are a lot of people who are not at all in touch with their body. This influences their lives. Many nervous disorders come from not being in touch with the body, Yoga connects you with the senses, you feel the body in the here and now, you see, hear, touch, you pay attention to your breathing. This creates awareness. I read a beautiful quote, ‘the nature of yoga is to shine light into the darkest places in the body’ by Jason Crandell. Yoga brings you into the present moment, this is empowerment, because it is only in the present moment that you can make changes to yourself for anything in your life.
Yoga brings you into the present moment, this is empowerment, because it is only in the present moment that you can make changes to yourself for anything in your life.
5. Have you seen your audience changing over time, and if so, in what way?
BM: In the 13 years of teaching people have changed. Their bodies have changed and their lives have changed. Whenever we had newcomers into my class of the senior citizens that were in their third year with me, they told them kindly, ‘Don’t worry, we were like that in the beginning’. They became more confident over the years. They had grown up in the dictatorship under Salazar (1932-1974). There was still a kind of paranoia to do everything right. The students became softer, they were not afraid to be who they are.
I welcome people with whatever body they have, Any Body, whatever handicaps or mental issues, all are welcome as yoga is beneficial for everybody. When people think they are not flexible, that is a good reason to start. I have plumbers and farmers in my class, people who need it the most because they do hard physical work, also people with other challenges from being blind to having severe lower back problems. I somehow tend to attract the people who I love to work with. Just this week I started working with an ex-soldier who was bombed, shot, had most bones in his body broken and skin burnt and was told all his life NOT to listen to his body. There is a lot of un-learning to do.
6. Did your teaching method change over time, and if so, in what way?
BM: It is changing all the time, being present to the needs of the people in class. I focus more now on the power of breath, I am less and less regimented, I don’t have a fixed plan, I trust that everybody will do their best and this makes it the best class, each time.
7. Who are your inspirations in yoga?
BM: Students, seeing the changes in them. I have a lot of teachers. I studied with amazing people and I still do. Whatever speaks to me I will apply! My main teacher was Asokananda, he was a Buddhist monk and introduced me to yoga. He was not a very healthy person, but Yoga improved his life enormously. He was an example of creating an atmosphere of generosity for allowing the change to happen, you are not pushed, forced, you wait. Another great inspiration was Swami Satchidananda and his practical approach of integrating yoga into everyday life. His simple explanation of why we practice yoga was:“To create ease in the body, peace in the mind – so that we can be more useful in life.”
I trust that everybody will do their best and this makes it the best class, each time.
8. Please give 2 or 3 tips for people who want to start with yoga.
9. Which precautions would you give when people want to start?
BM: Just allow your mind and your body to be present, don’t force anything. Respect your limitations, they are there for a reason. They are the body’s way of protecting itself. Stiff shoulders is the body tightening up to protect the vulnerable areas. When you bring awareness to parts of the body that are being stiff and blocked, you can ask yourself the question: ‘ Does it still serve me to be tight here, do I still need this protection?’
Just allow your mind and your body to be present, don’t force anything. Respect your limitations, they are there for a reason.
10. What are your other specialties?
BM: I studied many kinds of massages of which Thai Yoga Massage and Ayurveda are my favourites. In Ayurveda I work with balancing the elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth. I learnt to become sensitive to the flow of energy and relate well with the ancient Buddhist therapies.
My other passion is to work with movement and dance. Yoga is very much about turning the attention to the inside and becoming aware of your own inner processes. But I also love to work with the space between people, to explore the relationships and pay attention to the space around ourselves. When I was 18, I became a Eurythmist*, one of the youngest ever, this was my love and life for 18 years. I then expanded my horizon to Eastern healing arts and now I want to bring the two together.
At the moment, I am practicing and studying Inversion therapy. It is interesting what happens to your brain when you are upside down. I offer no less then 12 different treatments. Each one is customised for the individual needs of my clients.
Thanks so much for this interview, Brunhilde!!
Bruni Maslen lives and teaches in Bradford-on-Avon. She teaches Flow, Gentle Yoga for beginners and Yoga for Men. Besides being a yoga teacher, she is also a massage therapist.
*Eurythmy is an expressive movement art originated by Rudolf Steiner in conjunction with Marie von Sivers in the early 20th century. Primarily a performance art, it is also used in education, especially in Waldorf schools, and – as part of anthroposophic medicine – for claimed therapeutic purposes. (wiki)