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Interview with Anastasia Shevchenko, founder of Berlin Yoga Conference

Photo Credit: Alessandro Sigismondi

Wild Yogi Magazine: You are the organizer of the Berlin Yoga Conference. Tell us about this experience. Why did you decide to make it? What are the difficulties and what are the good impressions you have had during this project? There are so many Yoga Festivals going on in Europe now, do you want to make something different or you have some example which you like?

Anastasia: Berlin Yoga Conference will happen for the first time in May 24-26 2019. We did have 3 Pop Up Events, which are one-day “mini Berlin Yoga Conferences” that provide a little taste for the project, help us build on the community, and give us an opportunity to learn about how to improve our events int he future.
Difficulties: there are many!!! I run the project on my own savings with a tiny budget, and it is a big, ambitions project in a city where many interesting things are happening all the time. When I started, I had no name, no network, no experience. I learn as I go and I see the challenges as opportunities ;-) Good impressions: I’m very happy with the way the project is going and very proud of my work. I think the project has been quite successful already on many levels: our community is growing, people give amazing feedback for our events, and what is the most important thing - people can tell that this is something truly special - Berlin Yoga Conference is my heart project. I’m in no position to speak about other events, but I can tell you this - there is room for everyone, and we should help and support each other. We’re all growing the yoga community, inspiring people take up the yoga path, and the world can definitely benefit from this. The world needs more yoga, in many of its manifestations.

WY: Can you describe your impressions of the Berlin yoga scene - it should be big and have many different teachers and studios. What styles are more popular, what schools or teachers you personally find most interesting.

A: Sure, great question! So my biggest “dream” now is to bring the Berlin Yoga Community together - and it is super difficult, because the community is quite divided, tribal, and competitive. I’m trying to convince people here, and the rest of the world for that matter, that we should come together and share the space from which we could take a positive action together. We should support each other. We should uplift each other. It’s not about dividing the pie, it’s about growing it and feeding everyone in the process.
In terms of yoga methods: Jivamukti is really big here, because of the historical influences. Anusara Yoga is another very well-spread method in Germany, but it is kind of on the decline, just like Iyengar yoga is. Different types of Vinyasa Flow are very popular, and so is Yin Yoga. Ashtanga Yoga is also big here.
There are many great Yoga Teachers in Berlin, people who have been practicing for 10-15-20 years, so they have been on the yoga path for a long time, back when yoga was not cool. Some other teachers who are maybe not so experienced can be innovative - there are many interesting projects with yoga fusions where yoga is combined with some other mindfulness-based disciplines, moving arts, or healing methodologies.
And of course, there are also people who provide multi-sensory yoga experiences: so like yoga and dance, yoga and live music, yoga and glow in the dark paint, yoga and ceremonies, food, etc.

Photo credit: Michael Romacker

WY: You were born in Ukraine, grew up in Canada and now you live in one of the biggest European megapolises. Can you describe your feelings about living in so different places, with pretty different culture and mentality.

A: Sure, my favorite subject, among others :-) I was born and lived in the Ukraine until I was 15: I grew up in post Soviet Union and the economy was in the complete collapse, people were very confused, there was a lot of criminal activity. I had a very humble and more or less normal childhood, with divorced parents, being an average student, getting sick often. I moved to Canada to join my father’s family when I was 15, started practicing yoga to manage my chronic pain from scoliosis.
I witnessed another divorce in the family, I had to learn how to adopt to a completely new culture, language, and environment. I became a good student and very ambitions: I wanted to work in the corporate world and studies Communications and Languages.
I lived one year in Spain, where I studied Marketing and PR. I met guy, I was in love, I tried Ashtanga for the first time there. I returned to Canada to finish my studies and in 2012 I won a trip to Germany via Goethe Institute for writing some essay on why I liked to study German. I was completely alone until I met my husband, an Israeli-American pianist and composer. We have 2 kids and a humble life here in Berlin.

What I learned through all of these travels, immigrations, relocations is this - it doesn’t really matter where you live - everywhere people live the same life - we’re born, we grow up, we fall in love, we make a living, we make children, we grow old, we die, and we just do our best.
We’re so similar. We want the same things. We are one. With minor differences. Some places are more comfortable, have more resources, more peace, more stability, other places are more chaotic, there are war zones, there are conflicts, there is a lack of resources or freedom. What matters is how you live your life: what YOU do that contributes to peace, love, prosperity, and more happiness for everyone.
Don’t blame your circumstances or some external forces and agents - you still have your choice, your dignity, you can offer your work and your talents to the world. You are the maker of your reality. You have to take responsibility for your circumstances. You chose every time you take an action and chose well, exercise your choice with awareness.

WY: Tell us about your way to yoga. How you got interested in it, how you met your first teachers. Was it hard to get into the Ashtanga Advanced series - some people believe that they never be able to do such complicated postures in this life.

A: I started to practice yoga because I was in pain, but also because I had a spiritual craving - I had an interest and a connection to the other sphere - to the metaphysical one - ever since I was a child.
I’m on the yoga path for 15 years, it started very esoteric - I read a lot of Andrei Sidersky, Carlos Castaneda, different esoteric writers and books - then I got into philosophy and psychology, the more “western” esoteric disciplines. Later I got fascinated by science, especially Quantum Mechanics and the various studies of Consciousness.
I love to think about these things - I have always had that philosopher mindset - something that you can relate to I bet. I have practiced Ashtanga Yoga for 7 years and the last one year I have been doing a bit of my own explorations. I hope to get back into it, but my relationship to the practice changed: I realized that yoga, not even just the asanas - yoga in general, as a wholistic 8-element Ashtanga path as outlined by Patanjali, is a system of practice by which you embark on the Odyssey of your own Consciousness in order to come back to the Source.
It seems like a linear journey, but really it’s more like a snake that bites its own tail. The truth has always been there, you just need to realize it in your own being. Nobody can teach you exactly how it is done - you have to find out on your own. The guru or just a good yoga teacher is there to assist you at certain time and in certain space - but only you, your deep Self, not your ego, can teach you what needs to be done in your case.
Don’t worry if you don’t do these advanced postures, or advanced pranayama, or stopping your heart beat, or walking on fire, or enduring some intense bodily torture, or blissing out under the tree in some deep trance. That’s not what yoga is about. Te best is to have no expectations and to be open to the way your unique path has to unfold, you have your lessons to learn, and your karmic imprint to take care of.

WY: Pregnancy and yoga, your experience as a mom - what difference does it make in relationship to the previous life, what recommendations can you give to those who are planning to became a mom in future.

A: Everyone’s way is unique, yet it’s all kind of the same. Parenthood is amazing, but also very challenging. Everyone learns what works best for them and their families. The key is awareness and living a life that you chose, not the one that you have been handed over by someone else. You cannot prepare to having children, or to giving birth - you can expose yourself to all the infos and techniques that are available - in the end - it will be your unique experience that you have to make.

WY: What is yoga for you on the most deep level, like life philosophy or way of living?

A: It is both: it is philosophy and practice. You cannot separate, just like you cannot separate the body and the mind. Every living thing is making a living in some way (consumes energy, reproduces, and produces waste) and every human being develops some kind of philosophy and a system of believes around it (magical or logical, spiritual or practical, not-of-this-world or down-to-earth). Yoga is the tool that helps us to learn who we are and find our unique place in this magical universe. Yoga, life, it is not always pretty or easy, but underneath - underneath it all is what you need to come in touch with for yourself - this is your divine right by birth - don’t waste it, exercise it.

Anastasia www.anasheyoga.com

Berlin Yoga Conf  www.berlinyogaconference.org