Monday, June 30, 2014

Radiant Woman

By Milena Moser (translated from German to English by Katchie Ananda)

You can read the original German version here.

Katchie extraordinaire

Together they do seminars on yoga and writing and they inspire each other. Writer Milena Moser and yoga teacher Katchie Ananda. And when the writer tells the story about her girlfriend the yoga teacher, we get the iridescent portrait of a woman who not only has her own style, but guides her students with love and understanding.

Katchie Ananda doesn’t need to be introduced, not in Switzerland or elsewhere. She is one of the most important and charismatic representative of western yoga. So much is clear. But the best part: She is not aware of it. “I still see myself primarily as a yoga student” she told the German Magazin Yoga Aktuell in an interview.

My first yoga class with Katchie happened 10 or 11 years ago. At that time I lived in San Francisco and because I heard about this special yoga teacher, I drove over the bridge to Berkeley just to take her class. Two things stood out to me: She singled me out in shoulderstand in the middle of a big size class because she recognized my (very slight) scoliosis and gave me an easier variation to perform. This had never happened to me before. And, as she performed a spectacular pose, she told the students “yeah, yeah, I can do this because I don’t have a life outside my yoga practice” as she dissolved the pose with a big smile. She said that there was no need for them to perform such a pose, no advantage. That too was new to me. That a yoga teacher would question the motive of performing difficult poses as the ultimate goal.

Friends because of "Schlampenyoga"

Hmmm, I thought, she is good! And then I promptly forgot her and went on with my life. One or two years later the phone rang at my house in San Francisco. It was Katchie. In broad, slightly out of style “Berndeutsch” a dialect from Bern in Switzerland, she explained to me that she had just red my book “Schlampenyoga” and she was emphatic that her classes would be just right for me. I didn’t tell her then that I had already been to her class once and immediately booked a class with her the next Saturday. At that point, she taught out of her own studio, in the trendy mission district, that she later sold.

In the meantime her class size had exploded, but still, she greeted all the students with her radiant smile, which is her trademark. Nobody has a bigger smile then Katchie. It fills the whole space and still touches each person personally. In the same way, her teachings touches each student personally. I noticed this right away. She would remember names, exam dates, vacation plans. Students would bring their mothers who were visiting and attended class in their stockings. They fit in to her class just as well as the Gumby-like students that were in training to become teachers.

A Nibble of chocolate

She had recently come back from Switzerland, and had stocked up on Swiss chocolate. Sitting in lotus seat in front of her harmonium, she nibbled on her chocolate without any self-consciousness. An attitude that might be perfectly normal in Switzerland, but is frowned upon in an almost fanatically health conscious Northern California. It was almost as if she had smoked a cigarette before class. And indeed I saw some students looking shocked. But Katchie didn’t mind. “I need chocolate”, she said happily. “It’s in my genes!” For the same reason, she had painted the ceiling of her studio a chocolate brown. When we laid on our backs during class, we saw the sky as a gigantic chocolate bar. I resonated with that very much. Here, I was at home, both physically as well as spiritually.

No Time for Small talk

She is good, I thought again, and this time I didn’t forget. After class, we went for a coffee across the street and promptly forgot the time. 4 hours later the phone rang “where are you?” This was the beginning of a very special friendship, which, because of my impending return to Switzerland, took on an urgent quality. After every yoga class, we went for coffee and 2 hours went by without either of us noticing. There were parking tickets on the windshield of the car, cellphones squeaking reproachfully. We became the kind of friends that do not have time for small talk. When we get together, it is always about the heart of the matter. It didn’t’ take long for us to realize that we had very similar approaches in our very different professions. We don’t believe it’s about being perfect, or striving towards an ideal. What matters to both of us, and what we teach, is to find our unique and authentic expression, on the mat as well as on paper. With this insight we created the yoga and writing workshops, and with a wink, we call them “chilli and chocolate”. We also made a special pact: I would help Katchie to write her book, and she promised to help remove my fear of handstands…..more about that later.

Katchie was raised near Bern and was educated at a Rudolf Steiner School. Their special teaching style deeply informed her as did the wisdom and love of her late mother. Katchie even dedicated her first training manual to her. Katchie was a physically weak child who fought for survival during her early years. I suspect that this sharpened her incomparable instincts as to the processes in her body. “I am dependent to listen to my body” she says, “I simply can’t afford to ignore it”. When she was 20 years old, Katchie left the tiny country of Switzerland and lived in Brazil and then in the US. Even though she practiced Shivananda yoga in Switzerland, the trained dancer had her first serious encounter with yoga in New York City. She studied Jivamukti yoga with Sharon Gannon and David Life, Ashtanga yoga with Richard Freeman in Boulder and Anusara yoga with John Friend. She was an influential representative in each of these different schools, in some she was even treated as a potential heir – before she moved on and turned towards something else. In her first training manual she thanks all her teachers for disappointing her at some point. “In the beginning I had a hard time accepting the fact that my teachers are people like you and me, and are not perfect. And without the disappointment, I would have never claimed the essence of the teachings for myself”.

Distinctive Yoga style

Elements from all those different schools are present in her very personable and unmistakable style of teaching. The biggest impact on her evolution was perhaps the well-known Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield with whom she studied vipassana, or mindfulness mediation for many years.

Katchie’s method, which I call simply “the Katchie-method”, combines elements of yoga and dharma. On her home page, she introduces herself as a yoga and dharma teacher. If you are familiar with Metta, or loving kindness practice, in Katchie’s class you will recognize immediately that she rains loving kindness onto her students, until each and every cell is saturated. “Yoga is a tool for every day, not some new age philosophy, or a striving towards an ideal”. Yoga with Katchie is metta-in-motion.

Her own yoga practice influences her teaching style. She reacts to changes and pain because even a super yogini like Katchie experiences back aches, or is getting older. She shares her experience generously with her students. She is an example on the journey, a journey that doesn’t lead to conquering the poor body, or to a fleeting perfection, but to a more lenient and kinder treatment of ourselves. Katchie knows that the most difficult exercise for many students, is to love themselves. More difficult than standing on your hands, or crossing your feet behind your neck. Sometimes she starts a class by rubbing her hands over her (admittedly not exactly bulging) stomach and smile her irresistible smile. “Yuuuummmmm” she says, and it sounds exactly as if she just stumbled onto a box of Spruengli truffle chocolates. “Come on, everybody, yuuuummmm!” A little while ago, in one of her workshops in Zurich, she found out that there was a fair amount of new people in attendance. “Oh, wow” she cried. “I’m not sure if I should congratulate you or feel sorry for you! Forget everything you think you know about yoga – welcome on the journey!” And like with every class I’ve ever taken from Katchie, I felt personally addressed and taken care of. Yuummm.

Hold on instead of letting go

With every year, Katchie becomes more radical and direct. Her concern and commitment to animals and the environment takes up more and more space in her life. “The concept of letting go is having way too much weight in spiritual teachings” she says. “It is dangerous and leads to easy replacements of people, animals and even things, when they no longer server our immediate needs. I say it’s the opposite, hold on and hang in there – with all your love. Only this way we truly evolve as people.” She immediately specifies – “of course there are situations and relationships where we need to let go – it could be fatal otherwise.” But once again, she inspires with a fresh and unusual take and gives students food for thought. So how does this attitude show in your daily life, I ask? “When I go for a walk in the Santa Fe river bed with my dog Leelou, I pick up trash. I like doing this because it feels like this river in front of my house is my river and my responsibility to take care of.” Again, she laughs loudly. After many years in the San Francisco Bay Area, she moved, with husband and dog, to Santa Fe, New Mexico. The move has made her life more stable and calmer. She teaches less and writes more. Her first manual is almost done. Her “autobiography of a yognini” is sorted in colorful cards on the wall in her practice room and is waiting to be typed into the computer. And the handstand we will manage as well…….