Esther Ekhart recently visited Leeds, UK to lead an urban retreat hosted by The Yoga Space. As temperatures plummeted that wintry weekend, yoga practitioners travelled from all over the UK (and Switzerland!) to spend two days in the heart-warming presence of this humble, yet highly respected teacher. Many came ‘to meet Esther in the flesh for the first time’ having become avid followers of her online teaching. One attendee had never taken part in a yoga class with other people before, having only ever practised at home. It must have taken great courage to turn up to this urban retreat without knowing anyone else there and it’s a testament to the teaching and personality of Esther Ekhart that someone would do this.
It’s always a bit scary walking into a new studio full of people you haven’t met before and yet everyone was so warm and friendly. It was fascinating to hear about everyone’s very different yoga and meditation journey and to be reminded again how unique every single one of us really is! Helen Redfern
Yogamatters’ writer Helen Redfern was fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity to attend this workshop in Leeds and to interview Esther Ekhart herself. Here, Helen shares Esther’s insights on yoga, meditation and life from their conversation and from Esther’s teaching over the whole weekend.
Esther Ekhart has been teaching yoga internationally for over 20 years…Ekhartyoga.com
Esther Ekhart has recently been reflecting on what it means to be a ‘senior’ teacher. At 45 years old and with 20 years of teaching experience, she can look back over her life and see how this depth of life experience has informed her practice and her teaching. She has never stopped learning: learning and unlearning. She’s come to differentiate between knowledge and wisdom, about practising yoga from the head and practising yoga from the body. As she’s got older, she recognises that while she loves the teaching, the travel is no longer such an adventure. She’s working out what it means in practice to treat her body with the utmost kindness.
She can look back at her practice and teaching over the last twenty years and recognise how they have both evolved. She does that without any sense of regret, knowing that it has all been a part of the journey. She embraces the reality of change. One shift for her over the years has been away from a fixed sense of the pose (although alignment is still and will always remain important) and towards checking within her own body and encouraging her students to do the same. Everyone is different. Every body is different. So how can there ever be one fixed right way?
Throughout this urban retreat, Esther taught with a gentle humility. She didn’t claim to have all the answers. She led each one of us on an exploration of our own bodies and minds. She asked questions and was genuinely interested in the responses. She seemed to want to learn from us as much as we were learning from her. Helen Redfern
It took a certain courage for Esther to move away from some of what she had been taught and some of what she had been teaching. The world is changing. Lifestyles are changing. Research (for example, the research around yoga-related injuries) and knowledge and wisdom are changing the yoga world. A good teacher has to be open to constantly reviewing what they are doing and why they are doing it. Learning to be flexible is tough but essential. Teaching yoga should never be about sticking to the way you’ve always done it.
Be myself. Be human. I’m in it to serve. Esther Ekhart
This is what Esther comes back to every single day. Reminding herself of this keeps her grounded as she travels the world connecting personally with her students at regular retreats, workshops, yoga festivals and teacher trainings. She’s come to rely on that ideal balance between tradition and freedom in her practice and teaching. There’s a maturity that comes from finding yourself in the position that you know the rules well enough to start breaking them. It’s like an experienced dancer finding that perfect balance between choreography and improvisation.
Esther Ekhart is one of the founders of EkhartYoga.com.
EkhartYoga was officially launched in 2012. EkhartYoga offers high quality online yoga and meditation videos, so that you can practise yoga anywhere and anytime you want. It now has a global community of members, with thousands of individuals practising yoga all over the world with help from EkhartYoga Online. The Story Behind Ekhart Yoga
Esther describes the internet as ‘beautiful and terrible at the same time’. Whilst use of the internet is having an impact on society that many see as detrimental, Esther also recognises that the internet can be used for good – like being able to offer online yoga classes, for example. Nothing can, or should ever be allowed to, replace that heart to heart connection between teacher and student that can be experienced from attending a regular face to face yoga class. However, Esther had far too many demands on her time and far too many people wanting her to teach them and so online classes felt like the way forward – at a time when very few people were offering them. It meant that she could reach people all over the world with her teaching and she’s had amazing positive feedback from countless individuals writing to her about the enormous benefit of these classes in their lives.
There are so many people out there who want to practise yoga and yet are not ready to go to a class: all those people who are not comfortable with their own bodies and would certainly not be comfortable with their bodies in a class full of people. It’s great to be able to offer them a way to access high quality teaching with over 30 fantastic teachers…. Esther Ekhart
Esther is finding herself giving more and more time and space to meditation in her life and teaching. After all, that’s how yoga started out in the first place. She’s learning what it is to sit with herself ‘not through the mind’. She explored this first for herself on extended yoga retreats, then incorporated it in her own personal practice, before moving on to teaching it. It’s the subtle stuff that makes the most difference, not the showy poses.
Over the weekend, Esther led us on a meditation journey through discussion and practice. She taught us how to bypass the mind, to feel rather than think, to feel the stillness around us rather than think about the stillness. It wasn’t easy. It was frustrating not to ‘get it’ straightaway, but Esther’s patience, lightness and kindness rubbed off on me and I managed to accept my own experience of the practice for what it was. Helen Redfern
There’s something very appealing about wisdom Esther Ekhart style, isn’t there? Here are a few more insights she dropped into our conversation with her.
- It’s thinking that we know that limits us
- Yoga and meditation ultimately lead to a point where we are incapable of hurting ourselves and others
- Different yoga styles are self-selecting so grant everyone the freedom to find what is right for them
- Let go of control, because none of us have any idea what the future holds
- See Instagram as art and so learn to take it all less seriously
- Once a week as part of your regular practice, do your own thing and see where that takes you
Esther Ekhart has faced many struggles through her life. Her parents divorced when she was 14, her best friend committed suicide, her mother went missing whilst sailing in a yacht with her partner in the Caribbean…..don’t imagine for one moment that Esther has had it easy. None of us can ever begin to know the traumas that another has faced. But Esther is open about how she has learnt to deal with pain and the heavy feeling that she sometimes experiences in her heart and mind. She’s learnt what it is to recognise this pain, to observe it and leave it alone, without trying to avoid it or fix it or alleviate it. In contrast to running from her pain, she goes in deep and feels it. If she cannot sit with this depth of pain alone, she identifies someone who can hold space for her. This is the only way to find peace and acceptance of what the world throws at you.
Dealing with pain and discomfort was a theme that recurred throughout the weekend: physical and emotional pain and discomfort. Esther referred to the body as a hotel and every sensation, good and bad, as a guest to be made welcome for a while. This helped with being able to sit with whatever arose, without dwelling on it or chasing it away. Helen Redfern
Esther believes it’s important to rest in the awareness of that which is simultaneously outside of us and within us, that which is bigger that we are, that which some call God. So would Esther describe herself as spiritual?
Yes! I look around me and see people in society losing connection with each other and with this sense of ‘God’ and how that leaves them with a real emptiness. And so people end up searching for something in meditation and spirituality I don’t see that any one religion has the one truth. There is no one way. I love the wisdom found in Buddhism and see beautiful things in Christianity, but as far as I can see, religions all point to the same thing and there are many ways to get there. It’s about surrendering to the light and love of the universe. Esther Ekhart
A good retreat is one that draws together individuals from all walks of life, all types of experience, all religions and none, and creates a unity of exploration, a common purpose, an experience that does not divide but unites. That is the true meaning of the word ‘yoga’. Leaving a yoga workshop feeling that you have learnt something deep within that is going to change your life from now on makes all the travelling and expense well worth it. It’s an investment in self that is priceless.
Because of the snow in Amsterdam, Esther found out on the second morning that her plane home that afternoon had been cancelled. She had no way to get home that day. However, she didn’t let that ruin her day. She accepted the inconvenience for what it was with a peace and calmness that spoke volumes. She laid that thought aside and continued to teach with the depth of authenticity that those who follow her classes online have come to expect. Those who had come to meet her face to face for the first time did not leave disappointed.
Esther Ekhart walks the talk.