Yoga, Energy, and A Curious Mind

My first encounter with yoga happened in South India in 2007, and it was not an all blissful experience. It was my dear friend and Yoga Sheiks-partner Mira Beckstrøm, who dragged me along for a beach class in Goa. I thought it was the weirdest thing ever. To me, it was all new age talk about “energy this” and “energy that” on top of instructions to move and breathe in positions I ranged from unfamiliar to completely impossible. Coming from an earthbound background of sports, books and music, I kept silently asking: “But what kind of energy are you talking about? Could you please be a bit more specific?” After the class, I didn’t feel especially good in my body, but my mind was definitely evoked.

“But what kind of energy are you talking about? Could you please be a bit more specific?”

That same year I had moved from Oslo to Copenhagen and upon returning to Denmark, my curiosity brought me to different yoga studios, various styles and, as it happened, a bunch of brilliant teachers. Soon I started feeling better in my body. I experienced my sense impressions growing more intense after class. I fell asleep a bit easier at night.

Over the next few years, I acquired several new perspectives on working with the body, mind and breath. I started learning how to build a healthy, aligned practice, even with a hip operation and a cross band injury as part of my body history. I began to get glimpses of what steady meditation and breath work could do for my mind and my ability to stay present. And evidently, I started discovering how yoga had a profound effect on my voice. 

I started discovering how yoga had a profound effect on my voice. 

 

Christina Liljeroth namaste yoga two girls smiling
Acro Yoga Workshop, Copenhagen.

 

At first, I just noticed how I often felt like singing after yoga. But soon I began wondering what differentiates the primary breathing techniques and postural alignment principles of yoga from those of singing? And I asked myself exactly if and how they could potentially serve one another?

The only person I could find back in 2011 who did something related to yoga and voice combined was the magnificent Malene Bichel, who later introduced me to the art of voice meditation. But if I wanted answers to my own questions, there was no other way forward than to find out for myself.

Being a singer since childhood and a student of Musicology at the time, my non-stop curiosity led me into dedicating my Bachelor Project and subsequently my entire Master’s Degree to research into the surprisingly unexplored field of Yoga and Voice. 

Yoga, Voice and the Authentic Self

Through winter and spring of 2012 I worked on my BA Project ‘How Does One Become Oneself?’, which unfolded as a research on Yoga and Voice as possible pathways to the Authentic Self, a term derived from Positive Psychology, and in my view understood in the Sense of an Inner Calm. In late 2011, I had landed an unofficial deal with phD in Psychology, Jim Toft, who allowed me to follow his seminars on ‘Krop og Psyke’ at Department of Psychology. Through Jim I was introduced to a bunch of literature on body-mind therapy as well as Psychology-based discussions on the intricate relationship between the body and the mind. It was also here, that I witnessed Body SDS Therapy work its magic for the first time – the effective Danish Integrative Healing System, which I’ve since had great experiences with both through self care and in treatment of clients. 

My BA Project was based on an interdisciplinary theoretical framework, discussing ideas from both Philosophy and Psychology as well as theory on Yoga and Voice. For 4 months I did a case study on my own Ashtanga and Vinyasa practice. Furthermore, I did a qualitative interview with exceptional movement and meditation teacher Irene Eisler. On the basis of my findings, I concluded that specific yoga practices such as breathing exercises, postures for optimizing physical alignment, and the cultivation of present attention through meditation are all highly useful to the singer.

I concluded that specific yoga practices such as breathing exercises, postures for optimizing physical alignment, and the cultivation of present attention through meditation are all highly useful to the singer.

In addition, the expansion of body consciousness was an overall effect of all of these practices and showed to be beneficial in the search to become oneself. Or as I defined it; To get in Touch with a Sense of Inner Calm that allows one to act, speak and sing from a place of Authenticity.

 

Becoming a Teacher

The outcome of my BA Project inspired me to dig deeper into the connecting dots of Voice and Yoga. I began my Master’s Degree the week after defending my BA Project, but all I felt called to do was Yoga. I had only been so strongly and strangely drawn to one thing before in my life, and that was to Music. I made sure to stay out of mandatory courses at Uni and two months in, I left my University books at home and went on a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) by Hamsa Yoga in Kovalam, South India.

The YTT’s of Hamsa are based on teachings and techniques derived from ancient yoga traditions such as Tantra, Hatha and Classical Yoga as well as Modern Science and Philosophy – of course interlaced with an extensive Anatomy Course! I prepped physically for months before traveling and studied hard while I was there. It was only towards the end of the YTT, that I recognized a growing urge to pass on some of the powerful tools and deep experiences I’d been given during my time in India. Soon after I had completed my practical and written exams back at Hamsa in Copenhagen, I started teaching in the commune where I was living, Step by step I began building experience towards becoming a Teacher of Yoga and Music, specialized in Body, Mind and Voice.

Karma Work and Yoga Philosophy

That following year, one teacher in particular had a long lasting impact on me. During 2013 I was Simon Krohn‘s Karma Yogi in Hamsa, preparing, airing and cleaning up the yoga space, as well as attending his classes on a weekly basis. Simon’s teachings and his well-reviewed book Nærmere noget (2013) on the Philosophy of Yoga proved to be a valuable resource for me personally at the time as well as later in my MA Thesis.

Studying, Practicing and Teaching Ayurveda

Back in Kovalam, my wonderful teacher Soham had introduced me to Ayurveda, an Indian holistic healing system with lineages traceable back to 3000 BC. After the YTT, I spent a week undergoing a cleansing treatment known as Pancha Karma in an Ayurvedic clinic. This way I got to experience some of the treatment procedures and effects of Ayurveda first hand.

Upon my return to Copenhagen, I was excited to learn that for the very first time in the history of Copenhagen University, Section of Indology was offering a course on Yoga and Ayurveda. I got in last minute.

 In class we explored a wide range of philosophical concepts such as ‘union of opposites’, ‘transcendence’, ‘transformation’, ‘liberation’ and ‘knowledge’ as well as Ayurvedic principles on prevention of disease and treatment of imbalances.

Simultaneously, I spent four months e-mailing between sections and departments to get my course at Indology accepted as part of my Master’s Degree at Musicology. Since I had spent most of the previous semester diving into Yoga and Ayurveda on my own, I was actually under a threat of getting thrown out of University if I didn’t get my course accepted. Finally, I was allowed to do an exam. It was to be a presentation in front of a jury and a selected audience. I decided to discuss the concepts of Awareness and Sound in the Yogic and Ayurvedic lineages. Honoring Yoga, Ayurveda and Sound as embodied practices, I closed the presentation by guiding the jury through a meditation on the chakras, accompanied by a collective voice meditation on each of the respectively connected one-syllable mantras.

Honoring Yoga, Ayurveda and Sound as embodied practices, I closed the presentation by guiding the jury through a meditation on the chakras, accompanied by a collective voice meditation.

Since then, I’ve been part of a Copenhagen-based study group on Ayurveda, hosted by the extraordinary maanemama, Ayurvedic Doula Amanda Schou.

Ayurveda never fails to bring me informed perspectives on how to be in this world in a wholesome way.  Both in everyday life and in teaching, I find that Ayurveda serves as a constant source of inspiration, knowledge and guidance. 

With my yoga band Yoga Sheiks I regularly offer 3-part workshops, combining Ayurvedic knowledge with an aligned yoga practice, closing with a relaxing sound bath or a nourishing sound meditation. 

 

Christina Liljeroth morning meditation sunrise india.jpg
Sunrise Meditation, Kovalam, India.

 

17 Days of Silence

In the summer of 2013 I attended my first 10-day Silent Retreat held by exceptional meditation teacher and founder of Hridaya YogaSahajananda. As the description reads, the retreats are held in absolute silence – except from Sahajananda’s Philosophical Lectures and Guided Meditations. The program aims “to create an experience that resembles a solitary retreat in order to facilitate opportunities to reach deep states of consciousness.” Although I did not speak during the retreat, I was free to write as much as I wanted in between meditations, lectures, meals and sleep. When I finally spoke again, I laughed for three hours straight and my voice felt as free as ever. Meditating in silence for 10 days had made an audible impression on my voice, which further deepened my interest in how the voice is affected by emotional and spiritual release. I therefore accepted an invitation the following summer to join as Sahajananda’s Karma Yogi at a 7-day Silent Retreat in The Netherlands.

Meditating in silence for 10 days had made an audible impression on my voice, which further deepened my interest in how the voice is affected by emotional and spiritual release.

The absence of spoken words and the power of the written. The stillness of the body, then the mind. The variety of powerful meditation techniques. The process of creating strong spiritual support in a group without words, touch or eye contact. 17 days of silence with Sahajananda brought me profound meditative experiences that keeps informing my work to this day. 

Voice Rehabilitation & The Anne Rosing Method

The first time I met my new singing teacher at Musicology in 2010, I broke down and cried. Only weeks before, I had left a man I was still in love with, and she saw right through me. Later she helped me discover and understand the deep connections between my voice, body and emotions, and she taught me how to support my voice fully. I was lucky to be her student for several years, and thankfully Anne Rosing also became the advisor of my BA Project in 2012.

Anne Rosing is a renowned vocal coach in Denmark, founder of the Anne Rosing Method (ARM) and former head of Section of Musicology at Copenhagen University. Already an essential part of my vocal foundation, I decided in 2014 to dive deep into her 1-year course on Voice Rehabilitation at the newly established Anne Rosing Institute. During this year, I worked extensively with ARM, specializing in the treatment of functional voice issues. Simultaneously, I started developing optimal combinations of ARM-exercises and yoga practices for the benefit of the Singer.

Yoga for Singers

In April 2014, I founded Yoga for Singers and started offering weekly Yoga for Singers-classes at the University of Copenhagen and through FOF København. Feedback from the pilot participants further informed and confirmed the vision I held for my MA Project: Yoga for Singers: Searching for Freedom – A Master Thesis on the Relationship Between Yoga, Voice and Freedom.

The Master Project

In early 2015 I manifested my vision by facilitating a 10-week field study with a group of 15 singers. The process was filmed and edited with the priceless help of film maker Alexander Fog. We started off with around 60 hours of raw material and cut it down to 51 minutes. You can read more about the documentary and watch the final edition right here:

Yoga for Singers: Searching for Freedom (2015).

While editing the film, I also produced 80 pages of written material. From time to time, I will share articles based on my written research under Akademia

It was my luck that Professor of Sound Studies par excellence, Holger Schulze, had just started teaching at Copenhagen University. I followed his class for inspiration and he agreed to be my advisor, supporting and advising me throughout the process.

The entire project was handed in on the 29th of January 2016.

 

master thesis yoga for singers

 

 

Christina Liljeroth master thesis copenhagen university woman walking

Christina Liljeroth master thesis copenhagen university woman walking with flower
The Official Graduation Ceremony, University of Copenhagen.

 

Completing a Cycle 

The day after, I traveled to India for the 3rd time. I was going to celebrate the finalization of ‘Yoga for Singers: Searching for Freedom’ with another Ayurvedic treatment, this time with Dr. Joshi at Eden Garden. But first I was staying with Mira Beckstrøm at the Ashtanga-based Yoga Therapy School of Abhijna, revisiting my long-time-no-see Ashtanga practice. A cleansing and nurturing time in Varkala with one of my closest friends, was exactly what I needed before heading for another Yoga Teacher Training – ‘Hands On, Play & Support’ with Jeppe Skovgaard and Simon Krohn. The YTT was a real cherry on top of it all, and at the same time, it brought me back to Kovalam, where my teaching journey had begun 4 years earlier.

After the YTT, I found myself going on a spontaneous 36-hour roundtrip to Goa to meet up with my dear friend, artist Madleena Larivaara, who had been my Karma Yogi during the Yoga for Singers-sessions in Copenhagen. She had just completed her first YTT, and we spent hours by the bonfire at the beach, singing mantras and playing ukes. It wasn’t until I was on a noisy train ride back to Trivandrum that I realized I had just set foot in the place where I first met with Yoga. It was 9 years ago. And now I was on my way to meet with Dr. Joshi, who had been so kind as to set up a meeting with famous musician and Professor of Kathakali Music Dr. Omanakutty, in her private residence in Trivandrum!

During my travels in India, I had continuously felt as if a life cycle of mine was somehow slowly being completed. Returning to those same places, cultivating a practice from the past, going through Ayurvedic treatment again, reconnecting with some of the same friends and teachers; all of these experiences illuminated connecting dots of the years that had passed. My 2016-self looked my 2007-self in the eye and suddenly realized the amount of growth that had manifested.

My 2016-self looked my 2007-self in the eye and suddenly realized the amount of growth that had manifested.

The next moment, I felt a sense of readiness. I heard my inner voice loud and clear. On a profound level I knew that I am here to serve, to help, to heal. I am here to facilitate creation, expression, connection and play. And I will challenge and overcome fear. I am here to learn how to lose everything – and love even deeper.

 

Christina Liljeroth yoga on beach india stretch

Christina LIljeroth headstand on beach yoga
Varkala, India, 2016.

 

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