Finally, the long-awaited interview with Esther Ekhart! Face and founder of the site and probably already known by most of you through her inspiring yoga classes on Ekhart Yoga.
Time to get to know the person behind the teacher and learn more about her aspirations in life. We meet in a sunny, almost empty cafe on a Tuesday morning, with a huge glass of fresh mint tea (Esther), a coffee (me) and my writing gear, all set and ready to begin.
"So let's just start at the beginning of your life...You were born in Nigeria, Africa."
"Born in Nigeria in 1972, so yes, that makes me 41...my parents moved from Holland to Nigeria because my father, who was a doctor, started running a hospital there. My mother and my two older sisters went with him, and I was born in Africa. We lived in Nigeria for two years before returning to Holland."
"Any recollections of that time?"
Well, maybe on a sensory level, with certain smells or sounds...but actually my memories start when we came back, living in this place where doctors and their families were housed for a short period of time after working abroad. That was a great time, with lots of children, all the doors where open and it felt like you were at home everywhere... Later we moved to IJmuiden, near the sea, where my father started a practice as a G.P. We lived there until I was ten, then moved again, to a beautiful house surrounded by forest. We had a dog, and I would take him with me, wandering around on my own. As a child I had always felt a little left out, not really blending in with the school kids, maybe because of my background... And at home I was notably younger than my sisters, who were closer in age. Being alone in that forest, just walking and looking at plants and flowers, did something to me, I discovered it changed me energetically, and helped me to feel good again ."
"Your parents divorced when you were 14, and you lived alone with your mum after that."
"Yes. Although we were never alone....(laughs) Apart from my sister, who stayed with us for a while before moving out,
my mother would always take people in...She was a yoga teacher and therapist and as long as I remember there were people living with us that she took care of. People who suffered from depression or something else and needed care."
"How was that for you, sharing your mother with these people?"
"It was difficult sometimes but there were nice experiences also. I remember one woman in particular who was really sweet, she would open the door for me without telling my mother when I came home late...so that was alright! Others were sometimes jealous of the attention I got from my mum, not liking me, or being very depressed and dark. That was tough sometimes. I guess I learned to step back when I felt somebody needed my mothers attention, that was probably not a good thing."
"After school you left home to study in Amsterdam... but first you travelled."
"I went to Australia on my own, and later met my mum in the Philippines where we visited several healers.
That really opened my mind. I saw some amazing stuff happening there, so different from my fathers medical approach. Watching some of their miraculous healings, I realized that anything is possible. Whatever you believe in is not necessarily true, and what a culture believes is definitely only true for that culture... It opened me up on a spiritual level as well...the devotion I saw was new to me."
"Do you have a religious background yourself?"
"As a child I turned away from the church, it didn't talk to me. My father was protestant and raised us that way. I told him I believed in something else, but needed time to figure out what that was exactly....And he respected that.
I had always felt there was something that had nothing to do with the body.
I would sit and close my eyes and feel depths of feelings and existences, wondering what would happen when we die. I believed there was something there that wouldn't be touched by death. But I didn't get it, no matter how hard I tried. So I always kept that interest in the truth about the body, about me, about life...In the Philippines I recognized something.There was talk of past lives and reincarnation. At that point that made more sense to me than the reformed faith. It made sense that something would continue. And I loved their church, their blessings, so much devotion, coming from a real place!
After the Philippines, when we visited Sai Baba in India, staying at his ashram for a couple of weeks, again I witnessed several healings and miracles, opening my mind even further to the idea that truth is never bound to any belief or culture."
"Quite an inspiring trip"
"It was! When I returned to Amsterdam I immediately signed myself up for a yoga teacher training at the Saswitha Foundation. Being eighteen, I was actually a bit young to participate, but the teacher took me in anyway and was like a mentor for me during the training. I had been doing yoga with my mother, but now really got into it. He taught me a lot, especially on a philosophical level. But he would also listen to my personal problems, you know, concerning men or...whatever eighteen year olds struggle with and he would tell me in very practical ways how to handle things. He really took me under his wing which was of great help during that time."
"You also studied Psychology and Social Studies while living in Amsterdam?"
"Yes. I started with psychology but that wasn't it for me. So I switched to Social Studies where I felt more at home. In my last year I had to write a thesis about a certain subject.
I chose to go to Nicaragua, setting up a project for street kids in a poor, remote village together with a friend.
Life was very basic where we stayed and nature overwhelmingly beautiful...I also started teaching yoga there to foreigners like ourselves.
What really struck me in Nicaragua was how happy the people were. It taught me that you can be happy in any circumstance."
"I did. After graduation I started studying psychotherapy and Shiatsu. But I stopped in the same year, because my best friend suddenly died which was an enormous blow. He committed suicide and it really hit me hard. I quit my studies and went to visit my mum, who was sailing in the Caribbean with the love of her life. I stayed with them for a couple of months, hanging around, diving, trying to find myself again. His death had been such a shock, especially because of the suicide. I found myself exploring that dark side, following where he went.
The shift came when my mothers partner asked me to leave the boat... I was probably too hard work (laughs). I was clinging to my mum, wanting her to help me, being so depressed all the time. That was a big point in my life. I understood then that I would go to waste if I let it all go. I could make it all bout me, telling myself my life was shit...I felt he was right, that I was a grown up woman and had to take responsibility for my own life and behavior. And I did. It was time to move on. It took me a day of inner battle to finally decide this. And then things moved in the right direction again. I went back to Holland, picked up my life again.
"How did that go?"
Well, I decided to first go to a course in dealing with grief (Kubler-Ross), which was very, very helpful. A very spiritual course as well, I learned a lot about myself. And also from listening to others..sharing our deepest feelings with each other was a powerful experience. One day we did a visualization, a sort of guided meditation in which we were asked to visualize a book representing the future.When I opened it I saw my mothers death... (tears in eyes) That was a bit scary."
"How did you cope with that?"
I took it serious and I didn't...it was just a visualization but still it felt very real. So It made me look at the possibility of her dying. Could I survive that? Luckily I felt in a good place by that time, strong and centered in myself. It was like a sign to me, saying: you will be able to handle this now.
When the course ended my mother came to pick me up before she went away again on a long sailing trip with her partner. I gave her a little journal and a letter in which I told her I loved her and what she had meant to me. Actually I said goodbye to her. A couple of months later we got the message that their yacht was lost in hurricane Lenny in the Caribbean.
Yeah..that was tough...They never found any trace of the boat or of their bodies...So it took a while for all of us to come to the realization that they had died."
"That must have been very difficult..."
"Of course, I was devastated. But it was different now. I started to meditate, doing more yoga, eat healthy. I didn't want to break down again as I did with my friend, I knew I had to stay switched on to keep going... I did take some time off but after a while I started studying psychotherapy again. At the memorial service of my mother I met Bas, my husband. We had already met when we were children, but now met again...we fell in love and a year later we took off to Ireland."
"There you started a new life, setting up a yoga and therapy practice in your own studio, the Boab Centre in the hills of county Cork... which became quite successful. You also did the Clarity Process, a spiritual course. Can you tell us how that influenced you at that time?"
"The Clarity Process actually gave me the answers I had been looking for as a child. It was a difficult time, those first few years in Ireland, still dealing with everything. The Clarity was very helpful. It starts at the beginning, in the here and now, with your problems and pain, clearing them out of the way so there was a cleaner access to the truth I was looking for. If felt happier again, experienced life more fully. After the whole process I felt inspired to take a new step: to create an online yoga website. We were advised to first post our material on YouTube, so Bas an I started making videos in our own Boab Center. Later on we hooked up with Ruud Voerman to finally set up the website. We moved back to Holland where the three of us got together to start Ekhart Yoga."
"So here you are...Looking back at your life, which three moments have been important or maybe crucial in your development as a teacher?"
"Ehhh...well, I guess the moment I was thrown back at myself by my mothers partner. What was important is what I did with it, was I going to take it as a victim or was I going to move on?…to me it was a decision for life: this is how I am going to deal with this for the rest of my life. Am I going down or am I going to make a positive thing out of it? So I know, that point is there for everybody. It is a decision. It is not something life does for you. So what are you going to do with it? This can be very empowering. This is about you.
Also important was the Clarity Process, it really shaped my teaching and my therapy work. I found the answers within this method.
At least for now! I found the truth and the tools how to wake up out of the dream of pain and suffering. I think being a good teacher means that you speak from experience, and I know I have been there myself...
And the third was my first trip to the Philippines and India, where I discovered that there is no actual One Truth. How can there be one truth when one person believes this and another believes something else?"
"OK, we've come to the end of the interview, one last peek into the future: Ekhart Yoga is a fact now and becoming more and more successful. What do you hope for the future?"
"Obviously we hope to grow. My motivation is and has always been making yoga available to as many people as possible. Because I know how much it can give you. Sometimes it is difficult to have access to yoga because of location or finances, or even because you have difficulty being in a group. So I hope more and more people will know about the possibility of doing yoga online. And I hope to travel loads and meet my students in person, work with them.
Yeah... (smiles) just teach what I know, what I have learned myself."