Inspired by Humans of New York, Zenagoy started a beautiful initiative of writing about people who opened the door for Yoga and Meditation to enter their lives. Their stories are inspiring and motivating. Not only have their lives changed for the better, but they have changed the lives of other people for the better. They are "Humans of Zenagoy" and the world should know about them.
Today we invite you to meet Mrs Gilija Bernotiene - certified yoga teacher (Yoga Shanti, New York) and physiotherapist who is holding Master's degree in Rehabilitation. Besides owning "Gilijoga" yoga studio and giving daily yoga classes in Kaunas, Lithuania, she is currently doing her Ph.D. in biomedical sciences and researching the effects of physical yoga on the human body.
Q: Gilija, how did yoga find it's way into your Life, and what impact did it have on your Life?
A: My mother gave Life to me and of course this wouldn't have happened without a help of my amazing father, but ironically enough it was my mother who dragged me to my first yoga class. Well, not "dragging" literally, but she muttered on going to a yoga class so much that I gave up and joined her.
Back then, 15 years ago, I was a self-searching teenage girl, so my mother's idea to go to yoga seemed like a total misunderstanding to me. My first yoga teacher was a very friendly and simple Human being. She caught my attention from the first moment. I am myself down to earth person, so her personality resonated with me. After the first yoga class, my whole body was aching for a few weeks, which was very surprising to me as I was living a physically active lifestyle.
There are things that are hard to explain when it comes to yoga. For example, I wouldn't say I liked yoga in the beginning, I neither understood its impact on me nor its importance. But after those few weeks of physical pain, I still came back to yoga and never left since. In fact, I don't have plans on leaving at all! When I began my Yogic journey, I noticed that at first, yoga had a psychological impact on my wellbeing, followed by a physical wellbeing. Now it is a constant rollercoaster with a good side of yoga, helping me both as a teacher and as a student.
Q: What are the good sides of yoga that help you during challenging times?
A: Are there bad sides of yoga? The main question would be, are we bringing out the side effects of yoga? So the answer would be, that if we don't overrule yoga with our own ego, misconceptions, or just ignorance, yoga only has the positive benefits (a good side). Firstly, it helps as a good psychologist, secondly, as a physical therapist, and last but not least, like an engine that always puts you back on your feet no matter where you are.
Q: What was your primary motivation to become a yoga teacher?
A: This question is still difficult to answer. When I was 18 years old, I practiced yoga regularly. I was attending yoga classes, during which I was my teacher's "model" for showing the most challenging poses. I enjoyed being a Yoga student, and my ego pushed me always to be the best: the best in the class and the best version of myself. My ego sometimes helped me, but sometimes it crashed me as well. During that period, one of my first yoga teachers once told me: "One day, you will be a great yoga teacher." These words seemed to me like a faraway dream. Who could have thought that they will manifest into beautiful reality?
When I was 19, I joined Lithuanian sports university and started my journey of becoming a physical therapist. One day, by pure coincidence, I met a yoga teacher who told me that I will be a great teacher one day. Since he owned a yoga studio and I was an eager student with 3 years of experience and many workshops, trainings, I asked him to give me a job. And he did. A new journey begun and never stopped! I never had an idea to stop teaching yoga. But can you say that it was my main motivation? I would explain it as a very deep inner feeling, sense, or just "knowing" which can't be described in words.
Q: What makes a good yoga teacher?
A: A good yoga student. A good yoga teacher is always a good student. And it is not about having good grades or being liked by other teachers. A good student is always hungry for knowledge. A good teacher takes time for his or her students.
Since the beginning of my yogic journey, I had the honor to meet many teachers. I personally know wonderful yoga teachers who are always curious and always interested in yoga, in their students and in themselves, which is a very Mindful thing to do! How can you take care of others if you don't take care of yourself?
A good student always listens. A good teacher always talks and listens when the time is right.
Q: Could you share with us who are those teachers? They sound like inspirational Human beings.
A: Rodney Yee is my main teacher. His teachings changed my overall perception of yoga and how to teach this art. Also, his wife, Colleen taught me so much. I would also mention Carrie Owerko. She's always an inspiration when it comes to ideas about the craziest exercises or, as she likes to call it, "movement playground." I've met so many unique and inspiring teachers. The list would be too long to write.
Q: You are the owner of the yoga studio. Which styles/types of yoga you teach?
A: Since I am a physical therapist, I always teach my own style of yoga, which I call physical therapy yoga, or PhysiYoga as they like to call it in New York. Don't be mistaken by the name itself. Even if it's called physical therapy yoga, the physical part is not the only one. I do work on the philosophical side of yoga a lot (Which Rodney Yee encouraged me to do). I also do meditation and relaxation techniques, but probably the main focus is the safe and healing movement: how to practice yoga your entire Life and avoid unwated consequences, such as back pain or knee injuries.
Q: What would be your top 3 tips for yoga beginners?
- Listen to your body first. Our mind plays tricks on us, especially our ego. Remember Freddie Mercury's song "I want it all and I want it now"? In yoga we learn patience.
- Always do your homework while choosing a yoga teacher/yoga studio. Make sure they have the same or similar values as you do. Don't stop searching until you are satisfied. There is always a yoga style/yoga teacher/yoga community that is right for you.
- Don't judge. A yoga teacher who has a different body type than you appreciate, other a little different point of view is also a Human being. All people in your class are different, and it doesn't matter their body type, skin color, sexual orientation, or other things people sometimes choose not to tolerate. Everyone is welcomed by yoga; Yoga is for everyone, and we have to accept that.
Q: At ZENAGOY we believe that "A healthy yoga practice starts with the healthy yoga mat". What is your opinion about this statement?
A: I strongly agree and I think that it is very important that yoga brands, yoga studios and yoga teachers follow this philosophy as well. As a yoga teacher, I find it very important to offer to my students only environmentally friendly yoga mats. When people begin yoga, their mind is focused on asana - How do I do it? Will I get better? When I will be able to touch my toes? They don't think about the quality of the yoga mat they practice on at that very moment. They think about the yoga pose and flexibility. And when it comes to the moment that they want one to own a yoga mat - it is my responsibility to explain why it is important to invest in a high quality yoga mat.
Owning an ecofriendly yoga mat might seems as a small contribution towards the wellbeing of our Planet, but it is not. There are millions of people globally practicing yoga therefore every Mindful yogi counts.
Q: Gilija, your husband is well known Olympic athlete and the most awards winning windsurfer in Lithuania. He is a yogi too. Could you share with us how did yoga enter his life and how does it benefit to him as an athlete?
There was a moment when we both recognised our passion to yoga and desire to share our experience with other people. So it was a very logical step to create "Gilijoga" yoga studio and help people to discover the beautiful world of yoga.