''Yoga is a life practice in its essence that helps us find a way to surf the cosmic waves of existence''
''Your Whole Life is Yoga''
Finding your own way to know yourself, to bring peace to your being, to bring peace to others, to live more consciously, are essential parts of "being in yoga", says Thina Chat, a certified yoga instructor in the Sivananda tradition, an inspiring person, sincerely immersed in the practice and philosophy of yoga, which in a poetic but very practical way can convey the teachings to you and instill in your cells a love for this practice.
She studied classical singing and musical theater in Greece and spent many hours on the dance floor learning how to break forms and achieve release through classical and contemporary dance. However, a severe lower back injury she suffered at the age of 16 brought yoga to Thina Chat's life, as well as a new vision to connect with her body on another level. In 2011 she decided to leave her homeland Greece to follow her intuition, which directed her north to the Netherlands, where she began training as a yoga teacher.
Until 2016 and after completing her two-year yoga studies, she taught yoga in the Netherlands, worked in various yoga schools, was actively involved in music, gave singing lessons and performed in music projects. In 2017, she decided to follow her intuition as a compass again and dedicated a year of her life to the path of Karma Yoga, cycling across Europe from the Netherlands to Greece, raising money for "The Smile of the Child". This trip brought her back to Greece.
She currently lives in Ioannina, where she runs her own yoga school, enjoys escaping into nature, camping in the mountains surrounding this beautiful area, and take some time to literally spend some time in nature "living with wolves". She organizes yoga retreats, loves rafting down rivers, cycles from the south to the west coast and visits various teaching sites throughout Greece and abroad.
How can we learn about life while practicing Yoga?
From my own experience I really feel that yoga is a beautiful tool to help us deal with the pleasant and unpleasant things in relation to ourselves and others in life. When we practice the physical aspect of yoga through postures, we align ourselves with the entire cosmos and practice on all levels, mentally, energetically and emotionally. At the same time, we clean ourselves deeply, keeping our body healthy and preparing it for meditation. Then comes the time for reflection and discipline of the mind on a deeper level.
The philosophy of yoga in the first steps is reflected through the yamas and niyamas, which give us very useful guidelines that will help us manage and discipline the mind, practice self-reflection and self-observation techniques in relation to ourselves and everything that surrounds us. Yoga is a life practice in its essence that helps us find a way to surf the cosmic waves of existence.
Which are your most important lessons from all the experiences you've had?
To love, appreciate and feel satisfaction within myself. It's easy to say it, but I realized that we rarely really mean it. Santosha, as we say in yoga, self-satisfaction and contentment is the most important attitude in life in order to stop spinning in circles and truly find inner peace. We are always guided even though the ego will repeatedly create an insatiable thirst to want more and more, not allowing us to celebrate and appreciate all that we have in life and all that we have conquered so far. Do not get me wrong. I don't think it's a bad thing to have goals and a vision that will give us motivation or drive towards the future, but knowing how to sometimes take a break and feel what we really need or not, whether we are honestly on our way or just pushing to the limit to prove something to our ego is very important. We should keep our motives pure and feel satisfied with or without those achievements. Inspiration and obsession with a certain goal is a completely different approach towards it.
Tell us more about the story and feelings behind "The Cycling Sutras" venture that you have implemented?
The story behind the Cycling Sutras is the most emotional and inspiring chapter for me, looking back on it from where I am now. It was my personal "leap of faith," if I may say so, to follow my calling to a new life and destination that required a lot of courage. Sometimes I can't believe I went through all this to discover my new home. It all started after I lived in the Netherlands for almost seven years, when every year, after longing for the sun, I would ride my bike on a long summer cycling trip around Europe and quite long distances... It actually became something of a personal tradition and retreat. I would take with me the Yoga Sutras book, bike luggage, tent, cooking equipment. I had my "little home" with me, and in a minimal way I would spend months on the road learning the Yoga Sutras through my daily cycling routine.
It all made a lot more sense to me, actually. Cycling was my daily "sadhana", my practice, my meditation in motion. I had a lot of time to process my thoughts, emotions and return home inspired and renewed. While I was on the road, I ran an online blog called "The Cycling Sutras" with the insights I came up with.
Five years ago I felt that I needed more than just a few months on the road and besides that, a whole new direction. I had a really strong urge to get on my bike and go on a trip for more than a year and a half, to discover what life has in store for me, to leave the house, the yoga schools I was teaching at and the music projects I was involved in the Netherlands, to really think and process , to allow life to perhaps show me a new beginning. Nothing was certain. I just got on my bike and left Rotterdam.
My original plan was to head to Greece and then Asia. That trip never ended because I'm now on a five-year break in Greece, where I have my little base and live here. Life led me to open my own yoga school and yoga retreat here, Yoga Fusion Shala and Urban Yoga House Hostel & Retreat in Ioannina, Northern Greece. It was very challenging but also very rewarding and I really progressed so much through my decision to settle down and follow my Dharma to live in Ioannina. I had to be very patient and show commitment in order to stay in one place without being a nomad for a while, and that was very difficult for me.
At first I felt that I was suppressing my nature. But I soon came to the realization that sometimes our Dharma is stronger than our desire to avoid situations, and sometimes places choose us before we choose them. We have to put aside all our expectations in order to move forward and create something honest.
Today I am deeply in love with this beautiful place - hidden by the mountains - a treasure called Ioannina, and I want to show its beauty to all the traveling yogis who come for retreats, and I am very grateful to all my students who grace me with their presence every day in my shala. Life works in mysterious ways and while we are making plans, life just happens and surprises us. Isn't that nice?
Can you introduce us to the Sivananda tradition?
My first two-year teacher training course was in the Sivananda tradition. Sivananda Yoga is a classical hatha yoga system founded by Swami Vishnudevananda and named this spiritual yoga system by his beloved guru Swami Sivananda, a doctor and spiritual Hindu yoga teacher and proponent of Vedanta philosophy, which left him with the responsibility and mission of spreading the teachings of yoga and its message for world peace which has since been profiled to "practice and teach ancient yogic knowledge for health, peace, unity in diversity and self-realization".
Derived from the Rishikesh series, this system identifies a group of twelve asanas as basic and emphasizes on mastering these twelve basic asanas, from which many variations are then added to further deepen the practice. The twelve asanas in the Sivananda yoga system follow a precise sequence, allowing for systematic balanced engagement of every major part of the body - with the primary intention of allowing prana, or life force energy, to circulate more freely. It is such a rich tradition, and I am so grateful to my first teacher Janine Brall Rama Shakti at Yoga Vidya in Rotterdam, and to Sukadev and all the Yoga Vidya teachers at Bad-Meinberg Ashram in Germany where we stayed for a few weeks each year.
The teachers, through their very deep teachings, enabled us to discover and apply all the paths of yoga, to immerse ourselves deeply in the philosophy and this tradition. They taught us Sanskrit and really took the time to study so many ancient books about this magnificent philosophy called Yoga, introduced us and showed us the way to Vedanta philosophy and personally speaking, really shaped my attitude in my practice and further teacher training courses that I followed in different traditions. They certainly inspired the manner and discipline I have as a teacher when teaching others all these years.
You also certify others in yoga, tell us more about your classes and training.
This part of my journey as a yoga teacher trainer and educator is the one that carries the most responsibility, but also the one that helps me grow, stay grounded, and develop as a teacher and practitioner. After waiting and patiently working to be qualified and accredited to do so, today I can share my knowledge with others who want to deepen their practice and find their paths as yoga teachers as well. I am an E-500RYT (Experienced 500 Hour Registered Yoga Teacher) and YACEP (Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Provider) with Yoga Alliance worldwide, providing various teacher training courses and certified workshops not only in my own yoga school, but as a traveling teacher around the world too. I am also a Certified Massage Therapist and Massage Therapist Trainer with IPHM.
In terms of yoga, a few teacher training courses I have already given are Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Yin Yoga, Nada Yoga and Aerial Yoga. The upcoming season of 2023 and if the circumstances of the COVID-19 allow it, I will organize several more 200-hour and 300-hour teacher training courses in different traditions. I'm really looking forward to traveling and teaching again.
Can yoga help us heal broken hearts and regain confidence in life after painful events?
As a reminder to myself and as I often say to my students "as in practice so in life". If our hearts are in the right place, even when the whole world turns upside down, then our feet will always find a way to walk the sky instead of earth. Yoga helps us to get to know ourselves and through this encounter we can get to know the source of all creation because we are a vital part of it. All heartbreak and disappointment always come when we forget who we really are and that we are already perfect and whole like the entire cosmos.
When we do not meet ourselves and greet us with those eyes that see all as one, division and separation will arise and much more human suffering and misery will be on our way. Knowing how to dwell in the source of our deepest being, all else will come and go like the storms that surround the mountain that is always there, witnessing, but never affected. If we live our lives making the best of every situation, we will thrive and grow.
Like a mountain that carries snow and looks so majestic and beautiful, goes through the seasons from summer to fall colors and endures thunder, so we can wear our own storms in life and nothing can affect who we really are inside. I truly believe that this attitude can help us master the art of living, and if we learn to "surf the cosmic waves of life" we can flow within the time we are given on this planet without letting those waves break us.
In this way we can find deep healing in our body, our mind, our emotions in our heart, to overcome fear and make the best of every situation that will come and go, knowing that it will make us more skilled "surfers". Surrendering to the process of life with all that comes and goes, just doing our best to be a good human being, accepting life with birth and death itself, trusting in its circle and the art of living in between, will help us overcome fear and regain confidence in ourselves and everyone or everything else. Letting go of the desire to control everything and having the knowledge to accept what is, or the strength and wisdom to put effort into anything that can be changed, are the first important steps towards this new direction and attitude in life.
Why would you recommend yoga and The yoga sutras?
I have met many people who are already "in yoga", in oneness with everything, without knowing it or practicing it or reading anything specific. I have met people who practice the physical aspect of yoga very intensively without understanding its meaning. I have also witnessed myself going in and out and between the two in seconds.
So I would recommend that you find your way to the path that brings you to this moment of clarity within, when you simply feel who you are and where you are right now and that feels as the right thing. I would recommend that you find a way to see the wisdom in your choices that will allow you to deal with your life and become stronger and wiser and move forward without regretting any moment or step you took.
You can be a snowboarder going down a mountain feeling blissfully at one with the mountain and all that surrounds you and that can be your yoga. You could bring more mindfulness into your daily life, your relationships with friends or partners or at work and it will help you calm down, be more productive and have less stress which will eventually lead you to yoga. You may serve your family and children or others with unconditional love which is the highest form of karma yoga, giving and serving.
Finding your own way to know yourself, to bring peace to your being, to bring peace to others, to live more consciously, are essential parts of "being in yoga".
For example, Yoga Philosophy and Yoga Sutras are very practical tools, but not the only ones, and as Swami Sivananda said, one ton of books is equal to one gram of practical experience. Therefore, I would recommend that you find and practice everything that will make you live, experience, feel and speak your truth, help you be kind and loving, everything that will bring you empathy and peace and enable you to live your life in relationship to the universal laws, keeping everything in balance within the cosmos. This is the knowledge we all have within us. We don't really need books to teach us that, because we are all made of that. The entire universe shares this light that we all carry within.
Interview with Thina, text correction and interview photos made by Jasmina Stojanovic. Read the whole interview in Serbian here:
I would love to also mention my dear teacher Vairagya Ranko who had organised the beautiful retreat in Pelion, Greece, where this interview took place.