We caught up with the inspiring Irena Bartolec, authorised KPJAYI yoga teacher and head of the Mysore Program at the Seminyak Yoga Shala in Bali, as well as founder of Ashtanga Yoga Mama to talk about Life, Yoga and taking the practice off the mat.
Join Irena this October in Nepal for an unforgettable Yoga and meditation retreat at the foot of the Himalayas.
Supersoul.yoga: What does Ashtanga Yoga represent to you?
Irena Bartolec: I am so grateful to have the Ashtanga Yoga practice in my life. I like to think of it as a big play ground where I can meet and learn about myself on a daily basis. It’s the tool that helps me to find that silent place beyond my noisy mind, and to feel the peace within, even for a short period of time.
SS: What does your personal yoga practice look like?
IB: For me, the most important part of the practice is to keep showing up. Day by day. The asana series are tools that help us to be stronger, healthier, and more compassionate human beings. In Ashtanga Yoga, we call this the 7th series: taking the practice off the mat and into our daily lives.
Sometimes, in the early morning, before my daughter wakes up, I have time to do the whole Ashtanga Vinyasa asana series. Sometimes I’ll only find the time to meditate. Some days I am happiest when I can sneak out in the afternoons and study with my Iyengar teacher. When you are practicing the 7th series, it’s all about being flexible and finding a happy equilibrium.
SS: Tell us about your teacher(s)?
IB: I am really fortunate to have the opportunity in this life time to stumble upon so many amazing teachers and humans. To point out just one would not be fair. For me, a teacher is someone who inspires you, shows you the way, and points out new doors for you to pass through.
My mom was definitely my first teacher. I am grateful for my Ashtanga Yoga teachers like Sri.K.Pathabi Jois, Sharat Jois, Richard Freeman and Rolf Naujokat for teaching me the method and being patient and compassionate with me.
These days, I feel that my biggest teacher is my daughter. No one can push my buttons and teach me a lesson like she does. All of my theoretical knowledge is being tested in the practical world of motherhood.
SS: Tell us about Ashtanga Yoga Mama!
IB: Ashtanga Yoga Mama was born from the idea to help and ease the challenges of parenthood. I created Ashtanga Yoga Mama workshops sourcing from my own personal experiences. The AYM workshops are designed to supply tools to anyone struggling with the 7th series, or fitting the practice into their busy life.
Ashtanga Yoga Mama retreats are always family-friendly.
Many of my students and friends have become parents and are challenged with keeping their Yoga practice alive, while dealing with diapers, tooth fairies and sleepless nights. Usually the first thing that is kicked out from busy schedules is Yoga time, or ME time, when actually this is the most important time if we want to sustain our own health and peace of mind to successfully deal with daily dramas.
SS: What tips would you give to a new practitioner of Ashtanga Yoga?
IB: Keep showing up. Be honest. Give it time and patience. It is worth it. Enjoy it and have fun! It will get easier.
SS: Share your favorites with us! (Books, movies, resources)…
IB: Books: The Mirror of Yoga by Richard Freeman. Shadows On The Path by Abdi Assadi. The Purpose of Life and other Teachings by Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda.
Movie: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring by Kim Ki- Duk.
Resources: Nature, always.
SS: Which cause(s) do you support?
IB: I have been a vegetarian for a long time. Hopefully, it has saved a few animals from cruelty. I am trying to support local community, small businesses, farmers, and artists that are putting effort into creating small, conscious changes for the benefit of all. Those brave entrepreneurs who think globally and act locally.
SS: How do you curate a life that you love?
IB: Sometimes I wonder if we choose our path, or if the path chooses us? For me, it just happened. I love what I do, and the practice of Yoga became one with my life. I am trying to be honest with the practice and myself, and when life is not perfect, or when there are obstacles on the path, I breathe deeply and meditate more. When we can reach that silent, peaceful space inside ourselves, intuitively we know what supports our highest good, even when that feeling doesn't match our rational thinking or any expectations. When we accept that fear of the unknown and changes are a natural part of life, we can find more strength to deal with our own insecurities. Fear is not the problem. Waiting to stop being afraid is. So, in difficult times all we can do is trust that little voice inside ourselves, surrender, and leave it all to the Gods.
SS: Share something with us that surprises and delights!
IB: Oh, so many things! I get delighted looking at my daughter sleeping next to me, laughing with her and exploring her little worlds. Living on Bali has blessed me with so many out of this world beautiful sunsets, natural wonders, and beautiful people. I love to meet people that are true, honest, and humble on their paths, no matter what that path is.
I get excited over a good chocolate dessert and pizza on Fridays like a little kid.
SS: What are you grateful for today?
IB: I am grateful for my health and freedom. I am grateful for my big family and their endless love and support. For my students and friends and their patience with me. Grateful to that total stranger who protected my motorbike seat from the sun the other afternoon, so I would not get burned. He taught me kindness.