Exploring the connection of Yoga and Mother Earth with Michelle van Straaten
"If we surrendered to earth's intelligence, we could rise up rooted, like trees." The words of Rainer Maria Rilke are in essence what Michelle van Straaten incorporates into her daily lifestyle as a yoga practitioner and teacher. We caught up with Michelle as she shared her strong connection with Mother Earth and what you can expect on her upcoming retreats.
Michelle started practicing yoga at the age of 15 as a means to heal a number of physical and spiritual imbalances. What began as a healing practice, has turned into a lifestyle and an inherent way of being that has resonated somewhere deeply within her. Throughout her twenties, Michelle dedicated time daily to her practice. It was only in her late twenties that she completed her first teacher training and has, since then, participated in a number of yoga trainings to gain understanding and confidence. It was a natural calling for Michelle to share her passion of yoga by teaching others.
Michelle’s teaching style has unfolded from a strict ashtanga background into a playground for movement, music, dance and breath. Her focus has shifted more towards creative sequencing that entices her students to move in slightly new and unfamiliar ways. "I encourage my students to challenge learned habits that become solidified in our bodies." Michelle says, adding that although she may teach advanced transitions in the practice, her classes still remain accessible through variations and modifications which range from level one and progress to suit more adventurous practitioners.
Michelle’s teaching and practice style is largely influenced by Pachamama or Mother Earth, and have become an integral part of her practice.
“Since I was a young girl I have always worked with and loved plants and as my yoga practice unfolded I have found a magical meeting place where the wisdom of the earth can be used to better understand how we can move more efficiently, with more focus, healing and fluidity and less violence. “
When it comes to meditation, Michelle uses a lot of her understandings and teachings from nature, that have come from working with plants, on ways to perceive and drop into heart space as opposed to head space. So for instance, sending in new and different ways through the help of perceiving nature as the gateway to a renewed perception of the world.
Michelle offers a playful space to explore sometimes quite serious topics of body and spirit. “I offer the teachings in a way that is accessible and related strongly to the natural world - the ebb and flow of cycles and how that reflects in our practice both in the realms meditation and asana.”
The inspiration for Michelle’s upcoming retreat in April this year, came through a meditation during her time and work in South America. While in isolation and meditation, Michelle managed to access a very deep sense of inner bliss that was seemingly not coming from anything external. This provoked the idea to focus her retreat on entering into this sacred space, using the somatic techniques that Michelle uses in her personal meditations.
“As we prepare our bodies, minds and spirits through the movement, breath and yoga on these retreats, I have witnessed time and time again the gentle release of a lot of stored emotions when we start to surrender into the wisdom of the earth.” For Michelle, this is the most incredible gift - to see people reconnect with nature and experience first hand the affect of the elements and the healing the earth has to offer.
Michelle’s retreats always include a workshop section where attendees troubleshoot some of the trickier transitions or asanas and explore individual experiences.” I find practitioners always find this very insightful.”
So what can you expect from this retreat?
"Expect the unexpected!" Michelle says, "Arrive with a full heart and open mind and let the universe do the rest".
Michelle hosts 2-3 retreats a year as well as one day workshops in Johannesburg every month for those who cannot attend weekend retreats.