The Modern Yogi


We don’t know exactly which celestial fields Clara hails from, so let’s stick to good old geography and say she is at least Swedish. Having her own interior deco enterprise, and not having to be involved with the day-to-day operation of the business, allows her to follow the Ashtanga yoga circuit through Southeast Asia every year. Clara has a house in Ubud, Bali, and a kickboxing teenage daughter.

Can you remember when you first saw a yogi?
I don’t remember completely but from early childhood on I had this huge urge to go to the Himalayas, to search for something there, not quite sure what. I can’t recall consciously a movie that has inspired me but it’s something I knew. I have this image of someone with long hair, long beard, walking with this little skirt, covered in ashes, but I don’t know from where. So I manifested that when I was 22 years old. I spent one month in Nepal and three months travelling through India.

How long have you been practising yoga for?
I started practising Hatha yoga asanas around ten years ago, and not being too long into that, maybe a year, I found Ashtanga. I was on a one-week retreat in Koh Samui, Thailand, with Paul Dallaghan (founder of Samahita Retreat, what is now a well established yoga retreat centre in Thailand; ed.).

He was probably the first person that I encountered who lived yoga. He was in the business world in New York City but shifted his life into yoga and a spiritual path. That blew my mind to meet him and his wife and their first son at the time. He was very involved personally at their retreat centre in those days. At that time, you could really see how they lived a yoga lifestyle, the way they ate, and the connection between people and nature. They started every morning with the reflection: “What am I grateful for in my life?” It’s such a simple thing but it was very inspiring at that time, a very heart opening practice. The retreat centre then had a tiny shala, very cute and only a few bungalows and you get to know everyone, sitting outside the shala and eating together with Paul and his family.

Deeply inspired by this, I tried to continue with self practice after I left, as there was no Ashtanga yoga classes available where I was living. I practiced with a Richard Freeman DVD. One year later, having tried to practise in my living room, I went back to Paul for one more week. When I went back, they were like, “Hmm, you got the Richard Freeman DVD, haven’t you? (laughs)”.

How did your yoga journey continue?
After some time, there was an Ashtanga studio opening in a city around 100 km away so I used to go once a week and started going to workshops. Then I moved to the Philippines and I met one other Ashtangi, Kaz (Castillo; ed), and we started a self practice group, just the two of us. Then it became five, then eight. It was quite a popular island where I lived so lots of teachers such as John and Lucy Scott, Govinda Kai, Clayton Horton passed by and offered trainings and workshops. I went to Mysore, India, to practise with Sharath Jois three times and to Goa to practice with Rolf Naujokat and his partner Marci. One and a half years ago I moved to Bali and they also have great teachers there all the time. I have been studying with Kirsten Berg and Mitchell Gold for four years now. I think they are great teachers. I also met my partner, Andre, in Mysore and other kinds of Ashtanga practice places.  Slowly my focus shifted from business, family and other values to yoga.

modern yogi clara koh phanghan

Clara with her partner, after a Mysore style Ashtanga practice with teachers, Kirsten Berg & Mitchell Gold, in Whynam Beach, Koh Phanghan, Thailand

What circumstances allowed you to change your busy lifestyle?

I own an interior decoration retail company, with shops in Europe. I was working for several years in the office in Lithuania and also because of my daughter, who was getting older and I was spending all this time working so I felt I was missing out on something essential. Then came the decision to leave the company for three months to go to Vietnam. The following year we went to Venezuela. Third year, for a little longer we went to the Philippines and that worked out beautifully as a place to live. They have a small international school and then we decided to stay. So, it was a shift of priorities to put lifestyle before business.

Is your daughter into yoga too?
My daughter is 15 years old now and she lives with me in Bali, but I share her with her father. Right now she’s against everything that relates to yoga and to anything remotely healthy. She’s doing kick boxing and eating as unhealthily as she can. I think it’s a rebellious phase. These days I often go to Ecstatic Dance with her on Sundays, instead of doing a yoga practice (laughs).

Does yoga enhance your relationship to the world?
Yoga should come with this huge warning sign, saying “May ruin your life!”, as it changes the way you view everything. You start living on a higher frequency. Yoga makes me more sensitive, more aware of the subtle, little things. It allows me to be more aware of energy around me. I’m in a very lucky place because yoga is not my career and I don’t have any goals I need to reach: You see, I don’t need to become an authorized teacher, or to finish the second series… I really just take it as a blessing.

Who are your yoga heroes?
I would say Kaz, my first self practice buddy. She has now become an authorized Asthanga teacher under the Patthabi Jois lineage and I am very proud of her and her inner strength. And the third member of our self practice group, Chit Sales, who discovered yoga in her early forties, having struggled with severe asthma all her life. Now, she must be nearing fifty and practising all of primary and somewhere into second and it has totally altered her health.

What’s the first thing you eat or drink after practice?
A coconut, whenever I can (laughs and draws on drinking straw). In Asia, we have the blessing of fresh coconuts.

What is your purpose in life right now?
To run as fast as possible towards God.

Do you have the feeling that at some point you were walking too slow?
Oh yes, like climbing up three steps, and down two, sabotaging my own path in many ways, by having taken certain decisions. But that’s life, right? I just want to get more and more attuned to following my star, my inner compass, in a way that also brings the people I love around me towards their inner star.

(Koh Phanghan, April 2014) 

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