Padma, visiting teacher and host at Ulpotha, offered daily Yoga Classes and looked after us guests like looking after her own children.
In her traditional and classical Yoga classes she welcomes all level of students. She looks excellently after every single student in class respecting his/her individual level of practise in each asana, and offers a variety of variations and guidance.
Her fusion of the more gentle Sivananda style, the more precise Iyengar style and the energetic Ashtanga style is open and free spirited, which allows accepting individual’s differences and tailoring her coaching to the individual’s needs.
At first, Padma has been watching us students for a few days, to built a connection and an understanding of everyone’s abilities.
This way, she has pushed us eventually by supporting us, not by demanding from us, resulting in great achievements at the end of the 2-week practise.
The 54 year old is always warm, friendly, smiling, patient, and humorous.
Her motto during yoga classes is: “less effort – more comfort”.
While sitting together in a hammock overlooking the lake, with gentle winds blowing through the leaves of the jungle trees above our heads, I had the honour of having the following delightful conversation with her:
Padma, how long have you been doing Yoga for?
Around 31 years, on and off, not every day at first though. I started with a first Hatha yoga teacher training when I was almost 19 years old, but then soon got married and had my son when I was 23. I still really wanted to do Yoga, at least sun salutation and stretches and Pranayama of course. I had my daughter when I was 30, and in 1996 I took another teacher training with the Shivananda people. From then on I got more and more into Yoga. I was more involved, went to different ashrams and took an advanced teacher training in 2001 and qualified to teach Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga from Mysore in 2013. I have studied with many teachers all around the world.
So you have tried different yoga styles?
oh yes, many different styles, such as Shivananda, Hatha, Ashtanga etc, but at the end, Yoga is just Yoga I would say, if you go back to the roots. There are billions of people in this world, and not everyone has the same attitude or body type so we have to adapt to different individuals. That is why we have different yoga styles.
You offer teacher trainings and yoga vacations as well?
I do, I have my base in Kovulum in India close to the beach, from where I offer my certified courses (200 hrs Yoga Alliance) to students from all around the world.
I don’t want to offer high budget teacher training so that more people can come and afford and benefit from my trainings. The facilities like the accommodation may not be highly luxurious, but the quality of the training is very high. I make sure that my participants are able to teach yoga when finishing my course.
So far it has been very successful and I am lucky: everyone who comes out of my 27-day-teacher training is now teaching.
I am proud when they tell me “ Oh, I am working as a teacher now” , it makes me happy and content. It is almost like a gate is opening for them and they get the opportunity to start teaching, it is almost as if the job finds them. It makes me really happy and content.
Sometimes you find people going for a course here and then another there, and I wonder what for?
One thing I tell people: start teaching, get experience, and then do some further training later and develop further. Sometimes people are not confident to teach, so they keep doing trainings.
Instead it is really good to practice and built up your teaching career, and then go and develop further and attend trainings and visit classes with other teachers.
You need to ask yourself: What is it I want? Don’t look at other people and think ‘oh I can never do this’. Never ever is there a perfect pose, it is more how you feel comfortable, how content or how light you feel in an Asana is more important.
There are for example people that are just more flexible by genetics then others, so don’t compare yourself.
We need to develop our muscles and practise and understand that with less effort comes more comfort.
The least thing I want in any of my classes is for participants to be injured.
That is why sometimes I wait with adjustments of students. It may take a while before they develop the strengths and understanding of poses, and it pays to wait a little before making necessary adjustments, by then they may be ready for the pose. This is what I have experienced from my own practise.
I remember studying with Mysore and I feel these people are somewhat crazy. They fuss so much about adjustments, and when the teacher comes to you for adjustment you stop breathing. Also when they help you to get into a pose, for example some binding, you may be able to do so with help, but next time you are trying by yourself, you may feel handicapped because you cannot do it without help.
I would love to join your yoga teacher training one day!
Sure, have some practise and then go deeper.
As you may know, in yogic physiology we have 3 bodies:
- physical body- what you see, what we eat, what we are
- pranic body – the energetic body, where we inhale and exhale, holding breath, heat, cold, hunger etc.
- causal body – or mental and emotional body with feelings such as anger hatred, jalousy etc and emotions.
Corresponding to that you have 5 sheets.
Through yoga we purify those 3 bodies, yoga overcomes the layers, ultimately reaching the knowledge sheet, reality. This means coming to the core of things and understanding things as they are, the true nature of everything. This way you reach to the higher level. There is no more illusion happening, nothing blindfolding, but seeing things as they are.
Know yourself, starting from each cell in your body moving to the entire complex system. Just by understanding our own body we can understand everything around us.
Whatever is outside, the yogi says, everything is corresponding inside.
Going beyond the knowledge sheet, you understand your bliss nature. That is where everyone is trying to reach. The question is how many will achieve, but we can always make an attempt, and keep growing.
There will always be distractions, see them as what they are, but keep going eventually.
You have a great international reputation by also teaching in London?
I have been in London in 2000 to 2004, teaching both Yoga and Chavutti Thirumal, a massage technique with foot pressure. It is a deep form of Ayurvedic massage complementary to Yoga.
Chavutti Thirumal derives from martial art from Kerala and intends to make the body really supple and flexible, so that energy can flow freely. Dancers and warriors do it every day so they can perform well.
I had a friend from London, a model, she came to Kerala and stayed with me. She invited me back to London and this is how I managed to built up a really good clientele over there.
Padma, you are from Kerala. Is yoga deeply rooted in your culture?
It was, yes, I have a lot of knowledge from my grandmother, who was into Yoga and Ayurveda and herbal medicine. She knew all the herbs in her huge garden and this is how I came familiar with them too.
I was a weak child, the 5th out of 6 children, and with my older siblings being much stronger than me, I always turned to my grandmother for comfort. She would always do so by chanting or doing small spiritual work, so from a very young age I was introduced to spiritual work.
she laughs. However now I feel I am the strongest of my siblings, physically and mentally!
I was very lucky to have been able to spend a lot of time with my grandmother, since my mother was working when I was small. My grandmother was some kind of revolutionist back then. She died at the age of 96 in the year 1996. Shen went to school and went to university and became head of school. A really prominent women, I think all of us in our family have inherited her strengths. Being independent and self sustaining. I am really fortunate to having had my grandmother in my life.
It seems to be that way in our family: I was close to my grandmother, my daughter is close to my mother and I am hoping that one day I have grandchildren, I will be close to them and pass on my knowledge to them.
I feel that you are already passing a lot of knowledge to ‘children’, your students. This morning during class you said that you feel proud of us like a mother, so we are your children too?
That is right, that is how I feel. I am highly connected to my students, mentally and physically. Everything is about energy, once a student comes to class, you have a connection. What I am looking for is progress in a safe way, that makes me content and happy. I feel connected in a nice way.
Padma, tell us about Ulpotha
It was my friend from London again, who introduced me to Ulpotha through some acquaintances. First in 2000 the people from Ulpotha were looking for a massage therapist doing the Chuvatti Thirumal massage and thus contacted me.
But at that time, the Sri Lankan civil war was going on and I wasn’t 100% sure, but finally agreed in 2004 to come out and have been since every year!
Now this place feels like a second home for me.
First time I came here I had to pinch myself, it was like my dream place. I always wanted a place like this: a lake surrounded by mountains, the wild life, the greenery, the lovely people and the tranquility…
I still remember the first group, everything is very much imprinted in my memory.
In the meantime I no longer do massages only, I also teach Yoga and be a host for the guests.
Anja adds: … and an excellent tour guide during excursions too!
This place is very special, the setting, the beauty of nature, the peace, simply everything.
And the lovely villagers, to me they are like a second family.
I usually come to Ulpotha every summer season between June and August, as I hold my teacher trainings back in Kerala between September and April.
What is your one personal wellbeing tip to everyone out there?
That is a good question! I would say “breathe properly”!
Without breath nothing is possible. We get good prana out of it and also good supply of oxygen.
Breathing is more important than any Asana. When you exhale, you are letting go. If you hold your breathe, injuries can happen.
Make it like a routine, even during work for example, just breathe consciously. It doesn’t always have to be an exercise.
Padma, you have such great knowledge, I love listening to you. You are highly educated in Yoga, Sanskrit, Psychology, and you hold a Masters in Indian Philosophy. I learn so much from you, thank you very much for sharing this knowledge with us!
If you would like to contact Padma directly, please feel free to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or visit her website www.padmakarma.com.