Self-love. Now on everyone’s lips. But what exactly does that mean, to be in harmony with yourself and your body? Can one really make peace with one’s mind? Our interview guest Silja Janina M. is a bit closer to reach it. She is a yoga and meditation teacher and has found a bit more enlightenment with the help of the Kundalini teachings and her free spirit. We talked to Silja about Kundalini Yoga, healthy body and mind consciousness and nudity. Yes, you heard me!
May you introduce yourself in a few words: Who are you and what do you do?
Aren’t we all trying to find out exactly that throughout our lives: who we are? But fun aside. I am Silja, live in Berlin and am currently a Kundalini Yoga and Meditation teacher. I am also currently working as a freelancer in the field of alternative healing and have been dealing with the topics of health, spirituality, culture and travel, meditation, yoga, psychology and the meaning of life for years.
What exactly is Kundalini Yoga and what areas does it cover?
Kundalini refers to an inherent power of every human being with which we can develop our full potential – on a physical, mental and spiritual level. Kundalini Yoga helps us to discover and awaken this power within ourselves and to find our way back to ourselves. It is therefore often called the Yoga of Consciousness. One experiences more inner peace, strength, contentment – and in the best case enlightenment.
For thousands of years the technique of Kundalini Yoga was practiced by very few and the knowledge was only passed on to a few selected yogis. In the 1970s, Yogi Bhajan brought this ancient tradition to the West and made it known there. However, this form of yoga is still not as widespread as Hatha Yoga and is quite different from the more popular yoga styles.
Kundalini Yoga consists of a mixture of dynamic and meditative elements and combines certain exercises, mantras, meditations and breathing techniques.
Does the practice help to develop a healthy relationship with yourself and your body?
That was definitely the case for me. Kundalini Yoga often lets you feel and discover your body anew, because you combine very unusual postures, breathing techniques and movements. It helps you to get more in contact with your body, because the exercises address body, mind and soul equally.
In Kundalini Yoga one closes one’s eyes almost continuously. This allows you to perceive and feel yourself, your body and your inner world much more intensely.
One also learns what the body is actually capable of, because the exercises are usually held or repeated over a longer period of time. With time you train your physical, but above all your mental stamina.
I think that certain rituals and doing something good for oneself, be it through yoga, sports, cooking or whatever activities one likes, always help to build a healthy relationship with oneself and one’s body.
Why is Kundalini Yoga criticized by so many and not for the majority?
Kundalini Yoga seems to many as a religion or a cult at first sight. Teachers traditionally wear white and a turban and mantras are often sung, which may remind some religious rituals. For many, Kundalini Yoga is not just a form of yoga, but a whole way of life that goes hand in hand with some guidelines and traditions. Of course, this can be a deterrent. I think you shouldn’t look at it so dogmatically. We in the West know such elements almost only from religion and therefore often have an aversion to it. But when you open up to Kundalini Yoga, you quickly realize that it can simply be something very beautiful to have certain rituals or to sing mantras. For me, experiencing and singing rituals are deep human needs that existed before religions came into being. Such traditions have always been an integral part of living together in other cultures. In the western world, however, this often seems strange.
Kundalini Yoga is also not so popular because some exercises can be strenuous to unpleasant. For example, if you have to stretch your arms out at the side for three minutes, it sounds easy, but give it a try. Anger or other suppressed emotions can actually arise. But that’s exactly the beauty of the Kundalini: you learn to simply breathe through unpleasant situations and can then apply this to general life situations. One learns that the mind is stronger than the body, but the path sometimes leads us through unpleasant feelings.
And last but not least you have to be able to overcome your own shame, because many exercises feel funny or look crazy. So you shouldn’t have a problem with sticking out your tongue and panting like a dog while still bending your body strangely.
What do you consider a holistic, healthy relationship to our body to be?
A healthy relationship to the body means for me that one consciously pays attention to what affects the body, mind and soul from the outside as well as the inside. This includes, of course, a healthy, balanced diet, regular exercise, fresh air and good sleep. I think we almost all know that by now. But many neglect the “invisible” part that comes from within. The term “self-love” is currently very much in vogue, but for me this is exactly the key to a healthy relationship with oneself and one’s body. That means loving you with all your supposed flaws and things you don’t like about yourself.
How you think about yourself and how you talk about yourself is a huge part of your health, physically as well as mentally. I firmly believe that most diseases are an expression of psychic imbalances and not purely biological. But often we don’t even pay attention to how we deal with ourselves.
In general, I would say that you should treat yourself like a best friend. To value oneself and one’s own uniqueness, to do oneself good regularly, to draw personal boundaries, to be able to forgive oneself, to treat oneself with compassion and to follow one’s intuition, these are all important aspects for health. Each and every one of us already has everything we need for a fulfilled, healthy and happy life. Unfortunately, in our society and upbringing, we are never really taught how to love ourselves and how to build a healthy relationship with ourselves. But the great thing is that we can learn that, no matter what age or life situation we are.
Also what kind of relationships we have with people is totally important for our physical and mental health. Many underestimate this aspect. As social beings we need support, understanding, compassion and love from others. It is important to create such an environment and to break away from toxic relationships.
How can you reach it if it’s no longer available?
There are many ways to build or regain a loving relationship with yourself and your body. Something different works for everyone. But in general I would say that the most important thing is to become aware of your attitude towards yourself and your body. So how do I see myself and my body, how connected do I feel with myself, how loving do I deal with myself?
To love yourself the way you are is a process that is different for each person. But when we are aware of our present state and have the willingness to change our inner attitude and our way of life, then we often intuitively know what to do. Meditation is an important aspect for me to get in touch with myself. Movement in any form also helps a lot to perceive and respect the body differently. To be mindful, to reflect and to live consciously are further important basics for me. When you listen to yourself, you automatically know what does you good and what doesn’t.
Getting to know oneself and expressing one’s inner world are the first steps towards establishing a healthy relationship with oneself. This can be yoga, sports, dancing, journaling and writing, singing, making music, painting…This is something very personal and individual. I think trying out what works for you is the most important thing. I’m a big fan of living intuitively. That means listening to your inner voice and doing what feels right. This automatically leads to more self-love. I recently read something great when you don’t know how and where to start. Just ask yourself with everything you do or think: What would a person who loves herself do? And then just decide afterwards and live. At some point you develop your own system that helps you to build and maintain a healthy relationship with yourself.
I also think it’s important to get support if you don’t know how to start. These can be conversations with friends or family, books, workshops or courses on the topics, or holistic therapies and healing methods. If we have lost touch with ourselves or don’t know how to become happier, then it is very important to know that we don’t have to do this alone.
What does nudity mean to you?
For me, nudity means feeling comfortable with oneself and one’s body, regardless of whether these artificially created ideals of beauty correspond or not. Nudity for me is therefore a kind of rebellion against social ideals and norms that are outdated and toxic in many ways.
Being naked feels for me personally very liberating and pure. But of course you also feel more vulnerable, because it is something very intimate. I then feel very connected with my body and myself. And many things just make naked more fun, e.g. swimming, sometimes dancing. Or sex.
Being naked in nature makes me feel even more connected to nature. You feel much more, e.g. the wind on your skin, the warmth of the sun, the waves of the water. So it also connects me more with myself and nature.
In our society there is still a lot of shame and criticism associated with this. Where does that come from and why is it so important for you to be open to it?
In our society, nudity is almost exclusively associated with pornography or sexuality. Early on we are confronted with naked or half-naked women, but mostly in a context in which the woman is presented as an object of desire. We live in the 21st century and still have so much shame when it comes to nudity. Films are often allowed to show raw violence, but not naked skin. That is absurd for me. Female breasts are also almost exclusively evaluated as sexual body parts. Their main function is to give milk to babies. I think we should start by desexualizing the naked body, especially that of women. Of course, breasts and nudity can still be associated with sexuality. But you can learn to respond contextually and appropriately. And above all, respectfully.
In other cultures it also works that people are naked or half-naked without everyone being equally excited and thinking only about sex. So how we look at the naked body is completely cultural and educated. And just as one learns this mentality, one can also consciously change and discard it.
Personally, I think that this is another important area in the process of women’s equality and liberation where we could be more progressive.
Knowing naked or half-naked people only from advertising and pornography also contributes greatly to the unhealthy and unrealistic beauty ideals we have today. We often see nudity in perfection, retouched and staged. But very few people look naked like models or porn stars.
That’s why I think it’s important to be more open about nudity. For me this is a rebellion against the objectification of people, especially women, and against absurd ideals of beauty.
So you want us to be naked more often?
Definitely, I’m for all of us to be naked anytime, anywhere. It also solves so many problems in today’s world like our excessive consumption, fast fashion and the unfair manufacturing conditions of our clothes when there is simply no clothes at all anymore. But let’s put it aside. Of course it makes sense that we are only naked in special situations and in front of a few people. And I don’t want us all to be naked everywhere now. I think that nudity should not only be seen in a sexual, objectified and pornographic context and treated in such a shamefaced way, because it is actually the most natural thing in the world: we are all born naked. The shame of being naked comes much later.
And I would wish that more people would feel comfortable in their body and also feel good naked. But above all I wish that we could be naked in front of each other on a spiritual, emotional and mental level more often. That we can hide less of ourselves, open ourselves up to others, feel safe when we show ourselves vulnerable and in our entirety – with all that we are. Let the sheaths fall in front of each other. This metaphorical nudity, I think, should exist more often, yes.
Many thanks dear Silja for the great interview!
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Silja lives in Berlin and is a Kundalini Yoga and meditation teacher. Her current interests lie in healing and breathing. You can find more information about her and her workshops on her Instagram.