Tell us a little bit about yourself :)
My name is Milena and I am a yoga teacher from Belgrade, Serbia. I am a very active person and I find a lot of inspiration in movement. Also, I think I am a really versatile person as I find interest in so many different things. Yoga is my passion but I find pleasure in baking, hand crafting, drawing and many other forms of art.
How did you get introduced to yoga and when did yoga get serious?
I remember a day, about 8 years ago when I opened Youtube and started searching for a home workouts as I wanted to get in shape, and since I never was a sporty person watching videos on Youtube and doing exercises at home seemed the best thing at that moment. A suggested video popped out and the caption was: "Yoga demo". I remember thinking that yoga is for old people and not for me, but decided to watch it just to make sure I am not wrong.
There I was sitting watching and it hit me. This is me! This is who I am! I can see my self doing this and I feel that it will be great! I need to do this.
I started researching the internet trying to find more and more videos, started to learn first at home, and then realized that I needed to take classes with a teacher as doing yoga at home wasn't enough.
After a month or two I enrolled in a class and did yoga every single day. If there was no class I would do it alone at my home. I didn't miss a day of practice for 5 years, and then the day came when the gym where I was practicing needed a teacher and they asked me to start teaching classes.
I enrolled in a yoga teacher training and simultaneously started teaching classes. And till this day I never stopped.
The point when I realized that this is something serious for me was that point when I opened a video and felt something arise inside me. I never felt like that with anything in my life. It was a wake up call, a point when I realized who I am.
Can you share your biggest challenges?
There are so many challenges you face being a yoga practitioner or a teacher, and you face them on a daily level and I could write at least 10 that come to my mind instantly, but one that left me feeling empty happened about 1,5 years ago.
A local gym organized a promotion of a heart rate monitor that shows a state of your heart and your physical condition and I was the one who got tested. I was sure my results will be the best possible as I was doing a lot of fitness, preparing for a marathon and did yoga daily. Doctors told me that my heart shows a signs of heart attack and that I need to stop doing all activities instantly especially yoga.
I felt lost and scared. I remember thinking who I am without yoga. I can stop doing fitness, I can stop running, but I am nothing without yoga. My heart will be left empty. A friend told me that I shouldn't feel so bad, I can still do breathing exercises, I can do light stretching and I will still be doing yoga, but I felt miserable. I love to move, I feel every movement during the yoga practice, I am nothing without the movement.
I went for further testing and it turned out it is just an anomaly of my heart and that I am safe to practice any kind of activity I like.
The thing I learned was to slow down. I made yoga an absolute priority and put all other activities aside. And I learnt to listen to my body even more.
How do you handle pressure and where do you find your motivation?
When I practice yoga I do not feel any pressure, but when I teach yoga the pressure is constant.
Will students like the class, will they keep coming or not, will it affect the number of my classes, will I be able to teach them what they like, will I be able to learn them to adjust the poses to their own needs, will they feel good after class are just some of the questions that I constantly ask my self.
The only motivation I need is a smile at the end of the class. When I see my students leaving the class with a smile I know I did my job. I know they did something good for them selves and that is my biggest reward.
What was your most embarrassing moment (in regards to yoga, of course)?
When you are a yoga teacher you are used to being embarrassed in front of a group of people. On a daily basis you do things that get people laughing but what was a moment that stick with me wasn't my own embarrassment but of my students.
It was around Christmas and New Years Eve and it is a period when everyone just eats a lot. This is also the busiest period at the gym as everyone wants to burn off what they eat. We were warming up the back and taking into the peak pose and with an inhalation lifted to bow pose when the orchestra of fart sounds started. It felt like it is coming from all over the gym hall and like everyone just decided to let it out. The most funny thing was that the music just stopped and it didn't buffer out the sound at all.
I wanted to laugh but it would be unprofessional as everyone acted like - no it wasn't me. I still remember that moment as one of the funniest moments in my career.
How did yoga influence your life in other ways?
At first, when I was only a practitioner my passion just improved my life so much. I felt great, I looked great, I had more strength, I had more energy, I could do all. Then when I started working at first it was fun and amazing, but with time obligations raised and people wanted more classes with me. Now I teach 14 classes in 5 days and it does take a toll on my social life, as I am working every evening, and every morning, those times of days when other people are free. Even though it takes a great toll on my social life, I wouldn't change it a bit.
What does your typical day look like?
I get up at 6:00 AM, get ready for the class and am out of home at 7:00 AM. I teach from 8:15 AM till 11:00 AM. When I say I am teaching, it means I am doing every single pose with my students. I make pauses only on occasion to adjust someone who needs adjusting but, mostly my students do not need any special adjusting because they have been practicing for a long period with me.
Usually after my classes I am off to school and am attending college classes till 5:00-6:00 PM. I get home around 6:00-7:00 PM and get prepared for an evening class. At 8:00 PM I am off to tech another class and am usually back home around 11:00 PM when I go to bed. If I get any free hours I would go to the gym earlier in the morning or at 7:00 PM to do some extra workout just for me, usually running or workout with weights. I take weekends off. This is something I decided just recently and am learning to enjoy this free and resting time.
And what about your flexibility training? Where does that fit in?
I am really not a flexible person by nature. I am more strong so I have a love/hate relationship with flexibility. I lose it so fast and my body reacts very strangely to a flexibility workout. When I am pretty warmed up my body opens to some amazing levels of flexibility but it just vanishes when I cool down.
I learned that dynamic stretching gives me temporary results that seem amazing but are gone the minute I exit the gym. What seems to work the most for me is a mix of dynamic stretching and long holds. So I prepare my body with some dynamic stretches and then move to a long holds.
What are your future plans/goals/dreams?
I want to learn more about yoga. One of my biggest dreams at this point is finishing a yoga anatomy course at yoga medicine, but it is out of my price range for now. I would also love to open my studio but I do think there is a long road in front of me. I am ready to take that road one step at the time.
Any tips for passionate people who are starting to practice yoga now?
What really important is is finding a professional teacher. There are a lot of teachers whose energy will get you going but it doesn't mean that it will get you anywhere. Professional teachers will know how to organize a class that will get the most out of a practitioner who just started or who has been practicing for years.
Do not look at the photos or videos of uber flexible people that are all over the internet. Goal of yoga is not being hyper flexible or hyper strong, it is about the internal feeling, about the connection between your mind and body, it doesn't matter if you can do a headstand, a handstand, or a backbend so much that you can touch the head with the feet, or do a split - what matters is feeling and awareness you have during those poses and during all basic poses. A basic pose, can seem boring but it should cause the same kind of feelings as advanced poses do.