While that would appear to be enough keep the majority of us occupied, both also have interests which they share with others: Kirsten gives Feldenkrais Method classes and Gulnara teaches yoga. They tell us why they’re here, about what they do and how we can benefit from both.
Yoga: balancing, purifying and strengthening body, mind and soul
Gulnara moved to Antalya from San Francisco in 2002 after getting married. “One reason -- which is enough for me -- to love Turkey is that it’s my family’s home,” she highlights, adding: “There are also similarities between Turkey and Kazakhstan: Turkish and Kazakh are very similar languages, and hospitality is also very important in both countries, as well as respect for elders and strong family bonds. I also love Antalya for being so multicultural and for its amazing nature and climate.” So why is she teaching yoga in Antalya? “ I started yoga in San Francisco and was soon so hooked that I decided to become a yoga teacher. It took over a year to become a qualified Hatha yoga teacher. When I moved here I wanted to continue with yoga but couldn’t find any teachers so I started giving classes myself.”
Why is yoga so popular in the West? “Because it’s a combination of physical fitness, breathing and relaxation techniques and meditation as well as the opportunity to learn a new philosophy,” she highlights, adding: “Yoga dates back to the Upanishads, written 1000-5000 B.C., in India. It’s a way of bringing the body, mind and breath together into one harmonious experience. It’s based on ‘asanas’ (posture), ‘pranayama’ (breathing), relaxation and meditation. A balanced program of postures works on every muscle, nerve, gland and organ in the body. The ‘shoulderstand,’ for example, invigorates and rejuvenates your whole body. The breathing techniques are based on the idea that breath is the source of life in the body; students gently increase breath control to improve the health and function of both body and mind and can then distance themselves from everyday stress. If they do it regularly, their health improves and they feel more positive and peaceful as well as physically stronger.”
“There’s a real difference between doing yoga postures and other forms of exercise, such as step classes or jogging,” she underlines, and goes on: “The main purpose of fitness training is to develop the muscles, which produces large quantities of lactic acid in the muscle fibers, causing fatigue unlike yoga. In yoga, all movements are slow and gradual, with proper breathing and relaxation, whereas in fitness training movements are rapid and can put extra strain on the heart. Physical exercises don’t touch the mind, either, but we can’t be healthy unless all our organs are functioning perfectly under the control of the mind. Another important difference is that yoga also gently massages our internal organs. Plus there’s no competition in yoga.”
“You don’t need to be physically fit to start,” she points out, adding: “People with health problems, such as diabetes, arthritis, hypertension or back or thyroid problems, can benefit from regular yoga under the supervision of an experienced instructor. Plus there’s no age limit; babies are ‘born’ yogis, and it’s even better if they start doing yoga before they’re born. Pregnancy yoga isn’t only for mothers but also for their unborn babies. During my training in the US, I attended ‘Chair Yoga’ [all postures are modified to be done sitting on a chair], a class for elderly people with Parkinson’s disease and there was a 98-year-old man who was still doing yoga regularly. My students here are mostly foreigners married to Turkish citizens or expats, and so classes are in English, the common language. At the moment I don’t do separate classes for pregnant women or children but if enough people are interested, I’d be delighted to start some during the week.”
“It’s rewarding to teach yoga as you see changes in your students; not only their improved health but also the effect it has on them as people,” Gulnara highlights. So what do her students think? Janet Soyak started taking lessons with Gulnara a few months ago. “From the word ‘go,’ Gulnara’s been really encouraging, allowing us to go at our own pace,” Janet underlines, adding: “It’s a wonderful opportunity to shut out the outside world for an hour and concentrate fully on myself. I feel fantastic afterwards, with my batteries recharged and ready to face any challenges the rest of the day may bring.” Katya van Dien has been doing yoga for three years now. “At first I struggled a lot because I had to use muscles I hadn’t used for a long time,” she explains, adding: “The biggest challenge, however, was -- and still is -- deep breathing with your stomach synchronized with yoga movements. I’ve learned to literally ‘breathe’ into tensed or stressed body parts. I use that in daily life, for example when I get stressed sitting at my computer. Nowadays, I even get cranky if I can’t do yoga on a regular basis.”
Kirsten first came to Turkey in 1996 to work and be with her future husband. “I worked at the Goethe Institute in Ankara for six months teaching German,” Kirsten tells us, adding: “After that I was offered a well-paid job at İstanbul University as a German language lecturer. One thing led to another: I got married, had two daughters and have been based in this sunny country ever since.” She started training to become a Feldenkrais Method practitioner in Austria in 1994. After working with different trainers with a variety of teaching styles and a break -- when she settled in Turkey and had her first daughter -- she completed her professional Feldenkrais Method training in Switzerland in 2000.
So what is the Feldenkrais Method? “It’s a unique and revolutionary approach to the understanding of human learning, movement and function,” she highlights, adding: “Above all, it isn’t a kind of ‘workout’ but a learning process: The aim is to become more aware of oneself and others and of how we use our bodies on a daily basis. Based on the work of Moshe Feldenkrais and influenced by his expertise in physics, engineering and judo, it draws together both the science and the art of human movement. It’s unique in that it’s based on sound mechanical and neurological principles and yet easily accessible through simple, practical lessons. It stimulates the sensory-motor area of the nervous system and, relying on innate human intelligence, it influences all levels of thinking, feeling and perception, enabling better realization of one’s potential.”
“I first came across it in 1994 and was struck by its underlying message, which is ‘awareness through movement’,” she explains, adding: “I find it personally rewarding because you broaden your awareness on both a physical and mental level. You also learn to use your body in a functional manner by exploring the range of possible movements, giving you an opportunity to use much more of your potential in everyday life and at work.”
“Everyone can benefit from it,” she continues, adding: “There are no age barriers; people just need to be interested in their wellbeing and have a sense of curiosity. It can help people physically, especially the elderly, handicapped or people in rehab after an accident, as it shows alternatives when the realm of movement is restricted. It can help on a personal level by helping people find new ways of dealing with problems. By improving the motor functions, balancing and harmonizing the nervous system, the Feldenkrais Method also deals with ease and creativity in self-expression. It can really benefit people like artists, musicians, athletes or craftsmen who work hard and often have problems caused by repetitive movements.”
Elisabeth Avşar, a retired preschool teacher, is an example of how the Feldenkrais Method can help both deal with physical problems and develop personal awareness. “For over 20 years I was in pain,” she explains, adding: “For a while hip problems meant I could barely walk. The group lessons with Kirsten taught me to relax both my body and my mind. I finally realized that a big part of my wellbeing was up to me; doctors can’t find solutions to all our problems. Above all, it’s helped me to understand and trust myself and to learn how I can help myself to sit and walk more easily. It’s all about letting go of old thinking and feeling patterns.”
But you don’t need a problem to benefit from the Feldenkrais Method, as Serpil Ergun explains: “I’m an advanced scuba diver, and before I discovered the Feldenkrais Method I’d only ever experienced the feeling of weightlessness while deep-sea diving. On dry land I was always aware of gravity weighing me down. Now I’ve found a way to feel lighter in my movements, a kind of ‘diving on earth.’ At first I was aware of each step I took but very soon both my body and mind remembered the movements of my childhood. Now my movements are effortless and even unconscious, easy.”
There are two different types of sessions: Awareness through Movement (ATM), which is a group lesson the practitioner leads verbally, and Functional Integration (FI) sessions, which are one-to-one, mostly non-verbal and hands-on. Both are generally 45 minutes long. “Most lessons are done lying on the floor or on a special Feldenkrais table, but it depends on the aim of the lesson,” Kirsten says, adding, “I also give both group and individual lessons in Antalya in English, German or Turkish and also give workshops in İstanbul because there are people there who are open to this kind of growth.”
If you’re interested in yoga classes in Antalya, you can contact Gulnara at [email protected]
If you’re interested in the Feldenkrais Method in Antalya or istanbul, you can contact Kirsten through her Web site: feldenkraisturkiye.com