Liberation's just another word for nothing left to lose

At my very first training with the teacher who has been the biggest personal and professional inspiration of my life so far, someone asked him what he was looking for in yoga. Why did he practice? The answer came in just one word: ”Liberation”.

I remember thinking that if someone as experienced and wise as this man was still looking for liberation at this point, I should probably aim a little bit lower.

Ten years after the training, I took over a yoga school. And all of a sudden any kind of aiming in the spiritual growth department seemed overly ambitious. Because running a tiny, independent studio at a pricey address in the centre of one of Europe’s most expensive cities is ironically one of the worst things you can do for your practice. For the first few years, balance simply meant sleeping through the night and not waking up at three a.m. in a panic, thinking: “How on earth will I pay the bills next month?” And there honestly wasn’t a whole lot of balance for a really long time.

But miracles do happen (especially when you work really, really hard at them), and for the past couple of years I’ve witnessed our studio growing from a space struggling to offer a gentler version of ashtanga to Copenhagen-based yogis into what it is now: A thriving community of healing and balance through movement, breath and awareness. The transition away from ashtanga is finally complete two years after I let this approach to yoga go, and I’m filled with joy and gratitude every time I share yoga at Prana, both as a teacher and as a student.

In a yogic fairytale this would probably have been the time for me to change my ambition compass from “survival” to “liberation”. Time for me to become one of those almost-floating, pretty-much-divine and completely immaculate yoga teachers quoting Rumi with every breath, sharing vegan power bowl recipes on Instagram and leaving the air scented with patchouli and equanimity wherever I went.

But then 2018 happened. Which for me meant change and turmoil on a personal level in a way that made those years of struggle with the school look like nothing but a half-hearted warm-up and made any kind of floating - other than on rivers of tears - pretty unrealistic. More than once this past year I’ve looked in the mirror and asked myself: “Do you really believe that you can help people find contentment and even happiness, when there’s so much sadness in your own life right now?” And the answer was always: “Yes”. Not because I’m particularly strong or resilient, but because being of service seemed like one of the few worthwhile things available to me. Just because you’re unhappy doesn’t mean that you can’t rejoice in someone else’s happiness, as Patanjali would have us know.

Time and again my thoughts have returned to my teacher’s yoga goal: “Liberation”. What exactly did he mean by it, and how could I get there myself? Would it be possible for me to become some sort of Robot Buddha, turning on compassion upon entering the shala, and then turning off all emotions as I left, being present to everything around me, but without feeling the pain in my own heart?

I tried it, and it didn’t work. Because the truth is that I no longer believe in an enlightened state where emotions are seen through like nothing but energies, rather than felt. I believe in being a normal human being that sometimes has everything under control, but most of the time is 50% mess, 25% “I got this” and 25% “it could be worse”.

I’m a yoga teacher who teaches and practices with perfectly imperfect people. We grow together, and that growth is never linear. It’s messy and confusing and beautiful. And if I sat on my mat in front of my class pretending to be a little more liberated than anyone else in the room, I would be lying, because I’m not. But what I am is grateful. Grateful for being allowed to share this practice that has kept me if not happy then at least sane during this past year. Grateful to be of service.

And if your 2018 has been anything like mine, then know this: When you wake up Tuesday morning – with or without a hangover – you’ve already won. Because you’re still here and 2018 isn’t. Which means: You: 1. 2018: 0. And even though I can’t promise anyone that 2019 is going to be great, I can at least promise that as long as we share healing spaces with each other, we can make it through anything.

I wish you all a happy, messy, wonderful and 100% real New Year!



Ann-Charlotte Monrad