Up Close and Personal – An interview with Nicki Forman-Levitan – May 2011
Nicki is the Founding Yogic Goddess of Yoga Form.
This interview was done on May 11th 2011.
Where are you from?
I am from Johannesburg, from South Africa, where I was born and brought up. I later moved to Cape Town when I was
practicing law where I continued my studies. I met Dax, my husband in Cape Town and enjoyed an amazing time of living in a magical place before moving to Antwerp.
When did you start practicing yoga?
I started practicing after Tia was born almost ten years ago. I always knew yoga was something for me, without ever
having practiced it. The first lesson was literally life changing! I knew at that moment that I wanted to be a teacher, but I didn’t know what that would ultimately mean and how that was going to change my career path at that stage. I was an academic working then as a lecturer at the University of Antwerp and studying simultaneously for my Doctorate in law and linguistics. A far cry from yoga! Initially I studied with Diana Claes who was an amazing Satyananda teacher who taught from her home. She would sit at the foot of her bed and there was just enough space for two mats. We developed a close relationship and she inspired me deeply. She had lived in India in the 1960′s with Swami Satyananda, whom I was later able to meet in India in 2007. Actually all my initial teachers were Satyananda teachers. I later met Kaushal, who is also Satyananda trained having been brought up in that part of India; as well as my teacher in South Africa, Swami Kamalavidya who is also from that tradition. Later I tried more dynamic forms of yoga, which I absolutely loved too.
So you decided to become a teacher really quickly?
Basically yes, but it did take me a while because I had very small kids. The first teacher training was with David Swenson in Holland as there was very little offered in Belgium in those days and what was available wasn’t possible for me with my young family. Everything required going away and I couldn’t leave for a month as most teacher trainings required. I first chose an Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga teacher training and after that did my first 200-hour Yoga Alliance teacher training in Holland focusing on Vinyasa and Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga. That experience inspired me to travel to learn with many masters of yoga and I continued going for various trainings in Germany, Holland, France, England, South Africa and India. I had this amazing thirst and hunger for whatever I could get but I had to do it in a way that allowed me to be present with my family.
How Yoga Form came into existence …
The teaching part started with friends who were my guinea pigs. We would practice on my living room floor and then more and more people started asking for classes so I rented a space from the Oost West Centrum, in an old hall with a lot of character and started a regular class on Wednesday mornings. I then found the space in the Kruishofstraat and Kaushal started teaching too. Then Wesley came on board and it became like a mini yoga centre, which grew through word of mouth, This all happened in a rented apartment which was very cosy, but due to a very crotchety neighbour, I was forced to look for something else. I was very lucky to then find our beautiful space in Pierebeekstraat the night before leaving for my first trip to Rishikesh and from then Yoga Form grew exponentially into the current space and centre it now is.
The birth of Yoga Form was inspired by my exposure to the various forms and practices, which really became the impetus for offering different practices under one school. What I came to realize is that our bodies needs are shifting and changing at all times which means that the kind of practice we need is also always changing. You do not always want a dynamic practice nor do you always want a soft practice, nor an energetic practice. You want to be able to feel what your body needs at a particular moment and truly listen to it. I wanted to be able to offer that under one umbrella through Yoga Form, so it is really about representing the different forms and paying homage to the different teachings and respecting all as coming from the same source. I hope through Yoga Form to open up the doors for people who want to be able to choose the practices according to how they are feeling within themselves.
About Kundalini Yoga & Meditation …
I went without any expectation to Rishikesh, India in February 2009 to experience the International Yoga Festival,
which I had been yearning to do for years. My first class was a 4:00 am sadhana with Gurushabd who suggested following Gurmukh’s programme. He spoke so passionately that it really sparked my interest. A few hours later I went to Gurmukh’s class and that was pretty much it! She rocked my universe on all levels, it was so profound. I followed every Kundalini class that week and found her so open, warm and accessible. I completely connected with both of them. They mentioned they were doing a Kundalini Yoga teacher training there in November 2009. I cannot explain other than it was a magnetic thing that I knew I had to do the teacher training, but it seemed an impossibility at that stage to leave my family and go off to India for four weeks.
Somehow the universe conspired in its magical way to manifest the chance to be there. My family came with me for the beginning of the training and then I stayed for the balance. I had an incredible month in Rishikesh where I fell in love not just with India but with this technology and practice that had shifted so much for me personally. I got back from the teacher training on Sunday and on Monday I started teaching Kundalini Yoga in Antwerp.
Kundalini Yoga has such a power of its own. I have been exposed to different styles of yoga and found all of them phenomenal and I still continue to practice, seek and to learn and to have a taste for the varying dialects that yoga inspires. Yet Kundalini yoga and meditation is for me the most transformative, in the quickest and most direct route. It was profound how strong and how dynamically it shifted me out of habitual patterns of thinking and out of deeply engrained emotional conditioning. That I felt so strongly for myself but when I saw in the students how transformational it was, it inspired me to teach more and more. Being the only place to teach Kundalini Yoga in Antwerp also inspired me to invite Gurmukh and Gurushabd to come and teach a teacher training here in order to grow our community and to share and spread these transformational teachings.
What drove you to yoga?
As long as I can remember I have always had a yearning for spiritual things. Even without the practice of yoga I always had that very spiritual consciousness through my parents. When I was younger I was seeking on different levels but hadn’t yet found my path. I grew up in a very spiritually aware home and was always searching. I looked into religion but that didn’t provide the answers for me. Yoga was the first and only way where I felt that I proactively took myself to the space of being, to the space of connection. It started with the body, that awareness grew and continues to grow all the time in its meandering way through the emotions and into the spiritual realm. Yoga was the first time where I felt a tangible accessibility for spirituality. That was why it was so life transforming for me. It took me from seeking into actively living the spiritual path. Yoga inspired the sense of universality, interconnection, the continuity of life and the eternal nature of being. Whenever I had emotional challenges, from the smallest seemingly trivial thing to something serious, I would turn to the spiritual teachings. Where it really tied in for me was with Sat Nam -Truth is my Identity-which allowed me to relinquish my identification with my earthly roles and to recognize that Truth is really who I am.
How was the decision made to move to Israel with your family?
It was with our hearts and not with our heads. There is no rationality in it, we both have businesses here and a very stable, happy, thriving life, but it was just the desire to have an adventure and to allow a pocket of time to stop and enjoy our growing family. It is definitely inspired by Aidan’s birth, as I want to be as present as I possibly can for him and my other two children and it feels like the perfect time to take a sabbatical. Israel also has a special magic for me, a very strong spiritual energy that has always tantalized me.
How do you think yoga can contribute to society?
On the simplest level it de-stresses people, and when you’re less stressed you’re able to be better at your job, you’re able to be better in your role within your family if you have one, in your social context. It provides a way of stimulating physical health, removing energetical blockages and diminishing stress and emotional constriction and challenge. It makes people feel better about themselves, when they are healthier in mind and body, they can be more proactive participants and contributors to a healthy society.
On another level it is about consciousness, so what yoga does is although it starts on that level of giving you a greater sense of bien-être, feeling physically and emotionally better, it then leads to a new consciousness, that consciousness can be personal, about your position and place within a bigger macrocosm or it can be more global about the environment or ultimately lead to a more spiritual consciousness.
Yoga can give you tremendous direction, if you are lucky enough open enough or aware enough it may bring you to your life’s purpose and that is profound. When you know what your life’s purpose is and what and how you can contribute. That is an amazing insight that many practitioners can get. It is life changing stuff.
What would you like to contribute during your life?
I think on a very personal level my contribution comes from sharing what I have been lucky enough to learn; so to teach and share those teachings. Part of that is why I am bringing teachers here, given the way I had to run all over for teachings, is to share the teachings within our community. I also hope to make a contribution through YogAspire, through uplifting and through service. It boils down to the very essence of something Gurmukh said on the banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh. I was looking out at the Himalayas, feeling the breeze from Mata Ganga blowing, just being euphoric from this incredible practice. She closed the session with something that really touched me and it became my new motto:
“You have two hands: serve. You have a heart: love.”
That’s it, nothing really else, just to serve and to love. Everything else fits into those paradigms.