The life, loves and passions of a Flemish yogini under the Indian, Mexican and Spanish sun
A yogini, heart and soul, Brigitte Longueville (57) has spent almost all her life in her quest to deepen her passion as a yoga teacher, to inspire people through her teaching and to train yoga teachers.
By Marciel Witteman
She was taught by great teachers, runs her own studio Solstice Yoga Center in Mexico, and will be training new teachers near Barcelona in Spain, from June 2016. Following a photo shoot in foggy Amsterdam, with tea and a large dark bar of chocolate, I find myself talking to a relaxed and tanned Brigitte, who has just returned from her annual trip to India.
Tell me about your most significant yoga memories
When I was twenty-seven, I went on a trip to India. I had heard of the English teacher, Clive Sheridan, who gave workshops on the beach. I was young, vital and thought I was flexible, but I was shocked that I was so stiff! The workshop was so beautiful and good that I decided to tackle the stiffness. Clive is a very open man - a true master of pranayama - and his powerful chest struck me immediately (laughs). He offered sessions with very few instructions, which gave a lot of insight. In those workshops you sat outside, for about ten hours on a mat. Very deep. I saw a man who had experienced life and was always traveling and teaching, and this inspired me greatly; it was a way of life that I aspired to. And this was at a time when no one else was doing it ... He still teaches and is occasionally in Amsterdam. He stayed with me when I was pregnant, and was like a father to me, which cemented our friendship. Since then, Clive has always been with me in spirit when I teach.
Is traveling in your blood?
Yes, actually. My parents traveled extensively, especially my father. And since I was nineteen, I had already caught the travel bug. India, however, is my greatest love, the country has touched me deeply. And yoga is everywhere, quite naturally, you can practice it on every rooftop. It is part of life and if you stay somewhere, it is included in the price - it is normal. This is the way it should be, here and everywhere else in the world. By traveling through India and Latin America I became more aware and I consider myself lucky as a woman to be born here. I'm still happy to visit India, although on the last trip I experienced less tolerance for poverty and filth, but that is just part of the big picture. I spent many winters there with Guy, my best mate and father of our daughter, Nierika. Because I spent so much time in India, I made a lot of friends and know many great yoga spots.
What about your yoga development in India?
I spent about ten years training in the traditional yoga forms. With Pattabhi Jois for a time, with Iyengar for a time, and the traditional Hatha Yoga with Clive. I was very curious. India is truly the birthplace of yoga. The groups were small and very disciplined. You listened respectfully to your master, your guru, who brooked no contradiction. In Europe, I worked to travel, and I traveled along with yoga. Twenty-five years ago, yoga had not yet arrived in South America, nor in Mexico where I am based now; it simply wasn't there. Even in India, however, you had to look hard and be lucky to find a good teacher. It was destiny.
"To deepen yoga in yourself takes time"
Have you needed that time?
Yes, to deepen yoga in yourself takes time, and also to travel is important for the spiritual journey. If you're traveling, you leave everything behind you; you leave (literally and figuratively) with a light backpack, only then you are going to experience life and yoga differently.
Could you still do this with a child?
We went to India when Nierika was only five weeks old, and consequently escaped many years of cold and wet winters in the Netherlands. It was the best thing we could have done with a baby and toddler. When she got older and we returned to the Netherlands, she went to the Montessori school, where she quickly settled in and was happy to see her Dutch friends again. Along the way, we home-schooled her, especially in literacy and numeracy; we spent a few hours with her every day. In the Netherlands however, attending a school is compulsory and, at some point, we decided to be pirates (laughs) and to go to Mexico, and there establish a yoga center of our own. When she was eight-and-a-half, we left for Mexico and I had already finished my training with Gert van Leeuwen.
Guy and I first met there. We simply plopped back down on a beach, we had our dreams, but now the holidays were over. We had to build everything from scratch, in the intense heat. There was nothing, no telephone line, we just started.
Solstice Yoga Center has become a sort of small village, it looks so beautiful. How do you start with something like this? Build a yoga studio, and then the rest?
No. Guy built the bungalows first, and I thaught yoga classes in the discotheque of the village. That was fun! It was a lovely place with a garden. For months, I taught a group of only three people and I had yet to learn the language. And then, one morning a group of ten people arrived, and suddenly I had thirteen students. From that moment on it has continued to grow steadily. There were no other yoga classes at the time. I was the first. Now, there are various other schools. The yoga room was the last to be built. We spent two years building, working day and night.
I have enormous admiration for people who follow their dreams. So it's not always easy
My daughter had no siblings, and her grandparents were absent. But after six months, when she was nine, she made a switch. She had begun to settle in and make friends. But she the lack of family remained, and after ten years she elected to return. I am sometimes criticized by people who think that it was selfish, but my daughter now says she thinks it was very nice that she grew up there. We had a very nice life and still do. Not mediocre. (thinks) You know, having a daughter is like yoga. A daughter teaches you a lot about yourself.
And those differences between the two worlds, is that ok?
You have the freedom and space in Mexico, the nice weather, the lovely people, and here (in the Netherlands and Belgium) things like being on time and finishing what you started. But there are also less pleasant sides. The way they deal with animals in Mexico, women, children and old people. I never get used to seeing hungry animals, children who are beaten with a strap, or women and elderly people who have no way out of their situation. Luckily there are many people, foreigners and Mexicans, who do wonderful things there. There are many strong women, the curanderas, or local doctors. Their knowledge of herbs is fantastic. There is nature, yoga and nature go hand in hand. And here I have my family, and my friends.
"I'm a real Vipassanera"
(Laughs) I'm a real Vipassanera, as I call myself. To sit in silence and watch with equanimity has taught me a lot. I have been doing it for fifteen years, recently in India, and Mexico, and also in Europe. There are Goenka centers around the world. I combine yoga (asanas) with the vipassana and vipassana with yoga. To observe yoga asanas objectively and to remain equanimous in the easy as well as in the difficult postures is vipassana. To start the day with a sit is as important and enjoyable as a good cup of coffee!
What are the benefits of sitting for so long?
The body and the mind (the thinking) go into opposition, but after a certain point, the body and the mind are no longer there. This only happens during a long sit. Every year it is also different, you never know what you're getting. Every time you experience something else from pain, sorrow, passion, memories, happiness ... Whatever might present itself … I had very bad headaches after surgery. The connective tissue and skin in my sinuses had fused together, thus creating a sort of electricity that manifested itself in a severe headache. The first time I participated in the Vipassana, I cried deeply from the pain I experienced. But at some point, it vanished and stayed away for months thereafter. I was so deeply relaxed, I thought, 'wow! … the pain has gone'. But there was a reason. By the way, Goenka, as a businessman, also started Vipassana because of migraines. As a teacher Vipassana helps you very much. You learn to see yourself and the other more objectively and with greater equanimity, and to treat them in this way.
"Four weeks of yoga, ten hours per day, a lot of things happen ..."
Besides Clive Sheridan, and Goenka, is also David McAmmond important to you?
Yes! I discovered him during a workshop in Mexico City. David is from Canada and has meditated a lot, and is still learning. For a long time Iyengar was his teacher and he also studied under Dr. S. V. Karandikar, a doctor in Pune (India). He teaches restorative and therapeutic yoga. David always comes to teach in the last two weeks of my trainings. His gentle presence and incredible knowledge are pleasant for the students who often found the first weeks very intensive. Four weeks of yoga, ten hours per day, a lot of things happen. The way he always approaches each person in the group with so much humbleness and attention, this I find very special for someone who has already been teaching for so long. He doesn't take things for granted and always remains on a human level. This is what I learn from him. That everything you do, you do as if it's the first time.
All those male masters ... you are also strong as a yoga woman, with your own vision, and restorative yoga. How do you see yourself? What is your core? What is 'Brigitte yoga ...'?
(thinks for a moment) I feel that it is important to continue to grow as a teacher, and to train good teachers. I have no ambition to be famous. I will quit teaching when my interest in yoga fades. Staying inspired is my strength, I grow through other people; the other teachers, my students and through my own study. I think this should be true for everybody, in everything you do, anyway.
OM agrees ... Are we now skating on thin ice ...?
Maybe. It is important to learn to observe our movement and thought patterns, accept and transform, this is what I try to pass on. And to keep thinking for yourself and to study is most important, a rigid form of yoga for me is not yoga. I think this freedom is important. I found Iyengar to be too rigid. I also do not teach pure 'Critical Alignment', but 'Restorative Yoga with a Critical Eye'.
During lessons you do a lot with anatomy, how important is it?
Opinions on the use and learning of anatomy vary widely. You should, of course, find the right dose. To a beginning yoga student you should not immediately start to talk about the psoas. As a TEACHER however it is very important to fully comprehend why and how the body works. You see, it is useful to know, for example, how the muscles on the back side of the body all work together, but the muscles the front side do not ... which has several consequences. A very inspiring book is: 'Le Repaire du Tigre (The Tiger's Lair)' by Thérese Bertherat. In her book the claws of the tiger refer to the tendons at the back, which are strong and often hard, and the chain of muscles that run from your neck to your lower back. Insights that connect the body and psychology - I can really get to grips with that! Many people are now applying this, also in different fields.
Can you briefly explain what you will do for those interested in the teacher training in Spain this summer?
The first week is the practice and analysis of standing poses, the second week especially focuses on backbends, the third week forward bends and the fourth week brings everything together in beautiful sequences, together with balancing exercises and inverted postures. I teach a lot of anatomy, and we do lots of manual corrections and practice teaching classes. We also make intensive use of props; such as the headstander, blocks, bolsters and the BackMitra. Relaxed dynamic postures will be connected to passive poses.
Four weeks seems a bit short to become a teacher?
The program is very intensive and covers all you need to know to become a good yoga teacher. Then you have to start teaching. You will only become a good teacher by teaching a lot of classes. This is the only way.
"Do not imitate but innovate"
Aren't you afraid of competition, with all those new teachers?
No. I am human so I have my moments, but I let them go immediately. Do not imitate but innovate is my motto! I find it amazing to inspire people to continue on the path of yoga, this is my contribution, and I keep learning new things each day.
Do you have any current heroes, closer to home?
I think the young teachers Daan Timmers (YogaLab) and Eliza van der Kroon (CAY) are very good; they are intimate and passionate, I learn from them. And also Paul Braaksma, Martyn Hoogstra, and of course, Gert van Leeuwen, who remains one of my great teachers.
Do you have any other thoughts to share on life?
If you are curious about following the yoga path and prospective teachers, I think you should take many classes from different teachers. With some teachers you will stay for a little while, with others for longer. Don't worship but notice the differences. That's gratitude and independence. Get your strength from your sensitivity. For me, meditative life is the most important, and a life like my father meant, when he used to say so beautifully: "Today I had a fine day"
Brigitte starts to analyze me, the end of our conversation: she remarks that I have 'an interesting little body' :-)! Soon I hope to visit Mexico, or more likely, Spain, to become an object of study!
OM Yoga & Lifestyle - Spring 2016