03 Teacher Story


For the Wisdom issue we interviewed Lama Nasser, a brilliant teacher at Radiant Light Yoga, about her signature Yogalates classes that help get us in touch with our inner wisdom and strength by going through physical challenge. Her way to freedom is through the body and through movement.

LAMA, HOW DID YOU GET INTO YOGALATES?

“I was well into the fitness world before I got into yoga. I was a gym instructor and taught fitness classes for many years. I befriended the gym in my early twenties and it quickly became my second home. I loved training, I loved the weights. I just loved how they made me feel during and after my training. I had always had I guess what you would call a ‘soft personality’, and lifting weights made me tap into a strength I didn’t know I had in me. I learned early on how strong physical challenges can make us overcome limitations that we set for ourselves, because our bodies and minds are capable of so much more than we think. Sticking through tough challenges demands that we tap into this inner well of strength and mental discipline. So you slowly begin to learn that your growing strength is not just physical, if anything, it’s more internal. The realization that you are stronger than you thought you could be can give you a huge sense of empowerment. And this was big for me.

Then after I had my second child, I started feeling like yes I love the gym and I love the weights but I need something quieter, and something with a deeper connection…because you tend to lose yourself a little when you’re a mom of little children. I desperately needed to strengthen my core and my bad back needed support, and so this is how I started my love affair with Pilates.

Pilates is a very precise, graceful, and equally challenging discipline where you build a very deep mindful connection to the body. I loved it and I got going with it. I did my trainings and practiced it along side the gym. Still then, I felt that I needed a little bit more. Yoga had always been at the back of my mind, and even though I had never touched upon it, I always knew that it was a path that I would go on. When I discovered Yoga it was like the lights had suddenly been switched on and I could finally see. I could see my strengths as well as my weaknesses and I learned to honor both. I dove straight into it and for a while I did nothing but Yoga. But for me, after a while of practicing only yoga, it started to bring me down a little..almost in a depressive way. So I began to bring in the Pilates, the gym weights and fitness back into my life, and I found that the balance of the three worked best for me. Everyone needs to find their own balance, and for me this was it.”

NOW YOU TEACH ALL THREE TOGETHER?

“What I tend to do in my classes, is to bring in that balance that I found in those disciplines. There is an essence of power and strength, softness, spirituality, breath work, opening, lengthening… I called it Yogalates because the name already existed and I wanted people to relate to both the Yoga and the Pilates in the name. But it’s more than that. It’s not just that I bring Pilates and I bring yoga and I mix them together. It’s really more my own experience of functional movement, of self discovery, of empowerment, of strength, of finding your ground, finding your center. What I’ve learned through all these different disciplines I try to bring it into my classes and share with my students.”

YOU’VE CREATED YOUR OWN SIGNATURE STYLE.

“I studied art in university, so for me art and creativity is very much part of me and in how I create my classes. The freedom to create, to blend, keeps it refreshing for me and hopefully also for the students. Sometimes I bring in Pilates balls into the practice, sometimes bands, sometimes foam rollers, not only for the Pilates exercises, but also in yoga poses, to allow for a different experience and a new awareness within the body.

It’s always good to shock the mind a little with new practices. You can go through the same exercises over and over again and it would definitely still be beneficial. But at a certain point our mind may tend to go to go to sleep a little when it knows what to expect. We may start moving as if in autopilot with less of a mind-body connection. When you tweak your practice and do something a little different and unexpected, the mind wakes up. You are listening and feeling with greater awareness because it feels different. This is where change happens. So I like to keep the body guessing and the mind intrigued. Of course there are always staple exercises and familiar poses in the classes because you need those too in order to grow through and deepen your practice. But an interesting shock every once in a while is good thing.”

YOUR CLASSES SOUND CHALLENGING. ARE THEY FOR ADVANCED LEVELS?

“They’re actually for all levels because there are always variations offered to either soften an exercise or to make it more challenging. I also give a Yogalates Basics class which is a slower paced practice, and the students always joke and say that it’s not ‘basics.’ I joke back and tell them that this means that they’re doing well- that when they are really connected they are really going to feel it, basics or not! The only difference is that the basics classes are simpler to follow. There are no crazy movements or very challenging poses on offer that I might throw in in a regular class. You come to class to feel, to move energy, to ignite something in you. If you don’t feel, you are not ‘alive,’ you are not making a change. If there is no change happening in there, there’s no growth. In order to grow we need to ruffle up some feathers and kick some dust around that had settled for maybe too long. You’ve got to go to some places where it’s not so comfortable, and that is life. Life starts at the end of your comfort zone, right? We learn the most when we go through being in these uncomfortable, challenging places. It’s the same with our practice and training. It doesn’t mean discomfort to the point of pain though. I’m always telling my students to listen to their bodies and to respect where they are in that moment. If an exercise or pose doesn’t feel right, there are always variations to soften it. But the challenge is always there whatever the level is and no matter where you are. And I think they all secretly like it.” (Both of us laughing).

SO THERE IS A DEEPER PURPOSE BEHIND THE PHYSICAL EXERCISE.

“Of course. Although the physical exercises are purposeful in themselves, but to move with greater awareness- that is the deeper purpose I would say. I tend to give a lot of cue points in class because I really want the students to learn how to connect to their bodies and to learn to move with this greater awareness. When you are in connection and become aware of how you move, how you stand, and what it feels like to be in this particular body, it’s meditation in motion. This heightened connection and awareness can begin to spread out into other areas of your life because you have woken up a deeper knowing within yourself. Even just learning how to better move, discovering that “oh I didn’t know I do that when I lift my arm, or that my back does this when I lift my leg…” Just those little tiny differences in understanding and exploring your own body allows you to be more in tune with yourself. That’s where you learn. Self-awareness is what I want the students to experience.”

WHAT IS IT THAT YOU WOULD LIKE YOUR STUDENTS TO LEARN?

“I want the students to learn about their own bodies because this is how you begin to move better, to move safer, to hold yourself better. When you learn about your own physical body, you are opening the gates to also learning about yourself. You are opening up those pathways. Some teachers go into this spiritually, through meditation for example, and for me it had always been through the physical body. It’s another gateway. I want them to experience that deeply connecting to and strengthening your core for example, helps to make us feel more centered and grounded; that working through a physically demanding practice can empower our mind and energize our spirit; that opening and freeing the body through muscle work and release, can relax the mind and soften our spirit. I want them to discover that our bodies are not just vehicles but also gateways…And that they are always much much stronger that they think.”

YOU DON’T JUST TELL PEOPLE THINGS, YOU GUIDE THEM TO EXPERIENCE THIS FOR THEMSELVES?

“For me it’s all about them experiencing their own physicality and its energies. I’m just sharing what I know and love and what I feel would help them on their way to self-discovery, which is always a progress in motion.

We are constantly being pulled in different directions through the demands of our daily lives. It can be a challenge just to find your ground when life is hectic and stressful. This is why it’s so important for us to take the time to pause and to just be in our bodies, if only for an hour a day, to experience and explore this vast universe within us."

SO WHEN WE ARE CONNECTING TO OURSELVES AND LEARN ABOUT OUR STRENGTH, WE LEARN TO TRUST OURSELVES MORE?

“Yes! And we also learn about control - what to control and what to let go. This is very much prevalent in my classes, especially within the Pilates aspect of it. Pilates actually used to be called Contrology, where you learn to execute very precise and controlled movements with the breath as your primary tool. Just as in Yoga, it also teaches you what you need to control in your movements and where you need to release, and the balance between the two."

COMING BACK TO OUR BALANCE, TO OUR CENTER?

“Yes, and I actually base my classes around core work. All movement emanates from the core. A strong core is key to a healthful body, to better posture, and freer movement. But it’s more than that. Our center is the deeper part of us. When we tap into it, and physically practice to strengthen it, it can help us to stay more centered and grounded in everyday lives. .

New students often come to a physical practice with self doubt thinking “I can’t, I don’t know if I can, I heard this is hard…”, but when they are guided through it and begin to connect, they then get to experience the “I did it!” This is a very empowering and liberating feeling because you realize not only how strong you actually are, but that you can actually connect and tap into this strength anytime all the time because it’s within you. So the physical, the mindful, and the spiritual, they are always coming together because we are physical, spiritual, and mindful beings.

We often believe that it is through our bodies that we understand movement better. But in fact, it is movement itself which gives us a deeper understanding of our bodies…and ultimately of ourselves.

And for me, it is through movement that you gain freedom.“

-Lama Nasser

Join Lama each week for classes at Radiant Light Yoga Antwerp