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Life, Yoga and Body Intelligence

August 2, 2010

Yoga has been a lifelong journey of self-discovery.  It has changed me from the inside out and helped turn around my psyche and my physical state.  Having suffered from anxiety and depression since I was a child, yoga is now a vital part of my life, who I am and how I view the world.

As a 10-year practitioner of yoga, I have recently begun to better develop and appreciate my mind-body connection.  Training to be an instructor in Body Intelligence – a movement form developed locally based on Pilates and yoga – I have learned to identify yoga misalignments or bad habits, correcting them before they turn into injuries.

My first encounter with yoga was following an intensely competitive youth playing team sports, including basketball and softball, where I began to appreciate breathe work and gentle supine positions focused on flexibility and relaxation. It was a welcome change from constantly measuring myself against others and focusing on scoring.

It was during graduate school when I was quite lethargic that I developed two herniated disks in my neck and gained weight.  This time I tried Hatha yoga, which reduced my neck pain and gave me a more holistic mind-body release.

When I moved to South Africa in 2005, I trained in the Ashtanga style of yoga with Jim Harrington and KarmaShala, enjoying the physical and mental challenge.  I soon realized though that it was not a style that was necessarily accessible to everyone (including some of my elderly, injured and unfit clients), and transitioned into Iyengar yoga as it involved a slower build up toward poses.

Looking to develop a sustainable practice for myself as well as a teaching style that encompasses all age groups and abilities, I was blessed to have encountered Meret Storck-Matchett a couple of years ago. Through Body Intelligence – the movement form she developed and teaches at her zenzero studio in Cape Town – I have come to appreciate the value of building strength while in proper alignment. With a more intense focus on the core than yoga, I have developed an internal stability that has translated into other aspects of my life: I’m more grounded and in touch with myself.  I’m also more aware of the issues I need to take into consideration when teaching pregnant women and other special physical conditions.

In essence, I am now content to focus on my body rather than poses. I have learned that once one has a well ‘educated core’, this strong mind-body connection becomes a base to build upon so that when the body is ready, poses come more naturally.  With a better understanding of the body, I now have the confidence to guide students into some of the more challenging poses, taking into account their unique strengths and weaknesses.

Through it all, I have learned that from a strong core emanates patience, light and love.  It is the basis of my physical being but also encases my essence. What an adventure!


Erica Nielsen, is a yoga student and teacher in downtown Cape Town, who through her practice, is slowly evolving, becoming a more mindful and grateful human being. A deadhead, dog worshiper, wife and full of vibrating energy, she is currently studying to become a Body Intelligence instructor at zenzero studio.
Follow her on Twitter@CapeTownYoga.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 3, 2010 3:32 pm

    As someone who has been diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis I find the Body Intelligence classes at zenzero to be very helpful in stabilising my joints. Without some of the repitition one can find in yoga and more variety than pilates, I find classes to be approachable, relaxing and fun. Each one is different and the personal instruction we receive is amazing. Well done Erica for sharing and joining the amazing team of instructors at zenzero.

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