By Cara Butler,
An interview with Karla Brodie
Karla is a teacher worth getting to know. Talking with Karla gives you the sense that she deeply considers her thoughts, her words, her decisions and actions. An example of how to really ‘live’ yoga in the everyday world. This capacity she demonstrates is undoubtedly born out of the deeply internal experience she has explored, and also taught, for over 20 years.
I begin with the final question I asked, as I found her answer particularly inspiring. “Karla, if you could travel back in time and give yourself one piece of advice or wisdom at the beginning of your teaching journey, what would it be?”
Taking a moment, she then answers “The first thing that arises for me is ‘To be kind’. I’m really interested in the process of teaching and teaching well. And want to be a support for my students in the best way possible. I think I was quite serious about my learning and study. There’s an element of that which is really important, I think we do need rigour around study and learning. But to always be gifting that kindness and care to ourselves. When we are resourced, and when we are nourished as teachers, that is absolutely the best place, in my feeling, to then be able to share practice with others.”
Karla first attended yoga classes at the tender age of 15, having already observed her own mother practicing from a young age, eventually attending community classes together in Whangaparaoa, where she grew up.
Of her first few yoga classes she remembers “Here I was standing on one leg and I was falling over, or in another class I could balance really well, and I started to get curious about what is it that creates balance OR imbalance”. She also observed after these first classes that she was feeling a lot calmer mentally, more settled and less bothered by teenage social challenges and friendship dynamics. Yet more and more intrigued by the practice of yoga.
Karla moved to Christchurch at the age of 18 with the intention of seeking out yoga schools. Practicing twice a day in a central Iyengar studio, she immersed herself in study in both the Iyengar tradition and reading yoga texts including those written by local teacher Donna Farhi, whom she was yet to encounter.
Moving back to Auckland, Karla involved herself in community garden projects, attended contemporary dance classes and came across people that were teaching ‘Mind Body Centering’ principles. All helping to counter the fairly rigid and stiff yoga practice she had cultivated and generally feeling she was too strict on herself. On one side she was experiencing “a very rigid structure and on the other side more freedom, and the love of gardening was kind of in the middle”.
Around 2000 Karla attended her first class with Donna Farhi. “I was absolutely blown away, that’s a ‘first class’ that I absolutely remember. Standing on our mats and jiggling out” Karla laughs joyfully. Her reaction was “What the heck!?! But it felt good and I became a very committed student of Donna’s from that point”.
Karla went on to complete Teacher Training with Donna, gathering and borrowing money so she could, because at that stage she was already immersed in a 3 year apprenticeship at the Yoga Academy in Auckland, but really intrigued with what Donna was teaching. In time Karla began assisting Donna on some of her women’s retreats and eventually on Teacher Trainings and Intensives in both New Zealand and Australia.
The combination of her curious nature and exposure to the ‘Body Mind Centering’ work of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, and hearing similar guidance in Donna’s work, led Karla to the idea and then into a deep study of organs. The reference to organs was not a completely new one as it related back to her study in the Iyengar method where texts would point out a particular posture was ‘good for lungs’ or ‘good for the liver’ but it was “almost outside of myself”. “What Body Mind Centering, Olive Bieringa & Otto Ramstad (BMC teachers) and Donna introduced me to was ‘Where is my liver? Oh here’s my liver, here’s the quality of the tissue in the liver, here’s its movement, range, what if I were to initiate movement from that place?”.
“It was quite a different orientation of my awareness, and it felt like it was tuning deeply into what yoga is about, this deep self study and deep investigation, that was my way in”.
If like me you are still very much in the dark as to the idea of ‘moving from the liver’, you are not alone, as was Karla. “The first year of learning about organs was a mystery, it’s all black, and I had no idea, it was ‘I think I have 2 lungs? A heart? A liver?’ And year after year my awareness of my organ body and how it might support me in posture really started to increase, slowly, slowly”.
While speaking via zoom Karla gracefully lifts her arm and demonstrates “In my 1st approach to yoga it had been ‘This is the movement of the arm’ so it became more of a mechanical process of initiating from the joint space. When I began to understand how my organs could support me in practice…. well what would it feel like if I were to initiate from my lung?…. my lung tissue?…. with breath?…..the arm emerges in a different kind of a way….. more with a quality of self renewal, self sustaining, more nourishing”.
In training yoga teachers (through Contemporary Yoga Teacher Training) she observes that some trainees have never seen yoga from any other angle than the external lens. “There can be this idea in yoga that it’s external, visually compassed, always looking to check out our alignment. What the practice of the organs and some of the other systems offer us is, can I practice from the inside out?”
Karla is inspired to guide people to really waking up to the extraordinariness and magnificence of their organs, and not in a really deep and meaningful way or in a way that asks us to investigate things for years but as something that’s really tangible, for these are our VITAL ORGANS.
“An offering of what’s possible, the possible body. Like radio stations, we have commercial radio stations in yoga that I perceive are very visual and external. Literally what we are wearing is important, what mats we have, and where we practice. What I’m offering is a more alternative radio station. We know with less frequency available it can be harder to tune into, we have to really seek out, and go forward and back over that place. And it’s often quieter, so we really have to listen. Then the more we listen, the more this music, the full orchestra of the body, the organ body comes alive…..and for me that’s yoga”.
And in case you thought she was slipping back into serious Karla mode she laughs loudly and adds “And just for fun! Just for fun. It’s a really great time, I think, in New Zealand for training. In this unusual time that we have, there’s these bigger opportunities to connect as a broader community.”
And on that communal note I couldn’t agree more.
Written by Cara Butler. Experienced teacher and ex-studio owner. Check out Karla’s next training programs in our Best NZ Yoga Teacher Training Guide 2023.