HONOURING YOUR OWN UNIQUE EXPRESSION by Kim Ismet
Forget whatever expectations you may have held about going to a Yoga class and expect the unexpected when you choose Julia Anastasiou (Yog Sundari) as your teacher.
Taking you back in time to 2008, this is where we start the story, in order to share with you some of Julia’s journey, giving you an insight into how it is that she came to be a Senior Akhanda Yoga Teacher.
The natural movement of the breeze called ‘change’ began whipping up a storm of discovery for Julia, after having spent thirteen years refining and nourishing her holistic therapies business, the breeze subtly transformed into the ‘winds’ of change and this began to strongly influence Julia’s thoughts, kindling something within her that could not be resisted.
It was The Seduction of Spirit Retreat with Deepak Chopra which Julia entered into, that initially helped her to gain a sense of direction and purpose in her life. When she calls to mind the experience, she says that at the time, it felt as if ‘something awoke within her’.
She knew that there was more ‘meaning’ to be found outside of the everyday experiences of life and constant human pursuit of the ‘pleasure merry-go-round’ which ultimately is an exhausting never-ending chase of that which has no true and lasting meaning; she can now recognise that the longing for ‘meaning’ is found only in deep bliss (the Sanskrit term for bliss is Ananda) which is eternal and everlasting; her constant enquiry, now knows this to be true.
At the retreat, whilst longing to know more and be more, a feeling of ‘something awesome is happening here’ began to flourish, simply by her being introduced to the wise eternal aspects of herself, those that reside within us all.
But in order to even begin to get in touch with that wisdom, layers of accumulated conditioning had to fall away, facilitating the space for her to listen and allow a greater life of uniqueness, purpose and wholeness to rise before her. She states that Deepak Chopra was her catalyst.
A string of incessant e-mails from The Chopra Center followed, after her return to London, to beacon the ‘spark’ that had been awakened, enticing her appetite to discover more about her true self.
There really was no other choice but to follow the calling because when truth is your guide you cannot invest your life in a ‘compromise’ and although having a young family at the time which was 2009, she embraced the ‘pull’ and strong urge that had taken root in her body and she took her second step on the ladder of self-discovery, she drove to Oxford for the first of her Chorpa Center Teacher Trainings, where she was to become a certified instructor in Primordial Sound Meditation.
Knowing in her heart that if she didn’t she would not only be disrespecting and betraying herself but she would stay ‘stuck’ which would not serve her or her family. The experience proved to be life-enhancing and would return her home with an added zest for life! She had found structure and the ‘design’ of her life started to open. She remembers that the ‘spark’ within her – had now been validated and refuelled.
At this point she noticed, that with the companion of Primordial Sound Mediation, her ability to turn to self-motivation and away from the audio and dvd teachings that she had previously used had gained momentum.
Her life, as far back as she can remember, has always been interwoven with the notion and desire to be herself which had found expression at last.
Being new to this way of life inevitably meant that at times the ‘spark’ would dwindle but the words of davidji would always remind her “you are always just one meditation away from being in practice”.
Julia recollects from her teenage years the ‘feeling’ of Dharma in her psyche, although at the time, she didn’t have this word as a reference point, only the knowing that she had something ‘special’ to give to the world. (‘Dharma’ can be understood as the seed which is planted within each human being, just simply waiting for the right conditions and desire to stimulate, nurture and bring forth the distinct and unique gifts of an individual.)
As a small child she was intrigued by religion and that curiosity prompted a conversation with her grandmother in which Julia said “Nana I am an atheist” to which came the very wise reply, “no darling, you are an agnostic”.
Many years later, Julia moved to Rome and had a spiritual encounter of monumental proportions with a panoramic vision, accompanied by Angels too. She couldn’t wait to report back to her grandmother “Nana, I have found God”.
The magic of The Chopra Center once again beckoned and in 2010 Julia boarded a plane for California to attend The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga Teacher Training Course. Encompassing ancient Yoga teachings that have been adapted for the modern world, she was deeply immersed in profound knowledge and felt so completely at home.
She describes that episode in her life, as arriving like a Betty Crocker Cake Mix, all of the ingredients were within her already packaged but during her time there, her inner substances were mixed and developed, she left the training with a sense of wholeness having witnessed her inner elements being combined and integrated at a deeper level of beingness.
Feeling protected, blessed and now open, she started to teach Yoga classes back in the UK.
Julia has a memory of once describing herself as being ‘not the typical’ Yoga teacher, a misconception that could well have held her back had she not discovered The Chopra Center, where she shared the statement with davidji who immediately replied “Be true to yourself, nurture your community and keep it real!”
Synchronicity, meaningful coincidences and serendipitous happenings began falling into place, just as Deepak Chopra had said they would.
In 2011, a life long dream to travel to India manifest, this happened with her Ayurvedic School Tri-Dosha and Sunita Passi.
Upon arriving in India Julia instantly sensed an emotional state of belonging on so many levels, a feeling of ‘having been here before’ infused every cell in her body. She knew in her heart that this beautiful land had been her home in a previous existence. Remembering one of the most momentous mornings in her life, during which, she instantly knew that it would have a bearing on future events yet to come, brings joy and excitement when she recalls that day. Julia recollects with these words “It was on my first morning, whilst staying at The Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh and pre-dawn I was awoken to the sound of OM and the conch shell being blown, in excitement I quickly dressing to find where this was coming from. Upon opening my door, I found my dear friend Jagdambe Ma, who was also in pursuit of this morning call. We discovered the morning Puja taking place with the honoured guest Maya Tiwari, who is a world peace leader and author. Little did I know at the time that this was the first of many fire pujas that would transform my life.”
As dawn began to make it’s appearance, the story becomes even more enchanting, vivacious and significant to her future.
She speaks of ‘some of life’s memories being so vivid’ and this one in particular was when she first joined Yogrishi Vishvketu at the Anand Prakash Ashram for his 6am morning Yoga class.
“The indigo pre-dawn sky was sprinkled with stars, as I walked across the Ram Jhula bridge whilst still being accompanied by the sweet sound of OM on the breeze, the sound of Mother Ganga rushed beneath my feet. After a short tuc tuc journey, full of anticipation, it took some time to find the saffron coloured ashram. “Are you looking for Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram?”, two men who appeared to be carrying Yoga mats asked me. And just around the corner in the darkness, the ashram door was framed with fairy lights. Quietly, I crept up the stairs and left my shoes alongside the array of footwear outside the Yoga hall and joined the Yoginis and Yogis in silent meditation awaiting morning class to begin. There were men playing flutes, the musicians for morning class, the ones I had spoken with outside.
On the stage dressed in white robes silently meditating was Yogrishi Vishvketu, an instant connection with this teacher struck me at a profound level, a deep awakening in my Soul recognised I was where I was meant to be and so the deeper journey to my true self began. For the next week, Yogi Vishvaji as he is more informally known would guide my morning practice to the deeper aspect of my very being.
After class, I was privileged and honoured to be invited to share some herbal tea. Yogrishi Vishvketu and I discussed life, families, my experiences so far in India and the possibility of joining the 500 hrs YTT the following year, he assured me that I would be back later that year. I felt this was highly unlikely as I had already spent three weeks away from my family travelling through India with my Ayurvedic School, Tri-Dosha. Miraculously, just seven months later I returned, just as he said I would, for the Akhanda Yoga 500 hour Yoga Teacher Training.”
In November of the same year, the call of India came knocking and Rishikesh became her home for 6 weeks, with The World Conscious Yoga Family and Yogrishi Vishvketu for the 500 hour Akhanda Yoga Teacher Training which included Classical Kundalini and Hatha Raj Yoga.
Yogrishi Vishvketu became her Guru (which literally translated means dispeller of darkness), and he truly does exude effulgence from every pore. During this time he blessed her with her spiritual name of Yog Sundari – meaning Union of Divine Beauty.
After coming back to the UK a succession of further training courses followed, as she tried to keep up with her new found motivation, hunger and thirst for true knowledge.
The love of Yoga Nidra enticed her into the training with Uma Dinsmore-Tuli, a yogini whom Julia strongly admires as being a strong woman who lives her truth and Dharma.
In 2012 she attended the Danielle Collins Face Yoga Training.
When 2013 arrived it came with a return visit to India in which she again studied under Yogrishi Vishvketu in Rishikesh at the Kundalini Immersion 40 hour Training. Whilst there she took her personal experience of the magic of the universe to another level when she trained with Shantiji and became a Reiki Master. Reiki is intrinsically a part of who she is now and all that she does.
In 2013 Julia and Yogrishi Vishvketu facilitated a workshop in Islington, London. Afterwards, whilst sitting in the car, out of the blue, he said to her “Yog Sundari you are ready” surprised and intrigued she replied “Ready for what Guruji?”, “To establish a yoga teacher training in England, I would like you to do an internship at the ashram and follow the 200 hours Teacher Training”. Wide eyed and awe-struck, she questioned his statement with “Are you sure?” “Yes I see the light in you and I know you are ready”. When your Guru tells you, ‘you are ready’, what can you do but honour the faith that he has bestowed upon you, by believing also that you are ready.
Then equipped with the grace that her Guru had imparted to her, in 2014, Julia’s transformation leapt forth into the realm of training people to become Yoga teachers. She enthusiastically, returned to India for her Akhanda Yoga 200 hour Internship under the auspicious guidance of Yogrishi Vishvketu. This was promptly followed by a Pranayama Immersion 40 hour Training at the ashram whilst still in Rishikesh.
Now a teacher of teachers Julia set up the first Akhanda Yoga UK 200 hour Teacher Training with nine enthusiastic students. Supported by a wonderfully accomplished team, her self determination and refusal to see any validity in the word ‘impossible’ enabled her to support and find a way to the finish line for each one of them to shine in their achievement and to qualify as Yoga teachers. She planted the seeds of faith and watched them all grow.
2014 included Aquarian Kundalini 220 hour Teacher Training with Karam Kriya, where she also learnt to leave behind her ‘people pleasing’ conditioning and to step into her own ‘light’ with grace. Also, she became a Gong Practitioner under the guidance of Mark Swan and finishing off that year, she trained in Womb Yoga with Uma Dinsmore-Tuli.
2015 saw her become a Red Tent Facilitator and also qualify as a Yin Yoga Teacher with Gayatri Poast.
For Julia, Ayurveda had always aroused a curiosity within her since her training in 2006 with Tri-Dosha, as it is an essential component of the Yogic teachings and tradition.
That magnetic pull of The Chopra Center answered the Ayurvedic curiosity and she returned to California during 2015 for Perfect Health – An Ayurveda Lifestyle Programme leading to Julia qualifying as a Vedic Master.
That same year, Julia’s desire to empower women gave rise to her attending the training given by Carolyn Cowan and Satya Kaur – Mother’s Journey – A Conscious Pregnancy.
In 2015, Akhanda Yoga UK embarked upon a second teacher training, a unique and exciting form of Yoga Teacher Training based at Breeze Yoga, in Beckenham. A training which took place over eight weekends, progressed into then taking her students on the magical adventure of furthering their studies at the Anand Prakash Ashram in Rishikesh, India, for the final part of the 200 hours where the graduates attended a 40 hour workshop hosted by Yogrishi Vishvketu and Yog Sundari in Advanced Assisting and Adjusting. The world is now a brighter place with nine more Akhanda Yoga UK graduates.
Now that Julia is recognised as a Senior Yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance, what plans does she have for this coming year, 2016? First and foremost it is to continue being a student herself which she believes is the only way to remain a good teacher.
She has envisaged more training and also to continue in life with a sense of wonder and self-discipline (known as Tapas in Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga which is purification through the fire of determination).
She is always looking for innovation and for better ways in which to meet her students needs in order to ‘light’ them up.
She will be moving into ‘Restorative Yoga’ training with Judith Lasater and ‘Mastering Addictive Behaviour’ under the guidance of Carolyn Cowan and also ‘Ayurveda, Mantra & Meditation’ with Dr David Frawley.
These will all be added to Julia’s portfolio of achievements which she excitedly admits, she cannot wait to share with her students because when she is choosing more training, her criteria is always “if it is going to serve me, it is going to serve my students”. And when a new door opens for Julia she not only walks though it but invites her students to follow also.
In the beautiful month of September 2016, Julia along with davidji will be taking their ‘signature spiritual work’ to India for a ten day Indian Pilgrimage, a transformational experience, making it the ‘journey of a lifetime’ which will forever reverberate in the hearts of those people who are lucky enough to be joining them both for this adventure.
In the following month of October, India will once again be Julia’s home where she will be by the side of her Guru, Yogrishi Vishvketu, in the role of a Senior Yoga Teacher, teaching Yogic Philosophy to the students on the 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training course.
Looking further ahead into 2017. Julia is collaborating with her Guru, Yogrishi Vishvketu to develop a pathway towards 1000 hour Yoga teacher training, This is to be the first additional 100 hour training in Conscious Living, A Yogic & Ayurveda Lifestyle Teacher Training and is scheduled to be taught in March of 2017 at the Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram in Rishikesh, India.
As for the future, she would love to manifest a Yoga Healing Retreat, somewhere in the world. To share a sattvic lifestyle of flip flops, Meditation, Yoga, Holistic Therapies, Ayurveda and Healthy Conscious Living.
There are many spiritual laws and Julia has built her life around them, in particular, Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga which she was first introduced to whilst studying in the US at The Chopra Center. She very much resonates with the conviction that we are all ‘spiritual beings having a human experience’.
Julia has an acceptance and a desire for Divine connection and her being a Yoga teacher fulfils this belief. Her faith as a yogic being requires no proof, however, she openly admits that it hasn’t been an easy route and has at times felt very lonely but where else would she have discovered herself other than through herself which requires periods of detachment from external stimulus.
An emotional state of ‘not belonging anywhere’ led her to find a way of fixing that delusion and it came by her intentionally creating a place for like-minded, like-hearted people to come together, where everyone belongs and this takes place in her Yoga classes, workshops, teacher training and retreats which she loves planning and delivering with faith, belief, integrity and honesty; creating a ‘safe place’ for people just to ‘be’.
The basic dynamic of her teaching is for everyone present to experience and touch their unique, unlimited, unbounded, pure expression of Divinity.
Julia has always resonated with nurturing others and whether she is giving a class or providing teacher training this enables her to see the full capacity in others, whilst building and empowering them, seeing in them what they have yet to see for themselves and allowing them to be themselves at a deeper level. Whilst reinforcing, all that we have to do, is to come back to our true nature.
Julia has a daily personal therapeutic practice that is always flexible yet disciplined. Knowing that ‘real’ Yoga takes place when she steps off her mat, there is no divide between her being a ‘teacher’ of Yoga and an holistic therapist or her being Julia, it just flows and merges together.
Part of her discipline is to allow time away from the ‘busyness’ of her life in order to find a balance, to calm her ‘pitta’ tendencies that want to push forwards, allowing herself time instead, just to rest her mind and body away from the ‘schedules’, planning and teaching.
Having once been at a place where she hadn’t seen her own full potential and at the time, required a teacher to bring forth the self-belief and self-confidence that lay dormant in her, Julia now wants to reveal the authenticity encapsulated and enclosed in each person which lies beyond the ‘identity’ of name, gender and occupation, the part of a human that wants nothing but the best for oneself and everyone we come into contact with because behind the dramas in our lives there is something unchanging and ever present, the ‘silent witness’ that is our true identity.
Julia endeavours to create a ‘sanctuary’ in her Yoga classes, away from the ‘outside’ world. Engaging her students on many levels through the different mediums of clear speech and communication, natural oils/incense and music of all kinds including the shruti box, singing bowl and gong, all of which accompany the flow of asana, mantra, meditation, relaxation and pranayama. Allowing for the unwinding of the over stimulated nervous system.
Her passion is to heighten a nurturing flow of breath throughout class, creating a moving meditation, permitting an expanded level of consciousness and raised awareness to flourish, supporting students to feel good in their body and celebrate their being.
Her teaching style is never ‘locked’ into a rigid pattern, she prefers instead to constantly change and adapt her classes, evolving continuously. Helping students to explore and investigate their true nature, whilst reminding them to always “honour your own unique expression”.
As her own life is never about ‘ifs’ but full of ‘hows’, by holding the ‘space’ in class she seeks to guide students in the direction of finding harmonious connection between their hearts and their minds and also to stop ‘rowing’ against life. As after all, the journey of Yoga, in truth, is that we aren’t actually going anywhere only within.
Divine bliss can come in many shapes and forms and it is ultimately what we are all searching for whether we know it or not; this is the secret ‘pull’ of Yoga. To attend a Yoga class with Julia, is to press your ‘reset’ button on life.
The healing aspect of Yoga is a constant thread in her classes, calling upon her experience in both holistic therapies and Ayurveda, Julia is constantly searching for new ways to unlock the potential for greater health and well-being via the union of mind, body and spirit; thus with a healthy body you can open the door to self-discovery and illumination because a flame will eventually burn out and die but when, through Yoga, that flame is fuelled by conscious intention the light that emanates just continues to shine. This is the beauty of Yoga.
A class with Julia will embrace clarity, wisdom and decisiveness in order to produce what you love instead of perpetuating illusions; helping you to find whatever it is that your heart pumps for.
So, expect the unexpected with Julia, anything could happen and probably will!
For more information on Yoga Teacher Training and classes with Julia go to:-