Welcome to our first heart-centered interview! We are excited to provide a platform for the community to more deeply learn about one another; via our stories, experiences and perspectives. Enjoy this conversation between team Heart instructors, Brenna Kempf and Madelaine Eschrich.
Maddie has returned home from three months of travel around Earth. She is warm and porous, wearing earthy colors and her heart on her sleeve. In August’s theme “Come Home, Be Anywhere”, Maddie talks of continuous contraction and expansion...
between retreat and reality,
between self and sangha,
between rest and revival.
BK: So, you went around the world spontaneously. What initiated your going?
ME: Originally, originally, the need to be in stillness, completely. To be in silence, knowing that in my heart, I wanted to move toward a life of teaching yoga and away from a life of doing design. So cognitively, I had that intention, but that wasn’t really at the heart of why I left. In talking to Meg, I realized it would be beneficial to pursue advanced yoga training in India. Like many, I had always wanted to go there, but now I had a purpose: my purpose was to come home to myself, and to come home to Milwaukee and teach [this practice]. This will be a spiritual journey.
BK: What was your plan for the physical journey? What was the route that you had in mind when you left Wisconsin?
ME: So I knew I would go to India - I had a one-way ticket to Goa, and I knew I would be there for a month, at Himalaya Yoga Valley Centre. And I thought, hopefully I will meet people at training who want to travel throughout India. There were a couple of people who did - two Australian girls, Claire and Jade, and Hannah from England. And basically I was a lucky cling-on! They planned everything and I floated along with them. Through cities such as Mumbai and Delhi, together we were able to be in these [places] and have more confidence than traveling alone. At times, we felt overwhelmed with the activity, amount of people and cultural differences, but it was also really empowering for us to leave Goa (which was becoming very sleepy, it was the end of the season, and everything was shutting down). We were forced out of the safety of the centre and on our own to explore, and we did. We went to the Taj Mahal, at five in the morning. Claire’s a photographer and she wanted the early morning sun to get the reflection off of the pool and she was hoping for one of the iconic Taj Mahal photos and she got some really good shots.
We had each other. We did our own things, we wandered, we flowed; expansion and contraction, we flowed with each other really well. Hannah and I continued on to the Himalayas once Jade and Claire went home. We took a night bus to Dharamsala and did a five-day intensive Iyengar course with Master Yoga Teacher Sharat Arora, (who at the time I didn’t know who he was, again I was just going along for the ride), and I learned who he is: one of Lalit’s teachers, just a really well known teacher in Iyengar - and this course was intensive! For the first day we only learned how to stand: four hours of how to stand! I learned about alignment, about our foundations, about waking up the bottoms of our feet, this I’ve already applied to my classes. I’m teaching our students: look at your foot - look at the sole of your foot, observe your arch. We can observe the way we stand in a mirror, or have another person observe our gait, and just see where our alignment or misalignments are. With yoga poses, it’s having that awareness with your eyes closed “Where’s my alignment? How does this pose feel (or sometimes look) from left side to right side?” We learned a lot about our bodies natural tendencies and our foundations to support all yoga asana.
BK: And home is our foundation, right? As you talked of your colleagues from HYVC that you traveled with, you were able to explore more of the country because you had one another. You are able to be steady in your asana practice because of the foundation of your feet. So it’s really interesting to pull back and acknowledge these roots that keep us stationary so that we may explore things further.
ME: Yeah, yeah, exactly! I personally didn’t feel homesick for my physical home or for my family, and I think part of that is because I was very intentionally on a solo, inward journey and I needed the space to build my foundation. I was finding home within myself. And that’s the first step. Most of my life, especially a child, I wasn’t able to be away from home until I was a teenager. I definitely had anxiety even going to school as a child. So the value that I put within my home; it’s almost as if that anxiety melted away once I was safely within the four walls of home, it was who I was. Fast forward, in the same lifetime, (pretty quickly!) to, “I don’t need to be home to feel connected to myself and safe. I’ve never been to these countries or places before, but they also feel like home”....!
BK: So you learned to have home with you, you experienced having home with you wherever you were in the world. Now you are back in Wisconsin, and you’re at your home studio and experiencing what is your home practice right now. What is your definition of home?
ME: You know, something that resonated with me through the travels, every place I went, some of my favorite memories were with people. And I forced myself to be alone at times because I knew I needed to learn what that felt like. Because I actually thought the majority of the journey would mainly be alone… and it wasn’t! And so, defining being home now… it’s not a physical space. I mean, I love this home, Bay View, where our studio is, is very special... but, in a big way, now I’m carrying home for myself and also for other people. Holding space for anyone who walks into Heart. So home feels how it always has because it is within me. That piece is so important. Home is being okay with being alone but also helping to create that sense for others.
BK: What does home smell like?
ME: Clothes on a line in summer.
BK: What does home taste like?
ME: Ooh… so many things. Something baked... Banana bread. With chocolate chips. Have you ever made it with brown sugar on top? Oh my god... Banana bread, yeah. With butter. That’s the first thing I made when I got home. It was like a 90 degree day and I baked banana bread.
BK: What does home sound like?
ME: It’s not silent. It’s everyone coexisting together - animals, family, friends. The orchestra of activity. You can be in one room and hear someone in the kitchen and almost be able to see what they’re doing. It sounds like all of the activities we do in a physical home… but that could be anywhere.
BK: What is the texture of home?
ME: For me it’s really smooth. It’s a soft texture, not rigid or hard. Smooth, and pliable, and soft.
BK: And what do you see when you look at home?
ME: Nature. Expansion. I’ve always really loved brightness… white walls, a wood floor, a light-filled sunny space. That’s expansion.
BK: So, come home. Be Anywhere.
ME: Yeah. Come home, Be Anywhere…it is always with you because it is YOU.
BK: Carry out box!
ME: Yeah, can I have a to-go of this?! You can! You can, because once you come home, it’s with you wherever you go. And then physically you are able to manifest this into your environment, apply what you learned, learning more through the application of it and sharing it. So the process is an ebb and flow, you go back out, you go deeper each time.
BK: I’m wondering, does it get easier then with each time?
ME: I think certain things will get easier. Because you take the layers off, just like the koshas. Okay, so you’ve gotten rid of the surface layer of anxiety with travel, anxiety of meeting new people, maybe a food anxiety… Next time you expand out, those obstacles are no longer standing in your way. What’s next are even deeper connections with people, maybe? Facing some of your other fears? Entering spaces you’ve never been in before, with confidence?… So yeah, I think so. And then you come home again, and you give permission to others to expand and contract as they need to. For them to go.
BK: Giving permission for others to go…
ME: Mhmm, or even just doing it right here. If someone comes to the Center and they aren’t used to connecting deeply with others… they come here and they’re being seen and they’ve never been seen before. What does that feel like? Expansion?
BK: Permission to be seen. Permission to see yourself.
ME: Something I discovered at Himalaya Yoga Valley Centre within a business workbook; we were asked what our core values are, what our mission is… For me, as a yoga and meditation teacher, the most important goal is to see people, that’s at the center of why I teach. And with that comes so much in terms of giving permission and empowerment to students - I kept that with me as I traveled, I saw people and saw myself in them, and I brought it home with me.