by Susan Nicolas
The liberal values and tolerance that mark Dutch culture make this
city hospitable to the pursuit of yoga.
Considering the Amsterdam sky is grey most of the year, it’s amazing
how vibrant its denizens seem. Maybe it’s because most Amsterdam
residents regularly bike and walk, because they enjoy cheese and
chocolate in their diet without a high rate of obesity, because organic
food and homeopathic remedies are available and widely used before
more conventional methods, or because every Dutch person has health
In Amsterdam unconventional lifestyles are accepted without judgment,
so the transcendent practice of yoga is actually considered the norm,
If you dropped into a random yoga class in Amsterdam, it would probably
be Iyengar-based. There’s a popular Iyengar Yoga Center in the center of
town, which offers more than 35 classes a week and an internationally
renowned teacher-training course. Many of the classes are taught by IYC
manage Clé Souren, whose ruff yet wise and fatherly manner eases you
deeper into postures than you previously thought possible. The two large
asana rooms here are modern and bright, with skylights through which
you can often hear the steady patter of rain.
Around the corner from the Iyengar Center sits another major force on
the Amsterdam yoga scene, Bharata Yoga. Gert van Leeuwen, the founder
of the Bharata Yoga Institute, dances Bharata Natyam – one of India’s
oldest dance forms – in addition to practicing yoga. He brings elements
of dance into his yoga, focusing on the movement from one asana to
another, not just on static postures. Van Leeuwen has developed a
unique theory of alignment that emphasizes extending and freeing the
upper back. In his classes, each posture is held for a long time in order
to experience this profoundly opening and deepening process.
Bharata Yoga offers a teacher training course, and its graduates often
open yoga studios of their own. One such example is the School voor
Yogasana’s, situated in Amsterdam’s most colorful and international
section, the Pijp. The warm, friendly atmosphere at the School voor
Yogasana’s is created not only by owner and teacher Paul Braaksma’s
gentle presence but also by the soft, apricot-colored lighting and
well-placed Hindu statues. Despite the serious discipline that Braaksma
instills in his classes, there’s a lot of laughing as well.
Merely walking into the Aurora Center for Natural Medicine and Personal
Growth seems to set a healing process in motion. Lynne de Jong-Decker,
an American expat, started Aurora seven years ago to create a place where
people from all cultures could feel comfortable. Aurora offers an eclectic
menu of hatha yoga styles, including Kundalini, Bharata, Kripalu and
Sivananda, as well as a range of healing and personal-growth workshops.
The classes are taught in a big room overlooking a free-lined canal, and
it’s nice to hear the gentle swish of water as you practice.
As you sit on the white carpet of the 3HO Kundalini Yoga Centrum, it’s
hard to believe that you’re only a block away from Amsterdam’s busiest
traffic circle, called the Weteringschans, and not deep in a magical forest.
The asana room is spotless, without décor or distractions; a glass door
looks out on trees in which it seems the happiest birds in the world sing.
For almost 30 years, the teachers at the 3HO Kundalini Yoga Centrum
have carved out an oasis of peace and quiet in this busy city.
Teresa Caldas opened Studio Asana in 1995 to share the knowledge she’d
gained from her studies with Dona Holleman and B.K.S. Iyengar. Since
then a loyal following of students have flocked to this sunny studio in the
heart of Amsterdam to experience Caldas’ uplifting and rigorous classes.
Caldas says, “We must let go of prejudices, concepts, and dusty old habits
and open the windows and doors of our bodies and minds.” It seems
utterly appropriate that she has chosen to open these windows and
doors in Amsterdam, the watery land of ancient ways and new horizons.
- Susan Nicolas