Featuring Vilien Coetzee from South Africa

Thursday, 6 August 2020

by Justine of Just Yoga

Writer and Inner Life Skills (ILS) coach, Vilien Coetzee, was climbing ladders in the book publishing industry. For four years, life was fast paced chasing one deadline after the next, burning the midnight oil and often neglecting her health and wellbeing. She would frequently work from five o'clock in the morning till eleven o'clock at night, sometimes only eating popcorn for lunch and takeaways for dinner. She would feel utterly depressed, isolated, and would experience extreme anxiety over potentially missing deadlines. She found it very hard to get her mind to become still and her health was on a downward spiral. She was struggling with insomnia; had really bad IBS that made her not want to eat anything; she had started having heart palpitations and constantly put herself under pressure to be productive with her time. 

Completely burned out, she quit her job and checked herself into the Buddhist Retreat Centre at Ixopo, KwaZulu-Natal for eighteen days. The program at the retreat was filled with meditation, silent walks, asana practice, teaching and resting. It was all about her; relaxing her mind and recuperating her body in the midst of three hundred acres of lush green, rolling hills. As beautiful and idyllic as it might sound, it wasn’t an easy experience for Vilien, at all. Somehow she had completely lost the ability to sit quietly by herself just reflecting breathing.

"I noticed that every time I did yoga, my mind got a tiny bit quieter, pausing its incessant chatter in between each breath in and out. I also noticed that after doing yoga, it became a little easier to sit for 30 minutes and meditate." 
Before this retreat, Vilien’s exposure to yoga was only from gym yoga classes. Those experiences had not really impressed her much or encouraged her to try it on her own. At the retreat, she was introduced to her first Ashtanga yoga class. It was a beginner class which was quite gentle yet still energising. Her yoga teacher was very patient while demonstrating the asanas. Vilien has fond memories of loving the flow of each and every movement made by her body. 

"It’s not easy to face the thoughts and the feelings you have locked away safely for so long. To hear, from within yourself, the truth about how you’ve been living your life and treating yourself was something I needed to confront."
Someone who has been a shining light of inspiration, for Vilien, is Sharni Quinn who is now a well known wellness consultant. Vilien met Sharni at a the ILS wellness course that they had both enrolled for and she felt instantly drawn to her energy. There was a lot of Sharni's life experiences that she could relate to and so she became a regular at Sharni's hatha and vinyasa yoga classes. Her sense of wellbeing just improved whenever she attended those classes. She could feel her body relaxing and breathing a sigh of relief. Seeing the attention to detail that Sharni paid to her yoga classes; from the jasmine incense to the beautifully lit candles; Vilien slowly started to see how practicing yoga was actually one of the most beautiful acts of self-love that she had known.

She was so drawn to yoga and the self-love it was teaching her that she decided to go on a life-changing yoga retreat to Bali where she practiced various styles of yoga with extremely experienced teachers that were passionate about wellness and healing. She found some classes strong while others gentle or done while flying around in the air in aerial yoga pods.
"Thanks to yoga, I became aware of a way of living very different to the 9-5-on-autopilot life that I have been leading up to this point. To me, yoga became the spiritual practice that it was always meant to be. A way of reconnecting with my true Self, my essence. Since then, yoga has become a regular part of my week."

"Doing Pranayama breathing is a great way to slow down your heart rate and come back to centre. Every time I struggle with insomnia, I do alternating nostril breathing, fire breathing and the humming bee. This puts me right to sleep."
Vilien practices yoga asanas at least once a week and occasionally uses certain pranayama techniques to reach a relaxed state. Before lockdown, she was a regular at The Shala in Gardens and also practiced with a few friends at the Hare Krishna Temple in Rondebosch. Both of these places have come the closest to recreating the experience she had with yoga in Bali. During lockdown Vilien started streaming yoga classes live from YogaBarn in Bali and has also supported Sharni's online classes.  She has also found yoga with Adriene on YouTube very useful because she can pick the yoga that she has a need for: Yoga for tight shoulders; yoga for relieving tension and anxiety; yoga for before bedtime, to name a few.  Having access to the plethora of online classes, definitely helped Vilien cope with uncomfortable experiences that came up for her during lockdown. It also helped connect her with her bliss and happy place so that she could be a more present partner. 

The main reason Vilien practices yoga is for the mental health benefits. She is deeply interested in nervous system regulation and ways to induce your body out of survival mode. She believes that yoga is one of the pivotal embodiment practices, besides somatic exercises, that she knows of that can be used to ease stress and anxiety. A yoga teacher with knowledge of this is a truly great teacher, according to Vilien, who always tries to find someone like this.

Vilien has found Yin yoga, to be especially powerful, when it comes to stress reduction by activating our parasympathetic nervous systems – the parts of our nervous systems that works to calm and soothe the body after a triggering or stressful event. For example, by doing child’s pose you stimulate your vagus nerve which works to regulate your parasympathetic nervous system bringing you back to that calm and quiet space within. It’s one of the most soothing and grounding postures that she knows and also one of her favourite postures. Another favourite of hers is the Ananda Balasana or Happy Baby pose. She finds it a great pose to get her out of her head and into her body purely because it’s such a funny, uninhibited move to make that does wonders for her upper and lower back. She can never keep a straight-face when she does this pose because it makes her feel like a kid again. It also reminds her not to take life so seriously.

"Yoga helped me reconnect with myself. Through yoga I learnt to tune into my body again by becoming aware of the sensations and listening to what it has to tell me. Something that’s easy to forget how to do when working in a fast-paced working environment. We tend to forget all about ourselves."
Yogi Vilien Coetzee's final message, to anyone wanting to explore yoga, is to always remember that nothing good ever comes from pushing, forcing and straining your body too much. Your body is your temple, you only have one of it and you need to treat it with kindness. Practicing yoga gives you that much needed kindness and self-love. 

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