Beta (pronounced Beh-ta) is an experienced yoga teacher, Reiki master and Myofascial therapist who was born in Brazil but is now based in Portugal. She started out as an athlete in her home country and then moved to Boston where she trained with Baron Baptiste and was certified in Ashtanga Power Yoga. I wanted to find out more about her path into yoga and healing and how she manages her life as a travelling and teaching global yogi today.
Welcome Beta, you are in Bangkok today?
Hello, I have just come from Ko Yao Noi, where we are hosting our training, and we are now in Bangkok before going to the next island – Koh Phagnan.
How you started practicing yoga? You started out as an athlete, so how did that change into yoga?
I was very lucky to have been offered yoga at the university in Brazil. At the age of nineteen I was studying sports and fitness and as an athlete I was a swimmer and a triathlete. So I was studying sports and practicing for many years – very radical sports.
So did you imagine being a professional sports person?
Yes, so in fact I worked in fitness centres as a sports coach, by the pool I taught babies swimming classes and I was lucky enough to be offered Ashtanga yoga as a full six month course at this university as well as sports massage and traditional Chinese medicine.
It was all part of this program in Brazil (Salvador) and being exposed to Ashtanga yoga which was quite a strong, energised practice. This gave me the same kind of support for my body so that I could feel that I can slowly leave the athletic world and move into yoga.
And how long did that transition take from when you started yoga to when you decided to move move into yoga over athletics?
From the very first moment when I had my first yoga class I knew that there was something very special there.
Even though you were so young?
Yes, as I entered into my practice, the breath and the connection to my body was very different from swimming and riding bikes. There was something special there that I later realised was my realisation of prana and so, it caught me, and after six months I just kept following my teacher and going two or three times a week to practice with her, and I got invited to assist her twice a week in her studio. So as I finished collage four years later I already knew that OK, sports massage, yoga and some Eastern medicine would be part of my life and indeed it is. Twenty years later I am here.
So you were very clear from the start that that was your path for work as well?
Yes, but I taught in fitness centres as a personal trainer, I was an aerobic teacher, body pump teacher, sports coach. I have done everything!
And also because the course was physical education – any sports, then I had the chance to teach PE at schools for kids and I brought kids yoga to schools in Boston.
So that was the beginning of your kids yoga teaching?
Yes, I already had a background of teaching kids at school and I was finishing my Masters in Boston when I had my practicum with kids yoga in public schools in Boston.
And how did you find that the kids responded to yoga?
Oh, they are so natural. They are yogis.
It’s just a question of understanding kids minds and the way that they learn – the different intelligence they have so they you can connect with them through yoga, and that’s pretty much my work with them.
And for us, getting in touch with our inner child is the first step to really understand and hold space for kids. They don’t need to be taught, they just need us to hold space for them to bring out their little yogis.
I guess you have to make it fun, make it into a bit of a game?
Yes, playfullness is the basis of any work with kids. I was very lucky because at university we had a course for about a year that taught us playfullness. And that’s how we hold space for kids for any kind of sports or yoga for kids. That’s why you can’t teach a child yoga the way you teach an adult.
Although probably at the same time you can bring that into your classes for adults as well – some playfullness. Because yoga can be very serious sometimes.
Definitely! You know life is already too serious. And I think that’s what people can feel in my classes. Just from their feedback, they laugh a lot! And when I see people making a serious face and trying too hard, I just ask them to relax.
Life is already too serious. Yoga is a way to support and to relax the body and the mind. You know we already live in this competitive mode so you step into a yoga studio for two hours to give yourself some relaxation and fun time. So definitely bringing playfulness into adult yoga classes is so important.
So how long were you practicing yoga before you took the path of becoming a teacher and knowing that was going to be your work?
So I kept practicing for about four years, which was the college period. And then right after, I got married and I moved to Boston, where I did my first official Yoga Alliance teacher training.
With Baron Baptiste?
It was with Beryl Bender Birch from New York. At that time she was already sixty-five. I have lost contact with her, but she was an amazing teacher, a very powerful woman and very knowledgeable.
So by then you’d been practicing for four or five years, and at that point you decided to start teaching yoga?
I had taught some classes in Brazil as I said throughout my studies, but I didn’t have my own studio.
So in Boston, I committed to teach in a studio, and I was there for four years, teaching at least four times a week and as well taking classes in all the studios in the area. In Boston even fifteen years ago there were yoga studios everywhere, yoga was big.
So I had the chance to practice hot power yoga with Baron Baptiste, just a few doors from my place and there I started to really take yoga as my profession.
And I read you studied Barbara Brennan healing?
I didn’t study with her personally, but I studied with one of her students for one year. I was doing a course in the chakra system, which we had the chance to go very deep. We would go to nature one weekend a month, and really experience deep levels of healing and understanding of the chakra system from Barbara Brennan.
Yes I have her book ‘Hands of Light’ and it is truly amazing.
Yes the system is really incredible. And it’s very scientifically proven.
Because she was a scientist no?
Yes she worked for NASA.
That’s how she brought her scientific knowledge to the energy system of the human body.
And this meeting of science and energy healing is quite rare. So we are very lucky to have someone like her working in this field.
Yes it’s great to have someone like her giving scientific credibility to things that are very esoteric for some people to understand.
Definitely, even Myofascial Release. When I did the training six years ago in the States, people didn’t talk about fascia as much as they are talking now. And the scientists and medical doctors are still trying to prove the existence of fascia. So I think we still need a lot of scientific research and support.
Can you explain a little what the fascia is and how it works?
Basically Myofascial Release Therapy works by releasing the fascia in the body. Fascia is one of the connective tissues. It’s a tissue that connects and protects. It is all the white tissues in our bodies. So when you think about it you think of all the white tissue on top of the muscle, but also inside the muscle.
When you cut a muscle you see all this while tissue which people used to call the nerves, but it’s not the nerves, it’s the fascia. And it also protects our organs, our lungs, our heart, all the membranes. And it carries a lot of information.
It’s composed of collagen fibres and a lot of water and something that is a kind of transmitter that’s called hyaluronic acid. So now, hyaluronic acid is becoming very trendy in all the cosmetics shelves and in beauty clinics as they finally understand that what we need is more hyaluronic acid to open up the collagen fibres and hydrate our system.
So these are very important tissues because its where a lot of our traumas and emotions are held.
In the fascia?
Yes, when you talk about the physical level in the body, it’s really in the fascia where it’s held. It is like I call this the storage room of the emotions in our body. So it’s a very powerful therapy – Myofascial Release – because it works in the fascia.
The first superficial facscia is like a spiderman wetsuit. Because the collagen fibres form this spiderman net and you can see exactly what I mean when you do a dissection or in photos. So that is the first layer of fascia, called the superficial fascial which connects the top of our head all the way down to the feet.
And then you have inner layers, deeper layers which connect muscles to bone, bone to bone, inside the joints, synovial fluids, so it reaches everywhere. That’s why it’s becoming prominent subject in the sports and fitness industry, in the yoga industry and in bodywork. And it is mostly related to trauma in our system.
So the fascia becomes tense and contracted?
It becomes short and mostly dry, yes.
One of the reasons we get into the ageing process is because we loose a lot of water in our bodies in the fascial system. And what we are doing with body work and yin yoga (has to be a specific style of yoga) and martial arts like chi gung and tai chi, it’s really bringing hydration back.
It opens up the tissue to keep our youth. It’s also related to injuries – emotional and physical trauma in the body. As soon as we stop exercising we decrease our range of motion. What happens is that the tissue get dry, and it looses it’s malleability. It’s not very elastic, but it’s malleable. So if it gets dry, it gets very yellow like an old bone. If you know what I am talking about. When you get a bone from an animal, if it’s a young animal the bone marrow will be white, red and quite juicy, but if its an old animal it will be very yellow and dry.
So that’s what happens to us. Ageing, injuries, emotional trauma when we contract parts of our bodies and there we don’t breathe anymore, we deny and we get numb. So these are the causes of compromising the fascial tissue.
So you integrate that into Yin yoga. So you have Myofascial Release and Yin yoga classes?
Yes, I put a system together a few years ago, when I was working with people, asking myself how can they (my clients) help themselves so that they don’t need to come back to me every day.
So I made a combination of yin yoga – a long held system of yoga where you are working relaxation, giving time and giving an opportunity for the fascia to open up and heal – and I included the tennis balls and the rolls. You massage and you open up the fascia and also you can reach deep into the tissues of the trigger points. So Yin yoga is very focused on how to release the fascia, but it’s a self-myofascial release. We stay a very long time in the poses, five to ten minutes, breathing, and allowing those emotions to be released.
So that’s pretty much how it works. And it’s very effective. I have beautiful releases in my classes. So it’s really a beautiful and deep work.
How do you manage running a business and teaching yoga? Do you always have a self care practice that comes first?
Yes, I try to have my self care practice in place. But lately I have been travelling and moving a lot, which definitely compromises my practice. So the last few days, my body was screaming and saying: hey, something is wrong here. So the body feels much more when you have a practice for twenty years or more and the priority is to take care of our bodies and the body mind system.
Once I have done my practice I can go out in the world and do anything. But it has been a challenge recently with so many travels and movement to the point that I decided that it’s time to find a home base. Until I found it.
And that’s Portugal?
Yes, that’s Portugal. I hope to be there throughout most of the year. And going to Asia for two months is not going to be too much of a compromise.
So as a Global Yogi, do you have a regular schedule, where you teach each year at the same time in the same places?
Yes I used to have but now I am in a transition so I am working out where is the most nutritious place for me to be and for me to be able to offer my trainings and my retreats. Att the moment I will be in Europe from May to end of November and a month in between in Brazil, and probably December to February I will be between Thailand, Bali and India.
I am just not very clear yet if I am going to be in India or Bali more. But my next trip is to be three weeks in Koh Yao Noi and offering there a 200 Hour Dynamic Spiral Yin Yoga Training. So I offer a training that is Yang style and dynamic, but it is still concentrating on releasing and keeping the fascia healthy. So that’s the 200 hour teacher training for end of January. And then I have a mindfulness module of 100 Hours of Yin Fascia Yoga in March in Bali.
So do you ever feel disorientated of disconnected when you are travelling from one place to the other?
I don’t feel disorientated. But it takes a little bit of time to ground again and to call this home. I have been travelling since my twenties, so it became a part of my lifestyle and how I live. So it’s not new, but definitely every time i move to a new place, it takes time to breathe the air, take the prana of this place and to integrate my body and my system with the place. But I find it’s my state of mind as well.
If I come with an open mind and a willingness to take the culture and the weather, that makes a big difference. I have just come from Portugal, which is now cold and dry to Thailand, and of course for the body it can be a big shock, so just to be open to take Thailand. The first thing I do is I eat the local dish to establish a connection with the body, the food, the culture, then exposing myself to the weather, you know it’s humid, it’s good to be outside and to allow the body to take it in.
So yes, in the first moment it can be a challenge but it’s really about being open to take it in.
Which is what travel is all about!
Yes, to discover what is new in this place, to discover the culture, to discover what is different to where we are.
It’s fascinating for understanding the mind. We are Westerners. I come from the other side of the planet. So when I first came to Bali twenty years ago and to India fifteen years ago, it was like, oh it’s really the Eastern mind and it’s the opposite of mine. It’s like two brain hemispheres coming together.
That’s why it’s amazing to see how people can have a completely different concept of what life is.
Yes, for me it helped me to drop a lot of my belief system, what I thought was right or wrong. That was a big part of being exposed to different cultures. Just to understand that there is a difference there but it doesn’t mean that my culture or my way of being is better.
And also not worse, just different
That’s what India taught me, to be open to the new culture and to the way other people think. People behave so differently. When you come to India you come full of your own ideas and the way you want things to be and the way things should work and then that’s the first big lesson.
For all of us when we arrive in India we say ‘OK, it is what it is’ and then you start seeing beauty and you accept it. It is magical.
Do you still reconnect with your own teachers?
No so much. With Sarah Powers sometimes. But I am quite busy with my own teaching right now. But I keep coming back to India and putting myself in some meditation retreats. I also learn a lot with my partner (Simon Calder). He came into my life a year and a half ago and he is a chi gung teacher and daoist teacher. He has brought a lot of the chi gung foundation to my trainings and retreats so we both complement each other. For me, two years ago I was at a point where I wanted to discover more the Chinese philosophy, so I asked for this. And I didn’t only get a chi gung teacher but I got a Doaist lover! So lately these last two years he is my big teacher.
All relationships are teachers
Definitely we are teachers for each other as well.
So you connect with Mooji (spiritual teacher who spends quite a bit of time in India each year) as well?
The last time I was in Tiruvanamalai I was sitting with him for a month, but that’s about five years ago now. I know now I am very near to him. I tried to see him this last summer but our schedule didn’t match, because he is living in Portugal now, he has his own ashram there, only two hours south from where I am in Lisbon. Definitely next summer I will go and sit with him again. I was more connected to Prem Baba actually as I went to Brazil in June and we went to Prem Baba’s ashram.
I don’t really know Prem Baba but I know Mooji’s work
They are both so beautiful. And actually they were together in Rishikesh (India) last year, super connected to each other. I was so happy because at first I met Mooji a few years ago in India and then I met Prem Baba and I was like: wow they should would really get along. And they did.
Prem Baba is also because I am brazilian, and he’s in Brazil and when he’s not in India, he is most of the time in Brazil. He has a big community there. My sister is a devotee and my little newphew got a deeksha at the age of four. They came to India six years ago and they fell in love with Prem Baba, and he said, OK I am his devotee.
And with Vipassana Meditation, do you integrate some meditation into your training?
My daily meditation practice is based on Vipassana work – mindfulness. In the past I spent some time at the same Buddhist centre. I was very into Zen Buddhism. But something was missing for me in the Zen practice until I started my first Vipassana in the Thai style where I was lucky to get what I was looking for which was the meditation teachings and mindfulness teachings.
And definitely one of my strongest personal practices is meditation. That became a strong part of my teachings as well. So, mindfulness became a foundation for my kids yoga work, for the Yin fascial yoga, for the spiral yoga, because without mindfulness meditation, the practice is missing something.
Meditation is really the foundation of the spiritual practice. And it’s a very simple technique that anyone can do. There is a very strong foundation to come back to the body. There are not so many tools that focus outside. All the focus is about here, about, us, about here and now.
Have you been to Wat Kow Tham?
Yes, I have been there. I love Anthony’s teachings. He is amazing. He is a blessing. I almost left everything a couple of years ago to spend three months with him. It was not the time yet, but I still want to do this.
That’s one of the biggest gifts just to sit and study with him, being silent.
Before this I spent time in the Goenka (ed: Burmese founder of a worldwide network of Vipassana retreats) style but at some point in the past I was looking for more teachings. And his teachings are just a blessing, a gift. And I like the fact that we use sitting and walking. I was teaching yin fascial yoga there and he fell in love with it. Because it is so mindfull. He wanted me to stay for three months and teach yoga.
And the place is so beautiful too!
Yes, sitting by the rock and looking at the view.
Yes, it is heaven on Earth!
A lot of yogis are challenged by the business aspect of being a yoga teacher. Do you have any training in business?
No, my business training was life training. I come from a very strong business family. My father was a business man and this gave me the drive and the support to hold everything together and to understand business from the spiritual perspective for sure. But it is a challenge sometimes to find the balance between: Ok, this is where my heart is, and I still need to support myself. And to find that balance is a constant dance.
For me awareness and mindfulness with everything I am putting out there is what I feel is the foundation of the offer.
Because yoga of course for many people, including myself, becomes out career. It becomes our way of making our living, and it’s always been for me. It’s not that I was into the corporate world and the business world and I stepped into the yoga world. For me, yoga has always been my way to support myself. But basically in the last ten years there are many more teacher trainings, more yoga teachers and it’s becoming interesting how yoga is being put out there and it’s hard to say but there is a lot going on which is not very responsible I would say. People should be more responsible for their actions and their behaviour.
Because yoga has become so popular and there are so many teacher trainings it can be hard for people starting out as yoga teachers. So how do you advise your students managing the element of many more yoga teachers.
When I finish each module I tell my students that the practice starts now.
I don’t think people can spend a month with me or ten days that they are yoga teachers yet. It is a constant practice and study. So I tell people to start teaching everyone around them. Take time to practice and to play. What is happening with the teacher trainings now is that a lot of people who have never done yoga before are come to do a teacher training and then they say: OK this is going to be my new career. And after three or four weeks of being at the training people leave and think they are ready. Now I am a teacher. And yes, they can get a lot of training, a lot of knowledge. But it is in knowing that it’s a life long practice, that it’s a life long education.
Everything is becoming very instant now. In our society people are expecting everything will be – tomorrow. For example my body work training was for two years. Now the same thing is being offered as a three day training. Everything is changing because time is changing. Internet is out there so information is accessible for everyone. But it’s each one of our responsibility to be conscious of what we are doing. We can’t stop what is going on because it is not only the yoga field. I feel it is happening with everything. But if I have a message to leave, it’s take some responsibility for your self practice, for your own body and behaviour and for what you are putting out there, because we are leading people into that. And another thing that I notice is that the students will realise. They will notice the teachers who have the practice embodied in their system and the teacher who are not transmitting but who are teaching from reading or from other peoples’ work. It is very different. So the students will find the right teacher for themselves.
So you don’t need to worry about competition?
It is not that I am worried. But it does affect my business for sure. Because the marketing is very wild out there. The big companies: fitness companies, or spa companies. They have the money and the marketing behind them, and they will just hire anyone to teach teacher trainings, someone who hasn’t even finished their own training.
Someone like me with my company which is small – I don’t have this big money behind me – we get affected for sure, but I trust that what I am offering is real and it’s valuable, and people who will benefit from my work will find me.
Sometimes I feel ashamed about this [the fact that in the yoga industry there are many companies now who will hire anyone regardless of their yoga experience and their level of knowledge] but I realise I can’t do anything about it.
So you just have to keep the focus on your own work, no?
Exactly, the frustration comes when you see people who are not prepared yet holding space for sometimes big groups, it’s sad, but it’s life, and it’s all a perfect divine order. Things will move and change on their own natural flow, and I believe that we will reach a point where things will shift, and there will be a natural selection of what is real and what is not real anymore.