Yoga For All: An Interview with Juli Saragosa
by Muge Hizal
Filmmaker, instructor and yoga teacher Juli Saragosa shares her experiences. We talked to Juli about her journey to Berlin, Yoga and her motivation to support others through her knowledge.
Berlin is a unique city for many reasons. But for me, its most enticing quality has always been its diversity and its ability to embrace people’s differences. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the city attracts people from all around the world and all walks of life. Juli Saragosa, a filmmaker, instructor, and yoga teacher originally from Canada, is only one of them who made Berlin her home. As an artistic person with an activist’s sensibility, her yoga classes are far from the stereotypical ones. At English Yoga Berlin, she offers community classes that aim to make yoga accessible to everyone from transwomen to immigrants and people with limited resources.
Can you tell a bit about yourself?
I was born in Toronto, Canada with immigrant parents from different cultural backgrounds and grew up in a very multi-cultural and relatively working-class neighbourhood. In the 1970s, there was a lot of public support and funding for inner city neighbourhoods, so I had access to art and music programs. From an early age, I wanted to be an artist. I ended up in film school and worked in the film industry as a sound designer for many years and made my own short experimental films before deciding to get a more academic education. I moved to Vancouver to get an MFA in Interdisciplinary Art in 2004.
I always liked teaching. As a kid, I’d teach the local kids how to play the piano or use a computer because I’d learned those skills myself and wanted to share what I loved to do. So, I thought I could be an instructor. I tried to get work here and there as a media arts instructor, but there was very little work. A friend and I founded the Project8 Super8 Film Festival in Vancouver that ran for several years. It was the Super8 Film Festival that trained participants to create Super8 Film and then screened them all at the end. I’ve always helped out and participated in my community in some way, mentoring younger filmmakers or curating small screenings. Project8 was sort of a culmination of that.
I moved to Germany in 2009. That’s when I started teaching yoga and being part of the organization team of another film festival, entzaubert. I also did some cleaning and other odd jobs. In September 2016, I got work teaching at a film school, dBs, and I love it. It’s a great school, and I work with a great team. I finished my first long film that year too. The film is a first-person narrative experimental documentary about my grandmother and her experience as a forced-labourer under national socialism.
Why and when did you decide to move to Berlin?
I moved to Berlin in 2009 after several visits. I was in-between homes and jobs, not sure where my life was going to take me. My sister, who married a German in 2000, just had a child in April of 2009, and I went to help out. They were living in Halle at the time. I spent about three months there and then went back to Vancouver, where I had my stuff in storage. And then I made the decision to move to Berlin. There was a queer DIY film festival [entzaubert Queer DIY International Film Festival] in Berlin that I had attended in 2008. I did a Super8 Workshop in 2009 and then I ended up joining the organization team of entzaubert. I was very happy to find it and it became a big part of my life in Berlin for many years.
How did you start practicing yoga and when did you decide to be an instructor?
I started practicing yoga in 1997 when a friend asked if I’d like to go with her to some classes. I was hooked! And it became a regular practice. In keeping with my practice of sharing things that I love to do, I would give little lessons to friends. They were the ones who encouraged me to become a yoga teacher. In 2008, I was in between jobs and unhappy with my life in Vancouver, so I did a one-month intensive retreat in Mexico. I only started teaching yoga after moving to Berlin and started my own PWYC [pay what you can] class at the HeileHaus.
What does yoga mean to you?
What yoga means to me has been a long journey and has changed over the years. It began as something that helped me feel better, hold less tension in my body, feel less pain, be calmer, etc. But I’m also a spiritual person. I grew up quite Catholic, and rejected it early on, dabbling in witchcraft and then just finding my own spirituality. Yoga is most definitely a spiritual practice for me, but not in the very traditional and dogmatic ways. I think anything can become spiritual, even if it’s not named as such. People who run get a runner’s high, artists feel a certain type of connection when something just clicks. These are all spiritual moments to me. Yoga can be like this too. Not always, but there are moments of connection that tap into something bigger than the self.
Can you tell the story and motivation behind organizing a community class for marginalized groups?
I think I’ve always just rallied around the idea of supporting the underdog. I, myself, have felt in these situations too. I grew up in North America around the idea that to be beautiful you have to be thin, white, straight, and middle-class presenting. I always felt that was outside of my reach. Now I know that that’s not true. But it still feels uncomfortable for me to walk into a room full of bendy white skinny ladies and feel like they’re all looking at me as if I’m out of place. So I wanted a place where others, like me, could feel more comfortable. Obviously, I cannot provide that space for absolutely everyone. But I read a lot and speak with others about how we can dismantle this mainstream, culturally-appropriating and exploitative westernized yoga hegemony.
What kind of feedback did you get from the participants of your class?
There is too much to write in such a short space. But the ones who keep coming back are very happy about it.
In English Yoga Berlin website, there is an update regarding the cancellation of queer yoga class. Can you talk a little about why the class was cancelled?
Two reasons: firstly, it was underattended, and I just couldn’t pay the rent. Secondly, my workload at the film school got heavier and I needed a reduce my responsibilities.
Yoga is proven to be very beneficial for individuals as it helps them to reconnect with themselves and relax. However, many shy away from attending yoga classes because they don’t have the means or they don’t like yoga because of how it’ s perceived in the mainstream as a trendy, overpriced practice that is catered to a privileged group. What are your views on this issue?
I feel people are most definitely entitled to their opinions. There is a lot of yoga out there that is trendy, overpriced and mainstream, so I totally understand their position. And yoga is not for everyone. Not everyone will find what they need or seek with yoga. But my opinion is also this: don’t knock it ‘til you try it. The problem is finding those classes that don’t perpetuate mainstream yoga culture. There are many out there and I’ve met many yoga practitioners in Berlin who offer alternatives. People will find them if they’re meant to. A funny anecdote: you may have seen these stickers all over Berlin “Fuck Yoga” – I know the person who made them and they have eventually come to some of my classes.
In your biography at the English Yoga Berlin website, it is said that you used to hold a lot of tension in the body and that yoga was a way to help release it and feel better in general. Are there any other activities that you do to release the tension that you can suggest to others?
I ride my bike, I drink beer with friends. I try to relax and not get too overworked, though sometimes I’m not so successful with that. Today, I’ve got a little dog friend visiting, this is very relaxing too.
One common point we all have at WWLB is that we enjoy writing. Personally, I love writing because it allows me to express myself creatively, learn new things and interact with the world in a way that I feel comfortable about. Is there an activity that allows you to express yourself freely? Can you elaborate on them briefly?
I’m a filmmaker! ☺ Primarily so. Yoga is what the Germans would call my Nebenberuf. I also draw and have written some poetry and done some performances. I consider myself, first and foremost, an artist.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading a compilation of short stories, written in German called “Unicorns Don’t Swim.”
Do you have a book suggestion for WWLB members?
I recently acquired a book published by the International Women’s Space called “In Our Own Words / In Unseren Eigenen Worten.” I haven’t yet read it but flipped through. All proceeds go to supporting the IWS, which is a Berlin-based collective of refugee and migrant women in Germany.