A Yogi’s Healing Touch: An Interview with Eva Blutinger

While Eva is a “yogi” in the classroom, she also carries the title throughout every aspect of her life. As a Kripalu certified teacher, Eva represents the belief yoga is not simply an activity but rather a way of life. After discovering yoga in her 40s, Eva embarked on a journey of healing both herself and others. Now, she teaches yoga 5 days a week throughout the Washington, D.C. area, sharing her wisdom of Kripalu and most of all, fostering non-competitive spaces that encourage self-exploration and meditation in motion. In particular, Eva spends time each week teaching “trauma sensitive yoga” to patients at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. There, she tailors her practice to help those affected by trauma and shares the power yoga can have on mental health.

Eva sees the uniqueness of Kripalu as a tool for “inviting students to make this journey of self acceptance on their own.” Within a mental sanctuary, she inspires her students to exercise not only the physical body but also the mental body. In particular, Eva focuses on “prana,” the life-force energy that we illuminate through breath, as that which distinguishes Kripalu yoga from simply doing stretches or Pilates. In particular, Eva reminds her students that the human body can be seen as a series of layers, much like Russian nesting dolls. By incorporating a variation of breathing exercises into every class, her students are reminded to consciously send prana to each layer of the body. Along with the “asanas” (physical yoga poses), all spectrums of the body then become interconnected. Her bright spirit and smile draw students in and encourage them to take a short time out of their chaotic week to treat themselves.

H: What connects you to your cause and how did you come to embrace your current career/project? Do you feel that any past experiences, personal attributes, or other individuals have influenced you work? 

E: A bit about my background: I was born in the U.S. but raised in Italy (Calabria) until the age of 9. Came to Washington for a teaching fellowship at American University and taught French while working on my Masters in French Literature. I loved teaching and had planned to become a translator since I am fluent in Italian and French… but upon graduating in 1979 the ‘Computer boom’ took hold and and I landed a job as a Marketing support Rep for a word processing company. I was quickly moved into sales and later promoted to Branch Manager. My life was stressful as a hard charging sales manager with million dollar quotas, travel and raising three sons. When my third son was born, I decided it was time to leave the crazy hectic IT world and become a full time mom. This was 22 yrs. ago. It was a major life change for me– I loved my work and although stressful, it was exciting and had great financial rewards. I wasn’t sure how I would feel being a stay at home mom after being financially independent in a booming and exciting industry with so much potential.  Overnight I was disconnected from the business world and spent my days, playing with legos, going to Gymboree and driving to playdates. I immersed myself into the boys’ school, running the auction or the Parents’ Association and continuing to stay busy… but I never found time for myself nor the peace or balance in my life that I longed for.

I can still remember walking in to my first yoga class 20 years ago at American University. I could barely sit cross-legged on the floor. Yet, I knew from the first class that this was a place where I could shut out the rest of the world and direct all my energies inward… simply sink into my own body. It was a safe, comfortable and relaxed environment. I attended as many classes per week that I could. The changes in me began almost immediately.  I felt more grounded, patient, focused and calm. I remember thinking: I wish I had found yoga in my 20s not my 40s.

A few years ago as we became empty nesters, I found myself moving into the next chapter in my life and asking, “What’s next?”  I hadn’t a clue what I would spend my time doing except that I wanted to do something that I enjoy and would be meaningful. Yoga is a transformative, wisdom practice. The month long teacher training awakened my true calling to become a source of inspiration to others and to empower others to realize their full potential through this practice. Yoga and meditation hold the key to your mental, physical and spiritual health and with regular practice you can live a more balanced life. I’ve had numerous passionate yoga teachers along the way that loved sharing the gift of yoga, but I was especially influenced by a teacher who worked specifically with ‘wounded warriors’ suffering from post traumatic stress. I was inspired by her stories and the profound healing effects with this population. So, now I volunteer at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. I do yoga and yoga nidra (deep relaxation) with patients who have post traumatic stress.

H: Was this an envisioned life goal or a beautiful plot twist?

EDefinitely not an envisioned life goal. Being fluent in Italian and French, I always wanted to be an translator or interpreter which is what brought me to Wash, D.C. in the first place.

H: Within my own experience, there lies several realms of contention surrounding social change terms like “activist, “advocate,” or “feminist,” and the implications they hold both rhetorically and conceptually. How do you define these terms and do you identify your work and/or yourself with any or all of them. If so, why or why not?

E: I wouldn’t identify myself as an activist or feminist. Although, I believe in equality for all genders. I loved working in sales because I was compensated based on what I sold for the work I put in– regardless of my gender. The harder you worked the more you earned. I just always believed that regardless of your sexual orientation, gender or religion–these are irrelevant–the most important thing is for an individual to achieve their full potential.

H: I have the pleasure of taking your class at American University twice a week. What would you say to the public who are more skeptical or inexperienced with Kripalu and the mental, emotional, and spiritual elements of yoga practice? 

E: Kripalu is a style of yoga. There’s a common misperception that yoga is either a religion or a movement and it’s neither– it’s a practical aid. Yoga is an ancient wisdom practice that harmonizes the body, mind and spirit. The physical benefits are: it stretches and tones your muscles, releases chronic tension and allows you to destress. The mental benefits are that it calms restless thoughts, cultivates concentration and supports mental clarity. The spiritual benefits are that it encourages self-acceptance, invites deep peace and allows you to hear and listen to your inner wisdom. Once you recognize the benefits of yoga – then we can talk about the different styles. Kripalu means being compassionate in Sanskrit – the language of the yoga tradition. Both Kripalu Center and Kripalu yoga are named after Swami Kripalu (1913-1981), a yoga master renowned in India for the depth of his compassion and the intensity of his spiritual practice. His teachings were first brought to America in the 1960’s. One of his disciples founded Kripalu Center in 1974. What defines Kripalu Yoga is its emphasis on:

  1. Following the flow of Prana (healing life-force energy)
  2. Practicing compassionate self-acceptance & not trying to change who you are
  3. Developing witness consciousness (observing the activity of your mind without judgement)
  4. Taking what is learned ‘off mat’ and into your daily life
  5. It’s designed to adapt to all body types, ages & fitness levels

H: Has being a woman in any way positively or negatively influenced your work, your identity, your experiences, your empowerment? 

E: I’ve never thought about it. It’s never entered into the equation.

H: Have you met hurdles, doubts, or derailments to your plan/vision? How have you overcome struggles?

E: Everyone experiences doubts and struggles – it’s part of the human condition. But I truly believe that an attitude matters more than anything. We can sometimes be our own worst enemies. If you think it’s a struggle, it may be difficult to overcome… but if you look at it as a challenge, it’s easier to get through it. Your thoughts create your actions. If you can rename your struggles and call them challenges and opportunities – it’s easier to deal with them. It’s a bit like tricking the mind. I’ve had many challenges in my life: doing an advanced degree in French Literature at AU was a challenge,  working full time and raising 3 boys was a challenge, the month long yoga teacher training was a challenge. As I reflect back, these stand out as some of my greatest challenges… but they have also yielded the greatest rewards in my life. Anything in life that yields great rewards naturally requires some struggle.

H: What is an example of a moment you have seen tangible change within your audience– a client, a colleague— large or small scale? What was that experience like?

E: Every individual has a deep desire to live an authentic and joyful life. Each of us have a sacred duty to reach our full potential and help others reach theirs. What motivates me are the rewards I get from teaching yoga– seeing what the power of yoga can do for me and for others. The physical and emotional benefits from yoga can be profound and instantaneous. It has made significant changes in me. I experience heightened physical awareness of the body and my emotional state. I’m more focused and I have more physical and spiritual energy… this helps me release tensions held in the body. It’s created a more balanced me. My body is more balanced and my life is more balanced. Yoga encourages healthy eating habits and provides a heightened sense of well being and self esteem.

H: Do you believe that you have accomplished what you set out to do? What are your current hopes and pursuits? 

E: Yes, it’s been a work in progress, but I’m doing exactly what I hoped I would do. Teaching trauma sensitive yoga to patients at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center can be challenging but immensely rewarding. Each week, I witness young lives who have been emotionally and mentally broken from their war trauma. I see many who have never done yoga before feel calmer, more relaxed, and more hopeful. It’s empowering and touching. Trauma survivors are deeply wounded and feel disconnected from their bodies. They may even feel that their body is their enemy. These traumatic experiences and the pain that comes with it are held in the body for long periods which can create pain, discomfort and distress. If not dealt with, they can manifest themselves with insomnia, inability to live in the present (because they are stuck in the past), low self esteem, difficulty with relationships, and an inability to cope. Yoga, being a fundamentally body-based activity, has shown enormous effects for trauma survivors. We are teaching trauma survivors how to tame the mind and be more in control of their thoughts by reconnecting to the sensational experiences of the body… and live in the present. It goes beyond talk therapy and moves towards the physical body and toward compassionate, self-acceptance– without judgement. Furthermore, trauma can be many things: a terrible event like a car accident, sexual assault, medical trauma, losing someone you love, abuse, childhood neglect, victims of a natural disaster, homelessness, or mental illness. So, you can say that in one way or another trauma has touched most of our lives. For this reason, a sensitive yoga practice is best… which is why I love the Kripalu style of yoga because it places special emphasis on compassionate self-acceptance without judgement. Each day, I never know who is going to walk into my class and what they may carrying with them that particular day. This is why trauma sensitive yoga is so appealing to me and has hopefully made me a more empathetic teacher. My greatest joy is sharing this with others.

H: What is your message that you hope to send about your perspective cause? 

E: As a yoga and meditation teacher my message to everyone is that if you’re not into mind-body approaches such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and yogic breathing – it’s never too late to start. These practices will enhance your overall physical health and well being and maximize your ability to heal. With a regular practice you can move your emotional state away from stress, anxiety, fear and pain toward contentment and joy– which protects your immune system. It’s the ‘mind-body’ connection! The greatest gift for me is to witness people of all ages, explore and reconnect with these layers of themselves: mind, body and spirit… especially for those who have been disconnected from themselves for a long time.  I can see them having this sense of balance, wholeness and integration– even if just for a little while… the ability to ‘let go’ and surrender to whatever shows up on the mat… empowering individuals to be in control of their attention, make better choices and experience the present moment.

H: Outside of your career, what is your message that you hope to share as a human?

E: Work hard but don’t try so hard and be yourself– the rewards will come naturally. Never compromise your deepest held values. Maintain a positive outlook and kindness in the face of challenges. And practice self-reflection… the ability to look back on an experience, gain insight and learn from it.

H: What is your advice to other women pursuing their visions?

E: Be more curious than critical and appreciate yourself. Never stop learning and be proactive. Develop a mindset that looks to solve problems instead of dwelling on them. Surround yourself with like-minded people, or those that are on a similar path or journey– their behaviors subconsciously influence your decisions and choices. Follow your intuition, tap into your subconscious mind, listen to that ‘inner voice’ and stop doubting yourself. Do your work with enthusiasm and love… you will find fulfillment in your work and inspire others.

Readers: According to Eva, yoga has taught her how to pay attention “on the mat and off the mat.” With the right teacher, environment, and mindset, yoga becomes more than a series of postures. Have you ever had a healing experience on or off the mat? What brings you focus, healing, and peace?

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Photo: Courtesy of Eva

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