9. Trusting our Personal Experience and the Joy of the Outdoors with Barbora Sojková

episode description & show notes

Harriet is joined by Barbora Sojkova.

Barbora Sojkova is a yoga teacher and academic, originally from Prague, Czech Republic. She is currently finishing her DPhil in Sanskrit at the University of Oxford with a research focused on animals, plants, and human-animal relationships in Vedic India. She is deeply interested in nature, environmental activism, and climate crisis.

Barbora and Harriet talked about the value of a great teacher, trusting personal experience and the joy of being outdoors.

Links:
Book: The Dawn of Everything
Book: The Mushroom at the End of the World

You can find Barbora here:

Read the full transcript:

SUMMARY KEYWORDS
yoga teacher, people, world, animals, yoga, nourishing, barbara, climate crisis, Prague, experience, Czech republic, called, talking, literature, yoga sutra, students, interested, personal experience, interesting, feel

SPEAKERS
Harriet McAtee, Barbora Sojková

Harriet McAtee
Welcome to In our experience, a podcast exploring the many ways of living well with Nourish Yoga Training. I’m your host, Harriet, yoga teacher and founder of Nourish. Today I’m joined by Barbora Sojková; Barbara is a yoga teacher and academic originally from Prague in the Czech Republic. She’s currently finishing her DPhil in Sanskrit at the University of Oxford with research focused on animals, plants and human-animal relationships in Vedic India. She’s deeply interested in nature, environmental activism, and climate crisis. I had a really lovely time chatting with Barbara. We talked about the value of a great teacher, trusting our personal experiences and the joy of being outdoors. I would love to hear what you think about our episode today. So do pop us a message or an email; you can find how to contact us in the show notes. Right. Here’s my chat with Barbara. Hi, Barbara.

Barbora Sojková
Hello.

Harriet McAtee
Welcome to In our experience, it’s so nice to have you here.

Barbora Sojková
Thank you. I’m very glad to be here as well.

Harriet McAtee
How are you doing today?

Barbora Sojková
I’m alright; I’m really cold, actually. I’m freezing.

Harriet McAtee
It is cold today. It was very icy this morning.

Barbora Sojková
Yeah, it was. I woke up, and it was still dark. And I was just like, I’m just not going to go out of bed. Why?

Harriet McAtee
It did; I did. I did snooze my alarm several times this morning. So I’m right there with you. Well, we’re going to begin our episode today as we do every episode; I’m going to ask you what’s nourishing you this week. And as I, as I sort of always say, this can be something small, silly can be profound if you want it to be. And I will help you out by sharing mine first. And this is my first recording session back after the Christmas break. And I had a really nice time over Christmas doing lots and lots of reading. I read some great books, by the fire, with snacks. And it felt really nice actually to not spend hardly any time on my computer. That felt like a real gift. So that’s me. What about you?

Barbora Sojková
Well, in true Barbara fashion, I absolutely over thought have overthought this question. Since you’ve asked me, I have thought about it almost like every other day. And so I thought I could say two things, actually. And one of them is currently nourishing my intellectual self. And it’s a reading I’ve been doing. It’s a book by David Winco and David Graeber, archaeologist and anthropologist called the dawn of everything. And it’s sort of like a new history of humankind and how basically a story of inequality, how we got where we are now with this capitalists hellscape. And whether it’s, you know, whether hierarchy is an innate thing in the human condition. So that’s been really nourishing me intellectually. But in a more kind of general way, I think it has to be, has to be my time away; I went away for four or five days with, you know, my best friends in the UK. We rented a house in the Peak District and just spent, you know, the New Year and the base around New Year, just climbing and walking and eating good food and playing board games. And it was just really nice to be outside and moving even though it’s cold, but it was sunny. It was also wet, but it’s fine. Yeah, so that has to be that as well.

Harriet McAtee
Both of those things are very good. We will we’ll link to that book in the show notes so people can find it. But that sounds fascinating. And I love that we’re. We’re not even like three minutes in, and we’re already talking about a capitalist hellscape.

Barbora Sojková
As I said, true Barbora fashion.

Harriet McAtee
It’s very own bread. Yeah. And yeah, it’s really nice to be outside, I think New Year. It’s a it’s a weird time of year for all sorts of reasons. But I think taking time out and going away just sounds like perfection.

Barbora Sojková
Yeah, it totally is. And I’ve been trying to do it basically every year apart from last year when we couldn’t go anywhere. But basically every year, that’s like the first thing I do is to go outside if I can, and it’s, it’s something that my parents taught me to do. We would always go to the mountains. And although the Czech Republic, where I’m originally from, doesn’t have massive mountains is, you know, rounded hills, because it’s so Continental. We do have a lot of snow. We used to have a 20 30 years ago when, you know, climate change was still not the thing, kind of. So we would go skiing every time, and it was just a really good thing to do, you know, start the year a new moving outside in the cold. And yeah, I really like doing it’s still.

Harriet McAtee
That’s so nice. I think I quite like cold weather like I don’t like being cold. But I enjoy cold weather, which is a like it’s an interesting conundrum to find myself in. But I think if you’re like properly dressed and your houses are properly heated.

Barbora Sojková
Oh yeah, not like in the UK,

Harriet McAtee
No. On my boat, which just leaks heat out of every surface, I think one of the things people don’t realise about boats is that you’re sitting in, like your a metal container sitting in cold water in the winter. So all of the heat just leaks out the sides of the boat. But my boat is very cosy. So, I don’t mind it.

Barbora Sojková
I can imagine you’re a very cosy person. So.

Harriet McAtee
Yeah, I’m also a total fire bug, so. My fire I like, my fire was so hot that I like warped the steel the iron like grates in, like, hold the coal in. My landlord was really impressed. He was like, I’ve never caught it that hot. And I was like, wow. Yeah. He was a little bit worried that I’d set the whole boat on fire. Oh, well. Tell me, tell me a little bit about your background? And how you would? How you would describe what you do what it is that you do?

Barbora Sojková
I think it’s a really good question. Because I do a lot of things, they can’t really be described by one word. And I think a useful category for me. And to hide behind hide behind is that I’m a student. And I’ve been a student for a really long time. Actually, I’ve been in university education since 2009, which is a long, long time. So I’m currently a DPhil student here at Oxford working on Sanskrit, is the broader subject area that I work with, that I work on. But I am actually a Vedicist working on animals, especially domesticated animals in ancient India, roughly around, you know, 1000 Before Common Era. But apart from my research, I do loads of other things. So I climb a lot, a lot, a lot. And I am a yoga teacher; I have a weekly class in Oxford in a really wonderful place called let’s grow boxing, which is sort of in a very open accessible boxing studio. And they kind of invited me to do a bit of movement there, which has been really lovely. And, and I also teach or facilitate yoga history classes, which, you know, that is really tying loads of knots from the strings that I do. So that is both inviting the yoga part of me, the movement part of me, and also the academic part of me together. And to facilitate kind of learning, and I’m growing for yoga teachers who might be interested in history and philosophy and all these various things.

Harriet McAtee
One of the things that I always one of the images that always comes to mind for me when I am talking to people in this field like because we always do many, many things, is like Indras net, the sort of myth of the myth of Indras net. And if people aren’t familiar with this, it’s this idea that like, there’s this like, net of, I’m going to tell it wrong, but like net of diamonds or like net of like little points, so like connect us all, and it’s sort of it’s a like allegory for the interconnectedness of the universe, in a sense. But I’m always like, we’ve got these little nets that we cast out. And we just scoop everything up and bring it in.

Barbora Sojková
Yeah, yeah, it totally is like that. Sometimes I imagine it as a Wikipedia page, like, you can like, click and click and click and you end up, you know, with something completely different than that you’ve started, and sometimes my life does feel like that. And you know, I have started doing something completely different. But I’ve been clicking on the hyperlinks, and I end up some ended up somewhere, and I’m like, How did I even get here? But it kind of makes sense when I look back?

Harriet McAtee
Well, I was just about to ask, like, tell me a little bit about how that unravelled for you, like was it the yoga that came first or the academia that came first or did they happen at the same time?

Barbora Sojková
They kind of happened at the same time. So I was I I think I have always been very interested in other cultures and in history and kind of like knowing stuff that not very many people carry about, which sounds really hipsterish. But

Harriet McAtee
Barbora dislikes big, really obscure everybody.

Barbora Sojková
kind of. But yeah, my mum would always read me like Greek myths when I was really small. And I was always interested in things like that. So when I was thinking in high school, what I would like to do, and I picked religious studies because the programme in Prague was very broad. And it actually was. Yeah, it was like basics of all humanities in one degree, but looking through the lens of Religious Studies, and so I came into the degree. And I really wanted to do Judaism because it was the only different thing I knew. Like in Central European history, you don’t really learn about Hinduism that much or anything else. So I knew about Judaism and started studying Hebrew. And then slowly, slowly, I started like, meeting all these other traditions and these like other people in other places, and yeah, through really influential and influential teacher that I’m still in touch with up till today. I started studying India, just because he was really good. He was a really great pedagogue. And so I think it was mainly through him and sort of his passion and his sight for the subject. I like got really psyched myself. And in the same time, I first went away volunteering in Iceland when I was in my first year at uni, and I worked at archaeological excavations of a monastery. And when I came back, I was like, oh, monasteries are fun, I just spent, you know, some time in a monastery, why I do it next year, as well. And I found a place in Nepal. And I volunteered there in a Tibetan monastery as an English teacher in my second year, for a few months, actually. And I didn’t know much about South Asian culture or anything like that. And I came back, and I was, you know, my mind was completely blown. It was really a changing experience in my life. And I was like, well, I should study Sanskrit because I should know, something that, you know, informed this experience. And so slowly, I started building on this first-hand experience. But so that that’s the academic side, that sort of, you know, started my passion for South Asia. But at the same time, when you’re at uni, in the Czech Republic, and I think in Germany as well, you have to do some PE in the first two or three semesters.

Harriet McAtee
Really.

Barbora Sojková
Yeah. I grew up as a very active child. I was actually in a national team for rowing when I was in juniors. So I competed for the Czech Republic in a single skull. And I kind of dropped it when I was a teenager because, you know, it’s, it’s not cool to move. And I wanted to be, you know, in a hardcore punk scene and do all these kinds of things. So I completely dropped like movement. But I started at uni had to do these PE courses, and I picked yoga. And I don’t know why I absolutely hated it. It was taught by a cult in Prague; it was, it’s called Yoga daily. It’s an international school, but they have a school in Prague.

Harriet McAtee
Oh, I think I might know which organisation. You mean.

Barbora Sojková
Yeah. And I absolutely despised it. But something kind of, yeah, that was a spark. And when I left for Nepal, I actually started doing sun salutations every day without knowing really anything else about yoga. And because I’m kind of like, interested in my own personal experiences, more than you know, what are people telling me? I would do sun salutations every day when I was in Nepal for months and months, and then came back and was like, well, I should find a yoga teacher that I like. And I did, and it kind of stuck. Yeah, and here I am. So it really happened in the same time from two different directions.

Harriet McAtee
It’s so interesting how like, to both of those sorts of threads, the importance of like a great teacher is to those journeys and is to those experiences. And I think for so many people who feel that yoga isn’t for them or that yoga isn’t accessible, or that learning and academia also isn’t accessible. It often is because they haven’t. They haven’t found their way in, or they haven’t found the teacher to show them their way into how it could be for them.

Barbora Sojková
Yeah, totally. And I think it’s really important to, you know, if, as yoga teachers, we have students that we feel like they don’t really like us to say, in a kind of egoless fashion, you know, maybe it’s me, you can go and try something else. And maybe you want like something else either, but it just to like, kind of step away and be like, maybe I’m not the right teacher for you. And you, you could look elsewhere, and it’s fine to look elsewhere. I think it’s a really important step for us.

Harriet McAtee
I couldn’t agree more; I think a really common anxiety for new yoga teachers is this desire to sort of meet everybody’s needs? And it’s just; it’s, it’s not sustainable. It’s not enjoyable for you or your students. And it doesn’t like it sets an interesting precedent. Like, or I’m not sure, is that healthy or supportive in the long term. So yeah, having sort of having some humility and like perspective about what you’re able to offer as a yoga teacher, I think, is really important.

Barbora Sojková
Yeah, it obviously takes a lot of selflessness and courage to be like to step out of your role and, you know, offer somebody a change of direction. But I think if we want to be authentic or true, good yoga teachers, we really do have to do that.

Harriet McAtee
Yeah. Yeah. It’s so interesting to me. So, tell me, tell me a little bit more about your research. Because you talk to you said animals, and immediately I’m like, hello. But yeah, it sounds really interesting and quite niche, but I’m here for niche things. So

Barbora Sojková
yeah, it’s totally niche, even within Indology within the study of India. So I basically looked through the Vedic literature, which is really kind of a hard obscure era of, of the Indian literature, roughly spinning 1500, Before Common Era to roughly 500 ish. And this is read literature, which is mainly religious. So it’s a lot of things about its very self contained. It is a lot of things about the ritual and mainly, you know, it’s hymns to various gods, it’s, it’s ritual manuals, how you are supposed to do fire sacrifices, all these kinds of things. So it’s very hard to read, and it’s quite boring for even the specialists. But what is really interesting about this kind of literature is that sometimes the authors, and we don’t really know who they are, they’re anonymous, they’re probably groups of people. Sometimes they hint at things about their world. Not much, but they just kind of drip-feed you; they sometimes say something like, oh, you know, tiger skin is used for this. And you’re wondering, Oh, where are their tigers? You have never mentioned Tigers for 500 years? Why are you suddenly talking about tigers? So I’m looking at this massive corpus of hard literature to try to figure out how the Vedic culture, which was semi-nomadic, they, for some time in the year, would settle down and do some agriculture in some time, they would hurt their livestock around Northern India. I’m looking at these people and their literature to figure out how they used animals and not only as material, not only as heard animals, but also how they thought about them and how they constructed the symbolism of these animals. And predominantly, even though I’m really interested in wild animals, I’m predominantly looking at domesticated animals, just because that’s what we know most about from the texts. And one question that is really, really interesting to me is basically looking at how they conceive of themselves as people. Whether they thought about themselves as animals, or whether they had kind of this step back that we have in our own culture that you know, we are slightly different than other animals. We’re a special kind of animal. And although they do tend to think about people as special kind of animal, they see strings that connects them with other animals, especially with cows, and they keep saying, you know, in the past, cows were also walking on two feet. But, but they, you know, devolved, they fell down on four feet and started walking like that because they were scared that we would sacrifice them and all these kinds of stories that hint at the time before present was like even time before past that we remember that, you know, before that we were all one group, animals and humans living together. It’s very obscure. But it’s it’s a lot of fun to try to untangle how other people in other times thought about, you know, not only themselves but also other creatures?

Harriet McAtee
No, I think that’s it. I mean, yes, it’s obscure. But it’s I think it’s really interesting. I think I one of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot recently are these sort of like, internalised hierarchies that we that we have. So when you brought up your, you know, your nourishing thing at the beginning, I was like, Yes, we can talk about this. Because, I mean, we have such an enforced binary, in, you know, in today’s world around like, there’s humans, and then there’s everything else. Which is, like, unhelpful at the best of times, and incredibly toxic and damaging at the worst, and particularly if you start to expand it out to think about, you know, things like climate crisis. And in, you know, how, I guess one of the questions that I have for the world is like, how would how would we approach things like the climate crisis differently if we had a less hierarchical conception of our relationship to other organisms?

Barbora Sojková
Yeah, totally. This is totally what I have in the back of my mind when I wrote my DPhil thesis. And although it’s not going to be the bulk of my research, it’s definitely something I’ll be hinting at, at least in the introduction and conclusion to it. And yeah, it’s, I think it’s absolutely correct to ask how else we could think about the world that would change our relationship to it. The first thing that pops in my mind when talking about this is this wonderful, wonderful anthropological book by a woman called Anna Tsing TSING, who was a Chinese American, and she wrote this beautiful, beautiful book called the mushroom at the end of the world, which is about how people in this capitalist hellscape that we are living now are picking mushrooms for a living and how they are entangled with the life of the mushroom. It’s on this particular mushroom called the Matsusaka. It’s one of the most expensive mushrooms on the Japanese market and in the world, and it’s really sold for, and she’s kind of tracing how, you know, for the market. It is an important commodity, but how also for the people who are picking it, it’s an important commodity because it literally gives them life and how their lives are entangled within the mushroom. And yeah, so and she being you know, a mushroom Baker from half China half America kind of shows how with a different cultural background, you can look at the world and own the world completely differently. And so I’m wondering whether informed by other times and other people’s and, you know, other cultures experiences of the world, whether we can change in, in how we look at the world and how we talk about it, and how we, how we perform and how we behave towards it. It’s really hard but to retrain your mind not to see everything in binary terms, but I think it’s very much worth it and will be worth it. As the climate crisis, you know, progresses, Unfortunately.

Harriet McAtee
Yeah, I think I think it’s really interesting. I think particularly, one of the things I often think about a lot is, this is very random is I think about Shintoism a lot. And they’re sort of the the, like, the, like the animism of Shintoism in the sense of like, you know, this idea that objects have spirits, and that, you know, and sort of beyond that as well that like animals have like it sort of extends, but it’s something that I really had really resonates with me in a certain sense in that, like, spaces have energetic qualities to them. And objects have energetic qualities to them. And I don’t like, I’m conscious of sounding like a really stereotypical yoga teacher at this point. But like, the, you know, it’s something that feels true in me, so I feel quite comfortable talking about it. But it does, really, it’s something that really impacts on how I live my life like so for example, I spend a lot of time taking care of my home, because, like, I feel like I need to, you know, give back energy into that space, or, you know, if I think about how we hold space as yoga teachers like it sort of extends into those into those realms as well. And then, you know, we can like extend it even beyond into sort of how we navigate those, those larger problems but, and your right, it is very possible to like reframe, and retrain these ideas. But I think the thing that I sometimes get really disheartened by is just how, like, like, one thing often piles on top of another, like, in terms of like, you know, the world is really, sometimes it feels like the world is really biassed against us. Like capitalism, you know, the patriarchy, you know, all of this, like one on top of the other. And it can be really hard to like, like, turn against that tide, even if it’s just on an individual level.

Barbora Sojková
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. That is so true. But I feel like, as you said, these things, if they’re true to you, then it makes them easier to touch upon.

Harriet McAtee
Well, yeah, and I think this is, I think,

Barbora Sojková
like if it was something that you tried to retrain yourself in and kind of reframe your thinking in, it would be hard. But if it’s true in and authentic in yourself, then like, I, for instance, anthropomorphise everything, like, looking at trees, looking at, like, I don’t know, birds, water, everything, I’m like, my mind is just constantly like giving it as you said, like animistic presence. And so I feel like, if I tap into this kind of childish way of thinking about the world a bit more in my normal, everyday thinking, it would, it would be then easier to, you know, approach the world differently. So I think if you like, tap into the relationships that you already have in your mind to the world, and you just behave the way you are, it’s, it’s hard to stand against the tide of the world. But eventually, we can get there. I don’t know if it makes sense. But

Harriet McAtee
no, no, no, that makes total sense. I think, I think the thing that becomes really important in that, for me, is that you have to have a, you have to have a personal experience to tie these things back to you have to have a sense of like, what it means for you in your world and in the way that you navigate your life. And often, one of the things that I I see people doing, you know, if they’re, if they’re beginning on their journey towards, I don’t know, understanding picot paganism, like if, if they’re on their journey towards understanding capitalism, or understanding sexism, or racism, or whatever the case may be homophobia, pick, pick any of pick all of them. Often, what they do is go big. Like, they’ll pull back, and they’ll want to look at everything. And I’m like, you need to do that to an extent like that’s really important. But more important, I think, for the long term is digging in and understanding how it shows up in you first, because that’s where change comes from. Yeah, totally. But it also makes me think about how in I mean, I know you’re gonna roll your eyes at me, I’m gonna bring up the yoga sutra. Barbara does it like a yoga teacher? But, um, is it in? I can’t remember off the top of my head which one which it’s in the first book, but talking about the different ways of gaining knowledge and it’s like direct experiences. The first one followed by logic followed by talking to other people about it; essentially, I’m paraphrasing, but that emphasis first on like your own direct experience of things being the primary way that you should like experience and gain knowledge about the world I think is so useful. And also the complete opposite to the way that we learn today, mostly,

Barbora Sojková
yeah, it’s really interesting that you are bringing this up because these things, they’re so-called pramanas. Or they are the kind of backgrounds of knowledge in India. And direct experience is actually the one that all the philosophical schools in India, including the Buddhists and the Jains, who are usually kind of like unimpressed by the Hindu, Hindu philosophical schools, they’re the ones that the one that everybody agrees upon their economic. Yeah, so, and I feel like, it’s really the best thing you can say to yoga practitioners, like really trust in yourself. And it doesn’t matter whether you like the yoga sutra or not, or whether you know, what kind of philosophical background do you want to have your yoga practice that if it’s, if it comes from you, and from your direct experience, your personal experience, it’s going to be worth it. And that’s just some, like, such a good basis to, to stand upon for all of us.

Harriet McAtee
He really is. And it’s, I mean, it’s also something that I think, unfortunately, gets lost so easily, particularly when, again, circling back to hierarchy is we have these hierarchies around who holds knowledge and who holds power and who should be trusted, etc, etc. And I think one of the beautiful things that yoga offers is tools for like, I mean, clearly coming back to that direct knowledge and coming back to that sort of, like, you know, trusting of one’s own experience.

Barbora Sojková
Yeah. Yeah, it does. It does, really, and it should be valued for that, more than for anything else that like, gives time and space for direct experience. And, you know, in this in 2022, nothing really wants our direct experience, when you look at social media, like nobody cares about your own direct experience, because there is a multitude of direct experiences. And so I think having the time and sort of bracketed space and time and attention that you can give to your own practice and yourself and your personal experience is really valuable. And we should really cherish it more as yoga teachers and yoga practitioners as well as students.

Harriet McAtee
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s, I think it’s one of the, one of the greatest gifts that our practice offers us. And you know that as yoga teachers, you’re right, we offer to our students. Wow, we are reaching near the end of our time already. So where can our listeners find you if they’re looking for you?

Barbora Sojková
I am very bad in promoting myself. So the only place the listeners can find me is on Instagram. On Barbora yoga, my name is spelt really in a funny way with Oh, in the middle. So it’s barbo_ra_yoga. And yeah, that’s the only place for really

Harriet McAtee
I mean, simple claim.

Barbora Sojková
I hold classes in Oxford, and sometimes in Prague. So yeah, if somebody wants to just give me a message, and I’ll be happy to chat.

Harriet McAtee
Lovely. Well, thanks so much for joining me today, Barbara. I really enjoy talking to you.

Barbora Sojková
Thank you so much, Harriet. As always.

Harriet McAtee
Thanks for listening to in our experience. Don’t forget to subscribe rate and review the podcast. We love hearing what you think and it makes a really big difference. In the meantime until the next episode comes out. Why not check us out on our Instagram account @nourishyogatraining will pop us an email via our website. See you soon.

soon.

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