For molecular biologist and yoga instructor, NATHALIE, yoga is more than just a tool to keep fit. What is it about yoga that makes her feel like home? And how did it help her deal with her own insecurities? I sat down with Nathalie to speak about her newfound confidence, combining science with spirituality and the goal behind her brand YOGA TO GLOW.
It is a late evening in March, and I am driving to my friend Nathalie's new flat in a town called Telfs, placed amid the Austrian alps just under 30km west from the tourist magnet Innsbruck. She and her boyfriend, Florian, moved in a few weeks ago, so I naturally expect a home resembling a construction site, but am quickly to be proven wrong. Greeted with an overwheming odour of joss sticks, Nathalie animatedly gives me a tour of her spacious and perfectly arranged four-bedroom-flat. Immediately, I notice colourful posters brightening up the white walls of her hall and a purple yoga mat placed neatly by the window in her living room.
We sit down at the kitchen table with a glass of prosecco celebrating this new milestone in her life, but I am also here to speak about her yoga journey for my new podcast What You Call Home. Having never been interviewed before, Nathalie reveals traces of slight nervousness, but I remain confident in my choice - her authenticity makes her relatable.
For as long as I've known her, Nathalie has always been an independent learner, so it comes as no surprise to me that she first dipped her toes into the yoga world by watching YouTube videos in her flat. Inspired by the so-called "scorpion pose" (you stand on your arms with both legs bent over your head) that she spotted online three years ago, she originally used yoga practice as a tool to master the asana.
"I had no idea what I was doing. I'd never gone to a yoga class because I was a student and didn't have a lot of money, so I just practiced by myself. After a few years, I went to the first yoga class in Innsbruck, and I loved it! I loved the teacher, he was so self-confident and so calm, but so powerful at the same time. It was a feeling I never really had after a YouTube video."
Little did she know, this first session would soon become the reason for the drastic change in the course of her career.
"Most of my life I thought I was a scientific person, and then I found yoga, and it turned me into a spiritual person."
While studying for her Master's in Molecular Biology, Nathalie spent the following years training towards her desired level of flexibility and muscle strength. Shortly after graduating from the University of Innsbruck last autumn, she felt she had reached her goal (and mastered the pose), so, on a whim and thanks to her newly acquired freedom, she decided to give the yoga world a go. Last August, she booked a place at a yoga school in Goa, India, boarded a plane in October and returned to Austria shortly before Christmas. When in Goa, it only took a few sunrises and self-reflecting conversations with fellow aspiring yoga instructors for her to realise that she was at the right place. She had found her tribe.
"When I was in India, I learned that yoga is about so much more than the physical aspect. My thing has always been getting to the root cause of things, but in yoga it's just a little bit different," she says with a laugh. "Most of my life I thought I was a scientific person, and then I found yoga, and it turned me into a spiritual person. In yoga, there is not always a reason why you feel [the way you feel], so coming from a scientific background can be harsh sometimes. But I'm also into hollistic nutrition and healthy living in general, so I'm sure I can combine the two - yoga and science - in some way," she says optimistically.
Yoga has been around for thousands of years, but it has seen a staggering increase in popularity in the last few years, entering deeper levels of mainstream consciousness.
"[We want] to lose some weight so we think of yoga as a journey to get there," she refers to some of the trends she's noticed online, but the "original" idea behind yoga has a spiritual connection: "In India, yoga is supposed to be a technique that you do so that you can sit still in meditation."
But does motivation really matter?"Everyone should decide for themselves what works for them. There is no right or wrong when it comes to yoga."
I watch Nathalie while she takes the time to think of the next thing to say, her eye gaze trailing off. With dedication and precision, I search for the detail that makes her so irresistible and yet nothing seems to be quite what I'm looking for. It's also not the obvious, the fact that she is 1.78cm tall with long, wavy blonde hair, piercing blue eyes and a body of a Victoria's Secret Angel. Her radiant smile lights up any room and she's one of those people who, once you've met them, need an occasional hug from to feel safe. Therefore, it is hard to grasp at first, that my image of her didn't always mirror her own perception of herself.
"It has always been very hard for me to accept me the way I am. Especially growing up, I was always comparing myself to everybody else," she explains, diving deep into her darker days. "But with practicing yoga, I started to accept every single body part and acknowledge what my body has to offer."
"It has always been very hard for me to accept me the way I am. But by practicing yoga I started to accept every body part and acknowledge what my body has to offer."
"But I'm still not where I want to be," she admits quickly before I jump in with the next question. If not, where would she like to be? "I really want to be somewhere where I can fully and completely accept myself. I'm also not perfect at this self-love thing. I still have a long way to go, but as of now, I'm very proud of myself."
Her own struggle with body image has made Nathalie more empathetic towards girls battling the same insecurities. With her yoga practice as well as her newly found social media presence, she hopes to become a positive influence on her followers, reminding them that feeling low doesn't define who you are on the inside.
"It's completely okay to feel this way, because [t]hings take time; things don't change over night. With time and with patience [you] will get to know who [you really are]. I know that I only have one single body, and I know that my body can do so many great things for me. Whenever I compare myself, I lose, this is what I know."
"I'm also not perfect at this self-love thing. I still have a long way to go, but whenever I compare myself, I lose."
Since returning from India, she's been focused on building her brand, Yoga to Glow, a type of yoga that encourages self-love based on a healthy and scientifically approved diet coupled with spiritual positivity. As for the near future, the 27-year-old plans to hold workshops for women of various ages in Telfs based on free donation.
"With my yoga practice I want to inspire girls and women to love themselves and accept themselves as they are. Even if it's just one girl out there that I can help with this, it would make me really, really happy."
But ultimately I have to wonder: For someone who's experienced the lowest levels of self-worth, what does self-love entail?
"It's not so much about the looks. It's mostly about how you feel and being grateful for the simple things that we forget about, because we get caught up in daily life and are so busy doing other things that we completely forget what's really worth living."
It is hard not to like her, be it her composed nature or the habit of always using "we" instead of "them", implying that although she publicly promotes self-love, she is also human who still makes mistakes.
When asked what about yoga makes her feel like home, she doesn't take long to come up with an answer. "Whenever I travel, I have this little travel yoga mat with me, [and] it kind of feels like home. It's a sacred space, you and your mat, and it's more of a feeling. It's hard to put it into words. It's just a little piece of home that I can bring everywhere with me. Just a little mat, which is amazing. I found something that is always with me."
And just like that, I know. What makes Nathalie irresistible is her humble prowess, an innocent unawareness of her influential abilities and a genuine longing for the beauty in this world.
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What You Call Home is an audio series, exploring the meaning of home through personal memoirs of people like you & me. This project shows that no matter where we come from, we all yearn to belong, be understood as we are & have the freedom to express ourselves in a personal way.
What You Call Home is an audio series, exploring the meaning of home through personal memoirs of people like you and me.