Ask the yogi: interview with Rafal Fratczak
I'm very excited to introduce the first of our 'ask the yogi' series of interviews with yoga teachers from around the world. Each month we'll be asking these fantastic souls from all walks of life about their yoga journey and their advice for those new to the practice. This month features the fabulous Rafal Frątczak...
Hi Raf! Introduce yourself….
Hello everyone, my name is Rafal Frątczak and I'm a nurse by day and a yogi by night. Originally from Poland, I have been living in Canada for over a decade. My yoga journey began about 4 years ago and one year ago I became certified and started to teach yoga in the local gym as well as my home for more intimate private setting which also provides a safer environment for beginners…
Why did you start yoga?
I started yoga by chance after a friend invited me to a yoga class. Before that, I had always known in the back of my mind that I wanted to try yoga, but I never knew quite were to start. I was very uninformed about what I was getting myself into; my idea of yoga was really very limited. At that time, the reason I started was out of pure curiosity, but if you ask me now I think that there was an unconscious searching for something more in my young life and that lead me to the practice.
How did you start your practice? Did you start at home, or in a studio, for example?
As mentioned, my first class was with my friend at the local gym and on top of that it was a hot yoga class! My love for yoga was at the first sight; after that, my sole purpose of getting the gym membership was to attend yoga classes regularly, which I still do to this day. I no longer belong to a gym but I do attend classes at a yoga studio as well as practice at home.
Do you do any other forms of exercise, or just yoga, and why?
Since I started practising yoga regularly, I have decreased the amount of time I spend at the gym weight training. If I do go to the gym, most of time I spend there is on strengthening and occasionally playing various sports. Yoga is a practice with a variety of different interpretations (Hatha, Yin, Vinyasa flow, Acro yoga, power yoga, etc) which provide me with lots of options I can choose from in order to stay in shape and stay healthy.
How has practising yoga impacted your life?
I always refer to my yoga practice as a journey because it has had its ups and downs and curves too. Before I started yoga, I suffered from anxiety and depression as well as a struggle with self-image. Yoga practice; both the spiritual and the physical, has aspects which have helped me find my true self and manage my anxiety and depression. It was tough to start looking in at myself during a time when my soul felt dark and angry; various emotions and feelings came up the surface and I had to learn how to face them. Through yoga, I was able to move above them. I sincerely believe that yoga saved my life. I'm a big believer in synchronicity, meaning that the right things happen at the exact right time; when you put your hopes and dreams into the universe, consciously or not, they will come your way. I could talk for hours about how significantly yoga has impacted my life; I'm more than happy to chat with anyone who is interested on my ButterflyRaf Yoga page on Facebook.
Which type of yoga would you recommend to a beginner?
I recommend you start with gentle Hatha; the pace of the class allows you to explore your body and find the areas where the muscles are less flexible and learn the key elements of yoga such as breathing and moving meditation.
What’s your advice for starting a practice?
I like to say yoga is a "work-in" not a "work-out", but if you feel shy and uncomfortable bring a friend. If you think you cannot do it, remember you are already practising yoga by simply breathing. Most importantly, yoga is about self-expression and is not a competition. Don't create any expectation for the practice or yourself because yoga is a practice and practice doesn't make it perfect but it makes it permanent. With practice, your body will become more flexible and you will feel amazing, your immunity will improve and you will be more relaxed and will sleep better and those are just a few of the benefits; the list is endless! All I say is just give it a try; one class and I was addicted!
Can you lose weight from yoga, or is it more about toning up and flexibility?
The last question touched on some of the benefits of yoga and the yogi lifestyle, as I like to call it, changes many aspects of one’s life. Because of the practice, your digestion improves because the movements massage the internal organs, your stress levels decrease and your body starts craving more wholesome and healthy choices of the food you consume. For me personally, yoga became an inspiration for making better choices for myself and being more involved in my community and connecting better with others on a more intimate eye to eye, heart to heart, human to human level if you know what I mean. I find today's world to be so focused on the instant fix and constant competition for a better, ‘skinnier’ body, which is an unrealistic expectation created by social media. I think if your goal is to lose weight, then there is much more happening inside you when it comes to your self-image that needs to be worked on. The practice of yoga is the perfect solution that will help you find your way back to your true self, as beautiful as you are right at this moment regardless of how you look to the rest of the world.
What are the benefits of the ‘spiritual’ side of yoga?
I have to agree that the spiritual aspect of yoga is much bigger topic of discussion amongst members of yoga community and people in general. Many people believe yoga is sort of a religion or a cult, so to speak, and it's not for everyone. Yes, you can practice yoga without believing in the spiritual aspects of it, however it is a practice that's been around for many centuries, much longer than some religions! Everything is energy and my understanding is that energy comes through our physical body during the practice of yoga and meditation, improving the flow of the energy within and bringing much more love and compassion for one’s self and others around you. Yoga doesn't dictate rigid standards that have to be followed and is inclusive for anybody regardless of your age, gender, colour, flexibility, shape or size. The spiritually helps elevate mental clarity and improves the body and breath awareness. As I mentioned earlier, the practice of meditation as part of yoga practice improves mood and increases confidence levels.
Do I have to be flexible to get ‘good’ at yoga?
One of the great yoga teacher’s I had once said: the only requirements to start practice of yoga is to breathe, show up and have fun! There isn't such thing as getting ‘good’ at yoga, with practice results will follow. If you've never done something you cannot know or expect to be good at it. If you dedicate time and minimal effort then you will definitively develop better flexibility for sure. I suggest that you don't set goals but instead curiously observe what your body can accomplish during the practice, see the change and enjoy the journey. Some days will surprise you and some days it will be a challenge to stay balanced, but that's part of life; you take good with bad and let go of what doesn't serve you any longer at the end of the day.
Do I need to buy any special equipment?
It's a good idea to invest and get a good yoga mat that serves your needs, for instance I'm 6'4 so I got an extra-long mat. Buy a cheap one to start and work out what you need (for example if you have sensitive knees, buy a thicker mat), and then invest. You can buy blocks and other additional support aides but if you practice at home you can make do with what you have (folded blankets or rolled towers will work) and most yoga studios or gyms have rental equipment that is generally safe to use. To make DIY yoga props you can message me or probably find the tutorials on the internet.
Anything more to add?
I’d like to express my gratitude and send lots of love to my friend Chloe and thank her for sharing my thoughts with all of you beautiful people out there. Live your life one step at the time, breathe in love and breathe out anything you don't need, exist gently always! Namaste.
Any yogis based in Canada you can look Raf up at ButterflyRaf Yoga