When Sarsha Hope started practicing yoga 20 years ago, there were two studios in Auckland. Wellness wasn’t a word, and meditation was not a typical past time for a young Dunedinite studying dance at Unitech. But that’s where her journey started. Yoga and meditation have more than come of age, but for Sarsha it’s not about getting on a mat or perfecting a downward dog posture – a term now commonly known. It is about connecting with yourself, with others, with your community, and living that life. Mindfulness, of which yoga and dance are one part, is about deep connection and belonging, which is rare these days. And maybe that’s the thing. The rise of yoga and mindfulness reflects our increased attachment to our devices, the lessening time we devote to ourselves and our family, friends, neighbours, and our growing desire to connect and pause. Sarsha wants to be part of turning that tide.
I come from a dance background. I met Mat my husband in Auckland, while studying contemporary dance at Unitech. Yoga was part of the curriculum and so I decided I had better try it out and know what it was before we studied it. I fell in love with it! There were maybe two studios in Auckland, and there was no such thing as mindfulness. There was a meditation centre, and I started going to that.
I then stopped to have our first child. I was married, 22 with a new born and a mortgage, and life was busy. I was often overwhelmed. I ended up getting really bad eczema all over my face, but no amount of dietary changes, natural remedies, even steroid cream could fix me. But I did resume yoga and meditation, and the eczema cleared up! That was enough of a learning for me, that this works; that if we learn to balance body and mind we can heal ourselves.
From then I began to teach yoga, and I have been practicing for over 20 years, teaching for 17 years, and we’ve had two more children.
I’ve been in the wellness industry a long time, and it has really grown so much. What is so interesting is that despite the growth – or maybe this is why it’s growing – we are disconnected from ourselves. I think we are living in a world where we reach out to technology, consumerism, over-eating and addiction as a substitute. This is the wealthiest generation of modern times, and yet suicide, depression and anxiety are more common than ever before, and I believe it’s due to that disconnection from ourselves. We all long to be seen to be heard. But if we can’t connect with ourselves can we truly be present and connected to a loved one, a friend or our community, can we see and hear them?
Mindfulness has just been marketed to be a certain way, but it’s not just about doing certain things, like sitting in the perfect lotus position, it’s about living it. It’s about finding your breath, pausing. If you’re doing the dishes and you stop to notice your hands in the water, you are being mindful.
It’s truly great that there are more people embracing yoga mindfulness, because even if you start with a certain idea of how it works, you will change from the inside and become that change. If you can learn to be present on the mat then you can be present with others too.
I am passionate about creating spaces to encourage and get that connection, and presence. I am a yoga teacher, an ecstatic dance leader, I run retreats, create events, and I am a wellness coach, but for me it’s about providing connection and community.
We moved to Glenorchy four years ago. It was a conscious choice. Community is really important to us and it always has been. We want to be in a place that you feel connected to, where you can catch up with people at the local café. It is something beautiful and rare nowadays to live in a community where everyone knows you. That’s a great sense of freedom, and of community.
I started Queenstown Ecstatic Dance, merging my dance background with spiritual practice when we moved here.
Ecstatic dance is a moving meditation. It a very loud, sweaty moving meditation that allows you to find a sense of freedom and playfulness. It has a similar framework to yoga such as setting an intention and taking time to connect within the breath. I don’t teach steps. I guide and invite people to explore the theme and their bodies. The music and dance then builds into a peak, a loud cathartic peak and then we wind down and quieten down.
I play music, or sometimes we have DJs and that will define the choice of music, but generally it’ll move from ambient to tribal beats to something like drum & bass to lyrical or ambient again toward the end where we check back in.
We have different events around the Queenstown lakes area, including celebrating the Equinox and Solstice with huge outdoor ecstatic dance events.
People love the sense of freedom that ecstatic dance gives, to move and play without judgement of themselves or other people. When you allow your body to move how it wants to move there’s a deep release of tension from the day, the week, your life! People really gain a spaciousness, a sense of connection and openness dancing authentically. It has created a strong community.
That’s what it’s all about. I think we all crave connection to ourselves, to other people, to our community and something higher than ourselves. The other thing is that we often get to a stage in our lives where we can’t go out and dance. Dance is one of the oldest form of movement and spiritual practice. It has such a healing Quality. Dance is medicine – medicine for the soul.
Yes, I think now more than anything that is what we need to heal – connection that comes from dance or yoga, or simply being present with ourselves and other. While we heal ourselves and connect, we change the way we are heading with this planet also. I really do think connection has the potential to change the world. It ripples out. It starts with us. It’s not anybody else. It has to be us.