Teacher Spotlight: Barbara Peisl

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Teacher Spotlight: Barbara Peisl
This month we introduce you to Barbara, a Bavarian yoga teacher and avid surfer, whose journey intertwines ancient practices with modern science. Delving into Inside Flow and brain-based yoga, Barbara explores the connection between movement and the mind. Constantly educating herself about body, brain, and breath, she uncovers how yoga enhances proprioception and mental resilience, knowledge she applies both on and off the surfboard. Join Barbara as she navigates the waves of discovery, blending her love for yoga and surfing with a deep understanding of the brain-body connection.

Meet Barbara

A strong desire for freedom, love for movement, music and foreign languages have shaped me since childhood. I've spent the summers by the water for as long as I can remember. Even though I didn't grow up near the sea or a lake, let alone with surfing, I spent every summer at the local swimming pool - hours of swimming, jumping, diving, and sliding. My parents instilled in us a love for being in the water from a young age. Water has always been my element. Perhaps it's these memories that make me feel so light-hearted when I'm in the water.

Every spring, we also drove to the sea, to France or Italy, to escape hay fever and breathe the good air. I'm very grateful for these vacations and for the happy childhood spent outdoors, always in motion.

During and after my university years, I took every opportunity to travel. When I discovered surfing, it became a passion, I spent the summers on the French Atlantic coast, working in this little surf villa between pine forest and dunes, where I started teaching yoga for surfers alongside daily camp management, cleaning, kitchen, and garden work. It was during this time that the name of my small business Ocean Flow originated. In 2019, I decided to become completely self-employed as a yoga teacher, which I never originally had planned. It all just kind of fell into place.

I’m really grateful that I can creatively incorporate these interests into my profession and mostly choose where I work. This feeling of independence and self-determination has always been so important to me. And the gratitude for being able to do this job, to shape my life this way, has helped me through the many highs and lows that come with being a self-employed yoga teacher. On one hand, it's a dream life that I live. Working autonomously, being free in many aspects. On the other hand, I rely on my health, a significant pressure that became so apparent to me during the pandemic. I don't know how much I'll earn next month. And the constant feeling that I could always work more, a list full of open to-dos that will never completely be ticked off within the next years. A constant uncertainty that I've had to learn to deal with. A process that is still ongoing. That's why these breaks in nature and in the water are so important to me, to switch off and be in the moment instead of constantly planning ahead.

How did you find your passion for surfing?

I started surfing in France about eight years ago. In the years before, I did a lot of climbing and bouldering. Although I was always outdoors in nature, I missed the water a lot. Surfing has always fascinated me, and after my bachelor's degree, I decided to go to France and learn it. My first surf instructor was Conrad; despite the autumn storms on the Atlantic and challenging wave conditions, he managed to motivate me. Along with other guests at the surf villa, I spent hours in the whitewater, drifting around on our blue softboards. We fought our way out 20 meters through the whitewater, surfed on the foam to the beach, and then walked back for the next round because the current had pushed us sideways. As uncomfortable as the conditions were back then, we felt so alive, happy, and exhausted afterwards. I'm so glad I made the decision to go to France back then. And I was so hooked that the following summer, I started working at the same surf villa (Maranga in Seignosse Le Penon) in Les Landes, where I ended up living for a total of five summers. It was a time that shaped me profoundly. The warm scent of pine trees still brings me a feeling of home and something I associate with that beautiful time.

What is surfing like for you? What does it mean to you?

I think it has changed a little bit over the years I've been surfing. At the beginning, it was a new sport for me, full of adrenaline, adventurous and completely unfamiliar since I had never done any board sports before. I got exhausted, got scared ;) and at the same time felt strong and fit. A few years ago, when I started suffering from panic attacks due to stress, it also affected my surfing. In the water, in the waves, you experience extreme situations, and you're likely, or rather sure, to be confronted with your fears repeatedly. The forces of nature are so much stronger than you, you can't help but accept that and surrender. Surfing makes me feel so strong. And at the same time, so small and insignificant. It definitely teaches me humility and patience. You can't control nature, the waves are what they are, no matter how you'd like them to be - bigger, smaller, stronger, or weaker. In the water, I feel full of lightness, weightless. At the same time, this pure experience of nature, feeling the water with my whole body, getting wet, having a wave slap me in the face, swallowing saltwater. These sensations bring me so much into the moment. I don't have time to deal with my problems on land or to ruminate; I shift the focus outward. A genuine moment. Especially considering my anxiety and panic attacks, this is exactly what I need to avoid overthinking. To be honest, sitting quietly in meditation is very uncomfortable for me because it directs the focus even more inward. Towards my body's signals. Surfing grounds me and creates a connection to myself - but without the "introspection", but through the pure experience of these real moments. I know many people who describe the same feeling within the context of hiking in the mountains. Putting your own problems into perspective through this tremendous experience of nature.

Can you explain how surfing has developed physical, mental, and/or emotional growth and skills for you? 

I'm often not even aware of how much surfing has actually influenced me, made me stronger. The physical injuries are one thing - you probably can't go through any surfing journey without bruises and small or larger scratches ;) Even two broken ribs couldn't stop me, thankfully, they heal ;)

The impact in the water on the whole body is intense. I often only feel after a session where the board hit me. Falling over and over again, getting washed repeatedly, surfing has taught me to let go of control. Over the years, I've definitely built a lot of strength and physical resilience through surfing.

But even more, it has changed me in terms of my mental strength. Dealing with frustration, which is often present when surfing depending on conditions and mood. The patience and acceptance that it's beyond my control how the conditions are. The gratitude for the privilege of being able to be free and in the sea. The awareness that I've handled really tough situations in the water, through my own strength. This feeling of efficacy. That I am strong. That I can rely on myself in extreme situations, function. At least as far as it's within my range of action.

When I look back and think of the moments where I felt deeply happy, where tears came to my eyes and it made me smile. Those were moments in the water. After catching a special wave, the indescribable feeling of gliding along, becoming one with the wave, the water. Or the fascination with the incredible beauty of a moment, the backdrop of a sunset or the glowing cliffs on the coast. This feeling of being alive. That's also what drives me and keeps me going, it's addictive. No matter how frustrated I sometimes am, when I'm afraid of big waves and doubt myself and everything.

How and why did you start practicing yoga? Why did you start teaching?

With yoga, I first got in touch in my early twenties through my then-boyfriend, whose parents both taught yoga. At that time, it felt like a really good counterbalance to my climbing. To be honest, I was thrown into teaching without much preparation. While studying sports, I worked as a trainer and receptionist at a women's gym in Munich, and once the regular yoga teacher there cancelled at short notice. My boss just said, "You're scheduled for reception tonight and are here anyway. You can step in, that's great!" I was so nervous, afraid of failing, of not meeting the expectations of the participants and my boss. I spent the remaining time until the class preparing like crazy. But as I started teaching, that fear completely disappeared, and the feeling during and especially after the class was incredibly enriching. That's when I decided to learn everything from scratch and signed up for my first Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) in Nicaragua. At that time, I had no idea about the various styles and that yoga is so much more than a gym practice.

Can you tell us more about the style of yoga you teach?

I've always been fascinated by the question and its answer of why things are the way they are. During my time at university, we were also constantly encouraged to question things and do critical thinking. This background certainly made me seek out modern approaches in the yoga field after my first yoga teacher training. This is how I came across Inside Flow & Inside Yoga, a modern yoga community where I have completed many training courses over the past few years and where some of my best friendships have developed. Two years ago, I also started to delve deeper into the neuroscientific perspective on yoga and movement (especially with Celest Pereira and Adell Bridges).

In this approach, it is considered that all movement is brain-based, and everything is under the control of our nervous system. We can consciously use this connection in our practice. Through small exercises and drills that may seem unrelated to the target movement at first glance, we can achieve a lot, for example, in terms of our range of motion or the feeling we have in certain movements or postures.

Especially in the surf-specific yoga and movement sessions, these exercises from let’s call it neuro yoga are invaluable.

It's also very individual. Every body is different, every nervous system reacts differently to such inputs. The topic of breathing is also an incredibly fascinating area in this context, something so everyday yet so powerful. In yoga, in surfing, in everyday life.

Besides this approach, the other yoga style I teach a lot is Inside Flow (yoga on beat) - it’s movement synched with music and emotion, you should definitely try it when you love the combination of music and movement; I completely lose track of time and space and my to-do list and worries while I’m flowing with music or while teaching it.

How has the practice of yoga helped or changed your surfing?

I think its vice versa - yoga helped me so much with my surfing and surfing changed my yoga. The biggest change was probably regarding my balance, proprioception and the feeling how to move my body with ease.

Through a diverse yoga and movement practice, I have definitely refined my sense of balance and body awareness. It heightened my awareness of movement in general. Since I don't live by the sea all year round, there are months when I don't surf at all. When I get back in the water after these breaks, I've sometimes felt that my sense of movement has improved, even though I haven't been surfing for so long. And also, my mobility in the areas of shoulders, pelvis, and spine. Not just passive flexibility, but active flexibility combined with strength. Balance is also quite challenged in surfing because your base is moving, everything around you is moving, and you're moving yourself. There, I feel a strong effect, meaning that regular yoga practice with balance exercises also translates to other movement areas and sports, such as surfing, and helps me with that. And in general, it also helps me find more ease in my movements and a greater awareness of how I move.When we talk about yoga, we can't ignore the topic of breathing. Breathwork and apnea training (conscious breath-holding) have helped me a lot with surfing. How I can stay calm in challenging situations in the water and, among other things, calm my nervous system through breathing.

What advice would you give surfers about getting into yoga?

Yoga has so many faces and there are so many formats. This can be really overwhelming when you want to get into yoga - depending on what your purpose is - to get more flexible / to build up body awareness and strength for certain movements, to calm down, to establish a daily routine that’s realistic to implement. Try out various styles and teachers. Just start to incorporate a few minutes of conscious movement into your day. If you want to practice at home, online yoga can be really helpful to get an idea of what a yoga practice can feel like and which movement sequences you can do, for example. Maybe start with 5-15 mins a few times a week and you can always practice longer and more often, when you feel like it.

You divide the year in Germany and Spain, tell us a bit about your community.

My community is actually wide-spread, since I have been moving a lot between France, Spain, Austria and Bavaria. Still, I see a lot of friends, students and colleagues on a regular basis, because we all share this affinity for nature, the passion for yoga, surfing and movement, which is amazing.

In the beginning it was really tough to build a community, because of my way of living, without this permanent place of residence.

In El Palmar, the Andalusian village, where I organize and teach my yoga retreats in winter, there is a lot of movement, people arriving and leaving all the time. Myself included. Still, I met some amazing colleagues and friends there during the last seasons.

Moni and Tom, founders of La Luz Surf and the retreat villa, welcomed me with arms wide open when I first arrived in El Palmar and over the last winters they have become family. They are originally from Bavaria, too, and moved to the South of Spain long time ago. It´s always like this little break for my brain talking to them in my mother tongue „Bavarian“ that reminds me of my first home, especially after switching between Spanish, English and German all the time. They are also some of the most generous and welcoming humans I know and I’m really grateful for their constant support with my yoga x surf retreats, helping me realize my projects and dreams from the beginning.

Coko, Paula and the It´s Only Water team are also inspiring humans I love to work with. We started our Longboard Days project during/after the pandemic in 2021 and have run more than ten longboard x yoga retreats since then. It´s something wonderful to meet people with who you share passions and can work on exciting projects together. I am really happy about this little Andalusian community and looking forward to future events and all the waves we will ride together.

What is next for you?

In May, I'll be packing up here in Andalusia and then the Yoga x Mountains season starts in my other home, in Bavaria and Tyrol. I'm looking forward to swimming in the lake and hoping to squeeze in a little surf trip in Europe.

Otherwise, I'm currently working on an online series for surfers focusing on yoga x movement x breathing, which is set to launch online this late summer / autumn. I love being creative and coming up with new, exciting projects centered around movement.

Anything else you’d like to share with the Manduka community?

Try new things - if you haven’t tried surfing yet and you like being in the water, you should definitely give it a try. It´s a wonderful challenge - physically and mentally.

And never stop playing. Think about what brings you this pure joy, the moments that make you feel alive. So you can always come back to them whenever you need this feeling of serenity.

Connect with Barbara

Join Barbara's classes online or in-person at one of her retreats in Spain or Germany.

Connect with her at @yogaoceanflow on Instagram or www.yogaoceanflow.com.



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Sharing good vibes + the best mats, apparel and yoga gear since 1997. #inspirethepractice