I am not sure how you feel about your Birthday, but me – I have a very special relationship to it.

No, I don’t celebrate my Birthday with big extravagant parties, expecting presents or engaging in overtly hedonistic activities involving movement and music, and/or food, drink, and other substances (I know, I am so boring!). What I do instead is some kind of inner accounting of where I was a year ago, or even a few years ago, compared to where I am now, and not in terms of money, status, or material goods, but rather in terms of my personal development and the type of experiences I had the luck and pleasure to partake in, most likely being surrounded by the people I love and respect most.

Me when I was 19, in 2007. Vancouver, Canada

When I was younger, much to my regret and shame, I was even more extreme in my tendencies, where I had high expectations from my friends to show their love, care, and allegiance on my Birthday. I did not have any expectations from them any other time in the year, but on my Birthday, everyone counting themselves my ‘true friend’ had to acknowledge the specialness of the occasion with a message, a phone call, an email, or their physical presence at my, usually very humble, gathering. If a friend ‘failed’ to fulfil my expectation, which of course I never verbalized in any way to anyone explicitly, that friend was transferred to a mental list of ‘not true friend’. Such connections, if not ‘cut off’ on purpose, usually seemed to dissolve naturally with me simply not investing into the relationship in any way, until they were gone altogether.

Now that I am older and wiser, and of course I have to smile at myself typing in this phrase, I acknowledge my past mistakes and release the pressure of my own expectations on others. I still make a note of who cared enough to remember my Birthday and let me know they did, and very often the people who gratulate me in the end are my closest and most intimate friends, a small yet a very special circle, special to me in any case. As I am an introvert and a mother of two small children, meaning, I have limited energy and time constrains, I am proud to have my little inner circle and would not have it any other way. I am happy to have fewer, yet more meaningful connections.

Aside from acknowledging those special people in my life (listed in the end of the article), and the value of our friendships, remembering with fondness about what we have shared and went through together in the past few years, around my Birthday, I also think back about how I have changed, and how that personal transformation is reflected in what I choose to spend my time, energy, and money on.

You see, my Birthday to me is kind of like an annual Judgement Day, on which I track my moral progress, mental development, psychological maturity, physical and mental health, as well as all the accomplishments and milestones that I might have overlooked or not celebrated enough, being busy as I usually am. It may seem like a strange habit at a first glance, but by the end of this article you might be inspired to do something similar of this sort. Please allow me to explain in more detail.

Climbing Trees Then and Now (2017). Photo credit: AnaChe Photography

This year, on March 15th, I am turning 34, and yes, I imagine I will always share my age openly, without feeling neither proud nor ashamed of it. I am just grateful to have lived thus far, experienced what I did, and have done what I wanted. In fact, I have always done what I wanted, at least since I was 14-15 years old and have moved to Canada from the Ukraine, and that is something not to underestimate! The move into a more politically stable and democratic, less corrupt, and socio-economically strong country, has given me many opportunities that I otherwise would not have had, as a result providing me with a relative freedom to be who I needed to be, live how I wanted to live, and do what I wanted to do. I always look back to this point in my life with much gratitude. Now that there is a war in Ukraine, this idea took on a whole new meaning.

In the past year I have experienced a lot of changes. The biggest one is that I started to study at a university – I am what they call a ‘mature student’. It was a difficult decision that saw many versions of itself, starting with my initial idea to move back to Canada and go into Law (I actually applied at a university in Montreal) at the beginning of pandemic, progressively changing into an idea to go for an MBA Program in person or online (I started studying for GMAT), and finally turning into the current version of it – me studying a Master Program in North American Studies with the focus on Economics and Culture at the Free University of Berlin. In the end of February, I finished my first semester with straight As and a lot of positive feedback from my professors. I feel very happy continuing to grow intellectually in an academic environment and have now academic goals and visions in mind.

Climbing Trees Then and Now (2021). Photo credit: Tom Borchwardt Photography

In the past two years another huge change took place – I went back to being employed. Before that, and since 2012, I have been a freelancer and since 2017, a small business owner. Most of the people who know me are used to thinking of me as a yoga teacher, and since 2017, as the founder and the manager of the Berlin Yoga Conference, my heart project that alas has been put on hold until better times. In additional to my work in the wellness industry, I have been active in the cultural industry since my involvement with the ID (Israeli-German) Festival. Having a Bachelor in Communications, I have worked in PR and Marketing on a project-based basis. With all of that background, it was relatively easy for me to find employment in a short period of time when I was ready to take that step. I ended up working as a Project Manager for 2 artists, part of a bigger German company that has started with fitness clubs and has grown its portfolio since then. First I worked full-time for exactly a year, switching to part time when my school has begun last October.

Just around my Birthday however, it has come to the point where the change number 1 (studies) and the change number 2 (work) came into an open conflict, resulting in me having to give up the latter in order to focus on the academic achievement and work, as I plan to stay in that field, go for my PhD, and hopefully teach one day too. As of now I am finishing up my last month of work and preparing for the next semester, reading several books on Economics and Cultural Studies. The giving up of work was a difficult yet necessary decision: both my heart and my mind tell me I need to concentrate and redirect my energies.

Loved my pink hair (August 2020). Photo credit: Elad Itzkin Yoga Photography

When it comes to the Berlin Yoga Conference, my feelings are divided. On the one hand, this heart project has been extremely valuable to me, brining in new learnings and wonderful experiences, even much success. On the other hand, since the pandemic, this ambitious project became incredibly difficult to keep investing into, with the future being very uncertain. What is certain is that I needed to take a pause, and so since the end of the virtual conference in 2021, which was originally planned as a hybrid event but did not materialize into a physical happening, I put the project on hold until 2023. I need to re-think the direction as well as my goals for this event, and I need to see the times where the pandemic becomes something less threatening than before.

Speaking of yoga and how things have been developing in that regard, let me separate teaching and practicing. This year, it will be 20 years since I started practicing yoga. I have always said that yoga is a path towards self-healing, self-empowerment, self-transformation, because that’s what it has been for me! I started practicing yoga because of scoliosis and for physical health, and yet since the very beginning I was also very attracted to yoga’s philosophical and spiritual ideas. Throughout years, I have been and continue learning about my body and my mind, relying on both subjective experiences practicing, meditating, teaching and contemplating, as well as on reading and studying secondary sources from the fields of yoga, spirituality, philosophy, Buddhism, psychology, neuroscience, even finding connections between yoga, quantum mechanics, science fiction, and visual art.

Loved my purple hair ( September 2020). Photo credit: Elad Itzkin Yoga Photography

And so I have been teaching yoga regularly since 2013, in all kinds of formats, places, studios, festivals, and constellations. Sharing in all honesty, founding Berlin Yoga Conference has boosted my yoga career tremendously, giving me valuable insights into the global yoga market, growing my international network, and brining me in touch with the latest and most important developments in the field. Yet, as the pandemic came, I made a decision to let go of yoga as a principal source of income and self-positioning, refusing to teach online and hybrid group classes. With several private students along the way, I continue teaching on special occasions, such as for example during my yoga retreat with the topic ‘Strong Body. Open Heart. Clear Mind’ in Croatia coming up this summer, August 24-31.

Strong Body. Open Heart. Clear Mind. My Yoga Retreat This Summer. Photo credit: Koko Yoga Berlin & Yoga Hrvatska

In terms of my own yoga practice actually, there has been a huge awakening and a shift that was unleashed by me quitting performance-based practice of Ashtanga yoga method in March 2020. Releasing all of these desires for specific advanced asanas (most of which I could do anyways, having built my way up to full Advanced A series, in other works 4/6 series in the Ashtanga ‘tradition’), I have made available a lot of energy that I could shift towards other ideas, things, people, and projects. Performing all of these super advanced asanas 4 times a week became unrealistic for someone like me who is not willing to be defined only by a strong and a flexible body. In fact, as I am getting older, I realized the futility of investing too much effort into the body, neither do I need anymore the emotional satisfaction of the ‘spiritual promise’ behind yogic practices. In my maturity, I realized that I could lead a structured/disciplined, highly moral, and an overall ‘good life’ without being an [advanced] ‘yogi’.

My Ashtanga Yoga Days (2017). Photo credit: Alessandro Sigismondi

Looking back at my life, what has not changed in the past almost 10 years is my commitment to my relationship, with 8 years of marriage, 2 wonderful children, and many wonderful memories as of my 34th year of life. My husband, my best friend, and my soulmate, Ohad Ben-Ari, is not only a talented pianist and composer, a well-respected professional in the cultural scene, but a wonderful father and a nurturing partner, who has given me much strength, confidence, and skills to deal with the challenges we had faced and are still facing. I too have been a supportive partner, mindful of his career plans and projects, taking over the majority of work with children at home. Over time I started having less work with children thanks to them going to school and day care, and also thanks to them growing up and becoming more independent and creative with their time and play.

Pregnant with Liam in 2015. Photo credit: www.lichtseelen.com
Pregnant with Anabel in 2017 Photo credit: www.iklick-fotostudio.de

Now that there is a war in Ukraine, with me and my family being directly affected, another mental shift is taking place. Since I am still very much in the process of it all, I cannot yet predict where I will end up, but I can sense further strengthening of my spirit, more gratitude for what I have rather than lamenting what I do not have yet, and more focusing on what is essential, what really matters. I have learned to become a better daughter and sister, a better friend, meanwhile I have also learned who my true friends and supporters are, and I have came to appreciate my closest friends even more. I have reconnected with my roots, feel more proud about the first part of being Ukrainian-Canadian, became more interested and involved in politics/world events. Instead of living in a bubble of spirituality, I came to embrace real-time pressing problems we face as a humanity.

5 Meditations with my husband Ohad Ben-Ari at Dresdner Philarmonie March 6th, 2022. Photo credit: Elad Itzkin Yoga Photography

Finishing where I have started, with my Birthday. I guess what has been had the right to be, I respect and give compassion to myself in my previous states of ignorance and lack of understanding. Yet, I also take this moment to celebrate my accomplishments and many developments that I can clearly be happy with and proud of. I find it important to pause like this, on whatever occasion, be it your Birthday or New Year, or whatever it is that helps you create that space for reflection, and check-in with your-self in terms of life meaning and purpose. What makes your life meaningful and what is your purpose now? How can you live the life you want and also take responsibility for who you are?

Happy Birthday to me! Thank you so much to my family as well as my best friends Sarah, Magda, Chris, Liana, and also to Julia, Eva, Kasia, Yola, Marina, Larena, as well as my new wonderful friends from school Kexin, Daniel, Salome and Saad. Special words of gratitude to everyone who has been checking in with me since the outbreak of the war, as well as people who have always been so supportive with my projects such as Elad, Miguel, Tom, Anastasia, Luiza, and Micki.

Me at almost 34 :-)) Photo credit: JJ Tchapwo