An Interview With Bastian Schlickeisen
Steamed-up windows and someone is groaning. We are in the middle of a Bowspring class with Bastian Schlickeisen in Berlin. We practice wavy Bowspring push-ups.
“And now come onto your fingertips!“
Everybody is motivated, but in the end it is only Bastian on the tips of his fingers. We assume that he has some special yogi superpowers.
Bastian has been teaching in his small yoga studio in the multi-cultural district of Berlin-Wedding since 2009. He was the first one in Germany to teach Bowspring.
I spoke with him about Bowspring, the future, and spirituality. You can read the shortened interview below or listen to the podcast (that is, if you understand German…).
(click below to listen to the complete interview in German)
Silke: I don’t know exactly when I came to one of your yoga classes for the first time. Back then, you didn`t teach Bowspring but Anusara Yoga, right? That was some years ago. When did you switch to Bowspring?
Basti: I started with Bowspring right after my Anusara Teacher Training in 2013. I was supposed to start working in an Anusara studio here in Berlin. But at that moment, Bowspring appeared in Germany. I was immediately hooked. Which was kind of predictable…
Silke: Why was it predictable that you would turn away from Anusara Yoga and switch to Bowspring?
Basti: Well, I am known as a person who is very inquisitive, very curious; I want to encounter new forms of knowledge, of moving, and expression. I want to be up to date and Bowspring was a good opportunity for that.
Silke: Apart from the desire to learn something new, did you have other reasons to start with Bowspring?
Basti: It was initially a physical experience. There was a moment during my first Bowspring workshop when John Friend, one of the two founders of the Bowspring method, aligned me from Downward Dog into a Bowspring Cat (called Crouching Cat). The experience of expansion was tremendous! As a male Yogi, opening up can be challenging, because there is usually more resistance to expand and to open the body. Bowspring seemed to me like a new way in which I can evolve in that area.
Silke: If you say opening, are you only referring to the physical aspect?
Bastian: Of course, there is always a mental or spiritual experience as well, but at first you feel the body with its limitations. This is the starting point. You have to accept your physical limitations and ask yourself how to deal with them. From there you can start to expand at your own pace.
Silke: Speaking of limitations… many people go to yoga because they have back pain, for example. Would you say that Bowspring helps with back pain?
Bastian: We have a holistic approach in Bowspring. That means we do not solely treat the back. Of course, there are certain ways to work with the fascia, for example, with massage techniques. But more important is that there is an alignment method that reaches from your toe tips up to the top of your head, which teaches you a new posture. It is an alignment that is dynamic. It strengthens your body in its whole and teaches you to be aware of your actions or non-actions. In Bowspring, we activate the entire posterior muscle chain.
Silke: What exactly is the difference to Modern Postural Yoga (MPY)?
Bastian: We activate the whole fascial network. We bend our knees, we pulse the body within each “asana.” We have a different understanding of flow. We don’t move from one posture (asana) to the next, we are constantly moving, even within a figure. We open and stretch in different directions. We try to move two parts of the body away from each other, others towards each other, i.e., using the technique of isometrics.
Silke: Do you have an example?
Basti: We call it root&rise when we activate the feet pushing forward for moving the groins horizontally back, pulling the heels back for lifting the glutes up. We also breath into all sides of the ribcage, which ascends upwards like a baloon. We call this the Radiant Heart. As a result, you can see and feel different arcs in the body. You feel the connective tissue being stretched or activated.
Silke: Did you notice any changes to your body after practicing Bowspring for a while?
Bastian: Yes! The main effect was that I am absolutely pain-free. I used to have knee problems when I still practiced Anusara. They are gone now. This is also due to the change of attitude that came along with Bowspring. I no longer go into a posture that my body isn’t ready for. This used to be different.
Silke: Who can practice Bowspring?
Basti: I think anyone can do Bowspring who’s ready to open up. It is suitable for both the elderly and the young. Especially for people who feel a certain darkness in their soul, who might be depressed and are looking for some light. It is for everybody interested in movement. And for everybody who wants to feel the body-mind connection.
Silke: On your website you write “Postclassical Yoga.” Why?
Bastian: First of all, Bowspring looks very different. The concept behind it is different, I would say it´s way more complex. It’s very up to date concerning scientific findings like fascial research, for instance.
In a Bowspring class, there is something different happening and by naming it differently you make sure, that no one is disappointed or surprised. It is just way too different in comparison with classical yoga.
You could say Bowspring is an update to yoga, maybe even more.
Although…. in the end we are all looking for the same things. We have the same problems – as humans. And we are looking for a way to deal with these problems. The only difference is the way to approach these problems.
If you look closely, you will clearly see that Bowspring is moving within the structures of yoga. You can see this, for example, in the format (structure, relaxation, meditation, etc.) of the classes.
Bowspring is not merely a functional training. It is not just a physiotherapeutic offer, but one that seeks the great unity of all things. Otherwise I would not do it.
Silke: Great unity … What is spirituality, for you?
Bastian: What is the core of spirituality? What are we humans looking for? I would say we seek connection! In religion, it is mostly about connecting with God. The image of God does not necessarily exist in yoga. I would use the word `presence` at this point and ask, “how can we become mindful, how can we experience presence?” Presence means that you do not feel disconnected from anything else in that moment.
That you experience nature, other people, everything, not separated from yourself. You open the curtain and see that everything is made from the same nucleus, the same seed. All things are interrelated and within themselves vital. They cannot be separated. That is presence for me and that’s why meditation is a central activity in my classes.
Silke: I remember that you said the other day “Bowspring is meditation in movement“, didn’t you?
Bastian: Yes, the people in the Western world have trouble sitting still. No wonder, sitting didn’t serve anybody so far! We sit quiet all day! Bowspring is moving meditation because you practice with attention and thus bring your mind into focus.
When you then meditate in the way you are supposed to, that is, seated and still, you can experience presence. Something has cleared up through the practice. This is for me the core of spirituality.
Silke: Changing the topic to more formal things: How do you become a Bowspring teacher?
Bastian: Right now, it’s like this: If you want to become a Bowspring teacher, you have to connect with people who teach Bowspring. You can do so either in Denver, with the founders, Desi and John, which is, of course, coming with some effort if you live in Europe. But you can also do it in Germany or elsewhere. Just check who is teaching Bowspring and then visit as many classes and workshops as possible in order to develop your own practice. This is the best way in my opinion. In fact, it is an ancient Indian concept – to really build a connection with a teacher.
Silke: There used to be many teachers listed on the Global Bowspring homepage. But now, if you are currently looking for a teacher, you do not know where they are. Why have they been deleted? Where do I find teachers? What’s going on? 🙂
Bastian: Bowspring is searching for new ways in all areas. Also in the sense that there is currently no Teacher Training. There is some kind of Teacher Training in Denver. But in Europe, Desi Springer and John Friend still refuse to do that. And I think that’s very smart. They do not believe in the old concept of Teacher Trainings. They require commitment (studentship) and not a certain amount of money to trade for a teachers certificate. If teachers have been deleted from the lists, it’s simply because many have already given up their commitment and may not teach Bowspring anymore at all.
Silke: You as well?
Bastian: Yes, I guess I will be listed. As a “Dedicated Bowspringer,” which is the first, basic category. Then there are the certified teachers. You have to do a little bit more for that. For example, upload a video and answer a questionnaire, after completing some trainings with Desi & John. And then there are the trainers, these are the ones who are also allowed to offer teacher training. Currently these are only Desi Springer and John Friend.
Silke: And you? Will you do that someday? Offer Teacher Trainings?
Bastian: I would say I’m already doing so. It just doesn’t look like that from the outside. I have a few student-teachers, some from outside of Berlin. I devote all my energy to build these personal connections. All in all, one has to ask what that means: “training”?
In my view, the relationship between teacher and student is in the foreground. Everything else is business and I reject that.
Silke: I have the impression that you have your own way of teaching. Are you still using the Bowspring algorithm?
Bastian: I am teaching the bowspring alignment principles to a T. The question is: What’s different about my teaching style? I would say, creativity and individual handling of alignment specifications. I have my own understanding and the courage to apply the Bowspring Blueprint in the way I sense the fascial network. So I am able to expand the given forms.
For me one of the most important principles of Bowspring is Biotensegrity. There is a tension between your body parts, which are connected by ligaments, tendons, muscles, and fasciae. It is this body connection that I focus attention on while the students move through the sequences, called Katas. That’s the essential principle: Biotensegrity. The integrated tension within the body conveys wholeness because you have the experience of connection throughout these chains. This is how you can experience connection in the microcosm of the body, but also beyond that throughout the whole universe.
Silke: Biotensegrity…all about fascia I guess?
Bastian: Absolutely! It’s all about fascia. The basic idea of Bowspring is that we are no longer concentrating on the bones, but rather see how the bones are embedded in the surrounding tissue. How do bones float within this tissue? We do not move the bones but we engage the tissue. The practice must therefore look different, more wavy, more liquid. Classical yoga does not represent the idea of biotensegrity. In classical yoga, you concentrate on the position of the bones. You align them mostly on top of each other, so that one thinks, “Yes, now the bones are on top of each other and therefore the position is stable”. In Bowspring, we seek stability in a completely different way, within a fascial network of push-and-pull-relationships.
Silke: Ok, how can you envisage that…..how can you stretch and thus mobilize the fascia?
Bastian: That’s certainly one of the most interesting points in Bowspring: We have a different idea of stretching. We stretch by using relationships of contraction. This is called isometric stretching. You stretch isometrically when you, for instance, push your hand into the ground and push and pull it steadily towards or away from your body. This way you can feel the tissue in your hand, arm, and upper body. The tissue is not torn apart. We pulsate with power between the peripheries of a myofascial chain (foot and pelvis, for example) to address the back of the leg. We stretch isometrically and practice with increased sensitivity. That sounds like a contradiction. But no, the more you guide the body into isometric stretching with sensitivity, the safer a classic position like Trikonasasa turns out. The leg is in fascial, controlled action when you stretch. The ligaments do not wear out, you have no local soreness, and your joints are treated gently.
Silke: And that’s going on all the time? The isometric stretching? That sounds exhausting!
Bastian: Yes, it’s quite demanding. I would almost say that this is one of the main ideas of John Friend. That you supply the body with energy. Energy and metabolism, where the myofascia are addressed to work. There is a goal to provoke the body to metabolize, to rejuvenate the cells. And anyway: being active is always sort of demanding. The moment you exert energy will seem exhausting at first. It would be easier to just bend over your hyper-extended knee; that might be painful but isn’t exhausting. The moment you use your power will always feels sort of demanding. My body, because you first asked if it has changed … of course I gained muscles. I feel a lot more powerful than before.
Silke: Yesterday, you said that one should think less in terms of asana, but in terms of movement. Can you specify that?
Basti: It’s true that Bowspring kind of questions the principle of asana. Asana is a static form that one has in mind, perhaps from photos you see of a yoga studio in books. Bowspring is not necessarily based on an outer form, which always insinuates something static. Bowspring is based on biotensegrity. This body-tension relationship constantly results in new forms.
Silke: Ok, but that’s not quite true. On the Global Bowspring website you can find images similar to the classic yoga curriculum.
Bastian: Sure, in order to communicate, you have to call certain things by a name. One has to analytically separate a movement in order to make it describable. I cannot always talk about tension. I need a common ground on which to start to explain and make these connections understandable. But the postures themselves don’t really matter in my eyes. It is the pulsing from figure to figure that counts. That’s why the transitions are so crucial in Bowspring. The fact that all these new terms for asanas have been developed is, in my opinion and from a technical point of view, of secondary importance – to put it radically.
Silke: What does the future bring to the global Bowspring community?
Bastian: Interesting question. I don`t know. Maybe one has to ask first: how am I evolving myself, what am I going to do? Everybody who is practicing Bowspring should contemplate that. Many options are opened by this revolutionary practice.
Basically, it is important to see that Bowspring has the potential to bring a lost body of knowledge back into consciousness. Namely, that of effective curvatures within an elastic power. I believe that the Bowspring community must continue to be explorative, so that Bowspring can be introduced into all kinds of fields. To help people out of their misery.
I hope there will always be people who are actively engaging the process of balancing the powers of life. I see mostly individuals who are spreading Bowspring, never big crowds. I generally rely on these individuals who want to live an experience that is new and different.
Silke: Speaking of future plans: What are yours?
Bastian: I’m trying to stay open for what the day brings and listen to the plans God has with me. I have no plans for myself. I am happy when people come and want to work with me. I am glad and thankful when I am invited to teach at workshops. My students animate me to explore. I have no ambitions to become the World Champion of Bowspring.
I just want to practice devotion. I want to help people to find their way. To keep on learning and have an open mind. If I can be supportive and have the strength for dedication, then that’s enough for me.
Silke: Almost finished. Is there anything I didn’t ask you?
Bastian: … Regarding the future of Bowspring, maybe. This is a hot topic. I believe that it is important that Bowspring always remains a method that offers certain options to the people. Options in the way that everybody can search for and find a personal way of dealing with their own practice. Avoiding becoming copies of given videos and materials, but to grow within this material and then develop an individual, authentic bowspring practice from inside out. That’s what I wish for the whole Bowspring Community. Of course this requires a certain way.
You have to step into your center and from there into the light. You need courage to take yourself seriously and move forward. I think this is the answer to the question, whether or not Bowspring plays a role in the future.
Silke: Thank you for the interview.
Bastian: Thanks for asking!
On Bastian’s website you will find his schedule, workshops, and more.
The entire interview in German, including 5 extra questions, can be downloaded as a podcast here: