An ode to my teacher Anat Geiger

The devastating news of Anat Geiger leaving this life far too soon reaches me through social media. A Facebook post and several Instagram posts mention that she left Amsterdam to spend her final days with her husband and her family back in Brazil.

Anat used to hate social media. I remember quite clearly how she didn’t like to be online at all at first. This was about ten years ago when I did my first yoga teacher training with her. The idea of a selfie didn’t make any sense to Anat. A few years later she embraced Instagram and built a community in the way she did in real life, by being honest and authentic. In her first post in 2018, with a selfie, she writes:

Here goes, my first, half hesitant, half excited, attempt at this. My hope is for connection where it matters most.

Even though I wasn’t super close with Anat – I haven’t even seen her for years – the two intense yoga training I did with her have been life-changing and Anat is amongst the most down-to-earth, truthful and humble people you’ll ever meet in the global spiritual community. When I would join one of her classes in the years after I studied with her, she would always welcome me with the same warm hug and a reassuring smile on her face. Her classes in the Yogagarden studio in Amsterdam were usually packed and one day when I was in the middle of a huge personal crisis she still knew how to find a brief moment to give me her full attention and let me trust in myself again, saying:

“Sometimes it is better to let go”.

we can not control our destiny

Anat was fire and is fire, I don’t want to write in the past tense about her yet. Her attitude wasn’t necessarily what you’d expect from a yoga teacher if your expectations are based on the slim, white models on the cover of a yoga magazine who seem to say the exact right things. Anat used to be a little chubby and outspoken about the body perfectionism that had taken over the Western yoga world. She had struggled with her body for a long time and through yoga, she learned to accept herself fully, and by sharing about her journey she inspired thousands of students to do the same. Anat didn’t just give instructions during classes on how to do a certain pose, she was a true storyteller and moved people with her words.

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The one thing Anat has taught me most is her view on ethics. In the first training I did with her, one of the participants – a little bit older man who didn’t communicate very well – wore a seventies yoga outfit with tight shorts, sometimes with matching short tops. Some young ladies in the group made fun of him behind his back. Yup, welcome to the yoga world. I felt sorry for this man and went to Anat one day to discuss the issue with her. She thanked me for sharing because she didn’t know this was going on and in the next class she started explaining the ethics of yoga. And without directly mentioning the situation she gave a clear lesson to all of us that yoga is more than just acrobatic exercises on the mat.
Another memory happened years later when I attended one of her workshops. One of the participants started arguiing with her about what she was sharing with us. It was quite clear that he wanted to embarras her in front of the rest of the group, and show her that she lacked expertise. Anat replied every critical question with patience and respect, not giving this person a chance to bring her out of balance. After the workshop I joked to her saying this person clearly didn’t hear the ‘Good Student Speech’ of Paul Grilley yet, where he explains how to be treat your guru with respect respect and keep harsh criticism for after the class when there is moment of private talk.
Ethics always played a big role in her teachings, she could react strongly on certain topics, I even remember us discussing cancer years ago. It is quite common in the spiritual community to assume that you can heal your own body and that a disease like cancer comes from an imbalance in your system that you could have prevented. Anat didn’t buy it and explained how someone can be born with a disease lying dormant in the body without knowing when it will manifest itself. In an interview with Happinez magazine last year she repeats a similar view:

“One of the big fallacies that ‘alternative’ people make is thinking that we can determine and control our destiny one hundred per cent and that we can manipulate the universe to give us exactly what we want. What nonsense! It’s so childish and materialistic. There is much we can do but we are also in the huge flux of an infinite universe with many forces, laws and dimensions. The purpose of life is not to get everything you want. The goal is to extract love and beauty from everything that comes your way“.

you have to walk the talk

In her teaching, Anat talked about Paul and Suzee Grilley in a way that made everyone want to study with the couple in Santa Cruz, California, the United States. The Grilleys had a tremendous influence on how Anat viewed yoga and spirituality. She came from a background of dancing with a teacher that could be horribly harsh on her. She came close to damaging her body if I remember well. Yoga in general already introduced her to a softer way of movement but with the unstoppable curiosity of the Grilleys and their collaborations with prominent scientists in the field of anatomy, facia – and meridian research, and the dedication to meditation, she seemed to have found her spiritual home. And she didn’t keep it to herself, she made every single one of us enthusiastic about the functional approach to yoga.
Even though I didn’t see her often, apart from the one time she and her partner in crime Marcel had asked me to help examine a new bunch of graduates from their successful training, and the beautiful yoga retreat they’d organized in the North of Bali several years ago, I always kept her in my mind. And luckily through Instagram, I got to follow her life a bit more closely. 

In Bali, she was working night and day to create the best experience for us. She would go through her notes when we would sit and relax in the evening. I saw her dedication and work ethic, apparently something that didn’t always come from a healthy place as I learned through the interview I mentioned earlier:

“I lived for my job and had the illusion that I had to do my job in a certain way. Work, work, work and earn money. (…) For a yoga teacher, this (being ill, red.) is a gift. Just talking about yoga philosophy, about letting go, living in the now and finding inner peace is no longer enough. You have to walk the talk. Letting go was hard and it hurt a lot. But if you manage to peel off all those layers of yourself, there will be room for so much freedom and energy. And so much support and kindness from myself. The only way I can explain it is through a metaphor. In the twenty years that I did yoga, I built a boat. When the storm came, I had a boat. Sometimes the storm goes in all directions, but I have my boat.”

Letting go

As you can read in her quotes, the life lessons Anat shares shouldn’t be kept only to the people who practice yoga. It is one of the reasons I wanted to write this article. I work in journalism and I see how my colleagues from around the world suffer from mental well-being challenges, experience daily stressful situations and sometimes even deal with death on the job. Anat wasn’t deaf to what was happening in the world, I would even say that she was more than any other yoga teacher aware of the deep suffering we as human beings can go through. That layer of heaviness was often present in her classes, combined with emotionally resonating classical piano or double bass music. It wasn’t unusual for people to shed some tears on the mat but Anat would never send you home with a feeling of despair. Her classes invited you to reach a certain depth in yourself that you hadn’t found before, and afterwards life would feel even more enriching.

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The more I write, the more memories come to the surface. I feel so grateful to have had the chance to study with Anat (and Marcel with whom she made a perfect teacher couple). We meet so many teachers in our life and some leave behind an unforgettable impression. Anat is one of them. Be humble, never stop learning, be brave, strong and dare to be vulnerable, speak out, enjoy, laugh, love and let go. We have to let you go for now Anat, I hope our souls cross paths again in the future. I want to give Anat the last words here:

“Being Anat is a fantastic experience, but I’m not that attached to it. Anat is a temporary manifestation of something much greater.”

(From: Happinez Magazine, it’s worth Google translating the whole interview with Anat from Dutch to English).

(This is written based on my own experience with Anat. Read Anat’s blogs here, check out her online classes here, and join the daily Bija Mantras Paul and Suzee Grilley are organizing for her next week.)