How did you find New Life Portugal and what attracted you to it?
Silver: I think we found each other. I didn’t know New Life Portugal existed nor had I heard of New Life Thailand [which was founded in 2010]. I was already running international yoga retreats. When COVID happened in 2020, I had my Portuguese yoga retreat cancelled because of it. My husband and I had moved to Portugal. My in-laws have a farm an hour away from here. That’s where we live. So, when my retreat got cancelled, I started doing some research and googled “yoga retreat centres in Portugal” and New Life Portugal popped up. The way it came about was very interesting. I read the website and how they were describing the community and New Life being a safe healing space resonated deeply with me. The yoga studio I had prior to retiring was called “Kula”. That is Sanskrit and means “community of the hearts”. So, I saw this as a sign. When I came to New Life for an interview with Karin [the program director] and to view the facilities, it was November, it was raining, there was construction happening everywhere. But I felt the place. I saw the landscape, I looked at the modern architecture and quintas and I chatted with Karin and something inside me went “I can feel me here.”
Can you explain the idea, the concept that New Life is built around in your own words and why it seems to work for people regardless if they are staying one week, four weeks or longer?
Silver: First and foremost, we provide a really safe space. This starts with the pickup at the airport and all the staff who are making sure that the clients land in their room feeling truly welcomed. That already puts down some barriers. Especially with people who live on their own and those who don’t know what it means to be nurtured and taken care of. Another thing that makes New Life very special is the fact that we have so many different modalities coming into play whether it be meditation, yoga, massage, bodywork, working meditation, counselling, life coaching…all of it is an opportunity for anyone to dive a little deeper. And I do believe that yoga isn’t for everybody, meditation isn’t for everybody. But there is something for everybody whether it is one modality or all modalities. All of this happens in the container of being in a supportive community that encourages and allows people to be seen. Here, our clients can put down their masks, they can put down their shields, excavate who they really are and learn tools and life skills to embody in their everyday life. It doesn’t happen on the first day. It happens slowly, depending on how much pain they are suffering from. And once they start to put down their shields and their masks, they are now not only discovering who they are within the community they are also learning how to engage on a deep heart level which is very different from the outside world. In the outside world, we have to perform, we have to behave in a certain way and most of the time our true self is not seen, or heard, or not recognised. In the outside world, we are in a constant doing mode. Here, at New Life everything is voluntary. You don’t have to do anything. You pick and choose what programs you want to participate in – whether it’s the workshops or yoga classes, everything is optional. It gives the clients an inner sense of “oh, I am in control of how I will energetically engage with myself.” Some people choose to go full on and other people arrive and sleep for a week. It’s very, very personal. Besides everything that New Life offers, I think the most important thing is what people bring to this place. They all come with a deep longing. There’s a longing for healing, a longing for change. I have worked in my own studio and I have worked in other places where the longing is not as strong for everyone and life is too busy to notice. Many think yoga is only a physical practice, and some do it because doing yoga is trendy or because it’s fashionable to carry a mat around. But people who come to New Life come with a genuine longing, they’re seeking. And I think that’s why it works because they are seeking.
“A reunion with TRUE SELF”
Everyone who comes to New Life seems to be searching for something, seeking something that they sometimes can’t quite name or put their finger on… based on your experience with the clients you have worked with, what do you think people come here for first and foremost – and what do they get out of their stay?
Silver: I think, first and foremost, they want to come out of pain and suffering and confusion. The confusion of who we think we are leads us on a path that pulls us away from our true self. Everyone I have worked with here is seeking to know themselves on a deeper level and I think we provide the opportunity for that here. We hold space for them to gain insight into who they really are – outside of their jobs, their careers, their families, their history. Yoga offers a way to do that. It’s an inward journey from who we think we are to who we really are and the truth of who we are and that’s one of the reasons for me why it’s so powerful. And when they discover it, there’s that sensation of “Wow, I never knew that was inside of me and yet I did know.” There’s a wisdom that I now can identify and hold it. Before, it was suppressed, buried, maybe even in darkness and now it’s out. I call it a reunion with TRUE SELF.
What is your take on depression and what would be your advice to someone who is desperately trying to navigate their way out of it?
Silver: Depression is something I am very familiar with because I have suffered from depression for many years, even when I was young. There are lots of studies on what depression is but I am going to tell you from my own personal experience and from the yogic perspective. The word ‘depression’ means something is depressed, something is hidden under and then life pushes and presses on that. Depression is when the true self is hidden. Depression is when we are not truly ourselves but rather false identities that we created to survive our lives. There’s usually a whole belief system around “I am not worthy. I am not good enough. Something is wrong with me.” layered on top of that. So, when we begin to un-layer, unravel and unload that, the depression starts to lift. And you are no longer depressed. I haven’t felt depressed in a very long time. I feel sad, I feel grief when I lose someone or relationships end, I feel anger but I don’t feel depressed and that’s a huge difference. Because I know these emotions are temporary and yet I must feel them through. I need to ‘feel it to heal it’. When I was in depression I thought it was permanent, the feeling of darkness was permanent or I tried to avoid it by keeping busy which led me to multiple burn-outs, all this only delayed my freedom from depression.
“Healing happens when we allow ourselves to soften and remain open.”
What has been the biggest challenge in your personal life and how did you overcome and grow through it?
Silver: The biggest challenge for me was discovering that I have been living a life that was being misguided through my deep wounds that I didn’t even know I had. It was exhausting. It was making me sick. And these deep wounds – in yoga terminology they are called “Samskaras and malas” – really took me into a dark space. Samskara means imprints- but it’s the unconscious imprints that lead us to malas – which are dustings or coatings of our true self, there are 3 types of malas….which are rooted in the belief system that I am unworthy or not enough. When I had reached my darkest place I didn’t know how to get out. I have had many years of struggling with dark thoughts and harmful actions towards myself, I am really glad that my true SELF won – instead of my false thoughts, instead of my desperation to get out of the pain I was feeling. When I am doing the work I do, I use a lot of my own experiences. Because I know how deep and dark it can be and how very isolating it can feel when you are in it all by yourself. My darkest, most difficult times were when I had to think about my young boys and how I needed to get better for them. I had to learn how to discern and say “okay, I actually have the ability to get myself out of it.” Yoga was the key for me. And it’s not the physical yoga that I am talking about. The ancient wisdom and philosophy behind it is giving yoga its substance and was more important to me than the physical practice. Without it, it’s just physical fitness or gymnastics. For me, it was the philosophy behind yoga that brought to light that I had and have the ability to heal myself.
What does “healing” mean to you? And how can we move/shift/release trauma that has been stored in our body for years if not decades?
Silver: Healing happens when we allow ourselves to soften. It’s about softening, not about patching up and putting band-aids on top of band-aids. It’s the peeling away of, it’s the un-layering that allows us to heal the deepest wounds. I actually use this a lot in my sessions with people. When we are in a yoga therapy session, what we do together is peel the band-aid off to look at the wound. And as we look at the wound, we lovingly go in there and excavate it, open it and do what we need to do to bring more air and light to it. And when you bring light to the wound, it no longer festers, it’s no longer a mystery. It’s a way in which we practice self-love. This self-love is what heals it. It has to start from the self. It can’t be an external healing, it needs to be an internal healing. It’s an inner work. When we soften and stay open, we heal and live more authentically.
“I sank into this deep, dark depression that I did not find a way out of.”
New Life offers a very unique program that combines a wide range of therapeutic elements rarely found all in one place. Why have you chosen yoga or how did yoga choose you as a tool for transformative healing?
Silver: Yoga found me rather than me finding yoga. I have been practising yoga since 1998. It took me about ten years and many, many teacher trainings to reach a point where I started to realise, “Okay, I think I have something to offer. I am not sure exactly what it is, yet, but I must have something to offer.” Growing up, I was a very athletic person. I loved being in my body. I was a diver, a volleyball player, a gymnast, a cheerleader, a runner. I would’ve joined the tennis team, too, if I could’ve but I just didn’t have the time. Throughout my first career which was fashion and my first marriage, I lost connection with my spirituality. I also wasn’t in my body as much. After giving birth to my second child, I sank into this deep, dark depression that I did not find a way out of. A friend of mine said one day, “Oh, let’s go and practice yoga!” and I thought, “Just get me out of the house!” We went to a pretty bad yoga class. But something happened in Shavasana pose. I don’t know what it was, I can’t describe it. As I said, the yoga class itself was really terrible. The best explanation I can give is that moving my body as well as connecting deeply with my breath got me out of my dark thoughts and into a state of just being for a good ten minutes. Something shifted at that moment. And then it happened again and again. I started to go to serious yoga classes twice a week. The poses I did must have appeared to look good. Being very athletic probably helped. So yoga teachers would come to me and say, “You should do teacher training.” What they didn’t see was how much I was struggling on the inside with my perfectionism. I kept thinking to myself, “Me? I can’t be a teacher! I am only here as a student.” But it wouldn’t stop. Every time I met another teacher they’d tell me “You should be a teacher.” Eventually, I just paused for a moment and said “Is this the universe? Is this grace telling me something that I am not opening myself to?” At that time the kids were young and the finances weren’t there. Yet again, it was one of those serendipitous moments: My mum offered to take care of my children and pay for my training – without me even asking. I took that as a sign. That was the beginning of my journey. And while I was training and also through teaching yoga, I was healing myself. It was a therapeutic process for me.
“The essence is compassion.”
How would you describe the essence of the work you do here at New Life?
Silver: The essence is compassion. I feel everyone’s suffering but I also know I don’t own it. I can discern and not absorb that energy which allows me to be in a place where I can facilitate a deep self-discovery and healing from a place where I have been myself. The compassion comes from my own pain and suffering that I have been through. I feel it when people come in. Even with those that are coming for one week compared to those that come for three months. Suffering is suffering, pain is pain. You can’t separate that. So, the compassion that I feel is what guides me to do my work.
The clients I have talked to that had one-on-one sessions with you described them as incredibly powerful, although challenging – what is your approach when you work with someone one-on-one?
Silver: Everyone is unique, everyone is different. I never have a plan. I listen deeply. I feel deeply. I even listen to words not being said. The key is often in those moments, the unsaid words. And then I use all my years of doing the work I’ve been doing and keep myself very spacious and open. I allow information to come through. To people who don’t perceive themselves as intuitive or spiritual this might sound very weird but I do use my intuition and my spiritual voice a lot. This leads to a co-participation between the client and myself. I am not doing the work myself, we are doing it together. If they are open, it becomes very powerful. Depending on their pain and suffering, I provide bodywork and energy work with emotional releases, some experience deep somatic relief and others deep but safe release of traumas held in their body. If they are not open, it’s very surface level. We can do yoga poses, we do breathwork and we can keep it at that level. That’s completely ok. There’s no judgement whatsoever. When clients leave feeling a change and relief of some kind or their heart has just expanded, it brings me tremendous joy and meaning. This is what rewards me again and again. I don’t get exhausted from my one-on-one sessions. They nourish me just as much as they nourish the clients.
“Trust your body. The body never lies.”
What do you tell people who are convinced their bodies are not capable of doing yoga or think they will “fail” the poses?
Silver: First, I say, yoga is not just about the body but it is part of the body. Trust your body. Every single time clients do a practice with me, they amaze themselves. So, give it a try and have no expectations at all.
Can you tell me a bit about the importance of the mind-body-connection and how we can learn to listen to our body and its wisdom more?
Silver: The body is always telling you the truth. It never lies. The mind lies. Trust your body before you trust your mind. But it’s not just a mind-body connection, it’s a mind-body-heart connection. The heart needs to be there. It’s the heart that is actually governing ourselves on the journey of self-discovery. Even if the mind is lying, there’s some information still coming through the body from the heart. So, when the body is sick, when the body is injured, when the body is feeling exhausted, it’s the heart saying “Hey, slow down! Pause! Let’s take the time to really get to know our true SELF.” That’s when the battle with the mind begins. If you ask me what part of you is telling the truth, I always say, “The body. Listen to the body. The body never lies.”
One nugget of wisdom: “Stay open. Don’t give up, keep excavating and find yourself.”
How do you help/work with someone who is full of self-hatred and shame?
Silver: Self-hatred and shame are such deep wounds. People who suffer from both have a whole belief system built around it. They are convinced that something is wrong with them. First, we need to work with trust. We have to establish a sense of trust within ourselves but also trust the New Life team as the holder of space. I think, once trust is established, little by little, depending how deep the wound is, we can start to help them remember their true self – which is love. And then the shame disappears. It really does. It melts away. Love just melts away shame.
Who has inspired you most in your life and in what way?
Silver: My mum. She didn’t have the easiest life. But one thing I have noticed about her: No matter how hard her life was, she stayed really loving, strong and soft and she held us and nurtured us throughout our childhood and all the way up until adulthood. I always hoped and wished that I’d be at some level like my mother – there’s a kindness to her, there’s a toughness to her, too, and she’s very smart. My siblings and I didn’t get sick very often because my mum would always nurture us with really good food and also do energy work on us. If we had a stomach ache she would move energy. She has this way in which she uses energy to not only care for us but to heal us. My mum herself inherited this knowledge, these ancient wisdoms – none of it is documented – through her mother and she passed them on to us. And I do believe I got some of her wisdom, her strength, her softness, her nurturing spirit, knowledge and intuition around the energy work that she passed on and her smart wit.
What lights you up? What are you most passionate about in life apart from yoga?
Silver: I love being with people I love, who are authentic and I care for deeply – my husband and my children. I also love travelling. Travelling is one of my biggest passions. It makes me want to keep travelling more and more. I feel like the world is so big and I haven’t seen a lot of it. I want to see more.
If you could only pass on one nugget of wisdom to people what would it be?
Silver: Stay open. Stay open and don’t give up. Keep excavating and find your true SELF. The mind is going to try to close you off. The body may get tired and sick, but don’t give up. Our fears may want us to keep ourselves isolated. But if we stay open and try to at least soften certain aspects of ourselves, healing will slowly come in. But if we are not open, if we are really set in our ways, if we are closed and judging ourselves and our circumstances then it’s going to take us a longer time to heal. We will eventually heal. It’s just going to take a lot longer. So, stay open.
Please complete the sentence: “To me New Life (is)…”
Silver: A safe haven. A healing sanctuary.
Silver brings almost twenty years of experience teaching yoga to her role as Yoga Therapist at New Life. Read the full bio…