Yoga Goddess

Angela Farmer talked to us from London about Iyengar, aging gracefully, and the true meaning of contentment.

Born in London, Angela Farmer was raised by her mother until she was eight, when her father returned from fighting in World War II. Her family belonged to the Church of England, but Farmer struggled to find religion there; she found it more readily in nature. Similarly, Farmer finds her yoga not within the walls of traditional, established yoga schools but in the individual, inner body. "One"s life is written into one"s body," Farmer says. "If you dive deep enough in your yoga practice, your whole history is in there."

You went to Pune, India, to study with B.K.S. Iyengar in your 20s. How did you grow from that experience? In my 20s, I had two things in my vision: to get married and do yoga with Iyengar. But while I was in India, the man I thought I would marry sent a letter saying he was going to marry someone else, and my projection on Iyengar fell away after a few months, so I literally felt that I had nothing to live for anymore. I felt like a cigarette stubbed out under someone's heel. It turned out this was the best state to be in. I had nothing to aim for, nowhere to go. I was empty, and India came to me.

What's it like teaching alongside your partner, Victor van Kooten? We're together 24 hours a day. You have to watch that you don't lose yourself. Victor is very clear anatomically. I tend more toward creating an atmosphere where people feel safe to start opening up and to explore.

How did the yoga school in Greece come about? It came to us, really. A friend took us to see an olive grove in the middle of this magical valley on the island of Lesvos. The farmer needed a dowry for his daughter's wedding—so we signed the documents on our way home! We had trouble with archaeologists for a year and we kept having to change the shape of the building. But the end result is more beautiful than we could have imagined. It must have been Ganesha!

You are a model of aging gracefully, of being strong yet also soft and feminine. Thank you! The thing about aging is, you make friends with yourself. You can finally meet yourself in a loving way. And as I've gotten older, I like that there's a side of me that can take care of a situation. But I see too many women who feel that in order to be free and independent, they have to be like men. That's a misunderstanding. To be a powerful woman you don't have to be aggressive or forceful. Like a tree, you have to find your roots and then you can bend in the wind.

Do you think contentment shapes who we are as much as our pain does? Absolutely. They go hand in hand. Intense joy has a tinge of pain, and vice versa. Gathering the bits of myself that got lost, suppressed, injured, and abused in my life has given me such joy. Contentment does need to be cultivated. To be "content" means we're aware of our content. You feel full—content—when you open up to yourself and dive in.

A former senior editor at Yoga Journal, Colleen Morton Busch is working on a novel.