‘When I allowed my heart to lead the way, as if all I knew was embodied, it was so easy to close that door and jump into the unknown. I believe that when you do what you really love, when you really dare to listen, it all flows. Like following that stream of water, instead of struggling to get to the shore.’
Martina Törnvall is a former lawyer and now devoted yogini who grew up riding horses on the countryside in Småland. We got the chance to talk to her about being a “good girl”, letting go of others’ expectations of who we should be and finding fulfillment.
Tell us a little bit about your story and what you are doing!
My name is Martina, a devoted yogini who throws myself head first into anything my heart guides me towards. I find deep meaning in sharing yoga and spend my everyday life together with The Soul Space. This is a space where we invite people to let go of the business of life to arrive inside and connect with our bodies through yoga, meditation, shaking, dancing, connecting and much, much more. It’s amazing and I couldn’t be happier!
So almost year around, we invite people to retreats all over the world. In the winter, we move to our paradise home in the south of India. The summer, we spend at our castle in Bretagne. And the fall and spring, we get to run around barefoot and naked dip at Gällnö in the Swedish archipelago. So much more than just a yoga retreat, meditation course or health detox! In between, I play around in Stockholm, teaching workshops, events and classes. And we have so many more exciting plans, so stay tuned…
Coming from the corporate world, working as a business lawyer at one of the biggest law forms in Sweden, I spent many years trying to balance my life between the office and the yoga mat. But I was always stressed and never really happy deep down to my belly button… When I was at the office I was in doubt, but as soon as I landed on my mat I knew that I wasn’t meant for something else. And then, 1 1/2 years ago, I decided to let go and follow my longing for deeper meaning and a more spiritual life. Since then, I’ve spent almost all my time traveling over the world, teaching yoga at retreats. And in comparison with before, there is nothing else I would rather do. I get to hang around in yoga pants all day long, with my best friends, and live in beautiful places all over the world. And the joy and fulfillment that comes from guiding people to their hearts and the knowledge we all have inside… WOW. Meeting so many amazing souls is a true blessing.
Also nature buff by birth, I grew up in the countryside riding horses in the forests of Småland, and nature is still where I find deep peace and inspiration.
When did you get into yoga and why is it an important part of your life?
About a year into law school, I got to experience for the first time how it can feel to be really stressed. I started having tingling in my fingers and restless legs. Shallow breathing and close to panic attacks. I was actually convinced that I was very, very ill and went to the emergency room so many times. And all they could say was that it was stress-related, which in a way was true, but I couldn’t accept that no one could give me a diagnosis and a cure. It was not until I found a wonderful doctor, who directed me to yoga, that I started to connect to my own body. And instead of someone telling me what to do, I could feel it in my body. And finally, I could let go of that fear of being seriously ill. I took the summer off, signed up for a yoga course and went every morning for the rest of the summer. And I fell in love. Since then, yoga permeates my life and really is my big passion.
My practice has changed over time, as I tried different styles and teachers. I experienced my first kundalini yoga class at a yoga festival in Stockholm. I remember Anki, who taught my first kundalini yoga teacher training, who was just a light up there on the stage. The postures were new, the breathing was challenging, and I had so much resistance coming up! But afterwards I felt great and all my worries had disappeared, and I felt like I needed nothing, but wanted everything. So, I fell in love again, this time with kundalini yoga.
Today, yoga is my drug and medicine at the same time. It helps me be the best version of myself everyday – not meaning that has to be happy and smiley all the time – but I can tune into my highest vibration and stay steady no matter what happens around me. When I do my practice the day just flows. I can wake up with a sensation/emotion/busy mind but it’s like my yoga just cleans it out so I can fill up myself with what I need and act from who I really am.
What did you do as an environmental lawyer?
In law school, I spent one year as an exchange student at UC Santa Cruz – an amazing place! The campus is up in a redwood forest, sharing your school days with deers and squirrels. I always had a love for nature and now I realized I could combine it with my working life. YAY! When I decided to focus my studies on environmental law, it was some kind of” I want to save the world” desire that drove me. After university, I did one year as a law clerk at the land and environmental court in Nacka, and then continued to a big law firm in corporate Stockholm, working in their environmental law group. Here I soon realized I was so far away from that which first sparked my interest for environmental law.
So I decided to leave that world for now, but who knows, maybe I’ll come back in the future but then it will be back to the” lets-save-the-world” part.
I’ve always been” the good girl” and it’s been so liberating to let go of that! There really is no right or wrong way of doing things, and success can never be measured by someone else, only by yourself.
How do you view failure and how have you overcome challenges in your career?
My biggest fear has always been to be wrong. It’s a learned condition from my childhood, and I think we all recognize that shame that comes when we feel we did something wrong…
We’ve learned from an early age that when we achieve, when we’re being “right”, we will be loved and accepted. And there’s nothing wrong about wanting to do things right, but what we also do is put shame into being wrong. As if we are only worthy if we achieve, and unworthy if we don’t. So to overcome this, I had to give myself a love shower every time I found myself with that inner judge, reminding myself that it is okey to be wrong. Now I welcome what we perceive as ”failure” and try to see it as a trigger to look deeper, feeling that shame in my body but knowing that what I achieve and do has nothing to do with my self-worth. Not saying this is easy, but it is really a dedication to yourself.
When I was a lawyer, my biggest challenge was probably finding balance when working long and stressful hours at the office. I had a deep longing for a more spiritual life, and also felt I like always had to compromise my priorities. Now, my everyday life is actually pretty much the way I would dream it to be. Of course, I still face challenges, but they are so much easier to handle when I actually do what I love. I think compassion with ourselves really is the first thing to re-learn…
Do you have any specific goals you want to achieve with your work? Which are they?
I love to light a spark in people and empower them to find direction and inner strength to live the lives they really want to live. I really just want to be at service, and I think that where we can best serve, will always change. Before, when I was working as a lawyer, I always felt I needed to do more, achieve more, be better. Now, I know I’m at the exact right place, at the exact right moment when I am just present to see that. That gives a deep sense of peace.
Yogi Bhajan – who took kundalini yoga to the west – always said ”We are not humans having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience”. I think we are just in this life to enjoy it at its fullest, and yoga helps me to be in my highest capacity every day and to know what the right path for me in every turn is.
What are you proudest of in your career or life so far?
I guess when I found the courage and strength to let go of my safe and well-paid job to follow my dreams. For several years I had this longing, but I was too much in my head trying to figure it all out. When I allowed my heart to lead the way, as if all I knew was embodied, it was so easy to close that door and jump into the unknown. I believe that when you do what you really love, when you really dare to listen, it all flows. Like following that stream of water, instead of struggling to get to the shore.
No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. In what ways do you minimize your ecological footprint in your everyday life?
I eat plant based, vegan, mostly organic food. If there is one thing I really spend money on, it is on what I eat, for the planet but also for myself and my health.
When I come home to Stockholm, I am always overwhelmed by all the consumption. And I know, because I used to live like this, always ”treating” myself with new clothes, electronics, renovating the kitchen, getting a new bike etc… And I know how hard it is. It is like everything in a city is pushing us to consume more… If I’m present, I can feel my consciousness shift and suddenly I also want to buy that new thing, go to that fancy restaurant, get a bigger flat. And again, nothing wrong about wanting to enjoy life, but we need a reality check. And also realizing that this push us away from ourselves… The more we live from the outside, the less we are in contact with the inside…
After living on a beach in India for two winters, I know that I really need nothing more than food, shelter and companion. That’s freedom for me!
And lastly, we always climate compensate our flights to retreats. I know this is only half good, but at least a step on the way.
If you could give advice to your twenty-year-old self, what would it be?
Just do it! Already then, I had a deep longing to work with people, health and in a more spiritual way. I went for what I was ”supposed to do” and started law school and actually, I don’t regret it for a second. But I thought I needed to be someone, be something, to be good enough and that ”only” being a yoga teacher or working with health wasn’t good enough. Now it’s clear to me that it is really not about what we do, and all about who we are. So, it would be to follow my gut feeling – listen to my intuition and jump into new adventures every moment!