Born in Los Angeles to parents she describes as political activists and nature lovers, Nora Belton was always attracted to a life less ordinary. Music and dance were her early passions while yoga was a practice to complement her dance career – it has always been intrinsic in her life. Today, under the name Spirit Body Yoga, Nora hosts Sivananda style teacher training courses and works closely with people in recovery, believing yoga has the therapeutic power to heal mind, body and soul, and is ultimately a tool for happiness.
When did you first discover yoga and what attracted you to the practice? When I was around 12, my mother was searching for meaning in her life and she started getting into health food and meditation. That was really the beginning of the yoga discovery for me.
Did you feel an instant connection to the practice? I didn’t think much about it – I just loved it! My first memory as integrating it into my life was as a dancer and when I went to Paris, yoga accompanied and supported my career. It wasn’t like it hit me over the head or anything. It was just absolutely natural to me. I didn’t question it. I discovered it was just part of me.
At what point did you make the decision to become a teacher? In 1984, when I finally accepted my dance career was not going in the direction I wanted it to. All the signs were telling me to stop: my body, my emotions and my entire life just seemed to be falling apart. That’s when I went to Formentera, where I started teaching yoga simply because it was something I knew in every cell of my being. I taught for 10 years before I took an official teacher training.
Did you feel a natural connection to teaching others? Always. When I was little, the kids in school would chide me and call me ‘teacher’ as an insult! I later realised I was good at helping people go through things and find themselves, so I decided to go deeper into how to use yoga to help people. Doing it on purpose, in a more focused and intentional way.
Tell us about your initial training? I was in England and came upon a Sivananda style training called SUNRA. It was a school created by two former devotees, Narayani and Barbara Gordon, that followed the training in every aspect. I clicked, although I was a bit critical. I thought, how can you become a teacher in one month? I have come to understand, more and more over the years, you don’t become a teacher in a month – you understand who you can be as a teacher. Some people are already teachers, they just haven’t put their stamp on it and what training gives you is self-knowledge and confidence.
Have you done any additional trainings since then? I went to Mexico to take some time off. One year turned into three as I just took yoga clasess and got massages. I received and received and received and explored. I was at a really important transition point in my life. I didn’t know where I was going but I just knew I had to let go of everything I was doing. And in the middle of becoming a student again, I realised yoga is absolutely therapeutic. I enjoy helping people, so I did a 500-hour Yoga Therapy training. I also began taking a lot of workshops in other styles; Iyengar, Anusara, Restorative and more recently Yoga Somatics.
And what led you to training teachers? As soon as I finished the first SUNRA teacher training, I started working with them, helping to teach and organise retreats. When Narayani decided to return to the Sivananda ashram, Barbara asked me to take her place and it was almost overwhelming. It was like the sky opened up and I wasn’t expecting such an incredible breakthrough in my life – then the sky crashed down and seemed to say “You’re not allowed to do this” when I broke my knee just a few days before it started. I felt like I had died overnight. I told Barbara in a phone message and the next day she just answered with “So?” and that was one of the biggest lessons of my life. I taught an entire training without doing a single asana and I learned so much about teaching from that.
Tell us about the style of yoga you train teachers in today? I follow the Sivananda structure but some of the content is different because of the philosophy influence I’ve had from Siddha Yoga, plus my Yoga Therapy background. What this means is I pay a lot more attention to being careful, making sure students understand the difference between risky and safe, and listening to their own bodies. We practice pranayama, chanting, meditation, concentration exercises and we study the eight limbs of yoga, which is like a blueprint for higher potential in the human experience. An introduction to massage and healing touch helps learning postural adjustments; and training the eye to see what students’ limitations are, where they need support and how to adjust with the utmost respect and gentleness. Every day one of the classes is devoted to exploring different avenues of Yogic expression, drawing inspiration from other traditions, and developing a personal practice.
How do you describe your relationship with your students? There’s amazing trust. I embrace the students where they are and I encourage them to do the same. We allow space for their practice to grow in line with their personality and their aptitudes. I see their strength and their potential and I encourage them to recognise it as well. Often, it’s really surprising; typically where they think they are the weakest is where they have the most strength, creativity and room to grow.
How do you describe your teaching methods? Compassion. Challenge. Creativity. Searching. I’m always learning. Being as authentic as I can possibly be. And fun!
What is your own yoga philosophy? Yoga means union, and so I think we need to explore the concept of separation – this is what yoga was born of. Everybody understands that for themselves, be it the separation between their mind and body, or separation from higher self to smaller self, from society or from God. Not feeling connected is the root of all illness and what yoga does is reinforce our understanding that we are not separate from anything. It’s about inviting that experience of connection, of union, of the source. Worldly life is characterised by polarities. Somehow it seems we need to experience separation in order to have that longing to return to source. It’s about union and separation.
What is your own personal practice like? I don’t do the same thing every day – it gets me into a rut. I have never been physically strong – inside I have a certain strength, but physically I do not, and my immune system isn’t strong. For me it is imminent that I have to walk in nature, I have to do yoga, I have to dance, I have to sing. And I absolutely have to meditate. Sometimes they all come into the same practice. Dance has also come back into my life now. In 2015, a Japanese Butoh master came to Ibiza and I did a workshop and since then I haven’t stopped. I’m no longer attached to being recognised for my performance. I do it for myself and this is the direction my own personal yoga is taking.
What do you find most rewarding about teaching? That moment of empowerment when a student has recognised their own light.
What do you find most challenging? I am starting to overcome one of the things I used to find most challenging; I am no longer a slave to my ego and the need for approval. Also, I have always tended to attract people who knew intuitively they were going to learn something from me, and you get challenging personalities. I have a tendency to bring things out of people, the best and the worst, so for me learning to manage this quality of mine has been challenging.
Tell us about your connection with Ibiza? To cut a really long story short – I came here to have a baby! My biological clock was ticking extremely loudly. I was going between Ibiza and Formentera for work – there were only three yoga teachers on Ibiza when I arrived! I fell in love with a musician and Martial Arts instructor who ran a studio I was teaching at. I would sleep on a boat when I came over – it was a very magical time in Ibiza back then. It was enchanting… and I enchanted myself into a pregnancy! I am actually a grandmother now – the first words my granddaughter says when she visits me is “yoga girl”!
Where can people practice with you on the island? In my studio, I host bi-monthly three-hour workshops, and I teach a weekly class together with a dance teacher where I do one hour of Somatic Yoga and she teaches and hour and a half of Butoh dance. I host two teacher trainings per year. One is a month-long intensive where we all live together. It’s intense and very beautiful. The other is spread out over the winter, taking place over 13 weekends which is ideal for Ibiza residents. Inspired by the 12-step programme, I am teaching classes at the new rehabilitation centre in Ibiza. I also teach private classes, for students of all levels and Yoga Therapy. These are some of my favourite classes. Really engaged students are what nourishes me.
Have you got a yoga ‘wow’ moment? There are a lot of them. I have a wow moment every time I find my spot on the coast or in the woods to practice. But in 1988, I went back to California for a year and came across Siddha yoga. I had chronic pain in my back and I would go to this place to meditate in the dark and my spine would start moving by itself. I would twirl up like a pretzel, with my head on the floor and the pain would stop. It wasn’t something I orchestrated, it was more like a spiritual unwinding. One day I realised this movement originated at the back of my head, like there was a pair of hands guiding me so I could be without pain. I was embarrassed to talk about it, but when I did, the people from the centre giggled and brought out some old magazines from the lineage of their meditation teacher until they found the photo of the hands that were holding my head… and the guy had been dead since 1982! They say the sages developed the practice of yoga through what their bodies did in meditation and it was then I experienced the true sense of what asana, which means ‘comfortable seat’, is through meditation.