Years ago, before Elizabeth Beer swopped the big city lights for the bliss of Barrydale, she had it all. The designer shoes, the flashy car, the trendy clothes and as vain as that may sound for some, she actually needed it all to fit into a life which revolved around being in the presence of celebrities.
As one of the country’s top event managers, it was her job to attend the elite functions that most regular folks only got to see on television.
In fact, she had no other choice but to be a high-flyer and while she undoubtedly enjoyed sipping champagne in settings that most only got to see in glossy magazines, there was always the risk of falling into the addiction trap that always hovers on the fringes of a life lived in the fast lane.
Inevitably, innocent smoke breaks and routine social drinks soon escalated to drug use and abuse. Something which is not only the norm in such circles, but often a prerequisite to being part of the “in”-crowd.
But one day it all changed for the better. Disgusted with the way things were going whenever she ventured away from the bright lights, Elizabeth looked at all the medication she had to take to deal with her demons and thought to herself “there has to be another way”.
“Yoga came into my life at a time when I was suffering from depression, anxiety and insomnia which came about because of various unresolved traumas that I had experienced in my life.”
Today Elizabeth is dedicated to sharing the knowledge she has gained with the rest of the world. She enjoys nothing more than helping those in need and she has already made a significant impact in the lives of many children in Barrydale – also through yoga.
Towards the end of 2020 the mother of four hosted free Breath Water Sound courses in rural Smitsville and also established the Barrydale Youth Yoga club.
Her passion for empowering the youth started in 2015 when she became a Yes For Schools teacher working in various schools in and around Cape Town, through the International Association for Human Values.
When the internationally funded course was cancelled due to the gang related risks facing the teachers, the Western Cape Education department asked her to introduce meditation, yoga and mindfulness at schools.
Elizabeth pulled-in all her resources and created a 20-lesson Mindful Living Course which she presented with help from her husband Francois and their friend Nomvuyo.
They started teaching these classes to troubled learners at Boundary Primary School and Bonteheuwel Primary School – often under circumstances that can be compared to an active war zone.
“Hiding under desks with the children when gunfights between the respective gangs broke out, was an incredibly scary experience, although for some of the kids it was exciting, as their family members were often part of these gangs,” she explained.
By introducing yoga and various breathing exercises, they miraculously created a calm environment in which human values could be taught to both learners and educators.
“It was important for us to ensure that once we left these schools, the educators were equipped to continue with these exercises that clearly made a difference.”
Eventually more than 30 schools signed up for their program before the government decided to cut funding.
Turning abuse into tuition
The trauma Elizabeth experienced more than 20 years ago included being in an extremely abusive relationship.
In a narrative that rings true for so many South African women, she explained how, for a period of eight years, she was often beaten to the point where she could not go to work because of the bruises.
In a bittersweet turn of events, the beatings stopped when she developed cancer. The life threatening disease enabled her to escape and only then could she start on her journey to mental recovery.
After defeating cancer at the turn of the millennium, it took another eight years before she discovered what she now knows as the real solution to her problems.
Elizabeth admitted that she soon became addicted to the way yoga made her feel and although it took time for her to fully understand the value of the transformation she was going through, she instinctively knew that she was on the right track.
Many years of dedication and many insightful health and wellness courses under incredibly gifted yoga teachers later, she knew that she was able to help others.
She started by teaching yoga to a few friends and almost organically people started approaching her for help.
While she wasn’t too fond of big yoga studios and loads of people at first, she eventually became accustomed to the modern day demands of a growing industry.
More importantly though, she knew that the way yoga helped her to deal with her abusive background could help many other women.
“I was very drawn to working at the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Abused Women and Children, because I understood why the women were there and why it takes so long for them to leave the abusive relationships they find themselves in.”
Creating a survivor mentality is also key to the success she has achieved as both a yoga teacher and a cancer survivor and through her teachings she hopes that many other women, children (and men) will continue to benefit from the skills she has acquired in life dedicated to yoga.