“I’m gradually going to get everything and everyone I want.” The sound of female voices emanates from a small bright room at a Moscow yoga center. Inside are four women in sportswear, aged 30 upwards, standing on tiptoes and waving their arms.
In the corner of the room a rather short woman, dressed in loose pants with a decorative red and white belt, suddenly exclaims: “It’s… a plea for inspiration! Muse! What does a Muse look like?” She asks the women, but quickly gives out a nervous laugh and, without receiving an answer, quickly moves on to the next exercise.
This is how the Bereginya Power (Sila Beregini) Slavic gymnastics sessions, which are gaining in popularity among Russian women, are held here every Thursday morning. There are more than 20 bereginya communities on social networks, with tens of thousands of followers.
A session in Moscow costs 700 rubles ($10.8). You can also buy a book by the bereginya-in-chief and founder, Ksenia Silaeva, or arrange an online session via Skype with her. Before a full moon and other events and festivals, the site also sells online seminars on how to make a magic broom or a mandala to guard against debts, loans and all manner of ills. Web seminars are sometimes put up on the Bereginya Power site for free, but usually there is a charge.
According to the trainers, all this will help you find a husband, lose weight, improve your health, get you on better terms with your parents or simply allow you to “connect with your true self!"
Ekaterina Bukreyeva, a trainer and bereginya, lays some cards out on a window sill. On them are yoga poses together with “Slavic” symbols: Snowflakes and diamond shapes from red squares. A book on gymnastics lies nearby, along with a CD with relaxing music.
Slavic gymnastics is a sort of mixture of “Slavic beliefs, astrology and gymnastics,” the trainer explains. According to the teachings, there are three worlds - the upper world, which is the world of the Gods; the middle world, which is our world; and the lower world, which is the “world of our ancestors, the spirits and the primary elements.” She doesn’t reveal which world she is from herself, however.
“Slavic gymnastics consists of just 27 exercises - nine for each world. They are performed on your feet, on your knees and on all fours,” Bukreyeva explains.
The Slavs apparently did these exercises 500 years ago, and the founder of the school adapted them for women, she claims.
“Slavic gymnastics was an ancestral energy-channeling rite practiced by the ancient Slavs. Slav women… could control the elements, heal, and confer wealth, protection and prosperity on their families; this ‘knowledge’ is preserved to this day by hereditary bereginyas,” according to the bereginyas’ official website. But the site does not say what reference books or historical documents this information was sourced from.
When she was 33, Bukreyeva was working “in the financial sector”. But when she learned about the gymnastics from TV she put her name down for a seminar. Ekaterina immediately found it to be a revelation and decided to become an instructor. According to Ekaterina, she lost 8kg during that period and started to get on better with her family. But that’s not all - the workouts also “help to regulate women’s endocrine profile by acting on their hormone glands and psyche,” she believes.
A well-rounded brunette bounces into the room, all smiles. She is also going to try to become a bereginya for the first time. Ekaterina begins explaining how the three worlds also have houses of the sun, of life, of knowledge, and… God knows what else! She will have to gradually brush up on them all - preferably by buying the book!
“Every woman has their individual ’complex’ of many connected elements depending on what part of the world she was born in. You have to learn to activate the energies bestowed on you at birth,” the trainer replies, and, starting the class, asks us all to breathe.
While we are all breathing and doing ordinary school PE exercises, the trainer tells me she had previously worked out my chart on the basis of my date and place of birth. And she immediately hands me my “karmic task”. It turns out I fall under the ‘house of prosperity and money,’ and need to study the laws of finance and learn to apply them in my life!
Inexplicably, to the sound of Asian music, mixed with the din of emergency vehicles and hooting cars outside the window, we rub our hands together; then pat our face, head and entire bodies with them. After that the meditation begins:
“We have a warm feeling below the waist - this is our center of energy… we can feel roots sprouting into the ground from the soles of our feet,” Ekaterina intones in a soporific voice, while everyone stands with eyes closed trying to imagine themselves as trees.
”Well, did you have a warm feeling?” the trainer asks with concern. I realize I have literally been asleep for a couple of minutes!
“Warm… yes, I felt it,” I say reassuringly to the bereginya, overcome by an irresistible drowsiness. The face of the future bereginya is a picture of serenity, while the face of a regular client, a mother of five, radiates with something approaching an epiphany!
Then suddenly, as if at some all-girl slumber party, everyone sits down in a circle and starts talking about their problems! The mother with the large family wants to connect to nature and stop judging everyone, while the aspiring bereginya also frequently gets annoyed with people. Pulling cards out for each person, Ekaterina quickly reaches her conclusions: The mom needs to get out frequently into nature and the trainee should pursue an artistic hobby. As for me, I have to get on good terms with my family - I feel troubled “because there were problems in my family or in my childhood!”
All polled members of the Bereginya Power community on the vk.com social network agreed that the exercises make their lives better. However, Anna Koretskaya, a 34-year-old choreographer from a fitness dancing club in Yaroslavl, believes the workouts only help in conjunction with a good diet and healthy lifestyle.
“They do in fact try to motivate you to pursue a healthy lifestyle during the gymnastics sessions,” she says.
Infopreneurship has been on the rise in Russia for some years now, particularly among women, says yoga instructor Natalia Petrova. “The desire to join a group and be part of a women’s ’circle’ is an archetypal Russian desire to share experiences, talk about problems, learn something new, and collectively believe in the fulfilment of wishes,” Petrova says.
Such organizations are usually registered in Russia as sole practitioner businesses, explains lawyer Alexander Spiridonov. The women's groups themselves are not carrying out any educational activity, and so can work without a license. Checks on women’s fitness coaching in Russia are either carried out by the tax authorities or the Prosecutor-General’s Office. The latter can verify organizations are conforming to Russian legislation.
Petrova, for her part, says that Bereginya Power is not a branch of yoga, but operates in a similar way.
“It’s not a sect because it allows women, at least in some measure, to live out a “fairy-tale”, to find support, and to gain belief in a better future, and this genuinely reduces stress and is a positive, motivating factor,” she sums up.
At the same time, these Slavic gymnastics exercises are completely incapable of improving women’s endocrine profiles as the trainers claim, says women’s urologist Natalia Sumerova.
“The gymnastics can’t be any better for you than ordinary fitness routines. All that stuff about improving the endocrine profile is just mumbo jumbo!” Sumerova believes.
Finally the time arrives to start the actual gymnastics. The trainer asks us to read out the wording on the cards she had produced earlier.
“When to virtue I am leaning, My life is filled with meaning! We take a tiny sun and present it to God!” Ekaterina exclaims, and with half-bent knees stretches her arms upwards. Everyone follows suit, some seeming to know what to do, others out of politeness.
Barely 10 minutes go by before we are kneeling, pushing our knees and arms out in different directions. The right leg is male and the left is female we are told.
“Our leg, our knee… the nth knee, we try to be on good terms with all…” the trainer says, trying to explain why every move is necessary.
Ekaterina, however, says these exercises are not sufficient to get the full effect. In addition, there are also Friday rituals, which take place 12 times a year.
Each Friday has its general theme - husbands, relationships, health, and so on. Women who want help for a particular problem, for instance to do with their health, come on the appropriate Friday, where they create a “powerful flow of energy” and then draw the necessary symbols on their bodies to act as talismanic emblems.
There are also a large number of ceremonies and traditions intertwined with the gymnastics that are linked to Old Slavic beliefs and particular times of the year and holidays, such as making a magic broom, weaving a mandala or making talismanic dolls.
You start to get the hang of it all within two weeks, says Bukreyeva. And then you can go to a bereginya camp in the Crimea – where you’ll get to see girls dressed in Slavic-style dresses fully entering into the spirit of things! There’ll be an additional cost, of course - from 15 to 60 thousand rubles (from $231 to $927).
At the end of the session, we get down on all fours, flex our lower back, rest our head on our left shoulder, put our hands behind our back and, barely managing to lift one leg in the air, intone quietly: “When I exhibit strength of will, With nature I’ll be better still!”
After the tricky pose we applaud and complement each other, thanking everyone and everything in turn - the “energies of the four elements”, the male and female sexes and, of course, the power of the bereginyas!
“Interesting - I’ve never seen anything like it!” the new girl in the changing room announces enthusiastically and rushes off to buy a subscription to enable her to become a bereginya too.
When approached by Russia Beyond, the founder of Bereginya Power, Ksenia Silaeva, told us she would answer our questions later as she was putting her children to bed. After that she stopped replying to our messages.
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