August 2017 Teacher of the Month – Matty Espino

1) How did you start practicing Yoga? Tell us about your early yoga experiences.

My first experience practicing yoga was in a gym in Seoul, South Korea. It was interesting to say the least. I was in a room surrounded by older women and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Also, the class was entirely in Korean. At the time, I thought that this class would be a good opportunity to simply stretch before I hit my routine of running on the treadmill for an hour.  I was in my early 20s and I thought this class must be “easy”. Boy, was I wrong. After some seated poses and then a few standing, I remember everyone moving onto their backs and throwing their legs over their heads (to which I later learned was Halasana or Plow Pose). Since everyone was doing this, I thought to myself, “Well, hey, I guess I need to do that too.” Not knowing what I was doing and not really knowing how to engage my core muscles, I threw my legs over my head and got stuck. Literally, stuck. I could not get out of it and then the instructor, after noticing that I was not budging, came to the rescue. I felt so shocked, discouraged, and embarrassed, I quickly decided that yoga wasn’t really for me. Fast forward a few years later, I would have never imagined my headstrong opinion would drastically change (for the better!)

2) When was the moment you knew that Yoga was different or special – more than just another “exercise” or way to be physical?

I realized yoga was different when I took my first class at Harlem Yoga Studio. I moved to New York for graduate school in 2013 and I was, in a nutshell, stressed beyond belief. The obstacles of New York, graduate school, and personal struggles were overtaking me and I found myself in a pretty dark spiral of self-pity, worry, and doubt. Mentally and physically, I was exhausted and it was really affecting my health. One evening, my roommate asked me to go with her to an early morning yoga class. She said it would be fun, that it was challenging, and the teacher is really great. After some hesitation, eventually I said, “Ok, I’ll give yoga a shot (one more time)”. The next morning, we trekked our way over to Harlem Yoga Studio and I took my very first class with Elle Randall. And, well, the rest is history. After this first class, I’m not quite what happened but something clicked, a seed was planted, and I wanted to keep coming back. At first, it was to learn more about the poses and challenge myself physically, then it was learn more about the other aspects of yoga and its philosophies. Ultimately, it simply allowed me to just be – be in the moment, be in the present, be more aware (or whatever you want to label it) and I was finally able to pick myself up out of my rut and (slowly) begin to take better care of myself.

3) What is your favorite and least favorite pose, and why?

My favorite pose (at the moment) is eight-angle pose or astravakrasana. It’s an arm balance that I honestly thought I never could do because I have such tight hips and hammies. However, one day it happened!

My least favorite pose is any balancing inversion (i.e. headstand, handstand, etc). I think my aversion isn’t so much because I dislike them or have some past history of injury with them, but more due to my overwhelming fear of falling down! I always find myself holding back, second guessing myself, or simply not trusting that I can do them. I’m working on it though! One of my teachers gave me great advice saying that you won’t make any progress unless you try. And with a little bit courage, I’m slowly learning to go upside down one step at a time.

4) What practices do you use to feel more peaceful, present and content?

I love the art and beauty of chanting or singing mantra on the harmonium. In all my classes, I try to incorporate it and I could literally chant for hours. For me, it’s become my meditation and is the quickest way to crack open my heart to the universe.

5) What Yama or Niyama do your find most helpful in your daily life, and why? (Yamas are “observances” that are recommended for relating to the outside world, and Niyamas are observances for dealing with internal struggles)

Yama – Aparigraha – The practice of nonattachment. Aparigraha is definitely a daily observance for me. it is a process and very much a struggle to learn to not hold on to attachments (whether material or emotional). I can be quite controlling, obsessive, and hard on myself about everything. My yoga practice has definitely taught me that not everything has to be perfect or how we imagined it. And with this little grain of clarity, I’m slowly learning that these moments of imperfection are ok.

6) This month at Harlem Yoga Studio we are focused on the Anahata (Heart ) Chakra. What causes your heart to expand both on the mat, and off?

My little nephew. He came into the world a little over a year ago and instantly stole my heart. I love his curiosity, innocence, and growing rebellious nature. I don’t get to see him as much because he lives in California. However, he is a source of inspiration and love for me. My brother recently brought him for a visit to NYC and I still share stories about him in my classes!

7) Telling something about teaching at Harlem Yoga Studio

Harlem Yoga Studio is truly where it all began for me. I love the teachers, the community, and the studio’s mission and values. In particular, the community at Harlem Yoga is one of a kind. I’ve never been/taught at a place that is so encouraging, welcoming, and accepting of everyone. It’s truly a magical place!