June Teacher of the Month! – Amy Tobin

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

I started practicing yoga at the gym. I was taking yoga classes to add variety to my regular workout routine. Since I was a gymnast in high school I didn’t find getting into the various postures to be too difficult, but I was clearly not as flexible as I had been when I was younger. I noticed that holding postures for several breaths helped me to go deeper into each pose little by little. I started paying more attention to my breath at yoga, and soon paying more attention to my breath even when I wasn’t doing yoga.

 

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

I started to really look forward to yoga class. With other exercise I usually had to push myself to go, knowing I would feel much better post workout. During those workouts I kept looking at the clock, prodding myself to keep going just a little longer. My yoga classes felt timeless. The instructor would lead us out of Sivasana (final resting pose) and magically it would be an hour and ½ later than the time I had entered the room. Yet, I still felt that I had worked out – had moved my body and stretched my muscles.

I took my first teacher training without actually intending to teach. I just wanted to expand my practice and learn more about the anatomy and philosophy of yoga. I took my second training for much the same reasons – to strengthen and deepen my own practice. I only started teaching to make sure everything I was learning was actually sinking in!

Now that I am teaching (and have been for  over 7 years!) I continue to take teacher trainings to help me deepen my practice, and better share these incredible tools with those around me.  I have also assisted or led several teacher training programs myself to help other students become teachers, and  I am so excited to be co-leading the upcoming teacher training program at HYS this September!

 

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

One of my favorite poses is Uttanasana (standing forward bend). Sometimes I just hang out folded over my legs feeling my back and the back of my legs lengthening with gravity. If I move through Ardha Uttanasana / Uttanasana with my breath a few times I can both wake up my body and feel stress and strain just drip out of my shoulders and the back of my neck. It feels like the antidote to being upright all day.

My least favorite pose is Navasana (boat pose). I have a funny story about this pose that anyone who’s taken my class has probably heard (at least once). I had a teacher who made a list of her least-favorite poses. She’d build her least favorite pose into every sequence she taught for a month, or a quarter until she had been doing the pose so often that it became easier and was no longer her least-favorite pose.

I decided to try this myself, and chose Navasana. I think that was in January of 2013 … I believe I finally gave up on Navasana somewhere toward the middle of 2014. Over a year and ½ and I never moved away from the top least favorite pose on the list. I must admit though – I don’t dislike the pose quite as much as I once did.

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

Definitely Pranyama. Typically I’m not in the studio when I notice I’m feeling out of sorts (maybe anxious, or irritated or not at all present). Often it’s when I’m on a crowded subway. I focus on my breath, feeling it deepen and lengthen. I feel my physical body breathe by filling my lower belly like a small balloon, filling my ribs with breath so they expand from side to side and front to back, and even breathing into my collarbones and armpits. When everything is full I slowly allow the breath to release. A few breaths like this can definitely help bring me back to center.

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) 

The Niyamas most important for me are Tapas (building heat) Ishvarapranidhana (surrendering) and Svadyaya (self-study). For me, Tapas means pushing & working intensely to change what I can; pushing forward and making things happen. Ishvaraprandihana means accepting the way things are when I can’t control them, and Svadyaya is the inquiry to help me understand when to push harder and when to surrender.

6) Our theme for the month of June is the Svadhistasana Chakra – are there certain poses (or other practices) that bring out the fluidity and sweetness in your life?

When I think fluidity the first asana that comes to mind is Adho Mukha Vrksasana (handstand). While I haven’t mastered holding a handstand without a wall, I have become stronger in the pose. I now effortlessly glide into position and experience a lightness and fluidity during the ascent that feels magical.

7) Tell us something about your experience teaching at Harlem Yoga Studio.

I’ve been teaching at Harlem Yoga Studio since 2011 shortly after it’s opening. Truly it’s a community where everyone belongs. I’ve had students who had never before tried yoga and those who were accomplished teachers all breathing together, side by side in harmony. There’s nothing better than having students return to class each Sunday – some for as long as I’ve been around.  I am also really excited to be joining Vijai and Erica in leading our upcoming teacher training in September! It will be so nice to have the opportunity to really go deep with a small group of dedicated students. . . and potential new teachers!