August Teacher of the Month – Angela Dawn

1) How did you start practicing Yoga? Tell us about your early yoga experiences. Like a lot of yogis, I started practicing regularly at my gym. It was 2005; I had just moved to New York City for grad school and I was trying to stay active in order to counter the long amounts of sitting required to keep up with my studies. I hadn’t yet ditched diet culture, so I started spending double the time at the gym; in order to “allow” myself my beloved yoga class, which didn’t burn many calories, I’d have to put in a certain amount of time on the treadmill, etc. I’m so glad I stuck with my yoga; it didn’t take long to understand that this practice transforms you from the inside out.

2) How did you know you wanted to start teaching yoga – what was your journey to becoming a teacher? In 2011 I was diagnosed with an autoimmune illness that led to losing my career in public service. I still wanted to help people, and yoga was so healing for me that I often thought about sharing with others. I didn’t look like any yoga teacher I’d ever met, but then I started to see more and more people my size practicing on social media. Honestly, Instagram and a few superstar teachers still offering classes at Harlem Yoga Studio fueled my fire and I completed yoga teacher training in 2016.

3) What is your favorite and least favorite yoga move and why? My faves & least faves change so much with my practice, and its tortuous to have to pick just one! Honestly I’m pretty keen on Fallen Triangle lately; its a hybrid pose that feels like Triangle met Side Plank and then a flipped down dog came to mix things up. Its a strong pose that has only come into my practice in the last few years, but I like it because it ebbs and flows with my strength and energy and there is always a version I can do, whether I find expansion through the body by sliding the extended leg way out in front of me, support by bringing the back knee down, or use my core to float the extended leg up in space.

Lately any variation of Eagle pose feels a little constrictive in my body, but its a go-to shape for balance, shoulder and hip strength and opening, and core engagement, so there’s always a reason to do it anyway!

4) Other than yoga, what practices do you use to feel more energized, connected, and centered? I taught myself how to knit in grad school, and I still knit as often as I can 13 years later. Knitting is healing and fits my mood no matter what; mindful stitching can be combined with mantra and meditation for an incredibly grounding & centering practice, or I can zone out on some garter stitch while I watch movies. I love film, mostly art and independent films and I used to want to be a filmmaker. I love teaching and curating playlists for my classes. I also weightlift (Olympic style) and I love to dance but it takes me a long time to learn choreography so I usually just go to the club or find myself dancing while I teach yoga!

5) This month we are focused on the theme of Moksha. What does Moksha freedom/liberation mean to you, and how do you practice it in your life? Moksha is liberation from an endless cycle of death and rebirth. In many ways, we experience very broad liberties in this country, and it is good to live and to feel free. However, we’re also constrained by some incredibly limiting beliefs and ideas, and we’re often not aware of how debilitating these can be to ourselves and our community until we dig deep into their origins. At some point, most of our beliefs have been structurally enforced, so we’d have to live in a culture completely free from racism, sexism, transphobia, fatphobia, ableism and xenophobia if we wanted our ideas to be our very own. Its hard work to untangle our minds from this stuff, but I believe that Moksha comes only when we stay vigilant and open, always questioning that voice in our heads, because it may not truly be our own. We must go out of our way to hear alternate voices, and we must quiet our minds long enough to connect to our true identity, beyond all the biased messaging we internalize. Humanity is stuck in an endless cycle of inequity, but I believe we can achieve Moksha on a grand human scale if we are willing to do things differently.

6) Tell us something about teaching at Harlem Yoga Studio As a teacher, HYS is a wonderful place to offer the very yoga that authentically feeds your own soul. The community at HYS is incredibly special; I never stop learning from the students and other teachers at the studio. Those stairs never get easier to climb, either!