December Teacher of the Month – Spring Cooper

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

I started practicing yoga went I went to Penn State, at 18. I HATED yoga, but I wanted to be able to say “Oh, yeah, I do yoga!” so I went once a week: Wednesdays, at 4pm. It was actually the only yoga class offered at Penn State for a while, and about 60 people would be in a large gym with an instructor leading us through a Bikram-inspired sequence. I kept up the practice, and even did my first teacher training while still HATING yoga. But something told me I needed to stick with it.

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

In my early practice, I would be very angry if the class I attended wasn’t “hard enough” or extremely physically challenging. I’d be upset that I “wasted my time” on a class that didn’t leave me breathless and exhausted. As I faced my eating-disorder-brain telling me I needed more and more intense exercise, I struggled to see how yoga could fit into my busy schedule. As a teacher I started working with a mentor teacher who told me I wouldn’t shift in my practice until I began practicing EVERY day. “Even 10 minutes is fine!” she’d tell me. She also told me she wanted me to journal (which became about the experience of shifting into a daily practice. When I began practicing every day, even if just for a few minutes, I started to really feel the benefits of YOGA instead of asana (the physical part of a yoga practice). I am forever filled with gratitude for this teacher’s influence in my practice and teaching. Shout out to Martine Allars (!

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

I used to have a lot of least favorite yoga poses, but gradually I’ve learned to love them all. The ones I hate are the ones I have the most to learn from, and for that I am grateful. It’s funny to me to hear a pose called in class that I used to HATE and think “ah, yes, that old chestnut.” I’d have to say my favorite poses are handstand and savasana, mainly because they are the two that I’ve learned the most from thus far. I still haven’t mastered handstands, but I am now confident with doing them at the wall. I was 10 years into my practice before I would even attempt a handstand at the wall (also credit to Martine for getting me to do this!). I now love practicing handstands, though I am not concerned with perfecting them. I get joy from being upside-down, and I am proud of the progress I’ve made. I think I have finally mastered savasana, but that was a long journey for me as well. I used to fight any moment of stillness in my body, because my mind would seem to become even more active. Through a more consistent yoga practice, I learned how to quiet my mind, and now savasana is also a pose of joy.

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

I meditate every morning; I yoga every day (even if just a few minutes!); I blog or art when I need extra help processing something; I sit still and feel when I really don’t want to.

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: truthfulness. I value truthfulness so much. I don’t understand why people lie, even if they think it is to make someone feel better. If the truth seems scary to tell, then it is definitely the right thing to say.

Niyama: inner exploration. I used to be a person of avoidance: eating disorders, drinking, constant time spent outside of my home; all of these things were keeping me from feeling my emotions and processing them. And avoidance did not allow me to live a happy life. The more I’ve turned inward, the more at peace I’ve become in this body and in this world.

6)   Our December Theme is Community . What does “community” mean to you? How has your yoga practice influenced your connection to Community? Where else do you find community?

My dad was in the military, so I moved around a lot as I was growing up. Then, as an adult, I’ve lived all over the world. I haven’t always been around family or a consistent neighborhood-style community. That means that my community is spread out all over the world. My community is made up of all the people I’ve met along the way who support me and love me. I often say “my best friend A” and then two seconds later say “my best friend B;” I have about a dozen people across the world that I consider a “best friend.” I feel lucky that in this digital age I can stay in such close contact with all of them. Yoga has improved my connection to community by providing me with an additional source of community: I know that I can pop into a yoga studio anywhere in the world and find some support and love. And, often, even run into someone I know! Last month I was in a yoga class in Atlanta and re-connected with a friend I had met several months before, not even knowing she lived locally. And there I was at her studio, by chance, and I was able to attend a class she taught a couple days later: COMMUNITY.

7) Tell me something about teaching at Harlem Yoga Studio ?!

Teaching at HYS is THE BEST. I love Harlem Yoga’s sense of community: it is palpable upon entering the studio. I have felt that way since my first visit to the studio, and I do my best to help others feel that same sensation when they enter our space. I’m excited by the range of our teachers and their differing backgrounds and experiences, and I’m proud to be a part of the teaching team here.