1) How did you start practicing Yoga? Tell us about your early yoga experiences
I started practicing yoga more intensely after I got injured while getting my BFA in dance. I had tendonitis in my psoas (deepest hip flexer) and couldn’t sit with my legs at 90 degrees. It was an incredibly humbling experience- having to modify everything from the deepest hip openers to simple forward folds. From here I learned (for the first time) how to stop listening to my ego and how to really actually pay attention to the wealth of information my body is giving me in each moment. I am a much healthier person now because of that.
2) When was the moment you knew that Yoga was different or special – more than just another “exercise” or way to be physical?
My first experiences with what makes yoga magic actually happened in dance. Practicing mindful movement in any form is incredibly beneficial to the body and the mind. Learning to move with breath, listen to the body and watch your thoughts is a metacognitive ability that enriches people mentally, physically, and spiritually, and invokes a deep sense of calm unique from any other activity. Being able to distract my spinning mind with my body is the only way I know how to de-stress- and once I started learning about the deep history and philosophy that inspired our Western version of Yoga, I was hooked.
3) What is your favorite and least favorite pose, and why?
My favorite pose is a restorative supta padakanasana. This pose is when you lie with blocks or a bolster under your head and shoulders, with your knees open and feet together supported with blocks or a strap. I did this for this first time, actually, in one of my first yoga classes after I moved here (Elle Randall!!). I love how this pose opens your body up, and feels like the exact opposite of running around New York (backpacks, subways, and stairs!).
My least favorite yoga pose is Baddha Virabhadrasana, or humble warrior. This pose has and always will be the most difficult for me, and it always feels claustrophobic and unnatural in my body. Because of this, I always incorporate it into my practice and classes, so I can look for comfort in those uncomfortable places.
4) What practices do you use to feel more peaceful, present and content?
I try to cultivate a self practice every morning, whether it be moving, meditating, reading, or writing. It’s important to dedicate time and energy specifically towards ourselves in order to be able to effectively act and react in the world around us. I try to not be too rigid in what I expect for myself each day, and allow my practices to be fluid and responsive to my current body and mind.
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)
Tapas is actually the Niyama that I have to constantly come back to in my daily life. I’m going to talk about this more in the next question (so much to talk about!), but daily I ask myself how can I experience pain without creating or causing more pain to myself and others? Another great one for me is Asteya, which translates to non-stealing. This may seem pretty self-explanatory, but it also refers to not coveting anything, learning to not want what others have or allow others’ successes create distress in my own life.
6) Tapas, the third of Patanjalis Niyamas, is derived from the root Sanskrit verb ‘to burn’, and is often described as discipline, passion, or commitment to burn away impurities and spark our inner fire. What practices do you do in order to help spark your own inner fire?
Patanjali’s description of tapas is one of my favorite excerpts from all of the sutras. I’m paraphrasing, but he describes a human as a horse and chariot: the body is the chariot, the mind is the charioteer, the intelligence is the reigns, and the horses are the senses. Our True Self, or Higher Self, is the passenger, and the mind and intelligence (charioteer and reigns) must train and control the senses (horses) in order to keep the vehicle (the body), and the passenger (Our Higher Self) safe. I practice this self-discipline by learning to listen to my senses more in order to better train my body and mind. Having a healthy listening and responding relationship with ourselves (and others!) is one of the most important aspects of a healthy life.
7) Tell us something what is different about teaching at Harlem Yoga Studio
HYS was one of the first places I went to when I moved to NYC and now I’m hooked. I have never experienced such a community of supportive and caring teachers and students. And everyone is so brilliant! We have one of the best teaching staffs in terms of variety and knowledge out of many of the studios I’ve been to. I have made many of my closest friends here and am always learning from my students and peers. I think I practice here more than I teach!