March 2018 Teacher of the Month – Adrienne Neff

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

My first yoga class was in 1998 at Crunch gym with the amazing Amy Ippolitti, who is still one of my favorite teachers. I didn’t know much about yoga when I first tried it, and like a lot of people I assumed it was just stretching, but I loved how playful the practice was, and how calm I felt afterwards. I was hooked! Soon after that I started teaching high school, and my yoga practice not only helped me manage the stresses of being a new teacher, but I was able to share some of my yoga tools with my students to help us as a community work through conflict and connect with each other. Although I had been practicing yoga for almost 20 years before I took my yoga teacher training, I had been teaching yoga for years without calling it “yoga.”

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

Yoga has been incredibly healing for me. During a really sad time in my life, there were days when the only thing that got me out of bed was yoga class. I would count the hours until I could get on my mat and breathe and move and connect to other people and just be in my body away from my worries. I always felt like myself again after class—grounded and calm and hopeful. Yoga helped me keep my inner light bright and get through the darkness. Recently a student shared with me that she feels herself healing through her yoga practice, and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to hold space for others and help them remember how amazing they are.

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

I love headstands because they allow me to be completely in my body. When I’m upside down, all I can think about is aligning my spine and reaching my toes higher and breathing deeper. If my mind wanders, I’ll fall. Standing on my head makes me feel strong and feather-light at the same time. It’s like magic! I dislike the poses I can’t do—firefly, scorpion, side crow—because they force me to face my body’s limitations. I try to see them as an opportunity to either keep working towards the shape or take a rest in child’s pose rather than judging myself. As I get older and wiser, I’ve realized that the point isn’t to be “good at” yoga, but to practice in a way that feels good in my body. The asanas are just a way to breathe deeper and clear away some of the physical and mental clutter that weigh me down.

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

I try to practice gratitude whenever possible to ground me and remind me of all that is good in my life. When I first wake up I make a list of things that I am grateful for, using starting with my comfy bed. If I start to feel overwhelmed at work, I stop what I’m doing and go outside for a walk to feel the sun on my face and the air in my lungs and listen to a song that lights me up. Then I can go back to work and face the situation with a fresh perspective. And on the mat, when I fall out of a pose or just feel off, I remember how lucky I am to have this body that allows me to do so much, as well as the time and resources to take care of myself.

5) We are focused on the Yama of Satya (or non-lying) for the month of March.  How do you think of Satya in terms of your personal Yoga Practice and your teaching?  How do you practice Satya day to day off the mat with yourself, or others?

I think of yoga as a mirror that reflects us back to ourselves as we truly are. Because we live in the world with other complicated people, our mirror tends to become dusty and filmy and sometimes distorted. Yoga helps to clear the mirror and brighten the room we are standing in so we can see our true selves reflected back to us. I try to be a mirror to my students and remind them that they are beautiful and strong and perfect and full of light.

6) Tell us something about teaching at Harlem Yoga Studio. 

Harlem Yoga Studio is truly a sangha. Our students are some of the sweetest, kindest, most authentic people I have ever met. It warms my heart to see them connect and support each other. I take classes almost every day at the studio, not only because the teachers are amazing, but because I love practicing alongside my students and being around their beautiful spirits and energy. Sometimes living in New York can make me feel disconnected and invisible, and I am so grateful to have Harlem Yoga Studio to come home to. ❤