November Teacher of the Month – Teacher/Studio Owner Laurel Katz-Bohen

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

I started practicing yoga in kindergarten at PS3 the hippie school in the West Village. Our teacher would have us sit in full lotus “around the perimeter of the rug”. Yoga was always a part of my life and I grew up right near the integral yoga Institute where I had all of my first formal experiences with 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 always knew that Yoga was different than exercise, all of my early experiences with yoga Nidra and pranayama gave me the uncontrollable church giggles.  Later when I knew I wanted fitness to be more a part of my professional life I considered going to train as a personal trainer but I had a strong sense that a yoga teacher training would open many more doors and be a much more interesting lifelong pursuit, and I was right;) The basic teacher training at the Integral Yoga Institute incorporated deep study of the asana with study of the yoga sutras, meditation and pranayama and there were real monks guiding us through.  I had never had the experience of spending so much time with people who had devoted their whole adult lives to a spiritual path.  This in itself was very profound for me.  Through the teaching of deeply devoted yogi monks and other master teachers I found the true indescribable and very personal meaning of god.

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

My favorite pose changes by the day – a lot of times it’s a long pigeon pose that releases tension and congested emotion. Sometimes headstand give me a new perspective, releases spinal compression and really makes me feel renewed.  And there’s always the joy of shavasanna – so delicious! after a long series of poses.

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

After a little warm up of cat cow – down dog and child’s pose I sit to Meditate and breath.  This keeps me present, by taking the time out to sit, recite a mantra and just be is essential to my well-being. I also find that practicing tadasanna whenever I think of it during my daily life brings me a lot more body awareness, improves my posture and takes me out of my head and it’s usual chatter of planning and plotting;)

 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) 

I find the balance between Ahimsa and Satya to be the most useful Yamas for daily life. I use the concepts of Ahimsa (non violence) and Satya (truthfulness or non lying) in combination.  It’s a tricky balance that I practice and practice but I get better at it and the practice brings me peace.

In my own relationship with myself I strive to treat myself with gentleness, non-harm and acceptance while genuinely facing up to the truth of often difficult feelings and challenging situations.  I used to be full of rage and I thought this rage was my currency and my right!  I was also full of love and passion and compassion!  When I would perceive of a difficulty or challenge in one of my friends or loved one’s lives, I would confront them head on with “the truth” and whether or not they were ready, willing or able to face this truth, well, that was a harsh reality my truth telling had nothing to do with.  While this radical honesty may have helped some friends at times it did not consider the harm and hurt feelings my truth telling sometimes imparted.  With the study of the yoga sutras I was able to more clearly consider the tenderness of all beings, myself self included, and practice Ahimsa (non harm) in my quest to impart truth.

I try to look deeply and fully at my own emotions and I find that many of the difficult ones (anger, sadness, jealousy) are layered from experiences in the past and anxiety about the future. I believe it’s important to look deeply into the truth of what you feel and practice non-lying (Satya) to yourself however we need to approach our soft vulnerable selves with love.  As Thich Nhat Hanh says ” Anger is like a howling baby, suffering and crying.  Your anger is your baby.  The baby needs his mother to embrace him.  You are the mother.  Embrace your baby.”  I have found it far too easy to look at my challenges and beat myself up for the ways that I have “badly behaved” in the past or to look at the truth of my negative emotions and try to shut them out and shut them up.  By looking closely at ourselves and the people in our lives we can embrace “the truth” with “non violence” and experience more loving-kindness and peace.

Laurel Bio pic