September Teachers’ Corner – Tara Tonini on Yoga as her strength and release

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

Several years ago I was working as a wardrobe stylist and was referred to a yoga studio by a co-worker. I was in a very dark place then suffering from a life driven by fear, anger, anxiety and depression while living in a very abusive relationship. I stepped onto the mat looking for a work-out. I was completely insecure living in my body and wanted out of it. I HATED yoga! I hated it because I wasn’t good at it, it was uncomfortable for me to practice next to a complete stranger, to chant Aum, and worst off sit still and wrestle with taming my insane thoughts.

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

As much as I hated yoga, I kept coming back. In savasana (final resting pose) I remember feeling like a 100lb  brick had been lifted off my chest and I could see a glimpse of clear skies through the dark fog of my depression. I realized how special yoga had become while in Rajakapotasana (piegon pose). Hip openers have always been very intense for me. At the time I was holding all of my emotions in like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dam, but when a hip opener came along I would end up in tears on my yoga mat. It was a release that words can not describe. This is when my awakening began. The first month I cried though every practice as I built the courage and clarity to leave my abuser.  In March 2012, he hit me for the last time, he went to jail and I found my yoga.  The pranayama (breathing techniques) I learned calmed me during the court hearings and the asana helped me sleep through the nights where I knew I was being watched from a distance by my abuser and could not do anything about it.  The meditation kept me grounded, and MY YOGA saved my life.  Now every morning I wake up with an eternal gratitude for my path with all its’ joy, pain, accomplishments and mistakes.

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

If I had a magic yoga wand I would zap away dhanurasana (bow) it fires me up. I don’t like the pressure on my belly and the heart opening sensation makes me feel very vulnerable. But as my teacher says…the things we resist are the things we should look deeper into.

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

I meditate and do pranayam (breathing exercise) multiple times a day. What most people do not realize is there are many forms of meditation that do not all include forcing yourself to sit in an uncomfortable position and stop the mind. Each morning I enjoy a movement meditation on my yoga mat, and on my walk to the train I listen to yogic mantra chants or Goddess Meditations lead by my teacher Sally Kempton. These practices make me feel the most connected with myself and the world around me.

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)

Ahimsa (non-injury) by far! It’s a little elementary to think of ahimsa as “thou shalt not kill”. I believe this lesson should be taken on daily by asking yourself if your thoughts, words or deeds are likely to hurt anyone or to cause them pain, whether that pain be physical, emotional or mental. The most difficult part for me here is to remember that “anyone” includes myself. I have to constantly remind myself to practice the same amount of love and compassion toward myself as I do for those around me.

6) Question of the Month! September = Transition / Renewal

I have lived a blessed life where many things such as job offers and artistic projects have found me. Yes, I am actively engaged in my life and I consider myself a hard worker, but I never had the courage to ask for what I believe I deserve. This fall I wanted to adjust my schedule to transition out of my design office job and move more into teaching at the studio. I had to not only ask my design job to cut back my hours, but I also had to muster up the courage to ask the studio for the classes on the days and times I wanted to teach. I also relied on my kula (community) to support me in my decision-making and lean on them for a little self esteem boost.

7) What is your favorite and least favorite transition on the yoga mat?

I love the fluid movement of dancing warrior. My body is nourished by the gliding movement between each warrior pose linked by the breath.