Q: When and why did you first start practicing yoga?
A: My first experience with yoga actually had nothing to do with asana. In college, a girl I really liked was taking yoga classes with Prem Prakash, a real-deal yoga scholar who taught postures but was clearly much more on the devotional and scholarly side of things. He held a yajna - fire ceremony - at his house and I went. We chanted for hours. It felt like my knees and back had knives sticking out of them by the end, but I also felt as though something important had awakened in me. I became fascinated with Hinduism, Buddhism, and esoteric spiritual practices and started studying them deeply.
I started practicing asana in Winter 2009, right around Christmas. I had been in a pretty serious accident, and was suffering from some pretty serious knee and back injuries. It wasn’t uncommon for me to literally cry in frustration and pain while trying to do normal, everyday activities. I felt betrayed by my body, and like my life was already over at the age of 20! I hobbled into an Ashtanga yoga class out of desperation. I was looking for a savior. The practice inspired me that day - I loved it immediately - but what really changed me from the outset was the teacher’s capacity to hold space and empower me to stop looking outside myself for a savior, and instead to look within.
Q: When did you start teaching?
A: I started teaching in 2013. Although I came to yoga pretty physically unfit, I was so passionate about it that my practice progressed very quickly. After a few years, most of my yoga teachers treated me like something between a peer and a student. I got to see through a window into the world of teaching, and I really liked it.
In 2011 and 2012, I was studying the Anusara yoga method, a brilliant synthesis of alignment principles and philosophies created by John Friend, who had previously been an Iyengar yoga teacher. Unfortunately, the organization was engulfed in scandal in 2012 and collapsed. Most of my teachers struggled to cope with this dissolution, but a few began to shine even brighter to my eyes, especially Livia Cohen-Shapiro and Patrick Montgomery. These two teachers encouraged me to go to Tucson and train with Darren Rhodes and Christina Sell, and after I returned they gave me my first opportunities to get teaching experience. I will forever be grateful for that.
Q: What made you want to teach?
A: At first, I wanted to teach because people were telling me that they wanted to learn from me. I had lots of insights into the practice, but I didn’t have the skills to convey those insights. For me, the practice itself has always felt wonderful and natural. The art of speaking, conveying, holding space… those things have not come as easily. I’ve had to work hard and I’ve made a lot of mistakes.
Now I teach because the act of teaching is my teacher. Standing in front of people - trying to listen to their experience and share my own - helps me learn about myself. It forces me overcome my introversion enough to observe and hone my relationship and interaction skills. On some level, teaching is simply another layer of my own practice.
Q: What is your favorite style to teach?
A: People loosely classify what I do as alignment-based yoga, but I don’t think much about style. I teach what I teach in the best way I know how. That means sometimes my classes flow from start to finish, and sometimes there are a dozen stopping points for demos, partner work, crazy prop contraptions, and so forth. I suppose my favorite classes and workshops are the ones where students get the chance to break apart a basic assumption they’ve held about their body or the practice. It’s fun when a student gets an arm balance for the first time, but I love it even more when they take a pose they’ve done a million times like Warrior 2 and suddenly discover something new about it.
Q: What is one of your favorite moments as a yoga teacher?
A: We were practicing deep backbend variations at the wall, and a student who loudly proclaimed how much she hated backbends had overcome some resistance and was really going for it. I gave her a few refining cues and suddenly, she was able to touch her foot to her head. She was like, “What is that?” and I said, “Your foot is touching your head.” Still in the backbend, she says really loudly, “No f*cking way!” I love those moments.
Q: What is one of your most embarrassing moments as a yoga teacher?
A: I’m not proud of this one. This happened a few years ago. I had a dedicated student demonstrating an arm balance with her legs in eagle pose. I’ve always loved making cues more memorable with goofy analogies, and they often just spring off the top of my head. In this case, I said to this lovely student - in front of everyone - “turn your front thighs in to cross your legs more. As if you were chaste.” Immediately I recoiled in horror; what had just come out of my mouth? I had just implied something about the sexual promiscuity of this student for no reason. I’m not sure anyone else actually got what I had said; it didn’t turn into a problem of any sort. But I was so embarrassed. After that I had to take a good look at myself: had what I said meant something? Was it some sort of Freudian slip? I don’t think so; it was just a bizarre improvised analogy. But the lesson I drew from the experience was this: when others trust you with their bodies and allow you to guide them, that’s precious and there’s a risk inside of that. Often the best teaching happens spontaneously, but teachers also have to do the work to ensure that they are clean and that they have the right filters in place to create a safe environment for their students.
Q: What is one of your most profound moments as a yoga teacher?
A: In a teacher training I helped facilitate earlier this year, the students started discussing politics during a discussion of the Yoga Sutras. Does equanimity or dispassion really mean not trying to change the world around us for the better? Can we really say that suffering is all in our minds when we can also identify systemic injustice in society? So we switched gears and took a look at the story of the Bhagavad Gita. We talked about what it meant to do one’s dharma without attachment to the outcome, and had a liberating conversation about duty and destiny in our modern culture - how we’re both blessed by the opportunity to choose and bear the responsibility for choosing wisely. We talked about standing for something - no longer running from pain and towards pleasure. It’s hard to know what seeds conversations like these can plant, because I think often the seeds don’t truly sprout for awhile, and they sprout in many different forms. But for me, it was deeply powerful.