September is National Yoga Month! Natural Awakenings, a free health-focused area magazine is doing interviews with several area yoga teachers. Here is my Q&A. Look for some quotes in the September issue!
Me in Mermaid Pose, age 22
What was your first yoga experience?
As a teenager, I saw mermaid pose (eka pada rajakapotasana variation) on the cover of Yoga Journal, and I thought the pose was so beautiful that I bought the magazine and taught myself how to do the pose over several weeks. I had had no exposure to yoga up to then.
Where do you teach?
I am co-founder of Kula Yoga Community, and most of my yoga classes are part of Kula (kulayogacommunity.org, email@example.com, 251-202-YOGA). Kula hosts Pay What You Can classes in five different shared spaces in Mobile and Daphne. I also teach at Yogabirds in Fairhope (yogabirds.com) and at Pro Health at Mobile Infirmary. You can find my personal schedule at brenneryoga.com.
What kind of style do you teach and how would you describe it?
I have background in Therapeutic, Anusara, and Vinyasa Yoga. My style constantly shifts, but recently I have been teaching a slower class with longer holds, focusing on the finer details of the poses. No matter the pace of my class, each class has a philosophical and therapeutic emphasis.
How would you describe yoga to someone who knows nothing about it?
Yoga is a series of postures and movements designed to heal (or maintain) the body and bring mental peace and clarity. Yoga is also a lifestyle of constant awareness and improvement on all levels- physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Why do you practice yoga?
When students ask me this questions, I playfully answer that I don't know how not to. If I didn't practice yoga, I would fall apart. I began consistent practice because it was more fun than running or swimming, and it relieved my mild depression. Being overweight for most of my life, physical activity just didn't come naturally, but yoga felt right. I continue the practice because it keeps me in touch with something greater than myself and makes me a better person.
I took my first yoga class in March of 1998 in Canfield, Ohio. My first teacher had a little yoga studio in her basement, complete with a little bookstore and incense supplies. I remember feeling nervous and shy but was welcomed by my teacher and the students as if they already knew me. As I did the asanas for the very first time in my life they just felt right, and a whole new path opened up to me.
What or who inspired you to deepen your practice and study, and to become a teacher?
Throughout my practice I had thought about teaching, but never was serious about it until I met Dana Goudie at the YMCA many years ago. She said my practice was so strong that I should consider teaching, yet I didn’t feel ready and wasn’t sure why. It was around that time that I took a year to immerse myself in self-study. This deepened my practice even more and I started to feel yoga from the inside out and wanted to share this feeling with others through teaching.
How would you describe your teaching style?
A vinyasa based class that is challenging yet spiritual, this is our time to stop and connect and be where we are. We work on alignment and control while the movement between poses allows us to release and receive energy and open our hearts. I try to help students realize that yoga is a practice, a journey because it is for me. Accept who we are right now without judgment- then challenge yourself, while being mindful of your limits. The beauty lies within perceiving that challenge as growth, healing, becoming stronger so we can take what we learn on our mat out into the world.
What does “living your yoga” mean to you in your personal life?
I strongly believe in energy. I make a personal effort to spread good energy into the world around me every day. Both on and off the mat my yoga practice is always there for me. In the sea of change and challenges of life, it is the one thing that is familiar to me. It helps me to trust more and fear less, gives me solace among chaos, and reminds me that I create my reality.
Tell us about life outside teaching yoga.
I have a 6 year old son who is my world. My parents and I are very close, so I also try to spend time with them. I have a small business that I operate on the weekends too. I love bookstores and “low key” activities. Aside from taking other yoga classes, I also like to work out in the gym at least four times per week to build strength.
What inspires you? (Within yoga and otherwise)
My son, parents, my students, great friends, and great teachers.
What pose(s) are you currently working on in your personal practice, and what are you learning about yourself?
Mayurasana (Peacock Pose), Visvamitrasana, and Eka Pada Koundinyasana II. These poses are difficult! I am trying to learn how to place my energy as well as my body so I can balance in them. I have crashed plenty of times and pulled muscles I didn’t think were possible. I have truly learned that it’s ok to fall down because that is how we learn!
Tamara in Feathered Peacock Pose (Pincamayurasana)
Apparently, if you choose the monthly theme, you get a personal lesson on your theme in quite an unpleasant way (i.e. losing your dog or going through a personal health crisis). The theme for this month is Brahmacharya (moderation). Seems innocent enough. (Even so, I'm hoping Audrey will get the brunt of this lesson since she inspired the theme.)
Brahmacharya is most often thought of in terms of celibacy, but most yogis will tell you that sexual abstinence is not necessary. Yoga journal describes this Yama as "when we consciously choose to use our life force to express our dharma, rather than to frivolously dissipate it in an endless pursuit of fleeting pleasures." In laymen's terms: personal energy conservation.
I am in love with Yoga Sutra 2:48, "Sthira sukham asanam," mainly because it's the only one I can remember. But using it in class and my own practice has been transformational. "The yoga posture should be steady and comfortable." Way back in her days at the YMCA (when I was her student), Dana unknowingly drilled this concept into gym yogis by continually emphasizing "the place between effort and ease." The asana is challenging, but it shouldn't kill you. The same works for the mind and the breath.
So brahmacharya in the postures is achieved by mindfully using the prana and muscular energy in the body, choosing when to exert yourself and when to back off. In teacher training, we learned to never practice beyond 60% our effort. Personally, I find I am much more prone to injury when the ego takes over and I move beyond 60%, not matter how aware I think I am. But at its essence, brahmachara is more a lifestyle than it is a number or a formula. I would love for this to be an open discussion. Please leave your own brahmacharya thoughts in the comments!
Something to look forward to (in class and in my next blog): Brahmacharya and your Psoas!