When did you start practicing yoga and why?
I started practicing when I was 24 years old. My boyfriend at the time introduced me to it. I would go every Sunday and to me it was just exercise, a bizarre exercise. I didn’t know really what to think of it, but I would feel really relaxed and incredible, more filled with joy after I would take the class. I didn’t really understand the connection to it.
What kept you going back to it?
When I moved my body, there was just something really addicting to feeling that joy and that openness. It made space in me. When I was 23, I had a lot of depression and when I would do the yoga it would make more space and I wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed and heavy. It made me lighter. What makes me go back now is, although I don’t have the same depression as I did when I was in my early twenties, yoga still brings me joy when I do it and still gives me openness. Even if the joy doesn’t come immediately after class there is just a vastness that I get from doing that practice. It reminds me to be more present, it reminds me always of gratitude for having a body and being healthy. It’s like a prayer for me, a physical prayer, a prayer to the body. Why am I motivated to do it? For that exact reason.
What do you love most about practicing yoga?
Sometimes I don’t love practicing yoga. Sometimes I feel lazy and tired and don’t want to move my body. So that has to be honored too — just to say that I don’t always feel like doing yoga, but every time I do it, I love the connection that I get to something much bigger than myself. I love bowing at the end of yoga and dedicating my practice and finding gratitude for whatever brought me there, which is what I do after every practice. At the beginning of every practice I’ll lay down and give my whole body to the absolute and when I finish I always bow and I find gratitude for whatever brought me there that day. Even those two things in themselves without all the in-between moving around and sweating, those two things in themselves bring me into the moment and I can feel how small I am in the universe. There’s a humility in that, that actually feels much more expansive rather than obsessed with the small “me self” which never feels good.
How did you get into teaching yoga and how long have you been teaching?
I didn’t plan on teaching. I took yoga classes and yoga teachers trainings so I could be better for myself, not at all to teach. I never thought of teaching yoga.
When I was in New Zealand, I had friends who were stunt people for a TV show I worked on and they invited me to one of their weekend retreats which was called a Warrior Weekend because they did martial arts and they asked me to teach yoga classes and I thought, “I can’t do that” and my friend, Lance, said, “of course you can.” So that’s when I started teaching, probably at the age of 27 or 28 and I loved it. I loved seeing how people responded and reacted and how calm they were and also how they opened up and cried immediately, whether they wanted to or not, no matter how uncomfortable they were. Tears never made me uncomfortable, if anything they brought me joy seeing how people were opening and releasing something that they didn’t need to hold onto any more. Sadness, anger, emotions typically don’t scare me. We’re human beings and I think they can be incredibly healing if directed in a healthy way.
Who were your teachers?
I had a lot a different teachers who I learned from. Steve Ross and Seane Corn were two of the first. After that, I studied with Bryan Kest at Power Yoga for about a year. I remember him saying to me, probably during the first couple classes I took, “I see a future yoga teacher.” I thought that was ridiculous because there was no way I was going to be a yoga teacher and arrogant on my part to even think so.
Then I learned from Max Strom who also became a friend. He taught me a great deal. He probably taught me the most about breath and how important the breath was. He was also humble enough to say that he could teach me for a year, but since his body type is so different I was going to have to find a teacher with my body type to continue on. Which is probably the most generous thing a teacher can give to you, that kind of humility and honesty.
From him, I went to Ana Forrest who probably is my favorite yoga teacher in the sense that I learned the most from her – the physical aspect of yoga, but also emotionally connecting as well. I can’t say one is actually better than the other. I learned so much from all of them in so many different ways. But those two probably have inspired me the most. One, with the breath and a compassion and a humility which was Max and two, Ana Forrest, who is such a ferocious teacher in an amazing way. Ferocious, not unkind, but ferocious by going into the deepest, darkest place of yourself and being willing and courageous to go there.
Ana could hold a class of 100 people. One time, I was crying hysterically and wanted to leave class and I came up to her while she was teaching, wearing her “Madonna” headphone while she was teaching, and I said, “I want to leave” and she said, “why?” And I said, “because I’m going to cry” and she held the front of my heart and the lower back of my body and she said, “then cry.” While she continued to teach the class, she held me like this while I sobbed openly out loud and while she held space for me, she did not drop the class for an instant. This was an amazing learning experience. She was not afraid of emotions whatsoever and she honored them and at the same time got whatever needed to be done, done. So I learned that from her, to be able to hold space in that way, my own way, but the sacred way to hold space, which I think is profoundly important because that is how people heal.
Max used to teach me privately with a couple of his friends and we would all study together and adjust each other. That was my first teacher’s training, really, but it was not formal and then I took training from Ana Forrest and then from Eric Shakeman – which was pretty amazing, but he was not one of the main teachers. His teaching was more about the energetics rather than about the physical yoga, but it was still very profound and deep. Then I took classes from Gurmukh which was Kundalini and completely different. I took a post natal/pre natal with Gurmukh and Sada Sat Kaur who I love and Tej Kaur who is also all heart, quite amazing. That was something very different than typical Hatha yoga. Then, after that, I took Ashtanga yoga from Dominic Corigliano. He is an amazing yoga Ashtanga teacher with a great spirit. Then I took Ashtanga from Jörgen and Jody and that’s pretty much all the teachers I can think of right now.
What is the most challenging aspect of teaching?
Sometimes most challenging aspect for me is not to take on other people’s energies because I can feel them in the room when they’re really heavy. I have to make sure I meditate and clean myself off so I don’t get stuck in other people’s emotional stuff. That’s probably the hardest so it doesn’t drain me so I can come out clean and clear to the best of my ability to keep serving the other people.
What do you love most about teaching?
I love when people blossom, when they break open, when they have a huge release, crying and when it looks like their face burst through the clouds and something’s cracked and they look young again, young like an infant, that kind of thing. That’s the most beautiful, most rewarding thing I can say about teaching, is to watch people connect to themselves again and something bigger than themselves. That’s just beautiful and I love it.
You host yoga retreats in the US and abroad. What is it about the retreat setting that made you choose that as your primary venue for teaching?
The retreats – it’s more condensed, it’s more personal, it’s more private. When we’re in 3 days or 4 days all together we kind of all “cook” together. We find an amount of trust with each other. The people we attract tend to be really outstanding, loving human beings, all willing to work on themselves. Even if they don’t know what they’re in for, it seems like they’re drawn towards it and it helps them to blossom open. The people who come on my retreats make friends with other people for years which will tell you something about the people who are attracted to coming. Spending those days together, there’s something that’s magical that happens, there’s a bond that happens when you sweat and you open up and you release and relax that is unexplainable. Anyone who has spent that time together will be able to verify it, what it was like for them. For me, it feels healing and bonding and a lot of love comes up.
What makes your yoga retreats so special?
I think all yoga retreats are special. All of them. I think from my teaching from Max to Ana Forrest, there is a lot of compassion and empathy at my yoga retreats for people to be as they are and who they are. There is a lack of judgment about getting everything perfect and right, but yet still working hard. It’s a fine line, but I think there’s something about my retreats that the space that I have learned to hold through my teachers allows people to reveal their true selves even if they don’t know what that is to themselves. It is not a mental game, it is a heart opening. That’s the best way I can say it.
Everyone is invited to my yoga retreats, beginners, advanced students, everyone is invited. There is something for everyone.
Do you have advice for people who have never tried yoga?
Try it. I mean, if you’ve never tried it, what can you possibly gain from thinking you can’t do it? Try it. It doesn’t have to be with me, find a yoga teacher in your community. If you don’t like that particular yoga, it may be the teacher you don’t resonate with. Find a teacher that you resonate with. Don’t just try one. Be a beginner, be humble. If you’ve never tried it, start slow.
My advice to someone new is to make the breath most important, more than any of the poses. Find a humility to always come to Child’s Pose when you need to no matter what the teacher is saying and no matter what the person next to you is doing. Find your own humility to come to Child’s Pose and to take care of yourself. Make yourself care, number one, and be willing to try something new.