What kind of yoga do you teach and how long have you been teaching?
I started teaching Ashtanga Yoga in 1992, while I was living in New York City. I also teach Pregnancy Yoga and Mom & Baby Yoga, and in the past I taught Vinyasa-style classes.
How did you train to become a yoga teacher?
I started practicing Ashtanga in 1989 and had no thoughts of becoming a teacher. The following year, my teacher Beryl Bender Birch invited me to an intensive that she and her husband Thom were leading. I ended up doing a two-year apprenticeship with them. During that time I met Sri K Pattabhi Jois, the father of Ashtanga, and also studied with David Life from Jivamukti. All these teachers gave me a solid foundation.
When did you start teaching Pregnancy Yoga?
When I was living in London, I had a dear friend, Lynne Pinette, who was an Ashtanga practitioner and teacher and also taught Pregnancy Yoga. She asked me if I wanted to learn how to teach it and so I did a one-year apprenticeship with her. We moved to Hawaii in 2002 and set up Purple Yoga and a pregnancy program. In 2003, after my first daughter was born, I also started teaching Mom & Baby Yoga.
When was the first yoga class you attended?
The very first yoga class that I attended was with my mom in the mid-1970’s. In the afternoons, in the library, one of the school teachers would teach yoga. I think it was Sivananda. Later when I was at university I took some yoga classes through the P. E. department and that was more Iyengar style. It was when I moved to New York that I started doing Ashtanga.
When did you fall in love with yoga?
I fell in love with yoga when I walked into my first Ashtanga class. Up to that point I had been taking dance and movement classes and I was also a runner. But in that first Ashtanga class it was like dance and running came together and it was the most amazing experience. Since that class I haven’t stopped practicing yoga. It’s become a huge part of my life.
What was your first teaching experience like?
I rented an acting rehearsal room somewhere downtown in Tribeca. I remember the floor was filthy. My first students were my boyfriend, my sister and her friend! My feet were dirty but I didn’t care because I was so excited to have my own class.
What is one of the surprising things that come up when you practice yoga?
The longer I practice yoga, the more I see that my yoga mat is like a mirror and when I step on my mat I see what is going on in my life – from day-to-day issues to things that happened way in my past. Sometimes people think they can run away to their yoga mats, but it’s all there waiting for you. My job as a teacher is to create a safe space for students on their mat so that when things come up each student is supported through whatever they need to go through.
What is one of your strengths as a yoga teacher?
Probably my hands-on adjustments. I’m really lucky that all of my teachers since the beginning have done lots of adjusting. The way I learn best is to have hands on me and in turn I feel I’m better at teaching asanas by giving direct adjustments. The beauty of hands-on is that it’s mostly non-verbal and so students end up feeling how to be in alignment. Yoga is an energetic, feeling practice. It’s supposed to take us away from the head stuff.
What advice do you tell the person who has never tried yoga?
Try different styles of yoga, but the key is finding a teacher who you really like. Sometimes we like a particular style but don’t necessarily click with the teacher, so you may have to find another teacher who’s teaching the same style. Again I feel lucky that my first teachers and my first experiences were really positive.
What do you tell a person who is intimidated by all the flexible people in class?
We teach mostly Ashtanga Mysore practice at Purple Yoga, and I know people worry about attending a “self-practice” class. They think they won’t be able to remember the sequence or do the poses well. They see more advanced students practicing around them. I tell beginners to flip the intimidation and instead get inspiration from those students.
What word do you use the most when you are teaching?
How many times should a student practice a week and how often do you practice?
When students first start practicing with us I encourage them to come at least twice a week. Eventually when yoga becomes more a part of your weekly routine people come three to four times and we now have many students coming five or six days a week. I practice and teach Monday through Friday, and also teach Sundays. My weekends are otherwise focused on family time.
What is one comment people say as the reason they can’t do yoga?
Usually they say “I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible.” When I hear that the first thing I say is, “That’s the very reason why you should do yoga!” Sometimes the hardest thing is walking into a class and seeing lots of flexible, fit people. But it’s really important to remember that at one time most of those people were also probably stiff and it’s only through practice that they’ve become strong and supple. It’s never too late to start.
What do you find rewarding about being a yoga teacher?
I enjoy seeing people find deep inner strength. Sometimes it’s a physical strength but often it’s something inside that becomes empowered or alive. I have a number of students in their mid-60s and 70s and yoga is helping them stay strong and they inspire me as I grow older.
What are three things about you that your students may not know about you?
A lot of people probably don’t know that I’m half Okinawan, half Ukrainian. I never advertise this in my bio, but for a couple of years in London I taught Madonna at her home and on tour. The last thing, well, I can smooth a pretty mean drywall.