BE KIND. BE STRONG. BE FREE.
STUDENT & TEACHER HIGHLIGHTS
Bianca Raffety, Lotus Teacher, September 2017
What drew you to yoga so much that it became an important part of your life?
I started practicing when I was eighteen; and I knew I was struggling. I'd been exploring a lot of different spiritual practices for a long time, exposing myself to different faith-based practices, organized religion type practices, but also meditation. In that, I ran across Iyengar [an Indian yoga teacher often credited with bringing our current yoga practice to the west] and was very curious. I got one of his books, one that he had done with his daughter. LEARN MORE >>
I started practicing at home and felt like it was helping me a lot in terms of getting clarity and getting grounding in my life. Although it took many years before I felt like it wasn't just helping me maintain but was actually helping me to heal and reverse damage that had occurred in my life through exposure, as well as self-inflicted. So when I first started I was struggling. I felt wounded. There were a lot of self-harming behaviors in my life and I was just looking for something that would hold me. Yoga provided that.
What made you finally decide that yoga was something you wanted to offer to others?
That was an accident. [Laughter] I love this story, because I just love how life works in this way sometimes. I had become a student of Denise Benitez [of Seattle Yoga Arts] in 1992-93. I thought how amazing it was to actually have a teacher, since I didn't have one for the first four or five years of my practice. Then I went overseas for a while. When I came back in 1998 and started up with Denise again, it was like coming home. Coming home to a teacher who had been growing and developing. The community that had been building up over the few years I was gone was really robust. I had started opening the door to my next level of healing and wanted to become a better yoga student. I wondered if my life could look different than the way I always expected it to look? So I asked Denise if I could assist. I was there every Tuesday for three years. We went through a lot together. We went through a lot in our community. It was an intense time. A situation arose where somebody needed to fill in as teacher and I was it! I didn't know what to do. I was like, "I can't do this." I can't just teach. So, Denise said, "Well if something like this happens again can I call you to step in?"
So, it just happened one day Denise was out recovering from a surgery. The sub on that day had to leave town unexpectedly and I was asked to fill in. So that's how I started teaching: I taught the class that I had been assisting in for three years. I showed up that morning and could not remember the invocation or chant for beginning class. My stomach was so much in turmoil. And I said, "You guys! I need your help today. I can't remember the invocation. I need you to help me sing it." These are people I'd been adjusting their bodies, talking to them, and supporting them. So I had a strong relationship with the students, but I'd never taught a class. So I taught the whole class and at the end of the class, they were so sweet, they gave me a standing ovation!
That's a great story!
Yeah! So I thought I guess it's time for me to start thinking about this as a real possibility. I was really encouraged by students who I was working with as an assistant, and really encouraged by my colleagues who were teaching at the time. There were ways that the Seattle yoga community was maturing and stabilizing and growing, so I had a couple of opportunities to teach at other studios, and at gyms. Some of them worked out, others didn't. I learned a lot in the process. And that's how I ended up teaching. It was more of an accidental transition.
Now that you've been teaching for all these years, what is it that you try to convey to your students through your teaching?
It's changed over time. But a big part of it is finding both this sense of cultivating strength and safety in one's own body, feeling embodied in a very multidimensional way, and in subtle ways. Also, the importance that we don't exist in a vacuum, so our practice is not in a vacuum, but part of a larger experience of life. Yoga as a method and exploration for transformation as everyday household practitioners is inherently linked to our ability and our willingness to not only transform ourselves but to transform our society and the world we live in.
Another big part of what I want to offer students is the feeling and experience that they are being accepted for where they are. So if a student's interest is very much about the physical strengthening and flexibility of the practice because they're coming to class with a back injury, or they just know it will help them get stronger, that's great! I honor that. If people can live in their bodies in a healthier and happier way then it's going to affect them in other ways. At the same time I like to be able to support students who are interested in exploring the other aspects of yoga — contemplation, and study, and meditation — and how that can affect how they interact in the world as well. It's important for students to feel like the environment they enter into is one that's inclusive, and that recognizes the diversity of their lived experience. In my classes, a student feels seen in very deep and meaningful ways. That's really important to me. So I do whatever I can to support the individual journey within the collective experience.
You've been at Lotus for ten or eleven years now. What is it about Lotus that keeps you coming back here?
Oh! The students! The students. I love the students. The heart. The openness of the students. The willingness to play and explore and to see their practices as something bigger than this isolated activity in their lives. I really get the sense that the students I encounter there try and think of yoga and the teachings of yoga as something that could influence their lives in a positive way, and the experience being in their bodies in a positive way. I really value that a lot. And also the sense of humor in a lot of my students. The inquisitiveness of many of my students that I encounter at Lotus I really love.
Thank you, Bianca.
Rosette Royale, Lotus Student, July 2017
Former editor of Real Change News, Rosette Royale now works as a local freelance writer. He values the diversity of body types and the varying abilities encountered at Lotus.
When did you start practicing yoga?
In August 2004, I took a trip to San Fran, where I visited a friend who lived in a large beautiful home with several roommates. They all knew the same, pierced yoga teacher, and every Tuesday, he showed up to teach a yoga class in their house, sliding-scale donation. I was there on a Tuesday. LEARN MORE >>
I wasn't going to do it, but my friend convinced me to try. I was as uncoordinated as a five-legged platypus, but I loved that class. I moved to Columbia City a year later and joined Lotus Yoga in May 2006. The rest, as they say, is shivasana.
What drew you to it? Why did you start?
Truth be told, in the 1990s, I had a roommate on Cape Cod who did yoga every day. He was a human pretzel. He offered to teach me, but I declined. Why do yoga when you can eat French fries? Flash forward to that San Fran yoga class at my friend's house. Turned out the yoga teacher there was good friends with my old roommate. So that connection to the past, and reminder of my former roommate's offer, allowed me to get out of my way and give it a go.
What kind of a yoga class really excites you?
I like a yoga class that makes you work. Give me some sun salutations, throw in a few warriors and a long balancing pose. This might sound like I enjoy being challenged in class, which I do to some extent. Mostly, I enjoy focusing my awareness on a pose, on its elements, my alignment, and how that makes the mundane world fall away. Time evaporates. That leaves less time to dwell on all the monkey-mind things in the mundane world that'll still be waiting for me after I say, "Namaste," and stack my mat and blanket on the shelf.
What's your favorite pose?
First, I'd like to say what my least favorite pose is: Any kind of hip opener. Sometimes, when I look around a class and see what other people's hips can do, I have to laugh and wonder: When did my hips become blocks of ice? I'm still trying to melt them. I mean my hips, not other people. That being said, I love dancer pose. Something about the one-legged, back-bending, extended-arm-holding, arm-lifting, open-hearted nature of it speaks to me. It's never the same pose, no matter how many times you do it, even if you do it a couple times in a class. Plus, in Dancer, you get to practice your gaze, or drishti, which is one of the best words I've learned this past decade.
What do you like specifically about Lotus Yoga?
Well, it's several blocks from my house, which means I can leave at 7:52 a.m., and still make an 8 o'clock class. But what I really love is that the classes are made up of people taking a class for the first time along with those who could be on the cover of Yoga Journal. Different bodies, different abilities, different agilities. I love those differences. And in a time when difference is so often derided in the world, it's nice to go to a place and stand on a mat next to someone I've seen for years, and have those — our — differences be celebrated.
Thanks for your time!
Laura Martin, Lotus Teacher, May 2017
How long have you been practicing yoga?
That's an interesting question because I've come back to yoga a few times in my life. I actually took my first yoga class when I was a senior in high school, when I was seventeen. At that time, I was really interested in Eastern mysticism and Eastern religion, and I thought that yoga was like this Buddhist thing... I didn't really know what it was. But I knew that you sat and meditated. Some of my friends in high school were like, "Oh we're going to this yoga class. It's really cool! You should come." The first ten years or so I did yoga, it was Hatha yoga, but it was so much more mellow than the kind of yoga that we do now. LEARN MORE >>
I came in and out of doing yoga when I was in my 20's. In my 30's was when I decided to make it my main practice. So it's been twenty years of regular yoga practice.
What was it that originally drew you to yoga?
When I was younger, through my teen years and early twenties, I wanted to be a dancer. So I danced a lot. And I thought yoga would be good for me, for stretching, or relaxing. So I kind of saw it as something to do on the side when I needed to unwind. But by the time I moved to Seattle I rediscovered yoga and I made it my primary practice. So I came back to it, and realized it was really healthy and really nurturing for me. By that time I knew I wasn't going to be a dancer, and I wasn't doing things that were as rigorous or athletic on my body. But the more I got dedicated and the more I engaged in my practice, I found it was so much more than just a way to stretch out and relax. I started to discover a spiritual aspect, and a psychological aspect.
It's a big jump from doing yoga for yourself to teaching it. What led you to the path of teaching yoga?
I've always loved the idea of being a teacher, a teacher of anything. Even early in my college career, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. And I am actually a teacher of English now. So before I started teaching yoga, I'd already been a teacher for like fifteen or twenty years. So, I love teaching. I love sharing with people. One thing I've learned from teaching is that anything you enjoy doing is really enjoyable to share. They'd say, "Hey, Laura, teach us some yoga. How do you do yoga?" So I always really loved sharing it. I think that word is important. I don't even think of it as teaching. Yoga's this wonderful thing that came in to my life and enriched my life and gave me so much nourishment that I just want to pass that along. I want to make sure that other people have that opportunity to try this beautiful and enriching thing. Teaching just grew naturally out of doing it myself for so long and just enjoying being a teacher, and doing yoga with other people. So it seemed natural to share it and make teaching it part of my practice.
Sharing the benefits you received with others...
Yes, definitely. Even before I became a certified yoga teacher, I brought a little bit of yoga into my college English classroom, because I saw they could use some calming, or some breathing.
So how did you incorporate yoga into a college academic situation?
Well, my English students would constantly tell me that they were nervous before tests, and they would always fall back on this excuse: "Teacher, I can't do well on tests! I'm so nervous!" "Well, did you study?" "I studied, but I can't remember it on the test." I'd say, okay, well, what we need to do is learn how to not be nervous. I said, "You guys are always complaining to me about being nervous. Then, let's just learn how to be calm." And they were actually really surprised by that, because I think they just wanted to use the whole "nervous" thing as an opt-out. So, I kind of trumped them by saying, "Hey, there's a way to be calm if you want." I'll still do that in the middle of class if I feel like the energy is getting too chaotic. I'll just say, "Hey guys, we need to breathe." You can do that in any class, in any situation, "Hey guys, you're not breathing." [Laughter.]
I love that! It's a very practical use of yoga...
A lot of people who know me as a teacher and in general say that I'm a very practical person. So, even though yoga is this spiritual discipline, for me there are really practical applications. Yoga's a "practice." If you can find calm through this practice, why wouldn't you do it? Why wouldn't you introduce something into your life that brings you calm? To me, it doesn't have to be some mysterious spiritual practice. It can be as simple as linking your movement with your breathing, which is something that is really calming to the nervous system, really good for you. I was always a very restless person and it wasn't possible for me to sit still and meditate. But through having a regular yoga routine and moving through these postures, I knew my mind was able to be focused and free from that restlessness. So I think for me it is really practical, because I needed this movement system, this routine of movement to be able to calm down. Any calm or spirituality that was going to come into my life had to come that way, not from sitting there and trying to be "calm" or trying to be "spiritual." So it's something you can just keep trying. You don't have to prove that you're good at it. Or achieve some certain goal. Just by having this practice it can be very enriching.
Beautiful. While you're not new to yoga, you are fairly new to Lotus as a teacher. Is there anything about Lotus that you really like?
I love that Lotus Yoga has been in the Columbia City neighborhood for a dozen years or more. More than a decade. And there are a lot of people in the Columbia City area who are regulars and have known this place and have come here for a long time. So for me it feels like a part of this community, a part of this neighborhood. Since I really love living here, I love that Lotus was like the first yoga studio here. And it's a lot of people's primary yoga studio. I really like that people know each other. The teachers know their students. There are teachers that have been here for at least ten years. That gives it a real community feeling. And I like that it's a relatively small studio, too, and not part of a big chain. It's a local business.
So true! Anything else you'd like to share with us?
Over the years I've seen yoga change and evolve and it's become very central to my identity, a constant in my life. It feels natural to want to share it with others. And teaching is an opportunity for me to do more yoga with people. It really brings me to the mat, this idea, rather than being dogmatic, of "Let's do yoga together, and really enjoy it!"
Thank you, Laura.
Jesse Richman, Lotus Student, February 2017
How long have you been doing yoga?
I started doing yoga regularly around my freshman year in high school.
How old are you now?
Eighteen. So, I was fourteen or fifteen at the time.
What was it that originally drew you to yoga?
My mom [Meg Richman] goes to Lotus a lot. And I tried it a couple of times and I really enjoyed it. I also had a class in middle school and it got me relaxed and mentally prepared for the next class, so I decided to just make it a part of my regular life and not just during school. LEARN MORE >>
What is it you particularly like about yoga?
It just helps me get really relaxed. I'm a person who tends to get really anxious and over-think things. But if I use some of the meditation and breathing techniques I learned in yoga it helps me out a lot.
In what ways does it help you in other aspects of your life?
Music-wise if I'm going to do a performance and I meditate like five or ten minutes before it gets a bit of the nerves out. And if I'm doing sports, I focus a lot on my breathing too, and it helps my stamina.
What kind of sports do you do?
I used to be a big soccer player. And I ran track during high school. And basketball a little bit.
And the music you perform?
I'm a DJ. And the type of music I like to DJ is EDM/Dubstep type things. But the kind of music I produce is rap beats for my friends.
You find yoga helps with that kind of work?
Yes. Because I'm a very low-key person. And when I'm around a lot of people I tend to get over-stimulated and overwhelmed just by being in the room, and if I focus on my breathing I'm able to calm down a lot.
What specific yogic breathing techniques really help you?
Counting the breath in and out. Things like that.
You've been coming to yoga for a few years. Is there anything you like in particular about Lotus Yoga?
I like the sense of community and how you almost always know everyone if you go there regularly. It's a welcoming space.
Anything else you want to add about your experience with yoga so far in your life?
The mental state that I reach when I meditate and do yoga actually helped me pick my DJ name.
Wow! Tell me about that.
I recently started having a friend teach me martial arts. And after practice one day I was talking to him about the philosophy of martial arts and not just fighting. And he was telling me about Bruce Lee's "flow like water" quote. "Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash." I feel like when I get relaxed and I get to that meditative state I do in yoga I feel sort of like a river flowing. So, I decided to call myself "Flow State".
"DJ Flow State"
Yes. Because when I get to my calmest state I feel like water flowing endlessly and there's no anxiety blocks or anything like that. It's like my mind is clear and I can just flow.
Great. Thanks for your time, Jesse!
Alia Swersky, Lotus Teacher, January 2017
Alia has been teaching yoga for seventeen years. She returns to Lotus after a sabbatical from teaching, with new ideas about teaching style and what makes a "good" yoga class
What brought you to yoga?
I grew up in Aspen, Colorado. My mom was involved in lots of spiritual practices when I was a kid, like yoga, meditation and full moon rituals. All sorts of weird things for someone growing up. Now, of course, I very much appreciate those things. I started to seek out yoga on my own around 1994 when I was living in New York City. At that time, there wasn't a yoga studio on every corner. LEARN MORE >>
Rather, really well known and accomplished teachers would hold small classes in their homes or apartments in Manhattan. Looking back on it, it was kind of awesome! Along with my many, many dance classes, I also did some yoga at the Integral Yoga Center in the West Village. I moved to Seattle in 1996 and graduated from college here in '98. My friend, Rebecca, opened Santosha Yoga soon after graduating college, and I managed her studio for a while. That's when I really got into yoga, because I was immersed in it and saw the incredible benefits play out for people time and again. I'm also a dancer, choreographer and dance instructor, and a mom. Through all these years, yoga has kept me grounded and balanced, helped keep me healthy, and brought me so much joy. Basically I love any kind of movement practice that asks us to listen, to pay attention, and be more aware of our inner landscape. The body is amazing, and embodied somatic practices offer us a way to truly BE present.
When did you start teaching?
While I was managing Santosha Yoga, so (gulp) seventeen years. I've taken breaks from teaching over the years, but I always come back.
You taught at Lotus for years and are now returning. What brings you back?
I love Maia. Having taught at different studios in town, I feel like she's a great studio owner. I really like the energy of the studio. It's just a nice place to return to regular teaching.
Anything you learned during your time away?
Well... I got to take a lot of yoga classes. It's really different taking yoga when you're also teaching it, because you're always trying to learn new things and "steal" things [laughs]. So while I wasn't teaching, I got to really practice yoga. It's been great to feel like a student and tend to my body, and just be fully in it. I'm curious about how that experience will come out in my teaching. I definitely have my style that's really me. But there's some openness and some questions as to how I teach now versus how I taught before my sabbatical from teaching. I just feel open and curious as to how it will unfold.
In terms of forming your own style, I wonder what you think makes a good yoga class.
For me, it has a lot to do with the teacher. I'm pretty particular about who I'll take class with. I can get something out of any class. But especially now that there are so many yoga teachers and studios, and the commodification of yoga, I tend to seek out people who have been studying yoga for a long time, or at least have a really somatic and spiritually-based practice. There's a maturity to their teaching, and a history, not that they're necessarily older. I still occasionally want to go and take a "hot yoga" class and get really sweaty and do a bunch of chaturangas. That can be really fun! But I think the intelligence of sequencing is important. Whether it's a vinyasa class or not, I like when teachers put a lot of thought into sequencing the class. And... the voice... [laughs] talking like a real person is key. I just appreciate teachers who are human, and themselves, not trying to fabricate some sort of, "This is really deep and amazing!" We're just going to be together and do this practice together, and hopefully have a transformative experience. . As a student, I look for teachers who are real people, and I try to be real for my students.
Other than your realness as a teacher, what are your strengths?
I feel like I can hold a pretty strong container. There's something about creating a class that has an energy to it. It's not just about what we're doing, but what we're cultivating as a group. I see myself as a guide trying to energetically unify the people in the room. I love when a more flowing class becomes a moving meditation. My sequencing buildup is to have an arc that's pretty slow, getting into stuff, getting into the body, really tuning into the breath, and then upping it, not moving fast, but physically getting stronger, and then winding down.
Thanks, Alia, for taking the time to chat.
Susan Tripp, Lotus Student, November 2016
What brought you to yoga?
I felt the need for some exercise, or something that would give me some more flexibility and help with my balance. And I like the meditative part of it, concentrating on freeing your mind from all that is outside.
How many years have you been practicing?
Maybe twelve years ago I started doing it from a TV program. It was a local one in South Carolina. I thought, well, this is something I can do. Then, when I moved to Seattle, a little over ten years ago, I started taking a class down at Rainier Community Center. When that teacher moved, then I started looking around, and ended up at Lotus. LEARN MORE >>
What do you like about practicing at Lotus?
You mean beyond loving the instructors? No, I really do. I appreciate the instructors. All of them. I've been to so many of the different classes that are provided during the day. If I can't go at one time, then I can go at another time. Also, the general atmosphere of the people that work there, the other students who attend: It has a real community feeling. And while you're there with a lot of people, it's not as though you can look around or talk, or engage much beyond what you're actually doing for yourself. But it's a very supportive atmosphere, even though you're on this solo journey. I like that sense that there's a wide age range, that there's some diversity in the people who attend. Not competitive. But a community. I always look forward to going to class and when I leave I always feel better physically and emotionally.
Other than it helping with your balance, why do you practice yoga?
Isn't that a good question?! I like the fact that it allows me to challenge myself, but also gives me permission to not push myself beyond what I think I can do. I like the way it forces me to be right in the moment, and not be distracted by things that are outside of what I'm doing. So, it's not like I can read a book while I'm doing yoga. [Laughter] You know, like I'm on an exercise machine or something like that. Given my age, almost 68, and my osteopenia, I think yoga offers me a safe practice of building strength and balance. Maybe it's just my age, but the breathing practice has helped me slow down and focus on the present moment.
What is one thing, maybe the primary thing, yoga provides for you?
Such deep questions! It's very personal. It's a personal journey that allows me to really focus on the physical and the mental at the same time.
Anything else you'd like to share with others practicing at Lotus?
I tell my friends about Lotus all the time. I just think you could pick any class. I wouldn't pick just one. I'd probably try to attend a couple different ones to figure out which one suits best. I think there's something there for everyone. One of the great things about it is there's the opportunity to work with instructors that are suited to you. Some are more instructive, some are more heady... I think people can find within the array of opportunities a really good fit for themselves. Whether it's the physical or the mental aspects, as I'm getting older, I feel I need something... I keep wondering when I'm going to reach that point when I'll have to find some gentle chair yoga place. [Laughter]
Thank you so much, Susan.
Bayeshan Cooper, Lotus Teacher, September 2016
Bayeshan (pronounced BAY-shahn) was introduced to yoga through modern dance in college. The clarity and peace she felt after that first yoga practice kept her returning to the mat day after day. LEARN MORE >>
You came to yoga through dance. What was it about yoga that called to you?
I was introduced to yoga as a way to cross train by one of my professors. She gave us all a huge lecture about how important it was to cross train. And one of the things she said we could do in addition to dance was yoga. I hated gyms, so I decided to try yoga. Since then my life has started to shift more towards yoga and a little bit away from dance, and I think a lot of that is because I found that in yoga there was a place for my mind. In dance, there wasn't a system in place for how to address emotional and mental challenges. For dancers there's a really strong strive for perfection; and that can be demanding emotionally, and it made me really self-critical. Coming to yoga as a dancer I felt for the first time that my emotions had a place, and that there was a way for me to understand and accept them for what they are, even the negative ones, and they didn't have to be "fixed" or perfect. Prior to yoga, I engaged in meditation practice as well. At the time it felt like meditation was all about the mind; and dance was all about the body; and yoga was this beautiful balance between the two where I could move my body and have a conversation with my inner world.
How did yoga lessen that drive for perfection you felt as a dancer?
I think the fact that yoga is not a competition or a performance right off the bat made a really huge difference. Just you in your own little world on your yoga mat. It reminds me of something lots of teachers say about yoga: "This is just a practice. That's all it is." In dance, the opposite is true. Everything counts. It's always a performance. So the permission to be imperfect in a "practice" was huge. Another thing I love about yoga is this idea of starting with where you are coming from today. There isn't a perfect destination or end goal; if you can only fold forward a tiny bit today that's great, if you gained a lot of insight today, that's great. They all add up to this continuous journey called practice. Wherever you are is okay. It gives permission to be here and "imperfect," but still encourages you to grow, explore and move forward.
Dance and yoga are clearly different from each other. Are they also related?
Definitely. I think both of them require you to be present, but their approach to presence is very different. For me, I think it comes down to intensity. Dance kind of pushes you into presence. There's the moment. There's the music. Movement happens spontaneously. It forces you to bare your soul, embody all that you are without having to know what that is. It's beautiful. The kind of presence in yoga is a little quieter. It's the kind of presence that comes from knowingness and choice. You often hear dancers say they love to dance because they can forget about themselves, forget about their world, or the three hundred things on their mind. Whereas in yoga there's a conscious choice to acknowledge and then detach from those three hundred things, and be fully in the moment. The kind of presence and the stillness in yoga is much more sustainable and has had a larger impact on my life. It stays with me even when I'm not practicing on the mat, and gives me little snippets and tools of how to live more in that kind of presence and stillness.
What principals of yoga keep bringing you back to the mat?
One thing I've been thinking a lot about is something that my teacher, Rod Stryker, talks about: that the success of your yoga practice is measured by how well you live your life. So, I think I keep coming back to the mat, back to the practice, because it makes my life better. One of the ways it does that is to give me the ability and the opportunity to access a deep abiding sense of stillness, a sense of power, a sense of energy within myself. This is a nourishment for me. If you want to put it in Sanskrit terms, it would be the concept of purusha. Purusha is the one who sees truly, who sees correctly. It's this unchanging stillness, vibrancy, and brilliance that rests deep inside you and your soul, and that is who you truly are. It sounds fancy, but I've experienced this in my practice, sometimes just moments of it, but those are very powerful moments and they're very real. Stillness is grounding for me. I get less tense about events in life that are constantly changing. I'm less reactive, more responsive. I keep coming back to the mat to be nourished by that inner stillness.
As you bring this experience of inner stillness to class, as a teacher what do you aspire to?
In my classes I talk a lot about balance. For me, that means giving people an opportunity to create positive change in themselves. Depending on where you are, the practice is here to help you find a natural balanced state. The same thing goes for mental and emotional states, depending on where you've been today or the particular phase of life you're in. Your balanced center, this ability to change, really comes from paying attention and learning to distinguish when you're moving in a dysfunctional habit, or when you're moving in balance. Sometimes when people are feeling slow and sluggish, they want to kick it up a notch to generate energy. That can be great for some people, but for some people who have a habit of kicking it up a notch, they might be feeling sluggish because their bodies are trying to tell them to take a break. Without paying attention it's so easy to just go with what you're familiar with. So in a way, while I am teaching a "balanced" practice, really I'm just teaching a mindful attentive practice.
How does the lesson of "paying attention" benefit your students?
When I emphasize paying attention in class, people are more likely to ask questions, think about the choices they're making and why, and then find something that works for them within the practice. Because when you pay attention you're in communion with yourself. You are listening to the sensations that your body is signaling to you, and you are observing your changing mental and emotional states. When we respond after listening, observing and choosing, it creates balance. When we pay attention, we can acknowledge where we are, and then we can change.
Thank you for your time, Bayeshan...
Marcia King, Lotus Student, August 2016
What brought you to yoga?
I was quite young (laughs)...well, compared to now. I'm almost sixty six. I was in high school. My dad had a book on yoga by Iyengar. At the time my dad was a musician, and had heard about Yehudi Menuhin, a yogi violinist who studied with Iyengar. My dad was a little bit eccentric. It was kind of unusual for someone in the early 60's to be interested in yoga. LEARN MORE >>
So, I looked at this book and found it interesting, and tried to practice some of the poses they showed in the pictures. I must have been about fifteen or sixteen years old. Then Channel 9 had a yoga TV program on once a day. And I remember just loving the feeling at that age of really stretching, and really holding a stretch, and feeling the energy run through my body. I found that really enlivening (laughs)...so I think I was kind of hooked at that point! It wasn’t until we moved back to Seattle in the mid to late 80's that I went to my first official yoga class.
So, how many years have you been studying at Lotus now?
Well, I left the country in 1999, went to New Zealand for six years, Bhutan two years, and didn’t come back here until around 2008 or so.
What brought you to New Zealand?
Well, we emigrated to New Zealand. Then we were with a New Zealand organization called "Volunteer Service Abroad" which brought us to Bhutan for two years. Came back to Seattle for a year, then in the San Juan Islands for three years. Then, in the Peace Corp in Azerbaijan. Then we worked in Australia for a year after that.
You’ve traveled a lot in your life. What always brings you back to the mat?
It makes me feel good! (Laughter)
That’s a good reason!
I think it’s really grounding. Really settling. Physically I always feel great afterwards. When I first started taking yoga classes I sat all day at work, and I just kept feeling my range of movement getting more and more constricted. I felt like I couldn’t even turn my head from sitting all day at work, and not moving much. And I wasn't that old then, probably in my 40's. So that was kind of shocking to me, to find out I couldn’t even turn around without feeling constricted. When I started doing yoga I felt it made such an amazing difference!
Did yoga remain primarily a physical experience for you?
Oh no! Gosh... When I moved to New Zealand, I had a teacher who did a lot of pranayama, a lot of meditation. He did meditation retreats and always talked about his approach, the philosophy, and the spiritual aspects... and I found that engaging. And the pranayama was kind of amazing. Reaching Samadhi was pretty powerful stuff! (Laughter) I was like, what is this? So, to think of it as just a physical practice is sort of a misunderstanding. Maybe it's just a beginning stage that draws a lot of people to it.
So it evolved for you from the physical into the spiritual?
Oh, definitely! Yeah!
Does all your traveling and doing service work around the world tie in to your yoga practice?
I’m sure it ties in. You have to let go of your agenda in that kind of work. It probably also ties in with my professional work of being a psychotherapist. It all kind of fits together, really. That curiosity or interest in wanting to try to put yourself in somebody else's place and understand where they're coming from. It's hard to separate out. Yoga definitely supports and feeds in to that.
So, if you could encapsulate your experience of yoga to one thing, what would that be?
That's a hard question! I guess it really taps in to the whole idea of mindfulness and awareness. So starting just with awareness of the physical sensation, an awareness of one's own body. Awareness for me is really the central aspect of spiritual development.
How do you experience that awareness?
It starts with sensation in yoga for me. Sensation and mindfulness lead to awareness. That's how I experience it. Starting with sensation. Even the small sensation of sensing your sit bones on the floor. I guess it gets me out of the habitual pattern of conceptual thinking, noticing not just the brain activity. If the brain’s busy, the mind's constricted. If the mind is still, there's room for awareness, room for openness, room for noticing things other than oneself and one's own thoughts. So, it’s a way out of oneself I guess. Going into one's own sensations can lead to a path out of oneself, and one's typical self-clinging.
What do you like best about practicing at Lotus?
Probably the teachers. It's right in my community. I can walk to the studio, so that becomes part of my morning. Walking to the studio, then walking home. It connects me to my community in a way. I see a lot of the same people. It makes it easy to integrate yoga as part of my life. And Maia, the owner, whenever I've met her, she's really open and friendly and welcoming. I see that in all the teachers. They're all really welcoming. Sometimes I think studios can become cliquey and exclusive. But I've never experienced that here. I really appreciate that. I'm imagining, having met Maia and she's that way, that it kind of trickles down to all the teachers, that that's kind of the vibe or philosophical stance here.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to explore the world of yoga?
I guess just to be consistent and come to class, and try different teachers. See what teachers click for you. One teacher might click for a couple of years. Then find a different teacher, learn something different, a different approach. Initially explore all the teachers, maybe settle on one or two. Be consistent, and see where it takes you.
Anything else you want to add?
Yoga is such a good antidote to our modern, Western way of always being driven, which can be problematic if there's no balance. For me anyway, it's a link between the physical and the spiritual. And while consistency is important, it might even be the kind of thing you go away from and then come back to. I certainly did that for a few years. But give yourself the initial consistency, to give yourself the taste of what it can offer. Then if you drift away you have that taste to return to.
Excellent advice! Thank you, Marcia.
Emily Parzybok, Lotus Teacher, May 2016
You’ve said that yoga is an excellent tool to change one’s "patterns of thinking." How?
I came to yoga looking for a "perfect body," or a workout routine that would help me lose weight, which I think is really common, especially for women. People come looking to work out and reshape their bodies. While it’s definitely that — I love the physicality and the exercise element of it — I think it helped me to reframe that, and rather than focusing on how I looked on the exterior, to internalize it a little bit. To notice the experience of being in my body. How did I feel that day? Did I have good energy? Did what I eat agree with me? LEARN MORE >>
Internalizing it helped me to become a little more body conscious and aware in a way that changed what was important about what I was noticing in my body. Then I also practice a lot of meditation and I teach a lot of mindfulness, especially in my yin classes, because if you’re still for five minutes, it’s an opportunity to practice that mindfulness. I feel like a lot of those techniques that aren’t always included in the physical asana class but are often integral to it are really powerful mind tools. So I do a lot of reading of neurobiologists who talk of meditation as a tool to combat depression, or to shift unhealthy patterns of thinking, or to work with things like eating disorders and body dysmorphia. I think in that way yoga can be a really powerful way to sculpture our minds.
So you see meditation as an important aspect of yoga, and also you've mentioned the importance of taking time to yourself. How might these be beneficial to a yoga practice?
A lot of times when I tell people that I work in politics and that I teach yoga part time, they say, "Oh wow! That’s such a great balance!" I think it is, actually. But I also think that our yoga practice often just manifests other elements, or other aspects of our lives. I love a really healthy, active, physical practice. A strong practice. But I think Americans and people who work in high-paced jobs are drawn to high intensity, fast, and demanding practices. We love those things because rather than balancing out that element, they’re the same: demanding and high paced. While I don’t want to critique those as bad practices, because I love them, I think the actual balance is that slowness and stillness that we don’t really get a lot of in our day to day. Even though I still practice those demanding sequences and love them, I found that yin yoga, restorative yoga, and really slow and mindful practice are the things that actually balance out the way that I live my life. I think I became more conscious of that because I lived in Namibia on an abandoned sheep farm for about a year and a half and I was plunged from America into that, one of the slowest paced places on earth. No electricity or internet. Very remote. So coming back to this, I was really cognizant of how incredibly fast paced my life was here. That helped me to see how I was out of balance, and how I needed the slowness for introspection and quiet that I’m not getting anywhere else in my life.
You’ve traveled to over 50 countries throughout the world. What drew you to do that?
I have a travel bug, and sort of always have. I like travel because I like discovering different viewpoints. At the end of the day, I’m a really intellectual person, and I really enjoy that part of myself. In travel I enjoy noticing what’s normative and true in one place is not that way in another. If we live at this pace of life we take for granted that’s how it is. But then you go other places and people have totally different conceptions of what time is, and how it’s measured, and how it works and what the rules are, and what the etiquette is. And I think it’s really interesting to question our own norms. And I think travel is a really good way to do that. I love that about it. Being around people who play by fundamentally different rules.
As an intellectual person, you have a love of literature. How might literature integrate into your teaching yoga?
That’s a good question. I used to read excerpts to my class, and then have a theme around them. I think things like travel and literature are ways of being in a situation and sort of looking at it again. I was recently talking with someone I’d been teaching from this perspective, about the Talmud, which is a rabbinical discussion of the Torah. The idea is that you read one or two short sentences or paragraphs, and then you find something new in it each time, sort of like discovering the novel aspects of the same reading. I think literature’s like that. And travel is like that. And yoga is definitely like that. It’s not so much about a new thing. It’s rather about what I’m bringing to the experience this time. Where am I at now? What is it like now to be here? And in that way those experiences share this commonality, and I think I draw from that.
Anything else you want to add?
I really found out a lot about my teaching through the Lotus community. I love the way it’s been cultivated. I think the studio leadership is so intentional, which has created this really great space and community of students. It feels super inclusive, thoughtful and balanced in and of itself. I’ve learned a lot and changed my teaching a lot just based on the practices I’ve learned from teachers and students at Lotus. And I really appreciate that.
Sheri Cohen, Lotus Teacher, December 2015
How did you first find yoga?
I was an ambitious young modern dancer, curious about anything "somatic", which is a term for thoughtful, investigative, body-based education. In the 1990's I tried everything: the Feldenkrais Method®, SkinnerReleasing Technique, BodyMind Centering, and more. Yoga was becoming more popular in Seattle, so I tried it. My first few experiences were duds. LEARN MORE >>
Then I stumbled into Denise Benitez' classes and found my home. She imbued the yoga movements with self-awareness practices that allowed me to feel whole and safe while doing these hard, silly, beautiful movements. I started a training to become a Feldenkrais practitioner shortly after that, and became a yoga teaching assistant while completing my Feldenkrais training.
What is your favorite yoga (or Feldenkrais) book?
I'm really excited right now about some new things that have been published in the Feldenkrais realm. First, there's a new biography about Feldenkrais out, called, Moshe Feldenkrais: A Life in Movement. Also, best-selling author Norman Doidge, author of The Brain that Changes Itself, has a new book out, The Brain's Way of Healing. The whole book is fascinating, but in it there are two chapters that highlight the Feldenkrais Method.
Living Your Yoga, by Judith Lasater, remains my favorite yoga book. She makes yoga philosophy understandable-and doable-in her thoughtful, heartfelt prose. Yoga Body, by Mark Singleton, was really helpful in my gaining perspective on the history of the yoga asana. I still look at my Light on Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar as a kind of dictionary of yoga poses. When I teach the anatomy segments of Lotus' advanced yoga teacher training, I rely heavily on Calais-Germain's books, The Anatomy of Movement, and The Anatomy of Breathing.
What would you like folks to know about you?
I listen to and bank every single comment my students make to me about what happened for them in class, or how they feel at the end of class. I thrive on feedback.
What feeds your soul?
Witnessing others in the open state of exploration and discovery through movement. Movement, stillness, open-ended artistic expression, my family, ghee, kale, and my students.
Who or what influences your teaching?
The Feldenkrais Method® and almost 30 years of exploration in somatics, improvisational dance and creative expression.
What is your favorite quote?
"What I'm after isn't flexible bodies but flexible brains.
What I'm after is to restore each person to their human dignity"
"This we have now is not imagination
This is not grief or joy.
Not a judging state, or an elation, or sadness.
Those come and go.
This is the presence that doesn't."
Julie Fournier, Lotus Teacher, September 2015
How did you first find yoga?
I came to yoga during a challenging period of my life. I was doing international development work in Africa and was searching for meaning and inner peace. Yoga brought a sense of wholeness and purpose to my life. LEARN MORE >>
What is your favorite yoga book?
I love reading about yoga! I find myself returning to these books: Living your Yoga by Judith Lasater, The path of the yoga sutras by Nicolai Bachman and Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew Sanford. I also find interconnectedness between Yoga and Buddhism and have read several books from Pema Chödrön and Tara Brach. As I expand my teaching, I feel the need to read more about anatomy and physiology. Doug Keller and Paul Grilley are high on my reading list along with articles on the therapeutic applications of yoga.
What feeds your soul?
Sunshine, nature, hiking, traveling, helping others and spending time with family and friends.
Who or what influences your teaching?
For me, yoga is much more than a physical practice. I am extremely grateful to Chetnath Adhikari, my teacher in Nepal, who opened my eyes to the spiritual and energetic aspects of yoga and to Matt Sanford, a paraplegic yoga teacher based in Minnesota with whom I study how to adapt yoga for disabilities. Matthew`s goal is also mine: to teach the universal principles inherent to yoga to all students regardless of their level of ability.
What do you want to tell students about your teaching?
I started teaching about a year and a half ago. As I expand my teaching, I seek to offer clear instructions, leading students into a variety of simple practices and to explore with them how to find a sense of presence, calm and spaciousness through our own mind-body connection. I appreciate feedback and find it useful when students share their thoughts with me about their experiences in class.
Julie Andres, Lotus Teacher, June 2015
How did you first find yoga?
I was in my mid 20's when I took my first yoga class, I joined a gym to "get in shape" but struggled with the gym culture and all the mirrors. I found the little room off to the side of the equipment area where I met my first yoga teacher. I knew after that first class that I was hooked. Yoga brought me into focus, and out of my head — it still does all these years later. LEARN MORE >>
What is your favorite yoga book?
Before I became a teacher, my Mom gave me B.K.S. Iyengar's book YOGA the path to holistic health for Christmas one year, it's a big hard cover book with pictures for every pose, and a pose for almost every ailment you can think of. It also shows how to use props to support the body. I love this book because my Mom gave it to me and I took it as a sign that I would eventually become a teacher.
What feeds your soul?
Travel, being in nature, teaching and practicing yoga. I teach for a Seattle based company who takes groups on yoga retreats throughout the year - I LOVE this work! I get to combine my passions and connect deeply with people.
Who or what influences your teaching?
I find inspiration in the person or people I am teaching to. I teach from the heart, which means I combine poses into sequences that empower my students. Often I find inspiration from other classes I take, noticing how other teacher use their voice, offer variations or their own spin on the basics.
What do you want to tell students about your teaching?
I want people to know that I am human just like they are. I teach from my life experiences through triumphs, failures, addiction and recovery. Yoga has helped me in many different paths of life, I teach from a place of self-acceptance and forgiveness.
Beverly Norfleet, Lotus Teacher, May 2015
How long have you been teaching yoga?
What is inspiring to you in your practice right now?
My current source of inspiration are the yoga sutras, the inner traditions that serve as guides for healthy living mentally and physically. I am inspired when I see students making the connection between asana practice and the remaining seven limbs of yoga. LEARN MORE >>
Is there anything you want to share about what you are currently teaching?
I am a certified Restorative Yoga teacher and am entering my second year of advanced studies in restoratives with Judith Hanson Lasater. In my Yoga for Stress Reduction and Restorative classes I include what I've learned from my studies at the Center for Mindfulness in Worcester, Massachusetts where I am on the teacher certification track in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). I have a committed meditation practice and I also teach MBSR.
What do you want to tell students about your teaching?
Sunrises and sunsets. Gardening. Nature. Laughing. Traveling and meeting people from different cultural backgrounds. And, of course, yoga — all of it.