How did you first get interested in yoga? Many different threads came together at the right time: I had moved to a small town where there was no swimming pool available for lap swimming; my old ankle injury prevented me from running; my acupuncturist suggested yoga would help some problems in my thoracic spine; I was curious.
What threw me even more wholeheartedly into both the practice and teaching was when my life came apart at the seems about a year after taking my first class. I lost my relationship, my livelihood, and my property all in one shot. Having already begun teaching, I gave myself over completely without knowing where it would lead. I trusted.
What is unique about your studio, Valley Yoga? We are in a relatively small town with a population of about 125,000. Students often know each other. Or, if they don’t, they are welcomed into the classes and friendships form. There is laughter and there are sometimes tears. We know when someone’s husband has cancer or when someone gets a new job. When one of us dies (as has happened twice: once from cancer and once from AIDS), we go to their memorial/celebration and remember them in our classes.
I do not know that being a community is unique, but I believe it is important.
How would you describe your teaching style? My primary teachers have been Rodney Yee, Tias Little and Patricia Walden. I teach from their teaching. It comes out of me as something of a mix of being Iyengar influenced (I am not trained in the Iyengar system) and explorative. I am clear that alignment and the use of props is important and I encourage questions, laughter and curiosity as well as silence and meditation.
In what ways do you adapt teaching to accommodate different types of students? In classes I will adapt whatever we are doing for whatever difficulty a student may have with props or similar poses done in a different way. Supta padangustasana II for example, can be done instead of trikonasana for students who have sacroiliac problems as some of my students do.
Students will often come to me for private lessons around a particular issue they are facing. In those sessions one can be very creative in finding ways to bring the essence of yoga to their body. When I had a student with Parkinson’s coming to me, we worked a lot on getting up from a chair to standing and used her walker, with my support, to balance on one leg. Her “poses” looked nothing like the photographs one sees but she delighted in her practice until very close to the day she died.
What advice can you give for people who wish to practice yoga in a safe way? Always pay attention to what you are experiencing. Our bodies give us information all the time. I knew I had breast cancer even when there was a false negative. And when we are injured – which can happen doing yoga as well as getting out of the car - keep paying attention. Listen, listen, listen.
On your website you also mention emotional safety. What are some things you do to help new students feel less intimidated? I try to model and feel others at the studio do the same, a warm welcome to everyone who is new. I learn everyone’s name and greet them by name at the beginning of class. A lot of the rest depends on the person and what I can sense of them – are they shy and not wanting attention drawn to them? Do they need a lot of care around a physical issue that might be related to an emotional one? If I know their story, I try to take anything useful into account in how I touch or speak to them. It is really simply about being sensitive to others experiences to the best of my ability.
What are the similarities and differences between Thai massage and yoga? Thai Massage is similar in that I often describe it as having yoga done to you. It is very different in that nothing is required of the one receiving it. It is actually often somewhat difficult for people to relax and let the giver do all the work.
In what ways do you feel Thai massage can compliment a yoga practice? In Thai Massage one is able to go into positions more deeply by being able to relax and the acupressure adds to that depth. The body is then more open and able to move into an asana practice. Thai Massage brings more fluidity to an asana practice.
What was your most memorable experience as a yoga teacher? A year after we moved into the new studio, the city decided we needed a conditional use permit to continue in our location because it was zoned professional rather than commercial. Being the first yoga studio here, no one was quite sure about the zoning category for a studio when we moved in. The conditional use permit cost $3000.00 to apply for. The studio took up the fundraising and quickly raised more than we needed. The city passed the application easily and then turned around and gave some of the money back – something most agree is unheard of.
What made the memorable impression on me was how much those who come to the studio want it to exist, what it has meant in their lives. It is actually those many small moments when someone tells me how the studio has contributed in some significant way to their well being – those are the memorable moments I treasure.
What do you think is the one thing that most people could do to improve their lives? Have a consistent home asana and meditation practice.
Brenda Proudfoot RYT 500. Brenda has completed her 200 and 500 hour training at Prajna Yoga with Tias and Surya Little and is now a senior teacher at Prajna. ”The practice of yoga – asana, pranayam, meditation and study of the sutras – has been a primary tool for my ability to walk through some intensely painful periods of life including my brother’s death by suicide, my nephew’s brain surgeries and my own breast cancer. I had no idea when I first began practicing asana because I had discomfort between my shoulder blades, the degree to which I would one day find myself leaning back into this practice so deeply in order to keep walking and breathing and loving. This is a practice that is deeply interwoven into my soul and I am grateful to all those who have gone before me in the path of yoga in whatever way it has been expressed.” Website: www.valleyyoga.net