Elyse Briggs is Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, a Licensed Massage Therapist, a registered THAI Therapist and a certified and nationally registered teacher of massage therapy for twenty years. She’s the owner of Yoga at the Village in Glendale, California. We recently had a chance to ask her some questions:
How did you first get interested in yoga? I’ve been a Yoga practitioner for 43 years and a teacher for 20. I found Yoga at an early age: 17 (Do the math). At 17, I thought it was stupid. I thought, “Why am I sitting here quietly breathing and stretching. This is the seventies, man! I could be out there wearing pink spandex with the rest of the joint-crunching, high-impact aerobics fanatics”. At least there, I would release some tension!!! I didn’t realize at the time that I was learning the single most valuable tool that I would rely on later for peace and strength…not to mention sculpted abs, butt and thighs.
Was there someone who was a strong inspiration to you when you began learning yoga? There wasn’t just one person. It was more about the community that was formed through the process of practicing Yoga that was appealing to me. As a young actor, at the time, I needed a sense of feeling grounded…connected to something bigger or greater than myself and than those related to my craft and industry. The practice, even though it was new to me, was extremely settling and made me a better, more focused actor!
What is the goal of yoga practice in your opinion? I think folks turn to Yoga for three very basic reasons: Strength, Flexibility and Balance…(Body and Mind). I doesn’t matter what your age, size, religious beliefs, levels of ability are. It’s for every-body. Yoga is sweet work. Satisfying, rewarding, mindful work. I resisted it for a long time in my early years. It took me many years to understand that if I could learn patience and compassion for myself while trying to maintain a seemingly impossible Yoga posture, I could do the same thing in an up-tight situation in my life. When that concept truly kicked in, I felt better, looked better (I was taller…really) and I had more energy than I ever had before.
What was the idea behind Yoga at the Village, and what kind of support did you need to get your own studio up and running? I am a Movement Therapist and Bodyworker and have been since the late 80s. I help folks move again when they feel they can’t move well anymore. Most of my clients are recovering from accidents, seniors, over-weight and “out of shape” and some are just plain old “couch potatoes!” I’m not getting younger either, and being a type A, middle-aged, neurotic, Jewish woman, I find myself among people who just want to FEEL BETTER! To that end, 10 years ago, it seemed like a natural transition for my clients (from me moving them, to them moving themselves! I opened the studio to encourage them to begin to help themselves. My clients were my encouragement.
In our studio, there is no EGO. Everyone at any age, any level of ability or (dis)ability, for that matter is welcome to any class at any time. The EGO BENCH just outside the front door is for those who mis-behave and think that they are too weak, too short, too fat, too sick, too tired to join a Yoga class. We have 30 chairs. You don’t even have to sit on the floor. No excuses and no whining.
What sort of qualities do you think make someone a good yoga instructor? Education (A LOT of it. Never stop being a student), Good Technique, The ability to mindfully touch and be touched in an educated way. But most importantly, you need to be able to tell a good joke. It doesn’t matter to me who a teacher has studied with or how long…what matters most is that he or she is able to make me laugh and feel safe in their hands.
Do you have a favorite type of class that you like to lead? I love the Seniors (I call them ”The Wise Ones”) They are…I learn so much from them. I have an entire program built for them and inspired by them. It’s called, Stretch in Time (www.stretchintime.com). Through this program and these mindful movements and with Doctors input and guidance, it’s helping people back to moving again. I’m very proud of it.
What advice do you give to people who think they are not flexible enough for yoga? “Just get off the sofa and MOVE!” That’s what I have to say. Or if need be, stay ON the sofa…JUST MOVE! Even those with debilitating diseases are practicing at my studio. Even if you’re unable to move, in a wheelchair, on a walker, in BED…there’s still the ability to breathe!! And while you’re breathing, you might as well breathe mindfully and maybe, just MAYBE…you’ll feel better.
What are the similarities between yoga and Thai traditional massage? Did learning one help with the other? The Thais refer to Thai Massage as “Yoga for LAZY PEOPLE!” Thai Massage is Yoga applied to the receiver. The receiver remains passive for the most part and encouraged to breathe while being moved through a yoga practice. My Yoga practice definitely influenced me in my career as a Therapist and Massage School Teacher. It made me a much better, more mindful therapist.
What was your proudest moment as a yoga teacher? When my wonderful student who is paraplegic, was suddenly aware that she was moving parts of her body that she hadn’t been able to move for YEARS…began to move through redirection of breath. Very powerful. I’ll NEVER forget that.
What do you think is the greatest benefit that most people can get from yoga? Many but my favorites are finding self-love, confidence and kindness.