Tianna Meriage-Reiter teaches Theraputic Yoga at the Mind-Body Movement Center in Alameda California. We recently had a chance to ask her some questions:
How did you first get interested in yoga? I came to yoga in a gym setting. I think, like many others, it was the physical aspect that drew me into the practice. I was going through a physically painful period of life…racked with the pains caused by sitting at a desk with poor posture and tension-holding habits. I felt that yoga would be a way I could work on my flexibility and strength and hopefully take me to a place far away from my pain.
Could you please explain your teaching style and what is unique about your classes? I call my style, “non-dogmatic,” coined after my instructor, Ginger Garner, PT, ATC, PYT. It doesn’t pertain to one type of yoga or another. You could call it therapeutic–I blend the alignment and use of props of Iyengar with the flow and breath of Hatha….add in my physical therapy knowledge and you have my teaching style. It’s easy to get caught up in the branding of yoga styles. I feel that yoga is yoga. It is breath and movement and the mindfulness that joins the two. I emphasize all of this in my classes, especially the breath. And I guide the class into using their senses to be present in their bodies, toning all the senses—visual, tactile, sound and motor imagery. I feel my classes are intimate and my physical therapy training provides me the ability to suggest alternatives depending on a students needs. And each class ends with a quote towards some intention or based on the yamas and niyamas.
How do you adjust your teaching to the needs of individual students? I never plan a class. Each person that walks in the door may be so different—in constitution and in physical abilities. I used to plan every sequence. This doesn’t work when you are working with individuals that are coming from injuries or that have different pathologies. For instance this evening, I had planned to possibly incorporate some modified Sun Salutations, but then a student walked in and I knew they could not perform those movements. I ended up doing something completely different. But I can’t always just avoid doing certain movements because of one individual. In those cases, there is always an alternative way to perform a pose or physically or mentally achieve the benefits of the pose. I will always show the alternative versions and ask that the students meet their practice where they are that day. And always remind them to practice ahimsa towards themselves, that their yoga is not a competition.
What do you feel has been your greatest accomplishment since you began teaching/helping others? As a physical therapist, and now a yoga therapist, I feel accomplished when I hear a patient say, “you know, that breathing stuff really works.” To provide someone with the tools to heal themselves and when they express that they have some element of control over their dis-ease, that is the ultimate. As a small business owner, you want your clients to stay with you. But I am equally satisfied when they tell me, “you know, I can do this on my own now.” I can’t help but smile.
Was there a particular person who really inspired you when you first got interested in yoga? The first “yoga” book I read was BKS Iyengar’s “Light On Life.” This was my first glimpse into the philosophy of yoga and the realization that there was more to this yoga than just the physical.
What do you think are the most important things to consider for someone who is just starting out with yoga? Many of my patients will tell me that they can’t “do yoga” because they can’t touch their toes. I teach them how to breathe diaphragmatically with mindfulness and tell them that they have just “done yoga.” I think when you are first learning yoga (asana practice), it is important to learn with someone that is going to teach you about the breath and using it to move in, within and transitioning out of the poses. I suggest they come to class with an open mind, without expectations and don’t be thrown off by the first class. Be content with where you are with your practice that day. It is called a “practice” for a reason. Persevere with patience and awareness and practice a little bit every day.
What methods do you use to overcome difficulty? I remind myself that everything in life is temporary. I know that my concerns and emotions I experience in this one moment may not be the same in the next. It calms me immediately to voice this to myself. And then I can find my breath, elongating the exhale so that I can calm my nervous system. There is a mantra that helps bring this all together, “Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya.” To me, this mantra means that I can surrender to whatever will be, will be.
How much of our lives are affected by our eating habits in your opinion? I don’t know if I can speak to how much our eating habits affect our lives, but we are certainly learning that what we ingest has a tremendous affect on our health. The practice of Ayurveda has known for thousands of years that food is medicine and now more modern Functional Medicine doctors are supporting this too. I have just been reading several scientific articles demonstrating that peripheral and systemic inflammation in the body is at the root of many ailments—cardiovascular, diabetes, obesity and even depression. And what is causing the inflammation? Amongst stress and trauma, we can look at diet. Diets that promote inflammation are high in refined starches, sugar, saturated and trans-fats, and low in omega-3 fatty acids, natural antioxidants and fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Nutraceuticals like turmeric, ginger and cinnamon have also been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects. And besides the personal health concerns, then consider eating mindfully with respect for the source of our food and we see that there are many ways our diet can affect our lives.
What is the one thing that you feel most Americans could do to improve their lives? I think we need to move more, sit less, and do it with awareness of the breath (myself included). I guess that’s three things.
If you could change anything about the way yoga classes are usually taught in America, what would it be? The gym yoga classes that I began with in 2003 and those that I have taken recently at gyms and even smaller yoga studios did not include breath or awareness. I don’t want to say that these classes are not beneficial in some way, and someone else may have benefited in ways that I did not. My ideal class would be taught with awareness of the breath and the senses. I don’t want to be pushed into a pose, nor do I want to feel like I am competing with my classmates. I would want them taught with the underlying factor that we are not only physical beings, but also intellectual and spiritual beings.