1 As a woman, a mother and a yoga practitioner, tell me what do you find the most important teaching you’ve discovered from this practice and what would you share to those who are on this path?
This practice gives courage, energy and clarity of mind. It shows you who you are, the good and the bad, and what you really want. I was 21 years old when I started to practice Ashtanga. I am from a small town in upstate New York – no one I knew traveled outside the US. Between my own individual practice and reading the Yoga Mala, I knew I wanted to go to Mysore. I worked three jobs in order to make it happen, but soon enough I bought my ticket and left without knowing another soul there. I was 23. I went relying on my courage and a profound desire to change, and believed that traveling to India to practice with Guruji and Sharath held all that. So now when students show up to practice with me, I hope the practice gives them that desire as well. I hope it clarifies for them what it is that they want and the courage to work for that. Most people know what they don’t want, but have no idea what they do want.
2 What is Feminism to you? How do you feel women can support each other?
It´s funny, because I actually had a focus in Women´s Studies while studying at Syracuse University. When I was in university, I went through a very angry stage. Certain women´s issues would literally bring me to tears and/or an angry rage, because I often identified so closely with them. I grew up with a single mom who had me at age 17. I saw her work so hard just to make ends meet. She was a feminist mother, but she did not even have the time to consider such a thought.
My original intention after earning my bachelors degree was to go for a PhD in Women´s Studies, and then become a professor. My advisor at that time begged me not to. She said it was such a painful field, and that I would do greater work if I became a medical doctor and helped women in a more “hands on” way. I can still remember my first class – Women´s Studies 101 – where it was like a light bulb turned on in my head. I took the class so seriously. I was introduced to Ani DiFranco at that time – a political, feminist musician who changed my life. I consider her my first “guru.” For me, at that time, feminism was having women be equal to men in every respect, and that every margin should be tested in order to achieve that. I dreaded my hair as a way to avoid any type of beauty standard, and even considered being a lesbian – I was that deeply involved. Now, as mother of 3 (4 if you count my stepson that lives with me full-time), plus almost 20 years of daily yoga and living abroad (out of my comfort zone) with my husband, whom I have depended on greatly, my views have softened. I have had to let go and follow biology. I breastfed each of my children for three years each, and that showed me that no matter how hard I pushed, men simply did not have the same life experience as me. When I had children, I realized it as me who was their lifeline. My focus was not about me anymore, it was about them. Any animal in the wild will completely self sacrifice to keep their young alive and I felt the same. I did not see my husband having that same view. But like all things, babies grow, and our freedom does return, however when we do reappear again, we are changed greatly. Now I just want to share femininity, not feminism. I want to show other women that they can be both strong and nurturing at the same time. It´s beautiful to be a woman in all our forms, and so utterly powerful. Women have unbelievable resilience and transformational abilities. We are life givers, and whether or not we choose to follow that path does not change that. It is heavy work, and much of our strength comes from that.
3 In Ashtanga practice, how do you feel we can keep the community strong and supportive for one another?
Just try to see that each of us has something to share that is equally important and bond through that. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and so we must learn to rely on and help each other. Let go of jealousy and competitiveness, which is often continued by the way the practice is taught. Life is becoming misconstrued with the virtual world of the modern day. It appears to us that everyone else has it easier or better, but we need to remind ourselves that in reality it is not like that. Just get back to the breath and meet your “sisters” for a cup of tea and a “bitching” session. There is nothing more healing than tea, honey and cookies, and sharing our burdens with our fellow women.
4 With this practice we are constantly challenging ourselves – both mind and body. This requires a lot of self-discipline, focus and consistency in our daily routine. In these moments we are opening ourselves up, we are vulnerable and processing whatever emotions that arise. What would be your advice in these situations? What did you find helpful to you?
Just keep with it, practice everyday. But also respect the fact that sometimes you just need to take a walk. I remember doing all the intermediate backbends and a few times having to stop mid-practice and go for a walk by the sea. Slow and steady is the way. Also be gentle, be loving to yourself. And if you need to cry, just do it. We are doing this practice because we want to clean our fears out, and sweat and tears are powerful cleansers. Respect that. It took me a long time to learn to not demand so much from myself, and in that regard I am still learning. And don´t take yourself so seriously.
5 In this modern world we are surrounded by distractions, whether it’s the constant stream of negative news, social media and the perfectly manufactured image of how to live life, our appearance and body shaming. It has the power to knock us off balance. How do we nourish ourselves? How do we find acceptance?
I think nature has all the answers, just look to nature and spend time there. Nature is completely honest. Follow her example. And just say, “Enough!” when you need to. Limit your time online and maximize your time in nature. Surround yourself with positive people who support you.
6 Who are the women that inspire you, who are the women that you admire?
Ani DiFranco and Ina May Gaskin – a political songwriter and a midwife, respectively. Two women who were not afraid to say what they thought was right, in two areas that are unbelievably different but equally important.
7 What are your daily rituals and routines that you feel ground you?
I wake up early, but not too early anymore – between 5:30 and 6:00 am. I value my sleep now, after so many children and lost nights of sleep. I drink coffee with rice milk every morning with my husband and we have a little chat about what´s going on with us, and then I do my practice, rain or shine. I am completely methodical about it. It´s like my narcotic. Then I normally teach yoga with my husband. I love teaching – I like helping people, and that is my way. I also surf everyday, the water is so healing for me. I enjoy being at the mercy of a force stronger than me and flowing with it. If I can’t surf, I spend some time in nature each day. I am nature obsessed. Give me a beach, forest or stream, and I feel safe. I also spend all day with my kids and husband, we do everything together. I cook all our food everyday and make lots of healthy cakes and bake our bread. I find it therapeutic. And I drink about a liter of herbal tea with honey everyday. I also take lots of baths!
8 What makes you feel safe and secure?
A warm cup of tea and my husband´s hand on my lower back.
9 Which element of nature do you feel most connected to?
10 Our energy is always shifting in our monthly practice, as female practitioners when we receive our ladies holiday, whether it’s a seasonal change or when we travel to different climates. How can we find a balance and a grounding when we feel these changes happen?
I am super hormonal. I have to keep a moon calendar so that I know when I am ovulating and menstruating. I track it each month and watch how it follows the moon. When I know I am moody because of my period, I do not take it so personally. I eat very simple food and maintain my practice. When I was younger, I would practice through my period. But now as I am approaching 40, I am trying to cherish my moon days more. Now I will take two days off and rest. I ask my husband to cook those days for me. And now my oldest daughter and I have our moon days together each month, and honestly I love sharing that with her.