Yoga is a vast field – more like an endless black hole, really. As yoga becomes a household name, its definition varies more widely, and its meaning becomes anything and everything.
In my first 200-hr training, Theresa Elliott often reminded me to “remember who you’re talking to, so you can understand why they’re saying what they’re saying”.
So, for background and context, here my personal story of where I came from, and how I got here.
The Accidental Discovery
My earliest memory of yoga was finding a book on my mom’s bookshelf when I was about 6 or 7 with illustrations of a young boy holding his arms and legs in various positions. I took interest in it and started imitating the drawings.
No one in my family practiced yoga. How that book got to the bookshelf and into my hands is a mystery. All I have now is a vivid memory of Dhanurasana, Bow Pose, which I didn’t like, and Savasana, Corpse Pose, which I liked a lot.
The High School Years
In high school, I was a cross country and track & field runner. For more muscles, I started going to a local health club where I took yoga every Sunday morning with a woman with a sing-songy voice, who would say things like, “Look at your feet as if they’re smiling back at you.” Most of the time, I had no idea what she was talking about. I just knew yoga was good for my tight hamstrings and running career.
When the local gym was sold to the 24 Hour Fitness chain, that teacher stopped teaching. I discovered Steve Ross‘s show Inhale on the Oxygen network, and I dragged myself out of bed at 6AM every morning to do it.
I still remember tricking myself into waking up for yoga by sleeping on the couch in the living room and setting the TV alarm to turn on at 5:55AM on the preset channel. All I had to do was roll down to the floor, where I had put the mat the night before, and I’d go through about the first 15 minutes with my eyes shut (and then go back to sleep in Savasana).
Steve was easy going and cracked jokes often, which is the only explicable reason why I went through all that trouble to catch him at the crack of dawn. Other than that, I can’t remember a particular reason to what drew me to yoga.
The College Years
I lived in France during my Sophomore year, and, like any 18 year-old who left home to live on her own in another country for the first time, I stayed out too late, ate whatever I could find, hopped trains with a heavy backpack often, and walked for miles and miles on a lot of cobblestone streets.
My body asked for some relief, and one day in a bookstore, I found a small pocket-sized book on “Le Yoga”. Again, I was back to my six-year-old “Trying to Look Like the Picture” days. I still had no idea what I was doing intellectually, but my body knew what it needed.
Back in Seattle, I checked out Rain City Yoga in the University of Washington’s U-District at the suggestion of a friend. The owner, Marta McDermott, taught Bikram yoga, and she was funny, genuine, and really personable. Her personality kept me going to class regularly.
Marta moved away and Rain City changed ownership, and other types of yoga found themselves on the schedule. I found myself now more drawn to Power Vinyasa, which I did a lot with Colin Patterson.
My meager student budget couldn’t afford too many yoga classes, so I searched on Amazon and found Power Yoga DVDs by people who seemed to be “really good at yoga”: Beryl Bender Birch, Bryan Kest, Rodney Yee…, and practiced in my living room.
From Power Yoga, I traced the path of similar yoga styles: Vinyasa Flow with Baron Baptiste, Shiva Rae, Seanne Corn, and Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga with Richard Freeman. I practiced regularly with Amber Tande.
I dabbled into a few other kinds of yoga: Forrest Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Yin Yoga with Paul Grilley, Andrey Lappa’s Universal Yoga, and Yoga Nidra (which my body sometimes confuses as “nap time”).
I discovered Iyengar Yoga in 2007 and started taking classes with Richard Schachtel at the Center for Yoga in Seattle. I loved the alignment precision of Iyengar Yoga, and found Anusara Yoga uplifting and fun, so I purchased John Friend’s The Basics of Anusara Yoga Teacher Training DVDs, and once again, tried to teach myself how to do yoga in my studio apartment.
The Theresa Elliott/Kathryn Payne & Pacific Yoga Years
After much mulling, at 26, I decided to enroll in a 200-hour Teacher Training at Pacific Yoga in 2008.
Theresa Elliott is down-to-earth, hilarious, and has opened my eyes time and time again on how to really *do* yoga. I walked in the Teacher Training thinking I was a hot shot, an “advanced” practitioner. After all, I had been around this Yoga block for a while by now, I surely didn’t need help with my Downward Facing Dog. Boy, was I ever wrong.
Pacific Yoga is where I learned the difference between flexion and extension, and where the psoas is. I learned Sanskrit with Kathryn Payne and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and dabbled into Ayurveda and the subtle body. Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.
I started to be able to really discern and ask more questions. I started to break apart a yoga posture and see what’s going on with the muscles and bones. I started to pronounce the Sanskrit words like how they’re meant to be pronounced. In the process of learning to be a teacher, I learned to be a dedicated student. The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know.
Though I did Bikram yoga for a long time, I decided that it no longer fit me for many reasons. This has been an important lesson in my yoga progression, to know when something no longer works for me, and move on.
I finished my 200-hour certificate in April 2009 and embarked on another training for my 500-hour certificate, which I finished in May 2010.
By a stroke of dumb luck, in 2005, after I graduated from college, I bought Judith Lasater’s A Year of Living Your Yoga. Then, in January 2008, Judith came to Theresa’s studio, Taj Yoga, for a workshop on the Sacro-illac and Hip Joints. I was immediately hooked on her tremendous knowledge of the human anatomy and her wisdom on living.
I didn’t expect it, but tears started streaming down my face when I hugged her. I was a bit surprised and a lot embarrassed for this show of emotional vulnerability in front of someone I just met (though I felt like I had known her for 3 years through her book), but in a way, it must have been my body’s way of telling me it had found something really good.
I went home and went on a shopping spree to buy books written by Judith Lasater. I put her teaching schedule in my personal calendar and watch for any chances to study with her. Though I have taken many workshops with other teachers, I consider Judith my main influence.
As a recovering Type A who has a lot of excess energy, I found a grounding refuge in Judith Lasater’s Relax and Renew Restorative Yoga, and have completed Relax and Renew Level I and II training with her.
I am also a Vipassana practitioner. In the summer of 2009, I spent my first 10 days doing a course in the Goenka tradition at the Northwest Vipassana Center. I have since returned three times.
Iyengar Institute of San Francisco & Pune
In 2012, after thinking and overthinking too much, I decided to move to San Francisco and enrolled in the training at the Iyengar Institute of San Francisco. I completed the 200-hour portion in 2013, and the 500-hour portion in 2014.
In December 2014, I went to Pune, India for the first time for a 10-day intensive, and took my first class with Geeta Iyengar. I returned to Pune in October 2015 and stayed for almost three months, practicing with Geeta, and getting to know other senior teachers at the Institute in Pune, including Abhijata Sridhar Iyengar, BKS Iyengar’s granddaughter.