One afternoon, I was driving with my friend, and business partner, Jenny Hudak, to a yoga retreat. Neither of us were paying very close attention, and we took a wrong turn. There was some friendly debate over who’s fault it was. Who’s in charge? The driver? Or the navigator?
The answer, both.
Now, I have been a yoga teacher for over 15 years. I believe that my job is to navigate, while my students drive. This means that I essentially have a map, but my students are at the wheel. This means that I empower my students with excellent directions, anecdotes, and antidotes. However, I ask my students to take personal responsibility for their own practice, health, and well being. Like a good road trip, in order to enjoy the ride, the music has to be the right vibe, stories will be told, the conversation has to be honest, and everyone is happy to pay attention. This is what it’s like to take one of my classes.
I love historical routes. I once drove cross country on Route 66 from Chicago to LA with a friend who had a gig in Venice. Likewise, my entrée to yoga was traditional. I started in the Ashtanga Yoga system. I met my first teachers, Elizabeth Silas, and April White-Plank, my freshman year in University. Ashtanga Yoga appealed to my love for tradition, repetition, and continuous improvement. I learned how to float through challenges, and was willing to take risks in my life because of how empowered, and centered I became through the practice of Ashtanga Yoga. My practice has been influenced by Pattabhi Jois, Richard Freeman, and David Swenson, but my real navigator in the Ashtanga tradition is Eddie Stern. I moved to NYC to practice at his school in 2007, and I attended daily, for years.
A few months after finishing the novel, when I was 27, I met my husband, Ariel Levy, - dancing - on New Year’s Eve. A few days later he showed up to my yoga class. His downward facing dog admittedly made me angry. He had a unique combination of tightness in his hips, shoulders, and hamstrings that I had never seen before. It made me feel like a fraud. How could I have been teaching for so long, thinking of myself as an expert, and yet, I had no idea how to help him in this pose that I had always considered basic? Rather than kicking him out of my yoga class I had his babies… but before that I decided to become a beginner again. I started thinking about the yoga postures in a new way, and exploring how they could be broken down for beginners, or people who yoga asana doesn’t come naturally to
Of course, one thing that can blow the joy of a road trip is traffic. It’s like a bad injury. But, do we become consumed by the traffic? Or can we navigate around it? If we can’t find a different physical route, can we at least have a traffic-free mind? I have learned that contentment, overcoming fear of a blank page, and being vulnerable to the wide open feeling of beginner-hood can all help. i believe it’s more important to stay responsive to the present moment, than to cling to arriving at a certain time. I first learned to conquer my fear of the unknown by packing up my car and moving to Chicago, then again to NYC, and then again by writing a novel. I used the blank page, and her words which filled them, to imagine ways in which life, and my relationships could be different. Although I chose not to pursue publishing the book, I learned a great deal about compassion, the creative process, overcoming old wounds, and that I am a better poet and teacher than novelist.
While teaching at Love, in Montauk, several students over the course of one summer asked me if I had studied with Rodney Yee, and Colleen Saidman Yee, at Yoga Shanti, in Sag Harbor. The answer was no, but I decided to go check them out. The next thing I knew, I was enrolled in their teacher training, mentoring their teacher training, and then partnering with them to open Yoga Shanti in NYC. It was at Shanti that I learned, not to confuse the map for the territory. In other words, that this is a road trip, and it’s all about being responsive to the world. Or as Joseph Campbell says, “Don’t save the world. Bring it to life. Live in this world. We aren’t seeking a meaning for life. But an experience for being alive.”
Construction began at YSNY just three weeks after my first son was born. Opening the studio, and becoming a new mom had a lot in common. As my son learned to walk, and stand on his own two feet, so too did the magnificent studio on 24th Street that so many students and teachers now make their oasis. Yoga Shanti is a wonderful fit for me. It honors the traditions of yoga, but doesn’t take anything for granted. The backbone of the studio is: Inquiry. One is never asked to blindly follow a teacher. Students and teachers are friends, with relationships based on mutual respect. We enjoy practicing, and studying the history of yoga, mechanics of the body, the art of sequencing, and modern applications of yoga. It is yoga for householders - people balancing responsibilities, cares, and loves.
I love setting out with a destination, and a map, but no pre-planned route. Literally. I have been navigating my family on road trips since I was a teenager. Long before Waze and Google Maps. I have learned that sometimes you need to take backroads, and long-cuts to enjoy the ride. My intuition as a teacher and navigator comes directly from my years of experience as a teacher, and my lifetime experience of rhythm, repetition, and coordination as a poet, and dancer.
My life’s work is all about helping people to navigate the present moment. This is by no means something that I have perfected, but rather a caravan I am on as a yoga teacher, wife, mother, friend, and writer. After writing a novel, and then founding the blog Breathe Repeat with my friend Tracey Toomey Mcquade in 2012, I have recently returned my focus to my first love, poetry. In an attempt to take writing more seriously I applied, and was accepted to a writer’s conference and workshop at Yale University in 2016. Hopes of publishing linger. Perhaps it will be my next big endeavor after giving birth to my second child this October. Both on the page and off, I seek to express the poetry of presence. I invite you to join my colleagues and me for class and trainings, and enjoy poetry with me here on this site.