An Interview with Annie Carpenter, founder of SmartFLOW Yoga

By: Jen Mullholand, conference blogger

 Annie Carpenter has spent the past four decades devoted to the practice and teaching of yoga and dance. She is an internationally renowned teacher based in the San Francisco Bay area where she teaches SmartFlow yoga. She also leads 200 and 500-hour teacher trainings at Exhale in Venice Beach, CA. Annie is known as a teacher’s teacher, with a keen eye for alignment in the context of Vinyasa Flow blended with a dedication to the meditative qualities of yoga.Annie Carpenter

Annie will be teaching a variety of workshops at the conference, including a day-long therapeutic intensive on Thursday, March 5. I had the chance to chat with Annie via email before she left to lead a retreat in Nicaragua with her friend and long-time colleague, Maty Ezraty.

You will be teaching an all-day Therapeutics intensive at the conference. What brought you to study yoga in a therapeutic context? And why should flow teachers (or any Hatha Yoga teacher) gain knowledge of therapeutics?Frankly, ALL yoga should be in by definition, therapeutic! Which simply implies that a level of attentiveness is present during the practice so that each act one makes in a practice, whether the way one breathes, or sits or moves from pose to pose is enhancing well-being and the understanding of being wakefully alive and how each of us fits into the miraculous web of life.

Annie in Yoga Journal demonstrating Utthita Hasta Padangustasana

Annie in Yoga Journal

Specifically, having spent 4 decades practicing and teaching (and all of the structural study), I have witnessed how practices helps and how it doesn’t. I have felt in my body and mind how change happens over the years via aging and the shifting of life circumstances (joy of new relationships, children; grief of loss of loved ones; illness and pain; etc.) creates conditions which needs must alter how to practice. As Sharon Salzberg says about a daily meditation practice (I paraphrase), “practice today so that it’s there when you need it.” If we can create a practice that is — as you say, strong flow — when we are young, healthy and free of distress that is awesome. And if we can create an attitude and a knowledge of how and when to alter the practice as needed depending on shifting circumstances, then we have a practice for life. Our own, and our students’.

You have been practicing and studying yoga for the majority of your life. What inspires you these days to get to your mat or the meditation cushion?

The fact that I ALWAYS feel better after I practice.

As you know, there’s a lot of Vinyasa, or Flow yoga, available to Western yoga practitioners. What makes your style of yoga, SmartFLOW, different from any other style of Vinyasa or Flow practice?

annie padmasanaSmartFlow is a method which sets up the conditions for each student to discover HOW to practice in every moment of their practice. In each pose, in each breath, we offer a continuum of exploration that is at once highly specific and open to individual choice. This leads to a heightened awareness that is structurally sound for each practitioner, and invites the practice of being a witness. Through this capacity to step back and observe the choices one makes moment to moment, and more importantly how and with what attitude, we create a practice that is rigorous and compassionate, passionate and patient.

You are offering a pranayama session and a restoratives session at the conference. How do you find these practices help balance students, especially those of us (myself included) who tend to find ourselves typically practicing strong flow?

The strength of practice lies in its rigorousness of steady attention. What we are doing will shift; how we practice is the transformative aspect. When you can make it strong! When you need it, make it quiet…

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