Back to Basics: Interview with Yoga Legend Maty Ezraty

Back to Basics: Interview with Maty Ezraty
by Jill Greene

I was moving too quickly the day I had originally scheduled this interview with senior teacher Maty Ezraty, who founded and directed the YogaWorks studio and Teacher Training program for more than 16 years. Caught up in activity, I forgot to double-check the time difference between Seattle and Hawaii, where Maty now lives—and I missed our appointment entirely!

When we did finally connect, Maty was gracious about my mistake and full of wisdom. Perhaps not coincidentally, our conversation included several reminders of how important it is not to lose sight of the fundamentals, in a modern world that’s moving at the speed of light.

Maty EaratyYou’re offering an all-day intensive this year on “Making Your Practice Whole.” What does it mean to make your practice whole?
In today’s world, yoga is practiced a little bit more for physical reasons. Making your practice whole is about exploring the bigger picture: your attitudes, the way the mind works, what your intentions are. It means looking at yoga from a holistic perspective, less from a strictly physical point of view.

For a number of years, you have been practicing vipassana meditation in addition to yoga. Is that compatible with this idea of making your practice whole?
Yes. I think meditation is mandatory, if you are a serious seeker of spirituality. Asana will only take you so far. It’s so important to study your mind in other venues. Meditation is as good as it gets.

You have been teaching yoga for 25 years. How have you seen the teaching of yoga evolve in America over that time?
Yoga today is a little mixed up with fitness. Not that there’s anything wrong with fitness, but it doesn’t allow you to go deeper in understanding your inner dynamics, your self, your mind-space. If you have the music on, and everything’s about feeling good, looking good … it’s artificial.

Unfortunately, in the last decade, we’ve seen business people take over yoga schools. And they really don’t understand yoga—half of them don’t even practice it. We have so many teacher trainings taught by people who haven’t been doing yoga long enough. So we’re creating a new generation that’s doing yoga poses, but in a fitness manner. It’s diluting yoga. It’s a lot easier to sell, because when you’re required to observe your mind and look at your stuff, it’s harder!

I think a lot of people are being promised that they can become yoga teachers, but it’s really difficult to make a living teaching yoga today. Of course it depends on the individual and what they know … but it should definitely not be something that you do lightly. I would never advise someone to give up a career to teach yoga, because most teachers today are struggling. Sometimes what you love to do is not necessarily what you should do for a living.

Maty Ezraty AsanaIf you could give one piece of advice to a new teacher today, what would it be?
Stick to why you decided to do yoga in the first place, and teach from there. I did not seek yoga for a profession, when I started studying. I came for a deeper, soul searching. That’s the place to teach yoga from.

When you’re a new teacher, you’re told you need a 200-hour certificate to teach anywhere. What does that have to do with anything? You can do 200 hours of good training or 200 hours of no training. Some people can retain an enormous amount in 200 hours, and other people can’t. So we have this arbitrary number of hours. We’ve got a problem.

In the old days, you had to get permission to take the Yoga Works teacher training. Somebody watched you practice. The first day of teacher training, I could teach shoulder stand. Everybody knew the fundamentals. They knew that in trikonasana the leg turns out, and the knee faces the second toe. I have students now who have never heard that before.

But it’s not the students’ fault! I don’t even think it’s the teacher’s fault. It’s the owners and the companies that are pushing numbers, pushing fitness, pushing Twitter, pushing websites … and they’re overlooking good teachers.

It’s also the consumer. It’s really a society problem, and it’s going to take courageous people to do things in a different way.

What can we do to change things?
Practitioners need to be educated and to buy the right workshops, put their money in classes and in trainings that offer something else. Request them: “I want classes with less music, I want more restorative yoga, I want more pranayama.”

And as an owner, you really have to walk that line in a smart way. Because you have to bring people along. It takes experience. It’s totally doable, but everyone’s just going too fast.

This practice takes time. You need at least 7 years before you’re pretty good. You should have at least 10-15 years under your belt before you teach and train people. You’ve got to be really strong in your own understanding. Otherwise you just give in to the students, because it’s too hard.

My best students and my best teachers assisted me for years. And came to class, over and over again, for years. There’s nothing wrong with a 200-hour training, if you then have somewhere to go and apprentice, under someone who’s really got it. That’ll work.

Do you see any glimmers of hope?
The last time I taught at a yoga festival, I had a teachers’ class. It was a really large class, 120 students, and I did basics. I walked out of that class high as a kite. These teachers wanted to learn, they were hungry, and they were getting it. It was exciting. There was no music, and their eyes were wide open and they wanted the information.

So yes, I have hope. But it’s going to take a community effort.

Maty Ezraty YogaAnd our own self study – is that a part of this?
Absolutely. That’s why I said that meditation is really critical. Because at some point, the asana is just not going to take you that far in. It can’t—it was never meant to. It’s only a pillar, a limb, a part of the process. It’s really just making you healthier so that you can do the deeper work.

I think many of us aspire to have an individual practice as long and fruitful as yours. What advice do you have for us as we look to the future?
What you do in your 20s, you’re not going to be able to do in your 50s. The more you understand that from the beginning, and the more you develop a really caring practice, the more you will appreciate the basics. So when those more fancy poses go away, you’ll have less suffering. You will see the benefits of the simplicity of it all.

The way that our lives are structured today, we put our old people in homes and we may not live next to our families, so we grow up without seeing that aging process up close. It’s not so real for us. We think that we’re always going to be like we are today, but things change. So it’s about the simple things: just lying down on the ground, feeling the earth and realizing how precious that is. How many people in the world never walk barefoot, never lie down on a flat floor and just close their eyes and breathe?

It’s going to come to that for each and every one of us, at some point. Standing on your head? Intense arm balances? Eventually it just doesn’t work anymore. But if those expectations are not there, and the simplicity is applied, and savored, then it’s a wonderful thing.

At the end of the day, you have to know this practice, personally, for yourself, without the teacher. It’s got to get to that.

Spend the day with Maty Ezraty during her Make Your Practice Whole yoga immersion at the 2018 Northwest Yoga Conference. 

Sh** Happens: An Interview with Annie Carpenter

by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

welcomebackAnnieAnnie Carpenter combines the wisdom of four decades of deep practice with a uniquely no-nonsense style. Her keen insights on alignment are intermixed with a sharp wit that, at last year’s conference, kept packed rooms full of yogis laughing (when we weren’t frantically taking notes).

The conference team was beyond thrilled when Annie agreed to return this year for a command performance—and judging from the way her workshops are filling up, we’re not the only ones.

You attend a lot of yoga events around the country. What makes NWYC stand out?

Its class sizes are smaller than at some events, which gives it a kind of intimacy. I see the same students over and over in my classes throughout the weekend, so the conference almost feels like a workshop-intensive. There’s something special about that for me as a teacher. I can really get a sense of the students’ practice and see how best to help them. For their part, the students begin to get my language, my rhythm, my perspective. I feel like they get a deeper experience. And that’s lovely, that’s a real gift.

With so much travel, how do you maintain balance on the road?

You just have to keep your practice up. Especially when you come in from a long trip, you’re jet lagged, and it feels like 4 a.m. but it’s really 10 a.m. and time to teach. You have to fit your practice in. Even if that means you practice for a half hour in the morning and come back to your mat for an hour later in the day.

The other thing that is hard but essential is to eat well. It can be really hard to get the right foods, enough fresh vegetables when you’re on the road. You have to work at it, but it’s worth it. If you eat well, you feel better.

For me, it’s also important to maintain enough time at home, to support my own relationship and my relationship with my students. There can definitely be a point where there’s too much travel.

NWYC15 - Saturday Web UNmarked - Tony F Photography-9680I attended your shoulder workshop last year, and I was blown away by your approach to alignment and stabilization, including pointing out common practices that can lead to injury. What are some of the unsafe habits you encounter in classes?

The question is really, how can we practice in such a way that we maintain mindfulness? Whether you’re talking about a shoulder issue, a low back, a knee … if you can sustain mental focus, if you can continue to be mindful not just in the poses but in your transitions between poses, then you’re very unlikely to get hurt. What happens is we tend to jump ahead. Our mind thinks of something else, or we’re thinking about how this pose ought to be or how it used to be, and we pull ourselves out of the present moment.

So one of the hallmarks of a really good teacher is presenting in such a way that the practice demands mindfulness in every moment on the part of the students.

Yes! I definitely notice that when I am looking around the room, thinking about what a pose looks like for someone else, I get pulled out of my own practice.

Right. That happens to everyone. It’s very common.

One way of looking at advanced practice is letting go of what it should look like, what you wish it looked like, what it looks like for someone else. If a thought takes you out of what you’re doing, out of mindfulness, then even the strongest and most experienced practitioner is at risk. The practice is about staying present, not about what poses you can do.

If a culture is all about how deep you can get in a pose, or how long you can balance, then we’re really doing a disservice to our students, to ourselves, and to yoga. That’s not what yoga is about. This practice was developed to create mental focus and stamina, so that we can answer the bigger questions. Not, “Should there be three feet or four feet between the feet in Trikonasana?” but, “Who am I? Why am I on this planet?” and “What can I do to serve the truth of life?” The only way we get there is by learning how to concentrate, how to pay attention rather than judge and expect.

Can you talk about an influential experience of pilgrimage?

Two things come to mind.

The first is my time studying with [Shri K.] Pattabhi Jois in India in 1997. It really was a wonderful thing to make the choice to take two months off work and go to India, at a time when not as many people were doing that sort of thing. It meant really committing myself to the practice and to myself as a practitioner, surrendering to a teacher at a different level.

Annie AdjustingI think that making that choice—that commitment to leave my home, my job, and my friends behind for two solid months—was almost as important as the advances I made in the practice during that time (and those were considerable). To put your practice first is a powerful thing. It was a watershed moment.

The other experience I was thinking about … well, sometimes shit happens and we do get injured. I had a fall, and I ruptured one of the ligaments in my knee. I had to have surgery, and then not bear weight on the knee for months. It was another kind of pilgrimage to come back from that. You never really know how much you’ve lost in terms of flexibility, strength, or sensitivity, or how much you’re going to get back.

I think all of us can relate to the idea of a pilgrimage of returning to the practice, whether from an injury, grief, or an illness. I remember when a very dear friend died, almost 9 years ago, and I was in such grief that it didn’t make sense to do my practice as it was. That was a kind of pilgrimage, too—to let go, to surrender to the situation, to the fact that I didn’t have energy, time, or focus for the practice. And then to slowly, slowly come back.

So I think there are many things that happen to us, whether they are physical injuries, emotional upsets, illnesses, even the birth of a child. To see what is happening and make the pilgrimage to return to your practice the way it was … maybe … or maybe differently. That’s a leap of faith.

You’re going to be on our keynote panel, The Journey of Self-Discovery Through Yoga Practice. I think there’s a tendency to think that there will be some end-point to this journey, or that there’s some place to “get to.” What would you say to that, after four decades of practice?

The truth of the matter is, it’s endless. I embrace the Buddhist philosophy on this question. The big teaching of the Buddha is, “Shit happens.” (I’m paraphrasing here.) Life is difficult, things change, we lose things. So every day is an opportunity to open your eyes, open your heart, and accept what is.

Yes, we all have good, easy days, but the truth is that we’re constantly on a pathway to keep our hearts open and accept whatever it is that comes. I don’t think there’s an endpoint to that. Rain or shine, love or death, fear or excitement … every day something new is going to present itself, whether on your mat, or walking down the street with your family. Yoga is a place for us to practice being open to whatever it is that comes, and approaching it with as much kindness and love as we can.

For more about Annie, read last year’s interview.

There are still a few spots available in many of Annie’s workshops, including her all-day intensive on Thursday. Claim your place now!

Interview with Kirtan artists Rob and Melissa Lundsgaard

By: Melissa Hagedorn, Conference Founder/Director

For many Seattle yogis, husband and wife team, Rob and Melissa Lundsgaard need no introduction.  They are well known for offering an accessible environment for both kirtan and Bhakti yoga and are regulars at many yoga studios in the area.  We caught up with them to discuss their upcoming album and their participating in the Northwest Yoga Conference.

Can you describe your music style/offerings in 1-2 sentences?
We sing kirtan, a call and response form of group singing, in which we chant the names of the divine. We lead groups in this way, or weave the mantra into asana classes.

RobandMelisaSome of our readers may not be familiar with kirtan.  What is kirtan?
Kirtan is a form of bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga is the yoga of devotion or the way of love, and singing kirtan is a mode of expressing that devotion. We simply come together in a group setting and sing. The music and chanting of the mantra becomes a meditation. There is no set form or way of being, it can be meditative or ecstatic. You can sit or you can dance. It is a celebration and a recognition of the divine in each of us.

Can you give us a little overview of how you both found kirtan and found each other?
We found each other a long time before we discovered kirtan. We met at a wedding on Kitsap Peninsula, and at the time we were both leading very different lives. Our relationship and our devotion to each other developed quickly, leading us toward a similar way of being in our daily and professional lives.

Kirtan found us slowly over time. Our first experience was with Krishna Das, and although we loved it, we never imagined that we’d do it ourselves. But, the seed was planted. Rob wrote a song called ‘Breathe,’ which caught the attention of a yoga teacher, who then asked him to come lead kirtan at her studio. Pretty soon we found ourselves immersed in mantra, chanting, devotion and our undeniable love of kirtan.


You are working on a new album and currently have a fundraising platform going to help raise the necessary funds.  What is an unexpected lesson that you have learned from the process of opening up and asking the community to support you?
Although not an easy feat to run a fundraising campaign, we have been blown away by the support. Not just from the backers who have contributed to the campaign with their dollars, but also the countless people who have shared it with their friends on social media, and even the folks who convinced us to reach out to our community in the first place. Sharing our love of and through the music, mantras and bhakti yoga helps make this project a beautiful exchange. It is an uplifting and inviting way of being and gives us a chance to spread joy, making it accessible to anyone who wants it.

On your new album, you are working with producer Ben Leinbach who has worked with the likes of Deva Premal, Snatam Kaur, Jai Uttal, just to name a few.  What has this process of collaboration been like for you?
Working with Ben has been incredible. He is a magician of sound – quick, fluid and creative, but also a brilliant musician. It’s been an easy, collaborative and fun experience. We look forward to many more collaborations in the future.

What can listeners expect from your new album?
Our first record, ‘Bolo’ was pretty bare bones, just our voices and Rob’s guitar, yet we were really happy with the way it turned out. For this new CD, ‘Tejase,’ we didn’t want to lose the essence of ‘Bolo,’ or the sound that listeners may have come to expect from us, but wanted to add a little more depth to our offerings. ‘Tejase’ definitely has more bells and whistles (literally!), but it is still very much Rob and Melissa, easy to sing along with and great for a yoga class playlist.

RobandMelissaPlayclassYou will be providing live music during two yoga workshops at the Northwest Yoga Conference. How does this enhance the experience for attendees?
Live music in a yoga class adds an entirely new dimension to the practice. These ancient Sanskrit mantras have a life and energy of their own, and our bodies and minds are especially open to healing and transformation when we are on our mats, practicing asana. This opening increases as the class goes on, and the live music pours right through that doorway, even if the practitioner isn’t consciously aware of it.

Rob and Melissa’s new album, “Tejase” will release in the Spring accompanied by a West Coast tour. Tour dates and locations to be announced by the end of the year. Please consider supporting their Kickstarter project which ends in only 4 days!  As an extra incentive, we will be giving away a spot in each of the workshops that they are playing music for at the conference, “Yogic Lore Flow” and “Holy Trio”.  To be eligible, simply support the Kickstarter!

Our Minds Are Our Gardens: The Power of Intention, with Debbie Dixon

By: Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

Yoga teacher, author of Over the Rainbow, and intuitive life coach Debbie Dixon is 110d7018ecccaaddd16775d286ab3afa kicking off the conference with a Friday morning workshop on “The Power of Intention.” So it seemed fitting to reach out to Debbie for some tips for how this practice can enhance our conference experience and our lives.

Why is intention such an important practice?

Most of us believe that in yoga the point is to empty the mind, to delete all thoughts and find that peaceful center.

Intention is about understanding that having thoughts isn’t “bad”—it’s just that some of those thoughts are not conducive to what we’re trying to create in our lives. So setting intention is about learning to harness the mind: notice the thoughts that don’t belong there, release those, and replace them with the thoughts you wish to have.

A lot of the beliefs we have buried in our bodies are not ours. They were gifted to us from other people (parents, teachers) and situations that occurred when we were too young to control the outcomes of our lives. These beliefs surfaced to protect us at one time, but we no longer need them.

Our minds are our gardens, and we need to tend our gardens. What beliefs are there that no longer serve us? What new beliefs do we wish to plant?

How do you practice intention in your life, and what changes have you seen as a result of this practice?

I do this before everything that I do. So for example, before this conversation, I decided what I wanted the outcome to be. I said to myself, “I hope this goes well. I hope she’s informed and has enough information to inspire people.” I got clear about that, and then I knew how to prepare.

I love this idea, but I struggle with making it a habit.

It takes some work. I started implementing the practice of intention very simply. I did it in group settings a lot at first, so there were people around to keep me focused. It’s hard to stay stuck in old patterns if you’re around other people who are committed to thinking differently.

Next I started just waking up with a general intention. “Today is going to flow effortlessly, with ease and grace.” Or an intention around a specific event: “I’m going to teach three classes, and at the end of each one, people will walk away feeling great.”

When you’re setting your intention, the power lies not so much in the words, but in what those words feel like. Connect with that sensation, and breathe it into your body before you even get out of bed. Really ground in that feeling within the body.

Today I use intention as a constant practice. As often as I can, I stop, take a conscious breath, and set my intention. When you start to do this regularly—setting an intention, seeing how it works out—you will begin to see the synchronicities. You will realize that we truly are “intending” our lives, every minute. So instead of going through life thinking, “I hope this [bad thing] doesn’t happen,” we start to think, “What if it all works out beyond my wildest dreams?” In my own life this has been so amazing, watching the outcomes.

If the results are as good as you say, why do I feel some resistance to this?

There may be beliefs in you like, “I’m not good enough.” When I tell you to believe the opposite, that old belief is so powerful that you almost feel like you’re lying to yourself. That’s why it’s so important to tend to the garden. You have to find those beliefs, the “weeds” that are holding you back. You have to connect with believing that you deserve, so that you can open yourself up to receive.

Some of us have spent our entire lives feeding thoughts that are negative because it’s a safer place to be. The more something matters to us, the more passionate we are about it, the scarier it is to set that positive intention. It takes courage not to let ourselves be diminished.

Do you have a suggestion for how attendees might approach setting an intention for their conference experience?

On a really basic level, you can set an intention for the conference as a whole. What do you want, what are you lacking? It could be as simple as a greater sense of health and ad832a9ef6d99a17e0e35ac7a9a2f2a1well-being. If you’re a teacher or a yoga studio owner, maybe you’re hoping for inspiration, people to fill your studio, a sense of community. Or there might be something you’re struggling with in your life, and you’re looking for ways to balance and open up to divine healing.

Whatever it is, you want to align your intention for your conference experience with what’s happening in your life. What results would you like to see?

You can also do this before each workshop. Say to yourself, “At the end of this workshop, here’s how I want to feel. Here’s what I want to receive.” For example: “I can’t wait to leave feeling energized and happy that I spent this time wisely.”

For those who want to dive a little deeper into this practice, what can attendees expect from your Friday morning workshop?

We will talk about how to set intentions and how to infuse them with power, so you really do gain back control of your life. We will do some meditation to dig up and clear out old beliefs, so that you can replace them with whatever you decide. I will give people step-by-step tools to use at any point during the day.

Faith is really important when setting your intention. Your goal is to get to 100 percent faith, but often this builds up gradually. It can’t be forced, because when we force, there’s that resistance. Instead, there’s a gentle way of asking, with love, and learning at the same time to accept yourself wherever you are in the journey.

Love yourself exactly where you are, and then ask yourself: What’s the next step in my journey? How can I most lovingly get there?

Coming Home to Ourselves: An Interview with Richard Miller

By: Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

Richard Miller, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, yogic scholar, spiritual teacher, and the keynote speaker for this year’s conference. He has devoted his life and work to integrating the nondual wisdom teachings of Yoga, Tantra, Advaita, Taoism, and Buddhism with Western psychology.

_69J2534I had the privilege of speaking with Richard by phone last week, to learn a little more about his practice of Integrative Restoration, or iRest meditation, a modern adaptation of the ancient practice of Yoga Nidra.

What is iRest, and how did it come to be?

I was introduced to the practice of Yoga Nidra in 1970 and explored it over the decades with the help of many extraordinary teachings and teachers, including Swami Satchidananda, Stephen Chang, TKV Desikachar, and Jean Klein. As I became deeply involved in the practice, I began to develop it as a secular practice so that people in a wide variety of settings (such as homeless shelters) could receive these teachings.

When I began to work with the military in 2004, they asked me to change the name. They said, “We’re military, we don’t do yoga.” So I came up with “Integrative Restoration,” because the practice helps us to integrate our emotions, thoughts, and psychology, as well as restore us to our true wellness as human beings. I call it “iRest” for short, because the practice also helps to relax the “I,” the ego; it returns the ego-I to its correct position, as one function among many, rather than as a predominant thought.

Is iRest strictly a form of meditation?

Miller Tchg iRest Yoga Nidra

Dr. Miller leads an iRest meditation.

I view the practice as a comprehensive path of meditation that helps us awaken to who we truly are, in all aspects: emotional, cognitive, psychological, and spiritual. At the Northwest Yoga Conference, I’ll be showcasing a number of different practices (Yoga Nidra, body sensing, breathing, working with our thoughts) as a comprehensive way to live our lives, in all of our interactions with ourselves and with the world.

What are some of your latest areas of iRest research?

I’ve consulted on a variety of studies that show how iRest supports well-being. For instance, a study has just completed showing how iRest enhances the relationships of couples in the military. We’re also completing a study in Washington, DC with the Veterans Administration on the integration of iRest with acupuncture to relieve chronic pain. I’m also working with a medical doctor to develop research on the use of Yoga Nidra as a non-pharmacological solution for sleep-related issues.

We have also studied its application to trauma—addressing PTSD, TBI, and chronic pain in veterans, as well as with survivors of sexual abuse. In all, we have completed over 20 studies to date, and iRest has shown extraordinary results across the board.

After completing an iRest training, what kinds of changes have teachers experienced?

In the Western world, Yoga has become associated with Hatha yoga, the physical practice. But we know that the teachings of yoga are vast and broad. Yoga Nidra helps keep us in the domain of Yoga’s comprehensive offerings of physical, psychological, and spiritual teachings.

The way I present Yoga Nidra gives teachers a framework for understanding this comprehensive body of yogic teachings. I have developed a 38-stage “map” for meditation that encompasses the practice of Yoga Nidra, which I will be sharing at the conference. Every teaching of Yoga—whether it’s Hatha, pranayama, or meditation—can be assigned to one of those 38 steps. This gives teachers a better understanding of how they can teach to individual students or groups.

You will also be teaching a workshop on Mindful Movement, or Source Yoga. How does this differ from a typical Hatha practice?

Mindful movement—Source Yoga— is derived from the ancient nondual tantric teachings and addresses how to sense and welcome ourselves, rather than fix or change ourselves. This practice is one of radical acceptance, where we learn to truly welcome our body, mind, emotions, thoughts, and nondual presence of being

Yoga isn’t a form of inner competition … it’s teaches us how to be, and be at home with ourselves.

How would you describe nondualism in a nutshell? How did you first discover these teachings?

IMG_2993The core principle of nondualism is that within ourselves is an essential essence of being that’s already healthy and whole, that isn’t in need of healing, that can never be harmed, hurt, or destroyed.

When teaching nondualism, I introduce this core principle or final teaching first.  Some people are ready to hear the good news; and then I teach them how to integrate this understanding into their daily life. Others aren’t ready, and so I give progressive teachings that help unfold this understanding. But in every moment, I’m always trying to showcase this final teaching.

You can recognize this principle in every spiritual tradition: in contemplative Judeo-Christian teachings, Taoism, Buddhism, Yoga (Advaita, Kashmir), Sufism… there isn’t a spiritual tradition in the world that doesn’t have nondualism as a core aspect. But people often can’t grasp it. It’s a diamond that is offered to us, but we don’t see it. So we put it in our pocket or throw it on the ground, looking for something else. The mind is used to complexity, but this understanding is radically simple.

Jean Klein is the teacher who brought this home to me. He took all of the teachings that I’d received up to my first meeting with him, wove them all together, and helped me integrate them into this final understanding. Jean was my “sat” guru, the teacher who helped me realize my essential nondual nature.

What do you hope to share with conference-goers?

One comment I often hear from veterans, when using Yoga Nidra to work with deployment trauma, is: “I feel like I just came home.” The practices of Yoga Nidra bring us back home to ourselves. And then, these same teachings help us, in every moment, live from our true “home” as we move in the world.

My desire is to help everyone I meet have this immediacy of insight. Not at the cognitive level, but at the heart level—a recognition of who they truly are. That’s my intention and my heartfelt desire in sharing these precious teachings that have been so instrumental in my own life. I’m paying forward what I’ve been so fortunate to have received during my life.

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…

“I am always doing yoga.” An interview with Jeanne Heileman

By: Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

I caught up with Jeanne Heileman on a day when things were not going as planned. Her retreat partner had a change in plans, and she was unexpectedly left to set up and lead an intro session on her own, right after teaching a yoga class. When I called, Jeanne graciously agreed to do go ahead with our interview, despite being in the midst of a last-minute trip for supplies before the evening events began.

You have studied many forms of yoga—including Ashtanga, Iyengar, Vini, and Jeanne HeilemanTantra—and with some of the country’s most renowned teachers. Could you talk about one experience that has had a significant impact on your practice?

I would have to say it was when I started to study Tantra with Rod Stryker. That’s when I realized that all of the joy and excitement I got from working on the physical level could also be found by working internally.

As a Sting fan, I have to admit that when I hear “Tantra,” the first thing I think of is … not yoga. What does it really mean?

It’s not what people think. When I think of Tantra, I think of embracing every aspect of my life, the difficulties as well as the joys, and seeing it all as part of my yoga practice.

Every moment of my day, I am trying to live as a yogi … being stuck in traffic, finding out I have to manage this info session by myself, lack of sleep, body aching … all of these things. It’s about reminding myself in each moment: Okay, this is surrender. You’re not breathing enough. Use your mantra.

In these moments of difficulty, I call on the Yoga Sutras. I ask myself, am I going to believe all the thoughts in my mind? Or am I going to watch them? Sometimes life throws us a little test with the challenges: How’s your yoga doing today? The quality of my mind is the mirror that shows how well my practice is going. This is living the yoga; this is the practice.

Is this an aspect of yoga that you think is often overlooked in the U.S.?

Well … I will speak for myself and say that I had not initially interpreted yoga this way. I was brought up in a very strict Catholic environment. There was a lot of “No, you should do without” engrained in me. And in yoga there’s a lot of discipline. You might think, ”I can’t have this, I can’t have that …”

When I started to study with Rod, I had just gone back to acting … and I realized I actually could do both. I didn’t have to pick one. That was so liberating!

The practices and exercises we did also helped me to realize, I am always doing yoga. I’m doing yoga right now, having a conversation with someone while trying to remember what I need at the grocery store, and hoping to get to the studio in time for my class. Or as I’m sitting and trying to meditate and my body is aching and I want to cry … that’s it, too. The question is, can I accept it, whatever “it” is?

When I do surrender to this … there’s usually some amazing shift. It’s like you can feel a loving caress from the Divine Mother.

It almost sounds like you rediscovered joy …

Yes! Although it was more like I discovered joy, because I don’t know that I ever had it before. Except maybe through coffee.

What are some things you keep in mind when putting together a sequence for a class?

I use a lot of principles from Ayurveda. For example, the weather is really Vata right now, so I’m going to sequence differently than if it was hot and full of Pitta energy. I also adjust my sequencing based on the time of the day.

Jeanne radiates joy while leading a class.

Jeanne radiates joy while leading a class.

I might keep to a similar shape throughout a sequence, to help someone go even further and deeper toward a goal, a peak pose. I also take into consideration who is coming and what is going on in the external environment: politics, financial markets, world events, as well as the state of mind/energy of the students.

In any case, I’m always thinking about affecting energy. It’s not just pose, pose, pose … what I have learned from Rod, in Tantra, is that we want to help the person remember their luminous essence. Do we want to increase that person’s energy, or bring it down and help them calm? I look at where they are and where they need to go to reconnect to their Center.

In my conference workshop [Creative Sequencing that Makes Sense], we will actually sequence a class together, considering various options. If someone doesn’t know about Ayurveda, that’s fine—I’ll cover some of that so that they can follow. Even if you’re not a yoga teacher, it’s fine. This is useful for home practice, too.

I saw on your website that you struggle with scoliosis. How does your own experience of chronic pain affect how you work with students?

Once you have any sort of pain, if it’s really good and juicy, I think it opens you up to your compassion, to realizing that other people are in pain too. As I walk down the sidewalk or drive on the freeway, I look in windows and think, “I wonder who else is in pain?” You realize that everyone’s pain is different, yet the same: it’s hard to breathe, you want to cry and give up, etc.

Helping a student with an adjustment.

Helping a student with an adjustment.

When I have a student who has an injury, I’ll ask them to describe it. I’ll try to put myself into their pain because it helps me to understand what’s happening for them and discover what they need.

At the conference, one of your workshops is a “Closer Look” at the Bhagavad Gita. For those of us who have not studied that text deeply, what is something that we might find surprising?

The book is just pure love! It’s about how to give and receive love, and how to be a yogi in the present world.

People should know that even if they don’t know the book, if they haven’t looked at it, they can come to the workshop. A lot of people think it’s going to be heady and difficult to read, like Shakespeare … but it’s so accessible and so beautiful. I will break it down in a way that people can really relate it to this present day and time. Students who take this workshop leave loving the experience, and the Gita.

I am really honored to be part of this conference and have this opportunity to share not only asana, but these other aspects of yoga.

What advice do you have for a new student of yoga like myself?

I used to teach new students … they would take a class or two and then ask what they should do, and I would say, “Promise me that you will come once a week for 6 months.” And they would say “Sure, of course” … but it’s the holidays, things happen. Stay with once a week no matter what. If you have the time and energy, by all means do more, but never drop any lower than once a week.

Then try to appreciate the experiences happening inside your body—not what’s happening on the outside, how it looks, or whether you’re hitting the pose just right. Let the yoga do its job. Don’t you do yoga, let the yoga do you. The rest will unfold as is necessary.

“These ancient practices are bigger than we are.” A conversation with Melanie Farmer

by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

MelanieFarmer250x208When talking with Melanie Farmer—whose Pioneer Square practice is a blend of yoga, Ayurveda, Jyotish, and massage—you cannot forget for a moment that these practices trace back 5,000 years. But even more remarkable than the depth of her respect for ancient wisdom is how deftly she applies it to every aspect of modern reality, from household clutter to holiday stress.

How would you explain the relationship between yoga and Ayurveda?

Ayurveda is an approach to health and well-being that has to do with how you balance your own needs and heal yourself so that you can be of service to your family and community.

I use the word “yoga” as a verb. Yoga involves taking theories of self-care and actually putting them into action. So in addition to the asanas, for example, understanding your dietary needs and eating well is also a form of yoga.

For those of us who are practicing or teaching yoga but not incorporating Ayurveda, are we missing out on the bigger picture?

What I have found is that if people stick with it long enough, they eventually figure it out. Even the word itself, “yoga” … that’s an ancient Sanskrit word. It’s been the same for 5,000 years. So just by saying it, you are invoking a tremendous energy and power.

I have great faith in the practices and the nature of yoga. People find their path. These ancient practices are bigger than we are.

As a new student of yoga, I find that very comforting!

Right. As a new student, it doesn’t matter where you start. It’s about trusting yourself and the way that you’ve been called to yoga. There may be fits and starts, times when despair can be great, even—despair is a very deep, important aspect of yoga. But there’s no going back.

What is one experience that has had an impact on your own practice?

Melanie teaches a class at her studio.

Melanie teaches a class at her studio.

A turning point for me was when I sustained a very serious back injury. It was really a culmination of everything … being too aggressive with my asanas, not nourishing myself enough, not allowing myself enough rest. I had a son, I was married, I owned a business, I had my training … so I lived with a herniated disc in my lower back for years, trying to heal while continuing to work and teach a full schedule.

Finally, the physical therapists and my doctor said, “Enough. You need to stop. It’s time for surgery.” And I was ready for it. For a time, I could do almost no asana at all.

From this has come a shift away from being so aggressive … It was a good lesson. My practice now is much more about self-care.

How has that changed you as a teacher?

Almost everyone who has practiced for any length of time has experienced some kind of injury. Out of that will come lessons around self-care, ego, and our own vulnerability. If we understand it well, we become better teachers. We are better able to help our students avoid that kind of difficulty and pain.

It’s important to trust yourself and your body. If your teacher is mature in their own practice, when you say, “No, that doesn’t feel right,” they will accept that, and they will respect you for it. They will offer you another option.

At the conference, you’re teaching a workshop on Marmas and Adjustments. What are the marmas, and how can they benefit teachers and students?

A marma is a vulnerable point in the body, where you have a number of different tissue structures coming together: for example, the spine, the elbow, the knee. These are the same points used in Kalari, an ancient form of martial arts, as well as in healing systems like acupuncture.

When teachers are adjusting, the natural places to position the hand just happen to be where the large marmas are. If we understand this, then an adjustment becomes more than just a hand placement. You understand that you’re touching something more vulnerable—and at the same time, more powerful—than what’s at the surface.

Another one of your workshops is about creating a supportive work and home environment. What are some of the things you’ve done to create your own personal “haven” at home?

This workshop comes from understanding the connection between Ayurveda and Vastu. Vastu teaches us that our homes and rooms are like the bodies that we live in. We want these spaces to be balanced, just as we balance our physical bodies. If your home is not balanced, you can’t be balanced.

There are some really fundamental practices that can help. At a basic level, you can look at things like clutter and cleanliness. If you have a lot of things that you don’t need or don’t love– get rid of that stuff. Keep a very simple home environment. Recognize that things are energy.

I live on Vashon, in a little cabin … over the past year I have gotten down to just a few things that I really care about. But it’s been a gradual process. I appreciate the things I have for how they have served me, and then I feel happy to give them away so that they may serve someone else. As we authentically let go, there’s a moksha (freedom). But we can be compassionate with ourselves in the process. There’s no rush; just be ready to let go.

For some of us, the holidays can be a stressful time. Any self-care tips?

The holidays are about wanting to be with people you really love and want to be with, and who love and want to be with you. For many people, this may mean you need to look at the nature of your interaction with certain family members. If you’re starting to feel stressed or anxious, what are you going to do for yourself? Can you limit the amount of time you spend in those family situations, so that you have more time to spend with others?

Wow. I was hoping you were just going to tell me what foods to eat!

If only it were that easy, right? The holidays are so often about going back into the family dynamic and playing out those old roles. Unless we recognize what’s happening, it’s going to feel bad.

But when you recognize this, the food issues tend to go away, because you’re not doing the emotional eating. You won’t want to eat those unhealthy foods once you address the core issues and nourish yourself with good, healthy boundaries.

Speaking of relationships … You have a special one with your retired racehorse, Cooper. How has that experience changed you?

Melanie and Cooper

Melanie and Cooper

We talk a lot about heart opening in yoga, in posture practice. With Cooper, I am learning at a deep level what it means to open my heart. The vulnerability is great, if we really respect an animal.

Cooper has experienced human beings who were violent, and he has a huge heart. I’m trying to have this very subtle communication with him so that he can have what he wants, even if it’s not this training we’re doing together, which—as gentle and respectful as it is—is triggering his posttraumatic stress. At times I’m not even sure he wants to stay in this world. As this stress comes up for him, I have to look at what’s coming up for me: I have to work with my own heart in these moments of fear, anger, and grief.

In the end, it’s really about opening your heart with no agenda at all. That is what’s being demanded of me in this relationship. And that’s the yoga. That’s the spiritual work.

Interview with Conference Presenter, Kathryn Budig

By Melissa Hagedorn, Northwest Yoga Conference Director


Kathryn Budig

It is well-documented through past interviews that you were originally on a career path towards Hollywood and acting when you diverted over to teaching yoga as a career path.  Do you find overlap in the skills you were developing and honing for acting and the ones you now use as a yoga teacher?
My theatrical training has helped immensely. There are many ingredients that go into being a good teacher, but the theatrical background helps me be strong in front of large groups and to hold their attention. I like to believe everything happens for a reason, so I think my acting background helped make me stronger as a teacher.

As small business owners, my husband and I are always fascinated by when a person or business “makes it big.”  Looking back now, can you see where the “breakthroughs” were for your career as a yoga teacher?  What were the major turning points for your yoga career?
Hands down the most important component was my training. I was lucky enough to train under Maty Ezraty, one of the best teachers in the world. It doesn’t matter how talented you are at asana if you don’t have the skills to back it up. Maty is a magician. I was lucky enough to shoot with Yoga Journal early in my career, which helped get my image and name into the mainstream. ToeSox created quite the dramatic stir, which was unexpected but ultimately useful. My undergrad studies in English helped as I began to write and blog regularly and injected my voice into some mainstream publications. Ultimately, it’s a long list of events backed with a lot of drive and belief in myself.

Your dad has been incredibly successful in many realms.  What influence has he had on how you approach the business side of your career?
I watched my dad achieve anything he put his mind to. He has been the president of three universities. He’s always been incredibly passionate about baseball, and before I knew it, we were leaving Kansas for the east coast because my dad had became the President of the American League of Baseball. Watching him live his dreams made me think anything is possible when you stay true and apply yourself. I’m so grateful for those lessons.

What three traits do you feel contribute the most to your success?
My ability to aim true, my accessibility and my playfulness/honesty.

kathryn under armour

Kathryn modeling Under Armour’s women yoga clothing line

You are a well-endorsed yoga teacher and public figure sponsored or endorsed by many companies – ZICO Coconut Water, Under Armour, ToeSox and Women’s Health, to name a few.  In my opinion, you broke new territory.  Does it feel surreal at times? 
Totally surreal. I’m honored to work with the amazing companies that I do. It’s amazing to see yoga going mainstream and being respected by heavy hitting companies. It’s quite the ride to get to represent yoga on such a level.

How do you manage your social media without your social media managing you?
Ha! Good question. Honestly, I’ve always really enjoyed social media. I was very artistic when I was younger and feel like social media is this great platform to collage your ideas and inspirations. Granted, the more followers I’ve garnered, the nastier the comments I’ve received. That’s the shadow side but also a good lesson in that not everyone is going to love you and that is absolutely fine. Keep doing what you’re good at, what you love, and don’t let anyone drag you down.

I have had the pleasure of working with your assistant, Taylor.  For those yoga teachers who have an assistant, it’s not always easy to find a good fit for an assistant.  What advice can you offer to finding a good fit?
It is incredibly hard to find a good assistant and Taylor is a total godsend. You need to find someone who is not only incredibly organized, but driven, and that you can trust with all of your personal information. Also, that someone has to be really good at being your ‘voice.’ Taylor happened to be a best friend who saw me struggling in between assistants and stepped up to bat. I’m so grateful for that.

You travel the globe pretty much every weekend teaching yoga.  How do you proactively prevent teaching burnout?
My students keep me inspired and honest. All I need is to see the excitement on their faces to keep me motivated. I owe it to my students to deliver the absolute best.


Kathryn offering a handstand spot during a workshop

This fall, you and Gina Caputo are offering a yoga teacher training.  What can attendees expect from this training?
I have a feeling it’s going to be pretty epic. Gina is one of the funniest, brightest women I’ve ever met and I’m so honored to collaborate with her. This TT will offer all the basics you need to be a great teacher, but we want to take it beyond the basics and really dig into what it takes – beyond the foundations. How to stand out in a sea of teachers, how to keep your aim true and your heart open, and how to succeed in what you love will be other focuses of ours.

What can attendees at the Northwest Yoga Conference expect from your workshops? 
A really, really good time.