Interview With Vittoria
1. How you got into yoga & started teaching
How did you get into yoga?
I went to a yoga class one day and was completely swept away. It was 1991. I had practiced some yoga before, just a class here and there. But when I took this class I was ready, and pretty much started going to yoga every day in a few short months.
What kind of yoga were you doing?
Power yoga – so it was a sweaty, pretty intense work-out. I think that’s what really got me into it, because at the time I had to have the purifying, intense physical experience. If I had gotten into something more gentle I wouldn’t have been affected the same way. I continued to practice really purifying yoga – sweating, but also emotional. It was very cleansing on so many levels for me.
And then I tried different things over the years – Ashtanga, Kundalini, Forrest yoga with Ana Forrest- different classes with different teachers. I was in L.A. so I had a chance to take classes with lots of different teachers. And then I just continued on for about 8 or 9 years before I started teaching.
What got you to start teaching?
I had been in a transition for some years. I had gone from having a steady job and being married to getting a divorce and leaving my job as a photographer. My life and sense of self had been completely shaken. Discovering yoga opened my eyes and my heart and helped me connect to myself in a much deeper way. I had to share it with others!
Todd had just started teaching and somehow – I don’t remember exactly how, I think it was something that had been brewing in my head for about a year – somehow one day I had a chance to sub his class.
I got really panicked and tried to find a sub for me – a sub for the sub. In the end I went and there were 17 people in the class and someone came up to me at the end and said it was the best class they’d ever had. Which was very strange – I was surprised because my voice didn’t quite come out, it was stuck somewhere inside of me…. The universe put this person there to inspire me to continue to do more.
A year before I found yoga, I was going through a big shift. I would call it a “spiritual awakening” even though it sounds very new agey…. I was unable to be in the world – hold a job or make ends meet – but in a spiritual sense it was amazing – I would hear voices at night, and I would hear music. And then I found yoga and then the year after that I found Ammachi, my Indian guru, who completely changed my life. I spent a month with her traveling the country, and I would say it has been the most important month of my life in terms of spiritual growth, discoveries about myself and about all the questions I had about the meaning of life.
How would you say the yoga complemented or added to your spiritual life?
Practicing yoga helped my body get physically clean and also more vital and grounded! I spent a large part of my early life not in my body. Yoga really helps you make a connection to where you are NOW, and it was a shock to my being, as for various reasons I had not wanted to be here NOW.
Getting into my body also helped me feel emotions I hadn’t felt before and helped move out physical trauma trapped in my cells from the past. Yoga can really help move this stuff out. Sometimes you don’t even know what is moving out – you’re crying, you don’t really know what’s happening, but it is a good thing anyway, and I knew it was.
A lot has changed for me since then and it continues to change, even in the last couple months. I just feel tremendous blessings that I found yoga because I feel like it’s the one thing that somehow ties everything together for me. It has changed my outlook in life completely: something about breathing deeply all these years has definitely affected my brain! (in a good way!)
When you teach now, what’s your intention or hope that your students get from your classes?
What I like to do in class now is to get people in their bodies. I find that we’re so much in our heads and we’re not present for most of what life has to offer. Our minds are always off somewhere else, mostly a place that isn’t real, a place we create in our heads! So my focus for my students is to help them get them in their bodies, and then just feel their bodies move and stretch. Get out of the mind! The benefits are felt right away. Most people will say “Oh, yes, my back feels better” (or my neck, my shoulders), and that’s great, but students also leave smiling, with an open heart. They talk to each other after class, share a bit about their lives, and feel more connected with others. Lives change that way, in the small ways that we almost don’t notice, but that are very powerful.
When you say, “help people get into their bodies” – what does that mean and what does that do for people?
I can tell you what it does for me. From my experience, right away it brings oxygen to the brain. We’re all oxygen-deprived because we sit a lot and in our lives we just don’t move that much. I think that for someone who is very active, it’s a different story. But typically a lot of people who come here are stressed, tired, fatigued – and stressed again! – and they feel tight, uncomfortable, and their bodies are contracting with age.
So, getting in the body first helps them feel better physically because they are breathing deeply and the “brain cloud” lifts. Then from this clearer place they can quiet the mind and have a sense that “I’m here in this moment, not tomorrow, not yesterday, but right here.” It also helps people cope with what life throws your way. We spend a lot of time “reacting” to what happens around us, instead of moving from our center. When we feel better physically, it translates also to our mental well-being and we can live in our center more and more. That translates to more peace and compassion (for others and ourselves) and less drama.
Why do you think people avoid getting into their bodies?
I honestly think it’s ignorance and habit. We don’t know how to be in our bodies, because we are not a society of people that is used to be in our bodies. As babies we are in our bodies, but even kids these days are in school and sit a lot, and computers and video games cause young adults to be still and not move much. I remember seeing a native guy in Hawaii – he looked like he was the trunk of a tree, like he was growing out of the earth, you could see he was totally in his body. So I think we are actually trained to get out of our bodies and then that becomes the norm.
2. Your work with pregnant moms
How did you first get into working with pregnant moms, pre- and post-natal?
I was subbing, I had been teaching for only a year, and the owner of the studio I was teaching at said, “Can you sub a pre-natal class?” and I said, “No, I can’t, I haven’t had a baby, how can I sub a pre-natal class?”
And she said, “No, I think you can do it.” And it was really her belief in me that made me think, really, I can do it? And I think she obviously saw I had the interest, so I taught that class and I loved it.
I started going to all the pre-natal yoga classes in town. That’s how I learned – I kept taking classes, taking notes, and practicing and eventually, maybe 3 years after that, I started teaching my own prenatal yoga class and word got around. Then I realized I had to teach post-natal because I can’t just leave them now that they’ve got their babies. It evolved from there.
I came to Portland 9 years ago and started teaching pretty much every week. And I realized there was more to pregnancy than just yoga, so I went to massage school and got my massage license. I have had a private practice since then, first at home and now here at Om Base, which focuses on Women’s Health at any stage, but especially the pregnancy & postpartum stages. My Interest to offer more to pregnant women kept growing, and so I became a childbirth educator, and I teach infant massage classes for parents. It continues – every year there’s something else – very exciting!
So it’s been about 10 years now that I’ve been teaching pre-natal and now I finally feel I have knowledge that needs to be shared. It’s been fabulous for me to have learned all that – and most of it I’ve learned from them, from talking with moms and listening to the aches and pains, and the emotional, loneliness after you give birth. So I learned from that and now I love to share what I know, helping moms to be and new moms feel empowered and enrich the experience of motherhood.
Why do you love working with new moms?
I love to share that special time in their lives. I feel very honored and grateful that I am part of their lives during this incredible change. Most of them are first-time moms – maybe only 30 or 20 percent are second-time moms. The first pregnancy is so amazing because there’s only one for each woman. It’s a great time and it’s also a really tough time for some women because they feel like everything is changing. And that’s not talked about. It’s expected you should be glowing and if you don’t, well, then keep it to yourself! I I like to bring that up, and in class we share that, which is a relief for most women who often feel they have to pretend they are happy when maybe they are not.
It’s amazing to have women share with each other while they’re pregnant, what they’re going through, and they feel so supported by being in a place where they can say whatever they feel like, not just, “I feel great.”
There’s also something magical about pregnant women; it’s like a portal opens, and they are in the spiritual world and the physical world – they’re so connected to spirit. They’re more psychic, they’re more in tune with their bodies, it’s like they can check in with that spirit world so much more easily. I love to encourage that & inspire them to tap into that feeling, and allow moms to feel their emotions, and also to inspire them to be silly and child-like, bringing that energy we so need today into our lives.