Interview with Cass: “I teach people how to breathe”

How did you get into yoga?

I had a friend take me by the hand and take me to my first teacher’s class and say, this is what you need to do. Because I was in a lot of turmoil at the time and fell into it. I started doing her class probably two or three days a week to begin with, and saw what it did, and then I did her class five days a week for a few years. That was in 1986 or 87.

What did it do for you?

Grounded me, first and foremost. And took me to a space that we all have inside that I didn’t know about for a lot of reasons. She was a very powerful teacher, and completely opposite from how I teach, but she sure had the key to that space.

What kind of yoga did she teach?

She was teaching everything. That was the great thing about her — I wouldn’t have stuck if it wasn’t. You were exposed to everything. At the time, nobody taught Pranayama at the beginning of the class. And nobody taught Pranayama unless you’d been doing yoga for one or two years.

She taught Pranayama in every class, which is what resonated with me. I most of the time tell people that I just teach people how to breathe. And she picked up on that too. When I did a little bit for her, she knew that was where my strength was at.

How did you get into teaching?

In a meditation class one night a guy who was teaching at a senior center asked me if I’d be interested in taking over his class, and that’s where it started. I’d been studying with Diane for about five years. And I started doing that, I took over his class, and then it became two, then it became three, then it become two more somewhere else. Then I taught through PCC for a long time.

Then I had a back surgery, and I thought I wasn’t going to teach yoga anymore.

That means you’ve been teaching for over 15 years?

Probably closer to 20. I started teaching in Tigard in 1991. On and off, but mostly teaching one or two classes in the past ten years or so. But then for a long time I taught five or seven classes.

Do you feel like what or how you teach has changed over the years?

Somewhat, but not really. Mostly I teach people how to breathe. It changes depending on what’s going on out there and with my body and that sort of thing, but the breath focus doesn’t change much. Most people live in their head and I consciously with the breath try to bring them back in through that direction.

In the interim I studied with a Tibetan Qi Gong and T’ai Chi teacher for a long time, so I bring in Qi Gong and T’ai Chi and yoga. But they’re all the same thing, they just have different names, they all talk about the same thing, they all have different names.

I say I teach yoga, and I do — it’s the union of the physical and the mental and the energy and the emotional through the breath. That’s the yoga I teach.

What can people expect from your class at OmBase?

The focus is using tools that I try to pass on for deepening awareness of how you work. You work different from how your neighbor works, mostly due to life experiences, and to know that there’s not a right or a wrong way to work. It’s just finding a way to find your center, which to me is the breath work, and everything else follows from there.

If somebody needs a very energetic class in order to focus and pay attention, then they’re not probably going to enjoy my class, because I’m pretty laid-back. It will hopefully bring you into center and give you some tools to work with in your daily life.

My main focus has always been, not that you have to find a set time to do a practice, but that you use what you have. When you’re in the kitchen, do you remember to breathe? I used to do tree pose while I was washing my dishes looking out the window at a field. It’s not about setting aside 45 minutes to do a practice. It’s about checking in. How are you breathing while your day is going on? Have you stretched? Have you given yourself permission to massage your neck? Most of us don’t even go there for a long time.

You mentioned your back surgery — did you use yoga in recovering from that?

I used my breath. Mostly I walked because I was in a really rough transition. I used my breath work a lot, matched it to my step, and walked and walked for months.

I think prior to that I had invested the thought that my yoga might keep me from having to have back surgery. There are just things that happen in your life that you agree to go through, and it helped me in how I went through it and how I emerged from it. The breath definitely carried me through. I needed the breath to keep me here, keep me grounded, keep me walking. I needed to put one foot in front of the other to decide whether I wanted to stay on the path or not. It was a long path.

Anything else you want to add?

Yoga can be anything you want it to be. You can take it as deep as you want, you can keep it as light as you want. And it can look however you want it to look, it doesn’t have to look any particular way.

It’s just one system that shows you a way to flow through the stream of life. There are many. And there are many combinations, and I use them. If I thought it was an either/or I wouldn’t probably be practicing yoga.

But I often say that if it weren’t for yoga and swimming they would have locked me up a long time ago. It’s been pretty magical for me in many aspects of my life. It’s been an amazing ride and continues to be.

Cass teaches “Easy Does It” at OmBase on Wednesdays at 12:30

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