Archive for July, 2011

Teacher Feature • Interview With Louise

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

How did you get into yoga?

I started taking yoga in college. Although I felt a connection, I put yoga on hold as life brought a teaching career, family and a move to Europe. My search for yoga continued when I became ill about 9 or 10 years ago. Nothing that I was doing allopathically was helping, so I started looking for other ways of healing.

I’ve always been very athletic, participating in many sports throughout my life. After many injuries, my chiropractor said, “I think it’s time you put down the weights and start using your own body as a weight.” He suggested that I do yoga, and so my search began.

Because I was a type A athlete I went straight to Bikram and, for several years, took weekly classes. Next, I studied Ashtanga and several other power yoga classes. I knew none of it was working. In fact, these classes were making me feel worse. I went from teacher to teacher. I knew that there was something missing for me in these classes, yet knew deep down that yoga was my path. I now realize I hadn’t found my teacher. Then I found Todd.

How did you find Todd?

Divine intervention! My dis-ease had become so severe I could barely walk. I needed help with basic needs such as showering and going to the bathroom. When I could walk to my car I drove to a gym that had recently opened near my home. I had heard they offered yoga and asked if there was someone who taught a really gentle yoga class. They guided me to Todd.

I went into his class and, immediately, my whole body relaxed. I lay in Savasana for a month, not moving, just breathing. For the first time in a yoga class, I could finally be whoever I was. I didn’t really know this then. All I knew was it felt good to lie down and breathe.

I continued taking classes with Todd and got to the point where I attended his classes every day he taught. Also, I did all his immersions and continued this way for several years.

What changed for you after a month of Savasana?

I could move! I could do one movement and then more and, finally, was able to do the entire class. At last I was finding my own way through yoga as opposed to being told what to do, and that’s what hooked me. The path had been opened and there was no turning back.

How did you start teaching?

I’m a retired school teacher, I taught for 28 years, every level from pre-school through college through adult ed – so teaching is in my blood. I know that I’m here to be a teacher, something I knew from a very young age. After several years with Todd an idea sprouted – what would it be like to teach yoga? Then one day Todd asked me, “When are you going to start teaching?” I told him I was thinking about teaching at senior centers, but wasn’t sure how to go about it.

I think that every yoga teacher has a story about how they became a yoga teacher. I believe we all have a definitive moment when the calling is clear. My husband and I had gone to, of all places, Las Vegas. My son and his ex-wife had invited us there. This was the last place on earth I wanted to go, but we went.

We were at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and I was going up and down some outside stairs, using them like a Stairmaster, and walking around the property. There was a woman sitting on the stairs. After awhile she said, “I should be doing what you’re doing – exercising.” I replied, “I have to move my body, that’s the way I am. I just love to be in motion.”

Every time I came by she had something else to say so I finally stopped and we continued talking. She asked what line of work I was doing. I told her I was retired but trying to figure out what the next phase of my life would be. She persisted by asking if I had any concrete ideas. I responded by saying, “Well, I’ve been thinking of teaching yoga at senior centers.”

As we talked more we discovered we were both from Portland and I discovered that she was in charge of Senior Services for Oregon. Suddenly, without hesitation, she took out her phone, dialed a number, which was the Robison Home in Portland, and said, “I have somebody here who wants to teach at a senior center, are you guys interested?”

That was it! The path was made clear. I came back to Portland and started volunteering at the Robison Home, one day a week. I didn’t want to commit to teaching for money yet. One volunteering day became one volunteer and one paid day. Then it became three paid days and one volunteer day. After a recent article was published in the Jewish Review, highlighting my work at the Robison Home, my yoga teaching grew even more. Every week I get at least one phone call asking me to teach at a senior center. There is such a great need for this kind of work.

At the same time I was teaching at the Robison Home, I started teaching a gentle class at The Yoga Space in Portland. That studio moved and Todd invited me to teach at his home studio, Sacred Onion. I now teach the Easy Does It class at OmBase on Monday and the Restore & Renew class on Friday.

What would you say your approach is as a teacher?

I took the teacher training course with Erich Schiffmann, who is Todd’s teacher. What I learned from Erich was, the first thing you must do to become a yoga teacher is learn to meditate. From your meditation practice comes inspiration for a personal yoga practice, and from that comes inspiration for teaching. That’s my approach. I use all my past yoga experience, along with Todd’s mentoring and Erich’s teacher training to guide my teaching. However, more than anything, I use inspiration that comes from daily meditation practice.

What I do at the Robison Home and other senior centers and at OmBase was not taught to me. I simply get online, open up and inspiration comes through. This is what I learned from Todd and Erich, to find my own voice. I believe a teacher, no matter what the subject, must find their own voice, their own inspiration.

What is it that draws you to working with seniors?

All I can say is the idea just came to me one day. Let’s call it inspiration! This is what meditation does. It clears your mind. It sweeps everything clean so that creativity can come through. My belief is that inspiration gives birth to creativity.

I am 63. At the time I did my teacher training I was 60, so I’m a senior. I know what it feels like to age in our culture. Also, I saw the agonizing way my mother died and feel that if she had had something that was a support for her, her death may have been different. However, most of all, my work with seniors was inspired from a place deep within.

How would you describe your classes at OmBase?

Because of all the physical challenges I have faced throughout my life, I have learned about the body and I have learned how to adapt yoga poses to the needs of people who find it challenging to find a class that would meet them where they are. Students comment that they’ve tried what was labeled a gentle class, yet it wasn’t gentle enough but that my class is.

I can truly tune in and understand – energetically, physically, emotionally – what the student needs and meet that need. I would say my strength lies in adaptive yoga, adapting yoga to the needs of people with specific health and emotional issues.

Do you have a general intention around what you hope your students get from your classes?

LouiseIt changes as my own practice unfolds – as I understand myself more, where my physical challenges come from and the feelings they bring up. At first the classes were more focused on the dis-ease. Now it’s more like, let’s honor your scoliosis and also look underneath it. Let’s look beneath the scoliosis and see what that brings up.

Students say that my class is the first yoga class that they’ve been able to do because of the meditative quality and the way I adapt poses to fit the needs of each participant. My class is not for someone who wants to work out. It’s for someone who really wants to go inward and perhaps discover things about themselves that might make a difference as far as how they feel about their physical, emotional and spiritual body. This being said I have never felt stronger in my physical body as I do now. My sense is that this deep work – using asanas, meditation, and the breath – allows the body to function at an entirely different level which promotes healing, strength and peace.

My target population is made up of seniors, people with mobility issues, and people with specific physical challenges that haven’t been met in other yoga classes or other exercise classes they’ve tried. Many have been fearful of starting yoga. Yet in my class they feel support and connection.

What I am truly trying to help people discover through yoga is their own innate wisdom. My experience has shown me that by tapping into our innate wisdom we come to know who we are and, in doing so, find purpose in life. How I plan a class, how I am inspired is by tapping into my innate wisdom. That’s what I want to share with my students. Basically it’s about finding that place of peace, that internal wisdom, and from there your life can change.

My hope is that students will develop a relationship with their physical, emotional and spiritual selves. As students develop this relationship, they come to see their bodies as allies and are able to work with and not against any physical/emotional challenge that come their way. Life becomes smoother somehow and with that comes an acceptance of the good and bad, the smooth and rough, the hot and cold. All experiences come to be seen as teachers along the path. Yoga becomes one’s life and one’s life becomes yoga.

What do you get from teaching your classes?

Much, much more than the students get! First of all, it allows me to tap into my innate wisdom, it allows me to completely shed everything and just be this vehicle, opening up to the universe and transmitting the gift of yoga that I’ve been given. For me yoga is not just about the asanas – that’s part of it, but it’s so much more.

All my life I’ve had physical and emotional pain, but when I’m teaching, I have no pain. When I’m not teaching the pain has been reduced to background noise. It’s no longer roaring in the forefront. Most of all, I get the opportunity to see the same change that has happened within me, manifesting in others. I witness others tapping into their inner guidance and, as they do so, their lives change. This is the gift I receive every time I teach.