Archive for the ‘interview’ Category

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.

Teacher Feature • Interview With Adriana

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Interview With Adriana
from 4/10

How did you get into yoga?

I got a job working at a yoga studio, at the front desk. Before that I had done yoga on and off, though I was mostly in dance. Because I had experience working at a dance studio and for non-profit organizations, I got the job working at the yoga studio even though I didn’t have much experience in yoga.

One of the perks of working there was that I could take yoga classes, and of course I was encouraged to take classes. I was at a point in my life where I really needed the practice, the inward practice. I was really shifting. I was a little bit of a party girl. So I kept doing yoga, and the more I kept practicing the more I was interested in the philosophy behind the practice. There were a lot of books available, so I started reading books and doing more practice and reading and reading.

I was doing that for maybe a year, and then they had a yoga teacher training program at the studio. I told them I wanted to do the course, not necessarily because I wanted to be a teacher, but because I was so interested in the practice. By the end of the training I was asked if I wanted to teach classes, and I did. I was already teaching belly dance classes, so it made sense to do that. But I still never felt like I was ready to teach yoga — I still felt very much like a student myself.

And then one of my teachers, who followed a path called Himalayan Yoga, was going to an ashram in Rishikesh India to do a 40-day silent retreat, and asked me if I wanted to go. So I went to India with her after my teacher training. This was intense, three months of ashram life and the daily practice of yoga.

What do you feel like you got from that experience?

I don’t think you have to go to India, of course, to study yoga, to follow this path, and develop spiritually, but it was really nice to be at the birthplace of yoga and in an eastern part of the world in general. I had been to Thailand, too, and there’s a different quality of being there. Even though there’s so much chaos, there’s more of a sense of peace.

It was nice to be in an environment where you could really focus on your practice. Everyday, we would wake up at 5:00 in the morning and do meditation and yoga practice. And in India, when you say “yoga,” it means the spiritual practice, it doesn’t mean the physical practice. Here when you say “yoga” to someone, they think of the asanas, the postures.

So we would do maybe five to ten poses in a class, but each pose was held a really long time and there was always a relaxation, and the focus was always more meditative and spiritual. That’s the goal, there’s no other goal. The reason why you do practice is to concentrate and to bring yourself into a place where you can sit in meditation for long periods of time, keep this temple healthy and functioning, keep the nadis open and the energy flowing, and that’s it.

Do you feel like that changed your own practice and how you were teaching?

Definitely. Although I already had a sense of that approach even before, from my reading. Before I went to India I read The Autobiography of a Yogi, and I’m really glad I did because it hyped me up to go there, to read about Yogananda’s life, which to me was very inspiring. And when I came back to Toronto, I started going to the Self-Realization Fellowship, the SRF, which Yogananda started when he came to the West. I started reading more of his specific teachings and that was it for me, I knew that I was going to follow his path.

I started looking for an ashram, because SRF didn’t have an ashram. You could go to the headquarters in Los Angeles and become a monk but I didn’t necessarily want to become a monk, but I was looking for a place that was based around Yogananda’s teachings where I could go and immerse myself in them. And I found Ananda, Church of Self-Realization in Northern California, so I went there for three months and studied.

While I was there I took initiation into the Kriya path and was starting to prepare to get Kriya initiation, which I got a year later at Portland Ananda. Kriya is a pranayam technique that’s given to advanced yogis — even though I don’t think of myself as an advanced yogi. But you have to be on the path, you have to be practicing and you have to want to make this part of your life. Pranayam means life-force, and there are certain exercises to control the life force in the spine, so you can dissolve the seeds of karmas and develop spiritually.

How would you describe your yoga classes now?

For me, yoga is a spiritual practice. It’s got great physical benefits to it, and if some people are into doing yoga because they want to feel physically better, that’s great. But I feel like in my class, I want them to leave with that feeling that they’re not just doing a physical practice, that there’s something more to it. That they came to find out that they’re more than just this physical body, and to have more introspection with that.

So I try to bring that into my classes — through how I teach the postures, and that the postures come alive because there’s this life-force moving through your body, and that’s the reason why you’re able to move into these postures. And through the breath, of course, through meditation practices, and through savasana, relaxation techniques.

How did you get into belly dancing?

I was a natural dancer — dancing was something I always loved to do. When I was in my mid-teens I was doing different forms of dance classes, and they were fun but they didn’t capture me. And then I saw this picture of a belly dancer in the Yellow Pages. She was wearing a two-piece costume and it was very exotic-looking, and there was something about the picture that seemed familiar to me and yet new and exciting. I thought, I don’t even know what it is but I want to do it.

So I went to the class that was advertised and I loved it instantly. I did that for maybe about a year, and then I found a flyer for this other teacher and I was ready to leave the first teacher. I went to Yasmina’s class and from the moment I walked in, I felt that whatever I thought I had learned before was nothing compared to her style of teaching and her knowledge.

She was very much a spiritual person — she was a Buddhist, and had been a Wiccan before that. So her reasons for going into belly dancing were very spiritual and very sacred, and her desire was to have belly dancing seen as a true art form. Before that it was seen as more of a cabaret act done in nightclubs. She wanted to elevate the art. She had a ballet background and she had envisioned this whole dance company with really well-trained dancers and choreography and dance productions and live music.

I came in at the beginning of that, when her small troupe was just doing little shows here and there, so I kind of grew up with Arabesque and with Yasmina’s vision. And she did it — she got the well-trained dancers and live music and we did major productions and toured across Canada and did shows in the U.S.

I danced with Arabesque for about ten years, and by the time I was ready to end my career with Arabesque and move here, I was in a place where I was ready to settle down. I had met Karl and we were loosely thinking about having a family and I was ready to move to the West coast and get into more of an inner life. At that point too I had my own artistic endeavors and wanted to explore being an artistic director and choreographing, which I had done for myself but not for an actual troupe setting.

What about pre-natal belly dance?

By the time I left Toronto, I was doing more workshop-type events at wedding showers and baby showers. I would go to someone’s home, someone who was pregnant or who was going to get married, and do a one-hour workshop and perform. And I thought, from knowing the background of belly dancing, How perfect! Traditionally, it was a fertility dance, and women did these movements to prepare for birth, and also as a celebration and dedication to a goddess. It’s a really feminine dance.

I really enjoyed it, so my intention when I came here was to do more of that rather than a regular type of show at a nightclub. And then I got pregnant, and everything changed again really quickly. We ended up moving to Bend, Oregon, so I stopped the little troupe I had started and stopped teaching classes and went to Bend to have my baby.

Then I got really interested in pre-natal belly dancing. When we came back to Portland I had been looking for a place to teach, and I approached Vittoria and I became her apprentice for pre-natal.

What are the benefits of belly dance for pregnant women?

Many of the movements in belly dancing stem from the navel area and they help to open and strengthen the hips. It conditions all the muscles necessary for pregnancy and birth — the pelvic floor, the thighs, the hips, the belly. And there are a lot of movements that help to move through contractions, these undulating movements. There are certain movements they call the birth dance, actually, and a lot of women will naturally do these while they’re in labor and it’s nice to know, before you go into labor, what these movements are and how to use them through the contractions. And then after you have a baby, it’s perfect, because it’s low-impact exercise to help you get back into shape.

And also there’s a creative element to it, and it’s a beautiful way for women to embrace the fact that their belly is growing bigger. Late in my pregnancy I felt awkward or I felt clumsy, I didn’t feel feminine with my huge belly. So belly dancing is a nice way to feel graceful and feel feminine still, even at your largest point.

Pregnant women could go to a regular belly dance class, but I know for myself that pregnant women like to be among the company of other pregnant women. And in my classes I’m very specific with the movements. I have knowledge of certain movements that aren’t suitable for pregnant women, and I target the movements that are very beneficial and that they can do daily, and for any trimester.

Do you bring yoga and belly dance together?

When I started with belly dancing I was a performer and I loved performing and I loved sharing that with people, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But when I started doing yoga, doing more of an inward practice, I started bringing that element more into my dance. I started feeling like, these movements are for me and I’m doing them for my own spiritual practice, and also to share with others, but it’s very intimate as well.

So I try to bring that element into it, when I teach belly dance. To feel like, there’s no goal in mind when you’re belly dancing. It should feel good, and if it doesn’t feel good, you shouldn’t do it. If you have this goal in mind that you want to be a famous belly dancer or something, it could happen, and that’s a great goal to have, but enjoy the process, just like in yoga.

The other way around — even though hatha yoga is meant to balance the masculine and feminine principles, to me yoga could still be very masculine in its presentation, very linear. And with doing belly dancing for so long, I tend to bring more fluidity to the practice.

That’s why I like to call my classes “flow” classes — even though they’re not necessarily vinyasa flow classes, there’s still this flow movement I like to bring into the way I teach yoga. And in the way I practice now too, not to be so strict. Especially in the pre-natal yoga, there’s this totally feminine quality to it, the round movements, undulating and flowing.

Teacher Feature • Interview With Vittoria

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Interview With Vittoria
from 3/09


1. How you got into yoga & started teaching

How did you get into yoga?

VittoriaI 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?

Vittoria and babyI 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.

Vittoria & Bailey

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.

Teacher Feature • Interview With Todd

Friday, May 21st, 2010

Interview With Todd
from 3/09


Todd

How did you get into yoga?

Back in the 80s I did a little bit of yoga when I was in the Bay Area. It was a small class and our teacher taught Iyengar, and it was really fun. But after a few months she moved to Nashville to become a singer, and that was it for yoga for me.

Fast forward to the beginning of the 90s. I was in Hawaii, living on Lanai, and I had an old friend from San Francisco call and say he was going to do a weeklong Ashtanga workshop on Maui right next door. He wanted some company and asked me to come over, and I said what the heck. I went over there and before the workshop he showed me a couple things – a head stand, downward dog – and I said, how hard can this be, right? This is going to be fun!

So the first class – whoa. I think there were 40 people in the workshop, 38 of them were women, none of them under the age of 40. There I was, Mr. Tri-Athlete, and I was sweating like you can’t believe – there was a pool of sweat around me. And I looked around the room and not one of these women was sweating, just glowing. It looked so easy for them! And I was like, how is this possible? I’m in shape and I can hardly get through a class.

But I walked out of that class and I had an epiphany. I went to this little town right down the street in upcountry Maui. I guess we started at 6:30 in the morning so it was still early when I’d get into town. I’d see the early risers of the jet set people – the people who don’t have to have a job, a lot of them live in Maui – drinking their cappuccinos and lattes. I looked around and I felt so alive. And I didn’t get that same feeling from these people. So I thought, what do I want to do with my life?

I was just coming out of the wine business looking for something else to do. I had gotten out of the wine business because I had this dilemma where I loved everything about wine except the more excited I got about it and selling it, the more people would drink and get inebriated and it moved them out of their bodies. And I wanted to help them get in their bodies. So I got out of the wine business and thought – yoga – that would be really fun. I hadn’t even thought of teaching, I just thought: yoga.

So I finished that whole week and I felt really great, and then I moved to Encinitas where this teacher – Tim Miller – lived. And I started studying with him and I did that for almost a year, and then I moved to L.A. to study with the next teacher.

todd and group

How did you start teaching?

Ana Forrest got me into teaching. I had been taking yoga with her for a number of years and she said, it’s time for you to teach. And I was like, I can’t do any of the things you do, how can I teach, what can I teach? All my teachers were like Cirque du Soleil people. And she said, no, you have to teach, it’s time for you to teach. So I started subbing for her when she wasn’t there, which, thinking back on it, was really kind of her.

That was the start and it was a long road because I could teach her yoga, but it was a long time before I got to find out what my yoga was.

I found out my work was actually different from her work, but because I also work a lot with energy, I found an affinity with her there. I think Ana is amazing in how she works with energy and weaves that in with physical yoga. She was the first person who really taught me how important it was to set up a safe space to work in. That was an invaluable lesson that I got.

So how did you find your own style?

Basically, from having an injury. I had a number of injuries doing yoga primarily because I was doing someone else’s yoga and not my yoga. That little realization took a long time to click. I had hurt my back and the way that Ana was recommending that I work with it wasn’t helping. So I stopped going to her classes and I stopped going to all classes with any teacher and I just started doing my own yoga for a long time. I was still teaching, and then I was doing my own yoga.

And then I had guidance to drop into one of Erich Schiffmann’s classes one day, just kind of out of the blue. I went into his class and it was remarkable because I would say the day I went in, well over 50 percent – even 70 or 80 percent of the things we did in class – were things that I had been doing on my own, which no one had ever shown me how to do. It just blew my mind. It was like another epiphany – this stuff is legal, I can teach this stuff? Because I was doing my yoga at home, but then thinking I have to teach “real yoga.”

That was a huge opening for me and I went to every class I could with Erich. After going a few months and getting to know each other I started hanging out a little at his house and doing yoga with him. He really helped me find my yoga and my voice – which I didn’t really get completely until I moved away from LA. I still do a lot of things like he does, but it’s shifted, and that’s a consequence of moving away. Then it became more about learning from my guidance and from my students.


How would you describe your own approach to teaching yoga?

I would say what’s different is not so much teaching to the pose. There are other yogas that do this. Erich didn’t teach to the pose, but you would find yourself deeper in the pose that you’ve ever been – so that’s where I got my introduction to this approach. And with yin yoga, even though they have particular poses, it’s not about the pose. The focus is different, it’s not about how you look in the pose but how you feel in the pose.

So with BLIS yoga, the kind of yoga I do, the focus is not so much about getting into a pose or trying to fix something that’s happening in your body, but it’s really about reorienting your awareness, learning to be curious about something else, a different focus. And when you start to shift your perspective, your experience changes and literally your body changes.

So we might have a class where people might come in with different complaints – a hip problem, shoulder, whatever. Without teaching specifically to whatever the complaint is, by everyone shifting their focus, everyone leaves class feeling different – feeling, wow my shoulder feels better, my hip feels better. It’s really about what you’re choosing to focus on.

From a teacher’s point of view it can be a scary thing to jump into because on some level, if you’re not teaching a pose and how to get into it, then what are you teaching? But it’s really shifting so you’re helping people discover and uncover what their yoga is, and it’s going to be different from week to week, from year to year, depending on a lot of different factors that affect where you are and how you’re holding tension in your body.

As you learn to communicate with your body, to be with it and not work against it, you have a different relationship with yourself and invariably a different relationship then with everyone around you. It’s a very subtle thing at first but it has very dramatic consequences – in a good way. It’s not a quick fix because we’re not focused on fixing anything, but it works.

todd  and jay

What do you hope your students get from your classes? Is it about that shift in perspective, discovering their own yoga, or coming back to their bodies?

Everybody comes in looking for something different, so I don’t really want the same thing for everybody. But at the end of the day, if somebody can feel better in their body and start to give themselves permission to follow the path of least resistance or to have the capacity to begin to communicate with their guidance and their intuition – that would be the ultimate thing for me. Because then everything else is taken care of, because then things feel good, and you do more of it.

It doesn’t have to look like doing yoga everyday, coming in on your yoga mat, but yoga can become when you’re writing, when you’re cooking, when you’re driving your car. Are you doing things that support you and nurture you and feed you? So if people start to work with that vocabulary or that awareness, then I think I’ve done a good job.

It seems like what you said about the safe space is a big part of what you’re doing – coming into your class I feel like it’s safe to totally relax and drop in.

That’s a fundamental requirement for this kind of work. There are other modalities and a lot of ways to access it, but fundamentally that’s the most important thing. Because if you don’t feel safe, you can talk about all these things, but it’s not happening, people can’t access it because it’s too scary.

As Erich Schiffmann says, “Be brave, relax.” It takes courage to relax. Because you’re asking people to let go. The very things they’re holding onto are their belief systems – the things they believe keep them safe and protected and supported. And you’re asking them to relinquish those things – there’s nothing scarier.

So for me, every time I see somebody willingly let their guard down, let their defenses down, when they begin to relinquish that even for a moment, I get to witness a miracle. That to me is a miracle because that’s what’s keeping them stuck. They have to feel safe enough to do that. If you feel safe enough, everything else follows.

And how do you create a safe space? You have to be really clear as a teacher what your intention is and you have to hold that intention. As my guides talk about it sometimes, it’s like, if I dare to wear my light and be bright, then anything coming into that light has to also be light, and anything other than that light can’t be in the space. So if I’m really clear energetically about how I set up the space, just with my intention, then that’s the energy that comes into the space and anything else gets left outside.

There really is no formula. It’s more about where someone’s heart is, where their interest is, what they are ready to do. So for me, I have to be willing to open my heart and be vulnerable. I have to be willing to be in that safe space I’m asking everyone else to be in. That’s really scary at first but that’s where I want to hang out all the time.

The fact that I can set up the space – and make a living being in that space – for me is the biggest gift ever. So I’m really grateful for my students because they give me a reason to be in that space.

That’s one of the big differences on not having the emphasis on the pose and doing it right – when I’m in a class like that I freeze up.

That’s one of the reasons a lot of the time we do our whole practice with our eyes closed. If you do have permission to try it a little bit differently, if you close your eyes and don’t look at your neighbor, you can start to feel like it’s just about you. You don’t have to replicate what you did last week or 20 years ago when you used to be flexible. It took me years to get to this point because it’s so strong in our culture. To get a reprieve from the committee in your mind and spend a little bit of time just being with your body right where you are – that’s the healing, and then things shift. Things appear to disappear, the complaints just vanish. It seems like it’s magic, but it’s just the way it works. It’s a new way of being with something.

So I think that people learn by being in the space – that’s how I learn – by being in the energy. What does it feel like? So you might read or hear about this, but it’s an experiential thing. If you just jump into the energy or come on in and be in the energy a while, you start to understand it by experiencing it. And then you can start to live it. And in living it you’re extending that gift to others, which is how we all help each other.

todd cross-legged


To shift into Om Base – what was your vision or intention in opening the studio?

Vittoria and I had a studio a number of years ago in Sellwood and we ended up selling it to our business partner. It was a tough thing to move away from – we put a lot of emotional energy and time into it – but that allowed us to buy a house over here and then we had a little yoga studio in our house and we were very happy with that.

The idea of opening another commercial space wasn’t something either of us wanted to do. I had no interest in it at all. But one day one of our old neighbors came to one of Vittoria’s classes and said she was driving home and saw this space for rent and thought we should take a look at it. And I thought, what’s the point? I don’t want to do it.

But then a funny thing happened. I work with my guides a lot, and my guides said, well, before you throw out the whole idea, how about putting this energy on and wearing this energy for a little bit and see how this feels. So I put the energy on and the energy was basically a glimpse into what we would call the future – it was the energy of what this space is about and what it feels like. So I was able to feel what it would feel like to be in a space like this, with this design with this intent, and it blew my mind.

For the longest time my guides have been suggesting that I teach what I teach differently, and I had no idea how to get there. It was like I was on one side of the Grand Canyon and they were saying, get on the other side, and I had no clue how to do that. And suddenly, when I put this energy on, I was on the other side. It was amazing! And of course I want that – I want more of that – to feel supported in every way I could imagine in doing exactly what I want to do, and more of it. I couldn’t even articulate the differences but it just felt divine.

So that was it. We looked at the first space and it just didn’t work out. But while we were looking at that first space, which is very close to here, I was talking to a friend of mine who had heard there was something coming up for rent, so we called them and heard about this space, and that was it.

It wasn’t something that I was planning to do. I was given a vision and the people appeared to help create and support that.

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

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

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