Interview With 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.
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.
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.
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.