Interview With Adriana
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.