Interview With Todd
Interview with Todd 3/09
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 canít 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? Iím 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 Iíd get into town. Iíd see the early risers of
the jet set people - the people who donít 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 didnít 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 hadnít
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, itís
time for you to teach. And I was like, I canít 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, itís
time for you to teach. So I started subbing for her when she wasnít
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
elseís 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 wasnít 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 Schiffmannís 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
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 didnít really get completely until I moved away from LA.
I still do a lot of things like he does, but itís shifted, and thatís
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 whatís different is not
so much teaching to the pose. There are other yogas that do this. Erich
didnít teach to the pose, but you would find yourself deeper in the
pose that youíve ever been - so thatís where I got my introduction
to this approach. And with yin yoga, even though they have particular
poses, itís not about the pose. The focus is different, itís not
about how you look in the pose but how you feel in the
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 thatís happening in your body, but itís 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. Itís really about
what youíre choosing to focus on.
From a teacherís point of view it
can be a scary thing to jump into because on some level, if youíre
not teaching a pose and how to get into it, then what are you teaching?
But itís really shifting so youíre helping people discover and uncover
what their yoga is, and itís 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 youíre 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. Itís a very subtle thing at first but it has very dramatic
consequences - in a good way. Itís not a quick fix because weíre
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 donít 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 doesnít have to look like doing
yoga everyday, coming in on your yoga mat, but yoga can become when
youíre writing, when youíre cooking, when youíre 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 Iíve done a good job.
It seems like what you said about
the safe space is a big part of what youíre doing - coming into your
class I feel like itís safe to totally relax and drop in.
Thatís a fundamental requirement for
this kind of work. There are other modalities and a lot of ways to access
it, but fundamentally thatís the most important thing. Because if
you donít feel safe, you can talk about all these things, but itís
not happening, people canít access it because itís too scary.
As Erich Schiffmann says, ďBe brave,
relax.Ē It takes courage to relax. Because youíre asking people
to let go. The very things theyíre holding onto are their belief systems
- the things they believe keep them safe and protected and supported.
And youíre asking them to relinquish those things - thereís nothing
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 thatís whatís keeping them stuck. They
have to feel safe enough to do that. If you feel safe enough, everything
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,
itís 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 canít be in the space. So if Iím really clear energetically
about how I set up the space, just with my intention, then thatís
the energy that comes into the space and anything else gets left outside.
There really is no formula. Itís more
about where someoneís 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 Iím asking
everyone else to be in. Thatís really scary at first but thatís
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 Iím really grateful for my students because they give me
a reason to be in that space.
Thatís one of the big differences
on not having the emphasis on the pose and doing it right - when Iím
in a class like that I freeze up.
Thatís 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 donít look at your neighbor, you can start to feel like itís
just about you. You donít 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 itís 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 - thatís the healing, and
then things shift. Things appear to disappear, the complaints just vanish.
It seems like itís magic, but itís just the way it works. Itís
a new way of being with something.
So I think that people learn by being
in the space - thatís how I learn - by being in the energy. What does
it feel like? So you might read or hear about this, but itís 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 youíre 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
The idea of opening another commercial
space wasnít 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 Vittoriaís
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, whatís the point?
I donít 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 couldnít even articulate the differences
but it just felt divine.
So that was it. We looked at the first
space and it just didnít 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 wasnít something that I was planning to do. I was given a vision and the people appeared to help create and support that.