In what way did 2020 bring classic yogic teachings into sharp, palpable focus for you?
In all honesty, it’s hard to say in what way 2020 has NOT brought classic yoga teachings into focus for me. The science of yoga is so infallible because it touches on the essence of our humanity. As long as we remain human, the yogic teachings will be applicable.
That being said, I constantly come back to the yamas and the niyamas as a source of wisdom for how I can reprogram my mind for peace. Practicing virtues of compassion for each other, speaking the truth, not stealing what is not ours, managing our energy, and not clinging are all values that have clearly come into the forefront of our culture over the last year. Then there are the basic concepts of staying clean and maintaining basic hygiene, being content with the things we cannot control, finding comfort in that which is unfamiliar, studying ourselves intimately and of course – recognizing that there is a greater evolution in place that we are all a part of. These are the 10 yamas and niyamas, and practicing them can give us a sense of liberation in our everyday lives. It’s hard to imagine any of us not having to navigate through these concepts at some point in the past year. When we can really put them into perspective for modern day living, they give us a framework to experience harmony on both the micro and the macro levels.
Your experience as a teacher is extensive, and your training is steeped in lineage.With the proliferation of digital offerings that now abound for yogic instruction, do you worry that some of the true essence of the teachings will be diluted or glossed over?
It has been such an interesting experience transitioning my entire teaching practice from in person to online. At first I was skeptical and so were some of my students, but even that type of resistance was a form of attachment that we all eventually had to let go of. We have all had to accept our limitations and do the best we can with what is available to us. If we imagine COVID-19 happening 20 years ago before the rise of technology, we might all have suffered in more palpable ways. In that sense, technology has been a true blessing.
That being said, I do think that a lot is lost in translation when we rely solely on online yoga, especially if the teacher is unable to “see” the student in 3D. At Ishta Yoga, we are trained not only to watch our students’ alignment, but to pay attention to the quality of their breathing, the sound of their breath, and to observe the eyes and face as a means of understanding what’s happening in the mind. Although we are able to transmit energy through cyberspace, it is not the same as being in the presence of a teacher. Having a teacher is an integral part of the practice of yoga, because the teacher knows the way. Just like a captain on a ship, a good teacher can show his or her student what to be aware of on the journey, and how to weather the storms. A teacher knows that the final destination is inward and she can hold that outcome in her being.
There are also advantages to being able to reach people exactly where they are – geographically, temporally, and emotionally – when we teach via video platforms. Have you seen some silver linings in this way?
Absolutely! It has been such a gift to be able to teach people from all over the world. To see so many humans together in one virtual space, connecting to their own essence has been elevating for me. I feel a purpose in being able to share these teachings, so having a platform to do it for a greater mass is truly rewarding.
What is the future of Ishta Yoga?
Although we had to close our physical space on 11th street due to the pandemic, my partners and I had already planned to relocate our studio long before we had to go into lockdown. We still plan to open a brick and mortar space once it is safe to do so, but we’ll continue to offer classes, workshops, and trainings online. We are grateful to have been able to sustain our community throughout this tumultuous time, and our intention is and has always been to serve the people – whether it be online or in person.
And if you will indulge us, what is the future of yoga?
It’s such a good question and one that I can’t presume to know with any certainty! What I do know is that yoga continues to offer hundreds of millions of people around the world a source of comfort, inspiration, and hope. My greatest wish is that yoga finds a way into the US government, so that our leadership is guided by the principles of integrity that I mentioned in the first question. ?
I think we will continue to see a huge space for yoga in the digital realm, which will make it more accessible to those who couldn’t have otherwise experienced it. I also think that people will start gravitating towards the last four limbs of yoga, which are known as “The Royal Path,” or Raja Yoga. These are the more meditative, contemplative practices of yoga that often get bypassed in the West. There is a natural evolution in place that will ultimately lead more and more people to want to discover these deeper teachings, and that is where the true transformation happens!
What is your single favorite teaching that you keep coming back to?
Sutra 2.44 from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Svadhyaya ishta devata sampra yogaha – Discover yourself and you will discover the divine.