Today we have a chance to be blessed as always! The yogi select that was nice enough to share a little more about their practice this week is Leah or known as on instagram @Blessed2Empress. I noticed there were plenty of beautiful photos with intriguing captions but I was curious to know more! Have a read below and see yoga from a different perspective!
What was your perception of yoga before you began and what led you to the practice?
While I attained my undergraduate degree in Anthropology at New York University I worked the front desk at the Jivamukti Yoga School. To be honest I found many of the people there to be kinda weird and over the top (with vegan-ism etc) so that turned me off some. Also, as a woman of color it was hard for me to sit through the spiritual talks at the start of the classes. When I was younger and angrier (this is ceca 2004-2007) I wasn’t really feelin a white person telling me how to liberate myself through my yoga practice! But after a while I realized that the teachings themselves regardless of the delivery, or of the cultural appropriation were truly a gift.
I realized that I was there for a reason and that I should be open to receiving the knowledge for liberation. Rather than focusing on the others around me that were I needed to focus inward. Jivamukti in Sanskrit literally means freedom of the soul. I did my first teacher training there and am grateful for it.
Does living in a big city like New York effect the type of yoga you do? If so how
Yes Absolutely! NYC is a faced paced city, it is full of fast paced people. It is very Vata energetically . Yet despite this, most New York Yogi prefer a fast paced Vinyasa type practice which Ayurvedically creates Vata imbalance. Especially if you also do a lot of cardio based workouts in your fitness routine like running and cycling. Since I am also a personal trainer who is into board sports I try and use my yoga practice to provide balance. Physically I use my yoga practice to help correct muscular imbalances and over exertion. Energetically I use my yoga Practice for doshic balance. My dosha is already very Vata and I live in a Vata city, thus my yoga practice has to be more Kapha if I want to achieve harmony. My life is fast, my city is fast and my workouts are usually strength endurance based, so my yoga practice has now become slow. Not easy, not boring, but slower for sure.
Do you feel yoga has helped your workout routine?
I often do yoga prior to or after my workout as a warm up or cool down. I consider yoga to be a part of my fitness regimen so I often tailor my yoga practice to help me prepare for sports and strength training or, as a recovery technique. These sessions are shorter than a traditional vinyasa practice but very effective.
How did you come across sup yoga and what are some of the differences in your experience on the water vs land.
I tried paddle-boarding in Miami for the first time in 2013. I had already been surfing on and off a few years and thought SUP Yoga would be right up my ally. I found SUP school and signed up for a class, but when the teacher arrived he wasn’t the Yoga teacher, just a person teaching paddle technique. Paddle-boarding was challenging yet relaxing and I found myself naturally trying poses on my own while the instructor worked with other students. Then when I came back to NY I found a SUP yoga teacher training in the Hampton’s and signed up! Yoga on the paddle board is awesome because it challenges you in a whole new way. Poses that are “easy” on the mat are not so easy on the water. You really have to engage mula bandha and uddiyana bandha in order to stay on the board. Plus even if you fall off that’s fun too! The most interesting thing about teaching on the board though is that most traditional yoga sequencing just doesn’t work so you have to re-learn how to sequence a yoga class. It is also very peaceful to practice outside and to be on the water in general. One of the main reasons I got into board sports in the first place is for that city escape. You need water to surf and paddle-board. You need snow for snowboarding, you need nature.
What was one thing you learned about yourself during your practice that may have been hard to see previously?
As I continue to practice I’ve realized that the strength portion of yoga for me, is way more important than flexibility. I’ve always been very flexible and training in dance and gymnastics as a child increased that ability. As I have gotten older my practice has changed. I’ve learned that hyper mobility promotes injury so my personal practice has become very different than the type of practice I teach to those who sit at a desk all day and aren’t as flexible.
What was your first memory ever?
My first clear memory is being on my fathers shoulders walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. I remember we walked for a really long time and there were people everywhere crowding around us. I didn’t know them and I didn’t know why we had to keep walking. I was scared and crying by the end. Finally my mom came and picked us up in the car and drove us home. When I was older I asked my dad about it and he told me we were marching in protest to the Howard Beach race attacks. This was in 1986 so I was 4 years old. 23 year old Michael Griffith, an immigrant from Trinidad had been killed when white teens chased him onto the highway. His his car had broken down in “the wrong neighborhood” and he and three other young black males were severely beaten. The teens chased Michael onto the highway where he was hit by a car and left in the road to die. The driver was another white, local teen who was incidentally the son of a police officer.
What do you find most beneficial about meditating?
For the past six months I’ve been working with a meditation teacher trained in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Its all about loving kindness. Giving that to yourself and giving it to others. I think selflessness can be overrated sometimes. How can one care for others if not for for oneself? Giving loving kindness to yourself is really powerful. Empowerment of self enables you to be stronger for others, open to others, compassionate to others.
Do you think you learn more as a teacher teaching yoga or as a student?
I am certainly most grateful to all of my yoga teachers and have learned so much from them! You cannot be a teacher without first being a student. Likewise, you also learn allot being a teacher. You learn about different bodies, different injuries, different moods. You develop different types of flows and sequencing. However interestingly my participation in other forms of sports and training has inadvertently taught me the most about how to be a good yoga instructor. When you work with different kinds of athletes and study the body mechanics of what they do and how they do it, it enables you to be able to teach to a wider student body. Also since yoga has such a large spiritual component, I find the anatomy portion in the study of yoga to be lacking. Most of what I have learned about body mechanics and its applicability in yoga was through personal training and Pilate’s coursework.
I’ve never been surfing so how can a yoga session prepare you physically and mentally before you paddle out?
Surfing uses very specific joint actions when paddling out. It requires shoulder mobility as you paddle, spinal extension to keep the head and chest lifted off the board, and lateral flexion of the trunk as your torso moves from side to side while paddling. Once you have gotten past the break and are trying to catch a wave you also need a good amount of cervical rotation to look back at the wave you are trying to catch. All of these joint actions are a part of any standard yoga practice. Sun salutations, reverse prayer, cow pose and other binds promote shoulder mobility, while upward facing dog, bow pose, wheel and other back bends utilize spinal extension. Lateral flexion of the trunk is performed in triangle pose, extended angle, and other standing poses, while cervical rotation occurs each time you look up towards your lifted hand or down towards your mat in those poses. Once you have caught and are riding a wave, surfing necessitates a lot of internal rotation of the femur. This is one of the major ways that enables you to turn the board in reaction to the wave. In yoga, internal rotation of the femur occurs when you turn your feet inward from a turned out (90 degree) position. For example, coming into a straddle from warrior two, or rotating both feet from one side to the other so that the front of you mat becomes the back and vice versa. This is why I recommend an Ashtanga based standing practice in preparation for surfing. In the Ashtanga primary series you rotate the feet from one side to the other in-order to switch to the other side, rather than stepping the opposite foot forward from downward facing dog. Another major factor in turning the board once you are actually surfing is trunk rotation. So a presurf yoga series should also incorporate a LOT of twisting poses. But surfing isn’t just about joint actions. It is about a neuromuscular connection as well. This is because you are exercising in the ocean which is a reactive setting. The practice of yoga prior to surfing allows your body to reinforce those neurological connections while you’re in a stable environment.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers of infocus247
I am just happy to be included in a social media project featuring yogi’s of color. We are so marginally represented and our views, practice, knowledge and history is so important! I thank you for your interest and look forward to reading future featured yogi’s.