• Interview with Susanna Barkataki

    I had no idea when I first started learning yoga, reclaiming and practicing the spiritual technologies of my ancestors how much inner power I was about to tap. I simply didn’t realize that I could transform from a shy, quiet, insecure person into a leader that doesn’t flinch at getting on camera or speaking on international stages.

    Describe your personality in three words.

    Fiery, caring, passionate.

    About you- Where are you from and/or where do you live?

    I am from England and India. I was born in Middlesbrough, UK – to an Indian father and British mother. My whole life has been shaped by large geopolitical influences! I was born at a time when Indians and White people didn’t marry, let alone date. Despite this, my parents felt an undeniable chemistry and decided to marry – but they couldn’t find anyone to perform the ceremony! They were told they would have to adopt – or they’d have “half-breeds.” Luckily, they decided to have me anyway – but as I was growing up there was so much violence against mixed race families that they had to leave England for a place of more tolerance and chose to move to the United States. This landed us in Los Angeles, where I grew up. Through a few twists of fate, I am now living not far from Kino and your wonderful yoga center in Orlando, Florida on unceded Seminole land.

    What is yoga to you?

    To me, yoga is unity.  Just like people, yoga has a place. It has roots. It has culture. It is from somewhere. You know where you are from. You can probably name the block, city, town, state, country and continent.  And those elements, aunts and uncles, foods, climate, environment – have been a huge part of shaping you for better or for worse. Similarly, yoga is from somewhere. We can’t just surgically remove yoga from its context. From the people, places, religions and society that influenced and influences it. Even though yoga is unity, we have to look at all the places that it’s been used to separate in order to create the true unity it promises us.

    How did you feel after your first yoga class and how do you feel this influences or impacts the space you create for your students?

    One thing I learned while teaching high school students that all true learning comes from the inside out from an internal, intrinsic motivation. I try to create a space that invites, inspires, opens this curiosity within a person, to be intrinsically motivated to learn how to honor, rather than appropriate yoga.

    What impact has yoga had on your life? Who were you before you started practicing and how have you changed, evolved and transformed?

    “Speak up, miss,” my ESL students used to call out over the lesson I was attempting to teach. I was SO shy when I first started teaching (my first real job after college – I had to put that Philosophy degree from Berkeley to good use!) that my students literally could not hear me! As a quiet, shy, small mixed Indian girl from the UK growing up and then teaching in LA schools, I never imagined I’d be here – one of the go-to people for when people have questions about yoga and cultural issues! But back to me standing there sweating and petrified, I had important things to teach but I was afraid to speak them – those were some of the hardest moments of my life. Because I cared so much about empowering my English as a Second Language students with knowledge (after all, they were immigrants, just like I was, and I wanted them to have a fair chance at success in this brave new world) I simply had to learn to speak up! So I sought out great teachers to learn from and also taught myself how to teach all while learning and practicing the yogic traditions of my roots. Yoga and meditation was such a solace during that hard first year of teaching in LAUSD. And since then, I’ve been speaking up around issues of peace, harmony, nonviolence, equity and inclusion everywhere I can. So now, people look to me sometimes for answers to their questions around cultural issues and yoga. My goal now is the same as it was with those early students in my ESL 1 and 2 classes. To share the best knowledge to empower us all to make a difference and create a better world with yoga.

    Why did you decide to start teaching yoga and what qualities do you feel are important to build and work on as a yoga teacher?

    I had no idea when I first started learning yoga, reclaiming and practicing the spiritual technologies of my ancestors how much inner power I was about to tap. I simply didn’t realize that I could transform from a shy, quiet, insecure person into a leader that doesn’t flinch at getting on camera or speaking on international stages. But you know, it wasn’t always this way. I used to be terrified to speak in front of a few people, let alone the hundreds and thousands I now teach. Pencils bouncing off desks, voices echoing off walls, one afternoon, my AP English 12th grade class was completely out of control. I’d had it. I took a deep breath and said “Alright, y’all. Shakespeare isn’t working for us right now. Get up, everyone.” I almost couldn’t believe I was about to do this. I’d never shared yoga with anyone else before. “We are going to try something new.” We entered into a 15 minute session of yoga, breathing and ended with meditation. “Let’s just see how it goes,” I said to the students. At the end of the session, they looked at me. Dez, one of the most active and goofy students said, “Miss, I didn’t realize my mind could get so quiet. I’m going to do this every day.” Instead of hiding away the practice that gave me the greatest inner power, I realized part of my job, no matter what I was sharing, was to teach yoga as a practice to inner and outer power and transformation. My teaching and life was completely different after that.

    What has been your biggest struggle and your biggest milestone in the practice, in teaching and within the yoga community?

    Something I’ve been thinking about a lot is how we are sold yoga in the West. How it is watered down and how that robs us, and future generations of the depth of this powerful practice. And right now – diversity, inclusion & representation are seemingly “on trend.” But addressing representation and appropriation in yoga is “not a boxed to be checked” but rather an exploration to be undertaken, learning to be had, connections to be made!

    Why do you practice, and why do you teach?

    As a child my father chanted in Assamese (our regional language from Assam in North East India) and Sanskrit to help me fall asleep at night. As I lay there, tense, sleep eluding me, I’d try without success, to relax. My dad would smooth my brow, invite me to practice pratyahara and dhyana, mindfulness and meditation. He would invite me to envision a glowing ball of blue energy at my forehead and sing a beautiful chant that his own mother had sung to him. Engulfed in waves of sacred sound and blue light energy I would drift off to sleep. I am a reverent student of the practices from my roots that bring more peace and more power. So much more than asana is part of the fabric of yoga and lends important context to our yoga practice. I’m always so curious to learn! Honoring the spiritual lineage we practice within is so key.

    What is the single most defining issue facing the global yoga community today?

    How to honor and not appropriate yoga – so we can practice the full expanse of what yoga has to offer us.  I BELIEVE IT IS time for yoga to restore the authenticity and diversity it deserves.  Yoga has so much potential. It means unity. But today, it is anything but this. I speak for my ancestors when I say “We are no longer here to allow this corruption and lack of diversity of this healing path. We all lose.” Instead, we can lean back while practicing forward to a future that includes everyone.

    Do you have any recommended yoga reading?

    I always have a copy of the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras somewhere close at hand. I read from them in the morning and in the evening. I prefer these texts translated and with commentary by spiritual teachers. Through your own personal journey, what do you feel is your path and offering to the community- local and global? I’m a teacher, inclusivity promoter, and yoga culture advocate first and foremost. As an inheritor of yogic wisdom, I am passionate about bridging cultural connections and healing with yoga for us and generations to come to experience all that this incredible practice has to offer us. My work is how we can bring the roots of yoga in action with diversity and inclusion. I invite us to explore together as modern day yogis, purpose seekers, coaches, adventurers, mystics, spiritual practitioners, and people who know there is more to the story.  I see a world where yoga is unity and excludes no one. I feel yoga is here for us to cultivate power and transcend our very limitations, personally and socially. Not to create more separation but as a way to connect, dissolving separation within and without.

    What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out on their yoga journey?

    Always be a student, practice yoga ethics and cultivate your sadhana, or personal practice.

    Are there any current projects you’re working on that you can tell us about?

    Yes! I am finishing up my upcoming book Honor Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice for folks who teach, practice, or want to learn yoga. I’m excited to share this invitation to truly bring your practice alive in a way that deepens and honors yoga’s roots. You can find the book and free resources at susannabarkataki.com/book

    By Susanna Barkataki

    An Indian yoga practitioner in the Shankaracharya tradition, Susanna Barkataki is the founder of Ignite Yoga and Wellness Institute and runs Ignite Be Well 200/500 Yoga Training programs. She is an E-RYT 500, Certified Yoga Therapist with the International Association of Yoga Therapists (C-IAYT). She is the author of the forthcoming book Honor Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice. With an Honors degree in Philosophy from UC Berkeley and a Masters in Education from Cambridge College, Barkataki is a diversity, accessibility, inclusivity, and equity (DAIE) yoga unity educator who created the ground-breaking Honor {Don’t Appropriate} Yoga Summit with more than 10,000 participants.

  • Yoga Teacher Interview with Cristi Christensen Part 2

    I want to wake people up. I want to shake people up. I want to bring these practices of yoga, and dance, and music to every single corner of the world. I want to help people feel grounded in their bodies, integrated with who they are, and help them stoke the belief in themselves, that they can do everything and anything that they put their energy and attention towards.

    What has been your biggest struggle and your biggest milestone in the practice?

    My whole life had been driven about competition.  I was competing at a very young age, training at an elite level from the time I was ten years old.  Training eight hours a day.  It was all about competition and what the body could do. I would say by the time I came to yoga that I didn’t know what movement was that wasn’t in the name of competition. Whether it was for dance and being picked to be in the performance, or to be picked to go to special school, or was it to train your body so you could jump higher, flip faster, get into the water with no splash.  All the movement had a very specific reason to achieve a goal.  I think the biggest struggle, maybe at first, would have been to like, A) this is not about competition B) it’s actually not even about what poses I can do.  And letting go of that, and just allowing the practice to be a practice, because that was very foreign to me, but also because I had done so much athletics in that way, it was almost a relief that it didn’t have to be that way.  Once I got that. This isn’t about me learning handstand, it’s not me being able to put my foot to my head, but I had never done anything that wasn’t goal oriented movement before. Once I got over that I felt such freedom in the practice and I enjoyed it so much more.  It was about the love of being in my body.  The love of being present with the sensations that were in my body.  Also being connected to the other people on their mats, or being connected to the teacher, and the energy we were creating together.  It was getting over the fact it was okay, that based on my injury, that I couldn’t do some of these “advanced poses” and that wasn’t going to limit me in the potential of how my yoga practice could serve me. I think getting over that was a pretty big milestone for me.

    What is yoga favorite yoga pose and why?

    One of my favorite poses is handstand, and it’s just because it’s fun. I’m not practicing handstands on ledges. I just do it for fun. It reminds me of being a kid. It opens up that exuberant energy in me more and more. I just like to be upside down. There’s that monkey in me from being gymnast and a diver from a young age that still really enjoys that. I also really like Shivasana [laughs] because I think we’re all really tired and having that deep rest, like having that permission for deep rest is really welcome a lot of the time.

    What has been the most inspirational moment you’ve experienced as a yoga teacher?

    One of the things I’m known for is this yoga dance collaboration.  It comes in two forms. One is called Sol Fire and the other one is called Deep Exhale.  It is a combination of meditation, movement meditation, yoga, dance, eccstatic dance, and going back into yoga, and sound healing.  It has been one of the practices that has brought me so much joy to share. It’s been so healing for my own life and seeing the response, like actually, the visceral response in people’s faces and people’s bodies from these experiences.  I feel bad sometimes because I’m getting so much from it, that I’m like, “I hope my students are getting half as much as I am.”  There was one in particular experience, it was in 2017 at the Lightning in a Bottle Festival.  It was the Deep Exhale with my partner Marques Wyatt, he is a world renowned DJ.  It was like a vortex in this tent. We had about 700 people, and there were as many people surrounding the tent as that were inside.  The whole tent was pulsing with energy.  Everyone was jumping and lifting.  Feeling that energy and connecting with the students in that way, and seeing the ripple effect of this positive alignment and connection when we connect to what’s inside, and how we can allow it to express out. Really witnessing the reason why we put this yoga dance together and witnessing it being revealed in front of us. This really does work, and this really does light people up.  And it’s really bringing people into their power, and they’re having a really amazing time in the process.  That is one that in that moment it was, like, wow, this is it. This is it.

    Why do you practice? 

    I practice because I have to [laughs].  And I don’t mean that in a negative way.  I practice because this is the tool that helps me stay on my path of life. If yoga is life, then everything is my practice.  Setting up my alter, is my practice. Rolling out my mat, is my practice.  Playing my drum, is my practice.  Writing, is my practice.  And all of those, to me, are yoga.  Those are the practices that I need to stay sane [laughs].  to feel connected to who I am, to feel connected to the Earth below me, and to feel connected to infinite above me. I need these practices and they continue to feed me on a very deep level, and light me up, and support me in those times where I need the extra support and I need to be held by something.  The energy of these practices I can lean into and can hold me.

    Why do you teach? 

    Because I can’t not.  I do not want anyone to not have access to these practices that have helped me. I assume if they have helped me, they’re going to help other people. I teach because I want to share, with people, the transformative power of yoga in all forms.  So that it can be of service to as many people on this planet as possible.  Honestly, I’ll also say, I’m my best self when I’m teaching.  I hope I can continue to become a better person through becoming a better teacher.

    What’s your favorite yoga quote or mantra?

    My favorite mantra is, ah-hum pray-mah, ah-hum pray-mah, ah-hum pray-mah.  I am divine love. I am divine love, and I am divine love.  If we can have every cell of our body vibrating at that remembrance of exactly who we are, being divine love, that our families, or communities, or world, are going to be a much better place.

    What is the single most defining issue facing the global yoga community today?

    Inclusivity.  That you do not have to be a certain size, sex, weight, sexual preference, religion, culture, socioeconomic status to be a part of this practice. That we can open up the doors to bring these practices to everyone, so no one is left out, and no one feels left out. That they have to be a certain thing to be able to do yoga and to have this healing modality of what yoga is. I really think making this practice not a practice that’s just for the privileged, and that is a practice that is for everyone.  There are other benefits of how social media is reaching more people to bring yoga together, but I think that, for me, is really wanting to open a) what yoga is, and b) to make it so inclusive that everyone can benefit from this practice in the way I have, or in their own unique way.

    All of us embracing our shadow.  That yoga is not just peace and love and everything is going to be rainbows and sunshine and unicorns just because I’m doing yoga.  There is this notion sometimes that yoga is only about this liberation toward the light.  And, of course, that is part of the practice, but we can’t truly liberate and find freedom until we go down into ourselves. Until we go down into our bodies, go down into the really the guts of it.  To go down even into the metaphor of the Earth, into the dark fertile soils, back into the womb and address what is the root of everything.  So that we’re not suppressing, we’re not denying, we are not further oppressing anything, and putting this spiritual, “oh but it’s all peace and light,” gaze over it all. I want to say that as a community at large as an individual for myself, so much of my work is about embracing the shadow versus turning my back to it, and doing the work necessary so that I can transform.  So I can liberate.  So I can truly find freedom, and I’m also not going to harm another in that process.

    Do you have any recommended yoga reading?

    My favorite book that travels around the world with me, everywhere I go, it’s very batted up, is called the Radiant Sutras.  It is by Dr. Lorin Roche, who is one of my teachers and mentors.  It’s poetry as far as I’m concerned. It’s different, it’s basically the awe and wonder, gateways into the awe and wonder of what it is to be alive.  It’s a conversation between the God and the Goddess, about life.  And it’s different gateways, we could say, into meditation.  Each of these sutras are just dripping with poetic beautiful words. I am in love with the language.  It’s a living breathing text.  That is, hands down, my favorite yogic text.  Check it out, for sure.

    What is your dharma, your life mission?

    There are still parts of it that are being defined, and I know that.  Right now, one of them is, I want to wake people up. I want to shake people up. I want to bring these practices of yoga, and dance, and music to every single corner of the world. I want to help people feel grounded in their bodies, integrated with who they are and help them stoke the belief in themselves, that they can do everything and anything that they put their energy and attention towards. I want to inspire, I want to empower.  I want to get people moving and breathing in a really conscious, but fun, way.  That’s my mission right now.

    What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out on their yoga journey?

    Find a practice, and a teacher, that you deeply resonate with.

    By Cristi Christensen

    Practice Yoga with Cristi on Omstars

  • Yoga Teacher Interview with Cristi Christensen Part 1

    I want people to feel connected to who they are, and comfortable and strong in their bodies. I want their spirit to soar. I want to help them, inspire them, to feel that.

    Describe your personality in three words.

    Fun, Fiery, and Fierce.

    Where are you from and/or where do you live?

    I am from Brooklyn, New York, but I’m now “based” in Los Angeles.  I am more of a resident of the world, right now, as I am traveling about 70% of the time! So, I have a very expensive storage unit, a.k.a., a studio apartment in Los Angeles that is empty most of the time. But it is still where I return to again, and again, and again–and what feels like home in my heart.

    How long have you been practicing yoga and why did you start practicing yoga?

    I did my first yoga class around 2002.  I didn’t fall in love with yoga immediately.  What lead me to the practice was: I was an athlete, I was training for the 2004 Olympics in the sport of Platform Diving, and I broke my back.  That put a devastating end to my Olympic pursuit and throughout the healing process I was doing a lot of Pilates, a lot of physical therapy. And then, someone at that time was like, “I’ve been doing yoga, and I think you’ll really like it,” and I knew nothing, nothing, nothing about the practice, at the time.  The only thing I knew about it was that Madonna had been raving about it, and her body was amazing! So, I was like, “Sure, I’ll try yoga!” But I didn’t know it was anything more than exercise. I had no other context because it wasn’t in the mainstream like it is in any fashion, today.

    I went to the first class and the one thing I really noticed was that the teacher instructed every single breath.  I didn’t even know what style of yoga I was practicing. I do know, now, that it was the primary series of Ashtanga, but it was led.  I thought that was the only kind of yoga there was, and there were a lot of things I still couldn’t do because of my injury. I remember this idea of being just aware of my breath movement by movement and moment by moment that I’d never had that quality of attention to before.  It really sparked a sense of my own curiosity. And I was like, “hmm, what is this?” And it was more based on the curiosity that I continued versus this whole notion of immediately falling in love with the practice. And then, fast forward, a couple of years I moved to New York City and I was working for a company called Exhale, Mind Body Spa.

    Shiva Rea was coming to teach in New York for the first time in, I guess, a really long time. I had no idea who she was, I had no idea there were famous yoga teachers–still had very little context of this whole yoga thing.  People were talking about her like she was the Madonna of yoga. So, I was like, “Okay, I gotta find out what this is,” and at that point I had never even taken a yoga class that had music. It was after I actually took that class with her, something awoken in me.  I didn’t understand the energy-body before, what the energy-body was, or even what a spiritual-body was. I grew up religious, not spiritual, and didn’t even know there was a difference. And there was something that happened in that class that I was like, “Whoa, whatever this is…I want more of it.”  And then, I just kind of became ravenous in my exploration of this thing called yoga.

    What is yoga to you?

    Yoga is life.  Yoga is this unification, or maybe, the goal of life of how we bring absolute presence and consciousnesses and unification of all parts of who we are to any given moment, and in everything we do.  Whether it’s in a conversation we’re having, or showing up for our job. Or if it’s showing up for our partner, or our child. Or just showing up for ourselves. Yoga to me is really how I view life and the goal of bringing out whole self to participate and coming into unification of mind-body-heart-spirit-soul.

    How did you feel after your first yoga class?

    That feeling of curiosity and that feeling of attention with the breath.  I definitely was struggling a little bit at that time because my dream of what I’d been training for my whole life at that point had come down and I lost my identity. So, I was definitely having my own struggle in that capacity.

    How do you want students to feel after they practice with you?

    I want them to feel more connected to who they are. For me this is a practice of waking up to all the energy that you behold.  I want people to feel connected to who they are, and comfortable and strong in their bodies. I want their spirit to soar. I want to help them, inspire them to feel that.

    What impact has yoga had on your life? 

    I think yoga has affected every part of my life.  When I started practicing, even when I would say that switching point of falling in love and ravenously wanting to learn more about the practice, I never ever had the intention to teach.  It became something I was studying and became something I just wanted to know more about. Yoga has become my career. It’s more than my career. The definition of yoga is life, but really, yoga has become my life. Everything I do is related to this practice in some way.  Yoga has touched every aspect of my life. I would say the first thing is it has brought me back into my body.

    I didn’t realize I wasn’t fully in my body until I was very deep into my yoga journey.  It’s helped me become comfortable in my body, being comfortable and confident in my own skin.  So, on a very personal level, that is one of the huge benefits I’ve received. It’s helped me develop a relationship with spirit, and to connect me to what I’m calling, the infinite.  The infinite is many, many things.  My connection to nature, my connection to the cycles, and the rhythms of life.  The connection to the sun and the moon, and the connection to the God/Goddess. So, yoga has touched me very deeply and transformed my life in a huge way from that capacity alone because I had no former connection to those things.  I feel like the practice has also helped transform my body.

    I was told at 24 when I had the massive injury that I would be walking with a cane by the time I was 30.  And now, I’m in my early 40’s. I can’t do some of the most fancy poses of yoga, I don’t have a practice as deep as Kino’s, and being able to do all these amazing back bends, and what-not, because of the injury.  But I am not limited in my life, in any way, because of it. It has definitely transformed my body, as well. I really think the effects of yoga, for me, have been very tangible mind, body, and spirit.

    Why did you decide to start teaching yoga and what makes a good yoga teacher?

    I didn’t actually decide, it just happened. It got to a point where I could not, not share something that was transforming and awakening me in such a way that I could not, not share any longer. I was also in the yoga business, but I was in the business of managing other teachers. I was managing studios, I was managing retreat centers for this company, Exhale Mind Body Spa. I was also teaching other things. I was teaching Pilates and their proprietary class called Core Fusion, but yoga was still what I was keeping sacred to me.  There got to be a point where I could not, not share what became the guide post of my life.

    What style of yoga do you practice and what makes that style most effective? 

    I practice yoga under the, I’m going to call it, the very wide umbrella of Vinyasa. Vinyasa only means to move in a special way, to move with intelligence. To move with consciousness, to move with awareness. It gives me a tremendous amount of freedom to explore.  To explore the body and the breath in many different ways so I can be stagnant, I can be flowing, I can be dynamic, I can be settled. I can incorporate into my practices all of what I have been doing my entire life. I was a dancer, I was an athlete. I recovered from all of these injuries.

    The Vinyasa gives me freedom to bring together all the different modalities I’ve done up to now and infuse them into my yoga practice in a really beautiful way.  Sometimes it might look more like a dance. Sometimes it might have more of a core fiery focus, but it still goes back to why yoga is important to me. And that is to connect back to body, to connect back to the soul, and connect back to the heart. My practice looks very different all the time. It’s not the same everyday when I come to my mat.

    Do you have a teacher in your style of yoga?

    I don’t have a specific teacher in “my style” of yoga, but I have some amazing people that have influenced, of course, the way I teach. And of course taught me so much of the knowledge that I now have.  Ranging from Shiva Rea to Seane Corn, Sianna Sherman, Lorin Roche, Laura Amazzone, Saul David Raye. Annie Carpenter, to Maty Ezraty. I have had the really good fortune of being able to be blessed by a lot of really beautiful teachers when I ran a yoga studio Exhale Sacred Movement in Venice, California.  All of these teachers were resident teachers there. I really got to dive in deep with them in a really beautiful way, and they definitely have impacted, consciously and unconsciously, the way I teach now.

    Are there any current projects you’re working on that you can tell us about?

    I am pretty much working on the biggest project of my life, right now.  I’m in the process of writing a book called Chakra Rituals: Awakening the Wild Woman Within.  As the chakras and elements are my favorite thing to teach on and to share on because they’re so rich and so deep, and give us an incredible map and context in which we can look at our bodies and look at that connection to everything.  And all the different energies that we are. Coming Winter of 2021, I’ll have my first book coming out. I’m really excited. Something I thought I would do one day, and now I am doing it now.

    Also, coming up, I have some really great retreats. I am going to Costa Rica this April 4th to the 11th, and I am teaming up with Toni Bergins, who is the creator of JourneyDance. It’s one of the most transformative dance experiences that I have ever witnessed.  We met and we completely fell in love with each other, and we’re like, we have to collaborate.  We are doing our first retreat together in Nosara at the Blue Spirit, an amazing retreat center in Nosara, Costa Rica this April.  I haven’t been this excited about a collaboration in a long time. This is going to be super cool.  And then in September of 2020 I’m doing a European retreat in Italy, right outside of Florence, right in between Florence and Tuscany with another dear sister from Vienna named, Alexia, and that is two of the big things I’m really looking forward to next year!

    I’m really excited to be sharing this [Elemental Sol Flow] program with you. To have had Sol Rising, the amazing music producer and DJ doing all the original score.  He is actually DJ-ing on the set of the classes, it’s super special as we are friends and co-creators.  To share that with him, and bring these elements to life through the practices. Through the asana, through the music, and through my voice.

    By Cristi Christensen

    Practice Yoga with Cristi on Omstars

  • An Interview with Erica Tenggara

    Who is Erica Tenggara? You may have seen her course on OMstars, or maybe you follow her on instagram, but we wanted to know more – about who she is as a teacher, about her relationship with yoga, and why yoga is so important to her. So we reached out to Erica with a few interview style questions, and now we’re sharing her answers with you! Check out Erica’s Interview below and find out if she’s someone you can relate to, someone you might like to practice with or someone who inspires you, then check out her course, A Week Of Practice, on OMstars.com!

    1. How long have you been practicing yoga and why did you start practicing yoga?

    I’ve been practicing for 5 years.

    I started practicing for a few reasons, the instigator was that I was bored. My boyfriend at the time spent most nights socializing & I was bored of that, so I decided to fill my nights with yoga.

    Why yoga? Because I couldn’t really do anything else. I tore my ACL in high school & couldn’t do anything high impact so yoga it was & yoga has been my main squeeze ever since.

    1. What is yoga to you?

    Yoga is my happy medium.

    I’m a very extreme, emotional, erratic/irrational person. I’m very up & down but in yoga, I’m at a medium, I am just okay & I’m okay with that. I can’t escape, it’s not an escape. Practicing is a time for me to find a way to be okay with the practice and myself & that has a ripple effect into my life off the mat. So in a way, yoga is my mediator.

    1. How did you feel after your first yoga class and how do you want students to feel after they practice with you?

    Like I was on a high. I started out with Bikram yoga, the teacher was Irish & spoke with this incredible motivating Irish accent. I loved it! It was so hard, so much sweat, so much holding of what seems easy but isn’t & left me feeling like “woah – I don’t know what it is but I friggin love this”

    For my students though, I’d love for them to walk a way from my practice with a better sense of understanding. I’m not so into needing to create a high. But if someone can understand either themselves, a pose, a process, a feeling a little more than they did before. I feel like I have done my job. Awareness & perspective I realize more & more each day is what makes living a little more manageable & that’s what I’d like to give to my students, a way for them feel like what yoga is for me – a happy medium. A mediator.

    1. What impact has yoga had on your life? Who were you before you started practicing and how have you changed, evolved and transformed?

    Such a huge question. Where do I begin!

    Long story short: I’m a third culture kid who has gone through 2 parent divorces. Both of those divorces made me feel abandoned. Even today they still do although I realize them leaving me has actually nothing to do with me (that’s the yoga there – the realization/awareness)

    For whatever connecting reasons, in school I was depressed, bulimic & attempted suicide I think in 2009.

    Today though – I love my life & I believe I have a future in this lifetime.

    I feel I am naturally, highly emotional. I’m very erratic and irrational which can be a great thing but not always. I take everything to heart & it’s hard for me to take a joke and criticism. So of course I am also hard on myself & I am hard on others. This has affected the relationships I’ve had with everyone I have known from family, friends, colleagues, boyfriends and even students etc.

    I cannot say it is the yoga practice itself but it’s the elements of yoga & the yoga community that has helped me become a more understanding, empathic person with both myself & others.

    I can’t say I’m made of sugar but I can say that if someone is in child pose, I no longer just think they’re lazy. When it comes to my family, especially to my Mum, maybe it’s just cause I’m finally growing up a little bit, but I am making an effort to be nicer to her. Even when she’s so annoying, I try to make peace with her & try not to control the decisions she wants to make for herself.

    When it comes to relationships and yes I mean romantic relationships, I try to make better decisions. I think someone like me who is so erratic, who has gone through parent divorces, bulimia, depression etc. You crave love. You crave love, attention, affection. You want to feel wanted & desired & that feeling when you have it is addicting. It’s a high.

    I’ve learned though, to have a little more self control, to be aware of those feelings of need & desire, try to step back and look at the bigger picture “is this what I want?”

    And so the relationship I am in now, is the most grown up relationship I have ever been in. It’s one where although there is still a lot (like loads) of love, there is an effort to not just rely on affection. But to be two responsible adults for not just ourselves, but each other. Basically, I don’t always win all the fights & I get called out for my s**t. Which rarely happens. Even with my friends & family.

    I’m kinda rambling but in summary I’m a better person to myself, I’m a better colleague, better friend, better lover & daughter than I was before yoga.

    1. Why did you decide to start teaching yoga and what makes a good yoga teacher?

    I didn’t really decide I want to teach yoga, it was more a “wow, this is what I am meant to do” kind of situation.

    It was when I was doing my mock teaching during YTT – which I took for just curiosity sake really, and that’s when I had the “aha” moment.

    What makes a good yoga teacher? This is based on personal preference.

    I have a few teachers that I consider mentors & I love them for different reasons so I’ll just describe them and I think then it’ll make sense.

    Patrick Creelman

    Patrick is a child in an adult body. But when he teaches he is all business. Mostly influenced by Iyengar & Anusara yoga so as expected he is also strict. The only time I have ever done a child pose outside of his sequencing was when I had altitude sickness.

    His instructions can get annoying, if you have been to an Iyengar class, they talk – non-stop. But I kinda love it, the instructions make me work hard, Patrick makes me work hard. He’s one of the few teachers I know who doesn’t give a crap that I am a teacher, that I’ve got Instagram, that I’m… whatever. But if I’m in class, he works me hard & works me to my fullest potential without forgetting the other 50 students in the room.

    Arun Rana

    Arun is more your guru type yoga teacher. He has that presence. When he walks into the classroom everyone stops talking & sits in preparation. He specializes in flexibility & is the inspiration behind many of my tutorials that I have shared both on OMstars & instagram.

    Arun is also a very empathetic & understanding teacher, his is the total opposite of Patrick but still he has the ability to make you work hard without telling you to work hard. He just has that presence where you want to work hard for him.

    His sequencing I would 100% say can make the stiffest person more flexible.

    Noelle Connolly

    Is an American teacher based in Sydney & she is a 40 year old beast. She is just bad ass. She is a no fuss take no bull kind of teacher yet her teachings come through with love & intention. She totally summaries the definition of tough love.

    Her sequencing is what inspires my flows. She somehow is able to combine methods of iyengar & ashtanga into a modern day flow to amazing music.

    So Patrick is I would say my alignment & technique teacher, Arun is my flexibility (both physically & emotionally) teacher & Noelle is my transition & movement teacher. Each all so different from the other but each great at teaching.

    Not everyone likes these teachers, no one can please everyone. But more often than not, it’s the teachers who make you realise your potential or who believe in your potential, whether through asana or just life in general, who make you come back for more.

    1. What style of yoga do you practice and what makes that style most effective? Do you have a teacher in your style of yoga?

    I practice mostly Hatha yoga that is iyengar inspired.

    I love alignment, I love simple effective sequencing that isn’t about being pretty, but about creating accessibility & thus freedom in the body & mind.

    Patrick Creelman is right now is my main influence in my teachings.

    1. What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out on their yoga journey?

    Dont worry, dont rush. Trust.

    1. What has been your biggest struggle and your biggest milestone in the practice?  

    The handstand.

    I have such a love & hate relationship with handstand. I don’t feel that anyone is better when they can hand balance but it seems to be what is most admired on Instagram these days. Maybe that’s why I don’t love it? And to be honest, I was very happy when I couldn’t handstand but now just because I know it’s so hard to get & I see it all the time on IG. It makes me want to do it more & I question – why. Like is this so necessary?

    So although it was such a high when I could finally handstand, it’s also caused me injuries & makes me question my ego more than I would like.

    1. What is the single most defining issue facing the global yoga community today?

    Instagram.

    It is so love and hate. Instagram for me in the beginning was a place where I could discover other local yogis & just kind of rejoice in our little community. But now? It’s about personalities, popularity etc. What you see on Instagram, with an exception to a few select accounts is not what yoga really is in a class setting.

    It’s so conflicting & I am conflicted as well. 95% of my photos on IG, I’m wearing make up & my hair is down.

    But in real life? I only really wear make up for date night & hair is mostly tied up.

    But everyone does that. So does it make it okay? Or am I just thinking too much? Let IG be IG, let real life be real life. Does this even matter?

    1. What’s the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you as a student and as a teacher?

    Queefing & sweaty back farts. In both teaching & student situations. But such is life.

    1. What is your dharma, your life mission? 

    I don’t really have a life mission to be honest and many may not know but as much as I love teaching yoga, I actually just really want to be a mother and eventually have being a mother as my main job & teaching on the side. Can that be considered a dharma? A life mission? 😅

    Erica Tenggara

  • Interview With Erica Mather

    One of the great things about OMstars is that we have a wonderful community of students and teachers from all around the world, with various styles of practice. Want to know more about our amazing teachers? This week, we asked, Forrest Yoga Guardian, Erica Mather several interview style questions about herself, her practice, and her teaching. Get to know a little more about Erica here on the blog, then log in or join OMstars – The Yoga Network to start practicing with her today!

    1. How long have you been practicing yoga and why did you start practicing yoga?

    I’ve been practicing since 2001. I began because I experienced adult-onset migraine headaches, and I was told that yoga could help with that.

    1. What is yoga to you?

    Yoga is a system for getting to know yourself—your body, mind, heart, and spirit—and for learning to live in honor and integrity with that human being you’re getting to know.

    1. How did you feel after your first yoga class and how do you want students to feel after they practice with you?

    I don’t exactly recall how I felt physically after my first practice…sore? Tired? I DO remember being excited and relieved that I found a place where I could rehabilitate my own relationship with my body, independent of a value assumption based on what it looks like, or what it can do.

    I want my students to feel free—in their bodies, in their relationships, in their work lives, and in their spiritual lives. It’s a tall order, but I DO get reports back from my students that they feel expanded through the breath work, and stronger in their bodies and their minds from the ways that I ask them to engage deeply. These are good places to begin.

    1. What impact has yoga had on your life? Who were you before you started practicing and how have you changed, evolved and transformed?

    I’m not sure I could even recognize the person I was before yoga. What I do remember is feeling more anxious about all the things I thought I should be, and as a result experiencing far more doubt, social anxiety, self-recrimination, and self-loathing.

    In terms of transformation and evolution, above all, the practices of connecting with the body as a source of wisdom, exercising compassion for all the ways I mess up, and studying myself—the things I admire AND those I dislike—have brought me into closer relationship with myself. As a result, I’m more aware of the things that I need and long for out of life, and can be brave enough to go after them, or to ask for them from others.

    I’m very proud of so much that I accomplished as a young person, before I began practicing yoga. But, I’m also aware that the person I am becoming is more in alignment with the kind of person I can admire, and THIS is the result of my yoga practice. When we confront our own deaths, THIS is the ultimate judgment, the only one that really matters: are YOU proud of yourself and the life that you lived?

    1. Why did you decide to start teaching yoga and what makes a good yoga teacher?

    I decided to start teaching yoga because it was a natural next progression for my life as a teacher. I’ve been teaching in some capacity since I was 17, and I consider teaching to be my key skill.

    A good yoga teacher knows how to teach. Yoga is the topic. Teaching is the skill. To teach well, you must have an understanding of HOW people learn, and you yourself be curious about learning more and more about people, because each and every student will learn slightly differently than every other student. So, you must be curious about people, even more than you are curious about yoga. This is the foundation of a good teacher.

    1. What style of yoga do you practice and what makes that style most effective? Do you have a teacher in your style of yoga?

    I teach Forrest Yoga. What I think makes Forrest Yoga effective is that it teaches the body is central to the project of self-realization. Instead of the body as a mere stepping-stone ON the path, the body itself IS the path.

    Ana Forrest is my teacher. I am a lineage-holder in her tradition. I am very honored to be of service to the world in this capacity.

    1. What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out on their yoga journey?

    It’s a lifelong journey. Think of it as the beginning of a new kind of relationship with yourself and with the world. Throw out all expectations, and enjoy the view.

    1. What has been your biggest struggle and your biggest milestone in the practice?  

    Biggest struggle…letting go of the need to feel accomplished.

    Biggest milestone…my goodness. I feel like every day is a milestone!

    1. What is your favorite yoga pose and why? And what’s your least favorite yoga pose and why?

    I really enjoy Bridge Pose—Setu Bhanda. I like the way it frees up my lungs and helps traction my back, which is often quite painful.

    I can’t think of a least favorite. They all are in the running to become a new, unexpected favorite.

    1. What has been the most inspirational moment you’ve experienced as a yoga student? And how about as a teacher?

    As a yoga student…the most inspiration comes when I have an epiphany on the mat, or make some connection off the mat that improves my relationship with other people or with the world. As a teacher, it’s really as a teacher-trainer. Those are the moments when I really get to engage with a person, knowing that they are all-in and hunting personal transformation and I’m able to say something that touches them in a way that heals their heart.

    1. Why do you practice? Why do you teach?

    I practice because it is a never-ending connection to myself and a forum for getting to know myself. I teach because I love connecting with other humans through the act of teaching, and also because the act of teaching is incredibly creative for me, and through it I learn things that otherwise would not have been available to me.

    1. What’s your favorite yoga quote or mantra?

    “A true contemplative is one who lives with a broken heart. A heart that is open to the world must be willing to be broken at any time. This brokenness produces the kind of grief that expands the heart so that it can love more and more.” ~Stephen Cope Yoga and the Quest for the True Self.

    1. What is the single most defining issue facing the global yoga community today?

    Listening to people with whom we disagree. As “open minded” people we have become very close minded to people who do not view the world in ways that conform to our own. It is exactly the responsibility and the challenge of the modern yogi to remain open-minded and open-hearted to other view-points and other voices. When we stay centered, open, and compassionate to those with whom we disagree, we open a channel for them to relax, feel heard, and therefore, perhaps to be willing to listen to us in exchange. It is our DUTY as modern mystics to tend to the world, and the way forward will call upon us to be the highest versions of ourselves.

    1. What’s the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you as a student and as a teacher?

    Clothing malfunctions. I’ll leave it at that.

    1. Do you have any recommended yoga reading?

    I think that The Heart of Yoga by TKV Desikachar is essential reading for all yoga practitioners and teachers or all lineages. It provides context and history for all that we do now.

    1. What is your dharma, your life mission? 

    My dharma is to heal the broken love lines in my family and all around me. I believe that it is my calling to become a bodhisattva, and to be available to love the world. This is my life mission.

    Interview With Erica Mather

    ERica Mather, Forest Yoga teacher, interview about yoga

    Erica is a Forrest Yoga Guardian, hand-picked by Ana Forrest to become one of a handful of senior teacher in the Forrest Yoga tribe.

    Start Practicing With Erica On OMstars – The Yoga Network

     

  • An Interview With Joseph Armstrong

    How much do you know about your favorite OMstars teachers and they’re relationships to yoga? Get ready to find out! Earlier this month we hosted the #ActualizeYogaChallenge with Joseph Armstrong, and if you joined the challenge, you had the opportunity to practice with him on OMstars – The Yoga Network. So this month, we reached out to Joseph to ask him all about his experience with and relationship to yoga, plus a whole bunch of other yoga related questions. These are his answers…

    1. How long have you been practicing yoga and why did you start?

    I began my practice in 2008. I started when a friend invited me to class. I dabbled casually for quite a while, unknowing that it would eventually transform everything.

    1. What is yoga to you?

    On a physical level, Yoga is a process of creating stress in the body and learning to remain calm and relaxed at the same.

    On a psychological level, Yoga is a revelatory process that helps us realize behavioral patterns that we are stuck in and emotional tendencies that are repeating and controlling our lives.

    On a spiritual level, Yoga is about seeking. Perhaps finding we are neither the body nor mind, but something else entirely.

    1. How did you feel after your first yoga class and how do you want students to feel after they practice with you?

    I have an addictive personality. After my first class I knew I wanted more.

    I don’t care how my students feel after practice. 🤷🏽‍♀️ It will vary. Sometimes they’ll feel great. Sometimes they’ll feel like shit. How they feel after any given practice is less important than the fact that they show up with regularity for the long haul. It’s this dedication that will light the fire of yoga in their lives.

    1. What impact has yoga had on your life? Who were you before you started practicing and how have you changed, evolved and transformed?

    The inevitability of everything has become very clear. No matter my grasping or great revulsion, life will happen just the same. The external world will unfold as determined by laws of cause and effect. My opinions and ideas are equally a result of that phenomenon.

    Sometimes I feel yoga is a tool that has helped me restructure my life. Before yoga I was a drug dealer, a liar and a thief. I was existentially morbid and inconsolable. I could not make peace with my place in the world.

    Sometimes I feel that I am a tool that’s helping yoga restructure the universe. I am hopeful now. I’m certain that I am power for good, because I aim to be of service. I am to help those who are suffering as I once did. I have blueprints for living.

    Where once there such great doubt and terrible fear and need for answers, now there is comfort with uncertainty. There’s an adventurers heart. There is a love for possibilities and questions that creation poses.

    1. Why did you decide to start teaching yoga and what makes a good yoga teacher?

    I failed miserably at everything so tried before I committed to yoga. I managed restaurants, sold kids furniture, worked in a carpets factory in the middle of nowhere. You name it… Yoga is the only thing I’ve felt might allow me to devote a life time to it.

    Whenever someone tells me I’m a good teacher, I tend to respond: I’m only doing what my teachers taught me to do. I believe my skill as a teacher derives from my own mentors and our shared devotion to tradition.

    On the other hand, I do have a curious and questioning heart. So I tend to seek both the scientific and spiritual underpinnings of practice. I seek common ground between the two.

    1. What style of yoga do you practice and what makes that style most effective? Do you have a teacher in your style of yoga?

    I practice and teach Ashtanga yoga primarily. It’s very effective in that the sequence is highly structured. Using the Tristhana Method (3 points of convention, movement, gaze and breath) the practice is directed and stabilized. Once these details are memorized, and with substantial practice, the process becomes a meditative one.

    My teachers are R. Sharath Jois, Tim Feldmann and Kino MacGregor.

    I also teach multipractice classes which incorporate Asanas, breath work and mindfulness meditations. I call the practice Actualize. These classes are structured to increase self-observation and utilize the power of the parasympathetic nervous system for relaxation response.

    1. What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out on their yoga journey?

    I kept a practice journal when I first committed to a regular practice. On my second day, the notes read something along the lines of: ‘Hopped on bike and headed towards studio. Turned around half way. Too nervous. Did sun salutations at home instead.

    Starting can be intimidating. And it’s okay to be nervous or scared even. For me the vital part was just not to give up. No matter what keep coming back, even if there are some fits and starts.

    1. What has been your biggest struggle and your biggest milestone in the practice?  

    I struggle with maintaining a deep breath. I smoked my first cigarette when I was 13 and then half a pack a day from the time I was 18 until I was 35. I have had to put a lot of thought into what breath control is in my practice and how to make peace with my very reduced lung capacity. Everyone’s experience of practice will be a bit different, it’s important to see that and fit the practice to differing abilities.

    1. What is your favorite yoga pose and why? And what’s your least favorite yoga pose and why?

    I feel my current work in second series Ashtanga has been a milestone. This sequence has tested my resolve and required me to develop a new level of physical strength from a never-before-tapped well of determination.

    I’ve learned to appreciate that I will not love every posture every day, but it’s important I do them all the same. Likewise, I shouldn’t get too attached to the ones I sometimes gravitate towards, because who knows when injury or illness might make them go…

    Karandavasana has been my buddy for some time now, though. It’s been the slowest progression of my yoga asana development. For over a year I’ve gotten steadily stronger. Recently I lifted my lotus up with some amount of control and confidence. A year ago my nervous system was a wild electrical storm every time the pose approached. Today I remain calm and focused. Something deep within me has shifted. I feel at peace and proud of my long-term dedication. Proud because I suspect I now have something to offer others, because of my devotion and determination I can now be of service to others.  

    1. What has been the most inspirational moment you’ve experienced as a yoga student? And how about as a teacher?

    As a student my most inspirational moment was walking into the KPJAYI Shala in Mysore India for the first time. To be called in by my teacher, Sharath Jois, and given a spot to practice under his guidance was pure magic. There’s something very special about that place and I’m so lucky to have been, and to be returning in June of this year.

    This Mysore Magic inspires my teaching too. It’s only because of this method that I am able to share yoga well, with a sureness granted by the thousands of teachers and practitioners who have come before me. Every practice of Ashtanga yoga begins with the count ‘Ekam, Inhale’. Each time I hear this count, I raise my arms above my head and look up. It’s like I’m moving in unison with every Ashtangi throughout time. It’s powerful.

    1. What’s your favorite yoga quote or mantra?

    I think often about the Amit Ray quote:

    Self-observation is the first step of Inner unfolding.

    I also am very inspired by the quote from drag queen superstar, RuPaul:

    We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.

    1. What is the single most defining issue facing the global yoga community today?

    Yoga is and always has been about developing a more neutral mind, so that we might see the world as it truly is and not as we want it to be. This stillness may offer some revelation. I can’t speak for the masses, but for me this search for clarity defines my practice more than anything else. Even if it’s just my doubts I’m seeing more clearly. I believe many in the modern world are yearning for a neutral, secular yoga. Spiritual, not religious, practice.

    1. What’s the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you as a student and as a teacher?

    Being a recovered addict, it follows that I burned up a lot of valuable brain cells in my misspent youth. Learning new things can be a challenge. Memorizing the sequence of Ashtanga yoga was overwhelming for me initially. I was so embarrassed every time I had to ask my teacher, yet again, what the next pose was.

    Today when I have students who struggle with memorization I feel such empathy. I almost always tell them they can ask me as many times as they need. I joke that if they weren’t there to ask me so many questions I’d be out of a job completely!

    1. Do you have any recommend yoga reading?

    Moola Bandha: The Master Key is a great, easy read. Filled with practices for and philosophy of deep core awareness, it’s been so helpful in my own practice.

    1. What is your dharma, your life mission? 

    In recovery lingo, we say: If you wanna keep what you have, you have to give it away. That’s why I’ve devoted myself to the practice and sharing of yoga. I was a destructive force in the world for so long, but something miraculous occurred when I surrendered to powers greater than myself. My teachers in Ashtanga and my sponsor and peers in Recovery are those greater powers. These people helped me reshape my life, they did for me what I could not do for myself. They set me free to thrive. They gave me a gift that is transmissible, I can help others now. This is my sacred responsibility.

    Joseph Armstrong

    Learn More About Joseph On OMstars