Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Good Practice to Cultivate

Cindy at the Start of Dandayamana Dhanurasana or Standing Bow Pose

Namaste and many thanks to Cindy, one of my oft-quoted Hot Yoga instructors, for taking time to answer questions that I sent her way...

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'Drea: On Saturday you went over the rules, demonstrated recovery poses then ended by saying “You’re in safe hands...” which I thought was reassuring, period, but especially since there were quite a few newbies in attendance.

During savasana for another class that I went to, the teacher encouraged us to relax and said that she would watch over us. I feel hard-wired to watch out for my own self but it was nice to let go and, symbolically, let someone else be the lookout.

Is there some phrase that one of your teachers has said that resonated and sticks with you?

Cindy: I think it is so important to be reminded that you are safe in yoga classes. It can be really difficult for people, as you know, to let go and truly still feel safe. In our society you have to keep your guard up all of the time and it is such a luxury to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. This is a good practice to cultivate. We all need a bit of quiet, sacred time in our day where we are safe and sound and our only concern is our breath.
 It's so important to your mental and physical health to decompress like this...but you have to be able to really let go first and giving yourself that permission is the first step.

There are so many things that have come out of my instructors' mouths and lodged in my little brain over the years. Some were just clever ways of describing poses or motions, and others really profound nuggets of wisdom. One of my all-time favorites was in a class recently when we were all perched up in our tree poses, but everyone was really feeling off balance that day. Seasoned yogis don't normally struggle too much in tree pose and some seemed quickly, and outwardly, very frustrated by this. The instructor noticed and wisely reminded us that "it is only the strongest trees that are able to sway." This was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment, but I think about that all the time in my personal life too. Now when I am having a hard day, I just remember her words and they help me to remain flexible in tough situations and go with the flow.

Almost There...

'Drea: What made you walk into your first yoga class, what type of class was it and did you immediately like yoga?

Cindy: I first learned about yoga through a friend of mine in high school, way back in the 1990's. He bought me a book for my birthday called, "The Sivananda Companion to Yoga" and I started practicing yoga on my bedroom floor. I learned the poses straight out of this book, without really even thinking that I should go to a class or find a teacher. I don't remember when the very first class I went to was, most likely at our local gym. My small hometown maybe didn't even offer any yoga classes there either until after 2000. I was immediately drawn to yoga. Having never been a terribly athletic or coordinated person, this practice instantly felt made exactly for me! There was something so satisfying about all of it, a sort of reassurance that my feelings were correct all along: there absolutely is more to life than it may seem! Yoga and I have been in cahoots for a while and we are fast and old friends!

'Drea: Are you involved in any other fitness activities?

Cindy: Since I started my yoga teacher training, I haven't had a lot of time to do anything except for yoga, but I have participated in lots of other fitness activities in the past and will again once my training is complete. Generally I have found, I get bored easily in many of the workout programs that I have tried. I like variety a lot. I was doing a bootcamp program last fall to get in shape for an adult-sized obstacle course run, called The Ruckus. The training was almost as much fun as the actual race, because the instructor changed the routines every day. I had never done a race before and it was so much fun and gave me so much confidence! I heard about one this summer in St. Louis where zombies chase you through the course...now that sounds like a creative workout! I like exercising when it doesn't feel like work or slaving away in the gym. Roller skating, hula hooping, or riding my fat tire bike are fun ways to stay fit that I can easily find the motivation to do. It's hard to inspire me to go and walk 5 miles on a treadmill that doesn't go anywhere or lift the same dumbbell over and over. Exercise doesn't have to be boring...it doesn't really even have to be exercise. Walking my dog and practicing yoga is my simple everyday routine and seems to work for me in my life right now. I think that's the most important thing about fitness is that you find an activity that you really enjoy, then you are able to commit to it more easily.

'Drea: According to Guardian online website, Costa Rica, France, Spain and Turkey are some of the top destinations for yoga retreats in 2012. Any retreats on your bucket list?

Cindy: Oh geez! Only all of the above! I am only recently becoming very painfully aware of all of these fantastically beautiful yoga retreats that happen all of the time. I am a real sucker for Maui and I just read about one there that might be at the top of my list. The ocean is just about as perfect a backdrop on the planet for yoga.

'Drea: Any fitness activities on your must-try list?

Cindy: I would love to try some rock climbing. My fear of heights is something I would love to conquer and rock climbing has always been attractive to me but that fear holds me back. I don't have too much upper body strength either so it seems a bit daunting to me. I like challenging things though, so I know I will do it one day! Also surfing!! I love the water and I would just love to learn how to ride a wave.

'Drea: For most yoga teachers, there seems to be one asana that they like to hold you in for just a tad bit longer. For Jeremy, it’s tree pose. For you, it seems to be chair. Is chair your favorite pose or something? Or, do you just want to make sure that all of our large muscles are properly warmed up?☺  Also, is there a pose that you've really struggled with?

Cindy: I do think it's important to warm up these muscles, that's true. I really think that chair pose is one that everybody can do and needs to do. That is a cardiovascular pose, really gets your blood moving, so I'm getting your energy up and setting the tone for exactly how hard I am expecting you to work for the rest of the practice. That pose comes early in the class too, so yogis should have lots of energy still. I expect to get some dirty looks after that pose, that's how I know I am doing it right!

I have struggled with many poses over the years. In Hot Yoga there are poses that I used to absolutely hate, I mean really despise--forearm plank, head to knee pose, for starters. But I have found that it is usually because I am not very good at them yet and I don't like doing things that I am not really good at. When I don't like doing something it usually means that is what I actually NEED to be doing. Once I conquer those hated, difficult poses, or even just make a little progress within them, I always have a better attitude toward them, even plank.

 Yoga Journal there...

'Drea: I think that yoga teachers are pretty generous to begin with but, for me, teaching Hot Yoga seems like a particularly giving act given the element of heat, the length of class and heightened monitoring required. Why teach Hot Yoga or, for that matter, why teach any type of yoga?

Cindy: Why not? I feel so privileged to be able to teach yoga and share with others this amazing thing that has honestly changed my life. This practice that you do on your yoga mat can change your life, and the whole world. Being able to influence that change, or coax it along in any small way, is a really special job perk. I believe that there is so much more to people that they may not even be awake to yet, it's so exciting to see it come alive. Reading your blog, for example, is like getting a bonus for me...I am so honored to be with you all on this journey, and to realize that my words have even in some tiny manner impacted my students is golden!

'Drea: What was teaching your first HY class like? What was the "pre-game" preparation and/or self-talk like?

Cindy: I remember being surprised at my ability to control my nerves. I am a pretty anxious person by nature, so I was really amped up but had practiced this sequence so many times training for it that I knew I had it down. I had also been a student at Hot Yoga for months before I even started training to become a teacher, so I knew it from that perspective as well. I simply sat myself down, did some deep breathing and told me, "Ok, you know this. Don't over think it. Keep it simple. You've got this. Now go teach yoga." And by the grace of God, the words were there for me when I reached for them. It was a really amazing moment. The rush when that first class finished was extraordinary! I instantly thought, yes...this is what I am supposed to be doing. This is it.

'Drea: How many times have you watched Enlighten Up!? or am I the only one who’s watched it repeatedly? If you haven’t see Enlighten Up!, do you have a favorite yoga DVD or book?

Cindy: I have watched that movie about 25 times! My Amazon wish list is full of books that I would like to read as well, but my Yoga Alliance certification is sort of dominating what I am currently reading. I have many favorites though; "Stretch" is a funny book about a beginner's journey by Neal Pollack if you want to laugh pretty hard, "Are You My Guru?" by Wendy Shanker was a great, inspiring read! Erich Schiffman's book "Yoga, The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness" is one of my all time favorites, so much wisdom in there! Also I am in love with Miguel Ruiz's book "The Voice of Knowledge." Of course the Bhagavad Gita is a must-read for all yogis, along with Iyengar's "Tree of Yoga" and Patanjali's "Yoga Sutras". There is just so much great literature out there, I hope I live a long life so I can read them all!

'Drea: What does yoga do for you?

Cindy: Yoga makes me feel really good...inside and out. Of course yoga gives us strength and flexibility, detoxification and balance, but the real changes that take place are on the inside. Through meditation, Yoga allows me to calm my mind and cultivate the practice of not letting my thoughts control my life. It gives me space and time to sort of hang out with myself, find out what's going on with me on the inside, get to know my true nature and what I am capable of creating in the universe. There is a Sanskrit phrase that originates in Patanjali's sutras, "sthira sukhum asanam" and it means roughly "the yoga pose is firm, but happy." This is exactly what yoga promotes in me, contentedness, ease, yet strength and firmness. Yoga changes my attitude and how I interact with others and this, in turn, changes my life and the lives of those around me -- more contentedness, less want; more ease, less struggle; more compassion, less greed; more laughter and less pain. Gandhi said, "be the change that you want to see in the world" and this is what I would like to see more of in myself and the rest of the world.


  1. Cindy's awesome-you captured her perfectly. :)

  2. What a fabulous interview! Such good questions and so many good answers. You know what? I think you need to write a book or make a movie. Seriously

  3. @Mary,

    Hi... That's all Cindy shining through. I just asked a few questions. :)


    At this rate, if I get around to writing a book, it's going to be about yoga. Who would have thunk it???

    Thanks so much for believing that I need to write a book. I think you're such a good writer so that's a huge compliment coming from you...

  4. LOVE the interview.
    I climb with wild abandon too :-) it's the yoga with which *I* struggle.

  5. I like that she said that we need to feel safe. I think that's why I stopped going to my last studio because I constantly felt judged and picked on because I look and talk different from the other students.

  6. @MizFit,


    Don’t you love it when you can throw yourself into something with wild abandon?


    I hear you. A yoga studio should be a refuge – not a room filled with small-mindedness. Hope that you find another studio to practice at soon.