Recently I attended an R&R retreat at a large and famous center for yoga and healing arts up in the western mountains of Massachusetts. It was lovely. In fact it was downright delicious on every level. I spent my days in yoga practice, journaling, meditation, dancing, healing arts sessions and workshops, walking in the woods, eating the best food, and engaging in rich conversation with fellow seekers.
In one of the conversations, the topic of hot yoga came up and the woman with whom I was comparing notes expressed the utter unlikeliness of herself ever participating in such a practice. She didn’t like the idea one bit! She couldn’t see getting all strenuous with heat, the sweating, the slipperiness of the mat, and whatever else she’d heard about the physical discomforts endured by practitioners of this extreme form.
When I told her with glowing eyes and skin and soul how deeply this practice has enriched my own experience on the mat, she said something to the effect that women like me in middle age but not having had children might have a bit more of what it takes. To her mind, Hot Yoga is “for the young.”
Ha! It did my ego good to hear it. In fact, I do feel quite spry for my somewhat advanced years—and certainly I am often the oldest individual in the class, or so it appears. Not that I am really paying attention to that—I just happen to notice how many fine, healthy looking and beautiful young persons are in the room together on Sunday mornings at the Yoga Room in Long Island City, where I practice Hot Yoga once a week.
What happens there? We enter in to the heated room and set ourselves up with our mats and our props. People filter in at intervals, getting ready for an intense experience. We settle in to ourselves and then Victoria comes in and we come to our feet at the top of the mat and start that deep focus within, that looking inward which starts with looking into our own eyes in the mirror.
We breathe deeply; we open our ribs and lungs and throats and noses and mouths. We expand. If we haven’t started sweating already, it’s coming any minute now. We go deeper in; deeper and deeper in.
And then it happens. For me, the sweetest moment comes as I surrender to all of it and make the decision to honor myself, my body, my journey, my experience. I let myself travel into my own eyes, my own soul. I accept myself for everything I am; everything I’ve ever been. I honor what has gotten me here to this moment, this mat, this mirror, this reflection of my reality on a Sunday morning.
Here’s something I see in myself in the hot room. I see a mental game. I know there is so much emphasis placed on the physical (strenuous, uncomfortable) aspects of hot yoga practice, but that is simply a distraction; or an expedient. The body with its requirements, abilities, limitations, and comfort zones is finite. But the mind is the player here.
I love that feeling of respect I give myself when I decide to stay cool. I decide to accept and learn about myself. I decide to embrace what happens and go with it, deeper in, further on. It’s so good.
We sat down with yoga teacher and Masters in Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine candidate Kate Moll to get her thoughts on yoga, balance, and finding an antidote to the hustle and bustle of big city life.
Where are you from, and what brought you to the mat?
I grew up around the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. As a child, I developed a passion for being in the mountains, particularly with skis strapped to my feet. While attending college in Vermont, I was looking for a way to keep in shape during the off season of snowboarding/skiing and heard that yoga would help my balance. What started as a physical practice in VT quickly changed to a much deeper spiritual practice of presence upon moving to NYC. I was whisked from the serene snow and big nature to the hustle and bustle of city life in pursuit of a career in graphic design. I began to notice more and more how my yoga practice became my sanctuary, a place where I could feel my breath and connection to the ground again–something I had greatly taken for granted before. Over time, yoga has given me the tools to stay in the present moment and connect to my breath, even while playing “frogger” across the busy streets of Manhattan with two Whole Foods grocery bags in each hand, a yoga mat slung over my shoulder, and Stevie Wonder singing “Living For The City” in my headphones.
Favorite thing about TYR?
The amazing diversity of the staff and teachings they bring to the community. TYR caters to all the many practitioners out there: hot, restorative, yin, Iyengar, vinyasa, prenatal, etc. Yoga isn’t just one thing meant to be taught one way. Yoga is about connection to our deepest self and our selves are all very different. There is no “one way” for everyone. The great mystic poet Rumi says, “…there are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground”, and I think TYR really embraces this wise teaching.
I think I’ve changed my answer every day to this question. Final answer – any Yin pose. I was introduced to the yin practice in 2008 by fellow teacher, Allison Eaton, who I need to give maha love to for doing so. I practice and teach a pretty vigorous vinyasa flow style. On top of snowboarding/skiing, I used to be a dancer and a marathon runner. So, there’s always been a lot of active energy in my life–not mention the everyday life of being a NYer. I’m currently getting my Master’s Degree in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, in which the cornerstone to health is balance (just like yoga!), and the first treatment principle is to treat early to prevent pathological changes. As much as I’d love to be doing all the things I do until I’m 103 years old, I’ve realized the need to find balance in my physical lifestyle in order prevent some sort of pathology (micro or macro) in the long run. I will always be drawn to dynamic movement, but yin yoga has helped me find the balance, respite, and nurturing that my body needs as a preventative.
What do you like best about teaching?
Teaching forced me to let go of the need to have the right answer, because there isn’t one in this practice. I should actually say, “teaching is forcing me…”, because that’s definitely a lifelong lesson. It’s taught me that listening, holding space, and supporting each other is really how we’re all going to get through this awkward, crazy, brilliant experience of life…no right answers needed.
Be open. We have the tendency to get stuck in our opinions and ways of life. I think it’s important to remember the vast amount of possibilities out there. There are what…7.1 BILLION people on the planet? Every culture, every country, every household, every part of nature holds wisdom in its own way. We each have our own unique stories with unique voices and ideas that are real and raw and personal. It’s only through listening to each other with open ears, eyes, and hearts that we can grow and evolve to become a serious force of greatness.
Kate teaches 7:00am AM Flow at LIC on Mondays and Thursdays, 6:30pm Vinyasa Flow at LIC on Wednesdays, and 10:30am Vinyasa Flow at Astoria on Sundays.
Searching for a physical activity that would complement my passion for dance, a dear friend and amazing instructor told me about her yoga experience and recommended that I visit The Yoga Room to try it out for myself. And so I did. I remember stepping into my first hot yoga class at The Yoga Room in the summer of 2008. It was literally the crack of dawn when my friend and I showed up at the old studio to find a cheerful, warm, and beautiful teacher welcoming us to The Yoga Room. I made it through my first class and even though I struggled, I came back for more because something in my gut told me that there was more to this whole yoga thing than the physical experience. And so the journey began…
When I began practicing yoga, I only took hot classes to keep my physical body in shape without the intention of actually improving my overall well-being in the long run. Soon enough, I began exploring other forms of yoga, particularly vinyasa, and I started becoming aware of my internal struggles which manifest themselves in my thoughts, words, and actions. As the dynamics of my practice changed, so did my perspective and understanding of yoga as a way of life. My mat has become a bubble and The Yoga Room has transformed into a safe space, a type of sanctuary, where I can just be, deal, and breathe through anything that comes up without fear of judgment. Cultivating this focus has been essential to peeling off the layers which social standards impose yet prevent me from connecting with my inner divinity – my heart, mind and soul.
The challenging part of practice is applying what I learn in class to everyday life; it is definitely a work in progress in which the journey has greater worth than the end result. Sometimes it requires using the BAM! Factor (for those of you who practiced with John Cavanaugh, you know what I am talking about) in order to realize that the strength to embrace challenges, push beyond our comfort zone, find stability in resistance as well as root in opposition, and accept gradual progress in order to live a happy, wholesome life lies within. A teacher at The Yoga Room once said, “All of the answers we look for can be found in ourselves.” It is just a matter of trusting and believing that we know what is right and never giving up on truth, even if it means falling out of that handstand and trying again.
Practicing yoga here is empowering as I have not only had the chance to embark on a journey to find my true self, I have also found a wonderful, supportive, fun group of loyal friends who share their uplifting energies on and off the mat. Walking in and out of The Yoga Room for the first three years, I recognized familiar faces and made small talk with other practitioners but never really made an effort to actually make new friends. During an unforgettable yoga retreat in 2011, I had the opportunity to establish meaningful friendships with an incredible group of people who have significantly changed my life. For this and many other reasons, I am forever grateful to have crossed paths with The Yoga Room community.
Where are you from, and what brought you to the mat?
Originally from the exotic state of New Hampshire, in 2002 I moved to NYC fresh out of Boston University with a degree in Communications and a certification in Group Exercise. My typical day would begin with teaching a 6am boot camp class, then off to my stressful corporate job in the heart of Times Square, and most evenings would be capped off with a 5-hour waitressing shift on the Upper West Side. Needless to say, I was mentally and physically tapped out, and when I did have time to myself, I really didn’t know how to relax. I discovered yoga when a friend suggested I take a class with her called Budokon, a fusion of yoga and martial arts. As a student of martial arts, I was drawn to the class because I got to punch, kick and fly through the air, but little by little I started to shift my interest towards the yoga elements…the deep breathing, the slowing down, the meditation. Those components of the class were extremely challenging for me and made me feel uneasy, but I knew this was exactly what my body and mind needed. I became interested in delving deeper into yoga, and ultimately was so drawn to it that I chose to seek out a teacher training program.
Favorite thing about TYR
Prior to teaching at TYR, I was a practioner here. I remember the first time I walked into the LIC studio, after being lured in by the amazing Intro Special deal. I was greeted with a warm smile by the woman at the front desk, and there was such a sense of serenity in the space. Having spent many years teaching in bustling gyms, TYR truly became my sanctuary. From the students, to the teachers, to the hard-working staff, I’ve met so many amazing and interesting people here, and it really feels like a family.
I often say in class that Navasana is my favorite pose, but that’s just my trick to encourage students to hold it longer ;) If I had to choose a favorite pose, I’d say Ardha Chandrasana. I used to struggle in this pose to maintain balance, and I’d get super angry when I’d fall out of it. As I began to strengthen my mediation skills, something shifted in the asana practice. I realized that poses like Ardha Chandrasana are not about staying in perfect balance, but about how you react when you fall. That concept really transformed my yoga practice, my outlook on life, and ultimately, my approach to teaching.
What do you like best about teaching?
I love the creativity of the yoga practice. My brother is a musician and my sister is a makeup artist, and while I’d always struggled to find my craft, I discovered it in yoga. From the sequencing, to the playlist, to the overall mood cultivated in each class, there are infinite possibilities, and I never get bored. When I find myself feeling uninspired, I turn to music, nature, and the teachings of others to find my groove again. Inspiration is everywhere.
“Work hard, play hard and try not to take yourself too seriously!” I used to push my body to the limits at the gym in order to feel like I earned that glass of wine or scoop of gelato. I guess this was in my nature being a former competitive gymnast for years. Yoga completely changed my perspective on what it means to be strong. It’s not just about conditioning the body, it’s so much deeper. I always love seeing the transformation of my students from grunting and scrunching up their eyebrows, to smiling when they fall out of tree pose.
Get out of bed and go practice yoga!
Oh, you’re not a morning person? Me neither! Very few people really are. I used to think it was a myth that they even existed. However, the rest of us can cultivate the discipline to develop a regular early morning yoga routine in order to feel energized and ready for the day ahead.
Here are some hints and motivations that have helped me:
Just get up!
Set your intention. If you think the night before, “maybe I’ll get up for yoga, I’ll see how I feel,” chances are, you are not going to get up for yoga. Decide you will go. Lay out your yoga clothes the night before if that helps. I’ve never heard anyone say, “I really regret getting up and going to yoga this morning.” Remember this when you wake up early and hit snooze.
Some teachers will tell you not to have anything in your system. This has never worked for me, especially taking early practice sandwiched between two long work days. Speaking of sandwiches, your need for food will depend on your body and the style of yoga you are practicing. When I practice hot yoga in the mornings I need a piece of toast with some almond butter. I never eat before my ashtanga practice. With all of those deep twists, I’m better off on an empty stomach. I always have a coffee, but a tea or hot water with lemon would also help warm up the body for practice. Experiment in small increments to see what works for you.
Your body might feel different in the morning.
If you’re used to practicing in the evening, you are going to notice some differences in your body. Your muscles may feel a little bit tighter, joints stiffer, and coordination not all there. This is normal, you’ve just been laying pretty still for about 8 hours. While you warm up your spine, give yourself a break by bending your knees in forward folds and downward dog, and allow yourself to take less intense variations throughout class. Try not to judge your body; it’s doing the best that it can.
Get some personal attention.
Classes after the typical work day tend to be the busiest. If you manage to get to an early class and beat the rush, there is a good chance the class will be smaller and you can get some extra attention from your instructor. This is great if you are new and just learning the postures, or if you are a seasoned practitioner and would like to ask for more challenging and advanced variations.
You did it!
You set an intention to get up early and you honored it. Take pleasure in the sense of accomplishment all day! You won’t have that stress at the end of the day to rush to get to yoga on time. Enjoy the time you have later now that you have checked yoga off of your to do list. Go out to dinner or happy hour without guilt or have a quiet, relaxing night at home.
The Yoga Room offers 7AM classes M-F in Astoria and M-Th in Long Island City. Join me Mondays and Fridays in Astoria for 7AM Hot Yoga Flow!
Learn more about Alyssa at http://www.the-yoga-room.com/staff/yoga-team/alyssa/
We all experience it, and I for one encounter sensory overload when I find myself in situations like these that make you want to walk around with ear plugs.
There are exceptions, and there are a few moments I avoid this…when practicing and attending to my work-study duties at The Yoga Room.
There’s nothing like being in class with a bunch of like-minded yogis and belting out a few rounds of Om before and after an engaging practice. There’s also that beautiful reverberation of Om that resonates through the hallways while I’m attending to tasks around the studio. The sound that emanates from the practice rooms is soothing, calming, and lets you know that there’s something right in the world behind those walls.
I feel lucky to have those two different perspectives while I’m at The Yoga Room.
I love it when an instructor initiates a yoga asana practice with that sound. It’s uplifting, liberating and really grounds you for what’s coming. I didn’t realize the full benefits of chanting Om until I began to further my practice by taking a wide-array of instructors during my first year of practicing at The Yoga Room. It’s been two years since I began my yoga journey and to this date, I get juiced and pumped before and after classes with an Om chant.
Every Wednesday night, during my shift, the one thing I anticipate is that beautiful echo. I may not be practicing with those yogis and joining in that chant, but I’m thoroughly enjoying that they are likely benefiting like I do and that I get to hear that inspiring harmonious sound at The Yoga Room.
I can’t adequately describe how much of a blessing it is to work at The Yoga Room. I came here carrying toxic stress, an alarming feeling of alienation from my own body, and an overall ache from the past several months of my life. Being involved in TYR is really more like having another home, another family – I look forward to coming here, maintaining the studio, meeting new friends, and playing a small part in the wellness journey of everyone who walks through the door.
It’s so rewarding to greet and talk with people of every age, background, profession, and life history all coming here to learn, grow, and better themselves – and that includes the little ones of the Mommy & Me classes that always make my day (special shout-outs to my helper buddy Zoe for bursting with personality and carrying mats to me that are as tall as she is, and the little boy Phoenix who brought his huge T-rex toy to class and set him up on a mat…)! I love seeing the regulars, watching new students fall in love with their practice, and hearing from people who have been away from yoga or Pilates say how much they missed it and truly need it in their lives. Being surrounded by positive, creative individuals – staff, work studies, students, and teachers alike – every single day at TYR means more than I can say. Even when you’re not in the most uplifting mindset you almost have no other choice but to smile once you’re here, and that’s saying a lot.
It’s also not just about doing yoga – it’s about doing it at TYR. I finally feel like I have a wonderful, safe environment in which to experiment with new things; cultivate physical, mental, and spiritual strength; and overall to create a strong foundation for the rest of my life. I feel so much more at home in my current journey – striving everyday to be gentle with myself, to peacefully accept the inevitable oscillations of joy and sorrow – and being able to work and practice at TYR has been so absolutely instrumental in that.
I also want to share with you my mom’s favorite prayer, which is wonderful to use in meditation, translated from Sanskrit:
Lead me from the unreal to the real
From darkness to light
From mortality to immortality
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti
Audrey Dimola is a proud front desk yogini at TYR and a born and raised Astoria/LIC journalist, editor, poet, and event curator. Check out her work at audreydimola.com.
I did a headstand today. Incredible, considering that I always looked at my inversion practice as the Chupacabra, the Loch Ness, and the Bigfoot of my entire yogic journey. You know, that one thing that you experience in unfathomable astonishment, moving quickly through your line of sight, allowing you only glimpses from far away. The thing you explain to your friends that you may have stared down, glared at, but ultimately ran away from.
That’s right; I finally did a headstand today. In the midst of pressing my forearms in the floor and feeling the blood rush to my brain for the few seconds I was suspended upside down, I asked myself one question: What is the point of this?
So here I was shaking, sweating. On the one hand begging for it to be over, yet wanting to stay longer and longer. What I recognized in that moment was that the challenge, the difficulty, the pain, the exhaustion wasn’t going to go away; so all I was left to do was surrender. It took all of that for me to realize that in the middle of my chaos, the only way to cope was to let go.
Yes, a lesson. Finally. So, is this the point? Is this why I keep coming back, in the hopes that there will be more lessons, more things to learn? It must be. It can’t be because of dancer pose; I kinda hate it.
So, I’m going to keep exploring this idea of challenge producing clarity. All things being equal, then moving meditation is working for me. So now when I get asked why I like yoga so much, I can say that it turns me upside down so I function better right side up.
Yoga makes life seem easier. I think, maybe. I don’t know. I mean, I only started practicing 16 months ago, so what do I know? I started taking a lot of classes at The Yoga Room, and I like it a lot – that’s all I really know.
I have started to learn some other things too. I walked in the door pretty much blank; I just came to whichever classes I could, and tried to do what they said. I found out later that after every class, I was walking out the door with exposure to a wide variety of traditions and experiences of yoga. Ashtanga, Iyengar, Anusara, hot yoga, power yoga, yin yoga, restorative yoga; not to mention, the different experiences of each individual teacher in those traditions. I grew to love those doors, and even more, the teachers, students, and staff. I was loving all that crazy stuff before I had any idea what it was.
I wanted to learn more, and I think that learning benefits greatly from different perspectives, so I was confident it was the right place for me to do my 200-hour vinyasa training. I and nineteen lovely new friends will complete that training in February 2013. If you’re interested in teacher training, check out Marko, Kate, Juliana, Tzahi, and Wesley. Come to their classes, ask them a question or two. They each approach yoga differently, but as both teachers and teachers of teachers, they are unified by a deep and relentless encouragement for us to find our own experience as students.
Here’s an awesome thing I can do now because of teacher training: guide myself through a safe, well-rounded, and challenging practice. I can try whatever I want and experience for myself how it feels. That’s something I can take with me anywhere I go, forever. Pretty sweet! Group classes aren’t really so different. After all, the best teacher in the world can’t do down-dog for you. The best they can do is guide you to experience more fully your own down-dog.
So, I’ve learned some good stuff at The Yoga Room in the last 16 months. I learned that yoga is sometimes very difficult. Some people make it look easy, but even for them it’s not. That’s also the best part. We spend hours practicing to find comfort in uncomfortable positions. And so, when life gets uncomfortable we lean on the resilience we have practiced to learn, and life seems a little easier. I think, maybe. I don’t know. If you’re curious, just come and experience it for yourself.
Whether it’s her hypnotizing accent or that calm inspirational tone of her voice, one thing is definitely sure about Sigrid Pichler: she always makes you feel so darn good! While meeting in the early morning for our interview, Sigrid was all smiles, laughing and having fun in the photo shoot. It’s that carefree lightheartedness that makes us drawn to people like Sigrid, and we, at The Yoga Room, feel privileged to have her to help us lift up not only our bodies, but also our spirits, in side plank this month!
Born in Austria, Sigrid was always an avid runner and bicyclist. She was brought to her first yoga class by a friend and she admits really enjoying the stretching, but it wasn’t until discovering Bikram Yoga that Sigrid started to really immerse herself into Yoga. ”I was amazed by the teachers; by how they could remember the sequences and by the intensity of Bikram yoga”. Laughing, Pichler says “It became a positive addiction.”
After discovering the physical and mental benefits that yoga brought into her life, Pichler decided to go to The Barkan Method in Fort Lauderdale FL for her teacher training and she hasn’t looked back since. Now with 5 yrs of teaching under her belt, Pichler says the number one thing she wants her students to get out of their practice is just to feel good, and to that we say, job well done Ms. Pichler, job well done!
Starting in plank position slowly start to shift your weight onto the right side of your body. As you press onto your side make sure your stacking your wrist, elbow and shoulder underneath each other. While in the pose, start to think about lifting your body up; there should be nothing pulling downward.
Sigrid encourages looking at the pose by breaking the body into 3rds. 1/3 is about the arm, 1/3 is focused on the core and hips, while the other is taken by the legs. Arch the underside of the body and flex your toes towards your face. Reach your left arm up towards the sky and actively extend through both arms.
As with all asanas, there are modifications. Try any of these variations to find out which one works best for your body. Play and most importantly have fun!
The kickstand is a great way to learn how to lift your hips up by pressing into the forward leg and lifting your hips towards the ceiling.
Dropping the bottom leg is great support when balancing maybe an issue.
For more advanced options try lifting the top leg or you can take the leg into a tree position.
Side plank increases strength and stamina while stretching and invigorating the entire body head to toe.
Also, don’t forget Yoga in Astoria Park September 29th taught by Sigrid!
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