A: Since my childhood, I have been drawn to dance and practiced it regularly ever since I was in school. When I was in college at Swarthmore, I was taking dance classes pretty much every day. At the Quaker Meetinghouse on campus, I found a flyer on TriYoga classes with Kashi. I tried it and I fell in love with TriYoga. I began to come to classes with Kashi once a week, and then I wanted more than that, so I began to attend workshops and more classes. Besides the physical part of the practice, I also enjoyed the other parts of the practice. Being in college, I could not afford the classes. I talked to Kashi about it and she, very generously, let me take classes for a reduced fee provided that I help her set up and put things back after classes. So I got immersed in the karma yoga aspect. While doing this, I could not but overhear her conversations with people before and after class. That gave me a deeper understanding of what it means to live a yoga lifestyle.
Q: Were you interested in learning about a yoga lifestyle when you went to the first TriYoga class?
A: No. Yet I have always been interested in spirituality and religion, since I was a child, as well as in healing – that is how I came to study psychology. When I began to hear those conversations, I got interested not only in the physical aspect of yoga but also in how to accept yourself and others, how to approach people with genuine interest and good connection, how to be fully present with a person right in front of you and not to be distracted by past or future events or by the many other things to do, and how to be centered. These are things that I saw in my TriYoga teacher and which I started to pick up on, although I could not put all of this into words until much, much later.
Q: What about Kaliji? How and when did you meet her?
A: I saw her picture during the classes and Kashi talked a lot about her. Kashi used to teach another style of yoga before she met Kaliji. Her experience with and knowledge of TriYoga was always evolving and she shared that. It took me several years, though, to meet Kaliji in person. I started TriYoga in January 1996, and I met her in 2000. I was already certified in Basics.
Q: How was the experience of meeting Kaliji after all those years of practice?
A: It was a very moving experience (smiles). I was pleasantly surprised to see that she was much more down-to-earth and grounded than I had anticipated (laughs). I noticed her eyes right away, how clear and beautiful they were. But I did not have any particular connection with her in the way many people do. I did not have strong feelings like: “Oh, she is my Guru. She is my teacher.” I did not feel the need to always be around her. I loved TriYoga and I admired my TriYoga teacher a lot. When I met Kaliji, it was more like I felt: “Oh, I am glad to finally meet this person, the founder. I may meet her again.” (laughs). We did not have any deep conversations that weekend either. I had always been shy, so all questions disappeared from my mind in her presence. All I could say was, “I do not know what to say.” Kaliji graciously smiled.
Q: Did this connection with Kaliji develop gradually? What was the process?
A: Now I feel that Kaliji is one of my teachers, one of my gurus, and I would not want to go any length of time without being in her presence again. Yes, the connection did develop gradually. I was sincerely and deeply interested in the practice, so I was taking more and more trainings and workshops with her and other teachers. All other interests, like interest in meditation, evolved from there, as well as my personal connection with Kaliji… What I have always loved, LOVED about Kaliji is that she is so real, so grounded, and so accessible. You can e-mail her! You can call her! She is so busy, she travels all over the world, but she always finds time for others. Any time I needed to talk to her in person, she always made it happen. I admired that and wanted to be like that too… For me, my connection with Kaliji, in terms of my inner growth, is not quite with Kaliji as a person, but with her embodiment of Yoga, as a path and as a way to be. To be around her and witness her, to see what it means to be a yogi, is something that I value very much.
Q: Recently you have become a mother. Did TriYoga Flows or/and Kaliji’s presence help you to go (and be going) through this transition? Would it be different if TriYoga was not in your life?
A: Absolutely! In terms of my pregnancy, TriYoga made an enormous difference. Without it, I do not think that I would have felt as good in a pregnant body. TriYoga practice allowed me to stay grounded and centered, and to feel comfortable going through all the emotional and psychological changes involved in being pregnant and becoming a mother… TriYoga practice also made all of the difference in the world in my labor experience. It made it so much easier. It was not fully peaceful (as I had expected), but I was able to access the breath and surrender – “Om Svaha” – in order to let this being out into the world. It made a huge difference. I gave birth naturally, and it was not as painful as I had thought. I was very grateful for all of the TriYoga practice, including the relaxation. It was so important to have the ability to stay focused, to breathe, and to let go.
Q: You taught a Level 2 class right before you went into labor, right?
A: Yes, I did (smiles). I was teaching my regular Level 2 class, and every 5 minutes as I had the contractions, I would write them down to see the time in between them. I remember that driving home from class I was wondering whether those were practice (Braxton Hicks) contractions or labor contractions (laughs). I was in pre-labor for the whole night. In the morning, I went for a long walk and it was time to go to the Birth Center. So there were about 24 hours of contractions, but only 3 or 4 hours of true labor.
Q: What about the experience of being a mother? How do TriYoga and Kaliji help here?
A: Being a mom is a constant practice of yoga (laughs). There is a constant opportunity to practice karma yoga, to be in the moment, and to surrender, as I no longer can do the things I want to do when I want to do them. For now, it is all about the baby. It has taught me a lot: to release my ego desires and personal ambition. I want to say that my practice of flows and pranayama has definitely suffered, but I think that what has deepened and grown is my practice of self-inquiry and the opportunity to do seva for this little being – my son. That is 24-hour yoga practice.
Q: Do you think that your ability to look at motherhood in this way came from the years of TriYoga practice and your association with Kaliji?
A: Absolutely! Due to Kaliji’s presence and TriYoga sadhana, I am able to put all of this into this kind of language, to be immersed in yoga, and to keep discovering deeper levels of understanding it. My biggest challenge is to flow through the moments when my own desires and attachments confront what I am here to do for Jonathan, and to deal with my own emotions around that: to master anger and frustration (laughs). It also gives me deep insights into many aspects of our lives. For example, I came to understand how connected we all are. There were a few instances when Jonathan would cry and cry and nothing would help. I would get so tense and frustrated inside, and it made it only worse. Once I could let go, and accept his mood and the situation, I became at peace inside; then he would calm down too. I am sure that this connection relates not only to mother and son, but to each of us.
Q: You have been teaching TriYoga for over 10 years and you even opened your own center. What does teaching TriYoga mean to you?
A: For me teaching is indispensable. It is something that, at times, keeps me bound to my own practice… When I teach, it feels as if it is not me teaching; it comes through – my voice and my body are used as the vehicle. I often hear myself saying things that I have never said before, that I have never put into those words before. More important, no matter how chaotic life is, how anxious I am, or how busy I have been, when I teach, it is all there is. Even when I practice on my own, the thought stream is still present. It can be a struggle for me to just calm my mind – just watch those thoughts – when I am practicing on my own. Teaching focuses me in such a way that the thought stream can really subside. When I am teaching, it makes an incredible difference in my life.
Q: You are a practicing psychologist. How do TriYoga and your knowledge and practice in psychology relate to each other?
A: They overlap and complement one another in so many ways. One reason why I wanted my own center is that I wanted one space where I could be a psychologist and offer TriYoga classes. I have spent a lot of time researching how yoga can help people with mental and emotional conditions, but what is more important is my experience of it.
Having my own regular TriYoga practice – I practice it when in the psychologist chair – helps me to be more grounded. Calming my breath and calming the thought waves allows me to be really present, to really listen, and to be able to discern what may be helpful for that person, as well as assess whether my perceptions and assumptions are accurate. I have trained myself to do this self-inquiry not only through my psychological studies, but during my yoga practice on the mat.
Then there is the direct work with the client: along with traditional western approaches based on talking, I often use Prana Vidya techniques in therapy, particularly complete breath, victory breath, sun-moon breath, concentration practices, visualization, and meditation. I use them all of the time in therapy. Of course, self-inquiry is always present too. We may not call it by yoga terms, but that’s what we do in therapy.
Then there is a level of being present while working with another person or people: the practice of working to create genuine, authentic relationships. That ability is also informed by yoga, especially from being in a yoga community and developing relationships with people, while remaining focused, present, centered.
Q: Now that you mention community, what is the TriYoga community for you?
A: What I love about this community is that we are all so different, yet within that, there is such an acceptance, such welcoming. I think that it is pretty rare to find this.
For me, the TriYoga community includes close friendships (like my friendship with Theresa Shay, for whom I am so thankful), as well as people that I see only during Kriyavati celebrations or at trainings. When I see them, I love them all, and enjoy being around them, feeling so supported, and being in such an accepting and loving community.