Meet a Teacher: Here’s Amy

Posted by on May 5, 2019 in carson city yoga studio, meet a teacher | 7 comments

Meet Amy

Meet Amy

This month in our meet a teacher series, we introduce you to Amy, the owner of Carson City Yoga. You may know Amy from classes, and she is usually your first contact when you reach out to the studio for more information. Amy’s primary job is to hold the studio steady as it grows in to what it wants to be, and to provide support to teachers and students in the process. Read on to learn more about Amy…

CCY: Let’s start with a bit of background – when and how did you come to yoga?

Amy: Well, it’s been a long and winding road. My very first yoga class was a college class in the early 80’s. What I really remember from that class was how it made me feel – how the words from the teacher gave me an insight, and opened a different awareness in my body. It may have been my first introduction to the blend of energy and anatomy, and I think it awakened something in me that would eventually bring me to yoga as a practice.

It was a while before I took another class. Somewhere along the way I picked it up again, dabbling here and there, gradually dropping deeper into the practice. Probably most of my early yoga education was outside of standard yoga classes. I had a lot of really interesting teachers from all walks of life, and I explored meditation, breath work, dance. I dabbled in a lot of the “personal growth” sorts of things that were everywhere in the 90s, and on and on. And I was an anatomy geek – studying anatomy and physiology, and I would take what I learned into the gym or to the mat and I used myself as a study tool. For me, that was a big piece of learning how to be in my body, and it supported my yoga practice, even in the early days.

revolved triangle prep

Experimenting with Revolved Triangle Prep

And then of course, I spent nearly 25 years or so in the bodywork profession, offering massage through the lens of structural alignment, working with athletes, weekend warriors, people with all different sorts of injuries and issues in their bodies. And yoga was a natural part of that. It’s one thing to come in and get a massage, and it’s another thing to learn tools to take with you that can help you in your every day life. So I guess it was a natural evolution for me to move into yoga.  

CCY: And when did you begin teaching yoga?

Amy: I started teaching, oh gosh, I can’t remember exactly how long ago, but I was kicked out of the proverbial nest by one of my teachers when she asked me to sub her classes. (Thank you Deborah Nicholson!)  I had been teaching in massage schools for many years, so I already was a teacher, and I also was working as a personal trainer in the gym at that time, but I really hadn’t seen myself as a yoga teacher. I had a regular yoga practice, but teaching seemed like a whole different world to me. I did agree to sub for this teacher, which planted the seed. Not long after that, I wound up living in a town that had no yoga, so I started teaching there just because I wanted a place to practice. I really owe thanks to Angela Sullivan for encouraging me in that. I was not a certified yoga teacher then, and so my path to teaching yoga was more apprentice style; I learned to teach directly from my teachers. Teaching in this small town led to the creation of a yoga studio and wellness center which was my introduction to the world of business.

Fast forward past a whole lot of life experience, and here I am today, holding the focus for Carson City Yoga. What a blessing. I am grateful every day for what we create together here.

CCY: How has yoga made a difference in your life?

Amy: That is a very big question. Sometime after that early introduction to yoga, I got more serious about my yoga practice, and it became a way of life for me. I practiced with different teachers, took workshops, studied, practiced on my own. I read books, learned, questioned everything, and eventually I rediscovered my own spirituality. I think yoga led me back to a deep inner faith that I had denied for many years. There is a devotional aspect to yoga that feeds my spirit, and karma yoga – the yoga of action – teaches me to take my yoga off the mat into the world. Yoga also led me into Buddhist studies, and the Buddhist practice of Vipassana (insight) Meditation always feels a bit like coming home.

Even the physical practice of yoga is my teacher. When I am on the mat, my body teaches me. How do I respond to intensity, to frustration? When balance is off, or there’s pain in my body and I can’t do the yoga I think I want to do, what then? How do I find the softness, the letting go, the acceptance of where I am right now? Those are lessons from yoga. And they are lessons to take off the mat. What do I do in my life when there is too much intensity and I want to quit? What I have learned on the mat has served me over and over again off the mat.

Here’s a fun fact that people might not know about me – I entered a couple of bodybuilding competitions right around my 42nd birthday. It was my birthday present to myself. Ha! That was fun, and I learned so much about myself in that process! But the interesting thing relevant to yoga is that the yoga did two things for me during that time: First, it really helped me to train. I could bring what I knew about breath and focus and mindfulness into all of my weight training, which allowed me to train with more precision. Second, I really believe it kept my body healthy and prevented a lot of the injuries that I saw happening with other people. Maybe because I had a good balance of strength and flexibility, but also because of the focus, and the willingness to listen to what was right for my body. How to push harder, and how to know when to back off. Finding that balance, always finding that balance.

And isn’t that the practice of life? When to push on; when to back off.  So I think yoga infuses all aspects of my life. 

side plank with block

Side Plank with Block

CCY: So given all of that, how do you define Yoga?

Amy: Yoga is the Practice of Life. It is the practice of finding peace in the middle of the chaos, and bringing a softness into the struggle.

There is the physical practice of yoga – asana is the word we use for poses, although that’s not the actual translation. What asana really means is “to sit with.” And I think that’s what we are doing with the physical practice – learning to sit with what is here. Who are we in the presence of this shape, how is our mind, how is our breath? What emotions arise, what frustrations, what joys? And learning to sit with who we are in a practice teaches us how to sit with ourselves in our lives. How do we sit with our fears, our struggles, etc? If you are not opening to the curiosity and presence and sensation that arises when you “sit with” an asana, then I don’t think you are really doing yoga. It can be exercise, sure, and that’s great. But yoga, even the physical practice, can take you deeper. So that’s one aspect.

teaching at CCY

Teaching at CCY

Yoga also is more than the physical practice – it includes meditation and pranayama (breath) and study. There are so many paths of yoga – and any one of them can bring you deeper into yourself. Yoga can be devotional, or it can be service, or it can be the practice of compassion. Whatever path of yoga you take, it can be a practice that serves your life, and the world around you; something that really makes a difference. And here’s the thing that I think we sometimes forget…. the practice of yoga does not stop with ourselves. The practice of yoga, ultimately, is to open ourselves, and to bring the practice of love and compassion into the world. If it is just about our little individual ego selves, then it becomes self serving and egocentric. Of course, that’s all ok, and that’s a great place to start. When we begin to drop in to this awakening of self acceptance, and of inner love and compassion, we can’t help but bring it in to the world. And that’s the work of yoga. It’s kind of radical. To face the suffering head on, and to love – not just in spite of the suffering, but because of it.

And, here’s me on my soap box, yoga does not necessarily mean you have to twist yourself up into a pretzel shape to be an advanced yogi. I mean, if you want to, and your body lets you, well then yay, go for it. Have fun! In my younger days, I did my share of that.  It’s great fun. But yoga does not require that of anyone. Yoga asks only for your willingness to be present, to play with your edges, to stay open to curiosity, and see where it takes you. The shapes you make in the process are mostly irrelevant.

CCY: So how do you bring yoga into the world, off the mat?

Amy: Well, that’s it really. We start with ourselves. We welcome what is uncomfortable, discover how to be with it, and then because of that work, we walk into our lives changed. For me personally, yoga off the mat happens through service. Two question that I live with daily are – how can I serve? And – can I see something beautiful in everyone I meet?  I love people, all people. I see such beautiful and amazing things in the faces and bodies and personalities that I meet. So  much uniqueness, and so much similarity. I think my practice is to see an element of the divine everywhere I look. There is the prayer of St Francis… “where there is hate, let me sow love”, etc.  That feels real to me, and while it’s not always easy, it is always ….what,  satisfying? That’s not the right word. But there it is, it is my practice.   

falling tree pose

Falling Tree Pose

CCY: Tell us a little bit about your style of teaching. What are your yoga classes like?

Amy: You know, life is hard. And so when I teach, I want to bring in an element of lightness. A light heart. Yoga can be serious, and we can drop deep, and I encourage that. And… can we also find laughter? Can we also approach ourselves without the heaviness of judgement?

I encourage curiosity, and exploration, and presence. Always we explore the relationship between breath and movement, and finding the ease in the effort. Almost all of my classes include some core work, because that is so useful for standing poses and strength. And balance is one of the most useful skills to practice. Learning to balance, especially as we age, is so important.

Because of my anatomy and bodywork background, I tend to be alignment focused. I don’t want to adhere to strict alignment rules because all bodies are different and I can’t feel what is going on inside someone else’s body. But I do offer options, and guidelines, and I might say to someone… “what happens if you try this?” – and see how a different alignment might feel. Sometimes I see where there is tension in a body, and offer suggestions that might help shift the shape of the pose to create more ease. I want to offer suggestions that allow the student to discover for themselves what alignment feels like in their body, and what alignment works best for their own particular needs. Really, students are their own best teachers. I am just facilitating the process. The learning has to come from within.  

I also offer props. Blocks, chairs, the wall. Props are great tools. Blocks can make our arms longer, walls or chairs can help us find the strength in a balance pose, and so much more. Props are not crutches. They are tools that can help us find the benefit and the sensation of a pose in a different way.  So my classes generally include a bit of everything – strength, flexibility, balance, breathing, and elements of meditation and focus.

tree pose

Upright Tree Pose

CCY: Ok, now the fun questions. What is your favorite asana, and/or your least favorite (or most challenging) asana? (for our readers: asana = yoga pose)

Amy: Favorite poses…. there are so many. I really love plank pose. I love how in order to find the ease in that pose, you have to really engage your core, and to gently hug your heart up into your spine. I love how it teaches you to engage the upper body muscles and not just the shoulders. I also love all the variations…. you can drop your knees and still get all the benefits. You can do it at the wall, on a chair, on blocks, and every single variation helps build strength and energy. When I use blocks in plank pose, which make my arms longer, I can move much more easily into side plank. So I love that about it too.

I also really love 2 very basic poses: Tadasana, or mountain pose, and Tree. Tadasana is basic to every other pose. If you master the energetic quality of tadasana, you can find the elements of it in any pose. It’s so awesome. It’s just standing, but it’s so much more than standing! Letting the feet become part of the earth, finding the rise of the mountain in your body, the head reaching up into the sky. The qualities of being grounded while finding height, lengthening upright, the steadiness and strength of a mountain, the solid, centered, focused quality. It’s just so good. And Tree. Such a great balance pose.  Tree is another one where you can really feel the quality of the pose: rooting down into the earth in order to rise up. And there are so many ways to make Tree accessible.

Utkatasana (Chair Pose)

Utkatasana Variation (Chair Pose)

CCY: And the most challenging pose?

Amy: Ok, this might surprise some of my students, but the two that come to mind are two that I teach frequently. Boat pose (navasana) and Chair pose (utkatasana). Just saying it makes me laugh, because I do both of these often. And both of them are poses that have taken me a long time to appreciate.

Chair pose is super challenging. I understand when my students don’t like it. But it’s also one that you learn to like. There is so much to learn in chair pose. I still find it challenging. It is stabilizing for the sacrum, it builds strength and energy, it can be very centering. Here’s what I have learned about chair pose – you need to root the energy in your feet in order to find the lightness in the stance, and the rooted feet connect to the support through the core that creates ease in the hips and the back. It’s kind of an energetic/anatomical discovery that can only come from within. That sounds like a lot of yoga mumbo jumbo, but all I can say is … play with it. Just play with it. It’s an awesome pose.

modified boat pose

Modified Boat Pose with feet on the floor

And boat pose… This pose is intense on the hip flexors. They have to work super hard to keep your legs lifted. And the only way to take the strain out of the hip flexors and back is to find the strength in the deep abdominal muscles. That takes a lot of practice, and plenty of deep awareness into sensation. This one has many variations too. You can keep your feet on floor, keep the knees bent, take the legs into different shapes. Hands can be supportive if needed. Lots of ways to modify this pose.

revolved triangle

Revolved Triangle with Block

I think all of the poses that we find challenging can be modified in order to experience their essence. That’s one of the great things about yoga. How do you find the shape that works for your body? Make yoga work for your body, rather than trying to force your body into something that is not right for you. For example, I used to really dislike revolved triangle for exactly that reason. The way I was taught does not work for my body. Then I learned a variation that does, and wow, now I really love it! Again, here we are back to the idea of listening to your body and letting your own inner wisdom guide the process. The essence of yoga…. presence, mindfulness, trusting your own process. It’s all good.

CCY: Thanks, Amy!  For those of you reading, have you tried a class with Amy yet?  Check the schedule for her current classes, and come on in and say hello.  Amy is also available if you need info about the studio, or want to know more about the classes and offerings.   See you in the studio!

 

 

7 Comments

  1. Great interview Amy. Thank you

    • Thanks, Victoria!

  2. Wow, Amy! Such a profound, kind & big-hearted glimpse into your yogic approach – Thank you for an inspiring “inner view”
    💕Marta

    • Thanks, Marta. Love sharing this practice with you.

  3. Thank you for teaching me to LOVE chair pose and everything else about yoga too! It really had changed my life!!

    • Muriel, I love that you love chair pose! \0/ Woot woot!

  4. Amy,
    I have always loved the way you make me feel welcome and accepted in class. Now, reading about your worldview and philosophy, I appreciate your loving compassion, authenticity, and gentle spirit even more! Thanks for being you and for helping people with imperfect bodies know that they can indeed do yoga.

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