Meet a Teacher: Angela Sullivan

Posted by on Mar 4, 2019 in carson city yoga studio, meet a teacher | 2 comments

Angela SullivanThis month in our Meet a Teacher series, we introduce you to Angela Sullivan, a teacher who has been here in Carson City for many years, and is know to many students as a Master Teacher.  Angela teaches the Men’s Class here at Carson City Yoga, and has some great workshops coming up as well.  Read on to learn a bit more…

CCY:  Hello Angela. So glad to have you here.

Angela: Thank you for having me.

CCY: Angela, you have a very long background in yoga, having been teaching for 30 years now. What first brought you to yoga? And in a nutshell, how did you wind up from that place to where you are now?

Angela: I started ballet at 5 and danced until I was 22, then serendipitously found yoga at age 26 and quickly realized how broken and misaligned my body had become from ballet. There was a deep resonance with the practice and I began studying Iyengar yoga.  Later I met and studied with Angela Farmer who was anti-Iyengar Yoga. She was amazing.

CCY: Just to throw in a clarification: Iyengar yoga is very alignment based, whereas Angela Farmer is more fluid and free form.

Angela: Yes. Angela Farmer was the opposite of Iyengar yoga. She had been a senior teacher for Iyengar and was getting horribly injured.  I had learned the basics from Iyengar and then Angela just tore it apart. She deconstructed my practice.   Ana Forrest was my next teacher and she infused my practice with power and confidence.  Fifteen years ago I had the good fortune to seek treatment  for my Sacroiliac joint dysfunction with Tammie Bigley, at Ascent Physical Therapy.  My hip and pelvic joints were extremely flexible and I was getting injured from my practice by not understanding how strength and stability of joints are essential for a healthy practice.  My collaboration with Tammie and with my other studies radically changed my yoga. I reassessed my practice and how I was injuring myself, and reassessed how I was teaching and started looking at bodies in a new way. And that has brought me to where I am today. 

CCY: Can you give a synopsis of where you are today as far as how you approach your yoga and how you teach your classes? 

Angela sullivan teachingAngela: My intention with teaching yoga is to make sure that people really understand the mechanics of movement and how their bodies are unique and how they move. And then applying that knowledge to their yoga postures  so they do not get injured. It’s definitely about making the practice safe. So whether they’re coming to me, or your class or anybody’s class, they know how to take care of themselves.  I think the anatomy and biomechanics piece is so important in yoga for keeping it safe. We want to live a long time and be healthy. You have to keep the practice healthy. If you are doing it poorly, you will be broken. 

CCY: OK, so you approach yoga from a biomechanical and anatomical perspective, which is useful and helpful. I also know that you have an influence coming from another side of things. Do you want to talk about that?

Angela: Yes, I am very engaged and involved in the local Dharma community. I’ve been studying  Buddhism for at least 15 years.  I spend a lot of time pointing to the mindfulness of the body. What’s the whole reason we’re doing yoga? Make it safe, and then bring in the meditational aspect. Being mindful in the body is one of the core foundations of Buddhism. 

CCY: Your classes weave it all together: the mindfulness, the attention to detail…

Angela: Yes. I try to keep it fun.. I think it’s really important that we keep a sense of humor. Whether it’s meditation or the body…to see the humanness of it, the messiness of it, the complexity of it. 

CCY: We are messy creatures.

Angela: We’re messy and complex. It’s a process. Each individual has to create their own practice. I always feel I’m giving people tools. When you come to my class it’s to get information. To learn something that you take into your own practice.  Not just to take you through a bunch of poses. That is not important to me. You come and you learn something in class.

CCY: Do you encourage your students to create their own practice?

Angela: Yes, definitely. That’s the joke: “At home you’re going to do this…”  People giggle. You want to learn the poses as tools to opening the body and awakening the mind. If that isn’t the focus of the class, to encourage you along that path, what’s the point?  It’s a spiritual path. 

CCY: Can you speak to that a little bit more? About yoga being a spiritual path.

Angela: Well, we already spoke about the mindfulness of the body. So the more that we can see the body as changing and impermanent, the more we can apply that to every moment. That’s what we’re doing in yoga. You come to the mat, and it’s different every day. You start to recognize that this is very impermanent. You are not going to a point where you say, “oh this is perfect, this posture is perfect.” Because the body is a moving target. It’s always in flow. We’re just process. To me that’s a deep part of the practice. Where am I right here? – recognizing how much has it changed since this morning, if it’s an evening class. What’s your attitude of mind in this posture? What’s your attitude of mind just coming into the room today? What are you bringing just to the mat? To me, that’s a spiritual practice. You know, the three characteristics (in buddhism): change, impermanence, and non-self. Yoga is a physical practice, and that’s great. But to me that’s the lowest bar of the practice.  It’s great if  you can touch your toes,  but are you noticing your mind state? Are you noticing your core? Are you noticing how your body is moving today? To me, that’s the heart of the work. 

CCY: And how does that impact your life off of the mat?

Angela: Exactly. Are you mindful of your body as you go? Our emotional state is laid bare in the body. If you’re listening and paying attention you can feel all those little nuances. Oh, it hurts here. Or maybe I’m feeling a little anxiety. Maybe I’m anxious. What am I anxious about?   You can feel it before you actually label it. Your body is several steps ahead of your intellect. 

CCY: Our body knows more than our mind does.

Angela: Totally. Consciousness isn’t just between the ears. Consciousness is everywhere. When we’re bringing awareness to the belly or the right foot, there is consciousness present there. If you can see the spaciousness of body and the infinite nature of the mind, that’s infinite consciousness too. To me, that’s the blend. That’s where we are on the mat.

CCY: That’s beautiful. That’s a great marriage right there.

Angela: From nuts and bolts to ultimate awakening. Right foot red, left hand blue. You can also wake up. The seat of awakening is here. We’re just peeling away all these layers of conditioning.

CCY: So this is a question that I ask everybody. You’ve already answered it, but I’m going to ask it anyway and see if an answer comes in a different way.  What is your definition of yoga?

Angela: I think yoga is really the process of becoming in body. Full awareness of body. Choiceless awareness of whole body. And then the awareness of heart, emotional states, mind and mental states. Starting to recognize that. It’s definitely a spiritual process. To me, that’s what it is. But it has to start with embodiment. 

CCY: Right. First foundation of mindfulness. 

ngela: Ah, it’s an enigma. Liking and disliking. I like this pose; I don’t like this pose. And then mind states, feelings and emotions. The opening of  awareness to body, mind, and spirit kind of thing. I know that’s the cliché: “it’s the uniting of body, mind, spirit…” Well no, it’s not uniting; it’s opening the awareness to it. The union is there. That yoking and uniting.  It’s opening the awareness to it. Seeing it like it is.

CCY:  That’s why I like to ask the question. Because there are all the pat answers of what yoga is. You know, “Yoga is skill in action. Yoga is union.“ It depends on what you’ve studied. But it’s nice to drop in and come at that answer from a more experiential place. Which is what you just did, so thank you. 

Angela: You’re welcome.

Angela instructing men's classCCY: So tell me a little bit about your personal practice and how you live yoga in the world.

Angela: My practice is a lot of rolling around on the floor. (Laughing)  My strength comes from running and conditioning and CoreAlign classes to maintain pelvic stability, while my yoga is less about strengthening and more about meditation.  The Hatha practice is about being open and present in the body.  And letting the postures arise that open the body. What do I need for the nervous system to calm?  What do I need to be open?  So I joke about rolling around on the floor, but you know, that’s a lot of it.  At other times it’s a lot of standing practices and inversions. 

CCY: And how does that practice serve you in the world? We both know that yoga is more than asana. 

Angela: That’s my asana practice. But I have a rich meditation practice and I am currently in my third year of an advanced Vipassana training.

CCY: So you’re pretty much living your yoga all the way around. 

Angela: Yes. 

CCY: I think that’s a useful thing for people to know. Most of us first come to yoga because we want to do something with our bodies. And we don’t realize that yoga is this bigger picture. 

Angela: I think a lot of people come to yoga because they want to fix something.  They don’t like the way their body looks or the way their body feels. There’s an aversion. They come in with, “I don’t like this. I want to fix this.” And I’m like, “There’s nothing to fix. Let’s just see where it is.” Notice your mind states, liking and disliking. 

CCY: Which is a great doorway in….

Angela: It is a great doorway in!  What is this sensation that I’m having that I’ve labeled pain, and I’ve got this story around it?  If we let the story go and  get down to the actual sensation…. Tingling, pressure, heat, whatever…can we sit with that? Pain and discomfort usually bring people to yoga classes.   And then they discover that it is challenging!   I teach yoga the way I wish I’d been taught.  I was very goal oriented and because I had  a lot of flexibility from ballet I was fairly proficient early in my career.  But  I kept pushing and pushing, and becoming more unstable and more prone to injury. Now I ask,  How much flexibility do we really need? And what is the point of pushing yourself toward injury? These are important questions!  We’re trying to create awareness in the body, heart, and mind, not bludgeon the body in pursuit of some ideal posture. 

CCY:   So if you were to give a new student a piece of advice, as they walk into the studio, what might it be? Somebody brand new to yoga, just exploring and checking it out. 

Angela: Well the first thing I always say to the class is, “Don’t push.” If you are struggling, back off and notice the struggle and the contraction in the body when we apply force.  Also, that it is OK to come out of a pose at any time.  

Men's ClassCCY:  Angela, here at Carson City Yoga, you teach the men’s class at the studio…

Angela: I’m delighted to be teaching the men’s class!

CCY: One of the questions we get a lot is, “Why is there a woman teaching the men’s class?” I happen to know you’re the perfect teacher for it. Maybe you can speak to why you’re so well suited to teaching that class, and also who are the people that are best suited for that class.  

Angela: Let’s address why I’m the one teaching that yoga class. I’ve been teaching men and women for 30 years now. I’ve always wanted to give men their own class. It was a total experiment and we didn’t know if anybody would show up or what would happen.  I think because of my background, I feel comfortable with all kinds of medical conditions and injuries.

CCY: Because you’ve worked so much with Tammie and physical therapy…

Angela: Yes. And with my own body. I can totally normalize their experience.   We focus on their strength because they’re really super strong. And then address some of the other issues: tight legs, hamstrings, and back pain.  It has turned into one of my favorite classes. I think what I’ve learned from the guys, because they’re teaching me, at this point, is they’re 100% supportive of each other. They come into the room and they’re laughing and teasing each other. The energy and support is palpable. The energy is just amazing. They’re 100% consistent and they look forward to it. 

I also think I’m well suited because I keep the class playful.  We’re serious about what we’re doing, but we’re laughing.   There is  a comfort level that comes from teaching professionally for 30 years. There’s not much that can throw me off in a yoga class.

CCY: So who are the guys who come to your class? Is it appropriate for someone brand new to yoga? 

Angela: Most guys who come to the class are relatively fit. They have some experience in their body, so even if they are new to yoga, they are strong.  If someone is not really strong in their body yet, it might be better to start with one of the beginning yoga classes to get some basics first.  Many of the guys are athletes, or they may have injuries, knee replacements, those sorts of things.

CCY: You also have a couple of workshops coming up here at Carson City Yoga….

Angela: Yes.  March 10th is a workshop called The Buoyant Pelvis, and April 14th is a workshop called The Dynamic Shoulders.  Tammie Bigley (of Ascent Physical Therapy) and I have created these workshops to help educate people in how to keep themselves safe in a movement practice.  The workshops are based on anatomical and biomechanical principles, and people can learn how to apply these principles in simple ways in their own bodies. And if you have a yoga practice, these principles can completely change the way you feel in your practice. 

I like to think these workshops are for anyone who has a body. We want to encourage yoga practitioners to come, to give them new tools for their asana practice. We also want to encourage yoga teachers to come, because there are some insights that can really benefit how they might help students find more stability in their body. 

CCY: We will have all this information about the workshops and how to register on the website. It will definitely be an educational day, and time well spent! 

CCY: Final questions, just for fun…  What is your favorite asana (yoga pose)?  And do you have a least favorite, or one that is really challenging for you? 

angela downward dogAngela:  Favorite would be downward dog. It is also my favorite pose to teach. It is such a great pose for the whole body… the hamstrings, the length in the back, learning how to find the strength through the upper body while keeping the shoulders safe and healthy… it is just a good all around pose.

As for my least favorite…  backbends. I don’t do any extreme backbends anymore. I just know that they are not good for my body. The intense bend in the lower back doesn’t work for me anymore. I would rather work with smaller backbends… cobra, locust, finding the upper thoracic movement.  These are really challenging, and also very opening. Taking the time to find that small movement in the upper back… it can be powerful. 

CCY: Angela, thanks so much for taking the time to share today. You have a lot to offer, and we are grateful you share with us here at Carson City Yoga.

For you readers… we have all the info on Angela’s upcoming workshops on the website, under our What’s Happening menu. Have you had a class with Angela yet? If so, what do you think?  Leave a comment, and let us know!

2 Comments

  1. Master teacher is an understatement when applied to Angela. I can’t express with words the gratitude I have for how she has changed my body and my life. If you haven’t experienced an Angela class, you owe it to yourself to do it.

  2. Haiku for you~

    Angels on wings, feet
    Stretch in limitless postures
    Sacred yogic fun.

    Aware, Embodied
    Explore Heart-Mind through Movement
    What’s this all about?

    Pain births Phoenixes
    Regenerate, Play, Springtime!
    New levels of Life.

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