art & yoga blog

art & yoga: photography as a daily practice


Photography has always been something that brings me into the moment (except, perhaps, the few years I worked full time as a photog). It also makes me happy. Seeing something that strikes my interest and playing with it via the camera brings me joy. I’ve noticed that on these walks, a few shots can turn my mood around. I’ve often heard the argument that photography does the opposite, takes the seer out of the moment, by looking for a photo or trying to freeze time instead of just being with what is there. This may be true, and may be more true for some than others. Perhaps if you are on a trip and feel the need to snap away to show others you were there—but this is not photography, and the result is not interesting. Yes, there are definitely moments when it’s time to put down the camera. Personally, I’ve found that photography brings me far more into the moment than writing does. Not the moment of actual writing, when there’s little choice, but the stories I write in my head when walking down the street, when I see something funny I want to share. As it is told and retold in my mind, how much accuracy have I retained? How much have I missed passing by? As a form of creativity, I don’t see this as inherently bad. I just notice the power photography has to bring me into the moment and open my eyes. It’s inaccurate to say that photography is not an act of awareness. We don’t hear people complain that writers aren’t in the moment because they are crafting stories in their heads, but it is perfectly true.

Last year, I started carrying a point and shoot with me at all times. Not necessarily to Mysore practice, but everywhere. But because my walk to practice is daily, at my most focused time of day, a series of photos began: The Walk to Mysore. It’s also the walk from Mysore, which can include different paths.

asana blog favorites how to find yoga teacher/school yoga practice

how to find a yoga teacher/studio

Students frequently ask me upon graduation or a university break “Do you recommend a good yoga studio around here?”

Unfortunately, I don’t. Finding a yoga studio, or as you become more advanced, finding a teacher, is an extremely personal endeavor. It’s a mix of solid logistics, such as location, cost, and schedule, and an indescribable something, an intuitive ‘yes’ that cannot be reduced to a how-to list.

These comments are for a New York crowd, or an urban center with many options. If you have few options near you, well, try them all—a few times. You might not like a style or teacher one day, but another day realize it was just a mood. Keep trying until you find something. You will.

If you know what style of yoga you want to practice, that will narrow down your search. But if your only exposure has been at the gym, or the studio closest to your last address, you might want to see what is out there. Lifehacker has a list of what they call the nine internationally recognized styles of hatha (physical) yoga. I’m not sure where they got the nine from, but it’s worth a read if you don’t know the difference between Iyengar and Bikram. It’s also worth trying styles out, as you may think you want a demanding practice, but are pleasantly surprised by the energy you have after a restorative class.

Location, cost, and schedule are extremely important. If it’s out of your way or the schedule doesn’t fit yours, you might not go, or you might feel stressed getting there. If it’s more than you can handle financially, you might be put out by the cost. Keep in mind that expensive studios with mega-marketing aren’t usually where the best teachers are. And even if you’ve found an amazing teacher, you need to be honest about the logistics so you are sure to show up on their mat. Once you have that sorted, you can start worrying about the feel of it all.

I’ve wanted different things from my yoga studios and teachers over the years. I started doing very basic hatha yoga. The teachers were okay, but I was new enough not to be picky. The pranayama and basic asanas were what I needed to come into my body, and the set sequence of their level one class was very intelligent. A year later, I did vinyasa at a studio that energized me and built my strength, but their funky sequences and harmonium-induced chanting did nothing to center me. Then I heard about Genny Kapuler, an Iyengar teacher in SoHo who is still the top teacher on my list. I studied with her for a few years and learned anatomy and alignment in a very integral way. She is tremendously graceful, patient, and kind, especially among Iyengar teachers, who can be known for an authoritarian style. My schedule in grad school took me away from her studio to a home practice. I took some privates with her for guidance, and found a new depth by practicing at my own pace, at home. When it was time to studio shop again, I did some ashtanga while trying YogaWorks with a Groupon. I’d done ashtanga a few times in the past, and though I liked it, it never stuck. This time it did, and I started a Mysore-style practice, not least because I didn’t have to listen to the inane comments of an instructor leading a class. Two years later, location and schedule became a problem, and I had to shop for a new shala.

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how I found ashtanga

I don’t talk about my own practice much here, but it’s time. Largely because when my students leave Columbia, they always ask.

My own yoga has always shaped my teaching, and it’s taken its share of twists and turns over the years. Until 2010, I’d been doing a hatha-vinyasa practice for the previous few years and I had issues with inflammation and injury. If I took classes, often the teachers didn’t warm us up enough for all the stretching that came after. Lunges hurt the ball of my foot (sesamoiditis) and my hips ached from weird sequences (starting class with pigeon is not “shaking things up.” For most bodies, it’s unwise). Classes that did have warm-ups didn’t have cool downs. Teachers had annoying ticks. Or unfortunate taste in music. My last studio, where I did my advanced teacher training, had some good teachers, but their schedule didn’t match mine and it was hideously out of my way. An hour commute, if our friends at the MTA were in a good mood. Before this, Genny Kapuler and her soho studio were my favorite, but I’m too tightly-wound to be 100% Iyengar. I need to sweat to calm down.

I ached for a studio and a teacher that fit.

I didn’t expect to find it at the YogaWorks corporation on the UWS. But, what can I say? There was a Groupon. I took a bunch of classes for a week or two last May because it was reasonably convenient to my life, and gravitated to Evan Perry’s ashtanga classes. There is warm up. There is breath. There is wisdom in the time-tested sequencing. There is little chatter. There is no music. There are intelligent adjustments. And there are faces that became quickly familiar. It was because of these classes I started a membership at yogaworks.

My first aśtanga experience (properly it is aśtanga, but is also written ashtanga and astanga) was around 2003 at a small shala with Angela and Sharada LaSpisa. They were great but it was too hard. I could barely do Surya As, and before long, I switched to Iyengar. Years later, in January 2008, I took a class with Evan when I did a trial with yogaworks. It was hard. I liked it. But my trial ran out and I was still in grad school. Then I did my advanced teacher training at ISHTA. During that period I did an ashtanga retreat in Sri Lanka for vacay, not chosen for the yoga but because my Aussie boyfriend did not find the surf in the Caribbean pleasing. So, I went back to South Asia. It was beautiful and fun. And ashtangis are funny.

So it wasn’t a total surprise when I started getting up at the crack of dawn for Mysore practice (this site explains how Mysore differs from teacher-led classes) last summer. By fall, I had moved downtown and things had settled a bit. I made it a point to practice astanga six days a week, as prescribed. If I couldn’t get to the studio, I did it at home, or even in the gym at work. I quickly learned that it could not be a choice, going. The only way to defeat the “I could stay in bed” dialogue is to not entertain it, not even on the rainiest or snowiest of days.

Mornings of greatest resistance were countered by thoughts of the others sweating it out. The warmth of the room. The adjustments. The room full of yogis having practiced for years alongside those who started last week. The camaraderie forged by breathing together in our otherwise silent daybreak ritual. The chats afterward in the locker room and by the water cooler. It is not just the bending and jumping and twisting we rely on to start our day. For that we can practice at home, and even steal some more time in bed.

So, how do you find a good yoga studio? It’s not easy. One size does not fit all, and I’ll share more thoughts in a following post.