Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Interview with Beverly O'Donohue

Nya: What got you into yoga?

Beverly: A boyfriend brought me to my first Yoga Class; it was about 2008.  It was at the Dharma studio where I still teach and practice now. The studio was located close to where I was working at the time, Modern Props. I started going to the Dharma Yoga LA studio about three or four times a week. I loved the way it made my body feel. I loved the way it made my breath feel. I loved the hell out of it.  I loved how it induced a quiet mind; my monkey brain was quieted immediately with yoga.

I fell in love with the way my teacher Sonya (E. Kendall) taught. At the time, I knew very little about yoga, very little beyond the asanas.  The love that came through as she taught and the glimpse of yoga beyond the asanas she portrayed in her classes made me curious.

I tried to find studios around my own neighborhood to do yoga but I never felt as welcomed as at the Dharma Studio.  I think the things that make the Dharma Mittra studio special to me was the warmth and the size of classes and the studio.  If you think of high school, some larger yoga studios in Los Angeles are like public schools, whereas the Dharma Mittra studio is like a small independent school.  I believe a more intimate teaching process is a lot more effective.

Nya: What got you interested in teaching yoga?

Beverly: I didn’t know if I wanted to be a teacher when I went to teacher training. I forked over a ridiculous amount of money, and I haven’t regretted a moment. Sonya gave me a scholarship which I later worked off by teaching classes. Sonya really encouraged me to teach. She knew me so well in the classes as a student.  She knew my desires and limitations. She encouraged me to meet Sri Dharma Mittra and train with him. It took me a while to jump on it. I was never fond of public speaking but came to find out that it becomes easier to speak in front of a group when you are passionate about the subject.  At some point, you are no longer the teacher but have become the vessel for the teachings to flow through.  I want to do more training with Sri Dharma Mittra and see him on a regular basis but I haven’t been able to do that financially.

Nya: What was the Teacher Training like with Dharma?

Beverly: I have completed two 200 hour teacher trainings, the first one was in 2011 with Sri Dharma Mittra in New York City and the second in 2016 with Sonya Enchill and Sri Andrei Ram in Los Angeles.

I can be a bit introverted and have a hard time casually socializing. Socializing sometimes feels fake.  In the LOAYNYC Dharma training, we were encouraged to practice silence or Mauna. I took that advice and practiced silence and kept to myself. I went to New York a week early to do touristy things so I wouldn’t be distracted during the training.  I stayed with two different Dharma Yoga teachers while visiting, one in New Jersey and one in Manhattan.  The woman I stayed with in Manhattan was an Amma devotee.  That was incredible for me because I learned so much about Amma.

The training was extremely tough.  New York City is an extremely tough place.  It’s a bigger and dirtier city than LA. I believe Sri Dharma chose New York City because he wants to help balance a place that already has so much energy – a very fast paced and stressful city - by offering the Yogic teachings.

We practiced Vinyasa three times a day. In the middle of day was a master class.  We were challenged physically. We started each day with lectures from Sri Dharma and toward the end of the training it all became challenging as there was a lot of information offered in a short period of time.

The experience was life changing for me.  Many of the instructors in the training are devotees of Sri Dharma Mittra who have renounced many of the benefits of the world. They were inspirational people.  It was extremely enlightening and humbling to be in Sri Dharma Mittra’s presence because he is a real person - not to say other gurus aren’t.  He lives the same lifestyle as you and I but sees the world differently.

I tried to approach my first teacher training by completely forgetting everything I thought I knew about yoga.  I wanted to start back at the beginning with no intentions - to come from a clean slate. We started each day around 7:30 in morning and ended at 8:30 at night. There wasn’t much chance for breakfast or dinner. I dropped 10 pounds and I don’t really have 10 pounds to drop. I ate an avocado in the morning and a peanut butter & jelly sandwich at night with a fairly decent lunch in the middle.

At a certain point, my body started to shut down. Many people’s bodies were shutting down. It was my first experience seeing someone cry after vinyasa class.  I started to see trainees sitting out for the vinyasa classes. People were taking a chair and just watching, this is what Sri Dharma refers to as watchasana. Everyone was exhausted.  I didn’t know what my body was doing and I got nervous and scared but talked to Sri Dharma and he explained to me about the practice.  He explained the different changes made to the body from practicing consistently. I came out of training with plenty of tools to work with.  The training helped me find a way to teach and helped me find my own voice, my own Dharma in life.  I saw the world in a completely different perspective.  

Nya: How did you start teaching? What has been your experience teaching?

Beverly: As I mentioned earlier, I worked off the scholarship I received from Sonya by teaching karma classes at her studio. I grew to love teaching.  I love knowing people who love yoga as much as I do.  Ultimately, I want to devote my time to people who really need yoga. Aesthetically and devotionally I want to be able to offer the practice for free.

I think it is most important to say that I am just an instructor, a vessel for the teachings to flow through. Being an instructor doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle with the same things that my students struggle with.  These are lifelong struggles. The ability to diminish them and to acknowledge them becomes easier but the struggles are still there.  The sadness is still there when you feel sad. The anger is still there when you feel angry, but to learn to acknowledge the emotions before you react has become a very good tool I’ve been cultivating from quieting the mind in my moving meditation.

Sometimes I get down on myself when I have no students in class.  I don’t know if it’s purely financial or ego.  Of course when you have no students, you make no money. But it’s more than that. I know everyone has their schedule – but my inner critic asks: Why do they like me or don’t like me as a teacher? Sometimes I wonder if it’s psychically related. Maybe, I am not in the right psychic attitude to teach a class that day and that energy has gone into the universe telling people not to come.

Nya: What does yoga mean to you?

Beverly: Whenever I talk about yoga it’s unlike anything else I talk about in my life.  I don’t have the same attitude towards anything else. My love for yoga has changed my attitude towards many things.  I have taken the asanas and changed them into a lifestyle.  For me the challenge in my yoga life is to take the feeling, the strength, the breath, the positivity and the community off the mat into real life.

My mother and I just recently had a discussion about how yoga has helped me in my personal life.  The breath alone has helped so much.  The breath helps to control and recognize the emotions. If I had known any of this early on in my life I believe I would have had more control over my emotions and reactions.

I think that it’s extremely unfortunate that we are expected to learn how to breathe and walk on our own.  No one is there to teach us how to properly do the things we take for granted in order to use them as tools for life. Wellness and mindfulness is out there now but I wish I had this knowledge back in high school.

Nya: What are your visions and dreams for your life in yoga?

Beverly: I am now a full time teacher.  The reality of being a full time yoga teacher is extremely hard.  Financially I want to continue learning, teaching, taking classes.  But all classes involve money.  Of course, I can continue teaching what I know and learn from books.  But if what I want is to study under a specific person it will take me going back to other kinds of work to finance these studies. I have been thinking that Kundalini Yoga is up my alley because of the breath work in the lineage.  Of course, I am grateful to have been able to train with Sri Dharma Mittra and yes he still has much more to offer, but I also want to dive into other lineages.

Nya: What’s your personal sadhana like?

Beverly: My personal practice switches on and off. I usually practice in the morning before any distractions arise, usually 15 to 20 minutes. My practice usually consists of meditation and pranayama. Sometimes it’s a Sun Salutation. I start with pranayama usually alternate nostril breathing. I let myself lose the count, or let the count change.  If my mind is overactive, I do breath of fire.  I also do the So Hum mantra in the head to find stillness in the mind.

Since I tend to teach and practice at the same time I don’t need an extremely long morning practice. Of course, in class I won’t get a full practice in so I make sure to fit in an hour and a half of practice at one of the many studios I love. Reading yogic texts is hard work for me.  I have never been a book reader for knowledge. The Bhagavad Gita lets me paint a story so I find that more relatable.  If I have a question about the texts I ask a colleague. I like books that let you give your own translation.

Nya: What keeps you interested in yoga?

Beverly: When I talk to people who have never done yoga I feel like I sound like a preacher because my devotion pours out so much. I start to question myself sometimes – why do I like yoga so much and why then don’t others want to have the same experience as me?

When I converse with someone with a like a mind I get to explore why I like yoga. What makes me come back to yoga every day is to learn something different every time about myself. Because I practice in the morning, I get an insight where I am at and what the day might be like. Not that I am looking for that. But I explore: am I strong, is my breath even, maybe the mind is racing, or maybe there is something that carries over into my meditation that I was reading about the night before?  I get insight into where I’m at mentally and physically. It is a type of self-prediction.

Every time I come back to my mat there is always something new to learn whether I move the body organically or attempt a posture I didn’t know I could or couldn’t do.  I allow the breath to guide my moving meditation or I open a book and incorporate something from the book into my practice.  It is exciting that there is room for growth in the yoga world in many different ways. There is always something new to learn.

Nya: How has your experience been teaching at The Yogi Tree

Beverly: I have taught at the Yogi Tree for about two years.  It’s my second home after Dharma Yoga LA. At The Yogi Tree, the students are very special. In some studios it is hard to be your authentic self; they want you to be a certain way.  But at The Yogi Tree I can be an authentic version of myself.  The students are open and receptive. My experience continues to shape me into the person I am today.

Nya: Anything else you would like to share?

Beverly: I love when students talk to me after class. Please introduce yourself and tell me what is on your mind.  I want to know where you are coming from and your story. Namaste!

Beverly’s teaching Schedule at The Yogi Tree
Wednesday @ 7:30pm – Hatha
Wednesday @  9pm  - Restorative
Thursday @ 9am - Hatha

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