FEATURED TEACHER OF THE MONTH
Lynn Anjali Somerstein
Interview by Sara McElwain
Lynn Anjali Somerstein, Ph.D., N.C.Psy.A, L.P., RYT, studies and teaches Yoga at IYI and is a Yoga teacher and Yoga therapist. She is also a licensed psychotherapist in private practice and the author of numerous articles about Yoga, anxiety, attachment issues, and psychotherapy. Lynn is grateful to her many teachers at Integral Yoga Institute and NPAP for her extensive and deep training in both Yoga and psychoanalysis.
What is your definition of Yoga?
To me, Yoga is the art and science of life. The teachings of Yoga are a vast ocean; I’m still at the shoreline of exploration, and I’m grateful for that. I think about the sages who over thousands of years developed the science, spirit, and practice of Yoga through direct observation and inference. They were geniuses. We are part of a long and distinguished lineage.
What do you love about Yoga?
Almost 60 years ago, when I was around 14 years old, I stumbled on a strange book. The book jacket showed a man with intense eyes and white marks on his forehead, which I later found out meant he was dedicated to Shiva. The book was about Yoga. I didn’t know what Yoga was, but I was curious, so I checked it out of my local library. Right away I was attracted to Yoga asana; I taught myself from that book, and although I understood very little I put together my own, goofy practice. My favorite pose was dhanurasana—I called it “rocking horse pose.”
I loved it. I felt playful making believe I was a rocking horse. I didn’t know it then, but the poses I chose, like forward bends and backbends, relieved the stress, anxiety, and depression that were part of my daily life. They opened paths to my slowly finding out who I was, really. I was lucky to feel the emotional as well as the physical benefits of Yoga right away. I knew nothing about breath work or meditation or Raja Yoga. All that came much later.
When I was in my 20s I discovered Swami Satchidananda’s studio on West End Avenue. I studied at IYI and, later, at other Yoga schools, and I gradually learned that Yoga is about all aspects of life. My practice and understanding deepened. I love the deep knowing that is part of Yoga practice, I love understanding energy, I love helping others, I love the ideal of being present for all aspects of life. Yoga holds me and helps me feel alive and secure inside a generous, compassionate universe.
Why do you teach Yoga?
I teach Yoga so that I can help people tune in to themselves, to learn who they are and what they need to live healthy, productive lives—“easeful, peaceful, and useful.” I enjoy relieving stress and distress and watching worried faces smooth into smiles, spines lengthen, breath settle into healthy rhythms. I easily get back more than I give. My face smiles, too, when I’m teaching, and I feel deeply peaceful after class.
What are the particular areas of Yoga you are teaching in now or in which you have created your own, special offerings? What attracted you to those areas?
I teach Restorative Yoga and Chair Yoga. It’s a great pleasure to reach people in various stages of development and ability. When I teach Chair Yoga I concentrate on stress reduction. I teach from deep within my body and my history. I’d like to tell you a little about my teaching experiences.
One special older student attended my class once a week for many years, even up until a few weeks before his death. He was brave and funny. His body was twisted; he was hard to look at sometimes, and he knew it, so he was carefully groomed to be more attractive. He was courtly. I was scared of him at first, he seemed so fragile, and I was afraid I might inadvertently hurt him, but after a time I learned to trust his innate knowledge and protectiveness. I felt he was protecting me as well as himself during class. He taught me about living with disabilities, aging, and death. He taught grace, generosity, and gratefulness. He taught persistence, too.
On the other side of the spectrum is my work last year with a newborn and her mother, when my granddaughter was born. She and my daughter, her mother, experienced a traumatic delivery that had physical and emotional consequences. I moved into their home for a time so that I could help make them physically comfortable and emotionally safe. My training in Yoga Therapy and in psychotherapy came in handy in ways I had never imagined. I realized that I had unknowingly been preparing for this particular journey my whole life.
What do you hope students will receive from you as a teacher, and what do you hope students will get out of your coming offerings and workshops?
I hope my students will learn to love Yoga, themselves, and one another at all levels of being. I hope they will be curious and learn to take good care of themselves and others.
Do you have a favorite book or Yoga mat or product that you like, something you sincerely enjoy and wish to share with the teacher sangha?
When I began practicing Yoga, no props had been invented yet. Later, once props had been developed, I spurned them as silly and unnecessary. Later still, I began to understand that props are helpful, and I bought beautiful wooden blocks, which were the rage for a time.
However, wood is hard. Those beautiful wooden blocks became bookends when foam blocks became available. Now I keep two blocks and a blanket handy to my Yoga mat. So, what I sincerely enjoy the most and recommend to everybody is keeping an open mind. Try many things, and use what serves you best; then go on to something else if you want. Follow your needs closely. Provide for yourself, and, most of all, take care of yourself. One of the many things Yoga teachers do is teach people about self-care. You can’t teach what you don’t live. Keep learning and practicing.
Ongoing classes at IYI: Restorative Yoga most first Wednesdays of the month