FEATURED TEACHER OF THE MONTH
Interview by Sarah McElwain
While working as a jazz radio producer, Becca Pulliam attended IYI’s post-9/11 community classes in Central Park. Then she practiced at the Upper West Side IYI (now closed). Entering the West 13th Street center, she recognized the jazz pianist/Yogi/IYI donor Turiya Alice Coltrane’s picture in the stairwell. Om shanti! Jazz and Yoga flow together.
What is your definition of Yoga?
I use the well-established phrase “an easeful body, a peaceful mind, and a useful life” to define Yoga. These may be the goals rather than the essence, and, if so, then Yoga could be the effort and comfort of reaching for these goals.
Following the chants and asana, after Yoga Mudra, tension and release, and quieting the body and then the mind, I might begin to experience the spaces between my thoughts and to live in those spaces. And although this is an analogy and an analogy is a thought, I liken those mental spaces to spaces between the vertebrae, imagined spaces along the spine that—earlier in the practice—I have engaged in stretching.
Yoga is also the community of people who are practicing, who are voluntarily and independently chanting, moving, resting, breathing, and meditating together.
What do you love about Yoga?
The repetition and variation. Yoga practice is like traveling a familiar route but noticing new or different aspects along the way. I do not get impatient with it. Or perhaps it’s like making music, committing myself to play a piece of music with movements and themes and variations.
Why do you teach Yoga?
When I finished the full-time employment era of my life, I had time to practice Yoga twice a week instead of once. And I realized that I had never formally taught anything. I wanted to learn to teach something, so I enrolled in Teacher Training. I set two goals. I would learn to speak the practice, and I would move more deeply into the practice. And now a third dimension has presented itself, and that is to share Level I with students, instructing and learning from them.
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 like my role as a substitute teacher. It allows me to experience classes at all times of day and throughout the week. I taught the Fundamentals of Integral Yoga Course for Beginners on four Sunday afternoons. Especially with those new students, I saw immediately how my single set of instructions led to a variety of postures. That’s a humbling experience! It happens in part because every student’s body really is distinct. For example, at the end of the first session of the four-week course, a student said she couldn’t relax in adhvasana and bhujangasana. She just wasn’t built to do that. Before the next Sunday, I asked other teachers and looked at books and videos and finally improvised a modification for her.
I love the classes with gongs and bowls. They make music that my brain cannot sing, attempt to notate, or scan for form. The music simply exists in time; it doesn’t have a “beat.” I would love to add sound and the gong bath to my repertoire.
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?
My first long-term Integral Yoga teacher used “om” as we came in and out of several poses. For example, I expected her “om” to help me lift my legs in salabhasana. Now I chant “om” to mark certain movements and transitions in the class. I hope that as an alternative to words, the vibrations help move the class forward.
At the beginning of class, we often say, “Listen to your body,” but as the class progresses, we offer verbal instructions, suggestions about where to focus. We list some benefits. I’m trying to make sure that I leave sufficient silence that the students really can listen to their own bodies.
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?
I use the Integral Yoga Level I Class double CD taught by Kali, produced by Sarah McElwain, and sold in the bookstore. I’ve practiced many times to Kali’s voice when I couldn’t make it to West 13th Street. Sometimes I use only the first hour, the asana practice. The second CD, with Yoga Nidra, pranayama, meditation, and the closing sloka, is just as helpful. And perhaps I should use it alone from time to time to help deepen my meditation.
Also, for a benefit gala at another organization, I had nothing to wear, so I bought a beaded T-shirt in the gift shop and received many compliments. Never underestimate the gift shop. Or the grocery. I live on the celery sticks and other healthful foods from the produce section.
Coming Workshop: Fundamentals of Integral Yoga: 4-Week Course for Beginners, Sundays, November 5–26