Interviewed by Sarah McElwain
You manage the front desk at IYINY. What special skills and experience do you bring to this job?
While I had never managed a customer service team, I did select and mentor a team of junior writers for a national nonprofit, and I’ve held such a variety of jobs and volunteer positions over the years—from strawberry farmer, haiku writer, and magazine editor to presenting workshops on social media, reading to dogs, and assistant teaching in a children’s jazz dance class—that I rarely say no when something juicy comes my way. I had been serving as a karma yogi in the shop when I was offered the position of front desk manager.
In this role, I try to create a psychological space where people feel safe to take chances, ask questions, and make mistakes. And I am blessed to have been given the gift of being able to immediately see the bright light in someone, whether it’s already glowing or not quite realized–and that helps with putting teams of people together.
If you’ve visited the shop or come for a class recently, you may have noticed a slew of new faces there to greet and assist you. Together their job is to represent the heart and soul of the Institute, yet each brings a unique history and experience of IYI. Liz, for example, was a dedicated karma yogi who served by straightening up and cleaning the studios. Hadar had an internship at IYI while in high school and has continued to take classes. Everyone at the front desk brings their own set of strengths and skills, and in this way they learn from each other. Stop by the Institute and see for yourself!
You also teach an in-person Level I Hatha class each week. What do you hope your students will experience in your class?
The Level I Hatha class, the original sequence shared by Swami Satchidananda, has been called the jewel of Integral Yoga. Indeed, it is beautifully choreographed to leave the yogi in a place of more ease and peace than when they started. So, I aim to share the teachings with clear instructions, breaking down the poses and practices in words that feel authentic and true to me and hopefully will resonate, and then get out of the way. Students tell me they come to IYI because they like the slower pace, which creates the opportunity to release and relax. I hope to create a space that allows them to go within, to follow their own intuition as to what their body and mind needs.
My personal art practice involves chance, randomness and surprise, and I call on this divine guidance as I plan class. Inspiration can come from anywhere. I was on a walk today listening to Prince’s song “Chelsea Rodgers,” and I was reminded how much I adore the line, “Moses was a Pharaoh in the 18th Dynasty/And Rome was chilling in Carthage in 33 BCE/And the day that we stop counting/We live as long as a tree.” So, I’ll share vrikshasana this week, thinking about the ancient yet forever-auto-renewing energy of our tree friends.
When I think of the foundation, or driving force, behind my class, I frequently come back to a quote from Swami Sivananda, as shared in the book Awakening: Aspiration to Realization Through Integral Yoga (FYI, you can grab a copy in our shop):
Every thought that you send out is a vibration which never perishes. It goes on vibrating every particle of the universe and if your thoughts are noble, holy and forcible, they set in vibration every sympathetic mind. Unconsciously, [like-minded] people take the thoughts you have projected and in accordance with the capacity they have, they send out similar thoughts. The result is that, without your knowledge of the consequences of your own work, you will be setting in motion great forces…”
Oftentimes in my travels around the city, I find little objects—a feather, a discarded charm of a taxi cab (seriously!), a crystal bead—and am inspired to use them to help make real this idea that yoga practice generates good thoughts and intentions that can be sent out into the world. So, I’ll bring the object to class, where it “absorbs” our collective/collected positivity, and then someone can take it and leave it for someone else to find. One rainbow-faceted crystal bead even made it to Seattle, WA. (photo by Diana Dhāraṇī Díaz)
What do you love about Integral Yoga?
This was hard to distill, because there are multiple reasons, but many of them are incorporated in this idea that people come here because they are seeking something. I cherish that gentle and sometimes-not-so gentle pull of the divine that leads me and many other seekers back. Folks come when they are struggling, they come to practice techniques they can use to navigate their way through this beautiful and tough city, they come to find and share joy, and sometimes they come without even knowing what they are looking for. (At the front desk we always hear people say they were just walking by the Institute and were drawn inside…then find a book they were always looking for, or learn about a class or workshop they always wanted to take).
I remember on September 11, like many in New York City, I was terrified, heartbroken and in shock; I was alone and panicking, yet somehow stumbled my way to the Institute, where we chanted for the souls of the courageous New Yorkers who lost their lives that day. And the daily Zoom classes and online meditation offered by IYI during the very scary first year of the pandemic kept me sane and functioning.
And the dogs! On days when Elaina is at the front desk, she may have Luna on her lap. This apricot-furred doggo is quite magical (no surprise, Elaina is, too) and the pair of them are expert at making visitors feel welcome. There’s Subrah’s Raja, a Chihuahua of deep thoughts, and Henson, who is kind of impossible to miss. You’ll find this golden doodle accompanying his mom Radha, our Executive Director. One of my all-time favorite experiences ever at IYI is when Henson joined in for his first Friday night kirtan. He couldn’t contain himself during the “Hare Krishna” chant, and I just about went to Heaven when he stood up on his hind legs (as encouraged by his dad, D) like he was dancing. Our canine contingent reminds me that animals have always been my teachers, and are born yogis.
When I teach or attend our classes online, I am usually joined by one or all of my cats, Ira, Derrick and Lorenzo. Ira loves standing forward bends and often jumps on my back mid-pose. During my teacher training, in a class I was leading in which I was being evaluated by my teacher, Lorenzo parked himself on my mat during sun salutation, and I almost accidentally kicked him en route to downward-facing dog. I left my mat to bring him to another room, thinking for sure I’d blown it. But later, Rashmi (shout-out to this master trainer and teacher!) told me she was unconcerned about that, and actually appreciated Renz’s spirited practice of surya namaskaram. What a lesson in accepting whatever comes your way, and in accepting all beings at the yoga table—yoga is truly for everybody. And P.S., Lorenzo is not the only one—I love seeing all of your four-legged yogis on Zoom.