Interview by Sarah McElwain
Vishnupriya/Vanessa Doherty is a California native and has been practicing Yoga since the early ’90s. In 2009, she was inspired to teach when she started practicing classical Hatha Yoga with Chandra Om of the Shanti Niketan Ashram in North Carolina. That is where she found Yoga for healing. Vishnupriya lives the life of a classical Yogi, not just for her own benefit but so that she can dive deep, teach the traditional methods of Yoga, and serve others wholeheartedly. She has been teaching since 2010 and continues to obtain certifications that focus on Yoga for healing and realizing our innate peace. She holds certifications in classical Hatha Level I, Integral Yoga Intermediate and Advanced, Yin Yoga, Therapeutic Yoga Levels I and II, and Reiki Energy Healing Level 1.
When and how did you discover Yoga? What brought you to IYI?
My introduction to Yoga was in a gym in the early ’90s. I instantly fell in love with the movement and savasana. I bought videos and studied and practiced on my own for many years, until a friend urged me to go to an actual Yoga studio. My first class was in a tiny studio at walking distance from my house, with a sign that read only “Yoga.” There they taught, and I began to learn, traditional Hatha Yoga, and that is when everything changed for me. I was inspired to teach and dive deeper into Yoga. During my training, I was introduced to books written by Gurudev: The Living Gita and The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Those books made the complicated uncomplicated. I needed to learn more, so I ventured to Yogaville. I was amazed by the Yoga way of life: the spirituality, the easeful asana practice, and the loving nature of the sangha. I never looked back, and years later I received my Intermediate and Advanced Teacher Trainings from IYINY.
What do you love about Yoga?
Everything! I try to live the life of a Yogi as best I can, through the daily practices of meditation, pranayama, asana, japa, diet, prayer, selfless service, and following my guru. Yoga is a remedy, and the purpose of sharing peace, love, and kindness with others matches my goal in life. I want to make the most positive impact I can during my time on this Earth. I feel that Yoga gives me the tools for doing just that. Finally, I love the community of students and teachers and all the smiles they bring when we come together. We are a group of people who want to bring joy and peace to our own lives and also to others. I feel very fortunate to have found Yoga.
What do you hope your students will receive from your class?
Yoga, and especially the Integral Yoga method, has an incredible way of creating a peaceful, balanced sense of being. I feel that if I just keep it simple, stay with the principles of Yoga, and share some Integral Yoga tips in my class, the students will easily derive benefit. (The level of benefit that one gains really depends on the individual practitioner.) Then, I hope, after they leave class, they will share their peaceful state, which is their true nature, with others.
How much of your teaching style is attributable to your personality, your life experience, and your teaching wisdom?
I believe that the teaching of Yoga must come from an authentic place. Before each class, I remind myself of that truth, and I set an intention that my class will be taught not with ego but instead from a deep place of love, compassion, and knowledge—that is, through the heart. On the more practical side, I am very honest about the limits of my body and often share that awareness as a reason for making use of a prop or a variation. Asana provides an ideal time for reminding students of ahimsa, santosha, and satya. The ignoring of those basic principles can be disruptive, not just to the body’s nervous systems but also to the mind and spirit. Last, through my own practice, I have learned to appreciate quiet and its importance. Consequently, I say only what I feel is needed in class. I speak more when I’m teaching a Level I or a multilevel class but a lot less in intermediate, advanced, and Yin Yoga classes. We experience a lot of noise and chatter in our lives. I feel that a little quiet is beneficial , so that one may become meditative and mindful in one’s movement.
What has sustained you the most during the pandemic?
I have been told in the past that a guru will appear when one is ready. I waited, prayed at times, but mostly waited for one to appear. He appeared about a month after the Covid shutdown, which marked ten years of waiting. My guru is Rev. Jaganath Carrera, a direct disciple of Gurudev’s, and I took initiation with him in November 2020. That brought a whole new aspect to my Yoga life. My meditation, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, and Japa Yoga practices deepened, and I became a part of a wonderful new sangha, the Yoga Life Society, which he founded. Still, I was challenged by having too much time and worrying during the shutdown. Gurudev coined the expression “Do it now” to encourage people to practice Yoga today in order to prevent suffering tomorrow. So, I loaded up my days with online Yoga offerings: asana classes, spiritual study, and Satsang. Gradually I felt less isolated and more a part of micro-communities via Zoom. Zoom may not be ideal, but it allowed a connection, for which I am continually grateful.
What has surprised you about yourself during this pandemic?
I hadn’t been aware that I had so many fears: fears not only of catching or passing along Covid but of the world and my place in it. It seemed that this pandemic had shined a bright light not just on my own but also on strangers’ fears, which I could sense or see plainly. I noticed that the more my fear intensified, the more I would recoil. That was not healthy. When things are rough, it’s time to deepen one’s Yoga practice. Doing so can be difficult, but, with resolve, I remembered the Yogic teachings, engaged more with sangha, and chanted either my mantra or some Kirtan, especially when I was in an uncomfortable situation. My guru would often remind us to spend a least a little time every day practicing asana, meditation, and pranayama for our own health, so that we may help others. Thus, I made it a personal goal to bring joy to others: for example, say “Hi” to strangers or give them a smile, teach a Yoga class with joy, pray for the well-being of those who are suffering, and find gratitude and joy in your own heart. To my surprise, the more I brought joy to others, the less I feared.
What is one of your hidden talents? How does it show up in your own Yogic practices and in the classes and workshops you lead?
I have been told that I have a soothing and calming demeanor and a voice that helps guide people through their practice with ease and comfort. I have been told that I create “space” in the class. My first teachers taught that way. I practice it at home and today still gravitate to teachers who are soothing and grounding.