Have you ever been to our studio before? If you have, or have not, take a look at our new welcome video! We are open to share our space Also check out Steven’s interview below. He talks about plans for the recent expansion and intention for the space to come.
I highly recommend getting to a class that is lead by Morgan. She holds a great wealth of knowledge and the ability to offer that in a clear and compassionate way.
Currently she teaches the Raja yoga class on Saturdays 12-1:30. Below she speaks about what to expect in this class, as well as her own development into the study of yoga.
Here is Morgan hiking around Nachiketa Tal in northern India
* Do you remember what first intrigued you about yoga? What made you want to go deeper, and eventually learn how to teach?
My introduction to the broader tradition of Yoga came through reading the Bhagavad Gita in a college course when I was 19. Reading it for the first time left me feeling like a hole had blown open through the top of my head. Although I couldn’t explain why at the time, I was completely enthralled by this text. I carried that first translation with me almost everywhere I went for the next several years, re-reading sections of it and writing notes and reflections in the margins. When I was 21 and finishing my last semester of college, my thesis advisor talked me into attending a Hatha Yoga class with her at the rec center on campus. To say that I was a high-strung student would be a bit of an understatement, and I think she was hoping to inspire me to seek relaxation and integration in my life. As with my introduction to the Bhagavad Gita, I was drawn into the practice immediately. I started practicing with my advisor 2-3 times a week, rearranging my schedule to allow myself to prioritize attending yoga classes. Within the first month of practice, I knew that I was going to want to teach yoga at some point. My first Hatha Yoga teacher incorporated ayurveda, philosophy, pranayama, meditation, and asana into her classes. I feel very lucky to have had an integrated introduction to the practice, and such a practice brought very swift changes to my life. I stopped eating meat within the first month and felt a sense of calm that I’d previously not known in my life. This profound impact led me to want to both know more (study deeper) and to want to share the practice with other people. Finding Yoga felt like coming home to me; it’s a continued process of homecoming, actually.
* Since then you’ve studied with many knowledgeable teachers, most recently Debbie Mills. Can you speak about how she has impacted your teaching?
Studying with Debbie has completely reoriented my approach to life and therefore also my approach to teaching. Debbie’s primary focus is on subtle energetics, and her teaching focuses on helping people move through gripping patterns that block the flow of prana. Practicing in line with this means exploring places of fear and discomfort and learning to sit with the sensations and emotions that arise. To me, this is a more liberation-oriented approach to practice than focusing on the (still important) psychological and physiological impacts of a regular practice (e.g., reduced stress). Since beginning my studies with Debbie, I’m more aware of energetic flow in my own practice and when observing students and am also able to build sequences that account for what I’m observing in my students. Debbie has also taught me how to approach teaching in a way that balances nurturing students while also holding them accountable for working through their holding patterns, even when it isn’t comfortable.
* Your class, Raja Yoga is based on Patanjali’s 8-limbed path of yoga. Could you speak more about how this tradition shows up in this 90 minute class?
Patanjali’s 8-limbed path, termed Raja or Ashtanga yoga, is a holistic approach to yoga that focuses on what, in our context, we might look at as both “on-mat” and “off-mat” practices. The first two limbs focus on ethical precepts and behaviors toward ourselves and others. These show up in class as themes we focus on and explore throughout the rest of the practice. So, for example, the focus of one class might be ahimsa (which translates variously as non-violence, non-harming, compassion). At the beginning of class, we would set an intention together of exploring this quality in our practice, noticing how we are tempted to push ourselves past our limits or how we engage in destructive, negative self-talk when we can’t do something. We would also work to notice and practice compassionate, uplifting self-talk during the practice. The idea behind this is that we use the mat as a laboratory to begin exploring and cultivating these characteristics so that we can take them off the mat. The next two limbs, asana and pranayama, show up more obviously and directly, since each class includes an asana and a pranayama practice. Pratyahara is practiced either through cultivating witness-consciousness as a way to detach from (i.e., begin to observe) our senses or through practices such as shanmukhi mudra. (Additionally, savasana can be seen as a practice of pratyahara when practiced in a manner that truly cultivates withdrawal from our senses.) Meditation practices at the end of class focus on training the mind to concentrate on one object (this is dharana). This practice is meant to set the stage for the next two limbs (dhyana and samadhi) to arise naturally. We use different meditative techniques and sit for varying lengths of time, depending on our focus.
* Why is breathwork so important in an asana practice?
There are many ways to answer this question. First, one of the primary goals of asana practice is to prepare the system for meditation. Asana practice reduces rajas (agitation) which makes it easier to sit with stillness. Pranayama, when it follows asana practice in this manner, is meant to reduce tamas (dullness/heaviness) in the system, thereby bringing a person to a more sattvic state that makes a meditative state more likely to emerge from the practices that follow. These practices are all meant to work in tandem.
Even if you aren’t working toward meditation in your practice, focusing on the breath and building up breath capacity are really critical for other reasons. A deliberate breathwork practice, in the short term, can help calm the mind and body and regulate the nervous system. Longer, deeper exhalations help detoxify the body by ridding the lungs of the old air that we hold in them by not taking full breaths. If your asana practice is breath-centered (which, I would argue, it should be) then working toward greater connection to your breath will allow you to engage more fully and more presently with your asana practice. Deeper breaths mean slower movement in your asana practice and a deep relationship with the breath means that you will notice when your breathing changes, even in subtle ways, that suggest you need to do something differently in your asana practice. That last piece is something that is cultivated over a long period of time in practice, but it’s also critical to moving your practice to a place that will allow you to practice in ways that are the most beneficial to you.
* What do you like best about East Side Yoga?
East Side Yoga feels like a community in a way I’ve never experienced at any other yoga studio. The students are really dedicated and connected to the space and the teachers and vice-versa. Moreover, Stephen and Elsa are committed to maintaining a grounding in yogic principles and pushing the envelope of the teachings that are offered in Austin. It’s exciting and inspiring to be a part of this endeavor.
Today our favorite yoga shop turns 4 years old. We are happy to say it has cultivated quite a wonderful community over the years. To celebrate this, and its addition of a new practice space, we sat down with Steven Ross to speak about how this journey has been and where it may lead. Thanks you Steven and Elsa!
How did you first get involved in yoga?
Steven Ross: Initially, I started this journey as a way of dealing with some serious stress and anxiety issues. My feelings have always been quite sensitive and this did not really gel with my un-enthusiastic corporate career. Within me there was no desire to be promoted or to get ahead of the pack, yet I had to deal with some difficult people and serious pressures from above. The result was that I found myself losing sleep, and eventually falling into chronic fatigue. This crisis point forced me to give up an ambivalent approach to health and start to take care of myself. Although I started the path in tai chi and qi-gong, my first real experience of Yoga was then a friend brought me to see an Indian Guru. From that point on I was completely transformed, I was literally never the same again. I developed an intense longing for higher consciousness, yogic wisdom, and an insatiable desire to experience these states through yoga meditation.
My desire for the higher truths hit a bump in the road due to the fact that I had never taken care of my body, nor lived a healthy lifestyle. It was clear to me that I would never get to where I needed to be unless I took care of all parts of myself. This led me to hatha yoga.
Meditation, asana, and the philosophy of yoga is a lifelong study for you. What inspired you to open a studio and offer this as
For years I had this recurring thought that I just want to help people; somehow make a positive contribution in our community. If I did that my life would be worthwhile. I knew in my heart that if I did nothing I would seriously regret this incarnation. This nagging thought, my love to talk about yoga as a way of healing others, and a lifelong wish to be a simple shopkeeper, seemed to naturally fit. I love to chat with people, to greet people with a smile and to be of service to them. It makes me so happy that some of the locals on the street refer to ESY as “the yoga shop” because that’s exactly how I see it!
So you have this idea to open a studio… now what made you choose the East Side of Austin?
Elsa and I really fell in love with this neighborhood. When we spoke with local business owners and residents it was clear there was a
different vibe around here, there is a potential in this community. I don’t mean to gentrify, but to maintain a diverse neighborhood and a progressive culture. To me it feels more like a European city on the east side of Austin, and I really like that. In the last four years things have changed considerably. In the beginning it was extremely daunting as we came through the big recession and progress stalled. However, the last couple of years have seen an influx of people moving in and trying yoga, many for the first time.
What is the vision for East Side Yoga?
East Side Yoga was created to hold a sacred space of yoga for the study, practice, and Self realization of every student. Our purpose is to offer classes with a sense of care, nurturance, and heartfelt sharing from all teachers transmitted to all students. Here there is an opportunity for each student to step back and gain a wider perspective of daily life. One that recognizes there is something more than habit and routine; there is an inner reality to be discovered and lived from. Through this space we build community (satsang) and find enjoyment in the practice through sharing and living the teachings of yoga together.
What is your biggest challenge in running this studio and guiding its growth?
It’s always been clear to me since opening that this space carries an energy that is much more than myself or any person. At risk of
sounding cliché, we are literally holding the energy. I feel like the creative ideas come through me intuitively, based on teacher/student intention. To be honest, my challenge with the intention is getting little Steven out of the way from that process. My intuition is far from perfect. The other challenge is that after four years doing this, I am not entirely sure what my job title should be. For sure not the owner, I don’t really own anything. For sure not the founder, this place found me! The only appropriate description would be caretaker or steward, it might sound odd but that’s how it feels.
The most important element for me is to have a welcoming space where all people have an opportunity to practice, and connect with the deeper teachings of Yoga. What matters most is that we can offer yoga from the physical level to the spiritual connection; this is the potential of yoga for each of us.
What is your plan for the expanded yoga space that opened in August 2013?
Before opening the new room we asked for student suggestions, and we got them big time. Right now we are trying to meet the more popular suggestions and see what works. We are seeing more and more requests towards yin/restorative/meditative based practices which is an interesting trend that we will try to accommodate.
This year we launched the Sacred Roots yoga school and our plan is to be recognized as a place of deeper yoga studies in Austin. The school is not just to teach teachers, it is for anyone who wants to journey down the rabbit hole to gain a deeper understanding of yoga.
Yogic philosophy is a vast area of study. I find the techniques to be comprehensive and the opportunity for inner growth tremendous. It is a big undertaking that will put very good use to the new room.
I am already lining up some exciting events for 2014!
what, so far, has your favorite east side yoga memory?
Gosh, there are so many to choose from. I always love our staff get together as they are often more like a party than a meeting. Seeing all the teachers, staff, and volunteers together gives me a sense that we are part of something really special. Those gatherings give me the momentum to keep going.
Without a doubt, my all time most memorable moment was the day of the studio fundraiser. I was dumbfounded and lost for words as I watched the students enthusiastically donate for the studio improvements. I generally don’t like to ask people for help, but thanks to Marythis event really blew me away. I will never forget that kindness, enthusiasm, and generosity.
This coming Saturday 10/19 Victoria is going to lead the advanced asana class into Astavakrasana. Here is a breakdown with a few warm up postures to take first. Advanced asana class is every Saturday 2-3:30. See ya there!
Here is a sneak peek at what Iva will be teaching at our new advanced asana class today (October 12th). This class is hosted by a revolving schedule of teachers every Saturday 2-3:30. You can use this video to refresh the tips learned in class! Tittibasana, firefly pose, can seem intimidating. Have fun with it
October 19th we begin our cleanse program for the Fall, this will be a rare opportunity for self transformation in our 14 day cleanse program utilizing Yoga and Ayurveda in the process. Craig Williams has compiled this program and will guide the orientation on October 17th . We have received a few questions from folks interested in the cleanse, so here are responses for all to read.
Why is it so important to cleanse when transitioning seasons?
CW:-According to Ayurveda, the Doshas which have accumulated during the season will often peak at seasonal transitions. This will often cause minor cold or digestive issues as the season shift. Using a balanced cleanse which is food based can help prevent these challenges and allow the body and mind to gracefully adapt to the changing seasons.
Most people have heard of cleansing or detoxification, how does this program differ from the usual cleansing programs?
CW-The unique aspect of this program is that is will utilize a method which will plant seeds of healing deep within the body AND the mind of the participant rather than just being a “two week cleanse”. We will provide the tools necessary for deep and lasting transformation rather than just a temporary “fix”. It is also unique in that it unites two powerful sciences: Ayurveda and Yoga. This combination allows for a powerful program that can address body, mind and spirit and allow the participant to become a co-creator in their own health and healing.
First timers feel slightly anxious about the thought of cleansing, do you have any advice for those that have never tried a cleanse program before?
CW-Its natural for people to be hesitant and nervous about cleansing as so many programs are needlessly extreme and sometimes even dangerous. This program is gentle, safe, and provides a map for a lifetime of health and balance. You won’t be required to drastically adjust your daily life, however we will examine areas where we might be planting seeds of disease in our daily routine which can cause significant problems in the long term if not addressed. My personal vision for this cleanse is for short term AND long term healing. This might require adjustment and change, two very frightening words to many individuals! But one of the most imporant foundations for long term health is flexibility in how we view the world and in our reactions to the world.
If students have physical limitations will the yoga posture part of the cleanse be possible for them?
CW- Yoga asanas performed in the right context can be an excellent compliment to a cleansing protocol and we will explore various methods to ultilize asanas in this manner. However this does not require strenuous or dangerous programs. If someone has physical limitations, asanas can easily be adjusted or modified. Remember, we have to be flexible in all approaches!! Its also important to remember that the ultimate goal of asana is to create stillness in the mind and body, not to be an ego driven exercise progr One of the most important and unique aspects of this cleanse is that is will address the mind as well as the body. We hold toxins in many levels, not just the physical level. In reality, many people suffer from more psychological disease than physical ailments. And psychological malaise and toxins can become the catalyst for future physical ailments if not addressed. We have a body which is mechanistic, but we are not machines. Ayurveda stresses that the majority of diseases start with the mind and to completely address deep healing we must examine our minds and the “diet” we feed our mind. We are what we eat, think and believe for better or worse. Ayurveda and Yoga provide powerful tools for balancing, cleansing and transforming our minds allowing us to lead a life of creativity and independence which is the key to true vitality and health. We will provide tools and methods from Yoga and Ayurveda which will allow participants to examine what builds up their minds and how food can be more than just a physical substance. We “eat” images, thoughts, and emotions. If one does not address this aspect of healing, cleansing will be shallow and fleeting.
The strength of combining the systems of Ayurveda and Yoga is that is provides a method which can address each individual in their unique biochemical and physical individuality rather than treating a person as a standardized statistic.
How will this program differ for the fall season?
CW:-In the transition to fall we want to clear the excess heat which has accumulated in the body and mind as a result of the harsh Texas summers. We use particular food combinations, gentle herbal medicines and Yoga practices to help clear this summer heat and prepare the body and mind for the shift into a cooler dryer fall season. The shift into fall is also a time of great Cosmic changes so we can also use the cleanse to allow the mind to calm and turn within in order to contemplate deep life changes. The cleanse for the fall is a time for planting seeds of change which we can harvest in the spring cleanse program.
We modify the cleanse in the spring phase to target specific detoxification pathways in the liver and lymphatic system and to tonify important aspects of the digestive system. This is very easy to do by emphasizing certain foods and spices and does not require harsh laxatives or fasting.
Dietary protocols are slightly modified to prepare the body for the coming spring months and to nourish and buffer the nervous system which can have trouble adjusting if the body or mind is out of balance. To truly cleanse, we must envision our bodies as cosmic in essence and understand that we do not live a life in isolation from the earth or the distant universe!
What is your vision for the Ayurvedic cooking class?
CW:- I want people to be able to see how simple and easy Ayurvedic cooking can be. The most important step for health and healing is to learn to cook and prepare your own food. We will also show examples of creating a sacred space in the kitchen to allow Prana to infuse into the food and provide deep healing energy!
* Your bio on the East Side Yoga website says that you completed your 200hr training at the beautiful Kripalu Institute. What drew you to begin your study of yoga through their approach?
I was living in Massachusetts at the time and had been told by several friends and respected teachers that I would love Kripalu and should go. I was 22 at the time, and had only been introduced to Baptiste yoga, a very active and hot practice. I honestly had never heard of Kripalu and had never experienced a teacher with this lineage before. Those who really knew the method and were encouraging me to go must have known something that I didn’t because it was a blessing to land there. The whole Kripalu approach is based on the premise of acquiring self-compassion to become your best teacher. Since then, I’ve been incorporating Kripalu yoga in my practice both on and off the mat.
I’ve dabbled in a lot of different lineages and can say that I’ve been influenced by all of it. I recently took most of Christina Sell’s Asana Junkies series a few months ago and was very inspired by the intensity and dedication required to get through some of the sequences she pieces together. My teaching style is pretty much the opposite, so I was curious to see how I’d react to something so challenging. I liked that it brought up a lot of ego related issues for me and returned me to beginner’s mind. I think that’s important for all students to do from time to time. And of course I love all my fellow teachers at East Side Yoga and try to make it to their classes as often as possible.
Becoming a massage therapist seems like such a necessary step in my journey. I have a much better understanding of how our bodies are put together. It’s so much more complex than I ever imagined and I still have so much more to learn, but now I think I am better informed about how to help my students achieve better alignment and little tricks to help mend sore wrists and tight gluts, which we all suffer from every now and then. I see the postures in terms of how they actually benefit the physical body on a more specific level…like, what is a twist actually helping to accomplish.
Like I said earlier, I’m becoming more and more devoted to the practice of self-compassion. For example, when I walk through life I try to treat myself like I’m my own child. If I have a negative thought, I remind myself to be gentle. If I begin to compare of criticize myself, I bring my awareness to my breath and quiet down the part of my mind that is reacting to fear, stress, loneliness etc. My practice is like my own secret garden. It’s a retreat.
Expect to hold poses close to the ground for about three minutes. Expect also to come into slow and gentle movement to break up the stillness every so often. Yin is slowly becoming more recognized as an important and necessary form of yoga. It channels the feminine energy in the body, aiming to balance it out with the otherwise active forward moving yang energy. Expect to want to fidget and also know that it’s normal. Most people fidget in yin poses once they arrive. It can be uncomfortable to remain still, but the stillness is where clarity and spaciousness are born. The challenge is enveloped in doing something we are not naturally geared to do.
*Do you have a favorite pose to teach?
I think I must love teaching butterfly pose the most, or maybe pigeon. I’m really interested in the hip region and how it’s said to carry emotions and memories. I’ve had some of my own emotional releases from hip opening stretches, and so I’m always curious about my students and their hips. I might be a little biased because these are two of my favorite poses to practice, but I try always to incorporate them in my classes.
* What do you like most about East Side Yoga?
Is it too general to say everything? I love ESY. It feels like coming home each time I arrive. I love how Steven and Elsa are to deeply devoted to keeping the studio a very special place and making us a community. Their intention, I think is what sets the tone for all of us. Their hearts are so open and that energy just pours into the space. I also love the other teachers there and how dedicated they are. They inspire me. I want to be connected to East Side Yoga always.