Meet the teachers: Lance Westendarp

Hi ESY yogi’s! Love going to flow class but know that there’s something under the “work-out” blanket? You can find that something in Lance’s class. He teaches a hatha mixed level class on Thursdays at 4:30 as well as a Deepening Hatha mixed level class on Saturday at 12. For all those that want to lift the blanket I suggest you see him on Saturday to spend some time to practice the awareness you can gain by tuning into your subtle body

Thanks Lance for your awesome responses!

*  What first brought you to yoga and how has your practice changed since  then?

I ’d like to think that I started out with yoga like everyone else. I was in for the physical benefits and the excitement of doing something that was new and unusual. When I first started, I was going with my mom. At the time, I was training as a classical pianist, and was beginning to come down with tendonitis in both arms. I look at that moment in my life as an incredibly defining one, because up until that point, not only had I identified myself as a classical musician, but as an athlete, and yoga had become part of that attachment. I had to learn the very difficult lesson that nothing we become attached to is permanent, and that it’s not what activities we do that define who we are as embodied beings, but how well we learn to be present and interact with our higher consciousness. I think that’s been one of the major changes in my own practice and way of thinking about it. I used to be much more physical and competitive with my work and I think that has all softened quite a bit. Granted, I’m not perfect. My tendencies are still there! I ’m just more aware of them now, and it’s allowed me to go deeper into a meditative practice.

* What attracted you to the teachings of Sri T. Krishnamacharya as taught to you by srivatsa ramaswami, Pam Johnson, and Debbie Mills?

I think what really interested me about Vinyasa Krama was the purity of the practice. The focus is entirely on the breath, which was really what drew me deeply in. No rigorous practice that I ever did before taught me how to slow down my mind as much as merely breathing did. So I was grateful to find a practice that perpetuated and nurtured that while at the same time challenging me physically. Over the years of working with Ramaswami, what I found to be most rewarding about him is his selfless way of teaching. He was a direct student of Krishnamacharya for over 30 years, and it’s very rare that I’ve ever heard him state his own opinions. When we’d ask questions about the texts, he’d say “my teacher (Krishnamacharya) would say this…” etc. So there’s a purity of transmission that I have never found anywhere else. In a sense, Ramaswami tells us essentially what Krishnamacharya told him about the texts. It’s really beautiful to get that in such a pure form.

* Your classes emphasize the breath to move the body. Could you speak about why breath is so important?

As the ancient yogic literature tells us, prana (or energy/life force) rides on the vehicle of the breath. Energy enters our bodies and animates them through the air we breathe. Though there’s a distinction. The air or oxygen is not prana. Prana is the subtle energy force that animates that oxygen. From a western standpoint, you could look at it as the energy that makes the oxygen molecules spin around. When air enters our body, the oxygen nourishes our vital organ system, and the prana animates our subtle energetic system. You can look at that on the purely physical level of energy and matter, or you can dive deeper and assess the effects it has spiritually. Breathing deeply is also the key to quieting the mind. From an anatomical standpoint, when we breathe slower, the heart rate slows, and the sympathetic nervous system slows down, allowing us to experience that “clear mind” sensation. Ramaswami told us that a very well-known yogi once said that we’re given a certain number of breaths in one lifetime. We’re in total control of how we use them up, but if we are short of breath, our life will follow suit. Long and healthy life = long and expansive breath in other words. On a final note, breath lets us know how a yoga posture is serving us. If the breath is strained, then the prana is most likely strained, meaning that the posture isn’t functioning optimally. So breath tells us a lot about each other and ourselves. Pretty big stuff!

* Besides being a longer class time wise, how is your Saturday deepening hatha class different than your vinyasa classes?

My Saturday class is awesome in the sense that it gives us a chance to take everything deeper for every individual in the class, whether advanced or novice (though I do recommend some prior experience!) Sometimes we move a lot, and sometimes we don’t. There’s always lots of workshopping to help students understand more subtle energetic concepts. The major focus of the class is on energy flow and getting students to feel its presence. We work some deep asanas,

but the focus is more on learning how to find blind spots in our awareness and release energetic tension that blocks us up. We’ll work a repetitive sequence, or deal with a challenging posture or concept, and work very deeply into it. In that sense, I find this class a really challenging one because I’m trying to teach deep internal awareness. Naturally, we won’t always like everything that lies beneath the surface, but once we open up to it, though it can be scary sometimes, it can bring us to grace and clarity of mind. Don’t let that scare you away! Haha. I keep it very lighthearted, and we generally have a great time, sweat a little (or a lot), and have a few laughs as long as you don’t take yourself too seriously!

* What is most satisfying to you as a yoga teacher?

I think the most satisfying moments for me as a teacher are to watch when my students grow and make breakthroughs. It’s so beautiful to witness those “AHA!” moments of understanding when everything becomes clearer. I think those are also some of my favorite moments as a student.

* What should I do when I face discomfort in a pose?

Discomfort is an interesting animal to be approached intelligently. What my teacher would tell me is to let the breath guide your response to discomfort. There’s a big difference between discomfort and pain (which will hurt you), though the line is very fine. That’s why the breath is so important. I f you’re feeling discomfort, even great discomfort, but your breathing is still deep, long and smooth, try to stick it out a bit and feel. But let your instincts guide you. Like I said, it’s tricky, because the mind will often trick us into staying out of the very places that need most of our attention because it doesn’t like the sensation. Granted, I think it’s really beneficial to test those limits in front of a competent teacher who can help guide you. It’s much harder to assess on your own. On that note, if you ever feel sharp pain, shooting, or stabbing, that’s not a good thing, and you should slowly come out of the posture. How we come into and exit a posture is just as important as how we stay, and I’ve seen many injuries occur from hastily entering or exiting even a simple yoga posture. Liken it to scuba diving. If you just dove down to 120ft, the last thing you want to do is rush back up and get the bends. If I can sum it down to one phrase, it would be “remain calm.”

* I love reading your blog posts, especially the recipes. How has yoga influenced this, and other activities you enjoy?

I think going back to the first question you asked, that yoga has helped foster a much deeper internal awareness, which has caused a lot of shifts in how I look at life, how I eat, and how I interact with the world around me. Being more aware, I tend to eat things that make my body feel good, nourished, and energized, and avoid things that do the opposite. But don’t get me wrong. I have my vices. I love candy and especially chocolate. If I kept it around all the time, I would eat it nonstop! And ohhhh I would pay . I think more than anything that my yoga practice has led me to prioritize the things I enjoy about my life from day to day. I spend a lot more time outdoors in nature, and connecting with close friends, building meaningful relationships. I feel that’s something that we all crave at some point, though perhaps to varying degrees. At the end of the day, we have the ability to make a conscious choice to create change in ourselves and grow. As simple as it sounds, it really is hard work, or at least it is for me.

* What do you like most about East Side Yoga?

I think most of all, that I love the community feel of it. I feel like I’m part of a small family that not only shares my enthusiasm for teaching, but my enthusiasm for life, and that’s beautiful and can be hard to find. I can’t wait to see where East Side Yoga goes, and what we’ll encounter on the way there!

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About eastsideyoga

your neighborhood yoga studio! with our warm welcome, peaceful vibe and experienced yoga teachers, we aim to transform the body and bring stillness to your mind through the timeless teaching of yoga. eastside yoga is a friendly community of people who love yoga and meditation. we strive to nurture beginners and help deepen your yoga practice. our yoga studio and class schedule are convenient for residents of the east side and downtown austin.
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