Welcome to East Side Yoga Shawn! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions about your journey with yoga and how it got you to this ever-changing point. For those who have not been to Shawn’s tuesday and thursday 4:30 Mindful flow class I highly recommend it. There is a great opportunity to quiet the mind’s distractions and have a little laugh at the same time 🙂 Thanks again Shawn
What was your first experience with yoga?
My first experience with yoga was not so good. I went to a class on night out of curiosity.. I can’t remember where it was, but they had a lot of people packed into a small space. I was just getting over a cold so I wasn’t feeling so well, and unfortunately for me it was a power yoga class. I got sick halfway through and had to call it quits.
How has your practice changed since your beginnings with the practice?
I would say that my over time my understanding of the mind body relationship has evolved from an intuition of this connection, to a clear experience of learning to integrate the two through a fully engaged asana practice. Over the years of practice I have learned to observe how muscular tension, emotional constrictions, and thought habits come together to create tension patterns in the bodymind. The more I practice, the more I see how deep and complex our fundamental sensation of “being-ness” actually is. We often take this rich inner world of sensation for granted, mostly because we are not attuned to it. What may seem redundant to us at first glance is really the wellspring of our lives.
When did it click that this was something you wanted to teach, and how you could offer it to others?
The only reason I took yoga teacher training was to augment my mind/body therapy groups for the youth at juvenile court. When I was an undergraduate psyche major I knew that I wanted to integrate eastern and western approaches to healing. There wasn’t much research on yoga, meditation, and therapy back then but I put together what I could and wrote my undergraduate thesis on incorporating eastern and western practices in therapy. After graduate school I went to work with the kids at Juvenile court and began putting together mind/body groups to help them cope with anger, substance use, and stress. The groups have been pretty successful with the youth and have had a big impact on at least some of them.
As far as offering it to others?… I honestly try to offer this knowledge to people in almost every class I teach. I am fundamentally a therapist at heart. Sometimes people are not used to getting this kind of information in a yoga class so they may wonder what the point is.
I will say this,.. yoga is a powerful healing modality. It is a spiritual psychology every bit as sophisticated as modern cognitive psychology. It offers the opportunity to work on the body yes, but also the heart, mind, and ultimately the very character of being. Why pass on such an opportunity?
You are one of the only teachers to incorporate partner yoga into your classes (sorry spilled the beans! everyone its awesome you’ll be happy you tried it 🙂 Could you speak about why you bring that into practice?
Simple answer? Because it is fun and it feels great. There are things that can be done in partner work that can never be done in asana to heal the body and relieve tension and stress. Also students learn some really cool skills that they can take back home to their families and loved ones if they really want to. I feel a great joy in my heart when I teach partner work and it is rarely a serious thing, we laugh a lot in class.
On a more complex note I would say that as a massage therapist I have really learned the importance of healthy skilled touch in human interaction. Learning to experience safely stretching and being stretched by another person is a very healthy things. I think the fact that something so wonderful and helpful is a novelty says something about our society and our societies need to develop a new and more healthy perspective on touch. Once people learn new ways of relating to the experience they receive great benefit.
Healthy touch reduces stress hormones, releases endorphins and also releases oxitocin which reduces aggression induces relaxation and social connectivity. I could probably write you a paper on why I think partner work is valuable.
The class you offer at East Side is called Mindful flow. What place does the mind have in yoga class?
Mindfulness comes from the pali term Sati, which means to remember, or to be aware of. Practicing Asana alone in Mindful flow is sufficient, but it is most optimal to practice asana as a form of meditation. To put it simply, the physical experience of being in the body and the breath offer us an anchor for our wandering minds. Physical sensation and mental chatter cannot exist in the same space at the same time. This is wonderful, if I train my awareness on the way the breath feels as it flows in and out, and I focus on the feeling of the entire body in asana I am free. For a moment from worry, judgement, anticipation, regret, hope, fear, planning, scheming…. a whole cacophony of mental noise that I normally spend every waking minute projecting on to the simple beautiful process of being alive.
What is your favorite pose to teach?
All poses serve the same function for me. All poses provide for a release of held tension in the bodymind, and all poses serve as a dharana, a focus for awareness to settle on here and now in the present moment. So it isn’t the pose that matters to me, but how students relate to the pose.
What do you like best about East Side Yoga?
I like the kind gentle atmosphere. Everyone involved in the Eastside experience is extremely kind and down to earth. I appreciate the simple honest atmosphere of Eastside, …like midfulness, it is exactly what it is and nothing more.