What does being a yoga teacher mean to you? What role has it played in your life so far and where would you like to take it?
Being a yoga teacher to me means I am living a life that is in service. All the work on my own mat is to stay focused and grounded so that I can serve humanity and show them their own divine nature. I believe we are all teachers in our own way and we are here to help each other evolve and grow. Where would I be if I hadn’t had my teachers? I’d be stuck in the same patterns that were self-destructive and not feeding my soul. Now that I have witnessed my own transformation and growth it is my dharma to give back to mankind. It has allowed me to step fully into my own power and lead people on a path of integrity and truth. When I think of me in 5 years, I picture me the same but with leading more retreats and teacher trainings and a few less public classes. As of now I am teaching 11 of my own classes per week and also pick up sub shifts, with all the shuffling around I can start to feel my energy deplete. Where I ultimately see my yoga career is a place where I am able to sustain and keep doing what I am passionate about.
What are you personally learning from being a yoga teacher?
I am learning how to really take care of myself. That’s what the practice is all about. In the past I took care of everyone else, I looked for people I could take care of so that I didn’t have to look at my (excuse my French) shit. I spent a lot of my time getting fucked up on drugs and alcohol to numb my pain. I still had a spiritual practice through out all that but I wasn’t ready to step into being a leader. I had to leave my life behind and start over. What’s hard is getting up in front of a bunch of students when you are going through heartbreak, or you just don’t feel well but you do it anyways and it almost always turns out you feel better after. I find that no matter what you are going through there is someone most likely going through the same process, so if you are able to channel the depth of pain, suffering and transform that into sweetness or clear seeing then that is when the alchemy happens. Then we all heal.
What’s your practice like?
My whole life is practice. From the moment I get up I have rituals that were given to me from various teachers along the way. A whole aryurvedic ritual to cleanse our senses, then I do a seated meditation for about 30 minutes, then some sort of asana. It may be followed by a vigorous vinyasa practice or I may be on a bolster with an eye pillow. Somewhere I get a shower in there. My practice is being present with whatever life is offering me in that moment. Sometimes my practice is a hike in nature or turning on some music and having my own dance party. I play guitar and that is also a spiritual practice. This whole life is sacred, even the parts we tend to not like. The sorrow, the grit, taxes, this is all for the growth of our consciousness. Life is a gift and I see everything as a way to develop my practice. I find the real practice happens when we step out of the yoga room and into relationship with each other. Then, at the end of the day, I practice yoga nidra, some restorative pose and give thanks for all of it. Perhaps a bath. Next day, rinse and repeat.
What other parts of your life/lifestyle support you to teach and/or do your practice?
I’ve been practicing for a long time, since 1998 or 1999 so with that I feel so grateful for all the wonderful yogis and yoginis along the way. I’ve been in the Bay Area most of my life so I have a great support system of friends and family that are all close.
Your pictures really blend beauty, nature, and yoga. What role does art and creativity play in your life and in your teaching?
I never plan a class unless it is a specific workshop or a retreat. My main teacher Janet Stone taught me this. In the beginning I remember being really nervous to get up there and so I’d have some things written down, but I shortly learned that you never know who is going to be in your class, especially when you are first starting so you kind of have to throw everything out the door. Now, I may think of having a peak pose and then just build off that. Let go of expectations and feel into the room, meet your students where there are and it is like a blank canvas – then you just get to paint. The creativity comes in the spontaneity.
I play music in my classes and I also periodically have dj’s or live musicians come in to play. When putting together a play list my wish is to take my students on a journey. There is an arc, where I ease them into it and then in the middle it may be something more rocking or dance-like and then something to cool them down.
Music is such a creative force and something all beings can relate to. We can have all sorts of hang ups about certain philosophies and names of gods, but I feel like music is the cohesion that brings us all together. I used to paint, and that is something I would like to pick back up. It so essential for out spirit to create and revel in our own magnificence. Like, “holy shit” I created that and it’s good. Music, art, love, whatever it may be, we are magical creatures.
If there is a main message you want your work/teaching to convey, what is it?
Love the form you came into, there is only one of you. I always love this quote from Mary Oliver…
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
Erika’s Facebook: Erika van Gemeren Yoga