I am so happy to be featured on the yoga blog ASHTANGA : PARAMPARA. This interview gave me the opportunity to share transformational stories straight from my heart.
Kiki, can you share your background?
In 1982 I was a theater student at NYU, and had gone to a great deal of work to convince my department to find a qualified voice and speech teacher. So imagine my pleasure to arrive in class one day to meet a warm and enthusiastic new teacher. My squeaky wheel-ing had really paid off. But after a few moments I was livid when she announced, let’s begin our class with some yoga.
Yoga! I didn’t want to learn Yoga, I wanted to recite Shakespeare with enviable eloquence and technique.
As our class unfolded, not only did I witness a shift in my fellow students but I too had shifted. Ease, calm, joy, infused my mind and body and I knew that yoga needed to be my daily prescription. That was thirty-three years ago, and I have practiced near daily since that day.
At the end of each class I added yoga notes to a notebook and then woke early before class, and after long nights of rehearsing or restaurant work, and did my morning yoga. I soon transferred to Experimental Theater studies and was introduced to Sun Salutations, head standing, shoulder stands, techniques that were being used to stretch the physical, vocal and expressive vocabulary of the performer’s “instrument”. Now these went into my book, and became part of my yoga practice. In my early 20s I read Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi and signed up for the Self Realization Fellowship’s lessons which came in the mail every week. I added the energization exercises as well as sky gazing and eye exercises into my practices. It was a yoga mash-up. I think it’s important to say too, integral to these practices, I was also passionate about vegetarianism, veganism and natural health and was reading everything I could on these ranging from raw food pioneer Anne Wigmore to Jethro Kloss’s Back to Eden and macrobiotics.
As for my background? I was a nineteen year-old angst ridden, literary, expressive and bold girl who longed to engage in story through theater, film, dance and writing and under great mentors and directors. I yearned for creative collaborations and to live in my romantic notion of a bohemian community. And in moving to the East Village in 1983, that was exactly what I did.
How did the Ashtanga practice find you?
I first met Sri K. Pattabhi Jois at Jivamukti Yoga where I was a student and teacher. Sharon and David, the founders, had studied with him on their most recent visit to India and it impacted every class they taught following their return. A few of my close yoga friends and co-teachers, including Ruth Lauer and Eddie Stern, had studied at his small Mysore school as well, and they were deeply affected by the experience, practice method, and techniques.In 1993 Jivamukti hosted Jois for a five day workshop. I can say, although I did not realize it at the time, this man and these classes altered my life’s course and transformed my very mind.
In total, I travelled to Mysore, India thirteen times. Once for as long as six months and once for only three days to sit by Guruji, as I called my teacher, in the final week of his life. But most study trips were three months of daily early morning practice and afternoon gatherings. I also shared precious trips with he and his family on pilgrimages to holy rivers and temples as well as to his boyhood village where his brothers still lived and where he built and maintained the puja for new and ancient temples. I followed him around the US on his many teaching tours and and twice hosted him at my shala in Los Angeles.
As a teacher that has spent considerable time with Guruji, how has he shaped your own style of teaching?
When I began practice with Guruji there were very few schools in the US, or worldwide, teaching this method. He told us, you go home and take self practice every day and next year come back for three months. No problem.
Self practice meant, you practice all by yourself everyday. And so Ashtanga came to be known, especially in UK and Europe as self-practice. Which confuses many into thinking that Ashtanga means just do whatever you want. Yet, this method has such solid technique and endless degrees of refinement for breath and mind.