SEASONAL SELF-CARE BLOG
Q & A with Jason Ray Brown
Posted on April 20th, 2015
We are delighted that master teacher, Jason Ray Brown will be teaching Anatomy of Asana, April 25, 26 for our Yoga Sukhavati 300 Hour Yoga Teacher Training. The workshop is open to yoga teachers and those currently in YTT.
When did you first start practicing yoga? What style was it?
I took my first yoga class at the Integral Yoga Institute in NYC… sometime around 1995-1996. Integral Yoga offers a very traditional hatha practice that includes chanting, classical sun salutations, a handful of basic postures and a 15-minute guided savasana followed by about 5-10 minutes of pranayama and meditation. It was a super simple but sweet practice.
When and where did you take your first yoga training?
At the Integral Yoga Institute, in 1998. Then went on to complete a vinyasa TT with Cyndi Lee at OM Yoga in 2000, and another TT at the Santa Barbara Yoga Center with Erich Schiffmann and Lisa Walford.
Who has influenced your career and practice over the years?
In the world of yoga, my most influential teachers have been Swami Ramananda, Kali Morse, Erich Schiffmann, Rodney Yee and Cyndi Lee. But my practice and career have also been heavily influenced by my interest in Zen Buddhism, Tai Chi and the study of musculoskeletal anatomy and kinesiology.
How has yoga changed your life?
When I started yoga I was easily stressed out, prone to angry outbursts and frequently depressed. While I still deal with these issues on some level from time to time, yoga has given tools (asana, pranayama, meditation and yoga philosophy) to help smooth out the edges. I definitely feel like I navigate the ups and downs of life more gracefully than I did before.
What did you do before you taught yoga and anatomy?
I feel like I lived several lives before discovering yoga. After high school I spent 5 years in the Navy, where I worked as an avionics technician at Moffett Field in the Bay Area. I monitored and fixed electrical equipment for the P3-C aircraft… which are the planes that fly around tracking Russian submarines. After the Navy, I moved back to Spokane to finish college and worked part-time for my parents at their outpatient chemical dependency treatment center… initially as front desk staff but eventually as a counselor. After college, I moved to New York to pursue acting (I was quite involved in theater during high school, and majored in Theater Arts in college). I spent a few years doing office temp work in New York before eventually taking my first yoga class… which led to teacher training and then teaching yoga, and then more recently teaching anatomy to yoga teachers.
How did you get so interested in the anatomy aspect of yoga?
After teaching yoga for a few years, I started to feel that my lack of a strong foundation in anatomy was a real detriment, both within my own asana practice and in my teaching. By this time I had experienced a few injuries in yoga that I didn’t really understand and wanted to know more about, and had also spent several years fielding anatomy-related questions from students that I basically just had to BS my way through because I didn’t really know. Several of my students were massage therapists, and I would occasionally pick their brains after class. At some point one of them said I should check out the Swedish Institute of Massage Therapy because it has an amazing anatomy curriculum. I checked it out and got very excited about it. I was initially only going to take some basic anatomy classes, but loved my classes there so much that I went on to complete the entire 1,200+ hour curriculum – which took me 3 years as I was going part time. Afterwards, I wanted to share some of what I learned with fellow yoga teachers so developed Anatomy Studies for Yoga Teachers (www.ASFYT.com), which is a comprehensive series of courses in musculoskeletal anatomy and the kinesiology of yoga asana.
What is Zenyasa? How did you develop it?
Zenyasa is a slow-flow style of yoga that evolved from the various influences that starting coming into my life during my studies at the Swedish Institute. I was learning a lot about anatomy and exercise science, taking some Tai Chi classes, and studying and practicing Zen Buddhism at the Fire Lotus Zendo in Brooklyn. In my own personal practice I started doing about 20-30 minutes of zazen, incorporating joint warm-up routines that I’d learned in martial arts as a kid, and started moving a little slower and more mindfully into each asana – breaking down the transition into each posture into specific and simple steps, working each step for awhile before moving into the next step, slowly “building” each posture. I also started sequencing more from an exercise science perspective, instead of sequencing with a specific theme or peak-pose in mind. So I’d start with a comprehensive joint warm series, and then focus on strengthening and stretching muscles in a balanced way…starting with standing poses, including core and upper body strengthening “interludes” between standing pose sets, and then finish with floor postures to stretch all of the muscles that I’d tried to strengthen. And I started getting more creative with the postures, even inventing several new ones, so that I could more easily and effectively targeting all of the major muscle groups. When I started teaching all of this in group classes, it was somewhat unique and my students were always asking me what style of yoga it was. For awhile I’d go through and explain all of the various elements, but eventually decided that it would be nice to just have a name to give people – so came up with Zenyasa.
In your words, why is a strong knowledge of anatomy so important when teaching asana?
There are so many benefits to the study of anatomy, including an increased understanding of the mechanisms of injury and injury prevention, more skillful and creative sequencing, a better understanding of alignment and why misalignment might occur, more confidence when teaching and answering questions before or after class, greater insight into the musculoskeletal obstacles that students encounter, awareness of anatomical differences between different body types… I could go on and on.
How do you know Leigh?
I met Leigh at Yoga Works. She taught a class right before mine and we’d chat from time to time during the transition between classes.
What are you most looking forward to in the upcoming Workshop for Yoga Sukhavati: Anatomy of Asana?
I love these longer intensives, as it’s a chance to spend a little more time together and really get to work breaking down postures from an anatomical perspective. I enjoy watching all of the light bulbs go off as insights and connections happen.
When you’re not practicing or teaching yoga, what can you be found doing?
These days I’m spending a lot of time on the computer, as I’m in the process of putting together the home study version of ASFYT-3: Kinesiology of Yoga Asana. When I’m not on the computer, or teaching anatomy, or giving someone a massage, I’m at home with family. I have two kids, age 8 and 11, and they’re a handful!
Leigh Evans and Yoga Sukhavati
Posted on April 14th, 2015
Leigh Evans muses on yoga, internal investigation and transformation and her upcoming Yoga Sukhavati 200 HR Teacher Training in Nicaragua.
How long have you been practicing yoga? How long have you been teaching yoga?
In 1986, I had the great fortune to walk into the class of Dharma Mitra here in New York city. I was blown away by him and how yoga released the anxiety I was feeling as a young struggling dancer in NYC. After that initial class I felt so calm and peaceful. I went back everyday for 6 months and took everyone I knew to the class. I’ve been practicing yoga ever since. Wow, it’s been 29 years that I’ve been practicing yoga!
I’ve been teaching for 21 amazing years!
How did your first yoga teacher training change your life?
My first teacher training was in 1993 with Rodney Yee. I was lucky to live very close to the Piedmont Yoga Studio in Oakland, CA where Rodney was teaching. It was his first teacher training and we all had such an amazing time exploring asana. He’s a very creative person and was continually exploring to see what works to open the body. Through the practice of teaching in the training I became empowered to speak. My voice had always been one of my issues. Prior to that I really had difficulty speaking to people and was shy in front of a group. The teacher training provided me with a deep investigation and understanding of the body through the asana practice and also with a voice to share with other people. Teaching has really opened me up to other people.
You have extensive experience training with some of the best teachers in their respective fields, all over the world. Is there one teacher that has influenced you the most over the years?
I truly have been blessed by studying with the finest teachers. I seek out the best and am grateful that I have had the opportunity to learn from such incredible teachers.
When looking back I think my yoga path has been most significantly influenced by Sarah Powers. She is an amazing yogini, devoted to exploring practices that offer paths to awakening and freedom. She is continually seeking, learning, exploring and sharing what has helped her the most. I have witnessed her teaching change over the years. She is not afraid to let go of the practices that are no longer necessary for her. When I did my teacher training with with her in 2000, she was primarily a yoga teacher and had just started exploring meditation. Over the past 15 years her teaching has shifted significantly to be more focused on yin yoga and meditation. It was through my studies of yin yoga with Sarah that I was introduced to yoga practices that targeted specific meridians and organs. I continued that exploration as I delved deeper into the theories and practices of Ayurveda and chinese medicine and developed the Yoga Sukhavati seasonal practices.
What were you doing before you taught yoga full time?
My life was devoted to pursuing art and performance as a dancer and choreographer. I was working as a production artist in a graphic design firm which meant I spent all day sitting in front of a computer. The work that I got paid for was killing my body and my soul. I was miserable and my neck and back hurt all the time. At some point I just couldn’t take it anymore. I quit my job, went to India for 5 months and studied yoga and Odissi dance, (indian classical dance). After my journey, I vowed not to return to work that made me so unhappy and i started teaching yoga full time.
What do you enjoy about teaching yoga teacher trainings?
I love offering the opportunity for students to slow down and take the time to truly investigate. In our current fast paced lives and quick vinyasa practice, we rarely have the opportunity to listen deeply to what is happening inside. The Teacher Trainings provide an oasis of time and support through the deepening of the asana and meditation practices to go inside and really see what is happening in our bodies and minds. Through the process of bringing our habitual tendencies to consciousness we open to insight, choice and freedom. It brings me such joy to guide and witness the transformation of my students as they develop the skills and awaken their voice and presence through taking their seat as the teacher.
In your opinion, what is the benefit to doing a training abroad, vs. staying in your community?
When people take a teacher training in the midst their busy lives, they often feel overwhelmed. It is difficult to let go of the distractions and necessities of work and relationships in their home life. Carving out the time to fully commit to practice and study in a teacher training immersion abroad offers an invaluable supportive oasis. The Immersive retreat offers the freedom to completely devote yourself to your yoga practice and studies. As you remove yourself from your jam packed schedules and distractions of your daily life and dedicate time to practice, your body relaxes, your mind quiets and you reconnect with the essence of your being. The retreat environment fully supports you, so you can dedicate yourself to study. Your practice and awareness will soar to new levels!!
What are you most excited about for the 200 hour Yoga Sukhavati YTT in Nicargua?
For the 200 hour teacher training in Nicaragua I’m looking forward to being immersed in such a beautiful blessed environment that will offer all of us support. As a teacher, it is such a wonderful opportunity to release into just teaching and being. Embraced by this support, my presence and awareness will deepen and my clarity for teaching and seeing what the students need will expand. It is a rare gift of time and support.
How did you pick Nicargua for this particular training?
I like to offer trainings and retreats in pristine remote locations where the students will be immersed in natural beauty as well as exposed to new cultures. Nicaragua does not have as large of a tourist industry as some of it’s neighbors, so it will be easier to experience the real culture and get to know some of the Nicaraguan people. I’m very excited about this. Our retreat center, Costa Dulce is an absolutely gorgeous location. We have our own private secluded beach just steps away from our yoga studio. July is supposed to be the best time for surfing!
Can you give an example of what a typical day of training would look like?
6:00am Wake up-take a dip into the ocean!
7:15–7:30am Fruit & tea
7:30-9am Asana practice
10:30am-12:30pm Asana investigation
12:30-3pm Lunch & free time
3:00-5:00pm Seminar (philosophy, ayurveda, anatomy, etc.)
5:00-7:00pm Asana adjustments
8:00-9:00 pm Class if needed
How do you know Diane and Ira? What specialities will they bring to the training?
Diane Sherman is a friend and yoga colleague of mine from when I lived in Oakland, CA. She is a very creative and vibrant person, yogini, teacher, artist, and poet. She has also studied extensively with Sarah Powers so our teaching perspective is aligned.D iane will be teaching Asana with me as well as yoga philosophy. She has a life-long practice of journaling which inspired her to create a beautiful online course “Zen to Paper” in which she invites people into the world of journaling. She will be sharing her creative journaling techniques inviting the students in the training into a personal investigation of the Yoga Sutras.
Ira Macner is the anatomy teacher for the Greenhouse teacher training that I have been directing for the past 5 years. She is a wonderfully warm person and a great anatomy teacher. She brings Anatomy alive with her excellent sense of humor and thorough understanding of the body from her years as a massage therapist as well as a yoga teacher.
If there is one take-away you hope your 200-hour Yoga Sukhavati graduates have, what would that be?
I hope to be able to help people see where they are stuck in their bodies and minds and through that awareness open the path to freedom. Whether the obstruction is physical, mental, or emotional, I hope the transformative process of the 200-hour training will provide graduates with the skills to witness these habits and release the patterns that are holding them back and embrace practices that help them be their most vibrant and loving selves.