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!