SEASONAL SELF-CARE BLOG
Q & A with Jo Brill
Posted on September 2nd, 2015
We are delighted to present the Introduction to Sanskrit, with Jo Brill Sept 12, 13 through our Yoga Sukhavati: Art of Sound Module. Jo is a gifted and generous teacher and we are very excited to share her with you! We talked to Jo about her love of Sanskrit, how it enhances the teaching of yoga, and the many wonderful people she has met on her journey.
Where are you from originally? How long have you lived in NYC?
I was born upstate, in Troy, but grew up “in the middle” — Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa. I’ve lived in New York State since 1980 when I started grad school, the first time, and I’ve lived in Peekskill (commuting distance!) since 1987.
How did you find yoga?
I started taking yoga after my first baby. Lucked into a wonderful teacher, Mia Azcue, the very first class and I have been her student since then!
How long have you practiced yoga? How long have you been teaching yoga?
I started practicing in 1988 or so — but casually. I got much more interested after a mid-life crisis in my 40s (I schedule one each decade!) and that’s when I sought out training, with Fran Ubertini, and began to teach — in 2004. Fran gave us several assignments to reflect on various yoga sutras, and I got frustrated with the variances in translation and interpretation! That’s what led me to Sanskrit.
How do you know Leigh?
I met Leigh when she signed up for a one-week intro intensive. That class was full of bright and loving people!! Of course Leigh was a ringleader!
Who is your sanskrit teacher?
I’ve studied with many wonderful teachers. My first teacher, Vyaas Houston, gave me invaluable tools for learning and focus — and his love of the Sanskrit theory of grammar proved contagious! I have had amazing opportunities to study with marvelous teachers at the University of Chicago, Oxford, Columbia, and Penn — some of the finest Sanskritists in the world. I must also mention Prof. Ramkaran Sharma, with whom I studied seven summers; his sweetness and brilliance as a teacher and a person is unparalleled.
What got you interested in Sanskrit? At what point did you decide you wanted to teach it yourself?
It was not the sound, though that attracts so many people. It was the philosophy. I wanted clarification! And I wanted it straight from the source, not distorted by commentary. Yes, I was a little naive!
Vyaas had us start teaching early. When I started in 2007, I’d been studying for just 18 months, and really didn’t know much! — but I was able to teach the alphabet using his wonderful method.
What is the most rewarding part of learning sanskrit?
Sanskrit continues to teach me about the incredibly complicated texture of human learning and culture. For a while I loved the neatness — you know, like math. Turns out, as with math, when you go far enough, things get less neat! I’m just grateful that somehow I found this language, so elegant and powerful, as well as the astoundingly huge multitude of texts it opens up for the reader.
As a yoga instructor, how does learning sanskrit beyond the names of asanas enhance ones teaching?
More and more, I feel that it’s important for westerners, many of us from variously privileged backgrounds, to remember that we are choosing to spend our time with cultural phenomena that are not ours by heritage. For our students’ sake too, it’s important not to be a jerk. Even inadvertently! While we may love the “exotic” for its power to show us truths about ourselves (more clearly perhaps than our own cultural practices do) — we should keep in mind that symbols, and certainly utterances, have religious and political implications we are almost certainly not fully aware of. It’s important to keep firmly in mind that we don’t know everything — on the contrary! Sanskrit has been for me a never-ending onion. Its layers and layers of meaning and significance are truly humbling.
What are you looking forward to most about being a part of Yoga Sukhavati’s Art of Sound module?
I absolutely love teaching this workshop. For one thing, I have met so many lovely people through Sanskrit. So when I walk in and see your faces, and hear your voices, I know that there are warm and precious connections to be made. For another — well, any time you spend hours with these sounds, you will have fun and you will go deep! Last, I know I will learn something. It’s through Sanskrit that I finally learned how grateful teachers are for students. I will love meeting each person!
You just returned from India. Any take-aways from this most recent trip that you would like to share?
It was only my second trip. I’m still processing, but again, I must emphasize the people. Brilliant and caring teachers, a warm and wonderful host family, and awesome fellow students who broadened my mind with their wide range of interests. Such generosity!
What is your favorite activity to do in NYC?
Hmmm, that’s difficult! Theater, maybe? But I also love to eat! Recently my two sons that live in Brooklyn have been showing me some great new restaurants. My third son has also treated me, but you didn’t ask about Boston!
Please add anything else you would like to share!
Until we meet, भद्रं ते !