Q & A with Yoga Sukhavati Graduate Seth Lieberman

Posted on May 8th, 2015


Yoga Sukhavati graduate, Seth Lieberman discusses the Yoga Sutras, living your practice and what teaching means to him.

Seth Lieberman

When did you start practicing yoga? How did you find yoga?

I started taking classes consistently about 8 or 9 years ago when I first moved to New York. I was working at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan and they offered yoga classes through their fitness center. My first consistent teacher there was Michael McArdle, whose class I took weekly for several months, and lower back pain I was having disappeared completely. I’ve been practicing pretty consistently since that first class with him way back when. 

How has the practice changed your life?

It’s spread so much into all areas of my life that I don’t fully know the answer. It’s all pervasive. So I’ll just respond with a few things that might help others who come from a similar background of anxiety, depression, and confusion: It’s brought the baseline for my emotional and mental stability much higher, as I came to the practice after years of severe anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and a variety of medication. I have firmer grounding after years of continuous practice. I’ve been studying Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and this week’s sutra, 1.14, I’ve been looking at and sharing in class says (based on others’ translations) that your practice becomes firmly grounded when you do it for a long period of time without interruption and with respect and devotion to resting in your deeper nature. So I’ve been practicing for a relatively long time, 8 or 9 years, without break and sincerely, and I’ve seen some amounts of stability come after some years. I’ve experienced some really amazing, positive, immeasurable change in my life. Yoga practice hasn’t made me fundamentally different so much as brought out good qualities that were always there and subdued the ones that weren’t helping me or other people. I’m also now founding a really authentic connection with faith, which is something that I also had before practice but my practice is helping me fortify and give shape to. But there’s still a lot more ground to cover and keep covered, or make firmer, so to speak. 

What were you doing before you took your training?

Before I took the training I was working at the Jewish Community Center, like I mentioned above, supporting their Membership and Program Registration Department. It’s a wonderful organization that offers a broad range of services not just the Jewish community but all people, all ages, all backgrounds. I worked directly with the public in my position and also directly with almost all departments of the organization, so I had a very rich and diversified experience with the center. It was my first job in New York and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to get work and life experience. And I’ve been fortunate enough to stay connected by teaching yoga and meditation classes there throughout the year for their program of free Saturday classes, called “R&R”, and meditation and rooftop yoga with their 20s and 30s group.

Why did you decide to take a 200-hr teacher training?

Like any big decision it’s really a coming together of reason and intuition and it did for me. From what I remember initially I was actually interested in teaching yoga, where as many were unsure about it when starting the training. Some people at work had suggested I’d be good at it and I began teaching them privately as a trial before I did the training. They encouraged me to continue teaching. I had experience teaching private music lessons and substitute teaching in public school when I graduated college so I felt I could build on that experience and could share something I had already benefited from. That was the reasoning part of it.

In terms of the intuition, at one point when I was considering doing it, my whole body vibrated a resounding “yes.” That was pretty much what I needed to go ahead.

What stands out the most about your experience from your teacher training?

It provided a structure for me to continue my studies in a way that I couldn’t have accomplished on my own. It connected me with a community of people with whom I’ve grown deep personal and professional connections, without whom I wouldn’t be anywhere close to sitting where I am typing things like this right now. Support for study, and support of sangha (spiritual or true community) are big ones. And, man, it was just such a potent, exciting, mind-opening, tumultuous, challenging, rewarding, unrecreateable (it’s a word now, spellcheck) experience. It was like a catalyst for personal and spiritual growth that just got even better as it metabolized after it was over. 

How has the Yoga Sukhavati training transformed your life?

My life? Well, it has gotten me much more deeply tapped into the seasons and the potential of working with natural rhythms. In that way it’s reconnected me to both a child-like appreciation of nature and given me a more informative way of taking care of myself. Seasonal shifting can be hard on us and we don’t often realize how we are as much a part of nature as what we call nature. We are sensitive to these changes. We need to modify our lifestyle each season. Yoga is often defined as some type of integration. Adjusting to the dietary, activity, psychological, physical, and emotional callings of each season becomes an integration of yourself with your environment. It’s an art both of the intellect and the intuition. It’s been a lot of fun working with these changes and knowing how to take better care of myself and thus sharing it with my students. 

What are you doing now?

I’m teaching private harmonium, voice, and chanting lessons, accompanying yoga classes with live music, teaching mantra and chanting as part of yoga teacher trainings, leading kirtan, leading yoga workshops and retreats, and of course keeping a weekly yoga class schedule at Greenhouse Holistic and Loom Yoga. My background as a classically trained musician is really integrating well into my life as a yoga practitioner at the moment.

How was it to work with Leigh?

Leigh is a wonderful teacher and working with her has inspired my own teaching and practicing. She is bright, creative, passionate, knowledgeable, compassionate, deeply experienced as a teacher and practitioner, and she really cares about her students doing well. She is also an artist and that type of creativity really comes through her teaching and has informed my own approach. She can incorporate material from lots of different sources, like yoga, Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, and daily life in New York, and craft it into a rich experience for students. Anyone who has taken her class knows her brilliance. She also lives her practice. Her life and teaching are so well integrated and she really embodies what she teaches. I’ve tried to adopt a similar approach to life and teaching and commitment to my students. She is really a remarkable teacher and I’m grateful to have come into contact with her.

What advice would you give to someone who was on the fence about doing a 200-hour teacher training?

If you’re excited about it, all the cells in body vibrate “yes” at one point or another, and the timing feels right, then see what it is that is holding you back. Is it just fear? Well, then do the training. That’s what it’s for. Are there other logistics in terms of schedule or time? See if you can work them out. It might be worth it. There will always be little hang ups or doubts or things to work through when making a big decision. I did the training while I was working 40 hours per week in a management position and it was both exhausting and exhilarating and it was completely the right decision. If you can work it out now, you may not come across another time where it works or everything is “perfect.” So, if you come to your intuition and it says “yes, now”, then swing that other leg over the fence because I can’t imagine it’s comfortable spending too much time on that thing. You could be preparing for an awesome experience instead. 

What stood out to you about the Yoga Sukhavati 300-hour Advanced training?

This is the only training I know of that integrates seasonal wellness, yoga, Ayurveda, and Chinese Medicine into one training. That is unique in my experience.

What do you like most about teaching yoga?

I very often find myself saying something in class that I need to hear, or teaching something that I need to practice. I then feel accountable and responsible for practicing it if I’m going to ask other people to practice it. It has kept me on a path. There’s a Gandhi story where a mother brought his son to her to tell him to stop eating sugar. Gandhi said “Come back in two weeks” and when he did, he told the boy sternly to stop eating sugar. He needed two weeks to stop eating it himself before he could tell someone else to stop doing it. I’m way behind Gandhi in this regard and my words often come back to me after I say something in class. So, I have to catch up sometimes but at least there’s that extra factor motivating my own practice. Teaching has provided structure and motivation and interest in being a student that I would be lacking without it. It has held up my practice at difficult times, brought me to places I wouldn’t have gone on my own, and is continuing to teach me how to be more compassionate and patient. I like that about teaching. And not having to wear slacks and a button down shirt to work, especially in the summer. 

You can take class with Seth at one of his regular classes at Greenhouse Holistic or Loom Yoga Center. You can also find him online, via his website or Facebook.