Do you have an earliest yoga memory?
When I was 5, growing up in Brooklyn with a single mom. I’m the youngest of three daughters. We were on our own while our mom worked many jobs, was stressed out, and often couldn’t mother or feed us, so she would take us down the street to the Hare Krishna center in Carroll Gardens, and they would feed us.
That memory came back to you later?
I found out I was pregnant with my son the day before Sept. 11, 2001. I’m a New Yorker, and immediately wanted to be there. I was in a state of absolute anxiety and panic about having a baby. A few days into the pregnancy, I went to this tiny home, the Sivananda Ashram in Venice, Calif., and they fed us like at the Hare Krishna temple, and we would chant and meditate. I ended up gluing to that during my pregnancy. It was freeing. I just trusted and formed a really strong bond with the teacher inside me. I knew I wanted to share yoga somehow.
How has yoga helped you develop as a person?
I’m a scrappy teen from New York at heart, so having a challenge in my own body helped me get to other layers, connect to my emotional and mental body, my soul. As soon as I started to dive into the philosophy and read the ancient texts and get deeper into the practice, every single thing just felt so familiar to me, so natural. Once your mind is set in that wave of consciousness, it is just who you are.
You made a trip to India, is that right?
My only trip to India was in the fall of 2014, with a group of women who grew up together and raised their kids together, and each had done my yoga teacher training at some point. They decided for their 50th birthdays they were going to India, and invited me. In India, everything we see as normal here is thrown on its head and then some. Our ideas of garbage, safety, order — it’s what we’d call chaos. It was so clear, seeing where yoga originated, that the science came out of necessity and survival. Somehow we have to find our inner space, be grounded and centered from the inside. I believe that’s why it has become so popular here, because we feel so chaotic on the inside and work so hard at making our outer world so perfect.
How has traveling impacted your teaching and yoga trainings here?
It puts me in a place where I arrive somewhere where I don’t know people, the students, or the studio, and requires me to share the science and sacred practice in a way that’s very authentically me. It keeps me on my game.
When you teach you often quote your grandfather, the poet Stanley Kunitz. Can you tell me about his influence in your life?
Yes, a very strong influence. Really, he was the only man in my life for many many years. He was my mother’s stepfather. My first job ever, at age 11, was working in my grandmother’s art studio, so my first real relationship with my grandfather was through my grandmother’s painting, in which she sometimes scribbled lines from his poetry.
In my teens, when when I spent time alone talking with him, he was the only person in my life who held me accountable. My grandfather always asked, “What about you? What are your dreams, your visions? What do you believe in? What’s most important to you? How are you going to use your talents? How are you going to make an impact on this planet?” Big questions. At that time I knew he was a poet for a living, but I didn’t see him that way. I actually started to read his poems when I started college. They were so simple, so vibrant, and I had such a deep respect for the teachings he offered me. He got to meet my son, who was 2 or 3 when my grandfather passed, and they had a very special bond, almost like the two of them agreed to be my teachers in another realm.
Do you think that has remained true?
My son gave me the gift of yoga as a science and as a practice, from my pregnancy through his entire life. It’s always felt like my son and grandfather were plotting to take care of me. I feel blessed by those two teachers in my life, and for the other amazing teachers I’ve had in my life. In the teacher training, we explore in depth the dynamics between student and teacher. It’s so useful.
How else has your teaching evolved?
When I’m not teaching I’m always studying, reading. I’m always arguing with the teachings, doubting within myself. Meditation was always very hard for me, more challenging. Then I had an injury, and the only comfortable place in my body was to sit, thus my meditation journey evolved. That’s actually when I developed the teacher training. The final form of yoga is service. I came from a service background, and that’s very important to me. I was always in nonprofits prior to yoga. Now, we offer yoga in Portuguese, yoga in the jail, yoga for pain management at the hospital as an alternative to medication and opiates. Yoga in the schools comes and goes, but we do offer an early-morning program in the Tisbury school for the staff
The ripple of seeing this happen must be satisfying.
Absolutely. It’s also a calling, and I have no choice, even if I don’t want to do it. “Martha” has told me if I’m going to live here, this is what I must do. Right before that injury I almost left the Island, was ready to go, took my son and husband and spent the winter in California. I was called back fiercely; the teacher training was birthed, and that has become my main purpose for being here.
The next 200-hour FLY Yoga School teacher training begins January 6th, 2017. A 500-hour advanced yoga teachers’ immersion begins on February 5. For more information, visit yogahavenmv.com.