MEET THE TEACH: Kristen Davis
After a dance injury, Kristen Davis found yoga and never looked back. She took what she saw as a rigid interpretation of Iyengar yoga and, drawing on her background versed in the Alexander Technique, created her own path, leading many happy followers toward balance. Today she talks to Jim Catapano about bringing her experience to Yogasana in Boerum Hill, a community that fellow instructor Erin Fitzgerald refers to as "the land of misfit toys."
Jim Catapano: What made you go to your first yoga class?
Kristen Davis: In 1993, I was a dance major at Ohio State University. I’d severely sprained my ankle and was looking for a way to be in my body, to move, and to rehabilitate. The class was in a nearby church and taught by Lisa Clark. That same week, I had my first experience of the Alexander Technique. I was completely in love with both. The yoga left me feeling like a cubist painting—I’d been taken apart and put back together in a way that revealed even more of my soul. My experience of the Alexander class was more elusive. The teacher could take me from feeling heavy and achy to feeling weightless and fluid. It seemed like magic. I didn't understand it, but I wanted to—I had to.
JC: What brought you to Iyengar?
KD: Through studying with Alison West, my love of Iyengar was established. I found its ideas were illuminating. They immediately made sense, fit my body and mind, like that missing puzzle piece. The other traditions that Alison pulled from never felt right; I told her this. She said, "If that's the case, you have to go study at the Institute. You have to."
I began studying with Mary Dunn and Genny Kapuler in 2000, and later Robin Janis. Iyengar was IT for me, or so I thought. It seemed to be such a fit with the Alexander Technique. It made you slow down and pay attention. How aware and precise could you be?
But then I began to see discrepancies. The language was often aggressive and hard. From my years of studying and teaching Alexander Technique, I knew that the directions I was being given could not lead me to the result the teacher was looking for. Not only that, but I would study the pictures of B.K.S. in Light on Yoga, and he was so clearly not doing that. His body has such softness, such suppleness—qualities that don't come from hardness and rigidity.
In 2001 I began teacher training at IYI. Ultimately, it was not a good fit. My questions about the Iyengar approach grew, and there was no dialogue to be had. Each time I tried to question my teachers I was shot down. Period. I left the program after a year and a half, and it led me to opening my own studio.
JC: Can you take us through the journey that led to Yogasana?
KD: I felt quite beaten down by the Institute's training. I still completely believed in Iyengar, but felt I had a different interpretation of it. Genny Kapuler, whom I studied with and assisted for years, was witnessing my struggle and was very supportive. She told to study with Donald Moyer, a senior Iyengar teacher from the Bay area. My first workshop with him was in 2001 and it truly was IT. Through him, I discovered that there actually were many people out there who shared my love of the experimentation, subtlety and beauty of what B.K.S had given us, but didn't like the hierarchy, rigidity and aggressiveness of the system. I began teaching small groups out of my apartment. Those became my favorite classes. I added more and more; I had a growing wait-list. At the same time, I was connecting with teachers who shared a similar approach to Iyengar, borne out of a similar experience. I began to think we had something special and unique to offer. I wanted to create a community for us and created Yogasana.
JC: How has the Yogasana community evolved?
KD: We’ve been open for 9 years, for the first 6 we were on 5th Avenue. Here on 3rd Avenue, we’re not getting as many walk-bys, but we’re getting many more people who have deliberately sought us out. They stick around. We have a really special community. I have students who were in the very first class I ever taught, and have continued with me for 17 years.
JC: What experience as a teacher was a real “AHA” moment for you?
KD: I am always a soft teacher, very gentle. And yet I did have this one experience with one student where I felt, she really needs me to more of a hard-ass! So I did it, just with her. I had been catering to her fears and insecurities, and she needed me to be more firm. So that was a challenge. It was a very interesting thing to see as a teacher, that with each student there’s a different way of interacting, a different way of being that may serve that student.
JC: What advice do you have for a person who wants to become a NYC yoga teacher
KD: In this time when there are so many teachers, you have to find out what it is that YOU have to offer. And then have the courage to go out there with that. To be authentic.