Ever wanted to find out everything you could about your favorite yoga teacher without risking a restraining order? Earth Yoga is now giving you the chance, with its new “Portrait of a Yogi” project.
The studio is playing host to a series of very special evenings that will be half- Asana class and half-talk show. And the lineup of teachers being profiled is a striking one: The likes of Andrea Borrero, Isauro Fernandez, Lisa Dawn Angerame and Halle Becker will all get their turn in the spotlight. (Steven Cheng was the inaugural guest on April 1st.)
The series, also an optional module for teacher trainees, is the brainchild of Earth Yoga owner Yanti Amos, and based on a well-loved Bravo series….
“Growing up, my sisters and I were really into the Inside The Actor's Studio,” says Yanti. “I have one sister who is a dancer and one who is a designer — we are all into the creative process. We love behind-the-scenes type interviews and programs that delve into ‘the person behind the persona’.
“I love Inside the Actors Studio!” agrees Halle. “I loved when they had the cast of Mad Men on. I dated John Slattery, who plays Roger Sterling, when I was younger. I think he was the first boy I kissed!”
How’s that for a pre-portrait exclusive? Truly, there must have been some magic in that “Mad Men” installment…
“I was on a plane coming back to New York a few months back,” says Yanti. “I switched on an old episode of the Actor's Studio — the same one Halle saw, where the Mad Men cast were featured! I thought it would be a great idea to feature some top-flight yoga teachers, all with very different backgrounds and all with a story to tell. I've always been interested in how we as humans learn and what it involves to master a subject in order to give at one's optimum—each cast member of Mad Men had a different story: some went to college and/or drama school and some didn't, some had parents who were actors, some didn't...I wanted to ask yoga-equivalent questions of the yoga teachers to get down to what makes them tick, what makes their brand or style of teaching unique, what inspires them to send the yoga message, how they overcame obstacles. Each yoga teacher is quirky and special; there is no right or wrong way to do things or to succeed. We want our teacher trainees to know that there's no set formula for finding your voice or becoming a great teacher.”
Yanti explains that the process of selecting the subjects was a straightforward one.
We sent out invitations to about 10 teachers we regarded as special, who we admired, and who had a cool story to tell,” says Yanti. “Andrea Borrero and I wanted to get as many varied teachers as possible. I think what you'll see is that each teacher showcased has a varied and strong background in classic yoga styles, and has parlayed their own brand of fusion of traditions from their foundational learning. Someone like Steven Cheng for instance, is a beautiful vinyasa teacher and draws enormous inspiration from Dharma Mittra. His anatomy knowledge is second to none thanks to Alison West. And the way he teaches is uniquely him.”
“When I found out I was chosen for the series I was flattered,” says Halle. “I feel that I am coming into my groove in the world of yoga and I am excited to share the lessons I have learned and to sweat and surrender and laugh along the way! Between being chosen to teach at Wanderlust Vermont this summer and this I am flying high!”
“I emailed back yes immediately, no hesitation. Not even a question!” says Lisa Dawn Angerme. “I think Yanti has come up with a great format — for seasoned teachers to share their yoga story — to inspire the Earth yoga teacher trainees.”
The evening will begin with the class, and then the yogis in attendance will be treated to a sit down, no Oms-barred interview with their teacher.
“I am going to teach class the same way I always do,” says Lisa. “Start with sun salutations, see the students who are there, and go on an asana journey together. My style has evolved into a hot power Baptiste class meets Jivamukti pace and intensity. I am inspired by the yoga texts and the wisdom of my own practice so whatever comes up, comes up!”
“For the asana part of class I will do what I always do,” says Halle. “Get a great playlist together, read the room, and we will flow and fly from there’re. For the Q&A, I am a pretty open book and I have a VERY colorful past…for more on that, you will have to come to hear!”
Yanti tells me she had a blast moderating the Steven Cheng “episode.”
“As a wannabe Barbara Walters I love the idea of teasing out stories and inviting pertinent questions from the floor,” she says. “Some of the attendees were teacher trainees, so they had a lot of questions about how to find your voice. Each guest teacher will have a different set of questions just by virtue of the fact that each teacher has a specialty and different life tales to tell.”
James Lipton, host of Actor’s Studio, is of course legendary for his “Bernard Pivot’s Ten Questions,” a hallmark on the end of every episode. Will these be a part of the interview?
“We did have some Pivot questions planned for the end of Steven Cheng's talk, but didn't have time to go through them — Steven had such cool stories to tell about his time with Dharma Mittra and Alison West that we were totally absorbed and inspired. It was an uplifting few moments for all of us so I didn't want to break the vibe with seemingly random Pivot questions. I decided to have us end on that high point.”
So seeing my own chance to play Lipton, I asked Halle and Lisa my own Pivot questions: What is your favorite pose? What posture do you not like to do?
“I try not to have favorites or least favorites,” says Lisa. “Because categorizing poses in that way defeats the purpose of the practice of equanimity. But if I had to answer the question...I love forward bends. And backbends are challenging for me.”
“I love to flow and balance, so vinyasa sequences are my thing,” says Halle. “As well as arm balances—but nothing too crazy! I don't do a lot of poses that bend my knee past 90 degrees - gave that up a while ago!”
What profession other than Yoga instructor would you like to attempt? “If I was not a yoga teacher I would be a talk show host and or a rock and roll drummer,” says Halle. “I suppose I still could be, right?” (Right!)
Lisa’s pretty much on the same page: “I’ve always fantasized about being Madonna!”
For more information on the series, call Earth Yoga at (212) 486-4111.
--illustration Kris Mukai, to see more of her work, click here