Wanted: A teacher who is funny, experienced and interested in breaking complicated poses apart to better understand them. Requires students to pay attention to the experience they are having in class and not just mindlessly follow directions.
Yoga students who are curious, creative, willing and patient should look no further than Susan “Lip” Orem. YogaCity NYC publisher Brette Popper sat down with “Lip” one afternoon and asked her about her 20 plus years of practice, her teaching and her popular upstate retreat center Heathen Hill.
Brette Popper: How did you begin your yoga journey?
Susan “Lip” Orem: In 1990… I was an old dancer and I couldn’t dance anymore…and I loved Step Aerobics but my knees and hips complained so I took my first gym yoga class thinking it would be easy. And, it kicked my ass. Teacher even wore sneakers. So I went again and the next teacher I had happened to be Sharon Gannon. And she kicked my ass too. The next teacher was Cyndi Lee and then Dana Flynn; all at Crunch. Then it was me and yoga and no turning back.
BP: You’re a devoted student of Rodney Yee’s. How did that relationship start?
LIP: I found Rodney at the old Jivamukti in 1995 or 96 and that was it.
BP:So you found your teacher very quickly?
LIP: But I didn’t know that. It wasn’t until 1997 after Om Yoga had opened and I had done Cyndi Lee's Teacher Training when we all (including fellow teacher trainees Amy Ippoliti and Jennifer Brilliant) went to the Denver Yoga Journal Conference and saw Rodney. Richard Freeman,Richard Rosen, Patricia Walden, John Friend and Erich Schiffman…I tasted them all and knew Rodney was it. Then I just followed him around. Four intensives a year. Now it’s just two, one week at Heathen Hill and a week in Massachusetts.
BP: Speaking of Heathen Hill…how did your retreat center come into being?
LIP: I got divorced and lost my house in the country. I was devastated. So I bought a house on ten beautiful acres in the Catskills near Franklin, New York, and thought I’d teach yoga in a local church. I would bring students up from the city but I could only fit 6 at my dining room table. So I turned the original house into a yoga studio and build another one with a table for 20. I started with 4 retreats and taught them all. Now I only teach 2. We just had a sold out Yoga and Wine weekend to start the season.The weekends are sold out with guest teachers. I cook and grow the food. We have our own chickens. They’re fabulous layers this year.
BP:Rodney is very charismatic and he’s a celebrity. But why do you find him so interesting?
LIP: When Rod teaches I know he is feeling or has felt in his own body what he is saying. He isn’t just making stuff up for the sake of talking. What he teaches is what is interesting to him at the moment. His excitement at his latest discovery makes the material – no matter how difficult – interesting for me too. He inspires and encourages curiosity without judgment. He makes me believe I can figure it out somehow – no matter what I try. Is he charismatic? On the mat he is just open and unafraid.
BP:What’s a perfect Lippy class?
LIP: The older I get the more interested I am in the Iyengar system. Because of my own non-yoga related injuries, my body is no longer like sticky pully taffy anymore. It’s more like beef jerky, I have come to find that this method gives you time to chew. Also because the first week is Standing Poses and then Forward Bends and Twists, Backbends and Restorative you get to chew on everything in a big way. I like to take something and masticate on it. I also like to take the poses apart. I just taught Vishvamitrasana. It embodies everything. You have to open hamstrings and twist. The class was 3 hours.I like to play. Turn something upside down and look at it a million different ways. Rodney taught me that. I also enjoy adjustments. I have good hands. And I like to teach beginners and basic poses so they become ingrained. You can’t practice the Goldberg Variations until you’ve learned how to do scales.
BP:What’s next for you?
LIP: I’ll be 64 next week. I still like teaching and New York. I spend Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday here. I have lovely private clients and a few public classes. This fall or winter I’ll be teaching for Rodney and Colleen when they open their new studio. And, in late January Paula Liberis and I are heading to the pretty swell Xinalini Retreat Center in Puerto Vallarta.
BP: And your own practice?
LIP: I’m working on compassion and patience. I’m trying to keep my mouth shut and learn to let things go. After all, I’m in a service industry.For 10 years I hated restorative and now Genny Kapuler has me doing supported Ardha Halasana every day. And, I’m done with first dates arranged by Our-time-is-up.com. That season is over but I would like meet someone, go to lunch and have sex one more time before I die.
BP: Any suggestions for beginning students?
LIP: Don’t assume if it doesn’t go well that it’s all your fault or the teacher’s fault. You should be patient. Things will happen and change. Just keep showing up and look around to find a teacher who you connect with. Be brave. Have courage.
You can take Lip’s public classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays at YogaWorks in Union Square or visit her retreat center Heathen Hill in the Catskills.