Meet The Teach: Amy Mathews
Still a dancer when she moved to NYC to study movement analysis, Amy Mathews’ newfound knowledge dimmed her desire to dance. Instead, it sent her heels over hips into yoga.
Although, it was a random dinner with friends that set her course to teaching yoga, which she has melded with her movement and anatomy expertise. Stefani Jackenthal chatted with Amy, co-author of Yoga Anatomy, to learn about her shape-shifting life.
Stefani Jackenthal: You’ve been teaching movement since 1994, when did you start practicing yoga and why?
Amy Mathews: I began practicing yoga when I moved to New York in 1997. Prior to that I had done a little yoga as part of being a dancer. When I moved to New York to study Laban Movement Analysis, I took a lot of dance classes. But a few months into the program, I had to stop because all the movement analysis skills I was developing made me obsessed with what I was doing ‘wrong’.
There was a yoga studio around the corner from the Laban program that had a daily 7 am class and I began going there before going to school. As I became more interested in yoga, a friend suggested I study with Alison West, which profoundly changed my practice. A few years later I studied with Mark Whitwell, who also profoundly changed my practice, in a completely different way.
SJ: When and why did you decide pursue teaching yoga?
AM: I didn’t set out to be a yoga teacher, though I had taught dance for years and enjoyed it. But one night, I was at dinner with a friend and his brother, who complained about not feeling well. My friend suggested, “Why don’t you have Amy teach you yoga?” His brother responded, “OK, how much do you charge?” And, the rest unfolded from there. I found I love engaging with people, teaching them new ways to experience their bodies. He and I are still working together, almost 15 years later.
SJ: Tell me about the Breathing Project. What is it? What makes it novel? What are the benefits?
AM: The Breathing Project was founded in 2003 by Leslie Kaminoff and is an educational non-profit organization where we offer courses and workshops in experiential and embodied anatomy, kinesiology and embryology. We also have courses specifically for teachers interested in expanding their practice of teaching, using embodiment as a foundation for the exploration. I was one of the inaugural teachers.
SJ: Your book, Yoga Anatomy, which you co-wrote with Leslie Kaminoff, came out in 2007. What’s your affinity with anatomy?
AM: I love to use anatomy as a map for exploration, as vocabulary for describing my experiences and for engaging with other people and their bodies. The more I learn about anatomy, embryology and physiology, the more mystery there is – it is my spiritual practice, this study. I love it for that and for the wonder I find in it. But I don’t think it’s a better way into experience than something else.
SJ: Where did you grow up? Where you an athlete?
AM: I grew up in Omaha Nebraska, went to college in St. Paul, Minnesota, and moved back to Omaha for 10 years after school to pursue theater and dance. I wasn’t an athlete, at all. In fact, I quite actively avoided sports and always chose to dance if I had any say in the matter. What I loved best about dance was the ritual of going to class four times a week and doing the same movement over and over again - and polishing it like a jewel. I didn’t like to perform, so when I found yoga it was the best of both worlds – no performing and endless practicing.
SJ: How would you describe your teaching philosophy?
AM: My job as a teacher is to create situations where students discover (A) Different choices they have about how to move. (B) How they get in their own way about finding those choices. (C) How to perhaps, make different choices.
SJ: What are three of your favorite things about teaching yoga?
AM: Working with groups of people over time and developing relationships where they trust me - and themselves - enough to question their assumptions about their limitations. I love that it’s about process. The asana, elegance and integrity of the forms themselves – and all the different ways of doing them well.
SJ: What’s your goal in the yoga/body-movement world?
AM: I want to change the conversation in the yoga/pilates/fitness/movement world from “What’s the right way?” to “How many right ways can I find?”
SJ: What’s your motto?
AM: Do you know what you are doing? Are you doing what you think you are doing? It’s all about pathways and relationships. It’s all about context. Do less.
- Stefani Jackenthal