The Sirens Of The Shala
Barbara Verrochi And Kristin Leigh Croon About Their Home Practices
Perched atop thirty wooden steps, The Shala Yoga House peers down upon a chaotic Broadway. Part loft, part ashram, it was opened in 2002 by Barbara Verrochi and Kristin Leigh, both students of the late Sri K. Patthabi Jois.
Eleven years later, Barbara and Kristin continue to teach traditional Mysore-style classes as well as led Ashtanga-based vinyasa classes to cascades of dedicated practitioners. Noted for their harmonium-accompanied mantras,Barbara and Kristin proudly offer a hint of India amidst Manhattan’s maelstrom. Like the heavenly creatures of Greek myth, these two yoginis ceaselessly lure unwary New Yorkers up the creaky staircase and into the embrace of a harmonium-induced trance. Newcomers beware: once these sirens sing to you, you might not leave.
This week, YogaCity’s Michael Laskaris sat down with Barbara and Kristin to discover how they keep their own practices alive.
Michael Laskaris: In addition to being full-time moms, you both carry heavy teaching schedules. Is it difficult to find time to practice?
Barbara Verrochi: Yes! I mark time down in my calendar! With a child, I can’t practice at the same time each day like I used to (which I would prefer), but I make sure there is always time set aside. Regardless if it’s asana, pranayama, meditation, or chanting, I make practice part of my daily routine.
Kristin Leigh: All working moms struggle with sustaining balance and finding time can be a challenge, but practicing is not an option for me. It’s daily maintenance, just like brushing your teeth. I have to practice otherwise I have nothing to share as a teacher. Teaching requires a certain level of intimacy, and it’s important to find time for family, students and self. If one is out of balance, the others suffer. You simply need to carve out time in your schedule.
ML: You are both Ashtangis, but as you mature, have your asana practices evolved beyond the strict Series?
BV: My asana practice has gotten less physically rigorous, but I still do like to stick to the Series given me (with a few modifications here and there). The repetition of Ashtanga allows me to clear distractions from my mind and to settle into myself; it’s always been an anchor in my day. The tight structure encourages steadiness, however, I don’t need to move as intensely as I used to. As I age, the ‘stiller’ yoga practices (pranayama, meditation, kirtan) are drawing my attention. These days, my mind settles just as easily when I practice them.
KL: I find Ashtanga’s structure and repetition to be soothing, calming, and grounding. The set sequence is so efficient and it always provides me with a clear map for practicing and teaching. Things do change as I get older and I adjust my asana practice daily depending on how I feel. There is a certain acceptance that comes when you can’t just jump into the 2nd and 3rd Series so easily anymore. Additionally, the more internalized practices (meditation, pranayama, chanting) are becoming more and more accessible to me. I also still dance twice a week!
ML: How do you practice the other seven limbs?
BV: The eight limbs are all intertwined. They are tools to help us remain present in our lives so we can give full attention and bring awareness to everything we do. While I try to practice them continuously, sometimes one limb comes to the forefront, either through study or practice, or daily life. For instance, I might specifically be focused on practicing aparigraha [non-possiveness] and because of this, I start to notice what I accumulate and hold onto (sweaters, ideas, postures, opinions, etc.).
KL: Agreed…it’s an ongoing investigation. We should always try to have them in mind whether it’s on the mat, in the classroom, or at home. The limbs aren’t linear, so I recommend that you continuously try your best to constantly practice them.
ML: How do you keep your practice and teaching fresh?
BV: There is an endless well of things to study within the yoga practices: yourself, ancient texts, anatomy, alignment, yoga therapy. Outside of Ashtanga, I’ve been involved for many years with Bent on Learning and am currently mentoring yoga teachers within public schools, as well as co-designing a yoga curriculum for the Sonima Foundation. I also study singing and harmonium with my teacher Gulum Mohamed Kahn. I’m always studying!
KL: Think about a sommelier; the more they study wine, the deeper they go into their area of expertise. The same applies to yoga; the longer you practice, the more interesting it gets. If you are passionate about something, you can always dig deeper, and it will always keep you perked up. At times, you do get stuck, but you figure out how return and keep it interesting. It’s so exciting to see people build a practice. The students keep it fresh and I love seeking new meaningful ways of communicating the practice to them. Some inspirations are Eddie Stern, Pema Chodron, and Sharon Salzberg.